Initiation ceremony, Korogo Village, Sepik River, Papua New Guinea, 1975. Franz Luthi

Initiation is a rite of passage ceremony marking entrance or acceptance into a group or society. It could also be a formal admission to adulthood in a community. It can also signify a transformation in which the initiate is reborn into a new role.

What might an initiation ceremony include to show that a person has been initiated? - A ritual or prayer - Drinking wine - Passing on an important family possession - A speech

The English word derives from the Latin, initium: "entrance" or "beginning," literally "a going in." The related English verb, initiate, means to begin or start a particular action, event, circumstance, or happening. Examples of initiation ceremonies might include Christian baptism or confirmation, Jewish bar or bat mitzvah, acceptance into a fraternal organization, secret society or religious order, or graduation from school or recruit training.

In unionised organisations, the "initiation" is typically no more than a brief familiarization with basic procedures and the provision of a copy of the appropriate collective bargaining agreement that governs the work performed by members of the union. Some unions also charge a one-time initiation fee, after which the joining person is officially deemed to be a member in good standing.

A person taking the initiation ceremony in primitive rites, such as those depicted in these pictures, is said to be an initiate.

Normally an initiation rite would imply a shepherding process where those who are at a higher level guide the initiate through a process of greater exposure of knowledge. This may include the revelation of secrets, usually reserved for those at the higher level of understanding. One famous historical example is the Eleusinian Mysteries of ancient Greece, thought to go back to at least the Mycenaean period or "bronze age."

Freemasonry initiation. 18th century

In the context of ritual magic and esotericism, an initiation is considered to cause a fundamental process of change to begin within the person being initiated. The person conducting the initiation (the initiator), being in possession of a certain power or state of being, transfers this power or state to the person being initiated. Thus the concept of initiation is similar to that of apostolic succession. The initiation process is often likened to a simultaneous death and rebirth, because as well as being a beginning it also implies an ending as existence on one level drops away in an ascension to the next.

Initiation is a key component of Sant Mat, Surat Shabd Yoga and similar religious gnosis traditions. It denotes acceptance by the Guru and also implies that the Chela (student or disciple) agrees to the requirements (such as living an ethical lifestyle, meditating, etc.)

Initiation is performed almost in all cultural groups, but differently. In the Bapedi tribe of South Africa initiation is normally regarded as stage where a boy is to be taught manhood and a girl womanhood. In many African tribes initiation involves circumcision of males and sometimes circumcision/genital mutilation of females as well. Initiation is considered necessary for the individual in order to be regarded as a full member of the tribe. Otherwise the individual may not be allowed to participate in ceremonies or even in social ritual such as marriage.

Initiation may be thought to help build respect in teenagers and prepare them to be good husbands and wives. Where modernization is occurring initiation is not taken as seriously as before, though there are still certain areas which still consider initiation seriously. A man will not be allowed to marry or have any special relationship with a girl who didn't go to initiation, because she is not considered as a woman.

In some African tribes boys take about 3 to 4 months participating in initiation rites and girls 1 to 2 months.

Australian Aboriginal tribes usually had long periods of preparing adolescent boys, teaching them the Law before they were ready to attend large elaborate ceremonies at the time of initiation when they were finally recognized as fully-fledged men in their society. Most tribes had circumcision and scarification as part of the male initiation rituals, while many Central Australian tribes also practiced subincision.

Resting after initiations, Korogo Village, Sepik River, Papua New Guinea, 1975. Franz Luthi



Hazing is an often ritualistic test, which may constitute harassment, abuse or humiliation with requirements to perform random, often meaningless tasks, sometimes as a way of initiation into a social group. The definition can refer to either physical (sometimes violent) or mental (possibly degrading) practices. The word is most frequently encountered in the United States and Canada; in the United Kingdom, ragging is usually used instead. In continental European languages terms with a 'christening' theme or etymology are often preferred (e.g. baptême in French, doop in Dutch) or variations on a theme of naïveté and the rite of passage such as a derivation from a term for freshman (e.g. bizutage in French, ontgroening 'de-green[horn]ing' in Dutch) or a combination of both, such as in the Finnish mopokaste (literally "motorbicycle baptism," "motorbicycle" being the nickname for freshmen, stemming from the concept that they would be barred from riding a full motorcycle by their age).

