Pollywog or Shellback: The Navy’s Line Crossing Ceremony Revealed
The Navy is chock full of myth and tradition, and what happens at sea even affects our language. Many naval traditions, from the Sirens and Sea Monsters of the Odyssey to the boatswain’s call, date back hundreds and even thousands of years.
The Line Crossing Ceremony might just be the most interesting of today’s naval traditions.
It is very seldom you find an age-old tradition that is carried out with such gusto at shore. It is, therefore, no wonder that the shore folk are appalled and excited at the same time when the ceremony is told to them in detail. The ceremony is a long-standing tradition of initiation that commemorates a sailor’s first time crossing of the equator. It is a memory that is etched into each and every seafarer, for it is an event that ushers in a sense of belonging to one’s profession. The excitement and enthusiasm that prevails among fellow shipmates at the time of conducting the line-crossing ceremony is one that beams of a happy past experience of the same and that of passing on the baton of the art of sailing to newbies. Source:
Behind the pomp and grandeur of the event is a lot of history. The seamen who have already crossed the equator are referred to as Shellbacks (or, Sons Of Neptune) and those who haven’t are called Pollywogs. The Pollywogs are put through some physical tests to be initiated into the “ancient mysteries of the deep”! Source:Polliwogs and Shellbacks: An Analysis of the Equator Crossing Ritual; Keith P. Richardson
I first heard of this ritual years ago. At the time I found it to be incredulous. Why on earth would our military, grown men trained for battle, participate in anything so outrageously ridiculous and humiliating?
Well, that was what I thought at the time. I have to admit that I did not undertake to complete any serious investigation of the topic. I performed a cursory search and found very little on the topic. At that time, it was still kept relatively secret. People did not talk about it. Back then there were very few people who would even believe it existed.
Just recently, I felt compelled to take a fresh look at this topic. Boy, was I surprised. Suddenly there are all kinds of articles on this ritual, as well as multiple videos. This information on this ritual seems to be flowing abundantly. Not only is it practiced by navies all around the world, but by mercenary ships and even cruise ships! Openly, and I would even say PROUDLY.
Well, I just had a feeling that there was much more to this ritual practice than meets the eye. And believe me, it will give you an eyeful!! So, I began to save some articles and photos for a future post. Welcome to the future.
Bear with me, please. This is going to be a long voyage. There is a lot of information to cover and there is a true revelation at the end of this article. You will not be able to appreciate or recognize the revelation without the benefit of the details laid out through this series.
This article is a conglomeration of everything that I have seen related to this topic. The actual ceremonies can vary according to the ship, the people involved and the social attitudes of the time. After spending a great deal of time and pouring over a great many descriptions of these rituals I learned that the style and brutality of the rituals vary greatly but the theme and elements are fairly consistent.
Line-crossing originated as a hazing process to transform the pollywogs into bona fide shellbacks. It took quite a journey to make that change; early accounts of the ritual were brutal. There were pageants where “wogs” were forced to crossdress in front of their superiors, and then spend the rest of their day performing often degrading tasks.
Professor Hersh described the proceedings of the ritual to me as an “inversion.” “While you are going through the ritual,” she explained, “you are constantly submissive.” In her paper she points to some examples where men were made to perform simulated sexual acts. Source: Behind the Strange and Controversial Ritual When You Cross the Equator At Sea;
Many accounts dwell only on the final, elaborate ceremony that takes place on the day a ship traverses the equator, but the month leading up to King Neptune’s arrival, when the Pollywogs are separated off from the Shellbacks, is also significant. the initiands, based on the change they are to undergo.
As we go into the details, you will begin to recognize that this (as any initiation ritual) is a death/burial/resurrection ritual. This time of being separated out is the preparation and examination of the sacrificial lamb.
The sailors on board ship who were, and to a certain extent still are, expected to undergo the crossing the line ceremony often times are separated from the more experienced sailors as much as is possible with the small space on board ship. This separation may begin the day or night before the ritual is to begin, or may have to wait until the day of the ritual depending on the circumstance surrounding the vessel at the time and what work may require completion. However, by the start of the ritual, the dividing line between the experienced and inexperienced sailors is clearly marked. The Shellbacks plan the coming festivities, but they also spend the entire month taunting the Pollywogs until a mock mutiny is staged by them on the day before the Equator crossing — Pollywog Day.
