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So, there's this really cool organization, and you've known for years that you want to be part of it. You've asked the leader really nicely. You've passed their tests, you've won or bought the respect of all the members, maybe you've even accompanied them on a few adventures. Now, you're finally going to get in. You'll have access to all the secret weapons, knowledge, and connections that they've been concealing from you. You're going to be one of the gang.
But first, you're going to be initiated.
This will be in one of several basic forms:
- Rather pleasant and jolly, in front of all your family and friends.
- Solemn and dignified.
- Disgustingly humiliating.
- Disturbingly horrific.
Rituals, as social scientists will tell you, are tools for dealing with the "liminal state:" the area between one standardized role and another. You were one person before you joined the group; you'll be a different one once you're inside the group. The initiation will mark the place where your status officially changes.
Trope-wise, initiation ceremonies are a well of both comedy and drama since they show, perhaps for the first time, what the group is really all about — usually at a point where it's too late for the initiate to back out. What if the High Holy Order of Sacred Wisdom makes initiates tread grapes in their underwear while singing "Happy Birthday"? What if Taffy's Tattlers require a blood sacrifice?
See also Rite of Passage
, a catalog of initiation ceremonies into adulthood. If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten
is a "disturbingly horrific" version of this trope cranked Up to Eleven
. Gangs may use the Gang Initiation Fight
as their ceremony.
open/close all folders
- Knighting, of course.
- Mostly pleasant. There is the Vigil, which is at least intensely uncomfortable.
- And god help you if you want to become a Knight in Tortall. The Chamber of Ordeal is not nice.
- The "Ritual of Opening" in The Red Tent. At a girl's first period, the girl is bathed, dressed up, and ritually body-painted, and there is a party involving consumption of large volumes of alcohol and sweets, plus music and dancing. After sunset, the girl is taken outside and stripped naked, so she can masturbate with a fertility doll until she orgasms while all her female relatives cheer her on. The scene is described as nothing but enjoyable and deeply spiritual, and marks her as a fully-fledged member of the society of women.
- In Warrior Cats, becoming an apprentice has the leader give a speech while you are surrounded by your Clanmates. Becoming a warrior requires a vigil.
- In order to join the Midnight Society from Are You Afraid of the Dark?, an initiate must tell a sufficiently scary story, then receive approval to join from all the current members. The vote to allow a new member must be unanimous, or the member is rejected.
- Being initiated as a Spectre is pretty nice, you just get a vote of confidence from the Citadel Council followed by a speech. With kickass music, of course.
- In The Gamers Alliance, being initiated into a clergy is a memorable moment. Axikasha Keiran experiences this first-hand when she joins the Clergy of Hephaestus with the blessing of none other than the clergy's patron deity himself, Hephaestus the God of Smithing:
Axikhasa Keiran: Pawn or not, I won't sit by and let the world drown in darkness. I accept my responsibilities as your cleric, Hephaestus. I pledge myself to you and the people.
Hephaestus: Go forth with all the strength of the Forge behind you, my High Cleric, and do not forget who you are. You are a worthy champion of the Light, a protector of those in need, a beacon of hope amidst the darkness of War and Chaos.
- Finding Nemo: When Gill invites Nemo to join the Tank Gang, Nemo must first swim through the "Ring of Fire" (a stream of bubbles over a fake volcano). Initially scary, but ultimately pleasant.
- In the Discworld novel Going Postal, Moist von Lipwig has to undergo "The Postman's Walk" before the other postmen will accept him as the new Postmaster. Also overlaps a little with Horrific, as it involves navigating hazards like carelessly-laid gardening tools and a razor-sharp mail slot with a hood over his head, followed by the postman's natural enemy: Angry Guard Dogs.
- "A Look at Organized Crime" by Woody Allen describes initiation into The Mafia:
A proposed member is blindfolded and led into a dark room. Pieces of Cranshaw melon are placed in his pockets, and he is required to hop around on one foot and cry out, "Toodles! Toodles!" Next, his lower lip is pulled out and snapped back by all the members of the board, or commissione; some may even wish to do it twice. Following this, some oats are put on his head. If he complains, he is disqualified. If, however, he says "Good, I like oats on my head," he is welcomed into the brotherhood. This is done by kissing him on the cheek and shaking his hand.
- A crewmember in one of the Honor Harrington muses on the fact that crossing the Hyper wall for the first time tends to bring about the same kind of ceremonies as crossing the international date line on old earth. Since she is from another star system and has thus already done this, she gets to be on the bridge rather than with her friends being shoved into a zero-g module blindfolded and in their skivvies and told to complete various disgusting but ultimately harmless tasks.
