The Equator crossing ceremony, one of sailings oldest traditions
Crossing the equator for the first time is a big deal. The somewhat imaginary line is akin to loosing ones virginity once crossed (personal preference as to which one is more enjoyable). The term Pollywog is used to describe a person who has not crossed the equator and a shellback, once cruising over .
Fact – The term ‘Wog’ is used in Scientology for saying an ‘initiated, or unconverted’ person. Why? The founder of scientology was a junior officer in the Navy!
It is one of the sailor’s most ritual traditions. All kinds of torturous escapades have been unwittingly performed on the ‘virgins’ over the centuries, though the seafarers from the 1900’s would look upon today’s rituals as mere light scoldings. The tradition was seemingly invented by the Vikings, when passing over the 30th parallel, and were used to test out novices to ensure they could cope with the demands of the sea. On a cruise-ship people are sometimes offered the opportunity to watch junior crew members ‘put under the hammer’ of King Neptune himself when crossing the equator – though of course it is all harmless fun.
I myself happened to be singled out from the Engineering Department as an Equator Pollywog. I was called upon, before the gods of the sea’s, to answer for my crimes. Offering an unfavorable answer, I was forced to kiss the fish and beg for forgiveness! We happened to be in the Amazon at the time, and the fish was such a bizarre shape and figure, I have a feeling that the poor thing needed a few kisses of support anyway! Afterwards I was thrown into a pool of ‘slime’ (coloured theatric foam and fake fish heads) before being forgiven by the by big Neptune himself, and freed.
More of a laugh than a terror, I got off lightly. One hears such tall tales at sea that you cannot help but imagine they be true. Such examples include being dunked in a barrel of fish guts/food scraps, crawling through rubbish, kissing an ugly fish, and in the Navy, shaving by a Royal Barber with a large wooden razor, being dunked into a tub of water afterwards to cleanse before meeting big King Neptune himself. The King then proclaims the wogs as shellbacks, and certificates are given! Most people still take those certificates with them to sea to prove themselves a shellback, incase the equator is crossed again, and recruits are actively looked for!