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U.S. NAVY RITUAL CUSTOM OF CROSSING THE EQUATOR

PREPARATIONS FOR "CROSSING THE LINE" ARE BEGUN A DAY OR TWO BEFORE
THE ACTUAL CROSSING. GROUPS OF SHELLBACKS GATHER TOGETHER AND MAKE PLANS
AND LAY-OUT SCHEMES FOR THE COMING EVENT, THAT THE SHELLBACKS HAIL WITH
GREAT JOVIALITY AND POLYWOGS AWAIT WITH CERTAIN TREPI- DATION. FROM THIS
MEETING OF THE SHELLBACKS, A ROYAL COURT IS CHOSEN TO REPRESENT NEPTUNE (POSEIDON),
THE MYTHICAL RULER OF THE RAGING MAIN, THE HIGH SEAS. THE COURT CONSISTS OF
SELECTED SALTY, SEAWORTHY, SHELLBACKS WHO MUST DISGUISE THEMSELVES IN COSTUMES.
USUALLY, THE OLDEST AND CRUSTIEST CHIEF PETTY OFFICER ON BOARD IS SELECTED TO PLAY
THE PART OF NEPTUNE AND HE IS FITTED WITH A CROWN, TRIDENT, AND APPROPRIATE REGALIA.
AND THE SECOND OLDEST AND CRUST- IEST C.P.O. ABOARD IS ASKED TO PLAY THE PART
OF DAVEY JONES. HE IS DRESSED AS A PIRATE AND SERVES AS THE PROSECUTING "SEA LAWYER"
WHEN AN OFFENDING POLYWOG APPEARS BEFORE THE ROYAL COURT. A QUEEN IS SELECTED FROM
AMONG THE SHELLBACKS, AND IS TRADITIONALLY THE MOST EFFEMINATE MEMBER OF THE CREW
(SAILORS HAVE A REFINED SENSE OF HUMOR). THE QUEEN PASSES JUDGEMENT ON THE POLYWOG,
WHO IS NEVER FOUND INNOCENT OF HIS CRIME. OTHER MEMBERS OF THE ROYAL COURT ARE THE
ROYAL SCRIBE, THE ROYAL MASCOT, THE ROYAL BABY, AND THE ROYAL EXECUTIONER, WHOSE
VARIOUS FUNCTIONS WILL BE DISCUSSED LATER ON. THE ACTUAL CEREMONY BEGINS ON THE
MORNING OF THE CROSSING AND IT IS INTRODUCED AT REVILLE ON THE SHIPS P.A. SYSTEM,
MUCH LIKE THE FOLLOWING: "NOW REVILLE, REVILLE, ALL HANDS HEAVE-OUT AND TRICE-UP.
SWEEPERS, SWEEPERS, MAN YOUR BROOMS. A CLEAN SWEEP DOWN FORE-AND-AFT. RELIEVE
THE WATCH, RELIEVE THE LOOKOUTS, RELIEVE THE HELM AND LEE HELM. NOW, REVILLE.
AFTER THE BOSUN PIPES "ALL HANDS" THE O.O.D. COMES ON THE HORN AND TELLS THE CREW
THAT THE SHIP HAS TAKEN ON THE ROYAL COURT OF KING NEPTUNE AND HE INTRODUCES DAVEY JONES
TO THE SHIPS INTERCOM: "NOW ALL YE TRUE AND FAITHFUL SHELLBACKS, WHO ARE THE PRIDE OF
HIS MAJESTYS SEAS, KNOW YE THIS: THAT AMONG YE DWELLS THE SLIMY, LOATHSOME, SMELLY,
SCURVY, VILE, WRETCHED, PUTRID PRESENCE OF MANY AND SEVERAL UNCLEAN, WORTHLESS,
STINKING POLYWOGS. PREPARE YE, THEREFORE, TO MEET HIS ROYAL MAJESTY ON THIS AUSPICIOUS DAY.
ALL YE VILE POLYWOGS ARE NOW ORDERED TO MUSTER YOURSELVES BEFORE THE WORTHY SHELLBACKS AT
YOUR DIVISION QUARTERS." THIS WORD PASSED, POLYWOGS AND SHELLBACKS ALIKE MUSTER AT
MORNING QUARTERS. THE SHELLBACKS, DRESSED AS PIRATES, FORM A LINE FACING THE POLYWOGS, WHO ARE
DRESSED IN PRE-ASSIGNED COSTUMES THAT ARE DESIGNED TO MAKE THEM APPEAR RIDICULOUS. AT QUARTERS
THE POLY- WOGS ARE GIVEN SUMMONS TO APPEAR BEFORE THE ROYAL COURT. EACH SUMMONS HAS A TRUMPED-UP
CHARGE AGAINST THE GUILTY POLYWOG THAT HE MUST ANSWER BEFORE THE COURT. SOME EXAMPLES OF THESE CHARGED OFFENS-
