USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘rite of passage’
Folk speech
Humor
Riddle

Riddle – Name three consecutive days

Informant is my mother who loves riddles. She is known to challenge entire dinner parties with this one riddle, often with nobody able to solve it. She presented this one at a family dinner because there was a guest present who hadn’t heard it before. She says she didn’t make it up but doesn’t remember where she heard it. She thinks she probably learned it from her father when she was younger, living in Cherry Hill, NJ.

 

Here’s the riddle:

Q: Name three consecutive days without using these words: Monday…….Tuesday…….Wednesday…….Thursday……Friday.

A: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow!

 

I think what makes this riddle memorable is the misdirection in the instructions. Of course, the trick is the use of the word “days.” Because of the nature of the trick, when you know the riddle it’s painfully obvious, but without knowing it can be hopeless. Before one has heard the riddle (like any riddle), the right answer is unclear. But after hearing the solution, it seems so obvious. I think it’s like an initiation to her, a rite of passage at the communal dinner table.

Initiations
Legends

The Proctor House

Folklore Piece

“There’s this house in my hometown of Castro Valley, California called the Proctor House and it’s near Proctor Elementary School and it’s also near my house. It’s empty now, like no one lives in there, and it’s mostly populated by homeless people or drug addicts. But, basically like teenagers are dared to go in there and there’s this room that you go in and there are all these dolls lined up on the mantle. And the story goes that there was this couple that used to live there together and they um they’re foster parents, like they would bring in kids every so often, and one by one these foster kids would kinda just disappear from the foster system and no one knew why. And it was discovered that this couple had just kinda murdering their foster kids and they murdered like four kids. I heard this story when I was in the 7th grade from my friends when I went in the Proctor house. But I heard it throughout my teenage years. The dolls, like, had the spirits of the kids inside of them, or something.”

 

Background information

This story would mostly be performed by children around the playground or in social situations near his school and the house. As our informant mentioned, he learned this story first from his friends. He would later also tell me that all the parents knew about this story and wouldn’t let their kids go near the house. He said while this was probably because of the aforementioned homeless and drug addicted populations, many kids like the informant would interpret this as an affirmation of the mystic dangers of this house.

 

Personal Analysis

The dynamic between the children that recount this story and their parents are what I find to be most intriguing. The children believe the tall tale of the haunted house and the clichéd dolls-as-murdered-children horror story, most likely as its grandiose details are continuously reinforced in those kids’ social circles and media. The parents, however, know the house’s true nature, and that it is potentially very dangerous and filled with drug addicts and squatters. These harsh realities of life might be too much for a kid to hear, and so they simply say “Don’t go into the Proctor House.” Somewhat unintentionally, this furthers the legend of The Proctor House as being haunted. In my research, I couldn’t find any authored material on the Proctor House; this would suggest that this legend is relatively local and new. Perhaps the house became abandoned and overrun when the participant was young, spurring the rumors. When I asked the participant about the story’s origin, he said that he wasn’t sure.

Also interesting is the house’s role as a legend quest. When the kids are old enough to brave a trip into the Proctor House, it’s viewed as somewhat of a rite of passage, affirming their role as a “big kid”, or young adult. Ironically, though, it is their discovery of truth about the house, either firsthand or from their parents, and the loss of the childlike innocence about the house’s true state, that affirms their role as an adult.

Adulthood
Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Life cycle
Narrative

Toots The Gaseous Ghost

Informant (L.P.) is an 18 year old student. I had heard her enthusiasm for telling ghost stories the week before, and this one stood out. L.P. works at a local novelty shop. This interview is conducted at my house one Saturday evening.

I ask about the ghost in her workplace, which she had mentioned during our previous encounter.

L.P.: “There’s a ghost called Toots because it farts a lot and people smell it all the time. It’s not mean, it just likes to fuck with people. They have a video of it knocking a whole stack of books off the shelf.”

I ask her to elaborate on Toots’ antics

L.P.: “I saw it knock a book on my coworker. The book hit her on the side of the head and she spilled her tea… Today it knocked over a bucket in an aisle when some guy was reading a book.”