- King Neptune and his royal court: his Queen Amphitrite, Davy Jones, the royal baby (Triton), Herald, Secretary, Police, Bear, Doctor, Barber, and other dignitaries, arrive at the ship the evening prior to the equator crossing.
- US Naval vessels fly the Jolly Roger during the rites. LorenzoB (talk) 18:59, 29 July 2008 (UTC)
- The eve of the equatorial crossing is called Wog Day and, as with many other night before
rituals, is a mild type of reversal of the day to come. Pollywogs entertain the royal court with a talent show. crossdressing, dancing, song, skits or poetry count among the merriment.
- After the show, Pollywogs receive a subpoena from Davy Jones to stand before the court the next day and answer to charges brought against them by the Shellbacks.
- Pollywogs are roused very early stripped down to skivvies or nothing at all, often after days of sleep deprivation and forced fasting, brought to the table to face a breakfast that’s been made too spicy to eat.
Following this period of separation, initiands are placed in the care of the leader of the initiation and are expected to follow his or her directions throughout the rite of passage. It is this leader who moves the initiands from the separation phase to the transition rites, or liminal, phase and through the trials that are in place as the initiands make their way from a ceremonial death to a ceremonial rebirth. It is during this phase that the initiands completely lose their identity and are considered to be “betwixt and between” the status levels of society; no longer belonging to the previous societal status, but not yet achieving the new societal status (Turner 1969:95). The initiands often form a bond during this period, which Turner refers to as communitas, or a bond among a group of individuals who share equally in the sense that they are powerless.
- The Pollywogs (also referred to as landlubbers) must be dipped in water for the initiation and passing into the realm of the seas. This part is the beginning of the ritual wherein they are stripped down to their underwear (or nothing!) and normally, dipped in the water gathered in the save-all tray! Following the dip, raw eggs are broken onto the heads of the first timers and then they are made to drink a deadly concoction of beer, chilly sauce, raw eggs etc. The reason behind this is to give the beginners a truth serum in order that they speak the absolute truth when they swear their allegiance to King Neptune and the sea! Source: Equator Crossing Ceremony: The Real Test Of Seafarers: By Shilavadra Bhattacharjee
- They are taken to the barber where their hair and face is shaved partially or completely, in the most uneven manner possible (most likely to do with a purging process) and paint (of a suspicious nature) is applied at random all over the body (privates aside!). Generally, they are forced to crawl across the deck while being whipped and tormented on each side by the crew. During one ceremony in 1809, it was recalled that upon arrival at the Barber’s the sailor was asked his place of birth and the moment his mouth is opened, the shaving-brush of the barber, which was a very large paintbrush, was crammed in with all the filthy lather with which they covered his face and chin” (1852:485). Although this early account of the shaving brush and lather did not provide details, it made clear that the substance used was not one that would have been acceptable to place in anyone’s mouth under normal circumstances. Almost twenty years later, Maria Hackett was traveling by ship and noted that sailors were “treated to a coat of grease and tar” (1912:15) prior to their shaving, while a later account from 1842 stated that “the attendants forced a brush dipped in tar and ashes into our mouths…” (Hill 1893:30). By 1885, a recipe of soap, molasses, and flour was listed for the making of the soap used by the barber on his victims (Brady 1885:8).
- Next, they are taken by the Police and brought before King Neptune, who sits in judgment. Their punishment is ordered and they perform a variety of activities which might involve crawling through a plastic tunnel of stinking garbage and rotten food while being hit with rubber hoses. King Neptune makes an earnest speech and accepts the ushering of the sailor into the sea under the auspice of Her Majesty! The scepter is laid forth to mark this moment of truth. Following this aspect of the grand event, the sailors are tied together and marched forward to the anchor with the sound of a drum to coordinate movement. Once at the anchor, the newly initiated are made to crack open a can of beer on the anchor itself at the first go. Cracking it open at once pertains to long luck and safe seas. (This is an offering to the sea gods/demons in exchange for their “blessing”) This having completed, an entire round of the ship is taken to commemorate the event altogether.