ES ARE "WINKING AT THE ROYAL QUEEN," "TICKLING THE ROYAL BABY," OR "FAILURE TO DRINK AN UNDISCLOSED AMOUNT
OF SEA WATER IN HONOR OF NEPTUNE." WITH THE SUMMONS THE GUILTY POLYWOG IS ASSIGNED A CERTAIN DUTY TO PERFORM
FOR THE SHELLBACKS IN HIS DIVISION, SUCH AS SHINING SHOES, CARRYING CIGARETS, OR RUNNING FOR COFFEE. AFTER
QUARTERS, THE CREW, INCLUDING POLYWOGS, IS ALLOWED TO HAVE BREAKFAST. BREAKFAST FOR SHELLBACKS IS STEAK AND
EGGS, WHILE BREAKFAST FOR POLYWOGS IS COLD BEANS WITH TABAS SAUCE. THIS IS
FOLLOWED BY A COUPLE OF HOURS OF POLYWOG HAZING BY TASKMASTER
SHELLBACKS, WHO GENERALLY MAKE LIFE MISERABLE FOR THE "WOGS."
AROUND MID-MORNING, THE WORD IS PASSED FOR ALL POLYWOGS TO
MUSTER ON THE TORPEDO DECK IN THE UNIFORM OF THE DAY--SKIVVY SHORTS
WORN BACKWARD. THIS ACCOMPLISHED, THE POLYWOGS ARE HOSED-DOWN WITH
SALT WATER AND LEFT TO DRIP-DRY FOR ABOUT AN HOUR. THEY ARE THEN
LED, INDIVIDUALLY, TO THE HELICOPTER HANGER.
INSIDE THE HANGER THEY ARE MADE TO "WALK THE GAUNTLET." THE
POLYWOG IS MADE TO WALK BETWEEN TWO ROWS OF SHELLBACKS, WHO, WITH
BARBARIAN ZEAL, STRIKE HIM ON THE BUTT WITH A CUT SECTION OF OLD
FIRE-HOSE. HE IS TOLD TO PUT ONE HAND ON HIS KNEE AND THE OTHER ON
HIS SCROTUM (TO PROTECT HIM FROM MISPLACED STROKES OF THE HOSE.)
AS HE WALKS THROUGH THE GAUNTLET EACH SHELLBACK GIVES HIM A LASH.
IF HE WALKS THROUGH TOO QUICKLY HE IS INVITED TO WALK BACK THROUGH
THE LINE.
ONCE THROUGH THE GAUNTLET, THE SUMMONED POLYWOG IS INITIATED
IN YET OTHER INSPIRED WAYS. HE IS PAINTED WITH GREASE AND GRAPHITE,
THAT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO SCRUB OFF. HE IS DUNKED IN GARBAGE AND FIN-
ALLY MADE TO KISS THE ROYAL BABY'S BELLY. IN THIS INSTANCE THE
ROYAL BABY WAS PLAYED BY A BOSUNS MATE THAT WEIGHED HEAVILY, AND
WHOSE MOST DISTINGUISHING FEATURE WAS HIS "BEER GUT." ON THIS
OBESELY PREHENSIBLE PROTRUSION A LAYER OF GREASE WAS APPLIED. AS
THE TIMOROUS AND BRUISED POLYWOG KNEALT TO TO KISS THE ROYAL BABY'S
BELLY, THE BABY GRABBED HIM BY THE EARS AND FORCED HIS FACE INTO
THE GREASE. THE RESULTANT SENSATION IS HARD TO DESCRIBE, BUT I CAN
TESTIFY, FROM FIRST-HAND KNOWLEDGE, THAT IT WAS REPULSIVE.
THE POLYWOG IS THEN FORCED TO BOW BEFORE THE KING AND QUEEN,
AND, WHILE THE ROYAL EXECUTIONER WORKS HIS FIRE-HOSE ON THE WOGS
EXPOSED BACKSIDE, THE ROYAL SCRIBE READS THE CHARGES. THE POLYWOG
IS ENCOURAGED TO DEFEND HIMSELF AGAINST THE CHARGES, BUT THE DEFENSE
IS USUALLY BRIEF IN ITS SUMMATION FOR THE ROYAL EXECUTIONER IS
STILL PERFORMING HIS OFFICE, WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM THE ROYAL
MASCOT. THE QUEEN PASSES JUDGEMENT--GUILTY--IMMEDIATELY AND THE
EXECUTIONER GIVES THE POLYWOG ONE LAST SCOURGE TO ENGENDER GOOD
BEHAVIOUR IN THE FUTURE.
AT THIS TIME NEPTUNE, WHO HAS REMAINED STOIC, TELLS THE POLY-
WOG TO "RISE AND PASS ON." HE IS THEN HANDED THE FOLLOWING CER-
TIFICATE OF ACCEPTANCE BY THE VENERABLE DAVEY JONES:



