Don’t Call Me Brother: False Kinship and the Inappropriate Assumption of Familiarity

viking-warlordI’m going to warn you right now, this is a pet peeve post. Generally, I try to avoid writing these but this has been something that I’ve been meaning to address for some time now. There is a common behavior that gets on my nerves in a way that few things do, someone calling me “brother” just because we share a similar faith. The very idea that we are all “brothers and sisters in Heathenry” is so patently absurd that I find it completely strange that it even needs to be mentioned. First off, the idea of a “siblinghood of faith” isn’t a Heathen idea. It is an imported idea that people newly baptized into the faith of the White Christ are somehow “reborn” into a new “family” that trumps clan ties. Second, it completely disrespects the importance of kinship by establishing a false kinship that has no meaning or worth and assumes a degree of familiarity that simply isn’t warranted.

Kinship ties were of the utmost importance to our ancestors. Whether we are talking about kinship established by birth, fosterage, or oath, to be kin set forth the basic social structure by which everyone lived. Kinship ties established a hierarchy of relationships that determined order of inheritance and obligations of honor and vengeance. Even today, which we have to be honest matters a great deal more than how 1000 year old societies did things, kinship determines default inheritance, legal authority, and a myriad of other rights, privileges, and responsibilities that are far too numerous to get into here. To inappropriately assume familiarity of kinship simply by calling someone you don’t know a brother or sister on the grounds of a shared general religious belief diminishes the historical and modern importance of kinship.

The other important issue with the inappropriate assumption of familiarity through false kinship is the arrogance of placing yourself within the most intimate part of innangard. Because the innangard is inherently a holy thing, metaphorically being the loyal and worthy relationships and the literal sacred enclosures of a vé, violation of this boundary is to violate the most sacred of relationship and introduce disorder and chaos into the stable and orderly. To put it bluntly, it is to violate the right and proper order of the cosmos itself. Even if that’s a bit hyperbolic, it’s just plain rude.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do understand the need to connect in a meaningful manner with others of like mind, especially when we are only able to communicate with others in an impersonal manner. The human need to connect with others is a powerful urge. It is because of this that we need to always remember our proper relationships with others. These relationships are what make up the very basis of our social and cultural order. If we violate these basic rules and create false bonds then we are dooming ourselves to failure. Nothing of worth is built on lies nor are is such a falsehood sustainable for long.

Related: More on Siblinghood and Kinship Bonds


Don’t Call Me Brother: False Kinship and the Inappropriate Assumption of Familiarity — 31 Comments

  1. I too have observed some Heathens simply and instantly refer to folks as their kin or kith simply because they wear a hammer or hail the same gods……Something I find quite odd and don’t get why one would do so.

    I have no problem being respectful and even on good terms with other folks but something as important as kith or kinship is something that should be worked upon and earned through time and deed……Interacting with and forming such bonds that could possibly form the foundation of what might turn out to be kinship.

    Personally, as far as Heathens and kinship goes I would only consider them “kin” or “kith” after time and trial of interaction and shared experience and only still after willingly prepare to blot and symbel with them in a private stead where such bonds are tested through the sharing of wyrd.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this and hope you and yours are well.

    • Thank you, Rob. Besides cheapening these important relationships through casual misuse of terms, it also expresses a lack of understanding of important ideas about innangard, frith, and wyrd. Just because someone isn’t kith or kin, part of our innangard, doesn’t mean we are free to abuse them either. Courtesy should be extended to everyone we meet until such time as they prove themselves unworthy but we shouldn’t also assume they are worthy simply because they look, sound, dress, or believe in a manner similar to our own. Worth must be proven and in time, a worthy person can become very dear indeed. In this same regard, just because someone is different than us doesn’t mean they are inherently unworthy and should be disregarded.

      • Wanted to add: some feel odd when a fellow Asatruar, a stranger, calls them “brother”, because it smacks of false familiarity, but consider this: it was once the norm in Christian AND Heathen Europe to address certain strangers in “familiar ways”, for reasons of respect and group cohesion. You met an elderly man on the road? You could call him “grandfather”, with no false familiarity being in the mix whatsoever. Same with an elderly woman, who could be addressed as “grandmother”. My reaction to a stranger calling me “brother” really depends on circumstances. He comes up to me, puts his arm around my neck, and calls me “brother”? I’d hesitate to reply in kind. I’m with a group men with with a gothi addressing us as “brothers” in a broad sense? Completely different.

    • I’ve always had mixed feelings about this. Today, many Heathens form kindreds, treat them like private clubs, interview prospective members, and vote on membership, sometimes excluding even good people because, hey, the “chemistry” wasn’t there. They also intentionally or unintentionally marginalize Heathens who – for whatever reason – don’t belong to a kindred. Our Heathen ancestors on the other hand were for the most part BORN into their kindreds, some being adopted into them, and kindreds contained all kinds of members, good, bad, and in between. Why the present obsession with having “perfect” kindreds? Odd that the Gods can display a range of qualities and dispositions and still be OUR Gods, still constitute a FAMILY, but some 21st century Heathens feel the need to “engineer” kindreds in ways which never existed so that everything will be, what, painless?

