Author Archives: Eliza Poster

“Spodies”: Social Drinking Tradition for Seattle Teenagers


WD: “Spodies are, in Seattle and maybe other places, but they are social events, generally they happen on Fridays, Saturdays. Basically, a bunch of high schoolers go to public parks—there’s a bunch of spots that each have code names, so one is called ‘The Rock,’ one is called, ‘Woodlands,’ some of them are the names of the park, but some of them are other things. You fill a big container with alcohol and also juices and stuff, so it’s like a punch bowl. You do that, not every weekend, but a lot of weekends, high schoolers just go and get drunk in these parks, but the thing is that the police come literally every time because they know exactly where the spots are. So, the events only last for, like, two hours and then you have to run off into the park.”


The informant is a 20-year-old college student from Seattle, Washington. He never attended a “spodie,” but described it as a common, well-known tradition among teenagers in the Seattle Metropolitan area. While in some areas, the word “spodie” refers to the actual drink, among his peers it referred only to the event. WD never attended a spodie but knew that people at his high school—generally the “athletic students” and “cool kids”– attended them, so they do indicate social status. The prospect of being chased by the police is part of the event’s appeal, he said, as rebelling against authorities appeals to teenagers. The risk of getting caught and punished is thrilling to young people. 


I think that spodies, like keg parties or more common teenage gatherings centered around drinking, reflect social status. One’s attendance signifies a kind of insider status, as a person must have the social ties to know that the party is occurring and also know the meanings of the locations’ code names. The punchbowl of miscellaneous alcohols and juices is also distinctly teenaged. Since teenagers cannot legally buy alcohol and probably cannot afford to provide it for an entire party, they make a convivial ritual out of individuals mixing whatever they can find. Spodies therefore give young people not only the chance to get drunk, but also provide an opportunity for social bonding.

            I would argue that spodies also appeal to young people because they allow them to participate in a longstanding tradition of rebellion that is unique to Seattle. Spodies allow the consolidation of a community of Seattle teenagers, many of whom likely heard about spodies as children and excitedly anticipate becoming old enough to participate in them. They are appealing in their novelty. The events are therefore a kind of rite of passage as well, indicating one’s ascent into high school or teenage life. The expectation of getting caught also compels young people to participate in spodies, where they can experience the thrill of reckless rule breaking and evading punishment. Spodies being a group activity offers a layer of protection to individuals, a sense of solidarity between the attendees and of being invisible in the crowd. One can interpret running from the police in this group context as a form of group bonding and connecting with a regional tradition.

British Boarding School 18th Birthday Hazing Tradition


DD: “At Malvern and at most boarding schools, you have all your meals in your house, which means you sit with your year group, but there’s people from [ages] 13 to 18 in that room. Whenever you turn 18, after lunch and the housemaster does all the announcements and leaves and goes to the private side, what the birthday boy would try and do is run out of the lunchroom, but what everyone else does—and it’s mainly the lower and upper sixth, like junior and senior years—they like, hold down the person and carry them out of the lunchroom and into the showers, which are in the basement. And we’re all wearing suits. And then they turn on the showers and you get thrown in the showers and you get completely soaking wet. And, also, as you’re doing this, if you resist at all, they beat the s— out of you.”


The informant is a 21-year-old college student who was born in the Netherlands and attended a British boarding school, Malvern college, from ages 16 to 18. He experienced this tradition on his 18th birthday and similarly hazed other students on their birthdays. DD describes this ritual as “the highest form of endearment” that someone in this environment can experience. Since homophobia and oppressive gender ideals play such a big role in shaping social dynamics at all-boys boarding schools, he says that boys often use violence to express affection for one another. He says that this ritual acts as a sort of substitute for more common birthday traditions like singing happy birthday to someone or baking them a cake, which students may deride as “gay.”

            Moreover, despite the brutality and humiliation of this tradition, he argues that boys enjoy it because it’s an opportunity for them to be the center of attention and to be celebrated on their birthday.


This tradition exemplifies how transitional events are often ritualized and the tendency for people to behave in ways which would ordinarily be deemed unacceptable during liminal moments. In International Folkloristics, Arnold van Gennep describes rites of passage as “ceremonial patterns which accompany a passage from one situation to another or from one cosmic or social world to another” (Dundes 102). I am arguing that boarding school students hazing their peers on their 18th birthday is a rite of passage which marks the transition from childhood to adulthood, where the event acts as a sort of acknowledgement or confirmation of a student’s status as an adult. 

