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A therapeutic ritual practiced by a small group of students at the University of Chicago, specifically, those living in Harper House in the Woodward dormitory. I first observed this ritual earlier this year while visiting Harper House. House members who undergo the backwalk lay down on the floor with their stomachs to the ground. The "backwalker" then proceeds to step onto each house member in turn and walk up and down that person's back several times. The backwalk continues until the person on the ground says one of several phrases marking the end of the ritual (for example, "ok", "I've had enough", "no more"), at which point the backwalker steps down off the person and proceeds to perform the backwalking ceremony on the next member of the House. When I observed this ritual taking place, the role of the backwalker was filled by a short Asian girl; from the way the Harper House members communicated with her I gathered she no longer belonged to their group, but had been a member in the past.

At one point, the Harper House members invited me to take part in the backwalking ritual, even though I was not and have never been a member of Harper House. With some trepidation I accepted. The backwalker stepped onto my back and began to walk up and down the length of my torso. The sensation was quite new and not unfavorable; if I may be so bold and free, I would indeed say I enjoyed it. Not being a member of Harper House, I was not accustomed to the backwalk, and spoke one of the ritual ending phrases relatively early on. I have never undergone the backwalk again, but the memory of it persists in my mind. I can explain neither how the backwalk arose nor why the ritual is unique to the Harper House society, but I hope by this account to dispel any vicious myths or false legends about the practices of the gentle, alcohol-prone people of the Harper House.

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