Clans and Kinship

By Thor Olavsrud

The Clan

The clan is the central pillar of society in the Middarmark. The most ancient law, established by the Old Ones at the moment of creation, is this: A clan is responsible for the actions of its kin.

If one person commits a crime, it is as if that person’s clan committed it. If a person swears an oath, it is as if that person’s clan swore it. If a person owes a debt, the debt belongs to that person’s clan. Individuals must take care in their actions, for their families will bear the consequences. Likewise, individuals must take care when seeking redress for wrongs committed against them; a rash act of revenge could pull one's entire family into a blood feud.

This communal responsibility has several effects:

  • When cooler heads prevail, the leaders of clans seek to talk and negotiate. Compensation, or gjald, can often smooth over difficulties. This is a common solution when a member of one clan kills a member of another clan or makes that person otherwise unable to work. Such a gjald is typically assessed at the value of the slain or injured person’s labor for a year. The offending clan pays the gjald to the injured clan.
  • When tempers run hot but clans are still attempting to avoid violence, they may bring their disagreement before the Thing. At the Thing, the clans submit the matter to their peers for consideration and appropriate compensation. As a general rule, neither side is completely satisfied with the outcome in these situations.
  • When neither side is willing to back down, a blood feud erupts: a spiral of violence, recrimination and terror that can lay waste to generations, lasting until one or both sides are exhausted enough to sue for peace. Such feuds are thankfully rare, though no few sagas in the Middarmark tell of them. The Grælings, in particular, are famed for the bloody horror of their feuds.
  • Most right-thinking people find clan-less people—like many adventurers— frightening. They have no kin to hold accountable for their actions. They are not woven into the fabric of society and cannot be trusted. On the other hand, nor will anyone be held accountable for abuses committed against such friendless outcasts…

If a clan member commits an offense against another clan that refuses to be appeased, but the offender’s clan is unwilling to face the horror of a feud, it does have one option: It can declare the offender outcast. This effectively severs the relationship between the offender and the clan, and the injured party is free to seek redress directly from the outcast; the clan of the outcast then has no legal basis for seeking compensation for any harm done to the outcast. That won’t necessarily stop them if they’re outraged enough, but they do give up the legal high ground.

In most such cases, the sentence is temporary—frequently a year and a day. Only in very rare cases does a clan declare one of its own permanently outcast. Whether temporarily or permanently, declaring an individual outcast is the option of last resort for most clans, as doing so frays the very bonds that bind a clan together. An outcast individual has not just been severed from their living kin, they have also been severed from their ancestors. For many people, that is a pain almost too great to bear.


Adventurers are sometimes called upon by clans in the Middarmark to serve a particularly dark purpose: As cutouts for their actions against other clans. For instance, if a clan chieftain fears a blood feud and refuses to allow a member to commit a revenge killing, the aggrieved person might seek an adventurer or other outcast to perform the deed. The clan ostensibly keeps its hands clean and revenge is had. 

This sort of thing is shameful to everyone involved. It is not uncommon for adventurers who perform such deeds to find themselves betrayed by their employers, who seek to keep the shameful deed secret from both their enemies and their own kin.

Veneration of Spirits and Ancestors

The Otherworld of the Middarmark is alive with spirits. There are landvættir (nature spirits), fjallvættir (mountain spirits), sjovættir (sea spirits), skogvættir (forest spirits) and husvættir (house spirits). Some are tame, some wild, some are friendly and others hostile. Some can be either, like the spirit of the hearthfire that can consume the hall if not treated with care.

Wise and wealthy clans honor them all, encouraging friendly vættir to give of their bounty and hostile vættir to vent their hatred on other, less generous people.

The clan’s ættir guards it from the Otherworld, doing what she can to shield the clan from the fury of those spirits that cannot be propitiated. The ancestors, too, live on in the Otherworld. Those with a healthy clan to support them mostly have a pleasant existence in the Hidden Halls of the Dry Lands of Helheim. Provided with wealth in the form of regular offerings and sacrifices, they farm and hunt and feast with their kin. They keep close the memories and traditions that make the clan strong. They remember the ancient oaths and vendettas, the enduring friendships and the bitter hatreds.

Several times each year, especially on the seasonal blots, the Shroud Between Worlds thins and the ancestors visit their living kin, giving blessings when the clan has held to the traditions and issuing rebukes and curses to those who deviate from the traditions and old ways.

Ancestors who do not receive proper support from their living kin have a more miserable existence: cold, hungry and at the mercy of stronger spirits.

Hero Cults

In many ways, the hero cults that give birth to the Young Lords are an extension of ancestor veneration. The hero’s followers venerate the hero with offerings and sacrifice. They attempt to live according to the code and example set by the hero in life. The only real difference is heroes are usually venerated by more people, and by people of many different clans.

Original article: Kinship in the Middarmark, May 14, 2020