Tag Archives: rites of passage

Shellback, Golden Dragon, Golden Shellback

This is folk speech that is found in the maritime world. They are names that are given under various circumstances when sailing around the world. A shellback is a name given to someone who crosses the Equator for the first time while aboard a ship. A golden dragon is someone who crosses the dateline. The dateline is the imaginary line that runs North-South through the Pacific Ocean, on the other side of the globe as the prime meridian. Finally, a golden shellback is someone who crosses where the international date line meets the equator for the first time. These names are given to sailors to recognize their global travels. Sometimes, this is accompanied by hazing if it is the first time the sailors have received this name, such as treading water in the ocean. The informant has not crossed any of these lines by ship but was involved in the sailing community growing up and associated with people that had done this.

The informant learned about this folk speech from his uncle when he was growing up. They remember it because they had always been interested in making these achievements and traveling the world by ship. The informant always looked up to people that had done this because he thought they were hardy and real seamen/adventurers. There are other terms used for some of these accomplishments, such as a son of Neptune. There are names for people who have done none of these, like tadpoles, as well.

It is certainly an achievement to have accomplished this, but the navy and other similar organizations are notorious for hazing and rites of passage, being secluded on a boat with just other sailors. It is interesting to think about in comparison to other rites of passage within different branches of the military. Although this is a general sea term overall, it is often used frequently in navies across the globe.

Graduation at Phillips Academy Andover

Informant: “At Andover, graduation is a big thing because, so tradition-wise it always, you lead the gradu—blue key heads, which I’ll explain in a sec, lead and, they lead and, uh, end the graduation procession and, uh, the graduation procession follows bagpipers so we have a full band of bagpipers and this is apparently like school tradition since 1778 that a full team of Scottish bagpipers starts off graduation and I hated it. And then we all—“

Lavelle: Did they wear kilts?

Informant: “What? Yeah, they were wearing full Scottish dress and they played the bagpipes. And so then we follow them and then, um, blue key heads, so then, oh and then for ours– so we go throughout the whole graduation ceremony and then what happens is our graduation, instead of people being called up, we all stand in a circle. So the entire grade, and we have like 330 people, you have 330 people standing in a circle and when they call out your name for your diploma, your diploma’s handed down the circle. So it’s passed down through each of your friends’ hands until it reaches you. Um, which was really cool because  a) it went really fast because you didn’t have to wait for people to go by, so that was great, it went really quickly. Second, and then it was cool because, like, all your friends were passing it to you and then, like, everyone could celebrate as you got your diploma and you were all standing in this circle. And then when you all got your diploma you all stood in the circle for, like, a couple minutes and, like, appreciated that you were standing with your class for the last time. Um, and then the blue key heads run in the middle and learn– er, lead everybody in a round of, like, school cheers and then we break the circle.”


My informant was a graduate of Phillips Academy Andover with the class of 2011. This is an important memory for my informant as she greatly enjoyed her high school experience and looks back on her years at Andover fondly.

High school graduation is an important rite of passage for all adolescents and every high school has its own traditions that its students enjoy. High school graduation is often the last time students will be together with their class and can be a bittersweet experience. This is just one example of a unique graduation ceremony.

For more information about Andover graduation:


Junior Ring Ceremony

My informant described a yearly ceremony at her high school, Notre Dame Academy, Junior Ring Ceremony. This ceremony takes place at the end of the fall semester each year. This is when junior receive their class rings. Students do not have to purchase a traditional class ring, any ring is fine. Generally, students try to get rings with stones in their class color (red, blue, purple, or green). This ceremony is really only for juniors and their families. It’s at night and the girls are required to dress up and look nice. It consists of some short speeches from classmates and faculty, a song sung by the class, and the presentation of the rings. After the rings are given out, girls are supposed to get their rings turned 100 plus the year of your graduation times, so if you graduated in 2011, you needed to get your ring turned 111 times. Each time someone turns a ring, they’re asked to make a wish for the girl. The last turn is supposed to be saved for someone special, probably someone the student admires or who has been influential in her life.

