USC Digital Folklore Archives / Initiations
Customs
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Convocation

Main Piece (Direct Transcription):

A tradition at my school for all sixth graders is called convocation.  I remember my first day of sixth grade, they paired me up with a senior the first day of school and we walked up the long brick pathway at our school up to the gym.  It’s a way of initiating the entering sixth graders into the school, and kind of a way of saying farewell to the seniors since it will be their last year.   After we went to the gym, we took our seats to listen to a convocation speech.

 

Context:  The informant K, my brother, is a high school student living in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  He attends the same middle/high school that I attended, and we were talking about all the interesting and unique traditions that our school has while I was home for spring break.  I was reminiscing about different events that I was able to take part in while I was a student at the school, while listening to my brother’s perspective and take on these different traditions.  We both agreed that we feel like our school is very unique, and that we don’t believe a lot of schools have the traditions that ours does.  Although folklore is often considered to be something that larger groups of people can relate to, I believe that folklore and tradition surrounding schools and small local areas are sometimes some of the most interesting to hear about.  It gives insight into how the individuals in these areas live and gives valuable insight into what their values might be.  Because of this, I asked my brother to tell me more about his experience with these traditions to tell in my folklore collection.

 

 

My Thoughts:

I have an interesting perspective on this tradition because I was both the sixth grader and the senior.  Although it is one event that the whole school takes part of, there are several different perspectives individuals can have on the event.  Since my brother is only a junior in high school right now, he has not yet gotten to walk a 6th grader up the path and has only been the 6th grader walked by a senior.  I was both the 6th grader, feeling nervous and excited on the first day of school, and the senior, feeling sentimental on the last first day at the school.  I was also able to be the spectator from grade 7 to 11, and still felt excited watching the seniors and new sixth graders walk into the gym after their walk up the path.  This traditional ceremony at the school is something that a lot of people look forward to every year, and I believe it serves as an excellent first entrance to the school for 6th graders.  The school has so many unique and powerful traditions and ceremonies that happen year after year, and the new students are able to get a small taste of what is in store for them throughout their time at this school.

Adulthood
Folk Beliefs
Initiations
Legends

Hick’s Road Blood Albinos

Context: The informant was speaking of odd legends around her hometown, San Jose.

 

Piece:

Informant: Alright so, I’m from San Jose California, but specifically a small town called Almaden within San Jose, and there is this really famous road in San Jose called Hick’s Road and it’s famous because there is an urban legend… this is real, I’m not making it up… that the road is haunted and that there are blood albinos that live there. Basically there are these albino people that supposedly live there and who like suck people’s blood— like blood sucking albinos. And they’re supposed to live there. And when you live there you just like always hear about the blood albinos at Hick’s road and its supposedly really scary and people like die there and it’s like in one of the more rural areas and you drive there and there is just not a lot of stuff there and it’s kinda dark. Once you become a teenager it becomes kind of a rite of passage to like go with your friends and like brave Hick’s Road.

Collector: Do people actually die?

Informant: Like no! Not that I know of, everyone goes there and because you’re so scared you like imagine stuff.

 

Background: The informant, a 19 year old USC student, is from San Jose and has gone to Hick’s Road. The legend is part of her hometown’s dialogue and culture. It is a sort of rite of passage as a teenager to go to Hick’s Road.

Analysis: This legend is very reminiscent of vampires, but instead with blood sucking albino people. I have never heard albino folklore, so it is really interesting to see that the legend is basically a vampire story. The fearful nature of blood sucking and death that is part of the legend makes it perfect for a rite of passage. By going to the road as a teenager, as the San Jose folks do, you prove you are capable and that you are an adult. This also creates a bond amongst those who go together and those who have braved Hick’s Road, as if saying they are the ones who survived these legendary dangerous people. It is also important to note that she says the legend says that people die but then firmly states that no one has died from these creatures, indicating the liminal and truth questioning nature of legends. This site also attracts these locals in a way that resembles to ghost tripping but for the albinos that suck blood.

Adulthood
general
Initiations
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Berkeley Senior Steps

Context: The informant was reminiscing on traditions at her high school, Berkeley High in Berkeley, California. The senior steps were a major part of the folklore at her high school.