- Next, the Pollywogs must kneel before the Queen and kiss her toe, kneel between the legs of the Royal Baby and kiss the royal baby’s belly which according to some accounts is covered in grease, they then kneel before the king to swear their oath, (So, kiss the QUEEN’s foot to show your submission to her reign, and kiss the belly of the “Royal Baby”. Who is this Baby? TAMMUZ! the pollywog usually does more than kiss his tummy. This is a sexual act. Kneeling between the baby’s legs, they rub their face in the baby’s private parts. This is not only symbolic of homosexual sex but pedophilic sex as well. This is an offering to the demon/god Tammuz. They then kneel at the foot of NEPTUNE to SWEAR THEIR ALLEGIANCE TO HIM! Which will later be confirmed in a signed LEGAL DOCUMENT! This part of the ritual is submission to the DEMONIC TRINITY! Semiramis, NIMROD, and TAMMUZ!)
- Lastly, the Pollywogs take a royal bath in a pool of seawater (earlier they were dipped in plan water, now, this is their true baptism. A baptism in SALT WATER, dying to their old man they are rise a new man, fully one with the sea and submitted to NEPTUNE) before being declared Shellbacks, after which they receive their certificates, which they can proudly hang on their wall at home. ______________ entering into Our Royal Domain, and having been inspected and found worthy by My Royal Staff and was initiated into the
Solemn Mysteries of the Ancient Order of the Deep.
Technically, all the pollywogs are “cleansed” from the ship before King Neptune allows it to continue on its course. Consequently, the pollywogs do not become shellbacks. Once you are granted status as a shellback, it’s assumed you’ve always been a shellback.
In fact, after spending the morning crawling around on their hands and knees, wogs appear before King Neptune’s court where they answer charges for their wogness, always found guilty then led off to be “executed” in the stockade and “buried” in a wooden coffin filled with water. After a few moments in the watery grave, the executioner reopens the coffin and asks, “Who goes there?!” The proper response is, “An honorable shellback!” (they must confess with their mouth, denying CHRIST, they swear allegiance to NEPTUNE/SATAN) whereupon the executioner helps the (new) shellback out of the coffin saying something along the lines of, “Well, what the Hell are you doing in there?!?” The wog is dead and a shellback magically appears where the wog once was. — SOURCE: Talk: Line-crossing ceremony
At the end of it, the Captain, Chief Engineer and the rest, as a mark of welcoming and respect, congratulate the initiates. This said the party doesn’t end here! A feast is prepared at night for dinner with thorough fanfare. Usually a steak and potato dinner. Normally, it is at dinner that the highly esteemed “Equator Crossing Certificate” is handed out to seal the ritual’s authenticity forever.
This activity brings the entire ritual full circle, restores order to the society on board the ship, and begins the newly initiated sailors’ new role within that society wherein they are now equal in status with all others on the ship who have previously crossed the line. (SO NOW EVERYONE ON THE SHIP IS OF ONE ACCORD… SWORN SUBMISSION TO NEPTUNE!)
Through the following days, it is very easy to spot the sailors that have recently been through the ordeal, for their hair is either absolutely absent or styled as if rats had a feeding frenzy on them!
As appalling as it may seem to shore folk, it is a tradition that makes a man out of a fresh cadet or trainee seaman. It is these little gems that bind us seafarers together in work and spirit and gives us the inner strength to carry forward inspired, through rough seas and long periods away from home. The glimmer in the eyes of those that have already experienced it, telling you to live every moment of it, for it is never to happen again, it is priceless. Much like a wedding, one experiences the joy of it just once, thus becoming a spectator for the all the others to come!
The Nineteenth Century
The nineteenth century ushered in technological changes that had permanent effects
CROSSING THE LINE: A LOOK AT THE SYMBOLS OF THE RITUAL THROUGHOUT TIME
by Jana Lynn Otte; October 2014
On board ship, just as with any trying occupation, rituals and celebrations, such as the crossing the line ritual, break up the difficult and occasionally monotonous workdays and provide entertainment to the crew. This makes the hard work and constant threat of injury or death more endurable
Ancient seafarers performed rituals and ceremonies based on a mixture of their cultural beliefs and their knowledge of the waters in which they sailed. The ancient seafarers adopted the gods and goddesses of the wind and storms as patrons, occasionally naming the ships after these deities, as a way of asking for protection and safe travel. Often times these gods or goddesses would have a special space on board the ships, either at the bow or the stern, for worship during the voyage to ensure divine protection.
