Author Archives: Lindsey Joost

The Quest for a Left-Hand Smoke Shifter: A Boyscout’s Mission

My father grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, on the St. John’s River. He was born into a large, traditional Southern family, and raised with a rough-and-rally mindset.

Informant :

“When I was a little kid, from when I was maybe 7 to 11, every summer I went on camping trips with my boyscout troop. Now these trips weren’t just my troop – all the troops in my school would go to the same place up in the Carolina mountains for a week or two. We did a lot of fishing, hiking, boating – that sort of thing. So every evening around dusk, the boys in the older troops would send us younger ones off in search of a ‘left-hand smoke shifter’ that would theoretically shift all the smoke to the left side of the fire pit. Supposedly it was this wooden wing-like contraption – it didn’t really make any sense at the time that something like that would just be laying somewhere out in the woods but they described it to us in great detail and every night we would trek through the woods in search of the thing and every night when we came back without it, we would all sit around the fire pit roasting dogs and such and whenever smoke would blow into an older boys face on the ‘right side’ of the fire circle they would whoop on us. Which was stupid because, first of all, of course no such device exists and second of all there’s really no right or left side of a circular pit when you think about it but we were little kids! When all the older boys and leaders and everyone you look up to tells you to go bring back the thing or else you’re gonna go try and find the darned thing!

Another kind of tradition in the troop was the snipe – this flying bird-like creature thing that was really rare and if you captured would supposedly bring you good luck… Actually I don’t think they ever really told us what it would do, but they had us all believing that if we found the thing everything would be hunky-dory dandy. It wasn’t really like the left-hand smoke shifter though cause they wouldn’t send us off looking for it, we’d just kinda keep an eye out for one when we were out hiking or canoeing or whatever. I quit boy scouts not long after that – not because of that, but anyways… it wasn’t til a year or so later I found out the whole thing was a hoax. I really wasn’t that upset about it when I found out. I think we knew at the time they had us out on a wild goose chase, but no one would say it. Those were some of my best memories from being a kid, running around with my friends in those woods.”


Although this tradition of troops sending young boys off into the woods in search of legendary objects and creatures may simply seem like a cruel hazing-type prank, these missions seem to reinforce the values that are fundamental to the entire boy scout organization. The boy scout law, which my dad would often list off throughout my childhood, goes: A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. As well as fortifying those values in demanding their success, respect for those in charge, woodsmanship and a sense of adventure seemed to come out of the nightly concentrated search for the invented object.

I thought the difference in approach between the left-hand smoke shifter and the snipe was interesting. The search for the left-hand smoke shifter seems as though it was an impossible mission given to the young boys that was designed to foster bonding between them, much as college fraternities’ hazing activities are meant to do with the pledges. The legendary snipe, however, seemed more like a symbol of hope that drove the boys to continue pushing forward through their outdoor activities despite any fatigue or despair.

The entire trip served as a rite of passage; my dad described a vast separation between the boys in the older troops and the younger boys who were tricked and tasked with fantastical missions. Though he quit the scouts before receiving whatever achievement allowed one to be considered a ‘true’ enough scout to be ‘in’ on the secret of the snipe and the left-hand smoke shifter, he seemed to value the time spent with his friends searching for the legendary snipe and left-hand smoke shifter over the actual reality of the things. Had he stuck around just a little longer, he would have soon learned the secret of the left-hand smoke shifter and become a full-fledged member of the troops in the eyes of the older boys. Or who knows, maybe he would’ve found that snipe.

Deoksugung Wall Path

Jean is an international student attending USC. She grew up in Korean and moved to the United States when she was 12.



“There’s this Korean saying “We walked the Deoksugung Wall path together”… it’s basically slang for breaking up.. In downtown Seoul there’s this  huge palace called Deoksugung. It’s got this huge wall surrounding it, and they say that if a couple walks down the path along the wall their relationship is basically doomed to fail. It’s not just a thing in Seoul though, people all over Korea say it. It doesn’t really make any sense, but it’s just something people say.”



A break-up in many ways is like a long walk or a journey. That the saying specifically refers to the Deoksugung Wall path in Seoul is interesting – the path is adjacent to a large secure wall that surrounds a palace inside. The wall could represent some sort of impasse that the couple wasn’t able to overcome. Had they been able to scale the wall (amend whatever issues they had), they would have reached the palace and all the riches inside (remained a couple and lived happily together). Instead they remain outside the wall and are forced to walk the path. Generally, a wall built to guard a palace is extremely well-fortified. This saying could also represent that you will walk along that path many times (go through many break-ups) before finally reaching the palace (finding the right person).

