Thinking Heathen: Changing Behaviors, Attitudes, and Concepts

In July of 2013, I wrote a piece on false kinship. “Don’t Call Me Brother” has received more commentary than any other article I’ve written, both positive and negative. My argument was that the use of kinship terminology by those who are not our family is not appropriate for Heathens. The primary criticism has been that I, somehow, managed to miss that it’s “just” a colloquial use that is meant to express a sense of comradery and commonality. I am vexed by this as that was almost exactly my point and that it is inappropriate behavior. It is my belief that the process of developing a Heathen mindset, a Heathen world view, requires us to do more than change our religion. It requires us to change how we think, speak, and behave. Being Heathen, truly Heathen, requires us to adopt a way of thinking and behaving that is at odds with much of Western cultural norms, including colloquial speech.

The Heathen mind places different values on kinship, including the bonds and obligations than modern Western culture does. To have kinship with someone means that there are obligations and benefits between those who shared it. These are not small things. They are lifelong, demanding requirements that compel us to act in a way that we may not always want to. A very good friend of mine is rather fond of repeating the Anglo-Saxon phrase “wyrd bið ful aræd,” or “fate remains wholly inexorable,” as a way of reminding people that some things just are what they are and you are bound by them, for good or ill, whether you like it or not. This is the same with kinship and it is why it is inappropriate to use kinship terminology as simple colloquial expressions of comradery. There are many other words that can be used that do not speak to this sacrosanct relationship we prize so highly.

I know I have trouble with some of the changes in behavior demanded by Heathen thinking. My younger brother and I are not on good terms. We have not spoken in nearly four years, following the death of our father. We were not close as children. We were not friendly towards each other as teens. As young men, we had minimal contact with each other and only when truly compelled to. I do not like my younger brother. I love him because he is my brother but I do not like him. In fact, it would be very easy for my dislike of him to override my own better judgement and permit me to say terrible things about him to people who are not family and who have never met him. This is wrong. It is something I have struggled with for a long time because it is so easy to do and costs me nothing. But it is wrong. It is wrong because the bonds of kinship that we share compel me to have his back, and his best interest in mind, whether I like it or not. He is my brother and that is all that should, and does matter. That is why I no longer permit myself to badmouth him to people. That is why, whether or not I want to, if the need should ever come up where I can do for him, I will.

It has been a long, painful journey to that understanding. It is counter to everything Western society tells us. Instead of just cutting ties and being done with it, which is what we are told is the perfectly rational and acceptable thing to do; I choose to alter my thinking and behavior to something else. I choose to accept the world view that rejects the idea that family is disposable, regardless of what you think of a person. I choose to accept a world view that upholds a different set of values. Those values go far beyond just the way in which we think about and treat family. It requires us to recognize that we will be, at least at times, in conflict with modern society. We will be required to change how we speak, how we think, and how we act. These changes will be great and small but they will be necessary if we are going to revive the ways of our ancestors.

Heathenry is more than just a group of religious beliefs. It is an entire way of life. It is a different way of life than what we see around us but it is a good way of living. It will be even better as we adopt those things that we need to change. As Heathenry continues to develop its revival we are all going to be changed by it. We will be stronger, more whole, because of it. It won’t be easy. There will be those who not only resist but resent these changes. They will not want to do the hard, soul-wrenching work that it takes to become something different. Change is not easy. It never has been and it never will be, but it is necessary and I believe it will come. I have already watched as so much has changed over the last two decades. I believe that, as we shift our thinking, our way of speaking, and our way of acting, we will grow closer to our ancestors and create a sustainable future for those who come after us.



Thinking Heathen: Changing Behaviors, Attitudes, and Concepts — 4 Comments

  1. I very much appreciate your posts. This very one has inspired some introspective thinking regarding my own close blood ties. What are your thoughts on bonds made through marriage? Specifically, step or half-siblings that you don’t share blood with? Thanks for your time.

    • I have two “half” siblings from my father’s first marriage. As far as I’m concerned, there is no “half” to it. They are my brother and sister. I don’t have any step-siblings but I wouldn’t see that as anything other than siblings as well. Adoption was, and is, a perfectly valid way of adding to your family. If you bring someone into the family, you tie them to the family. Sure, there isn’t a biological tie, but kinship and family isn’t just 100% biology either. Not everyone is family, or should be, but kinship is a fascinating subject to study. It really says a lot about how we think of ourselves.

  2. Thank you for your perspective. I have two younger brothers and the youngest and I are like oil and water. But he is my kin, and I would still stand with him if he needed me. I find many men use the term “brother” without fully comprehending the bond which that implies. I have a few kinsmen who I call brother though we are not related by blood, but they men who I know will always have my back, always be there for me as I would be for them without hesitation or question.

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