Tag Archives: virginity

“The Virgin Vault”

Text: “The Virgin Vault” or “The Vault” at Vanderbilt University

Minor Genre: Folk Speech – Crude Stereotype


L explained that “The Virgin Vault,” or “The Vault,” was the unofficial name for an all-girls hall at Vanderbilt in which boys were not allowed. It was the fourth floor of the Dyer Observatory, and its reputation as “the living space for virgins” was well-known among the student body. L lived in “The Virgin Vault” in her freshman year of college, 1993. She explained that she was aware of the hall’s reputation before she moved in – and that the title was “not considered a compliment, but it did not bother me.” It was simply where she could get a room; she wanted to get out of a bad roommate situation, and the only room available was in “The Vault.”


“The Virgin Vault” as a community nickname for an all-girls floor makes for an interesting social analysis in two main ways: it makes gendered assumptions about sexual engagements and implies that it is a negative trait for a girl to be a virgin. While it is reasonable to consider that 1993 did not have the same level of LGBTQ inclusivity that is common today, this phrase and its context implies that sex can only happen between people of the opposite sex. It also raises the question: would an all-boys floor also have the potential to be called a Virgin Vault? The answer is no, at least for Vanderbilt. This is another aspect that creates gendered assumptions about sex and traditional roles: that it is the boy who would be visiting the girl, and not vice versa.

The second interesting implication of “The Virgin Vault” is the implied negative connotation of virginity. Socially, being a virgin is considered “bad” – but so is having “too much” experience. Another aspect to consider is that some girls, including my mother (L), did not consider being labelled as a resident of “The Virgin Vault” to be a bad thing. This indicates that such a charged phrase only achieves power when it is used by/on people who care about its negative (or positive) social implications.

Knocking on the head of a virgin


Perform the physical action of knocking on the head of a virgin.wood, they would knock on the head of a virgin instead. This gesture can also be substituted with the phrase itself “knocking on the head of a virgin” as a form of proverbial speech.


In high school, the informant learned this saying from a friend who was Greek Orthodox and claimed it as a part of Greek Orthodox culture. Preliminary research has yet to provide any link between this superstition and Greek Orthodox culture, instead pointing towards this practice stemming from urban legend.


Though the connection between wood as a material and virgin’s heads may seem far-fetched, the substitution of heads for wood is common in the practice of ‘knocking on wood.’ When someone knocks on their own head as a substitution for knocking on wood, they are not only participating in the superstition but also making a joke at their own expense, implying that their head is made of wood rather than brains and thus they are dumb. With this common conflation in mind, knocking on the heads of virgins as a substitute for knocking on wood presents both as a means of participating in the ‘knock on wood’ superstition while making a joke, this time at the expense of a group (virgins) rather than the self. The claim that this superstition comes from Greek Orthodox culture is so far unfounded and inexplicable.

Rajasthani Wedding Games for the Bride

Rajasthani Wedding Games and Pranks
1. After the wedding ceremony, the bride goes to her husband’s house where his family will put her intelligence, courage, strength and cooking experience to the test (in a friendly series of games). The exact tests to be performed vary by family, but some that Mayuri listed were:
– The bride enters the house only after kicking a rice-filled pot with her right foot (auspicious one).
– The ring game: a vat is filled with milk and small metallic objects (along with the wedding rings) are thrown in. The bride and groom must reach in together and try and fish out their rings with one hand. The one who does so first will have the upper hand in the marriage!
– The bride must try and hold as many of the gifts that her new family will deposit in her lap. Brides will often use their veils to wrap all her new family’s gifts and carry them around. She must carry as much as she can in her sari (test of her ingenuity and resourcefulness).
– The bride must also pick up every female member of her husband’s family. This is a test of her strength.
Later on, right before the wedding night, the bride and groom will be teased together (especially by the cousins) and pushed and shoved all the way to their highly decorated bedroom.

These rituals are done to ease the liminal period for the bride. Traditionally in India, the bride does not meet her husband or his family before the marriage and so these games are done to ease the transition from her old family home she’s lived in her whole life, to her new home with her husband and his family. In India, families live together and share the same house; therefore, the rituals and games involve the whole family. The bride is also going from an unmarried virgin to a married woman on the wedding night so it is important for the bride to feel comfortable with her husband.