However, these patron gods and goddesses of the ships were not the only ones who were called upon for protection during voyages. Important natural navigational features, such as headlands or mountains, which marked transition points where either land or water based boundaries were passed, were often dedicated to specific deities with shrines built that could be viewed from the sea. During the voyage, when these landmarks were passed, venerations (sacrifices) would be made to the gods or goddesses at the available shrines.
The Egyptians built ships in honor of their gods and goddesses, and it was believed that the deities would protect namesake ships during voyages. They also built boats with the lone purpose of carrying the image of a god or goddess, as indicated in hieroglyphs at Karnak Erman.
Well aware of the dangers of sailing and the constant threat of death that came with the sailing profession, the Phoenicians performed rituals at various transitional periods in order to secure a safe and successful voyage. As was common among Mediterranean seafaring cultures, rituals were performed prior to the start of a voyage in order to ask protection for the voyage and also at the conclusion of the voyage in thanksgiving for safe arrival. “Classical authors mention Phoenician seafarers making sacrifices to Herakles-Milqart before setting sail and after landing in harbor” which would be considered periods of transition during the voyage (Brody 2008:449).
A second type of transition point that called for religious practices was the passing of a particular geographic feature or religious shrine, such as Ba’al Ro’s (“Lord of the Promontory”), Ro’su Qudsi (“Sacred Promontory”), and “Ros Milqart (“Promontory of Milqart”). Unfortunately, just as with the Egyptians and the Norse, the Phoenicians left no detailed description of religious practices at these and other locations. Lastly, when faced with difficult weather, dangerous seas, or any other perilous transitional situations, ancient Phoenician sailors would conduct rituals in order to appease the god or goddess and ask for protection.
The god of the sea that is most recognized and plays a central role in the modern crossing the line ceremony is Neptune (Poseidon), who is the son of Saturn (Cronus) and the brother of Jupiter (Zeus). Neptune, as well as Poseidon, was credited with giving the first horse to man through a contest of skill with Minerva (Athena) (I have covered this goddess in several other articles, so I won’t go into detail on her now, but I do want to mention SHE IS THE GODDESS WORSHIPED BY THE ELITE/ILLUMINED ONES) and Vulcan (Hephaestus) and often the image of the horse is meant to symbolize a ship (Dillaway 1833:106; Hamilton 1942:345-350). The image of Neptune can be found on some ancient medals and he is described “with black or dark hair, his garment of an azure or sea-green color, seated in a large shell drawn by whales, or seahorses, with his trident in his hand, attended by the sea-gods Palæmon, Gaucus, and Phorcys; the sea goddesses Thetis, Melita, and Panopēa, and a long train of Tritons and sea-nymphs” (Dillaway 1833:107).
Neptune was also considered the legendary progenitor god of a Latin stock, the Faliscans, who called themselves Neptunia proles. In this respect, he was the equivalent of Mars, Janus, Saturn and even Jupiter among Latin tribes. Salacia, goddess of sea water, would represent the virile force of Neptune.
Neptune/Poseidon was known for his fast-changing temperament and being easily offended. And because he was also dignified and competitive, it was very important not to offend him or argue his statements and acts. Those who angered him became the victims of his wrath. He was known for causing major catastrophic events, such as floods, earthquakes, and sea storms, (take a look at the world today, what do you see, this god they are worshiping, giving offerings and invoking, is the one who is providing the power and force they are petitioning) and even unleashed his sea monsters in order to get even. He was always passionate about supporting his cause or the cause of his favorite characters, helping them in many different ways by giving them unique traits and special powers or granting them divine animals. He even changed the gender of Caenis and Mestra on their own request.
During the crossing the line ceremonies, Neptune is often joined by his wife, Amphitrite, Roman Salacia, the goddess of the sea. As mentioned previously, the combination of Neptune and Amphitrite mixes the Roman and Greek mythologies. Amphitrite was the granddaughter of the Titan, Ocean, who was “the river that was supposed to encircle the earth” (Hamilton 1942:26-28). These deities were the foremost religious figures related to the waters of the world. It would make sense that these gods and goddesses would be several of those to whom sailors appealed for protection before, during, and after a voyage.