Apparently, however, the basis for this saying is more historical than metaphorical. Upon doing some research about the phrase when I was struggling to understand the connection between the literal meaning and the slang connotation, I found that Seol’s Family Court – where people would go to get divorced – for many years was located at the end of this path. Couples would walk down the Deoksugung Wall path a married couple, and return divorced.

The context that my research provided made the usage of the phrase to mean ‘break-up’ perfectly understandable. Jean – most likely along with plenty of other Koreans – admittedly uses the phrase without knowing why it means what Korean culture uses it to mean. This exemplifies the way that folk speech can enter into the common vernacular and be passed down through generations without a full understanding of the actual meaning, yet remains in use because “it’s just something people say.”

A Wrestler’s Role: Duality Represented through Ritual

Nick is a sophomore at USC, founder of the Club Wrestling Team here on campus, and has been awarded the All-American title at the National Wrestling Tournament two years in a row.



“I always follow the same pre-match routine. It’s pretty standard for wrestlers to have their own weird superstitions about going into a match – we’re a team but it’s still an individual sport so that puts a lot of pressure on you and having little rituals you do every time helps you take your mind off it. So yeah my routine… after weigh-ins, the first thing I consume is a sugar free energy drink. Same kind every time – Monster, the green flavor. I wear the same pair of boxers for every competition. It doesn’t matter if I wrestled the day before and they’re dirty. Kinda gross, but they’re the pair I won fourth place at states in during my sophomore year of high school, and so they’re kinda my good luck charm – I can’t go into a match without them. Twenty minutes prior to my match, I listen to the same Shwayze playlist on repeat. It’s pretty old school but I only listen to it before a match, so it always gets me into the same mindset. As soon as I get on the mat, I make sure to put my ankleband on on the edge of the mat. Once it is on, I face away from the mat and bounce a multiple of 4 times (4,8,12, etc). Only when the referee calls me to the center do I turn around and bounce another multiple of 4 times. Then, I bend over, tap the mat 2 times and run to the center to shake hands with my opponent. And then we wrestle. And usually I win.

By following the same routine before every match, I’m able to compete in the same mindset every single time. I know that these little routines will get me mentally ready. There’ve been times where circumstances kept me from following the routines, and I try not to let that distract me, but honestly when that happens it really throws me off.”




It’s not unusual for sports teams to take part in rituals before competitions, but the practice of pre-match rituals within the wrestling community is almost inherent part of the sport. The duality of competing as an individual while also competing for a team is reflected in the way wrestlers carry this out. While in general rituals are carried out by a group of people, wrestlers’ pre-match rituals are extremely individualized and solitary, in the same way that he will enter the mat to face his competitor alone. For wrestlers, each team-member having his own unique set of superstitions and practices to execute constitutes the larger overall ritual that the whole team takes part in. The importance doesn’t so much lie in the specific content of each wrestler’s routine; the importance is in simply having one.

Fitting with this idea, no specific part of Nick’s pre-match ritual seemed overwhelmingly significant other than to provide repetition before each match to ‘get into the right mindset’. The dirty boxers serve as a sort of contagious-magic totem of good luck: it was in these that he won his first major competition, and he continues to wear them with the belief that this success is somehow weaved into their threads and that in wearing them he will, again, succeed.

As we studied in class, properly executing the ritual is necessary for the success of whatever you are trying to accomplish. Being an individual sport, all success – and all failure – is on the individual competing. These sorts of rituals are so prevalent in the wrestling community because it is perhaps easier to blame a lost match on the inability to carry out one’s ritual properly than to admit you were simply ill-prepared or over-matched.  

Devil’s Tramping Ground

Hannah is a good friend of mine from high school who attends University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Her family is from North Carolina and knows the local area well. 


There’s this place not far from where my sister lives in Chatham County that’s called the Devil’s Tramping Ground. It’s this huge circle in the middle of a forest where everything is just dead, like this huge barren circle carved right out of the woods. It’s pretty big, I dunno, fifty feet maybe, and literally nothing will grow there. Not even grass. A perfect circle. Weird right? People say it’s where the devil walks at night, just pacing around in circles plotting how to bring more human souls down with him to hell. Apparently it goes all the way back to the Revolutionary War… I dunno I always thought it was kinda stupid, just another ghost story you know, but one time I went there with her and just seeing that circle I got kinda creeped out. But what was even weirder is that we brought Rosie (their dog) and she started acting really strange… whimpering and stuff. Rosie’s normally pretty chill but she wouldn’t shut up, wouldn’t go anywhere near the circle. I don’t normally buy into that type of crap – and I still don’t think it’s cause that’s where the devil goes every night to plot the downfall of humanity – but the way Rosie was acting kinda convinced me something about that place isn’t right.”