I ask her if the ghost has any legend attached to it

L.P.: “It used to be a post office, so maybe somebody died in there I’m not sure.

I ask her if she’s has the video, but she says no, as she doesn’t have access to the work computer. As the youngest employee at Wacko, I’m assuming L.P. is going through a right of passage in learning the store’s occupational legend of Toots the gaseous ghost.

Adulthood
Customs
Initiations
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Great Norwegian Graduation Rager

“So in Norway, when we graduate high school, we have this tradition that the two weeks leading up to our, um, independence day, um, we essentially do college in two weeks. And by that we, uh, everyone essentially has like a startup company where they fund, they get money and they work and they buy a bus. And this bus is to represent a group of people that have together to party on this bus for these two coming weeks. You build this bus to represent you as a group. So you paint it, you have your own song. They usually spend about twenty to forty thousand dollars on these buses. And they pay a couple to three thousand dollars per song or more. People live off this shit. They graduate high school and they just make music for these crazy graduating students. And they have a pretty decent life. Umm, so what you do is you do this and then you buy a suit, you buy like overalls that are completely red and covered in the Norwegian flag, and it’s got different colors. That’s the only time that you’ll ever see these colors in Norway which is why I find it so baffling that people in America keep wearing and wearing their flag everywhere. I guess it’s like weird, it’s like nationalism, which is bad, but for these two weeks in Norway: totally cool. So everyone gets drunk, everyone has sex with each other, there’s a bunch of STD things going on and like a lot of people take precautions so there’s just condoms everywhere in the capital for those two weeks, literally just so that teenagers can just grab them passing by. They’ll be in like metro stations, bus stops, random places there’ll just be like a little cup of condoms because people are just like doing things all the time. So there’s a lot of drugs, a lot of drinking, and you kinda like, you do all of those, you get all your immaturity out. That’s the whole point of it. So by the time you have your independence day, everyone’s so fucking exhausted that when you actually celebrate the day  that you celebrate Independence Day  and that you celebrate your graduation, then finals happen. Afterwards. So it’s a big thing in Norway where people have been trying to get the finals to happen before these two weeks. Because what happens is a lot of, like,  not a lot, but  maybe one out  of twenty people failed their finals because of this tradition. Every year. So they’re trying to change that now. I think it’s going to change this year, but the fact that the government, that all entire Norway works around this insane tradition: just get fucked up and have sex for two weeks? It’s fucking fantastic.”

 

The source definitely looked upon this tradition with a lot of happiness. It seemed to be one of his favorite parts of high school. He said it’s not a very long-standing tradition, but that it’s definitely been around as long as he’s been alive. He says it’s a way for them to release all the pent up stress from the year. It allows them to let loose and do crazy things that, under other circumstances, wouldn’t be allowed.

This tradition seems to come with its own sort of hall pass. It sounds like the kind of thing that these kids would never get away with if only there weren’t so many of them participating in it. That’s probably how it came about in the first place. Some group of kids wanted to let loose, but they knew they’d get in trouble, so they got a whole bunch of people together and went nuts. It probably didn’t fly as much back when it started, but now that it’s mainstream, the whole country probably knows to expect this debauchery and just lets it slide.

What also makes it interesting is that it involves a lot of responsibility. It’s almost like a rite of passage, really, because these kids have to work and save up money in order to be able to afford this massive, two-week rager. They also need to plan and organize it all themselves. Basically, they’re doing very adult things in order to be able to do some very not adult things. Quite the contrast.

Adulthood
Customs
general
Initiations
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Confirmation of Faith

Context:

I aksed one of my catholic friends if she had any traditions that her Church did.

 

Interview:

Me: Really, just whatever you have.

Informant: All right. I was just considering talking about Confirmation. Cause, I’m Catholic, well sort of-ish. I haven’t gone to church in a while, or done anything real religious in a while. But, maybe then I can talk about…Do you want an overview of what it is?

Me: I know more or less what it is, as I did go to a Catholic school for several years.

Informant: Then do you want a specific part, maybe what the actual ceremony is like?