      “Kinship” in the broad sense (and it HAD a broad sense to it) was NEVER only something that was “earned” after a time and trial of interaction. It was the BASIS – the starting point – FOR whatever interaction came after the fact. That broad kinship wasn’t based on how people “felt” about other individuals, but on group identity, which in turn was based importantly on a shared kinship with the Gods. In one sense, because the Gods were kin, WE were kin. Within this broader kinship developed special kinships, deeply felt friendships born of love or admiration. Both forms of kinship were valid and valued. You might not like Gunnar for example, but he was connected to you through your group, its history, the land, kinship with the Gods, shared group aspirations, etc. Though a jerk in your eyes, he still protected the people when called, plied a trade, whatever – and was your KIN because of all of that too.

      Most of us today are not born into kindreds, and live in a wider community that teaches us from day one to place self over group, and to be suspicious or at least wary of those we don’t know, even while being polite. I don’t advocate throwing caution out the window, but much of this flies in the face of “kinship”, as experienced by our ancestors. I was born in Trondheim in Norway. On a visit last year, I met a man – a friend of a relative – wearing a hammer. I had no problem sensing kinship with that person in the broad sense. We honored the same Gods, and had a shared heritage, the latter being valid whether by blood or adoption. Perhaps over time I would find that I don’t like that person very much. Our kinship wouldn’t deepen, I probably wouldn’t call him “brother”, a term which touches on that narrower, deeper kinship – but he would still be my KIN.

    • I’m not so sure I’d fall back on that. Honestly, I don’t see any need for an honorific of any kind. Either a person is known to be of worth, known to be not of worth, or unknown and needs to prove their worth. Reputation and word fame is good enough for me.

  2. if its a religous context..then yes i agree..its an elitist dick move. but of a stranger calls me brother with the intent to remind us that we are all one family and that even though w are strangers that we share the same earth (because the entire human race if you go far back enough came from the same family) then i’m good with it. And as a scot… i love the idea of clan cus it is to expand the family beyond blood. clans took family bonds seriously but they also allowed other familys to join and merge into their clans and become family to increase their family strength and recourses and human brotherly bonds

    • I second this motion…calling someone”brother” doesnt make you a douche, being a douche makes you a douche. Although perhaps this view is just the perspective of an orphan who would otherwise never be able to utter the words brother or sister.

    • and yet there are some from every demographic that I (or you) wouldn’t be caught dead socializing with, much less consider family

  3. While in general what you say is true, I can not completely agree. When I call someone Bro or Sis it is meant as a sign of respect, not kinship.

  4. Speaking as follower of the White Christ (i have loved that reference to my God for 30 years) I do not care for the false closeness evoking ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ involves. I am not a closeted monk where that form of address is appropriate. Maybe I am a bad Christian, heh, maybe not. I will do all that I can for anyone, not just the members of my faith because that is what my God expects of me. Granted I am more of the ‘He that does not have a sword sell his cloak and buy one’ Christian. I have been to war with the US Army, paratrooper and combat engineer so the folk who are not blood kin to me that I would consider brothers are the guys that have deployed with. I also think that in some Christian churches people invoke that family concept in a self serving manner. Granted we are all on our own spiritual journey, I just want people to carry their own spiritual ‘ruck sack’ so to speak. If theirs is smaller and lighter because that is where they are in their journey I do not mind helping carry some of their weight. What I will not do is carry the weight of some one who is capable of having a larger ruck on their back because think “Brother David is a big guy he can handle some of mine”.

  5. I agree with the spirit of what your are saying, though you should not assume that calling someone brother or sister just because of a shared belief comes from Christianity. The assumed kinship comes from close nit groups forming artificial kinship such as a combat unit as mentioned by David. It is presumptuous for someone to assume close kinship just because of a shared belief. Yes, I too am a follower of the Christ, but I will not go so far as to assume a man native to Palestine was white. Nor would I assume someone wearing a symbol of any sort means to them what it means to you, or to me. I wear a Thor’s hammer from time to time, but not because I follow Thor, but because this is my heritage. My family heritage would have it that I am of direct decedent of Danish Nobility. I am also descended of Scottish Highlanders, among others, and there are many whom I can call kin. My brothers know who they are.

  6. As a heathen I realize that just because someone shares the same faith as I do, or wears a Hammer, Valknut or other symbol of our gods, they are not necessarily my “brother or sister” Heathenism is a growing belief system(I hesitate to use the word religion, no matter which one I’m talking about) but it, like Christianity, Judaism, or any other faith, has its share of people who are a disgrace to their faith, to include some clergy. It’s human nature, you get enough people in one place, you’re going to have a certain numbers of bad apples. As a heathen, I am very choosy of who I call brother or sister, and even more so of who I call kinsmen. Just because they are heathen does not make them my brother, sister or kinsman. Some I would prefer not to even call heathen.