Piece: So in high school, there were these like these stairs, these steps with like a bench on them and we called them the senior steps. So like only the seniors were allowed to stand on them and if there was like a freshman or sophomore standing on the senior steps, people would like stare them down slash be like what are you doing on the senior steps? It’s inside of the school, and we actually had a meme page that has like 5,000 followers, ha weird flex, and like basically some sophomore actually a few weeks ago peed on the senior steps to like disrespect the seniors or something. And it was the biggest ordeal because like they’re just fucking steps and its like where the cool seniors eat lunch or meet up. Everybody knows the senior steps. And we had like rally day which is like once a year we dress up and everyone was drunk and high at school it was crazy and everyone was like yelling on the steps “Seniors, Seniors!”

I guess it’s just like a pride thing, and like I definitely like after three years of not being allowed you finally get to elevate yourself onto these brick steps. I didn’t really care but like a lot of people cared and like mind you these are gross steps like ugly and dingy. And like there was like tagged names or gossip written on the steps too. Ha it was so wack

Background: The informant, a 20 year old USC student, went to Berkeley High School, and experienced the tradition/rite of passage of the senior steps.

Analysis: This piece is a form of a rite of passage and ritual that was created surrounding these steps in her high school. The steps have become an honor that is bestowed upon seniors, as a form of status and privilege that they are entering the adult world. The steps create a hierarchy, showing that the school and consequently American society, pushes for the future and growth and moving up. In order to get to the privileges of the steps, you must work your way and finally get your status– which hows how the seniors will be leaving and moving into the future. The steps have been ritualized further by hosting the rally and the gossip markings, indicating its connection to school culture and spirit. The mention of more popular students being the regular utilizers of the steps indicates further this level of hierarchy ingrained in the culture of high school, and ultimately our society as Americans. By gaining the status, it serves as a stepping stone or rite of passage into the adult world.

Game
general
Humor
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Sailor Ritual- Crossing the Equator

Piece:

CM: I have two stories about my grandfather. He told me a story from when he was a very young man, when he was a deep water sailor, sailing a steel hauled clipper around Cape Horn. When he left the Mediterranean to sail south, the ship had to cross the equator. The tradition went that whenever a sailor crosses the equator for the first time, he goes through a traditional ritual where he is put through a series of comical trials— for example, being doused with water— and other hazing-like activities. The Captain dressed up as Neptune and the ceremony was used to initiated the sailor into the club as a true deep water sailor.”

Context:

The speaker’s grandfather was a sailor during the early 20th century. The ship was likely American, although the informant’s grandfather was from Austria. The ritual was done on the ship whenever there was a sailor who had not crossed the equator before. The informant’s grandfather took trips through the equator working as a sailor multiple times.

Analysis:

Being a sailor is a high-risk job, particularly so in the early 20th century when the informant’s grandfather worked. This initiation ritual supports the idea that the equator was a meaningful marker to sailors. Furthermore, the ritual is an excuse to have a celebration, which on a ship with no technology to communicate with the outside world would be important for morale. The somewhat silly ritual contradicts the otherwise dangerous life of a sailor. A discussion of the various ways this ritual has been performed, especially pointing out the fact that the ritual is somewhat of an initiation practice for “landlubbers”, can be found on pgs. 154-159 of Keith P. Richardson’s 1977 article for the Western Folklore journal (Vol. 36, no. 2) titled “Polliwogs and Shellbacks: An Analysis of the Equator Crossing Ritual (Western States Folklore Society).

Childhood
Folk speech
Humor
Initiations
Riddle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Letter “E” Word Riddle

SB: I have one riddle that I know. And it’s what starts with E and ends with E and has one letter in the middle…

VG: Eye.

SB: No (laughs)-

VG: Oh, ha!

SB: Eye? Starts with E, ends with E, has one letter in the middle.

VG: Eye-

SB: What?!

VG: E.Y.E.

SB: Oh, I guess that works too. The riddle is honestly not that exciting- it’s an envelope.

VG: Oh, haha! Where’d you learn that?

SB: Um, well, when I was little I was really into riddles, so I had a little riddle book that my parents gave me, and that’s the only riddle I remember from it…

VG: When did you use the riddles? Just on the- friends?

