Heortling Courtship and Marriage

From: John Hughes <nysalor_at_primus.com.au>
Date: Thu, 28 Dec 2000 00:04:07 +1100

Heys folks

I've put the following post together in response to a discussion we've been having on the Hero Wars List. I'm also posting it here, as I suspect the feedback and responses from the Digest will focus on different issues. My apologies to those who receive both lists.

There are two parts - basically 'theory' and 'practice'.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the stead...

"It is never easy to court a Heortling woman. Nor should it be."

ROTO in KOS is our current main source, especially pgs 242-43. TR will contain more.

Lets start with the basics. I'll concentrate on the "default" traditional patrilineal clan where most wives join their husbands, though of course with different tribal kinship systems and seven different types of marriage the variations can be enormous. (You may find it an interesting thought-experiment to follow through courtship and marriage in a matrilineal Heortling clan, or for a rich woman who plans an Esrolian marriage.)

Also, since the coming of the Lunars, intermarriage with non-tribal partners is increasingly common, sometimes with little or no regard for traditional Heortling marriage customs.

  1. Marriage is *equally* a union of two INDIVIDUALS *and* an alliance between two CLANS. Wyrded romantics can take a year-marriage or a love-match, but even these will involve clan pressures. Children are a key resource, and marriage is partly about a clan's ownership of children.
  2. Romantic love is a feature of Heortling courtship, but matchmaking and arranged marriages are also common. The role of matchmakers, who are usually chieftains and Ring members (for the clan) or Earth priestesses (for less strategically important individuals) cannot be overestimated. A man or women is always free to refuse a match, ("No one can make you do anything") but the practical pressures bought to bear upon them can be enormous.
  3. Though romance and passion are acknowledged and accepted, the mindset towards love and marriage is also pragmatic. "Why wait until the water is boiling before you place it on the fire?" (i.e. if your marriage works then love and affection will grow). Men (well, older men J) and women understand that love grows over time, and that practical matters such as kin, property, wealth and status all help to make a marriage successful. Young men of course, invariably fall hopelessly and passionately in love with the first cowgirl they meet who is not kin, and pledge undying devotion and eternal love until some kind kinsman knocks them about the head to let some air in. Women are more practical and usually more reserved. (Of this, more below). Heortlings strive to build close and enduring bonds between husband and wife, as Orlanth and Ernalda did, but do not have the 'live happily ever after' expectations that might colour other cultures' attitudes. Marriage is hard.
  4. All Heortlings take marriage partners from another clan. Beyond this, marriage customs may differ considerably. For example, clans in prescriptive alliances can only take husbands or wives from a single or narrow range of partner clans. "We are the Rich Pudding Clan, we take our wives from the Pickled Walnut Clan, and our daughters marry the Roast Turkey Clan." In the matrilineal clans, marriage is a different type of institution, as a man's interests lie more with his sisters' children (who are of his clan) than his own (who are not). In some clans, intermarriage or less formal arrangements with non-tribal Lunars means that the traditional customs may be in disarray.
  5. Other matters can also take precedence in arranging marriages. Some may be for purely ritual or cultic reasons, or be ordained between holders of hereditary religious positions. (The first daughter of the Keeper of the Blue Maid Springs must always marry the first son of the Thunder Stick Man, that the land may be pure and strong.) Formal alliances and victory or defeat in battle may also be accompanied by marriages. Marriages between older couples are more likely to be centred on politics and resources than on matters of heart, happiness or offspring. Ian Cooper has previously noted that some year-marriages may be little more than labour agreements.
  6. It is never easy to court a Heortling woman. Nor should it be. There is a rich mythological stream showing how a man should properly court a woman. Orlanth's Courting of Ernalda involved many quests, gifts, and contests between suitors, and these inspirations are reflected in actual courting behaviours. The story is very popular, and celebrated in countless songs, verses and cattle boasts.
  7. According to ROTO, Heortling marriage contracts involve a *two-way* exchange - both bridewealth (from husband's bloodline to his future wife's) and dowry (which the wife receives from her kin and retains: a kind of early inheritance). I don't know of any real world social structure that practices both bridewealth *and* dowry - if they cancel out then the exchange becomes purely ritual. However in Heortling society the wife's continuing control over her dowry means that is more an early inheritance than a marriage payment. The wife's dowry remains her own, but because it is used to the common good of her new hearth, and because it reflects on both her and her new husbands' status, it is fiercely negotiated.
  8. Bridewealth may be paid to the wife's clan in any number of ways, including cattle, goods, military or political favours, or bride-service
    (where the suitor works for the woman's bloodline for a period of time
    before or after marriage). There will always be some continuing ritual obligations that celebrate the union and cooperation of the two clans.
  9. Courtship practice reflects the personality, priorities and values of young men and women. Upon initiation, a young man must concentrate on building his herds, his status, and his web of support and sponsors. A good marriage can assist all three. Young men are passionate, impulsive and hot-headed, and are given the freedom to make mistakes and hopefully to learn from them. They are notorious for their besotted idealisation of potential brides (however inappropriate), to the extent that the public singing of love songs is banned in the law codes of certain tribes.

