The “Journey to The Underworld” was an event organized by the JCL (Junior Classical League) at my informant’s high school, where the freshman Latin students were forced to undergo certain initiation rites to cement their entrance into the club. My informant went through this process as a freshman and later, as club vice-president and upperclassman, even organized the event.
The rites were, of course, heavily influenced by Latin mythology and pieces of Latin folklore. The upperclassmen had somehow procured a toilet a few years earlier, and they filled this up with all manners of things (clam chowder, peppers, raw eggs, soy milk, cottage cheese, etc.), changing it up every year to make it as disgusting as possible. They then made blindfolded freshmen root around in the mess in search for a quarter that they always “forgot” to put in the toilet bowl–the quarter an obvious allusion to the coin needed to cross the River Styx in the Underworld. The upperclassmen would then draw on the freshmen with felt tip markers, saying, “Cerberus is licking you!” referring, of course, to the three-headed dog that guards Hades. Throughout the entire event, freshmen were to be remained blindfolded and upperclassmen led them around, oftentimes in circles, pointing out various spots in the “underworld” to dramatic music and sudden bursts of screams. Although the rites changed from year to year, they were generally light-hearted and humorous, and even the freshmen were happy to go through the experience, seeing it as a way to bond as a club and get to know the other members.
Afterwards, they would hold a banquet and a bonding movie session, where the newly initiated freshmen would sit as one and the same with the other members, and interact with them essentially as equals. The food at the banquet, my informant said, was usually store-bought or home-made by the upperclassmen, in this way allowing the freshmen the privilege of being served by the same people who had scared them not an hour prior. Perhaps in this way they restored balance, and brought cohesion to the club as a group.
These rites served the purpose of something like an initiation; all the non-freshmen had gone through that event at one point in their club career, and so the freshmen weren’t fully members until they had endured the same–the same mentality that pervades fraternity and sorority culture. It was also a way for freshman to bond with each other, through shared experiences, and with the upperclassmen, whose enjoyment in the teasing and scaring had more to do with the hopeful anticipation of the coming class more than anything else.