IMPERIUM NEPTUNI REGIS
KNOW ALL MEN BY THESE PRESENTS: AND TO ALL POLYWOGS, MERMAIDS,
SEA SERPENTS, WHALES, PORPOISES, SHARKS, DOLPHINS, EELS, SKATES,
SUCKERS, CRABS, LOBSTERS, AND OTHER LIVING DENIZENS OF THE SEA
GREETING:
KNOW YE: THAT ON THE 15TH DAY OF JULY 1964, IN LATITUDE 00000
AND LONGITUDE 43 DEGREES 37 MINUTES EAST, THERE APPEARED WITHIN
OUR ROYAL DOMAIN THE U.S.S. FRED T. BERRY (DD-858) AT THE EQUATOR.
BE IT KNOWN
THAT THE SAID SHIP WITH OFFICERS AND CREW THEREOF, HAVE BEEN
EXAMINED AND PASSED ON BY OURSELVES AND OUR ROYAL STAFF. BE IT
ALSO KNOWN: BY ALL YE MEN WHO GO DOWN TO THE SEA AS WELL AS YE
LOWLY LANDLUBBERS WHO MAY BE HONORED BY HIS PRESENCE THAT
BLAINE LYN LANKFORD
HAVING BEEN FOUND QUALIFIED TO BE NUMBERED AS ONE OF OUR HONORED
SHELLBACKS AND HE HAS BEEN DULY INITIATED INTO THE SOLEMN MYSTER-
IES OF THE ANCIENT ORDER OF SHELLBACKS.
BE IT FURTHER KNOWN: THAT BY VIRTUE OF THE POWER VESTED IN ME
I DO HEREBY COMMAND ALL MY SUBJECTS TO SHOW HONOR AND RESPECT TO
HIM WHEREVER HE MAY BE. DISOBEY THIS ORDER UNDER PENALTY OF OUR
ROYAL DISPLEASURE.

SIGNED--

DAVEY JONES,
HIS MAJESTY'S SCRIBE

NEPTUNUS REX,
RULER OF THE RAGING MAIN

F.B. SHRAKE, CDR, USN,
COMMANDING

AFTER ALL OF THE POLYWOGS HAVE BEEN INITIATED INTO THE FELLOW-
SHIP OF SHELLBACKS, THE CREW CLEANS UP, AS WELL AS POSSIBLE, AND
RETIRES TO THE GALLEY FOR A FITTING MEAL AND PARTY AFTERWARD.
THAT CONCLUDES THE CEREMONY BUT THE EFFECTS LAST FOR SOME TIME.

Submitter comment: FOR AS FAR BACK AS ANYONE CAN REMEMBER, THE UNITED STATES NAVY HAS
CELEBRATED, WEATHER AND CIRCUMSTANCE PERMITTING, THE CEREMONY OF
CROSSING THE EQUATOR. THE PURPOSE OF THE CEREMONY IS TO INITIATE
NEOPHYTE SAILORS, KNOWN AS POLYWOGS, INTO THE REALM OF THE SALTIER
SAILORS, KNOWN AS SHELLBACKS. THE CEREMONY HAS VARIED LITTLE IN
200 YEARS AND IT IS CLASSIFIED BY THE FOLKLORIST IN THE CATEGORY
OF "RITE DE PASSAGE." THE FOLLOWING DESCRIPTION IS AN ACCOUNT OF A
PARTICULAR CROSSING IN WHICH THE COLLECTOR WAS A CREW MEMBER (POLY-
WOG) OF A NAVAL DESTROYER. THE CROSSING OCCURRED IN THE INDIAN
OCEAN, NEAR BARAWA, SOMALI REPUBLIC, IN JULY 1964.

Data entry tech comment: SHIVER ME TIMBERS!!!!!!

Where learned: DETROIT

Subject headings: 686 Properties attributed to specific numbers or numerals individually.
PROSE NARRATIVE -- Legend
CUSTOM FESTIVAL -- Initiation rite Hazing
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