There have always been legends surrounding crop circles – UFOs, aliens; strange urban legends have often been used to describe strange phenomena in nature. But the fact that this perfectly barren circle appears within an otherwise heavily wooded area is even more eerie, and calls for a legend more extreme. And what could be more extreme than assigning it as the place where the devil ascends to every night to plot the demise of the human race? The devil is closely associated with fire, destruction, death, so attributing the inability of any natural life to grow there to Satan is not a far stretch. Yet the Devil’s Tramping ground is not simply a legend about the circle – this patch of land, bare since the time of the Revolutionary War, contributes to the legend of Satan himself, emphasizing his pure evil and desire for destruction as he has paced there night after night for hundreds of years.

Supposedly dating back to the Revolutionary War, the stories surrounding the legend of Devil’s Tramping Ground have been many, and have drawn people from all over local counties to this patch of land in the hills of North Carolina. In modern day, though individuals may hold strong superstitious beliefs, the overwhelming perspective on ghost stories and similar phenomena is, generally, that belief in such is laughable, almost stupid. Hannah expressed a similar view on the Tramping Grounds before having visited it, and I found it interesting that while her skepticism wavered slightly upon seeing the circle for the first time, it wasn’t until she saw the reaction of her dog that she trusted her own animalistic instinct of fear. Do the Tramping Grounds actually carry an eerie aura, or does the legend surrounding the barren circle create a sense of fear in the visitors, which further perpetuates the legend’s survival and legitimacy. 

Slicing of the Tie: Spanish Wedding Rituals

My mother took a gap year between high school and college to live as an exchange student in Sevilla, Spain where she stayed with a host family. This eventually grew to become a lifelong friendship, and because of this she has traveled back and forth to Spain many times throughout her life. Here she describes the wedding rituals in the rural regions of southern Spain.



So, right, Spanish wedding customs.. I wouldn’t say there’s anything too crazy different about them, I mean, all night parties, dancing, drinking.. but that’s pretty standard for all parties in Spain and pretty much the Mediterranean in general. Not so much the younger kids, but everyone adult gets all dressed up in the traditional embroidered Spanish shawls and the big hair clips with the flowers – you know the ones I’m talking about. Oh, I know. There’s this one thing they would do that was really strange to me. After the ceremony, at the reception, someone would make a big show out of haphazardly cutting up the groom’s tie into a bunch of little scraps and then they would sell them, I mean people would give them money for a piece. They would make a big show of it – kinda like an auction. It wasn’t outrageous amounts of money but it wasn’t 50 cents, you know, maybe a couple hundred dollars for this little sliver of cloth. It was really just a cute little way of giving a present to the bride and groom in addition to the actual present, just giving them a little extra money. And people would keep these scraps – I don’t know how common it was, but the family I lived with had a little box on the mantel with all the tie bits that they collected over the years from all the weddings they went to.


That was before I moved to Sevilla, in the little village I stayed in for a while first. When I moved to the city we were at a wedding where they didn’t do that, so I asked Aurora about it and she kind of, kind of sneered. Like that’s so campesino – umm, redneck. Like low-class begging for money almost.”



While my mom’s friend wrote the custom off as a ‘low-class’ scheme to get more money out of the wedding guests, I think the practice represents something much more well-intentioned. In taking a piece of the groom’s tie, the wedding guests are actively showing that they want to have a piece in the marriage. They are investing in the bridge and groom, both monetarily and in spirit. The way in which the tie bits are sold off – in a goofy auction-like manner – makes the guests almost compete to show who is most supportive of the new couple, but in a silly well-intentioned manner. By keeping all the pieces of ties from weddings, it is almost as if the wedding guests are attempting to preserve the couple’s happiness at the point of their marriage throughout time and whatever may come.

The physical act of cutting the tie seems to carry a lot of symbolism as well. Unlike young adults in the United States who typically move out of their parents’ households either when leaving for college or after they turn 18, young adults in Spain tend to live at home throughout university, attending the most nearby college, and traditionally remain in their parents’ home until they get married and move into a new home with their spouse. The cutting of the tie could represent this breaking off from their parents and the place they grew up in – the complete and final transition into adulthood. The money received from the scraps of tie, however much or little, is used by the couple to create a new life together.