- In Ashes to Ashes, Alex is initiated into CID by having her rear stamped with their official stamp. This is Truth in Television for that period, by the way.
- The show Phantom Investigators had an episode with an abandoned fraternity, where the two remaining members did all sorts of humiliating things in order to be accepted, such as drinking tea brewed with their own sweat socks... yuck.
- An episode of JAG, titled "Crossing the Line", centered around a female aviator filing sexual harassment charges after going through a "Line-Crossing ceremony" (see Real Life below). For contrast, another female aviator going through the same thing at the same time thought it was all great fun.
- In a Saturday Night Live sketch, Mary Katherine Gallagher is told that to join a gang of bad girls at her school, she has to drink water from the girls' room toilet. It was no big deal, she'd done it before.
- Most of the story in Spellcasting 201 is trying to get through pledge week with the Hu Delta Phart fraternity. In addition to the daily flogging of the pledges with a rubber chicken, each pledge has to do a task every day to prove their worthiness. The tasks given to most of the pledges are fairly simple (and amusing to watch), but the ones assigned to the player get increasingly dangerous as the week goes on (Mainly because the Pledgemaster doesn't like you).
- Line-crossing ceremonies are conducted in a fair number of navies when one crosses the Equator, Arctic Circle, International Date Line or whatever for the first time. Historically a bit brutal, but they've been reined in recently after several reports of things going, to use the naval term, overboard
- A tamer version is done on cruise ships.
- A fictional one is depicted in the Larry Bond novel Dangerous Ground.
- Happens in The Sarah Connor Chronicles where it's still going even in the distant future in human controlled submarines.
- Russian submariners have one when you first must drink a whole emergency lantern of seawater (that's about a liter BTW), and then kiss a sledgehammer suspended from the ceiling. It's usually calm under the surface... theoretically. So broken teeth and torn lips aren't really uncommon.
- The Royal Navy version involves batter, a tank of water and a mixture involving chilli sauce. In 1953, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip watched one of these. Her Majesty did not take part. Prince Philip, though, having been a sailor in the Second World War, did. There's one shown on the second series of the documentary series Warship.
- A big part of the Line Crossing ceremony is that the sailors who have crossed the Equator initiate the sailors who have not. So what do you do when you are in a brand new navy and nobody has done it yet? In the case of the first US Navy Line Crossing, the crew of a Royal Navy warship that just so happened to be in the same part of the ocean turned up to help.
- Check out the gimmicks from this 1930 "Fraternal Supply Catalog."
- The way to become a member of a hobgoblin tribe in The Order of the Stick involves dancing, uncomfortable piercings, beatings, and doing the same things over again but slower, while singing. Or, you can kill their leader.
- The Omega fraternity in Talesof Gnosis College has one that features both nudity and humiliation. And that's before things spin out of control.
- These were parodied in The Simpsons during the initiation for the Stonecutters. First, there was "Crossing the Desert" (where a blindfolded Homer was struck repeatedly in the behind with wooden paddles) and then, "The Unblinking Eye"...
Homer: Hey, did you ever notice that Crossing the Desert is a lot like The Unblinking Eye? And it's exactly like The Wreck of the Hesperus.
- And then the final trial: "The Paddling of the Swollen Ass... with Paddles!"
- There was also a five-story plunge, which was really only supposed to be a laugh when the new initiate fell about two feet, but Homer of course went through five stories, breaking through the floor each time.
Homer: I think I have to do it again... my blindfold came off.
- Parodied in Undergrads, where there is no hazing ritual. Rocko refuses to believe and so hazes himself.
- Done in Jimmy Neutron where the title character was attending college and tried getting into a secret club. He was disappointed at first when the initiation ceremony turned out to be just swearing allegiance. Until the president of said club explained that he would then have to streak through the science lab, which he does. It was actually a ploy for the principle to see Jimmy and get him expelled.
Anime and Manga
- Once Were Warriors has a young Maori gangster getting his ass kicked in the worst way possible. Afterwards? "Congratulations man, you're now one of us!".
- In criminal gangs, this is known as being "beat in" or "jumped in", and it is not uncommon for prospective initiates to die after such beatings.