By contrast, women are colder and more calculating, and not often swayed by romance alone when it comes to choosing a husband. For a woman, marriage usually means leaving her tula and the protection of her family and kin for an uncertain future amidst strangers. It is not a decision to be taken lightly. Potential husbands must be bold (but not too bold), economically secure, and willing to listen. Equally important is that they must belong to a trustworthy bloodline and command enough respect to be listened to and heeded at their home stead.

  1. Sex and marriage are not closely connected in Heortling courtship. Sex is banned before adult initiation, but afterwards there are no taboos or even particular concerns about sexual activity. Earth fertility magic in particular knows the power of sex (and its withholding). Both virginity and motherhood hold a certain magical and ritual power, but virginity is not of particular social concern except in Elmali or Solar-influenced clans.

By contrast, marriage is monogamous and exclusive, a sacred bond upheld by law. Adultery will often result in divorce, and a loss of status for the offender, and fines for his or her bloodline. Heort taught that "Sex is easy, marriage is hard, and the gods bless the sworn bond."

2. CAMPAIGN COURTSHIP AND MARRIAGE - A TYPICAL PROGRESSION Here's my take on one set of possibilities; a typical life progression for men and women in 'default' patrilineal clans, written with campaign play and scenarios in mind. There are lots of opportunities for honour, foul play, questing, contests, poetry, political scheming, defending clan pride, desperately grabbing for goodies, vanquishing rivals, feats of martial valour and the odd bit of cattle raiding.

Our heroes: Braggi Afraid-of-the-Dark is a typical young cattle herder of the Twin Birch clan, which is prosperous and stable though not exceedingly wealthy. Kandreya Four Steps is a young woman of the Bluecloud clan of a neighbouring tribe. Her bloodline is prosperous, her father renowned, and Kandreya herself will inherit a hereditary cult title from her mother, so she knows she will attract a good deal of attention during courtship.

Braggi's first herd and the chance to build wealth and status completely occupy his imagination. As the skalds proclaim, 'Cattle are better than women!" He engages in sexual fumbling and exploration, but no serious courting. His tendency to fall passionately in love (from afar) several times a season can be cured only by a serious dedication to cattle raiding.

As she grows into womanhood, Kandreya learns the secrets of wealth and fertility and lust from her mother, female kin and Earth priestess sponsors. Usually accompanied by her brothers, she begins to journey beyond her stead, perhaps visiting married sisters in other clans or attending tribal rituals. She learns to evaluate young men in a cold though honest way, and she begins to assess the relative wealth and prestige of neighbouring clans.