My informant graduated in 2011 from Notre Dame Academy Girl’s High School in West Los Angeles, California. She currently attends UCLA in Westwood, California. Notre Dame Academy, often called NDA, is a Catholic, all girls school with many traditions the students participate in annually. My informant told me about one that every girl looks forward to as the ring ceremony is a reminder that senior year is approaching quickly. This ring ceremony seems rather unique to NDA, but I have heard of some other high schools have formal presentations of class rings.

Farrier Lore: Laying down the hammer

Informant : “Horseshoe-ers when you lay your hammer down for the last time the only thing you have to look forward to is dying”


The informant is a kind, older, “cowboy” who has been working with horses and farm animals for his entire life. He is a Certified Journeyman Farrier (the highest level of certification by the American Farrier’s Association) and is very well respected in the farrier and greater equine community. He was born in Wichita, Kansas to a family that has been farmers for generations. In fact, the informant said that some of his family is still farming in “places like Oklahoma.” He shod his first horse when he was 13, and so he has been shoeing horses for about 51 years. * To “shoe” or  shod a horse is to put horse shoes on the horse’s hooves. Horses need to be shod about once every six weeks, so quality farriers are highly sought after in the equine community. A farrier is a very specialized and difficult profession because if a horse is shod improperly the horse could become crippled.* The informant learned of this lore from a fellow farrier during his many years in the trade.

When asked what the informant thought of the saying, he stated “…layin the hammer down. I used to think it was funny, but now, now I’m startin’ to believe it.” This particular lore is very relevant to the informant because he is “reaching that time when I’ll have to put my hammer down.” This saying indicates a right of passage. When the older and experienced farrier is going to retire, he will “lay his hammer down for the last time.”

The informant is very passionate about his profession and really enjoys working with horses, so I find that this is a somewhat depressing saying. Furthermore, having been born and raised in a society that avoids death and treats death as a taboo topic such a statement is disconcerting. We do not like imagining those we know passing away or acknowledging that they might.


My friend is currently a freshman at Northwestern University.  She is majoring in journalism, so she lives in the CRC (Communications Residential College) at the university.  The CRC primarily consists of freshman and sophomore communications majors.

Every year, the sophomores in CRC start hyping up an event called Panquake.  They usually do this a few weeks in advance of the event itself and keep the freshmen confused as to what Panquake actually is.  Often the references to the Panquake are nonsensical and mainly work to keep the freshmen curious.  This year, my friend said that the sophomores made a lot of posters with irrelevant film and TV quotes, ending with the  hashtag “#panquake.”  As the event drew near, the sophomores said to just be ready “with $10 and a sense of adventure.”

Panquake takes place late at night.  The sophomores of CRC bring the freshmen to Chicago’s “El” (Elevated rail) and ride it to an IHOP in Chicago.  It turns out that the Panquake itself is quite simple.  The sophomores take the freshmen to the IHOP and they sit down and eat pancakes.

My friend told me that after the meal, the sophomores walk the freshmen back instead of taking the “El.”  This walk goes through multiple parks and a graveyard and is supposed to be a bonding experience.  This year, however, my friend said that one of the students accidentally touched a stranger’s car, and the stranger became infuriated and threatened to harm the students.  For the sake of safety, the group took the “El” back to Northwestern instead.  However, since the walk is a very important part of the tradition, the sophomores promised the freshmen that they would take them through the route some other time, so they know where to take next year’s freshmen.

I think that this tradition acts as a rite of passage for new residents of the CRC dorm.  The trip to the IHOP and the walk back to campus is an expression of passing a liminal point – the freshmen are transitioning from freshmen initiated members of the residential college.  The entirety of the tradition and practice seems to be important – I found it telling that the sophomores insisted that they took the freshmen on the walking route at a later date, because this part of the tradition was essential.  I also find the practice of “over-hyping” it very interesting.  Perhaps it adds to the mystery and excitement of the event.  Perhaps the “sense of adventure”  espouses an attitude the sophomores want to instill in the freshmen – they want them to be unafraid to try new experiences.