There were other Greek and Roman deities that were helpful to sailors aside from those specifically designated as sea gods. Two such gods were Castor and Pollux, the twin sons of Zeus and Leda. Sailors used the constellation associated with these twins for navigational purposes at night, therefore making the support or blessing of these deities extremely important for the success of any voyage. Also, the sailors believed that Castor and Pollux would appear on board in the form of the phenomenon known as Saint Elmo’s fire, during which a glow is caused by static electricity in the air and appears on masts or yards. The sailors, when the glow would appear, believed that Castor and Pollux were protecting the ship during the voyage and that a “story was over,” or a transition had occurred.
The Roman gods Venus of Cyprus, Minerva, and Vulcan were also believed to protect sailors at sea (Rouge 1982:197). Venus (Aphrodite) is said to have formed from the foam of the sea and that the winds and the storm “flee before her,” which would make her an important goddess for sailors who are at the mercy of not only the waters but the winds. Minerva (Athena) was the warrior daughter of Jupiter (Zeus); she carried his weapon, the thunderbolt, and was known for wisdom. Sailors, desiring safety during their voyages would want to appease this goddess so as not to invoke her wrath and thereby the use of her thunderbolt. (Interesting considering their latest weapon, the DEW, directed energy weapon used in the California fires and the Lousiana and New York Power Plants)
Finally, Vulcan (Hephaestus) was the only ugly immortal god and was held in high regard in Olympus for his work as an armorer and smith (Hamilton 1942:30-35). Sailors may have looked to Vulcan, the maker of armor and weapons, for protection from enemies or protection in general. Just as the Phoenicians and the Egyptians, the Romans and the Greeks built shrines dedicated to the gods of the sea and also to the gods of the winds at important geographical locations such as headlands and ports not only in their homelands but also in their overseas territories (Brody 2008:445).
These geographical locations may have marked boundaries such as where a river met the sea or the sea met the ocean. These would have been, and to some extent still are, areas that created dangerous sailing conditions and which during the ancient Greek and Roman times would have required the conducting of a ritual to appease the gods or goddesses and to ask for their protection. Authors of the time make mention of “Greek fleets offering communal prayers before voyaging,” and of Roman sailors “pouring libations (another word for sacrifices) of wine and making animal sacrifices from on board ship” (Brody 2008:449).
The dangers of these transition areas were occasionally visualized (or manifested) as great sea monsters, such as in the Odyssey, and rather than appeasing the gods or goddesses the sailors may have made sacrifices in order to appease the monsters themselves, such as when Ulysses tossed members of his crew overboard. (Often during these Crossing Ceremonies pollywogs are forced to jump ship or walk the plank, or are thrown overboard as part of the ritual. Usually, they are retrieved, but there have been cases where they did not survive. So, this part of the ritual is both a symbolic baptism and at times a sacrifice.)
The detailed accounts of Greek and Roman mythology, as well as accounts of Greek and Roman seafaring, provide a better understanding of the maritime rituals conducted than many of their Mediterranean counterparts. The knowledge of their mythology and the various gods and goddesses that were of importance to sailors, of at least some of their shipboard rituals, and of the connection of portions of their voyages with stories or transitions connects the modern crossing the line ceremony to the beliefs and practices of the ancient Greeks and Romans.
Religion was not the sole driving force behind the rituals; some were meant to appease monsters, not to honor gods. Additionally, the details in the ancient accounts demonstrate that the sailors understood the concept of liminality (so this ritual is a form of mind control, everything is planned and performed to put the pollywog off balance and in a state of mind to accept the desired transferance from one kingdom to the other) and the transition from one state or status to another. One example of this is the sacrifices that took place in the Odyssey as previously mentioned. Although this is a classical account which is at least partly fictional, it would include situations and actions that were common to the people of the time, including shipboard sacrifice.