Braggi slowly builds his herds and personal wealth, goes on adventures, makes mistakes. In matters of romance, his passionate fixations, hopeless causes, foolhardy acts of bravado and continual boasting to companions and kin may all cause embarrassing moments. His comparative lack of wealth and status means that any serious offers will be laughed at. Young women will still pointedly call him "boy". With typical Orlanthi passion, Braggi's infatuated 'affairs of the heart' may turn to hatred over real or imagined slights.

Kandreya does her best to ensure that her family and hearth are in harmony, and spend lots of time with her female cousins sharing information on the wealth and menfolk of neighbouring clans. She encourages but is careful not to respond too openly to flirting and male advances. She may take lovers discretely. In doing so, Kandreya learns the lessons of Ernalda's courtship, and how to direct men to each of the six directions. If she decides to take an adventuring path, she may entrust her fertility to Vinga or to her hearth sisters for a number of years.

With time, Braggi will gain a name or enough status and wealth to be a serious suitor (though a reputation as a murderous scourge of Lunar invaders will not necessarily assist him in the marriage market!) He will begin to talk seriously to allies about unmarried sisters or daughters, whether or not he happens to fall passionately in love with them. He will pay closer attention to suitable women at rituals and markets, and has now learnt that small gifts and a well-dressed, prosperous appearance will impress women more than foolhardy acts of boasting or bravado. He may ask the assistance of a matchmaker or a senior woman of his clan. Alternatively he may depend upon the good name of his bloodline, and ask his elders' support and guidance in choosing a match that will have political advantage to the clan.

Kandreya will have realistically assessed five or six potential suitors, a mix of well-established older men (widowers or divorcees) and young though promising men her own age. She is looking to a long-term match, and will examine closely her potential suitors' clans and tribes, assessing their wyrd for the next ten or twenty years. Going to her father and uncles, she will then allow them persuade her that these six men should be given serious consideration, for the sake of her bloodline. She will then grudgingly agree to her elders insistence that she accept these men as suitors J. The suitors will be then encouraged, either directly or through the exhortation and advice of Kandreya's kin, to attend and begin to seriously court her.

Braggi will be informed of a young woman of appropriate wealth and blood
(lets say its Kandreya), and will first spend some time with her brothers to
gain their support before beginning his courtship. He will herd with them, or raid with them, or offer his services for the harvest or the hunt. He will then meet his lady at some public gathering or feast, but not announce his feelings until he knows with all his heart that he has made the right choice (Luckily, this usually occurs during the first or second dance).

Braggi then proceeds to win Kandreya's heart by passion and prowess, as Orlanth did: by gifts of lambs and calves and cattle, honey and songbirds, combs and querns, cloaks and Earthshaker teeth, by stirring cattle boasts and recitations of his deeds, by the songs and poems he composes and sings to her beauty, and by vanquishing all of his unworthy, stickpicker, goat-humping, parasitic rivals in the various contests and quests set by his beloved. He will proceed confidently, enjoying the encouragement and confidence of Kandreya's brothers. (Though he might wonder why they seem equally supportive of his rivals - perhaps they are merely displaying polite hospitality to the lesser men).

(In some circumstances, a courtship may be private and the tests and quests
largely symbolic, but every Heortling man and women wishes their marriage to be made in the same fashion as Orlanth and Ernaldas'.)

Kandreya's suitors will gather at her bloodline stead, where they will provide a handy boost to the labour force for a season or two (though they have to be fed). With the help of her kin, especially her parents and brothers, Kandreya will at first encourage all of her suitors equally, being sure not to give any sign of favouring one above the others.

She will accept gifts, endure the preening and vanity of her suitors, as well as their absurd poetry and song. Kandreya will then set quests and tasks and contests as Ernalda did, that her suitors may prove themselves to be men such as Orlanth. In setting these tests, she will be careful that no one is excluded too soon, but as the seasons progress she will set challenges more likely to favour those she is inclined to choose. As always with women who embrace the wisdom of Ernalda, the suitors will often believe that they have initiated these tests and challenges themselves, to gift her in appropriate ways or to defend her reputation. None suffer, for in proving themselves the men add to their own status in deeds and story.