  7. Great point! I used to use Bro/brother allot with other heathens and good friends but i quit using the term when I thought about the fact that here in Tx bro or brother is popular among biker and prison gangs. My uncle is both and when I go to his place they all use bro with other members.
    Being Asatru is about evolving in every way possible and I don’t want anyone associating/confusing me or my beliefs with people like my uncle and his “Bros” (not necessarily bad ppl but not anything to emulate either).
    Ignorant people can and have made wrong assumptions about heathens.
    Having said all that it’s not a huge deal if someone calls me brother if it’s just a “hey bro, how’s it going” but don’t refer to me as your brother just because we have the same beliefs, as in “we’re all brothers because we’re heathen”.

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  9. You make a good point that Christians actively break down ties of kinship by replacing your actual family with the new “family in Christ.” It’s something that I have thought about and also considered it a screwed up mentality. It actually causes lines of divisions within families, and Christians are encouraged to marginalize family members who don’t share religious beliefs. So, I think it’s great that you are drawing the distinction that Heathenry is not about that.

    However, since this religious revival is sort of in early stages, and we are a minority, I do think it’s important for Heathens to not be unnecessarily divisive. As Heathens, we tend to be fiercely independent. We’re a strong willed, strong minded bunch. This religion attracts people who care about history, heritage, and who have strong opinions. There should be a bit more of a feeling of camaraderie and sense of having each other’s backs in the Heathen community. Not before kin, and not blindly at any cost. But this religion is unknown to a large percentage of the mainstream population, and there are still battles to fight for religious equality. Therefore, it is necessary to stick together, and stick up for each other, support one another. Which I think is sadly lacking in much of Asatru community.

  10. Great article. As an aside, but related I think: the whole modern Asatru notion of “kindred” is sometimes odd to me, (depending on the kindred) and right on par with feigned “brotherhood”.
    In ancient times, you were BORN into your kindred, and that kindred was made up of all KINDS of people, people with qualities that were good or bad, people who were easy to get along with or difficult, and rules were created to deal with the latter. Today, kindreds often function like exclusive “clubs” that will only admit the “right” people who have the right “chemistry”. You fill out a form, in reality or metaphorically, interact with kindred members for a gazillion years, and “maybe” they’ll accept you as a member, “maybe”. Unlike kindreds of old, kindreds like this are mutual admiration societies (Oh man! I just LOVE my kindred! It’s the best!), full of perfect members, and as such, ring hollow. The ideal of kindred structure is one thing, the modern reality is quite another.

  11. Since I see Odin, Thor, Freya and especially Loki walk right into people’s/giant’s halls, often in disguise and using false names I don’t see where the sagas promote this? Is this an Asatru’ thing?

    • Not specifically, no. It is a left over idea that comes from Christianity. In Christian theology, there is only one true family and all believers are brothers and sisters in Christ. The idea that a shared theological perspective somehow makes us “kin” is therefore falsely and wrongly imposed by those who haven’t been taught better. Modern society doesn’t have the demands of ancient family units and the value of siblinghood and kinship is lost to far too many. Therefore, we have to teach them what kinship means and why it matters.

  12. When I see people coming onto the Asatru page I manage and immediately posting “hello my brothers” in their intro, I immediately suspect they might be AB. I have my eye on them from then on. Some people do it in a totally naive, fluffbunny-enthusiast sort of way– the sort of person who would say “my tribe” about fans of their favorite TV show– but it is a known gang identifier, so it’s a red flag.

  13. I am a combat vet, and all US combat vets that served in Afghanistan and Iraq are my brothers and sisters, and I refer to them as such. If you are not a true warrior, an actual war veteran, then you won’t understand.

  14. I read some of these responses and Ale Glad’s got me thinking. Maybe it isn’t a holdover from Christianity at all, but rather a pseudokinship of sorts which was born of the closer ties which were necessitated as Christianity grew more powerful and began to act with greater aggression toward the other religions of Europe? Perhaps it’s more of the kinship which survivors of various cataclysms and horrors throughout history share which has since become anachronistic?

    • Christianity gradually displaced Heathen/Pagan religions in Europe, sometimes by force, but also because people chose to do what their leaders did: convert. Social structures for the most part though were unchanged. Look at Anglo-Saxon England: both before and after Christianity, society was made up of king, eoldermen, thegns, ceorls, etc., with the king, whether heathen or Christian, conducted rites honoring the Gods/God for the benefit of the people. Kindreds were still an important reality in the lives of the people. When small kingdoms like Essex, Kent, and Mercia united to become an English “nation” – when trade between nations took the place of trade between between tribes who lived on opposite sides of the lake – when people began to have a joint identity that went beyond their town – then kindreds became less important altogether. My belief is that heathen social structure would have changed even WITHOUT the coming of Christianity. Religion aside, the Norse, for example were quite open to welcoming new ideas and ways of doing things, and the idea of expanding power and territory was appealing. When you go out side “the box”, you don’t always want to go back into it.

  15. If I call you Brother it’s because I respect you. If I happen to share the same gods with you then so much the better but that’s not the reason I do it. If someone were to say brother to you do you ask them why they say it?

  16. It’s like how the word “Kindred” gets tossed around casually amongst new Heathens. It irks me when they do that, especially with the work that myself and my Kindredmates put into forming our actual Kindred. I know I’m a few years behind in reading this, but it is a good read and very valid points made.

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