- In Tamora Pierce's Tortall books, aspiring knights (usually teenagers) and kings have to spend a night in the Chamber of the Ordeal, which is a room inhabited by some kind of godlike spirit that gives you very realistic halluciations of your worst fears. As one character describes it, it's "like a cutter of gemstones. It finds your flaws and hammers them." With people who aren't ready for hardcore introspection, it can permanently damage or kill them. In one special case, a guy who likes to beat and rape women is forced to feel the physical effects of every assault he ever committed. Our main characters see more typical things, like their loved ones being slaughtered because they're too incompetent to protect them. Oh, and they're also not allowed to scream or make any sound at all.
- In the Belisarius Series, getting your first battle scar is an initiation rite for Axumite warriors.
- In the novel Stinger, by Robert R. Mc Cammon, a group of boys initiate the only girl into their circle by chewing tobacco and spitting it into a cup. She drinks it.
- In Akata Witch, the ceremony for becoming a Leopard (a person with magical powers) is extremely painful. It also crosses over with the "Humiliating" cateory.
- In Angel, when Angel joins the Circle of the Black Thorn, he has to leap through a flaming doorway (he's a vampire) and feed off of Drogyn, a friend of his. Afterwards, the members have a friendly cocktail party.
- In Lost Girl every Fae must undergo a test which is a fight to the death against one or more opponents. If you live, you get to choose whether you get initiated into the Light Fae or Dark Fae factions.
- When Kenzi infiltrates a sorority she comes to belief that the final initiation is going to be some sort of Human Sacrifice with her the likely victim. Turns out it's just a surprise party for the new members and the sorority is actually treats their pledges quite nicely.
- Going insane is a fairly common side effect of the revelations given to a candidate in a Millennium Group initiation ceremony. Recurring character Laura Means completely loses her shit... and to Patti Smith, no less.
- In House of Anubis Patricia's fake initiation ceremony for Nina included both having to steal from their house father, to sneaking into the forbidden (and rumored to be haunted) attic at midnight, with the goals of getting Nina scared, humiliated, and into trouble. In the end she even locked Nina up there.
- Of course, Nina passed with flying colors (but was indeed terrified.)
- The Klingon in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine "bachelor party" is a horrific introduction into marriage where the groom is accompanied by three groomsmen for four days of Macho Masochism. There is plenty of compensation though. On the wedding night the bride and groom get to gleefully beat each other to a pulp! (Though it must be said that this is virtually indistinguishable from regular Klingon foreplay.)
- Some high school and college hazings have a nasty habit of turning into sexual assault, such as this Las Vegas (New Mexico, not Nevada) high school football incident.
- If this Rolling Stone story on Dartmouth hazing is to be believed, it's less sexual assault and more Nausea Fuel. (One word: vomlet.)
- Criminal gang initiations usually involve the prospective member having to fight or endure a vicious beating by other members of the gang ("beat in" or "jumped in"), being required to have sex with multiple members of the gang ("sex in"), or committing some form of violent crime for the gang, up to and including raping or murdering an innocent victim. Prison gangs in particular have a "blood in, blood out" system — in order to join, one has to kill someone, and the only way to leave is in a bodybag.
- The initiation rite known as "The Blooding" for Clan MechWarriors in BattleTech involves a cadet in his/her BattleMechs dueling with live weapons, against active duty warriors, with their initial rank depending on how many (usually a maximum of three, if they fail to defeat even one they are demoted to a civilian caste) they defeat. These battles usually end with the Cadet's Mech disabled (achieving three kills is a rare occurrence and the Trial goes until the Cadet is unable to fight on) and in many cases the cadet and/or the opponent(s) dies, and no one cares.
- The various Vampire covenants in White Wolf's Vampire: The Requiem have initiation ceremonies that are both solemn and horrific. Since the ritual involves the applicant, well, dying and then feeding off of his first human, y'know...
- In Vampire: The Masquerade, the Baali bloodline initated its childer by draining them, then throwing them in a pit of human hearts. The dying human was expected to find the one heart with Vitae in it and drink it, completing the Embrace themselves. In the same game, the Sabbat were notorious for knocking would-be childer out with a shovel, Embracing them, and burying them alive to dig their own way out... but in a subversion, that's not the initiation rite, it's just a quick way to break a subject's humanity. The actual initiation is much more solemn (and only given if the "shovelhead" survives whatever siege they needed cannon fodder for).
- The Sabbat version can get even worse: occasionally they'll bury your dead relatives over you, forcing you to dig through their corpses.
