Monday, July 18, 2011

Developing Tribal Thew

Every kindred or tribe has thew, whether they realize it not.  Thew represents the collective customs, history, traditions, and expectations of the kindred toward its members, the members toward the kindred, and the members toward each other.  Thew is very fluid and organic, and every decision or action taken by kindred members or the kindred as a whole, adds to the depth and complexity of the kindred's thew.  Whether a kindred acknowledges they have "thew" or calls it "thew," it still plays a role in everything they do, and it is advantageous to understand how it works and how to actively develop it. 

Thew is not the same as written rules or bylaws.  Rules and bylaws are somewhat static in nature, and by their very nature cover only a limited number of specific circumstances.  While a small portion of a kindred's thew may be codified within a kindred's bylaws, the vast majority of thew remains as unwritten understandings between kindred members

Thew develops in various ways.  Thew develops for small insignificant matters and large important matters.  It develops for kindred-wide issues and inter-personal issues within the kindred.  It develops for secular matters and for matters that are more spiritual in nature.  It develops from practical experience and from intellectual study.  There is really no area of human interaction, decision-making, or action within a kindred that is not affected in some way by thew.


When a kindred is in the formational process and still very new, the thew of that kindred will be somewhat undeveloped.  Nearly every new situation or choice the kindred faces is something new to them. 

On which day of the week should we hold a majority of our events?  Where do me meet?  What sorts of activities do we do as a group?  How do we decide?  What if we disagree?  When should we hold blots or fainings?  How do we communicate with or treat someone coming to an event for the first time?  Are our kindred feasts pot-luck or does the host provide everything?  Who provides the mead for symbel?  During Symbel, do we toast in turns going around the circle, or raise a horn and wait to be recognized by the Lord of the Hall?  Who's the Lord of the Hall?  When we travel to a gathering, do we car-pool or travel there individually?  Do we plan for group meals for the kindred or does each family bring its own?  When a security problem develops who handles it?  You can go on and on with these questions.  Basically, everything is up-in-the-air when a kindred is new. 

So, very early on some important conversations need to take place within the formational kindred.  Everyone invovled in forming the kindred should be present for these conversations, and some basic understandings need to be arrived at.  Will the kindred have a Chieftain and/or Godhi and/or Thyle?  What responsibilities will each of these positions hold?  How will decision-making take place within the kindred?  How will kindred-related problems we resolved?  How will interpersonal problems be resolved?  Is your kindred more of a war-band, a family, or a tribe?  How family-oriented is your kindred, and what sorts of kindred events will you hold?   

From these conversations and understandings reached within the kindred, the early thew of the kindred is formed.  For instance, if the kindred sits and discusses a certain commitment level they expect from their members, and everyone agrees to a certain level of commitment with specific examples of what actions represent that level of commitment, this becomes thew.  It is an existing understanding between members, and when a member strays from this understanding the kindred will work to correct the problem and bring that member back in line with the kindred's thew. 

If the kindred discusses at length how they will make decisions within the group, what sorts of decisions must be group-wide decisions, and the steps that will be taken to reach those decisions, then this becomes thew.  When the leadership of the kindred or an individual member strays from this understanding, the kindred will work to correct the problem and bring its leadership back in line with the kindred's thew.

But keep in mind, the thew of your new kindred will change and evolve over time.



Thew also develops and is changed based on decisions and deeds within the kindred, and whether those decisions and deeds work well or leave something to be desired.  When a certain course-of-action is taken by the group or a member of the group, and it is more likely that when faced with similar circumstances that same course of action will be taken.  If the original course-of-action turns out is very likely that when faced with similar circumstances a different course-of-action will be taken.  Past decisions and deeds and their success level tend to inform future decisions and deeds, and this becomes a driving force in the evolution of thew over time.

For example, if the kindred allows a new member to join the kindred after only knowing them a short period of time, and this turns out badly...the kindred will likely re-examine what led to this bad result and attempt to prevent it in the future.  If the kindred decides that they did not know the new member well enough, they will begin putting thew in place that will prevent this from happening in the future.  They may lengthen the time a kindred must know the kindred before they can ask to join the kindred.  They may lengthen the probationary time period that a new member must belong before he/she can become a full member of the kindred.  They may come up with new ways to interact more frequently with prospective members, thus getting to know them better. 

Let's say a kindred member falls ill and is bedridden for a week, and the kindred checks on this kindred member, brings him/her food and other necessities, and helps care for the kindred member's children.  If all of this goes very well, and helps build deeper bonds between everyone in the kindred...then thew has been established.  The next time a kindred member falls ill, it is very likely that everyone in the kindred will follow this thew, and help in very similar ways.  If the next time a kindred memer falls ill, the kindred does not help that kindred member in the same way it did before, problems will arise.  The fact the kindred did not follow its own customs and traditions on this matter, is a violation of thew that is unlikely to go unnoticed.

If the day after hosting a gathering, the kindred reviews how the gathering went and decides they could have done A, B, and C differently...they will go to great lengths to ensure that during their next event A, B, and C are done differently.  In this way thew is constantly adjusting and changing, as new circumstances and problems are faced, and the kindred learns what works best for them.

This evolution of thew based on experiencing both successes and failures is constantly on-going.  Knowing this, when you recognize that just such a moment has taken place, it can be helpful to articulate that to the rest of your kindred.  This will allow the matter to be discussed, a consensus to be reached, and a clear and carefully considered thew to be established.