Often most or all of the endurance, or at least the more serious ordeal, is concentrated in an orgiastic session, which may be called hell night, or prolonged to a hell week and/or retreat or camp, sometimes again at the pledge's birthday (e.g. by birthday spanking), but some traditions keep terrorizing pledges (a common term for the initiation candidates; alternative terms include newbie, rookie, mainly in athletic teams and freshman) over a long period, resembling fagging.

Hazing is often used as a method to promote group loyalty and camaraderie through shared suffering (male bonding in fraternities), either with fellow participants, past participants or both.

A tentative explanation from evolutionary psychology is that grave hazing can activate the capture-bonding psychological trait also known as Stockholm syndrome.


  • In 1984, Joseph Web was the first person to be expelled from Harvard for hazing.


Hazing has been reported in a variety of social contexts, including:

  • Sports teams
  • Academic fraternities and sororities (see fraternities and sororities). These practices are most common in, but not limited to, North American schools. Swedish students undergo a similar bonding period, known as nollningen, in which all members of the entering class participate.
  • Certain high schools (in the sense of secondary education)
  • College and universities in general, from Ivy league to smaller institutions, such as the officially sanctioned 'Kangaroo Court' at Quincy University, Illinois[citation needed].
  • Associated groups, like competition teams, fan clubs, social groups
  • Secret societies and even certain service clubs, or rather their local chapters (such as some modern US Freemasons; not traditional masonic lodges).
  • Similarly various other competitive sports teams or clubs, even 'soft' and non-competitive ones (such as arts)
  • The armed forces — e.g., in the U.S., hard hazing practices from World War I boot camps were introduced into colleges. In Poland army hazing is called Polish fala "wave" adopted pre-World War I from non-Polish armies. In the Russian army (formerly the Red Army) hazing is called "Dedovshchina."
  • Police forces (often with a paramilitary tradition)
  • Rescue services, such as lifeguards (also drilled for operations in military style)
  • In workplaces
  • Inmate hazing is also common at confinement facilities around the world, including frequent reports of beatings and sexual assaults by fellow inmates.

It is a subjective matter where to draw to line between "normal" hazing (somewhat abusive) and a mere rite of passage (essentially bonding; proponents may argue they can coincide), and there is a gray area where exactly the other side passes over into sheer degrading, even harmful abuse that should not be tolerated even if accepted voluntarily (serious but avoidable accidents do still happen; deliberate abuse with similar grave medical consequences occurs, in some traditions rather often). Furthermore, as it must be a ritual initiation, a different social context may mean a same treatment is technically hazing for some, not for others, e.g., a line-crossing ceremony when passing the equator at sea is hazing for the sailor while the extended (generally voluntary, more playful) application to passengers is not.


The practice of ritual abuse among social groups is poorly understood. This is partly due to the secretive nature of the activities, especially within collegiate fraternities and sororities, and in part a result of long-term acceptance of hazing. Thus, it has been difficult for researchers to agree on the underlying social and psychological mechanisms that perpetuate hazing.

In some hazing incidents the aggressor forcefully performs sexual acts on the victim such as oral sex, anal-oral contact, or defecating into the mouth.

In military circles hazing is sometimes assumed to test recruits under situations of stress and hostility. Although in no way a recreation of combat, hazing does put people into stressful situations that they are unable to control, which allegedly should weed out those weaker members prior to being put in situations where failure to perform will cost lives. The problem with this approach, according to opponents, is that the stress and hostility comes from inside the group, from the assumed "good guys," and not from outside as in actual combat situation, creating suspicion and distrust towards the superiors and comrades-in-arms. A possible argument against the Stockholm Syndrome theory is that in order to be willing participants recruits may be motivated by a desire to prove to senior soldiers their stability in future combat situations, making the unit more secure. Blatantly brutal hazing can in fact produce negative results, making the units more prone to break, desert or mutiny than those without hazing traditions, as observed in the Russian army in Chechnya, where units with the strongest traditions of dedovschina were the first to break and desert under enemy fire. At worst, hazing may lead into fragging incidents.