Me: Yeah, maybe.

Informant: Okay. ‘Cause it is a two-year thing, well at least in my church. It might vary from church to church. And some places, the times at which you do confirmation vary some. Like some Catholics would do it younger. But I didn’t go to Catholic school, I just went to the church nearby.

Me: Yeah. At my school, we had the preparation for Confirmation, the class that would prepare us for Confirmation in eighth grade.

Informant: Today is the 26th, right?

Me: 25th, I believe. Okay. So just start talking then. So I went through something similar. I’m not Catholic but I am Protestant, but we went through a “Confirmation of Faith.” I remember that what we did was we wrote up a statement, like a one-page paper essentially confirming our faith.

Informant: Yeah. We did something like that, but it was more to choose your “saint name” – you had to research he saints, find one you liked and then do a little report on them and why you picked them.

Me: Interesting, ’cause I remember that my statement of faith was not what everyone else’s was like, what people were expecting. ‘Cause I did my confirmation of faith in my ninth grade, and we were studying the scriptures in our religion class in school. And so my statement was completely different from most people. ‘Cause most people were like writing about how the church has changed them, how they have so many fond memories of the church. I wrote about, I can’t even remember what exactly I wrote about, but it was completely more academic. It was like entirely academic or something.

Informant: Well the point of confirmation that they told us was that they wanted you to, it was when you become an adult in the eyes of the church. So you could go up and do readings for the church, you can serve the church in ways that you couldn’t before, when you weren’t confirmed. I mean, I can’t remember precisely what you were allowed to do after you were confirmed besides read in front of the church during the masses, it was probably organizing fundraisers or something like that. Anyway, that’s what they told us, and that’s why, instead of baptizing us in front of the church, which doesn’t count, because it is not performed with you’re consent, as you’re like only a baby, you have no idea what’s going on.

Me: Yeah, I know that that is one of the reasons why some religions wait until their children are old enough to be able to give their consent to baptize them.

Informant: I guess the thought was that you were baptized, but weren’t really thought of as a member until you were confirmed. So that was the point. Basically the way Confirmation worked was that you went to class on every other Sunday after church. You would all go to ten o’clock mass, you would all have to go to mass together, and when you were at mass, the people who were in confirmation were the ones who did the ushering, passed the collection plates around, brought the bread and wine up to the altar. So we would all have to go and show up for ten o’clock mass. And at my church ten o’clock was like the mass where you dress nice. Normally my family would go to eight o’clock because all you had to do was go there for an hour, hour and a half, get communion, and leave. But for ten o’clock mass you had to dress nice and you had to stay the whole time, cause you were in confirmation class, you couldn’t just leave early. And after that you had a class. The class was…it was about…they had this little Christian magazine thingy that they gave to you that you had to read through it. It had different aspects of the faith, different moral values, that kind of stuff. But mostly you had to do a lot of service – a lot of community service.

Me: Not surprising, yeah.

Informant: Yeah. It’s, actually during a lot of the time that we were talking about the magazine thingy we would do some kind of service thing. You had to do a certain amount of hours and there were all kinds of events that you could go to. Like, there was the winter sweet shop thing where you would help to bake cookies and would then help to sell them at the bake sale later that week. And the Easter thing where you would help plan the Easter egg hunt for the little kids who went to the church, and have a little Easter baskets and set up the place and stuff Easter eggs. Those are the two that I remember the most but there were other ones. There was one on Thanksgiving where we made lunches for the homeless, and another one where we made cards for Christmas or something. I can’t remember exactly.

Me: Yeah. I remember that we did community service in our youth group at church.

Informant: Yeah. That was more or less it. It’s  been a while after all. I do remember that one of the other important things was that you had to go up and read in front of the church, ’cause our church, and I’m not sure if it is structured differently with other Catholic churches, but there are three readings, the first two are from the first part of the Bible and the third one is the Gospel.

Me: Oh yeah. That’s pretty standard.

