I went looking into the histories of prechristian Scandinavian cultures assuming the hardest thing to deal with would be the sexism.
It’s not. It’s run of the mill sexism. Women’s lives are constrained in ways to do with the culture’s concerns about paternity. Some women find their status onerous, some women find their role ennobling, some act within it, some push its boundaries. There is nothing especially difficult or shocking about it. Sexism isn’t required to worship in certain way or to build a devotional relationship with female or domestic gods.
BUT There is a different concept that I didn’t expect, that is turning out more troubling to me. Partly because I value some aspects of it and devalue others – it puts its unintended consequences right in front of my eyes. It seems to demand digestion from me – a barrier to be dealt with before I can move onward in any direction.
This concept is the kin soul.
I will keep on saying “kin soul” because there are near infinite Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse jargon words to get lost in. Haminja. Fylgia. Hamr. Dis. I am not even an amateur philologist, so I will leave alone trying to understand their particular shades of meaning for now.
The core idea seems to be that a society cannot be reduced to a collection of individuals – a person’s relationships are inextricable from their self. Because of the way relationships demand action, often over the will of the individual – a parent must be supported in court, a cousin must be fed and housed, a blood-brother must be protected from danger – the groups to which one is tied are considered more real than the individual. The kin group/kin soul is like a beehive, and its members are the bees, one can only function as a member of the other. Individuals draw their personal attributes – not only physical features and material circumstances, but also invisible attributes like magical power, luckiness, health, and life direction. It is not static, but evolving, and not something in addition to the individual – if I graduate college cum laude, everyone kin to me is magnified. Their gardens grow better, their business ventures are more certain of success. If my cousin cheats his employees, I am diminished, along with the rest of our family. Likelier to get the flu, slower, clumsier.
This identification with the success and failure of other members of the family fosters a sense of collective responsibility. A person enculturated into a belief in kin soul is literally his brother’s keeper, because his brother’s success and his success are spiritually identical.I split kinship ideas into a variety of subtopics (I operate in fractal outlines), to think and write about individually, rather than attempting to smash them all together into a multi-headed multi-limbed daunting essay of doom. They will all be heavily cross-referenced, updated with links, written and meant to be read in no particular order.
Ancient ways of making and moving through kin ties
The limits of the modern Kindred-as-religious-confederacy
Heathen visions of reincarnation
Family responsibility and family guilt
Options for the modern Heathen estranged from their family
Cross-pollination from comparable sources
The kin’s marks on the individual