Outside of the criminal context, a form of the syndrome may take place in military basic training, in which "training is a mildly traumatic experience intended to produce a bond," with the goal of forming military units which will remain loyal to each other even in life-threatening situations.

It would be more difficult to make such a case in favor of hazing ceremonies in academic bodies and social clubs, where the origin is imitating educational (parental and school) discipline in substitute households and internal teaching.

In a 1999 study, a survey of 3,293 collegiate athletes, coaches, athletic directors and deans found a variety of approaches to prevent hazing, including strong disciplinary and corrective measures for known cases, implementation of athletic, behavioral, and academic standards guiding recruitment; provisions for alternative bonding and recognition events for teams to prevent hazing; and law enforcement involvement in monitoring, investigating, and prosecuting hazing incidents.[1]

Hoover's research suggested half of all college athletes are involved in alcohol-related hazing incidents, while one in five are involved in potentially illegal hazing incidents. Only another one in five was involved in what Hoover described as positive initiation events, such as taking team trips or running obstacle courses.

"Athletes most at risk for any kind of hazing for college sports were men; non-Greek members; and either swimmers, divers, soccer players, or lacrosse players. The campuses where hazing was most likely to occur were primarily in eastern or southern states with no anti-hazing laws. The campuses were rural, residential, and had Greek systems," Hoover wrote. Hoover uses the term "Greek" to refer to U.S.-style fraternities and sororities.

Non-fraternity members were most at risk of hazing, Hoover reported. Football players are most at risk of potentially dangerous or illegal hazing, the study found.

In the May issue of the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, Michelle Finkel, MD, reported that hazing injuries are often not recognized for their true cause in emergency medical centers. The doctor said hazing victims sometimes hide the real cause of injuries out of shame or to protect those who caused the harm. In protecting their abusers, hazing victims can be compared with victims of domestic violence, Finkel wrote.[citation needed]

Finkel cites hazing incidents including "beating or kicking to the point of traumatic injury or death, burning or branding, excessive calisthenics, being forced to eat unpleasant substances, and psychological or sexual abuse of both males and females." Reported coerced sexual activity is sometimes considered "horseplay" rather than rape, she wrote. Finkel quoted from Hank Nuwer's book Wrongs of Passage which counted 56 hazing deaths between 1970 and 1999.

Even in the modern western military, which combines discipline with welfare priorities, initiation practices can cause controversy. Although not a part of the training program of the British Royal Marines, there is a tradition (in many military - especially elite - corps) of subjecting the newly trained ranks to a hell night-type "joining run," a macho preparation of men in the prime of their lives for the ordeals of warfare, going beyond what most civilians (and even many service personnel) would find acceptable; it usually combines humiliation (such as nudity) with physical endurance.

In November 2005, there was an internationally publicized incident when a video of an extreme case of such a joining run, made secretly in May 2005, was released to the printed and broadcasting media. It showed newly trained marines, one group naked with others watching, fighting each other with mats wrapped around their arms, and one being kicked in the face after refusing to remove the padding and fight bare-fisted. "When one falls, a man in a fancy dress surgeon's outfit - allegedly an NCO - kicks him in the face, leaving him unconscious," according to the Telegraph.[citation needed] The victim, according to the BBC, said "It's just marine humour".[citation needed] The marine who leaked the video said "The guy laid out was inches from being dead." Under further investigation, the marines had just returned from a six month tour of Iraq, and were in their 'cooling down' period, in which they spend two weeks at a naval base before they are allowed back into society. The man who suffered the kick to the head did not press charges.