- The Via Hyron Baali would embrace their childer, not by the organ pit methodoloy of the 'normal' Baali, but by force-feeding them blood-fed insects.
- Initiation into the Space Marines in Warhammer 40,000. Initiation into the more formal Chaos Legions and the Grey Knights goes beyond horrific.
- Especially so in the former case because you've already been initiated as a Space Marine.
- In the original Saints Row, the Playa is initiated into the 3rd Street Saints by being "jumped in" (see Real Life above), which also doubles as a tutorial for melee combat.
- In the Sword of the Stars backstory, Liir who become Black Swimmers go through a twofold initiation of horrid. First, a funeral arranged by their friends and family, as becoming a Black Swimmer means abandoning whoever you were before. The actual initiation involves the recruit being held down and 'drowned' in liquid oxygen by their peers until they stop struggling and abandon all hope, which prepares them for an existence of being able to kill other beings — this being basically the worst sort of insanity to the pacifistic Liir, who nonetheless recognize that some of them must be able to kill for the species to survive.
- In Dragon Age: Origins, becoming a Grey Warden involves drinking a mixture including the blood of darkspawn and of an Archdemon. Most people who do this do not survive.
- Mages must undergo the Harrowing, which basically tests their ability to resist demonic possession by throwing them unprepared right into the Fade.
- And all Dalish Elves must be tattooed all over their faces to be considered adults. Screaming, crying, or otherwise expressing pain during the process is considered a sign that you're a wimp.
- The story of the original Ao Oni has Takuro and his Gang Of Bullies forcing new students Hiroshi and Kazuya to visit the manor with them as part of a 'welcoming ceremony' to their new school. While they just intended to scare them, things start going wrong when they all find themselves locked inside...
- Becoming a member of the Templar Order in Diablo III involves being chained to a wall and beaten and starved for three days, then whipped. The inquisitors who carry out this Cold-Blooded Torture tell the initiate that he is reliving his transgressions and everything that brought him tainted joy (since according to Kormac, your Templar follower, every Templar was once a convicted criminal) and that the whip removes the joy and his sin, leaving him "pure", then he is thoroughly indoctrinated into forgetting his former life so he can have a single-minded focus on his mission. The player characters all express disgust at the idea upon hearing the tale from Kormac. As it turns out, the Templars don't really give a blessed damn about the guilt or innocence of an initiate, and will readily pile false sins upon an innocent if it means recruiting a good warrior into the Order, as happened to both Kormac and Jondar.
- In The Gamers Alliance, joining the Death-worshipping Totenkopfs is a horrific experience, not only because the initiate has been prepared for the joining beforehand by breaking their spirit utterly in the worst possible moment for the initiate until they're so hopeless and lost that joining the cult seems like the only option. The ritual involves sacrifices and blood oaths, and the initiate swears to carry out atrocities in order to let everyone and everything feel Death's embrace in the end. An even more horrific version comes when the Master of the Totenkopfs turns someone, often a prominent Totenkopf but sometimes an outsider whose dark aura shows promise, into his Blessed.
- In Transformers Animated, joining the Decepticons involves being branded (literally) with their sigil; it's apparently very painful.
- In the Batman Beyond episode "Joyride", a gang of Jokerz takes a new member to a mineshaft containing a skeleton dressed in the remains of a purple suit and boutonniere, implying that it is the corpse of the original Joker.
- Accepted brings a guy wearing a hot-dog costume shouting "Ask me about my wiener!"
- Played for laughs in at least one of Keith Laumer's Retief short stories, "Ballots and Bandits". To join an alien organization Interstellar Diplomat Retief must perform various tasks that the aliens find almost impossible.
- Hold his breath for very quick count of ten.
- Smell various inoffensive odors.
- "I believe what you have there is the authentic smell of sanctity."
- His alien companion nearly gives in, but takes heart from Retief's example.
- Jump over an obstacle less than a six inches tall for the final test.
- After jumping he grandstands by turning and jumping it again, to a standing ovation.
- When Mallory and Jessi join the Baby Sitters Club, Kristy makes them swear on the club notebook with an oath that Dawn suspects she's made up on the spot. Mary Anne cries. Dawn and Claudia both think it's ridiculous, but that doesn't stop Dawn from wondering why she didn't get an initiation ceremony. (Answer: Kristy is massively jealous of her friendship with Mary Anne.)