Informant: Yeah. So you had to go up and read one of those two readings and you had to do it at least once or once per year. And the first one that I had to do was the Palm Sunday reading, which was this really long reading right before the Gospel, and it was also the narrator which was the longest part. That was terrible. Thankfully, the people at church are forgiving, and said that I did fine. And one of the things that we had to do was we had to pick a saint name. We were told to go on the internet, to look up the different Catholic saints, choose which one you liked and have a one-page paper about who that saint is, what the represent, and why you picked them.

Me: Uh huh.

Informant: Yeah. So the one that I picked was Lucia, the patron saint of eyes, writing, light, and in her story, she was betrothed to this pagan person and she refused to get married to him so he had her eyes cut out, but she could still see without them, thus why she is the patron saint of eyes. Although, personally, I question, I guess, what’s so brave, still, there are braver things than being mutilated and dying. But maybe that’s just me. Also, it’s kind of funny that I have terrible eyesight and I chose the patron saint of eyes as my patron saint.

Me: Yeah.

Informant: So for the actual ceremony, which was at the end of the second year. It would be at a different church entirely and you would go with other churches who were in the same dioces. What I remember is that you had to dress nicely, but not fancy ballroom nicely, just church clothes nicely. You got a robe and you went in there for service with the bishop of the dices, and you stayed there and you would all go in a line. At least our class in particular had to do readings. After that, you come down, you are blessed as your saint name, you are a member of the church, shake hands with the bishop and then you leave to celebrate with your own families. And that was Confirmation.

 

Analysis:

The practice of confirmation became a tradition most likely around the time that people began baptizing children when they were infants, rather than when they were adults. There are three important milestones in a Catholic’s life, at least in terms of the church – baptism, which is performed soon after birth, first communion – which happens at about 7-8 years old, the “Age of Reason,” and confirmation – which happens around 14-16 years old. Confirmation became a tradition because it was the ceremony, the sacrament that made a person an official member of the church. Confirmation is a ceremony in which a person simply states their faith for the entire congregation to hear. It is a right of initiation, and those who go through it are then seen as adults in the eyes of the church, and anyone who is not confirmed will forever be seen as an outsider to the church, never a full member. It is a right of passage into adulthood, at least in the eyes of the church.

Childhood
Customs
Life cycle

Blue Bend Cold Water Jump

Item:

Me: “So was this like the big ‘you’re a man now’ moment or something?”

Informant: “Not quite that but, I guess, it definitely was a change and I felt like I was considered older by my parents because I was allowed to do it.”

The informant’s family participates in a tradition at a river camp named Blue Bend in West Virginia. Years ago, the informant’s father’s family began visiting the location. In the winter, the river isn’t frozen over but is brutally cold. At one point, the kids (including the informant’s father) noticed people would jump into the near-frozen water of the river. This was taken as a challenge, and became a tradition to do so once every trip up there. Over time, this expanded into excursions with many families going up during the cold season and jumping into the water at least once.

 

Context:

The informant began going with his family at at young age to the location. But only upon reaching a certain age was he allowed to jump into the river, since it’s a little dangerous to jump into an ice cold, moving body of water as a child. His first time was like a rite of passage. In subsequent trips, it simply became a personal challenge that also connected him with the other people subjecting themselves to the frigid water.

 

Analysis:

It’s interesting to see an event or tradition that serves a dual purpose of being somewhat of a rite of passage but also a yearly act by everyone involved who has passed that period. Perhaps it’s like “going on the hunt” for the first time. In any case, the deliberate discomfort of jumping into cold water is a moment a lot of families have come to look forward to in this tradition. It’s also pretty fascinating that it did start with kids, but now kids have to be a certain age – likely older than the originals – to participate.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

El Camino de Santiago

RouteFilm The Way the features El Camino de Santiago

When I was a kid we would do this thing called “El Camino de Santiago” which is a walk that actually goes from France all the way to Galicia in Spain—Santiago de Compostela—but instead of doing it like that, we would make a route around my city, around Toledo, starting at one of one of the outside little towns and finishing at the top of the city.