People feel inclined to engage in abnormal behaviors during instances of liminality because the paradoxical qualities of these moments make people think that the conventions which govern normal time are inapplicable. In general, birthdays are liminal because they cusp the end of one year and the beginning of another. With this ritual, another dimension of liminality applies to one’s 18th birthday, as this day cusps the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood. Further, one’s status as an adult is complicated by the student still being in secondary school, which is generally synonymous with childhood. One could argue that a possible intention of this rite of passage is to humble the person whose birthday it is by showing that despite having the nominal privileges of adulthood, they are still a part of the school. The inversion of social roles often occurs during liminal moments. Younger students hazing their older peers can be interpreted as flipping power dynamics.

Another feature of liminality in this ritual is it simultaneously being embraced as a cultural tradition and being seen as a form of rule breaking. Students wait for the housemaster to leave before carrying out the tradition, but this is merely a performance of secrecy which is part of the ritual. The practice is a kind of open secret, where school authorities know that it occurs and participate by turning a blind eye and not getting involved. Though such hazing would ordinarily be penalized, it is tolerated on 18th birthdays because the community understands the tradition as a longstanding rite of passage celebrating students’ transitions to adulthood.

Van Gennep, Arnold. “The Rites of Passage.” International Folkloristics: Classic Contributions by the Founders of Folklore, edited by Alan Dundes, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, 1999. 

The Jersey Devil


KJ: “The Jersey Devil is like a donkey, kind of, with sharp teeth and bat wings. It also has legs. And it’s supposed to be really big. And I feel like it’s very much a big foot thing, like you’ll see it in the woods. It’s like a devil-dinosaur-goat thing. I feel like a New Jersey Big Foot is a good way to describe the lore surrounding it.”


The informant is a 19-year-old college student from Montclair, New Jersey. KJ described the legend of the Jersey Devil as being commonly known among people from New Jersey and remembers hearing about it from her peers, but also remembers reading about it in a magazine called ‘Weird NJ.’ Though she doesn’t know of any specific ways that the monster is supposed to attack or hurt those who see it, she remembers her peers in middle school stoking vague fears that “the Jersey Devil is going to get you.” KJ claimed that she and her friends ran from the Jersey Devil after seeing it in a public park when she was in eighth grade and describes it as a “lanky” figure with “smoke coming out of its face.” Though she thinks she probably imagined the figure, her friends similarly remember seeing it and they have not been able to explain it.


The Jersey Devil is a pervasive legend which may trace all the way back to 18th century colonial New Jersey. Brian Regal describes a popular mythic origin story of the monster, which is that a witch called Mother Leeds gave birth to “a ‘child’ with horse-like head, bat-like wings, clawed hands and hooved feet” (Regal 79). He argues that this legend arose from conflict between New Jersey Quakers and Daniel Leeds, the patriarch of a Quaker family who published a book called ‘The Temple of Wisdom for the Little World’ in 1688 which promoted belief in a peculiar cosmology, an amalgamation of “theology and the budding Scientific Revolution” which “included sections on angels, natural magic, astrology, theology, philosophy, and the behavior of devils” (Regal 90). Quakers disapproved of Leeds’ philosophy and public espousal of secular or untraditional faith or magic. Regal argues that the public controversy surrounding Leeds’ work, persona, and unconventional beliefs led to the creation of the Jersey Devil.

            While the origins of this legend have to do with Christianity, I don’t think that the Jersey Devil speaks to contemporary fears about religious deviance and alternative faiths. As with legends like Big Foot, people enjoy the mystery of the creature, hearing stories about sightings and arguing about its existence. Moreover, the legend’s long history and specificity to the state makes it a part of New Jersey culture which people can identify with and bond over. The legend is extremely popular, with the state’s football team being named The New Jersey Devils.

Just as La Llorona can be interpreted as warning children to be safe around bodies of water, it’s possible that the Jersey Devil sends a message about safety. The legends popularity among children and adolescents, during periods when individuals are afforded new independence, could speak to fears of encountering dangers one can encounter alone in the world. One could argue that the figure implicitly promotes that young people be cautious among strangers and in dangerous places such as the woods.


“The Jersey Devil.” Chambers Dictionary of the Unexplained, edited by Una McGovern, Chambers Harrap, 1st edition, 2007. Credo Reference, Accessed 26 Apr. 2022.

