This legend is from K’s friend of a friend. K was born in Canada but moved to southern California when they were 10 where K went to school. K is currently a sophomore studying Screenwriting at SCA.
K’s high school circulated a story about a bunker under the auditorium that had built as a bomb shelter that had been built during the Second World War. “Which, in retrospect doesn’t really make sense because our high school was built after that.” Basically, one of K’s friends wanted to confirm if it was true. There was an upper-field area that he searched in, the auditorium area that he searched underneath, and eventually he gave up trying to find it. But, K’s AP Environmental Science teacher was like “Hey, don’t worry, it definitely exists.” So, K’s friend went back and tried to find it. K believes it might have originated from the orchestra pit, and a student seeing something freaky down there. Regardless, the story has become something the seniors tend to pass on to the freshman.
This narrative is a legend; it is set in a time in history that’s remained to the present and the basis of the story is whether or not it is real or fake. Legends often explore if the improbable or impossible is, in fact, possible and in doing so make their audience question whether or not the impossible truly is possible in the real world. The readers can examine their perception of what the real world may be. In the case of the school, the students will always have something to be curious and engaged about. Most children’s lore, including teenagers, are anti-hegemonic for the larger education system. For high school, this evolves into a more intentional and rebellious perception of the outside world. To have a story that introduces inherent falsehood in the school, I believe these teenagers will have something to place their growing pains and rebellious energy in. The backstory of the bomb shelter being built during World War II, or even the Cold War, easily becomes both a flashback into the power of the past and also the absurdity of it; the very thought of a nuclear bomb now seems ridiculous and unlikely. When students place their interest or belief into this possibly true blast from the past, they will place themselves on a high moral pedestal from which to judge history. This encourages childhood anti-hegemony and confidence in themselves, that we have evolved past a time where we needed bomb shelters.
In Tucson, Arizona, a family passes down the tradition of making a very specific recipe on Christmas. This recipe has been passed down for so many generations, the actual author of the recipe is unknown. The source has said that it traces back to their Mennonite and Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors. The recipe was given to the daughters and daughters-in-law of each generation as a rite of passage for becoming the official “woman of the household”. Every Christmas morning, those with the recipe would cook these cinnamon rolls for the entire family and those celebrating the holiday with them.
Unfortunately, when asked to record the recipe for documentation, my source refused to even let me see it. The secrecy behind this recipe is extremely important to the family and is viewed as a way of creating a bond between the women of the family and a true acceptance into the family. Me seeing this would be devaluing its importance.
I think this is a really unique coming of age tradition. Not only is it a way of cementing blood relatives as officially women, but it’s also a creative way of welcoming those who have married into the family. Because of this, I completely understand my source’s hesitance in letting me see the actual recipe.
The informant, a 22-year-old college student, is a member of a PanHellenic sorority. The informant is my sister, and while chatting at home over spring break I asked her if she would be willing to tell me any of the rituals that were performed at her sorority events. She refused to tell on the grounds that they are all highly confidential and she has been sworn to secrecy. After a moment of silence, she said that she would be willing to describe a secret tradition of her ex-boyfriend’s fraternity, because she felt no obligation to keep it secret for him any longer.
“He’s in SAE, and they have this saying that all of the brothers constantly use in secret. It’s ‘Phi Alpha,’ and it means ‘Brighter from Obscurity.’ Usually they just say it means ‘Under the Sun’ because that’s easier to understand. It has something to do with being close to God. Members of the fraternity say it to one another under their breath as a greeting or when saying goodbye. Sometimes they also say it in place of ‘I’m serious’ or ‘this is actually true.’ Like, if one guy is telling a story and his brothers don’t believe him, he’ll say ‘Phi alpha’ so that they do. Only brothers are supposed to know what it is, I was just around so much that they accidentally said it in front of me and [my ex-boyfriend] told me what it means.”
