Of Blood and Belonging

One of the things that has long appealed to me about elder Germanicism was the importance it place on blood-relations, kinship, and the centrality of the kindred. These words … kin, kinship, and kindred … are not something other than family. In Modern English both kin and family refer to the same biological condition, and the only difference is that kin is the native Germanic term for the “state of blood relation” while family is a “borrowing” from the Romance tongues … and actually carried the original sense of “servant, slave (of a household)”.

In elder times the kindred was everything, and properly viewed as a macro-organism, eg. a tree. Any wound inflicted upon one of the kindred harmed all of the kindred, and it was ultimately the kindred’s responsibility to pay any legal fines —  the most common punishment for most any kind of criminal offense — incurred by wayward kinsfolk. Yet the law had no sway in disputes between kinsmen and viewed such relations with a presumption of frith, ie. kinsmen cannot harm each other. In fact, the greatest tragedy in Germanic thought was kinslaying, which, as with any kin-on-kin violence, left the kindred diminished and without any form of recourse that would not further harm the kindred. A shame that can only be endured, never avenged.

The kindred was a source of sustenance and support, the home to which — however one’s individual fortunes went in the greater world — they could always fall back on and return to. It is from this root that we get the term kindness, which refers to the extension of the compassion first learned and practiced among kin to non-kin. The immutability of kinship breeds tolerance, respect and understanding (for diversity) in a manner that elective relationships could never “hope”, and in fact, could never be bothered to.
Afterall, if your friend sucks, make another!

The Christian/Muslim/prisonyard notions that one had kin … brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc. … other than one’s actual “blood kin” would have seemed, at best, a limited, secondary reality to our ancestors, and at worst entirely nonsensical.

Needless to say perhaps, this does not mean that our elderfolk were a bunch of inbred xenophobes, or that forming close personal ties with non-kin was regarded as at all wrong or somehow undesirable, or even that they necessarily regarded such bonds lesser. The ancestors certainly married and adopted, and they had organizations like the guild which, under law, became something of a surrogate kin-group in the eyes of the law.

But most of all, they had the word friend. And while we have cheapened this word as much we have the word love, and seem bound and determined to do with kin/family, it carries very strong connotations of love. And why wouldn’t it, when, unlike kin, friends are the people we invite into our inner circle and are more likely to share much in common with?

I’m often bewildered by people from bad families — not at all an uncommon condition in the modern world — who insist on redefining friendship as kinship. I mean, if your kindred sucks so bad, why would you even want to lump your friends in with them???

We today should not fool ourselves by neglecting the differences … no matter the poor examples of family some of us grew up with and/or are surrounded by … blood is thicker than water. No love can ever be … more natural, intrinsic … as best demonstrated in the negative, where no pain can ever be deeper than that inflicted on kin by kin … haunting one long after the memory of ill-deeds by wayward friends have been written off and forgotten. This speaks to the depth of the bond of kinship.

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