The ceremonies connected with '' Crossing the Line'' are Pagan in their origin. In their earlier forms they were not even associated with the Equator, but were in the nature of sacrifice to propitiate the gods when entering the unknown.
Straits and narrow passages, in addition to representing a transition to hitherto unexplored waters, held very real terrors for seamen on account of the purely physical hazards presented by strong and unreliable currents, gusts of wind, rocks and shoals.
Early records show that some form of ceremony was connected with areas such as the Straits of Gibraltar, the Sound and Skaw. Forfeit was paid by the ship rather than by the individual, and there is a suggestion of human sacrifice in the early Viking days. The theory has, in fact, been advanced that the ducking of initiates, now the main feature of the present ceremonies, is derived from the actual throwing of a human body into the sea in moments of peril.
Chaplain Teonge (1675) refers in his diary to the ducking from the yardarm of men entering the Straits of Gibraltar for the first time, or being required to pay one dollar in lieu. By the old laws, the mariner did not remove his clothes from beginning to end of the voyage, and Captain Woods Rogers, referring to the customary ducking "when entering the Tropic," adds that this was of great benefit in enabling many "to recover the colour of their skins, which were grown very black and nasty." This may be symbolised in the lathering and shaving of novices which is now part of the proceedings, but there is no supporting evidence to this effect. It seems more probable that the lathering and other ministrations have grown up as part of the mummery associated with any form of initiation. In any case, it is clear
that much of the traditional ceremony is indistinguishable from the universal custom of " blooding" initiates, and so the final result is probably a combination of this custom and the symbolic remains of the original propitiatory offerings to the sea-god.
In the course of time both the Equator and the Arctic Circle became the scene of traditional ceremonies, as marking the limits of fresh enterprise, and, to those who had not previously crossed
them, the boundaries of "the unknown."
The custom of paying forfeits, either in money or in kind, in order to avoid the rigours of initiation, no longer obtains.