Celebration – Mexican


This is the celebration of the daughter’s fifteenth birthday and is a rite of passage for a young Mexican girl as she enters womanhood. Some of the traditions during this ceremony include a dance with her father (which is the most important), goes to church for confirmacion (confirmation) which is a ceremony exclusively for family. The party afterward is for friends and other guests. Prior to the celebration the girl cannot wear high heels or make-up and cannot dance with a boy. However during the party, after she dances with her father, she has to dance with the boy she chose to be her date to her quinceanera.


The subject was eager to talk about this celebration as it is a huge part of Mexican culture. Quinceanera is the celebration of the daughter’s fifteenth birthday, which represents a transformation from a child to a woman. The subject talked to me for awhile about the ceremony and the different aspects of it. She said it was the first most important day of your life. She told me that most people say that a wedding day is the most important day in a girl’s life, but she said that this day is all about you as opposed to you and your husband to be. She went through the different occurrences during the day, stating that the first thing the girl and her family do is go to church and for confirmacion. This is a custom that allows the girl to assert her faith by her own free will as opposed to having her parents make the decision for her. This is a crucial step in becoming a woman.

After church the girl hosts a party where relatives and friends are allowed to come. The girl must wear a white gown to her party and flat bottom shoes. The celebration lasts for hours, with food and dancing as the main activities. The most important part of the party is the dance between the father and the girl, this marks the last dance she has with her father as her dad’s little girl. She is then presented with a pair of high heels which represent maturity and grace. Prior to her quinceneara the girl was not allowed to wear high heels, make-up or dance with boys. The next part of the celebration includes the dance with the date she brought to the party, this is significant because it is another sign of growing up, as the girl can now have relations with boys.  The subject said that the parties are always a lot of fun and bring the community together in celebration.

I think that this ceremony or rite of passage is amazing. It has so many traditions that have stood the test of time, with the father daughter dance, the presentation of the shoe, and the white gown. I think that there are many symbols throughout this celebration, for example I think that the white gown is meant to symbolize purity, and perhaps in the past this was a wedding celebration as well, and once the girl turned fifteen she was eligible to be married. I also think that the shoes and the lift of the prohibition of boys and make-up are symbols of adulthood and maturity. This ceremony reminds me of the cotillion or a debutante ball, in which girls of age 18 or so have an introduction to society party, where they also don white gowns and dance with their fathers. The balls are very similar in significance as well as both are coming of age ceremonies. The confirmation of faith at the church is much like Christian and Catholic Confirmation which occur in 10th and 11th grade respectively.

Ritual – India


“Sacred Thread Ceremony”

My father explained to me in detail about Upanayanam and its importance to Hindu religion and culture. He had this sacred thread ceremony done to him when he was at the age of 10, in August of 1976. He said that this ceremony was the transition of being a boy to becoming a real man. It was more of a rite of passage ritual. He accounted all the things that happened to him during the time, as much as he could remember. He said that it was initially done to kids, in the olden times, to formally start their education, but now it is done as a rite of passage tradition. My dad said during the ceremony the child is taught the secrets through the chants of the gayatri mantras. After this he becomes qualified as a student or a Bramacharia.

The token of going through the ceremony is the poonal or the sacred thread. The thread is circular and tied end to end. My dad, who still wears it, said that it is supported by the right shoulder and it is slung behind the back. He changes the thread every year in a ceremony done in August of every year.

I had this ceremony done to me when I was 11 years old. It was a very gala event and I learned a lot during this time period, even though I was pretty young. I learned the Gayatri Mantras and many other chants. Even though I don’t where my poonal anymore because of culture differences, I do the thread changing ceremony every year in August. I think that this ceremony is very similar to many come to age ceremonies done by other religions such as Bar mitzvahs. The day I had this done was very special and I wont forget it ever.

Rite of Passage – United States Marine Corps

(This Rite of Passage takes place at Parris Island, South Carolina during Marine Corps recruit training or boot camp as it is more commonly known) It is early in the morning and all of the young Marine Corps recruits have just been woken up and are standing at the Position of Attention awaiting orders from their drill instructors. For some reason the drill instructor has a sad and concerned look on his face. Although no one is speaking there seems to be a general feeling of dread in the air. The young recruits look to their left and right occasionally, searching for some clue as to what is going on.