These sacrifices, according to the story, occurred in areas between bodies of water, or transitional areas. These areas could be subject to varying winds, currents, or other nautical dangers and were obviously exemplified in writing with monsters that must be appeased. The Greeks and Romans recognized the different areas and the liminal zone in between the two which was full of uncertainty and trials. The Greeks and Romans also saw the transition in the form of the phenomena of St. Elmo’s fire, which was the appearance of Castor and Pollux. In her work, Jean Rouge states that this was seen as the end of a story, which means a new story would be starting (1982). The appearance, then, indicates that the ship and its sailors are in transition between stories, or in a liminal zone between stages of the voyage.
One account from 1774 describes in unusual detail the arrival of “old Tropicus and his ancient dame” who were, respectively, a wizard and a witch who “inhabit an invisible Island in the Seas” and who obtained “contributions” from the sailors on every ship who had never before sailed through the tropics.
This process may harken back to the earliest accounts of the crossing the line ritual when the French referred to the process as a baptism. Rites of passage or initiation often feature the themes of death and rebirth as a means of freeing the initiand from his or her previous status and welcoming him or her into their new role or status in society (Turner 1992:31). This baptism, although a simple rite that may have involved the celebration of a mass, turned into the full yardarm dunking by the seventeenth and eighteenth century.
The act of shaving removed the growing hair, which could have been taken as a sign of being lower class, and metaphorically bettered the social status of the sailor being shaved. Even if the shave was not actually done, the action of shaving using whatever material was available still indicated the desired change in status and starting again within the new social status as an experienced sailor, very much as the baptism was a way of marking the beginning of a new life for the initiated sailors upon crossing the equator.
The use of costumes also held meaning for the sailors, as both the experienced and the inexperienced typically knew what the meaning was behind the costume, and knew what was to follow. The costumes not only added to the effect of the ritual on the sailors but also allowed those who were performing the ceremony to escape from their typical social role on board ship and slip into the role expected through the use of the costume. This concept tied into the role reversal that accompanied the social structure reversal during the crossing the line ceremonies, with sailors playing roles that were often much different than the roles they normally played within the shipboard society. Rather than it just being the roles that changed, the sailors running the ceremony changed their identity through the use of costumes. The costumes themselves related back to the ancient religious ceremonies in the Mediterranean when offerings were made to Neptune and others in return for a safe voyage. The sailors on board ship, especially toward the end of the eighteenth century, began using the images of the deities of the ancient Greeks and Romans to exact tribute from the sailors crossing the line for the first time, or to inflict a sort of punishment in place of the tribute, or fee, even though a sincere belief in the particular deity or deities had long since diminished.
The main mythological beings that the sailors portrayed had associated characteristics that were well suited to the meaning of the crossing the line ceremony. The first character to appear was generally the messenger of Neptune, who when named was called Davy Jones. Davy Jones was considered the spirit of the sea by sailors; although, not always one that was beneficial, making it appropriate that he would be announcing the arrival of the sea god (Encyclopedia Britannica 2014).
As Turner (1969:170) pointed out, the understanding of initiation or induction rituals “is that for an individual to go higher on the status ladder, he must go lower than the status ladder.” Sailors who underwent these initiations knew that they were elevating their status as members of the crew; but, before they could simply claim to be members of the experienced group they had to be humbled by those who had gone before. By going through the humiliating trials set before them, the sailors moved from the pre-liminal phase, were stripped of all status and identity during the liminal phase, and emerged at the end with their new status and a new appreciation of the status that they obtained. All of this was accomplished using costumes, characters, and theatrics for the entertainment of crew and passengers. (This is the manner of all initiation into “secret societies, brotherhoods and fraternities even to this day. The sad thing is that the initiates have no idea the significance of what they are doing or the solemn consequences of the activities in which they participate or the OATHS by which they swear or the true identity of the deity to which they are swearing their allegiance. They are kept in ignorance.)
In addition to a certificate (which is a legally binding document) that could be kept as a memento, sailors may have also chosen to commemorate their rite of passage by way of a personal tattoo on their bodies. (This is why sailors were initially the ones who introduced this pagan custom to civilized society, it was part of the rituals in which they participated) Tattoos allowed sailors the opportunity to create imagery pertaining to their ceremonial experience which held special meaning to them. Tattoos also served as a permanent reminder of the sailors’ time at sea as well as a conversation piece for anyone who may be interested in hearing the tales or seeing the artwork associated with the crossing the line ritual. Many of the following images came from online tattoo shops and personal blogs, where the sailors chose to share their unique designs in a public forum for the viewing pleasure of any interested parties. It should be noted that these are merely examples and that many more unpublished pieces of art may exist from the smallest turtle shell to the larger canvas-like images.
