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Deep Thoughts on Religion

Religion, also called “the circle,” is an important part of hash tradition, and often the most remembered part of the trail. With over 1,300 hashes in the world, there must be at least 1,300 ways to conduct a circle, but the basics are such that most of us would feel right at home in any hash’s circle. The circle, after all, is nothing more than a ceremony to mark trail’s end, to socialize a bit, and to award down-downs for achievements and sins.

A good circle, like anything good, doesn’t just happen. Conducting the circle is a lot of work, and for many of us, a major source of anxiety as well. How do you remember all the awards and violations you’re supposed to hand out? How do you keep the pack’s attention? How do you keep people from leaving early or breaking up into private parties? How do you keep things moving and not get bogged down? How do you know when it’s time to quit?

Over the years, as grandmaster or religious adviser to various hashes, I’ve led many circles. I’d have thought that after 3,000,000 beers I wouldn’t have enough functioning brain cells left to remember how I got through all those circles, but as I think about religion a surprising number of tips and techniques come to mind. I’d like to share some of them with you, and by “you,” I mean any hasher who leads, or is likely to lead, a circle.

There are two philosophies toward conducting a circle. One is to try to make everyone happy. The other is to drive the poseurs away until only the hard core are left, who by definition are the hashers who like the way you run your circle. Most GMs and RAs walk a line between these extremes. We know we can’t make everybody happy, but at the same time we don’t want our hash to turn cretinous through inbreeding.

Before I say anything else, let me say this: if your hash has a good solid membership and long-standing circle traditions, don’t mess with it! When hashers are happy, it’s best to leave things be.  If you’ve been conducting good circles with a high level of attention and participation from the pack, don’t change a thing.

But having said that: if your circle is disorganized and you find yourself shouting to be heard over the sound of private parties and slamming car doors as hashers leave early, you might want to consider some of the following suggestions:

  • Disorganize Yourself. Write a list of the main down-downs and awards you plan to present. Use a small piece of paper, or just write on the back of your hand. My typical list looks like this: hares/virgins/visitors/namings/hashit/violations/whistle check.
  • Plan a Schedule. Allow some time for hashers to come on-in and catch their breath. Allow 30 to 45 minutes for the circle. Have a plan for on-afters, and for moving the pack on to on-afters after the circle is over.
  • Learn More than One Down-Down Song. The pack can get pretty bored singing “he’s true blue” over and over. Download the hash songbook and learn some new down-down songs (there are several nice ones in the first section, Down-Down Ditties).
  • Find the Funniest & Loudest Hasher and Make Him Lead the Circle. This works for some hashes . . . Chuck E. Cheeks of the Denver HHH can keep people in stitches for hours, and so can Reverend Itchy of the San Francisco HHH . . . but the downside is that your perfect RA won’t always be there, and when you have to stand in you’re going to look and sound like Richard Nixon by comparison.
  • Expose Yourself. This’ll get everyone’s attention the first couple of times you try it, or, if you’re female, the first dozen times, but after a while . . . well, I agree with ZiPpY (may he hash in peace), who once said he’d seen so many naked hashers his new sexual fantasy was mentally dressing them. Besides, many hashers have problems with nudity and you’ll risk losing them.
  • Appoint Sergeants at Arms. Well, actually, please don’t. There’s nothing worse than assholes shouting “RESPECT!” or “SHUT THE F_CK UP!” every couple of minutes. Enough of this Nazi shit, already. Try to remember that people don’t come to the hash just for the trail and the circle. They also come to be with their friends, and there’s going to be some visiting going on no matter how entertaining you are.
  • Punish Private Parties. To me this depends on how long down-downs have been going on. If people are having private parties right from the start, call ‘em up for down-downs and set an example. The pack owes the circle a certain amount of respect, after all! But if the circle has been dragging on for more than an hour, refer back to the last point: it’s only natural that people will want to visit with their friends, and maybe private parties are a hint your circle has been going on too long.
  • Give the Pack Time to Socialize. As the pack comes in, let them drink, snack, and socialize for 10 to 20 minutes before starting the circle. This will get most of the visiting out of the way. Conversely, don’t wait too long to start the circle, or people will start to drift off.
  • Limit Terroristic Down-Downs. Unless your hash routinely makes everyone sit bare-assed on the ice or kneel while hashers pour flour and ice water over their heads (and everyone in your hash is used to it), try to limit really harsh down-downs to the hard core members of your circle. Many potential hashers have been frightened away by down-downs like these. Then again, if your definition of “potential hasher” is someone who won’t be frightened away, harsh on, dude!
  • Avoid Singling Out Individuals for Multiple Down-Downs. The hash world, honest and forthcoming in all other matters, doesn’t like to talk about the hashers who’ve been caught driving home drunk, so numbers are hard to come by . . . personally, I think it happens way more often than most of us realize.
  • Control Circle Creep. Despite your best plans, some things will make your circle drag on into the wee hours. Anticipate and try to control them as best you can. These include:
    • Numerous Namings. And try not to forget that namings seem even longer to the hashers getting named, and to the new or visiting hashers who are excluded from the naming circle.
    • Volatile Violations. Opening the floor for violation nominations from the pack, especially if they’re pretty drunk already, is a mistake. “Guerilla down-downs” quickly deteriorate into silliness and sometimes harassment of individuals: “I nominate Creamsicle because she has a nose!” Sure, you can ask pack members if they observed violations of hash etiquette, but violation nominations should come from you, and you should limit them to two or three.
    • Abundant Awards. Most hashes award a hashit, but some hashes give additional awards. My local hash is an extreme example, with awards including the Hashit, the FRB Award, the Best Dressed Award, the Stud of Sadism, the Prestigious Bitch, the Menacing Manacles of Masochism, and some I probably don’t even know about yet. . . .
    • Pack Pimping. If you don’t have a plan, or if you have one but don’t stick to it, pretty soon the pack will take over, shouting out things like “You forgot the Hares/New Shoes/the Whistle Check/Birthdays/etc.” At that point you might as well join the pack!
    • Dickhead Debates. Establish clear policies prior to the circle, otherwise you’ll wind up arguing with members of the pack over whether visiting hashers have to do virgin hasher down-downs, or whether virgins have to do repeat down-downs because they don’t have whistles.
  • Have a Plan for Concluding the Circle. Think about how and when you’re going to conclude formalities and get the pack moving to On-Afters. I try to keep the circle to 45 minutes, max, and I always end it with a whistle check and the singing of the International Hash Hymn (Swing Low, Sweet Chariot), followed by a formal announcement that the circle is over. This way the pack knows what you’re doing and what’s coming next, and they’re less likely to interrupt you with things you missed (and you’ll always miss something).

These are all commonsense things, but they’re easy to forget if you don’t organize and prepare yourself beforehand. The main thing is to have a plan for down-downs and awards, then stick to it while avoiding as many distractions as you can. Leading a good circle is a rewarding experience, and if you’re the least bit shy, leading the circle will cure you of it permanently. Good luck and a good circle to you, mates!

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