- The Legend Of Dick And Dom: a fight with jam-soaked sticks while standing in a trough of custard; followed by a promise to kick yourself up the bum every day before breakfast; then a kiss on both cheeks from a guy who dribbles so much, a man with a sponge follows him around. Congratulations! You are initiated into the Loopy Tribe!
- Monty Python's Flying Circus: graduating village idiots receive a diploma, a handful of mud and a kick on the head.
- Wiseguy. When Vinnie Terranova becomes a made man, all the old mafioso get into an argument over the correct initiation. "I've done this a hundred times!" "Then you're done it wrong a hundred times!"
- In an episode of My Name Is Earl, Randy decides to pledge a college fraternity (even though he's not actually a student). Part of the initiation involves paddling a la Animal House, but Randy convinces the frat brothers to paddle each other instead of the new pledges. Hilarity Ensues.
- Family Guy: Apparently, if you want to become a Supreme Court Justice, you have to stick a cherry in between your buttcheeks, run through a set of cones, and drop the cherry in a beer.
- Judge Souter even drinks the beer when he finishes the obstacle course!
- On the Ren and Stimpy show, you, the viewer, can gain the trust of the two by putting your hand on the TV screen and reciting the secret oath: "I do hereby promise only to watch the Ren and Stimpy show, to make underleg noises during the good scenes, and to wear unwashed Lederhosen every single day of the rest of my life!"
- In Teen Titans, apparently the initiation for the H.I.V.E. academy is eating a unicycle and carrying a female student's books while wearing a pink tutu.
- At the end of the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "One Bad Apple", the Cutie Mark Crusaders make amends with Apple Bloom's cousin Babs Seed, and even swear her in as a member of their club. The ceremony is fairly mundane, but it involves Scootaloo playing an overly-dramatic bongo solo and Sweetie Belle reciting a Long List of synonyms for "friend", most of which she mispronounces: "We, the Cutie Mark Crusaders, elect Babs Seed to join us as a sister, friend, confidant, ally, bosom buddy, gal pal, compadre, chum of chums, home girl, amiga..."
Anime and Manga
- Getting initiated into The Unit involves a Training Accident scenario. One case involved a Man on Fire.
- According to one of the Expanded Universe novels of Babylon 5, a medical school had a hazing practice where first year students were required to research a non-topic and write a paper on their results with the same level of rigor that one would expect from a research paper that one is trying to publish in a real medical journal. A group of students decided to research telepathy, actually found some telepaths, and from there ended up setting in motion the creation of PsiCorps.
- As written up by William Poundstone, the initiation ceremonies of the Knights of Columbus can mix all of these, depending on how much the pledges are taking the events at face value. It includes solemn oathtakings, a quiz in which the initiates are meant to learn humility (and start studying Scripture) through failure, some rough and potentially humiliating treatment (the worst aimed at members playing candidates), which is intended to lead into a series of increasingly stress-filled events culminating in (the simulation of) a federal agent accidentally shooting a lodge officer. Presumably, after the reveal that everything was scripted and the candidates' original faith in the organization was justified, there's a pleasant period of socialization.
- The initiation into the Israeli Paratroop Corps involves "ascending to Jerusalem"-that is doing a forced march up the Temple Mount to the spot where they receive their berets.
- The Kirkkojärvi March of the Finnish Army Reserve Officers' Academy: an all-day platoon-wise forced march competition in the cross country, with various combat-related tasks, in full combat gear. The finish line is traditionally on top of a local skiing hill.
- Basic training for any branch of the armed forces probably covers all four bases; a long period of extreme physical and mental exhaustion with occasional bouts of ritual humiliation by your instructors if you screw up, relieved by the odd moment of comedy as you and everyone else in the same predicament bands together to make the best of it, with a solemn and dignified ceremony at the end when you join your unit.
- The US Army has two initiations similar to the Kirkkojärvi March above, the "prop blast" (for paratroopers in the 82nd Airborne) and the "spur ride" (for Cavalry soldiers). Both consist of grueling physical tasks, combat-related tasks, and answering questions about unit history in front of a board of senior officers (though the board can quickly devolve into humiliation of the participants). The prop blast ceremony was banned briefly in the late 1990s when it became apparent the ceremonies had crossed the line from hazing into out-right abuse. It is, however, coming back quietly under heavy supervision in both the 82nd Airborne and the 101st Airborne Divisions.
- Joining the Order of the Arrow, a Boy Scouts subgroup, involves taking the Ordeal - a day spent performing manual labor with minimal food, not being allowed to speak unless the OA members in charge permit it. A feast takes place at the day's end.