SB: Yes, I used it as a way to make friends. I thought it would make me more popular. It did with the weird kids, but generally it was not a big hit. That’s why I only remember one.

 

Background:

Location of story – Denver, CO

Location of Performance – SB’s dormitory room, Los Angeles, CA, night

 

Context: This performance was done just between SB and I in response to me asking if she had any urban legends, riddles, or holiday traditions. I am very close friends with SB. This story follows one about a conspiracy theory about the Denver airport being linked to Satan.

 

Analysis: This is a prime example of how riddles have been used historically as a social tools. SB was able to implement these in order to demonstrate her own wit to potential friends as well as vet them herself to see if they enjoyed the performance. It is also interesting to note that my answer fit the prompt, but she would still not accept it because that was not how the riddle has historically been performed. It does not matter if my answer is correct because it is not the one that she desired. To me, this demonstrates that the riddles people choose to perform are extremely personal and reflect personal preference, just as choosing clothing or music might indicate.

Childhood
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

1st Birthday – Korean Tradition

Piece:

“A Korean tradition celebrates a baby’s first birthday and it’s super traditional, like the baby wears the traditional Korean outfit and there’s rice cakes that are like rainbow, and there’s like fruit and always a lot of food but the main event is where uhm you set the baby in front of 5 or 6 different objects, and the baby has to choose one. Like a pen is going to be intellectual/writer, a stethoscope means you’ll probably be a doctor, there’s usually something for sports and there’s like other things that the parents want to throw in. Now there’s like cameras if their parents are photographers, or a paintbrush for an artist, but you put the baby in front and the baby chooses one of the things and that’s supposed to kinda predict what they are going to do in life and that’s a big part of the birthday celebration.”

Background Information: The informant is a current USC student with a Korean background. We were discussing childhood stories when she suddenly remembered a big tradition in Korean culture.  After telling me the story, the informant texted her mom inquiring about her first birthday celebration. She didn’t remember what item she chose as a baby, so she asked her mom. Her mom responded and said that the informant had chosen a pen, which as mentioned in the piece, represented intellectual/writer. I asked the informant if her decision of choosing the pen was consistent with her major and she agreed that it was.

Context: I was explaining the purpose of my assignment to the informant by providing different examples of folklore that I had collected from other students. After giving several examples, the informant stopped me in my tracks and began telling me this piece. This tradition is something that the informant’s family participate in. She remembers it because whenever a first birthday is celebrated, a family reunion is planned to witness the tradition. 

Personal analysis: I remember when I was younger, I was watching the movie Tinkerbell with my siblings and one of the scenes included a tradition similar to the Korean tradition that was described. Upon being born, Tinkerbell was placed in the middle of a circle surrounded by different objects. It was explicitly stated that whatever item she picked up first would determine her job in the fairy world kingdom. Now that I’ve been informed that this is a Korean tradition, I’m not surprised that Disney “borrowed” this folklore and incorporated in one of their movies.

 

 

 

 

 

Adulthood
Initiations
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Mazel Tov! You’re Married!

Piece:

Interviewer: “Did you incorporate any like folk traditions into your wedding?”

B.F.: “Yeah. We did the traditional breaking of the glass.”

Interviewer: “Can you expand, please?”

B.F.: “So, um, at the end of the ceremony the groom stomps on a glass and everyone shouts ‘Mazel Tov’ (which means congratulations in Hebrew). My parents did it at their wedding, you Uncle Dan did it at his wedding, it’s just, just something we do.”

Interviewer: “Did it hurt your foot?”

B.F.: “Ha. No. We used a cloth.”

Informant:

Informant B.F. is a middle-aged man who is of Ashkenazi Jew descent. He grew up in a low-income, divorced parent family and lived in many different locations growing up. He worked hard in school to become successful and does not have a deep cultural connection with his past, though is grateful for it because her believes it has shaped him into the man he is today. Although he had a Bar Mitzvah and his grandparents and other relatives are practitioners of Judaism, he personally does not practice the religion anymore.

Context:

I asked B.F. to briefly sit down for an interview for my folklore collection project. When asked about wedding traditions, B.F. recalled this from his own.

