Rites of Manhood

Blog Post
There are rituals that men put other men to – and it goes beyond the rites of passage associated with age. Most of it has to do with eating gross food. If you eat it, or if you drink this or that potion, then you’re a man.  The situation that I recently went through in Norway (eating Viking food and drinking a blend of vodka and Norwegian whiskey) simply underscored the memories of catching a cobra with my bare hands in Thailand (Cobra Gold), killing it and eating the poison, a similar ritual with a huge octopus in Korea at Squadron 56 (ROK SEALs), and so forth around the world.

Being a man has nothing to do with any of that, but men do it and other men (yes, including me) fall for it time and time again.
US Navy:  Crossing the Equator involves a two-day ritual where King Neptune presides over the transformation from slimy pollywogs into trusty shellbacks. 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. Wogs—all of the uninitiated—are allowed to capture and interrogate any shellbacks they can find (e.g., tying them up, cracking eggs or pouring aftershave lotion on their heads). The wogs are made very aware of the fact that it will be much harder on them if they do anything like this. 
The Shellbacks retaliate: Wogs are captured and may be “interrogated” by King Neptune and his entourage, and the use of “truth serum” (hot sauce + after shave) and whole uncooked eggs put in the mouth. During the ceremony, the Pollywogs undergo a number of increasingly embarrassing ordeals (wearing clothing inside out and backwards; crawling on hands and knees on nonskid-coated decks; being swatted with short lengths of firehose; being locked in stocks and pillories and pelted with mushy fruit; being locked in a water coffin of salt-water and bright green sea dye (fluorescent sodium salt); crawling through chutes or large tubs of rotting garbage; kissing the Royal Baby’s belly coated with axle grease, hair chopping, etc.), largely for the entertainment of the Shellbacks.  
In the end, King Neptune recognizes that the slimy Wogs are worthy of becoming Trusty Shellbacks. The ritual has been played out by navies of most nations for hundreds of years. It’s now part of the lore and both officers and crew aspire to the tile of Trusty Shellback. 
There are rankings. A Trusty Shellback just crossed the Equator. A Golden Shellback crossed the Equator at the 180th meridian (international date line). The Emerald Shellback crossed the Equator at the prime meridian.
As I sit at the computer keyboard, I am trying to count the various and sundry rites of manhood that I’ve undergone through my life – from the subtle to the more overt. It must go back to the days of cavemen. Young Plains Indians went on vision quest ordeals in which they gave up their birth name and took on a name associated with power. In other cultures the issue was decided in a sweat lodge with peyote and mescal liquor. They counted coup on enemies so that all would witness their personal bravery.  In some motorcycle gangs, “Harley Wings” are traditionally awarded for various sex acts with different women: Red Wings for a woman at that moon, broken wing for a female amputee, etc. In the SEAL teams, you were thrown into the ‘dip tank’ (foul water where outboard motors are tested) when you received a promotion. And so forth. 
I think that women do it on a far more mild basis in sororities where they are trying to copy the ancient male pattern.  Oddly enough, it might have been Rudyard Kipling who best identified women’s place in all of this in his epic poem, “Female of the Species“:

…She is wedded to convictions—in default of grosser ties;
Her contentions are her children, Heaven help him who denies!—
He will meet no suave discussion, but the instant, white-hot, wild,
Wakened female of the species warring as for spouse and child. 

Unprovoked and awful charges—even so the she-bear fights,
Speech that drips, corrodes, and poisons—even so the cobra bites,
Scientific vivisection of one nerve till it is raw
And the victim writhes in anguish—like the Jesuit with the squaw! 

So it comes that Man, the coward, when he gathers to confer
With his fellow-braves in council, dare not leave a place for her
Where, at war with Life and Conscience, he uplifts his erring hands
To some God of Abstract Justice—which no woman understands.

                                                                   “I have no answers, only truths.”

17 thoughts on “Rites of Manhood

  1. Once, when my daughter was four, I randomly burst out into Bob Dylan, and in response to me singing, "How many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man?" she interjected, "Sixty!"
    So there you have it.
    All those other tests and trials… totally unnecessary.

  2. Tis a time honored tradition, as it should be. Assume your pics are still classified do not disseminate…

  3. What pictures? Guys don't take photos of things like that. Oh, in some situations there is a nerd who does, but usually, no.

  4. You killed a cobra with your bare hands and ate the poison? You should be the next James bond.

    This all sounds like a drunken soiree at an after Rugby match. Men are bonkers.

    Kipling had it sussed.

  5. Jules, everyone who goes to the Cobra Gold Joint Ex in Thailand kills a cobra with their bare hands. I'm not at all special in that regard. The poison gave me "the runs". Otherwise, a cool experience. Yeah, drunken soiree after a rugby match describes a lot of it — men are bonkers, women are poison, what's your point ;^)

  6. Here's something (different) every man must face sometime early in their adulthood – buying an appliance. I worked and saved all that money, and I have to buy a f*#@ing dishwasher?!

    Being in Boy Scouts, playing football, a fraternity, the military…nothing can prepare you for forking over cash for something like that…nowadays I just buy a different house.

  7. That's because you have been domesticated by a fine woman…I don't want to say that you've been defanged, or that your spine has been removed or that the tiger's claws have been blunted. 'Saying' that would be cruel.

  8. Okay, that one DID get a bit touchy depending on how much one had to drink and their reaction time… And Baluts… Sheese…

  9. Human women, no. Female cobras, apparently in that case.

    "Speech that drips, corrodes and poisons, even so the (female) cobra bites"
    -Kipling, Female of the Species

  10. Balut – one of those things that equates to a "dick measuring contest" among sailors. I must admit to be impossibly small – because I couldn't eat one without barfing.

Comments are closed.

Scroll to top