The drill instructor takes a deep breath in and says in a very low voice, “The United States has been attacked. At 0800 hours we received word that terrorists have attacked the White House and they have confirmed that there are multiple fatalities. According to our intelligence, North Korea is responsible for the attacks. President Bush feels that the United States need to quickly respond to this threat, and has decided that the best course of action is to declare war on North Korea. The situation requires recruit training to be cut short dramatically. Instead of 12 weeks you will all become full-fledged Marines next week. After you earn the title Marine you will be assigned to a combat unit and deploy to North Korea. Whether or not you want to continue recruit training is up to you. If you decide you want to leave no one will hold it against you. You will return you issued gear and after some logistics you will be flown back home. All of those who wish to leave please take one step forward.”

At this point the recruits are completely blown away. Some are muttering to themselves while others talk amongst each other. Inevitably someone steps forward. After a while there are a handful of recruits who have taken a step forward. At this point the drill instructor asks if anyone else wants to leave. No hands go up. He then says, “Take a good look at the individuals who have stepped forward. These are people who do not deserve to earn the title Marine. These are guys you do not want watching your back on the battlefield. The United States was not attacked. There is no war with North Korea. I just wanted to see how many cowards were in this platoon. Remember them well and remember those that did not step forward. Those are the real Marines.”

This experience was a real eye opener for a lot of recruits. Some of the guys that stepped forward were guys that acted tough and appeared to be more hardcore than myself and other recruits. I personally did not step forward. Unlike some of the other recruits, I was actually warned in advance of such a scenario taking place during Recruit Training. Another reason I did not believe what was said was that at the time, the United States was already at war with Afghanistan. Later in the year they went to war with Iraq, which blew my theory about the impossibility of simultaneous wars to bits.

Rites of Passage – United States Marine Corps

When new Marines join the fleet and are officially part of the United States Marine Corps they are called boots. These Marines are considered boots until they gain seniority and especially when they get junior Marines that they are put in charge of. There are various pranks and tricks played on these new Marines. When a new Marine comes to work he may be asked to find an ID-10 Tag. This Marine will then go around asking others where he might be able to locate an ID-10 Tag. Everyone is usually in on the joke because they have all been through it before and they all usually play along. They will tell the Marine random locations or send him to another Marine who will also keep the wild goose chase going. Eventually the Mane will be told, or find out, that an ID-10 Tag does not actually exist. ID-10 Tag is actually code for IDIOT.

A boot may also be sent to hunt down a PRC-E5 (pronounced prick-ee-five). This prank is a little less forgiving than others. E5 is the pay grade of a Sergeant in the Marine Corps. He is in essence being asked to find a Sergeant who is a prick. When the Marine actually finds the Sergeant and tells him he was told to ask for a PRC-E5 the Sergeant may not be too happy that some boot is calling him a prick. What often ends up happening is the Sergeant hunts down the Marine that sent the boot to him and reprimands that individual. After being scolded, the Marine usually makes it a task to somehow punish the boot that went to the Sergeant. This prank is not exclusive to Sergeants it can be used amongst Marines of any pay grade.

Usually pranks like these occur during a workday when there is not much to do and senior Marines are bored. It is uncommon for these pranks to happen during combat deployment mainly because there is not much time to initiate boots when constant danger exists. These pranks are usually conducted by senior Marines who “know the ropes.” Often someone will take pity on a boot and inform him that he is being screwed with. When I first joined my unit I was sent on a series of wild goose chases and eventually I was pulled aside by a fellow Marine and informed that I as being tricked. I actually became extremely angry because I was more eager to actually do legitimate work than participating in what I felt were sophomoric pranks. I was so angry at being duped, in fact, that I never forgave the Marine that duped me and hold a grudge against him to this very day.

Some Marines swear by the utility in playing pranks on their new Marines. They feel it teaches them to distinguish ridiculous and unfounded orders from legitimate ones. I feel that it is more important to actually do ones job properly and save the games for non-work hours. I have had any arguments with other Marines over this subject and whenever I see a boot being tricked I inform him as soon as humanly possible. This resulted in senior Marines pranking their boots only when I was not around because they knew I would spoil their fun.