This Greek phrase intended to be shared among fraternity members in secret serves to place emphasis on the deep-rooted connection that is meant to be formed between two men as a result of their shared Greek affiliation. I asked the informant whether pledges—new members of the fraternity who had not yet been initiated—knew of the phrase and she said that they don’t. Therefore, acquiring knowledge of what the phrase is, when to use it, and what it means is a part of one’s initiation into the fraternity. It is a special privilege granted only to those who have endured several months of probationary membership, and serves as a way of asserting one’s status within the fraternity. I asked the informant what the significance of being close to God is for the members, and she replied that there really was none. The fraternity has no religious affiliation, but rather the idea of being close to God serves more as a way of encouraging members of the fraternity to take responsibility for their actions, by implying that some greater power is watching over them and ensuring that they represent the fraternity appropriately. I have always heard that a plethora of secret handshakes, rituals, and traditions exist within Greek organizations, and the depth of meaning associated with the simple saying “Phi Alpha” makes me wonder just how intricate many of these other forms of folklore are that I am unaware of.
The informant is a 21-year old student attending the University of California Berkeley. She is majoring in Media Studies and Journalism with a minor in Hebrew. She grew up in West Los Angeles with her two parents, immigrants from the Soviet Union. The following is what she shared with me about the Soviet way of celebrating New Year’s Eve.
Informant: “The Soviets made New Years the new holiday. They weren’t allowed to celebrate Christmas anymore, so they went around the rules and celebrated the secular holiday instead. They had a pine tree and Father snow (he was instead of Santa Claus). My family celebrates Soviet New Years still. A lot of us immigrated here—my mom and dad and both of their siblings and all of their kids. And my grandparents. So every New Year’s when I was growing up we would have a big family gathering with a tree—even though we are Jewish, I know it’s weird, but it’s not religious at all. It’s really just like a holdover from the Soviet Union. I got presents and my dad and grandpa always sang these long, hard-to-understand Russian songs.”
This reminds me of Santeria, a syncretic religion in the Americas, centered around Yoruba-mythology and belief. When those who believed in Yoruba mythology were forced to convert to Catholocism, they began worshipping the Catholic Saints instead of the Yoruba Gods, at least in appearance. Rather, it seemed as though they were following along with the new rules imposed on them, but instead they were practicing their religion in disguise. The syncrasy of the religion came about, but the religion seems far more blended to outsiders than it is in practice.
People in the Soviet Union being prohibited from celebrating Christmas of other Christian holidays was a part of the Soviet anti religious campaign for state atheism. Given how much weight belief holds for many people and how so many customs, practices, and rituals are grounded in belief, it is unrealistic to extricate it from people.
“The lengths people were going to to try to find this thing were so extensive, I didn’t even bother trying to look since I felt like there wouldn’t be a chance I’d find it.”
In Dice Entertainment’s recently released video game, Battlefield 4, there was rumor of a secret hidden somewhere in it that users spent months trying to find. It was a massive shark, a megalodon, that would apparently appear if you do the right sequence of actions and show up at the right place at the right time. Apparently, it was something someone on the development team added for fun, but wouldn’t tell if it indeed was true.
The informant plays a lot of games and loves easter eggs in games — hidden secrets placed by the developer. He says they range from small scale, like the signature of a designer tucked away in a corner, to large scale, like a massive extinct shark that flies out of the ocean and destroys everything in its path. He says he thinks people eventually found it, but wasn’t sure if they cheated to do that or someone faked it. Apparently, people in these communities band together and put in several hours of work to find these secrets beyond what normal players see.
In researching further, it turns out the megalodon is real! Players, after months of searching, found the shark, the last known unfound easter egg in the game. It’s unclear when exactly it was added into the game — either it’s been there since it was released, or the company added it at a later date to surprise fans who had been spreading rumors about its existence. The latter is a really interesting scenario — it’s almost like claiming to have found big foot, but you’re literally in control of whether or not big foot exists. To a certain extent it nullifies the possibility of legends or at least an unknown since the control of existence is in someone’s hands, at least if we allow modification of the original games.