For another description of the Jersey Devil, consult page 79 of this source:

Regal, Brian. “‘The Jersey Devil: A Political Animal.’” New Jersey Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, vol. 1, no. 1, 2015, pp. 79–103., 

Clinton Road Ghost


KJ: “There’s this road called Clinton Road that’s the longest uninterrupted road in New Jersey, if not in the East Coast, or something. Obviously, it’s uninterrupted, so there’s no stop signs or lights or anything, but there’s also no streetlights either. It’s very windy and through trees and there’s some kind of lake or creek on either side. So, there’s one creek that goes under it, so there’s a bridge over, and basically—I don’t know if it’s completely a made-up story, because whenever you go there, there are crosses and flowers where people got killed getting hit by cars on the street. The story is that a boy got hit by a car and killed on the street, and if you put a penny on the bridge at midnight, his ghost will appear.”


The informant is a 19-year-old college student from Montclair, New Jersey. She said the legend of the Clinton Road Ghost is popular across the state and that teenagers often carry out the ritual meant to conjure the ghost. KJ described driving to the site with her friends and staying in the car when her friends put a penny on the bridge. While they were pulled over at the side of the road, a man drove by and asked them why they stopped. When they told him everything was fine, he warned them that “there are more things to be afraid of than deer around here,” which she interpreted as him trying to perpetuate the legend and make them afraid.


In ‘Ghostly Possession and Real Estate: The Dead in Contemporary Estonian Folklore,’ Folklorist Ülo Valk wrote that spirits and ghosts’ “sudden appearance occurs when human beings wander from their daily routes into strange and alien territory by visiting an area of potential danger (such as a body of water) or by being somewhere at the wrong time (such as a graveyard at night” (Valk 33). The legend of the Clinton Road ghost embodies both of these qualities, since it is specific to the most treacherous road in New Jersey, where many deaths have taken place, and it appears at midnight, deep into the night, when it’s dark and when many accidents take place.

This legend’s popularity among teenagers makes sense considering the cultural significance of getting one’s driver’s license at 16 and gaining independence through the ability to drive. Valk wrote that ghosts “may appear in order to reinforce social norms, proper behavior, and traditional customs” (Valk 33). I think this legend is meant to warn teenagers about the dangers of reckless or drunk driving, just as folklorists theorize that legends like La Llorona convey messages about safety around bodies of water. One could argue that the legend promotes responsible driving by illustrating and stoking fears about how injustices of the past—the young boy’s death from being hit by a car—haunt people in the present.


Valk, Ülo. “Ghostly Possession and Real Estate: The Dead in Contemporary Estonian Folklore.” Journal of Folklore Research: An International Journal of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, vol. 43, no. 1, 2006, pp. 31–52., 

Jewish Folktale: The Fools of Chelm Try to Capture the Moon in a Barrel of Water


LG: “In the town of Chelm, the people there were fools and one night they saw the moon in a barrel of water. So, they thought they would capture it, so they covered the barrel. So then, in the morning when they went back, it was gone. So, they thought it had been stolen, so they called the police. And the police came, and they had nothing to show them, so they all moaned and cried.”


The informant is my mother. She is a 57-year-old woman of Ashkenazi Jewish descent who was born in California and currently lives in New York City. Her father was a German-born Jewish refugee who escaped Nazi persecution as a child and her mother is the daughter of poor Russian Jewish immigrants. She feels very attuned to her Jewish heritage and culture and views this tale as an example of “shtetl humor.” She doesn’t remember where she first heard this story, but recently discovered an iteration of it in the writings of Jewish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer.


This folktale is one of many which discuss the Jewish town of Chelm, where “inhabitants acquired a reputation for being good and well meaning, though foolish” (Patai and Oettinger). I think this tale conveys some of the defining qualities of Jewish humor, which is often acerbic and endearingly critical, however, it’s not merely making fun of stupidity. As Raphael Patai and Ayelet Oettinger write, the foolishness in these stories “can be seen as a sort of backward logic that satirizes the process of Jewish theological reasoning” (Patai and Oettinger). In this instance, the people of Chelm’s effort to capture the moon is an allegory about faith, where God, like the moon, is astonishing and powerful, but elusive and cannot be physically captured. I think this story is also a critique of the hubristic desire to see God and understand divinity.


Patai, Raphael, and Ayelet Oettinger. “Chelm, the Wise of.” Encyclopedia of Jewish Folklore and Traditions, edited by Haya Bar-Itzhak, and Raphael Patai, Routledge, 1st edition, 2013. Credo Reference, Accessed 27 Apr. 2022.

Another iteration of this folktale is given in a block quote which follows the third paragraph of this essay:

Rogovin, Or. “Chelm as Shtetl: Y. Y. Trunk’s Khelemer Khakhomim.” Prooftexts: A Journal of Jewish Literary History, vol. 29, no. 2, spring 2009, pp. 242+. Gale Literature Resource Center, Accessed 27 Apr. 2022.