Interpretation:

While B.F. is not a practitioner of judaism and was not at the time of his wedding, he still found the tradition breaking of the glass to be something he needed to do at his wedding because it was a traditional thing the men of his family had done. He is actually not even sure what the breaking of the glass symbolizes. He is not a traditional man but finds that certain traditions make him feel closer to his family. B.F. is not sure where he learned about this tradition, but remembers it from jewish weddings growing up. I think this folklore piece is important because it shows that a person does not have to be a believer in the beliefs behind folklore to practice the folklore. Folklore traditions can be more than just the beliefs that started it, and can take on a new meaning of familial ties and heritage. While this is a popular wedding tradition, B.F.’s unique take on the meaning stood out and was significant to me as a collector.

Annotation:

Mazel Tov – End of Ceromony – Seth breaks glass. Produced by Karen Orly, 2010.
Youtube, Karen Orly, www.youtube.com/watch?v=6sXl1Bbe4Yk.

Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Touching the Fire

Main Piece
I don’t know how it started, but every year during homecoming, the freshman are in charge of building a big bonfire in the center of the green at Dartmouth, and you run around it for as many years of your graduation year, plus 100 now because it started in the 1900’s, so for example for my 2018, we were supposed to run around 118 times, but usually we just ran around 18 times. The upperclassmen would stand on the outside and like, jeer and stuff. So every year, something they want the freshman to do is to touch the fire, it is like a sign of being cool, like if you touch the fire, because its dangerous or whatever, and even now the police surround it, because they really don’t want people to do it, so it is really hard to do. So like, every year, all the upperclassmen scream “touch the fire! Touch the fire!”, and at least one person will do it every year. So this year, they even put a chainlink fence around the fire, but people still hopped it and touched it. And you are known for the rest of your Dartmouth experience for it.

Background
The informant attended Dartmouth University in Hanover, New Hampshire, where she learned this story. She learned of this through experience and action, although she never personally touched the fire. She heard of the change this year through her college friends.

Context
The informant is a 23-year-old women, born and raised in Southern California. She attended Dartmouth up until last year, having graduated in 2018. She provided this information while sitting outside her family home in Palm Springs, California on April 20th, 2019.

Analysis
I love this tradition, but really am saddened to see institutions destroying traditions in the name of social progress or “safety”. I mean, it makes sense that the university wouldn’t want students touching a bonfire, for their own safety, but also that the university doesn’t wanted to leave itself open to a lawsuit. I just think they should not endorse the tradition, but not forcefully try to stop it! I love how enduring traditions are when they are held by a large group of people – even though the school is trying to stop the students, they have not been able to. With a university as old as Dartmouth, it makes complete sense that they have a lot of long-term, enduring traditions. I also love how legendary you become after taking part of the tradition – if I attended Dartmouth University, I would be sure to try my best to touch it! The continuation of this tradition in verbal form allows the informant to interact back with her own experience in the tradition, keeping it alive in her mind, but also in the world by passing it on.

Customs
general
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Charge Books – A Navy Chief Initiation Tradition

Item:

T: The older chiefs will pass on the knowledge and the expertise to the new chiefs with the charge book, right? So then when you- before people in the old days, when you want to be chief you have to carry around a charge book to see all other chiefs to get the- collect the knowledge and experience from them.  But through the years, they use the charge books, they do all kinds of stuff with that charge book, yenno, they- they destroy the charge book, yenno, you’re supposed to protect that charge book, you cannot let the charge book go and some of the chiefs they’re destroying it and burning it so, it just doesn’t mean much anymore so they changed it new way, they changed it a lot, they put a lot of that restriction to them.  Some of the guys ruin it for other guys. So yeah.

T: So the new way is, inside your chief’s mess, depending on how big it is – some mess got really small number of people, some people got a big – but you list all the chiefs in your mess and you go to see each one of them.. to get the knowledge to pass down.  That’s what you’re supposed to do during the transition period.

Q: So you’re not considered an actual chief until you finish that process?

T: Well, that’s the tradition, but the new- I mean, the way, once you got selected for chief, you gonna become a chief either yes or no but, yenno, if you go through the transition, you go through the training, you become a chief.  If you don’t you decide not to do that, other chiefs they’re gonna call you an E7 not a chief.  So in the Navy, you call someone an E7, that’s in-insulting.