Cornell Virgin Legend

“Okay, so the deal is, there’s A.D. White and Ezra Cornell. So, there are statues of each of them. Ezra Cornell is the first president of Cornell and, I forget, I think A.D. White was the founder. Oh, no, no, no, A.D. White was the first president and they named the school after Cornell. So, um, what happened is, there’s statues of them on opposite sides of the Arts Quad, and Cornell legend says that if a virgin crosses the Arts Quad at midnight, the ghost of the two statues walk to the center of the Arts Quad and shake hands in appreciation of chastity. Okay, in recent years, students have painted footprints of the two umm, one in white, one set of footprints in white and one set of footprints in red that lead to the center circle on the Arts Quad as if the statues actually were able to get up and walk.  

I dunno really where I heard this from. Everyone just sort of knows it. I think maybe I heard it from my Orientation Leader or a tour guide but I can’t remember.”


The informant was pretty shaky on the details of the legend, and seemed somewhat flustered when she forgot who founded the school and who was the first president. It was pretty funny because even though there are statues of these two important figures at her school, that does not seem to be very important to her, and understanding the actual, historical roles of these two figures is not imperative to understanding the legend.

The legend is a quaint throwback to the notion of chastity and is particularly ironic in a college environment, where the attitude usually seems to be that everyone is having casual sex or losing their virginity. It almost seems to be making a joke out of the idea of a virgin on campus, as if to say that having a virgin on their campus is so impossible that if there was one, supernatural things would occur. It is interesting that students have taken the urban legend and perpetuated their own sort of folklore by making a folk tradition out of painting the footsteps onto the quad.

A variation of this legend appears in the book Campus Legends: A Handbook (Greenwood Folklore Handbooks), compiled by Elizabeth Tucker. The book says, “…if a virgin graduates from Cornell, the two statues will meet in the middle of their courtyard to shake hands” (Tucker 16.) The book also notes that students have a tradition of painting the red and white footsteps in the courtyard between the two statues. It is interesting that the version of the legend in this book, which was published in 2005, has a distinct variation from the version of the legend that the informant told me. In one version, the statues shake hands when a virgin graduates, whereas in the version the informant told me, that statues shake hands when a virgin crosses at midnight. The canonized version of the legend suggests that it is rare for a person to graduate a virgin (that is, to make it through all four years of college and remain a virgin), whereas the version the informant told me suggests that it is rare for someone to maintain their virginity at all once they arrive at college. Perhaps this variation implies a changing view of sexuality over the past few years and suggests that modern college students are much more sexually aware and sexually active than ever before.

Ritual – Uganda

Baganda Introduction Virginity Test ritual

Betty told me that the Baganda have a special ritual that they perform on every introduction ceremony. She said that before the wedding, the bride has to traditionally introduce her groom to her family.  The introduction ceremony is a big occasion, which involves numerous ritual performances. Exchanging gifts like cows, various foods most notably bananas, traditional dancing, and riddle competitions are among the numerous performances that take place. However, what fascinates her most is the “goat virgin test ritual” that determines whether the bride is still a virgin or not.

She said that sometime during the night of the day before the introduction ceremony, the soon to be bride sits down somewhere. Her maternal auntie walks a female goat with a rope around its neck in front of her. That if she happens not to be a virgin, then the goat hesitates walking no matter how hard it is pulled and pushed. For a virgin, the goat smoothly walks without any hesitation.  Betty said that this was done because men had and still have to pay more dowries for virgins, which the woman’s family impatiently expected.


Whether the “Goat Virgin test” works or not, it is there to be explored. However, the whole test process and its significance introduce us to the customs and traditions of the Baganda ethnic group. Of course, knowing, believing and participating in the “goat virgin test” ritual separates Baganda from non-Baganda. This means that the ritual defines the Baganda identity. Of course other important factors like language and bloodlines have to be taken into consideration. Nonetheless, performing the ritual strengthens ones identity as a member of the Baganda ethnic group.

Like any other group custom, I think the “goat virgin test” ritual only works because the Baganda believe in it. I think there is some psychological aspect underlying the success of the whole process. I say so because I do not see any logical connection between walking a goat and someone being a virgin. For that reason, I would not expect an outsider (an outsider being a non-Muganda) to actually believe in the results of the test. But again, that is the nature of culture. The cultural group members can best understand it. Outsiders can try but might never deeply understand a cultural group’s nature of customs.