In the U.S. hazing has resulted in several deaths and serious injuries. Matthew Carrington was killed at California's Chico State University on February 2, 2005. As a direct result a number of colleges and parents, as well as sorority and fraternity members are taking steps to bring an end to criminal hazing practices. Hazing is considered a felony in several U.S. states, and anti-hazing legislation has been proposed in other states. SB 1454, or Matt’s Law, was developed in Carrington’s memory, and is one bill up for legislation to eliminate hazing in California.

There is anti-hazing legislation in several countries, e.g. in France (the French term is bizutage) imposing a punishment up to six months in prison or 7,500 Euro.

In the Philippines, hazing accompanied by any forms of temporary or permanent physical injuries (from light injuries to injuries resulting to death), sexual abuse (in any form) or any acts that lead to mental incapacity are punishable by law. Penalties vary depending on how serious the offense is.[2]

In Indonesia, 35 people died since 1993 as a result of hazing initiation rites in the Institute of Public Service (IPDN). The latest is in April 2007 when Cliff Muntu died after being beaten by the seniors [3]. The video of the hazing initiation rites can be viewed in Youtube.

In India, ragging has been banned for last few years. Recently in a historical judgment, the Honbl. Supreme Court of India has directed to lodge criminal cases against those who would rag. The states have been ordered to deal with ragging ( hazing ) strictly.


Before the Great Depression, U.S. hazing achieved an art form status amongst benevolent fraternities such as the Mooses and the Freemasons. The DeMoulin Catalog is a catalog of many hazing implements used, most famously the electric carpet. In many cases nowadays, the hardest abuse is usually only enacted for a photograph (sometimes even posted on the Internet) or video.

Reported hazing activities can involve all kinds of ridicule and humiliation within the group or in public — many of which could easily be considered abusive if a candidate were not a consenting adult — while others are quite innocent, akin to pranks. Examples of hazing, often performed in combination, include:

  • Spanking (see that article for details): This is done mainly in the form of paddling among fraternities, sororities and similar (e.g., athletic) clubs, sometimes over a lap, a knee, furniture or a pillow (pile), but mostly with the victim 'assuming the position,' i.e., simply bending over forward. A variation of this (also as punishment) is trading licks.
    • This practice is also used in the military (where a new round of hazing can follow a promotion, etc.). Alternative modes (including bare-buttock paddling, strapping and switching, as well as mock forms of antiquated forms of physical punishments such as stocks, walking the plank and running the gauntlet) have been reported in the US and other countries, even though all hazing is officially illegal in many.
  • Being hosed by sprinkler, buckets or hoses; covered with dirt or with (sometimes rotten) food such as eggs, tomatoes and flour (also as a food fight etc.), even urinated upon. Olive or baby oil may be used to 'show off' the bare skin, for wrestling or just slipperiness, e.g., to complicate pole climbing. Cleaning may be limited to a dive into water, hosing down or even paddling the worst off.
  • Tedious cleaning. Examples include swabbing the decks, cleaning the heads/toilets (e.g. with a toothbrush).
  • Servitude, such as waiting on others (as at frat parties) or various other forms of housework, often with pointless tests of obedience.
  • Being made to eat or drink too much. Pledges are sometimes force-fed raw eggs, peppers, hot sauce, laxatives, various liquids or even alcohol (mainly beer). Some hazing even includes eating or drinking vile things such as bugs, rotting food, even vomit or fresh urine.
  • Consuming food and/or drinks from an absurd container (frisbee, dog bowl, glasses tied to a ski for a collective gulping...) or through a straw, food fights, finding something in a messy dish without hands.
  • Clothing. An imposed piece of clothing, outfit, item or something else worn by the victim in a way that would bring negative attention to the wearer. Examples include:
    • Uniform (e.g. toga, especially in Greek societies)
    • A leash and/or collar (also associated with SM bondage)
    • Infantile and other humiliating dress and attire (e.g., diapers, underwear (sometimes of the opposite sex; sometimes wet to make it see-through) or a condom on the head; cross-dress or fake breasts; wearing just a box or a barrel; bunny costume; a phallus or dildo, even in explicitly homo-erotic poses.
    • Complete or partial nudity (with or without cupping of the genitals). In the case of partial nudity, victims are sometimes allowed just an apron, jockstrap, loincloth or improvised version, thongs, towel, (under)pants torn or altered to expose the wearer's genitals, a strategically placed sock or tie, a tool belt, cardboard box, wrapping paper, foil or duct tape. Sometimes the rule is 'anything but clothes', or victims are made to hold their crotches. A German variation is the 'clothesline', i.e., contributing garments (usually remaining decent, e.g., in swim suit) to form a long line.
    • In Sweden, gymnasium (high school, 16 to 19 years old) and university use the clothes line. Girls (nowadays) strip to their thong, but may keep their bra on if they wish; boys are always expected to finish up naked.
    • Holding lowered trousers, shorts and/or underpants or underwear up 'revealingly'.
    • Forced mooning, sometimes accompanied by smacking by a senior or mutually.
    • Wedgies or things put in the shorts
    • Sometimes specifically with an audience, either internal or in a public place (such as college sports venues, ordered to be high profile supporters), sometimes specifically of the other sex (often associating a fraternity with a sorority). This often combined with other tasks or parading, performing (dancing, singing, reciting obscenities, skit, etc.) or just being exposed.
Miami, Florida: fraternity buddies showing their brands
  • Markings. Victims are made to wear visible symbols, drawings or text (obscenities, instructions for abuse) on (under)clothing or on bare skin. They are painted on, tattooed on, written on or even shaved in (on head, legs, even pubic hair), sometimes collectively forming a message (one letter, syllable or word on each pledge), receive tar (or glue) and feathers or even branding.
  • Being tied together, e.g., by the underwear, thus complicating/rendering any ridiculous task, e.g., eating together while all participants hands or food containers are tied to a long stick.
  • Quizzes. Pledges might be required to study material relating to their school, fraternity or club history, rules and traditions and then tested on it. Such “exam” may however also be given unannounced or even on 'general knowledge'. As the punishments for wrong answers can constitute the "real fun," trick or nearly unsolvable questions are likely.
  • Hierarchy. Slave-like veneration of the seniors and thus verbal or physical submission to them, is common. Abject 'etiquette' required of pledges or subordinates may include prostration, kneeling, literal groveling, kissing/licking/washing (sometimes dirty) feet, footwear or the crotch.
  • Degrading positions and tasks. Some pledges are locked up in a cage or barrel, commanded to move on all fours or crawl on their bellies, eat or fetch "doggy style," kiss or urinate in public, having bodyparts and/or (under)clothing shoved into an orifice of their body (e.g., a burning candle in the rectum).
  • Physical feats. Performing calisthenics and other physical tests, such as push-ups (sometimes as the hazer keeps his/her foot on the pledges’ back), jumping jacks (under near impossible conditions), sit-ups, mud wrestling, forming a human pyramid or dog piling, climbing a greased pole, skinny diving, leap-frog, human wheel-barrow etc., often with some twist (follow the links).
  • Exposure to the elements. Examples include: Running, swimming or diving (almost) bare in cold water or snow. Holding ice water and/or having snow poured over a person or even sitting on ice in an open fridge holding more frozen objects.
  • Orientation tests. Pledges are abandoned, often quite far or fettered without transport, in the dark and/or in a public place.
  • Fund raising. Collecting money for the club or some charity, either by begging, selling a product, or performing services (such as washing cars).
  • Treasure hunt or scavenger hunt (perhaps requiring theft).
  • Dares. Examples are jumping from some height (bungee or in water), stealing from police or rival teams and obedience.
  • Blood pinning among military aviators (and many other elite groups) to celebrate becoming new pilots by piercing their chests with the sharp pins of aviator wings.
  • Burning desire and great ball of fire tests involve fireworks or burning objects (especially in mesh-form) fixed in the buttocks or on the testicles, remaining in position or running a distance.
  • The elephant walk is a moving line of male pledges, often naked or at least pant-less, that imitates an elephant herd (holding each other by the tail in nature). Each pledge grabs the one in front of him by the privates (tail is also a euphemism for the penis, and for the thus exposed butt, the favorite target in paddling traditions.
  • On his first crossing the equator in military and commercial navigation, each 'pollywog' (sailor; sometimes even passengers) is subjected to a series of endurances usually including running and/or crawling a gauntlet of abuse (soiling, paddling, etc.) and various scenes supposedly situated at King Neptune's court.
  • A pledge auction is a variation on the slave auction, where people bid on the paraded (often exposed) pledges. It is held either as an open fund raiser where the general public (or just an invited sorority) can bid, or internally to decide which brother can impose his fantasies on which pledge.
  • The Happy Corner, known in Japan (as aluba "hitting the tree"), Hong kong (as corning or being corned), Taiwan (as Al) and Norway (as stolping ' poling' or gjelling ' gelding'), involves rubbing a lifted boy's groin against a tree or pole
  • Treeing is binding up with ropes, chains, handcuffs or other means, to a tree or pole, or in some variations on a cross (mock crucifixion), to be helplessly abused and/or bound.
  • The term tunnel seems to have various meanings in different traditions, such as a spanking tunnel or belt-line. It may be appealing as a symbolic rite of passage: one goes in as a rookie and emerges as something of a brother or teammate; in an elaborate variation reported in rugby the rookie crawls under 10 players who strip him down, push a carrot in his anus and tie a pink ribbon around his erect penis, which he must keep on for two weeks (which will be checked at each training session)
  • In rugby: rookies are tested on their ability to both imbibe alcohol as well as specific skills in the game.
  • Academic salute is (at least in Liberia) jumping up while holding one's crotch; may be followed by the order to enact coitus, hastily divesting, even spilling seed in a hole.
  • 'Turtle' requires duct taping a mattress to the weakest member and throwing him down flights of stairs. Members continually hit the victim.