Q: So does that mean you still have yours then?

T: Have what?

Q: Your charge book?

T: You’re always supposed to have it with you. You carry that through your life, that’s your memory.

 

Context:

I collected this piece in a conversation about the informant’s experiences in the U.S. Navy.  He joined in 1990 and served 26 years before retiring as a Senior Chief Petty Officer in 2017.  He recalled the charge book tradition while discussing some of the Navy Chief culture.  He also mentioned how the Navy Chief’s Mess is the largest association in the world.  He has a lot of pride in being a retired Navy chief, saying how “The Chiefs are the backbone of the Navy, the Chiefs make the Navy run.”  The informant remembers his own initiation in which he also completed a charge book as a significant moment in his life, especially considering how he asserts that you carry your charge book through your life.  He briefly joked about how when you ask a Navy Chief their birthday, they’ll ask back which one in regards to their actual birthday or the day they became pinned as a Chief.  In addition, the informant talked about why there may be such significant traditions around becoming a Navy Chief.  He says that in other branches, moving from to an E7 ranking is nothing particularly special.  For the US Navy, though, becoming a Chief (the equivalent title for an E7) holds a higher significance and as such has an initiation “just like joining a fraternity”.

 

Analysis:

Initiation rites and traditions are a means of legitimizing or introducing an individual’s membership in a group to those who are already members, especially beyond any official announcement.  Particularly in the charge book tradition described above, even though becoming a Chief is an official designation in the Navy, the informant mentions how the other Chiefs will not acknowledge an individual as such unless they have completed the initiation tradition.  The alienation of those who choose not to participate is further emphasized by their insulting address as an E7, as also mentioned by the informant.  The process of the initiation is quite literally gaining a body of knowledge and experience from the existing members of the Chief’s Mess that otherwise would have taken years of experience to learn.  Especially considering how disparities in knowledge or experience are the basis of distinguishing a certain identity, as the Chief candidates complete their charge books, they slowly close the gap between themselves and the Chiefs already in the.  Thus, they slowly become part of the association.  The pieces of advice given are like stepping stones as the candidates complete their transition; once they have completed all of them, they have earned the right to be called Chief and a part of the Navy Chief’s Mess.  Initiation traditions, like completing a charge book to become a Navy Chief, not only legitimize an individual’s membership in a group, they also provide the means to earn an identity that cannot merely be given.

Customs
Game
Humor
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Greek Life Shotgun Pinning

Text

The following piece was collected from a twenty-two year-old girl who is also a student at USC in the Greek community. We were discussing a “shotgun pinning” that was to occur later that day. She will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant”, and I the “Collector”.

Collector: “So, what is it exactly?”

Informant: “Basically, it’s the people who are more wacky or untraditional in the way that they don’t want a normal pinning. So their friends set it up for them. It’s so much more fun than the normal pinnings. It’s funny.”

Collector: “What do they do?”

Informant: “First, the guy’s friends get him really drunk and the girls do the same thing. Then all the friends tie the couple to a mattress. They have to sit on the mattress in front of the house while all their friends give embarrassing speeches and everybody cheers.”

Context

The Informant learned of this custom within the Greek community at USC by first hearing it from other members, both in her sorority and friends in fraternities. The Informant then witnessed it herself. She believes it to be a non-serious, fun way to show off your partner but stress-free because that how the couple acts anyway. She remembers them because they occur at least once every year before the seniors graduate.

Interpretation

            Upon first hearing about the untraditional tradition, I laughed at the strangeness of it. But after witnessing one myself, I believe it to have a slightly different meaning. I think the couples that participate in the shotgun pinnings are, like my informant said, a non-typical sorority or fraternity member. By allowing their friends to handle it and force them to go through with it, the stress is removed from the situation. I also believe that everyone finds them to be more fun because no one is taking themselves seriously. If a couple were to participate in a shotgun pinning ceremony, I would immediately think, ‘Oh yeah, so they’re not that into the normal pinning.’ Then I begin to think about all the possibilities of that couple to dislike the Greek community and so they act in unconventional ways in order to make that point clear.

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