Heathen Kids


Over time, kindreds grow, mature, and evolve.  These changing circumstances necessitate the development of additional thew and adjustments to existing thew.  A formational kindred's thew fits the circumstances of that kindred at that point in time.  Everytime a new member or a new family become involved with the kindred, that individual or family brings new skills, personality quirks, preferences, and ways of thinking into the kindred.  While the new member or new family will go through an enculturation process where they will learn and adapt to the thew of the kindred, this is a reciprocal process.  The inclusion of these new members and new families will also prompt new understandings and new ways of doing things within the kindred.

A formational kindred may have five members, none of which are particularly focused on the runes.  As such, while they may learn and respect the runes, the formational kindred may not have a serious interest in holding rune study groups or working the runes into every aspect of what they do.  But that same formational kindred three years later may have added five new members, three of which have studied the runes heavily.  It is likely that these three new members will influence how the kindred views and uses the runes as a kindred.

A formational kindred may start with five members, none of which are married or have children.  Thew will develop within this kindred that will fit their circumstances at that moment.  But that same formational kindred three years later may have added several families with children to their membership.  In addition, some of the original members may have gotten married and/or had children.  Thew will naturaly evolve over time within this kindred that is more family-oriented, and fits their new circumstances.

This evolution of thew based on the circumstances of the kindred and its individual members is constantly on-going.  If one understands this need for change and adaptation of thew over time, then you can anticipate changes that will be needed, discuss them within the kindred, and very purposefully make needed adjustments on a timely basis.

Since every kindred has different members, different personalities involved, different is not only natural...but also necessary that every kindred will have its own thew.  No two kindred can or should have the same thew.  By acknowledging and accepting that we will all develop our own local traditions and thew, we allow each kindred and tribe to develop exactly the traditions and thew that works best for them.


The knowledge base of a kindred will also change and expand over time.  The members of the kindred will read more primary sources, secondary sources, contemporary sources, and archeological information.  The kindred will likely gather for study groups, and learn collectively.  Individual members will also bring to the kindred information they learn in their individual studies.  As this new information and learning is applied in a constructive way to the practices, customs, and traditions of the kindred, thew is further altered and advanced.

Nearly all of us were raised in a culture that is thoroughly influenced and shaped by Christianity.  Ongoing study and learning is neccessary in our attempt to return to a worldview that more closely matches the worldview of our heathen ancestors and our native Folkway.  Understanding this need, kindreds should encourage its members to individually read, study, and explore the worldview of our ancestors, and to develop thew as a group that not only works well, but also represents traditions and a mindset that our ancestors would likely recognize and appreciate.


First, we are all bound by the thew of our kindred or tribe. We are all bound by our tribe's traditions, or collective expectations, and our ways. Our newest member, our most tenured members, and our kindred's leadership are all bound by thew. You will sometimes hear someone refer to the leaders of our kindreds as "dictators" or "cults of personality," or worse. But, a good leader serves his tribe. A good leader is the least-free of his tribe. A good leader is the poorest of his tribe, in both time and treasure. A good leader carries burdens for his tribe, that no one else in the tribe is charged with carrying.  When the leadership of a good and frithful kindred violates thew, the members of that kindred will challenge them and demand an explanation for why the leadership is acting outside of their customs and thew.  

One's position as Chieftain, Godhi, Thyle, or other position of leadership within a kindred does not place you free of thew.  If anything, because of your position of responsibility, any violation of thew you may commit will be noticed and challenged that much more quickly because all eyes are on you.  


While WHO you let into your kindred is important, equally important is HOW you bring them in. An existing kindred shares a certain culture, made up on their history, experiences, traditions, expectations, and even knowledge. They have worked together, honored their Gods and Ancestors together, learned together, suffered together, celebrated together, and all of these commonalities give the kindred its own culture. These unwritten rules, traditions, and expectations that exist between members is the kindred's Thew.

OstaraWhen a new member is being brought into your kindred, it is important that they are brought up to speed regarding the thew of your kindred.   Much of this they will learn by simply spending time with your kindred, and interacting with them often over a sufficient period.  But there is no reason you can't actively and purposefully guide them through learning your kindred's thew.  Jotun's Bane kindred has a year-long mentoring and educational process in place for new members.  An assigned mentor ensures that our Applicant Members are participating, learning, and gaining an understanding of how the kindred works together.  Our kindred's Thyle plays a role in ensuring new members learn something of our history, experiences, and thew. 

A failure to bring new members up to speed regarding the kindred's thew will inevitably lead to problems within the kindred.  While growing-pains will just naturally happen within a kindred, with a little effort much of them can be avoided.  I wrote at greater length about brining new members into a kindred at this link:


Just as people can learn from one another, so can kindreds and tribes.  If Jotun's Bane Kindred attends a regional gathering hosted by another kindred in our region, we have the opportunity to see how they organize themselves, how they interact, what they do during Symbel and Blot, and various other aspects of their kindred's thew.  If we see something they do that we like, we're very likely to take that home with us and try it ourselves.  If it works well, it becomes incorporated into our kindred's thew.  

This exchange of thew is reciprocal.  The kindred hosting the event we attended, may very well attend an event hosted by Jotun's Bane Kindred.  And they may take ideas home with them.  With gatherings here in the Midwest regularly attended by anywhere from 6 to 23 kindreds, and gatherings being held throughout the year, this reciprocal exchange of ideas and thew is frequent and ongoing.  I wrote at length about this aspect of thew in this essay:

Mark Ludwig Stinson
Jotun's Bane Kindred
Temple of Our Heathen Gods

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