Of course in certain circles there are also more specific practices, using ingredients particularly pertinent to their activities. For example, in various trades hazing for apprentices when finishing their apprenticeship: in printing, it consisted of applying to the apprentice's privates bronze blue, a color made from mixing black printers ink and dark blue printers ink which takes a long time to wash off; similarly, mechanics get them smeared with old dirty grease.

References in popular culture

Movies where hazing plays an important part in the plot and/or constitutes a forceful scene include Animal House (1978), Full Metal Jacket (1987), Dazed and Confused (1993; high school freshmen are put through many rituals, including fake "air raids," being covered in food, spanked with a paddle, and forced to lie in a trucks bed while it goes through the car wash), A Few Good Men (1992), The Lords of Discipline (1983), The Skulls (2000), Old School (2003), Jarhead (2005), The Good Shepherd (2006). In Followers (2000), three friends want to pledge, but only the white ones are accepted, and must target their refused black friend. In Frat Brothers of the KVL (2007), a lacrosse team's excessively dangerous hazing gone out of control with fatal results is the main theme.

Some TV series:

  • In Undergrads (2001), Rocko wants to enter a frat, but they refuse to haze him because it's illegal, so he does it himself.
  • The Hazing is the title of episode 1#6 (1969) of "My Friend Tony"
  • Purple Hazing is the title of episode 1#8 (1999) of "Power Play"
  • The Simpsons also included hazing in The Secret War of Lisa Simpson, in which the current students of Rommelwood Academy force Lisa and Bart through various pointless exercises, before accepting Bart and completely shunning Lisa.
  • Family Guy recreated the hazing scene from Full Metal Jacket in the episode No Chris Left Behind.
  • Hazing was featured in the plot of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation Season 1 Episode 3 Pledging Mr. Johnson.


  1. Dr. Nadine C. Hoover, (Alfred University, 1999).
  2. The Philippine Anti-Hazing Law The Virtual Library of the Chan Robles Law Office. Retrieved December 3, 2007.
  3. Inu Kencana, Whistleblower from IPDN Retrieved December 3, 2007.


External links

All links Retrieved on December 3, 2007.


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