You've likely heard shocking stories about hazing rituals on college campuses, from degrading tasks issued by fraternity pledges to outrageous antics on marching band buses. From the classic “paddling” famously depicted in Animal House to more extreme forms of abuse hazing is nothing new. Of course, the practice ranges from healthily challenging to incredibly destructive.
According to university studies, more than 125,000 college athletes went through some form of hazing in order to join the team, and 1 out of 5 reported either being beaten, tied up, kidnapped or abandoned as part of their hazing rituals. The other 4 out of 5 often reported either participating in illegal or violent activities or being subjected to public humiliation during their initiation processes.
But while these stories are no doubt extreme cases and terrible experiences for those who have endured them, the hazing rituals of famous groups around the world - outside of the confines of the university system - can be equally and even more shocking. Hazing is a common activity across generations and cultures, spanning impoverished urban youths in gangs, high-ranking military officers and a number of surprising groups in between. Those responsible for some of the most disturbing acts of hazing included convicted murderers, ancient warriors, military heroes and even some American presidents. The following are five shocking hazing rituals carried out by some of the most famous groups of people in the world.
5 Ancient Spartans
The Spartans are notorious for their extremely militant culture and harsh treatment of weak community members. It could be argued that a Spartan’s life was consistently packed with hazing rituals.
From the moment a Spartan was born, they would be taken to a council where inspectors would examine them for health and physical defects. Any baby who did not meet the Spartan expectations would either be tossed to the wolves or abandoned on the hillside. Even if you did pass inspection, you still weren't guaranteed survival past infancy. Spartans would frequently bathe their babies in wine instead of water as a test of strength and constitution.
OK, you’ve made it past infancy. You’re guaranteed to become a strong, Spartan soldier now, right? Nope. Children were placed in a military-style school where they were routinely verbally abused and beaten. They were also encouraged to fight other children and single out those who were “weak performers.” Spartans were also ritualistically flogged in public in order to “test their endurance, bravery and resistance to pain.” These beatings often resulted in death and eventually evolved into a public bloodsport, in which spectators would travel to cheer on the boys’ torturers.
4 Hells Angels
The intimidating motorcycle gang that formed in the 1940s solidified their notoriety by the 1960’s, and amassed a few disturbing rumors about their initiation processes along the way.
First, it was rumored that in order for a new recruit to join the gang, he had to bring a female friend with him who would be required to “spend time with” each member of the gang. Ahem.
While that one is still up for debate, another – shockingly more disturbing – ritual was later confirmed by none other than Hunter S. Thompson. As he reports, every new Angel recruit must purchase a brand new pair of Levis, along with a matching jacket with the sleeves cut off. Next, gang members “defile” the clothing – they all take turns urinating and defecating into a bucket, which is either then dumped over the recruit’s head in a “solemn baptism” or poured over the clothing and stomped in for good measure while the recruit stands aside, stark naked.
No, you didn’t miss the part where the clothes are washed or thrown away. This outfit must never be washed and is henceforth known as the member’s “originals.” They're worn every day until they literally rot off, and the condition of one’s originals is viewed as a sign of status. According to Thompson’s report, “it takes a year or two before they get ripe enough to make a man feel he has really made the grade.” Uh. We can only imagine.
3 The U.S. Navy
Now for a more lighthearted – but no less disturbing – hazing ritual, brought to you by the U.S. Navy.
According to numerous sources, one of the most bizarre hazing rituals dating back to the 18th century but occurring aboard U.S. naval ships as late as 1997 was called “Kissing the Royal Belly,” or “Royal Baby.”A senior officer would dress up in a mock diaper and grease himself up with cooking oil, mustard, shaving cream, eggs, oysters – basically anything slick and disgusting that they could find on board. Next, a new or junior member of the crew would kneel in front of him and lick the “baby’s” belly button while the “baby” grabs the recruit's head and smears it into the goop covering his belly.
Why this was ever considered a regular team building activity for one of the world’s most powerful militant forces, the world may never know.
2 The Freemasons
The Freemasons have always had a reputation for sophisticated, intricate and secretive activities, and their popularity has resurged in recent years thanks in part to one Nic Cage and multiple National Treasure movies.
In real life, 14 U.S. presidents were part of the group, as well as 33 of the men who signed the Constitution. Their symbol – the “all-seeing eye” - is on the back of the U.S. dollar bill. This group is believed to have included some of the smartest, most powerful men in history. However, one aspect of the Freemasonry typically flies under the radar: Their incredibly shocking and bizarre initiation ceremonies.
First, a candidate is stripped down to his underwear and blindfolded in order to receive a few normal (read: elaborate) initiation vows. Next, the event takes a turn for the worse, when the officiates stage a fake beating, murder, burial and escape – all while the initiate must remain blindfolded and naked. Occasionally, he is beaten over the head with a sack of hair. The scenario is intended to prepare the initiate to protect Masonic secrets and passwords on the street should a “ruffian” attempt to acquire them by force, but really it plays out like an awkward 18th century rehearsal for protecting your lunch money against the school bully.
1 NYC Bloods
The Bloods have long held a reputation for violent and elaborate hazing rituals. In the late 90’s, they were responsible for nearly 130,000 mutilations that occurred in New York City – in one single month.
Their shocking hazing ritual? In order to join the gang, new recruits were required to slash strangers’ faces with razor blades or box cutters and would have to make sure to leave a scar. Often, targets were found on the Subway and other enclosed public spaces in the city, and their victims were singled out for wearing the color red. One woman had her face slashed so severely during one of these initiation missions that she required 150 stitches.