One very basic tattoo that is used to commemorate the crossing of the equator is that of the tortoise or turtle shell, indicating the sailor’s rank of shellback.
The shell may be large enough to cover a shoulder or upper arm or may be a small, more personal image anywhere else on the sailor’s body. Often times the images are nicely colored or shaded and artistically convey the durability and strength of such a simple object. (Of course the colors do not last and eventually, the tattoo gets stretched and warped as the body ages, so you end up with a gray-blue mess) Sailors also have chosen to portray the idea of a shellback in the form of an entire turtle or tortoise as their tattoo. The image of the animal may be true to life, or it may also be an artistic rendition of a turtle or tortoise, both of which indicate the sailor’s rank of shellback. For the sailors, a shell, a turtle, or a tortoise in a shell, and therefore the term shellback, indicates that they have proven their strength, they can weather any storm, and that they are able to be counted upon for knowledge of shipboard life and culture; they are members of a unique group of experienced sailors from the modern day and throughout history. (This symbol can also suggest the idea that the pollywog has submitted to the gods/goddesses/monsters of the sea, and is at their mercy/grace. “The sea turtle can be associated with an easygoing nature because these turtles travel with the tides, rather than to specific destinations.” Source: What Is the Symbolic Meaning of a Turtle?)
The existence of these tattoos indicates the feelings of pride and accomplishment that are still felt
by sailors who have gone through this rite of passage and have achieved the often desired title of shellback and the recognition and respect that still accompanies that title among fellow sailors even today.
Through the application of tattoos and the extensive use of artistic media to document the crossing from the realm of the inexperienced sailor, through the liminal phase, and into the realm of Neptune, sailors have provided an intimate and occasionally detailed glimpse into the crossing the line ceremony on board a variety of ships throughout several centuries. These creative outlets, coupled with the written and spoken accounts of the crossing the line ceremony, provide a rich cache of first-hand accounts and individual opinions of the crossing the line ceremony
Through the eyes of these writers, painters, and artists, the crossing the line ceremony is brought to life for those who have never and may never experience it. (In other words, through the testimonies of the Shellbacks and the witness on their flesh via tattoos, anyone who hears their stories or sees their visual documentation on their skin, can experience a part of this ritual and add their energy)
It was during the mid-1990s and later that these hazing activities were reported to the higher administration officials. Charges were brought against the experienced sailors and officers for the abuses against the inexperienced sailors. These accusations led to investigations and eventually judicial cases as a way to bring order to groups of people who were viewed to be out of control. The ritual, which began as an initiation or coming of age ceremony for inexperienced sailors had morphed into a theatrical production meant to torment the initiands and to entertain the public, and had continued to change until it was the hazing had become so brutal that it led to investigations and legal charges brought against individual sailors.
It is important to note that, as Staff Sgt. Gustavo Garcia so aptly stated, the sailors do not necessarily know the point of the ritual, just that it was a fun experience. It would seem, then, that these men and women have little or no understanding of the history of the ritual, from the entering into unfamiliar areas south of the equator to the paying of homage to Neptune or the equatorial baptism and prayer for safe passage over the sea upon reaching this imaginary line.
This ritual’s historic lineage may very well be lost on the sailors of the modern navy who see the ritual as an experience that they can tell their families about or that they can use when swapping stories with others about what they accomplished while in the navy. This lack of historical knowledge does not mean that the ritual has lost its meaning as a source of connection between the new sailors and the experienced sailors.
1995, shortly after eighteen sailors were punished for hazing on board the USS Merrimack and the USS Monongahela. Although the author’s name is not provided, the strong feelings against hazing in general, and hazing in the Navy specifically are clear. He or she states that hazing is the equivalent to an assault and should be treated as such, with a punishment of jail time. As indicative of this belief, the author quotes from Florida’s anti-hazing law which prohibits
“’Whipping, beating, branding, forced calisthenics, exposure to the elements, forced consumption of any food, liquor, drug, or other substance…sleep deprivation’ or any other forced conduct that could harm someone’s mental or physical health and safety, or cause extreme embarrassment or indignity” (1995). The author also states that then President of the United States, Bill Clinton, should order the Navy to investigate all hazing fully, that hazing crosses the line into sadism, and that “[o]ld traditions die hard but die they must” (1995).