 

El Camino de Santiago appears to be a rite of passage that connects young Spaniards with the countries historical past and inaugurates them into Spanish society. Everyone in Sergio’s city—Toledo—participates in this event, as do many others throughout Spain. Whereas few people male the full trek from France to Santiago de Compostela, the majority complete shorter walks that are meant to represent the long journey between the two countries.

 

Santiago de Compostela is a city in northwestern Spain that is known to be the resting place of Saint James. In the past, El Camino de Compostela was an important Christian pilgrimage akin to the pilgrimage made to Jerusalem by Jews.

 

As the majority of Spaniards complete a shorter version of the walk it can be related to a shorter canonized version of a longer folktale in which the essence of the tale remains but details are altered here and there.

 

Sergio has completed this shortened walk many times but has no intention to make the full journey from France. It is a tradition that his family has upheld for decades. Since they moved from Spain to Miami they no longer continue to make this short trek around their city.

 

I am not aware of any walk in the United States in which the walking represents walking done in the past. There are many charities that use the act of walking to raise awareness and money, but there exists no walk, for example, that represents slaves walking from the deep south to the north with the hope of achieving freedom or of Lewis & Clark walking to the pacific ocean and back.

 

Annotated:

El Camino de Santiago appeared in the 2010 film The Way (directed by Emilio Estevez and starring Martin Sheen), which tells the story of  father who heads to Europe to collect the body of his son who died while making the trek from France to Galicia. Once he arrives he himself decides that he wants to make the trek himself to both avenge his son and test his limits. For the father this walk journey is not so much a rite of passage as much as a challenge he presents to himself.

Customs
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Emo’s Grave

Informant account:

“There is a district, a sort of suburban district in Salt Lake City, Utah called ‘The Avenues,’ and it runs from A to Z. At the top of the Avenues is the oldest cemetery in the state. It was established when Brigham Young lead the Mormon pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley. Anyway, there’s one grave site called Emo’s Grave. And that’s the epitaph, ‘Emo.’ There’s no birth date, there’s no death date. But it’s that kind of gated sort of memorial where there are benches inside but nobody can sit on them because it’s gated around. But you can reach through, and there’s sort of a crevice that’s been chiseled out of the grave itself, where initially I guess the family left flowers or something. But, um, regardless it’s cold stone.”

“On certain evenings, usually Friday the 13th or the evening thereof, um, teenagers will go up to Emo’s Grave and from inside the stone, smoke will start emanating. And this has been corroborated by several different accounts. And then someone will walk up and say ‘Emo’s Grave, Emo’s Grave, Emo’s Grave,’ and they will put their hand inside the crevice and it will feel warm. And people have left things there in the late evening to come back the next morning to find them gone, and these aren’t just, like, berries and things that birds can pick up because for one a bird can’t get in there, and for two, like I said: Not light things. So there’s a bit of supernatural suspicion that surrounds Emo—this mysterious individual named Emo—and his grave.”

I then asked how he came to hear about this piece of folklore, to which he responded:

“It’s become a sort of rite of passage for teens to go up to the Avenues cemetery and go through this Emo ritual.”

So I asked the next logical question, did he do it?

“I did.”

What happened?

“It happened.”

Did he find anything?

“We found ourselves to be scared. Because, this is like thirteen, fourteen years old, right? And it might have been—your mind fills in what you want to see. I mean it’s the same concept with the face on Mars. You want to see the face and so you do. But I swear there was smoke, I swear there was heat. We left a note; it was gone the next day, so, yeah, eerie.”

My favorite piece of folklore that I collected, I really couldn’t have asked for better. It’s a rite of passage that’s become traditional for these Salt Lake teens, and best of all my informant actually went through it. I suspect Emo’s Grave has proliferated because of the aesthetic of the site itself, bolstered by these ever increasing accounts of people visiting the grave under the right conditions. Along the way Friday the 13th got tied in with this death-based ritual, as well as the rule of three. I love the way my informant seems perfectly aware of how amusing and perhaps slightly ridiculous the whole thing might sound, but when talking about his own experience at Emo’s Grave is sure that, as far as he can tell, things happened that he couldn’t rationally explain. A testament to the power of folk rituals.

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