Robert Branaman, a man from Garden Grove, California who bought a videotape at a garage sale with the intention of taping a movie on his television. When he put the tape, assumed to be a blank tape, into his VCR he was stunned to see that the tape contained video of sailors conducting a crossing the line ceremony in the South China Sea in 1991. The video included footage of simulated sexual acts, “sailors crawling naked across the deck on their hands and knees, and being dunked in a greenish fluid resembling anti-freeze” (Kramer 1997). Branaman was appalled at the video, saying that although he appreciated the idea of partying and enjoying himself, “this was just totally beyond…In my heart of hearts, I’m a taxpaying citizen.
Where was the captain? Who was running that ship?” (Kramer 1997). Branaman turned his tape over to a local television station and essentially launched another inquiry into military misconduct.
The research presented in this study indicates that the crossing the line ritual was heavily influenced by the Mediterranean cultures, most particularly the Greeks and the Romans, who would honor gods and goddesses and request assistance or protection from these deities. This ritual was Christianized by Europeans who designed a mass or religious ceremony as a means of giving thanks to God for their survival and asking for continued protection during the voyage. (Typical Roman Catholic practice. That is what the Romans did with ALL PAGAN PRACTICES. The Roman’s killed all the original followers of Christ and created an imitation of Christianity. They saw it as a way to bring the entire world under ROMAN RULE. They were having trouble uniting all the nations because of differences in religious beliefs and practices. So when they conquered a new nation, they now began to tell them, it was ok for them to continue to practice their rituals as long as they changed the names of their gods to more Christianized names. In this manner, the ROMAN CHURCH became the CATHOLIC CHURCH, CATHOLIC MEANING UNIVERSAL, which is not to say that it envelopes/accepts/embraces ALL RELIGIONS! But the TRUTH is you CAN NEVER TAKE SOMETHING PAGAN AND “CHRISTIANIZE IT”. That is known as bringing “strange fire” to worship GOD. GOD HIMSELF has made it very clear how HE is to be worshiped. He is not interested in your ideas on the subject!) If you get nothing else out of this series of articles, I PRAY THAT YOU GET THIS!
THE ROMAN CHURCH IS A CHURCH THAT EMBRACES ALL! COEXIST – which is begin driven by this very entity is straight out of th epit of HELL. And I got that straight from GOD himself. SO take it to HIM.
By the way, note that the dictionary says the words ROMAN CATHOLIC are usually capitolized. That is a very important fact, you will understand better later in this series.
As the years progressed, the celebration turned more toward a symbolic baptism, complete with a dunking into either the ocean or a tub of water, and the ceremony that is most recognized today began to take shape. The ceremony was adapted throughout centuries, with changes and additions being made as the situations and technologies of the day dictated and allowed.
After the ceremony and with much pomp, the sailor was inducted into the “Solemn Mysteries of the Ancient Order of the Deep.” In other words, they transitioned from Wogs to Shellbacks.
The Crossing the Line ceremony still holds to many of the same mythological archetypes as its historical parentage; figures such as King Neptune, the Royal Court, Royal Scribes, Trusty Shellbacks, the Royal Baby, Davy Jones, and her Highness Amphitrite often make appearances during the ceremony. Activities are planned, carried out, and supervised by the Shellbacks and any other non-participants who volunteer to make sure nothing gets out of hand. When the festivities conclude, the Slimy Wogs have the right to call themselves Shellbacks.
“The sea is eternal and sacred, and so are the traditions that accompany it,” said Dizon. “As long as there are imaginary lines by which we travel, we will attach a special significance to crossing over them, a significance which also bonds the crew of the Bonhomme Richard together.” (Now you know the root of these rituals. IN ALL THINGS, the root is all that matters, everything else is a cover-up. I got that straight from GOD also, so take it to HIM.)
Please Click to Continue: Part 2 of 6