The final days of the contests can be interesting times, as the status and political schemings of entire clans focus down upon the decision of a single woman. Suitors and their followers will lobby Kandreya's kin mercilessly, and rivals may openly challenge each other or engage in less honourable plots to dissuade the competition. When the decision is finally announced, losers must concede graciously, or there may be serious repercussions. The political and diplomatic skills of the woman and her kin are tested to the full.

Braggi has won his beloved! (Of course, this may be the third or fourth time he has acted as a suitor). The required gifts were a bit rich for his liking, and the contests were far more than ritual, and seemed to go on forever! Yet somehow, by luck and courage and determination, he has won through. Some of those rivals took it very seriously!

In private, Kandreya asks Braggi for a silver wedding torc, and a hearth loom, and two white doves as tradition demands. She hints a the pleasures of Ernalda's secret bower. She entrusts Braggi with one final task: he must persuade her father to gift her a befitting dowry.

Braggi returns to his own tula to smooth the contract with his own bloodline, and then, in company with his father and bloodline elders, returns to formally negotiate a marriage contract, brideprice and dowry with Kandreya's elder kin.

Though the clan will pay its share, Braggi will have to pay for a large part of the brideprice from his personal wealth. He may have to take gifts from senior men and women to afford this; it may be many years before such gifts are repaid. He may choose to pay part of the brideprice in service to Kandreya's parents - this labour may be given before or immediately after the wedding.

Kandreya has chosen the man - Braggi- who will be suitable as her husband, and in the company of her sisters and female cousins she allows herself to begin to enjoy the feelings of being in love. Braggi is a man with potential for leadership and responsibility in his own clan, well-wyrded without being too visible, open to persuasion without being passive. Equally importantly, his clan is prosperous and honourable, and he is popular among his own kin.

First, Kandreya goes to her father and brothers and persuades them that Braggi was the one they had wanted all along, and discusses what a suitable brideprice might be, and what form of marriage might be most appropriate.
(Given her relatively high status, Kandreya might conceivably demand an
Esrolian or Underhusband pact, but realising the effect this would have on Braggi's status and potential for leadership in his own clan, she is happy to make contract as husband and wife). She then announces her decision to Braggi.

Kandreya then takes the final step, and for the first time allies herself with her husband-to-be against her own kin as she instructs him how he must bargain with her bloodline for a suitable dowry. (The brideprice paid by Braggi and his bloodline will remain with Kandreya's kin as compensation for losing her, while Kandreya's dowry will be her security in her new life on Braggi's tula).

THE WEDDING The couple exchange vows and wedding torcs. There is much feasting and dancing and ribald humour.

Two clans unite in joy and celebration. Gifts are exchanged, vows of eternal loyalty proclaimed, and joint sacrifice offered to the gods of wyrd and beauty.

Kandreya is accompanied by her sisters and female cousins in procession to her new hearth and sleeping platform at the stead of Braggi's parents.

Braggi enjoys a new-found respect from his fellow kinsman. He now is fully a man, and he will be listened to in the moot, and at the fyrd. He cares for his wife, and listens to her advice, and knows she will produce many healthy children for his clan.

As the marriage vows are exchanged, Braggi's formal testing ends and Kandreya's begins. She must leave her family and home to journey to a new stead where she is not entirely trusted. She must submit to the tyranny of Braggi's hearthmistress (the senior female of his bloodline), the casual cruelty of the other wives and the scorn of Braggi's unmarried sisters. No matter what her status, she must begin at the bottom of the domestic pecking order, carrying water and grinding corn by hand like a drudge. She must nurture and invest her dowry, build new alliances of friendship and support, and win the respect of Braggi's bloodline.

(Of course, if there is a woman from Kandreya's clan already living at the
stead, her dislocation, loneliness and suffering will be lessened considerably. For this reason, sisters often marry into the same clan!)

This period of suspicion often passes quickly, but it is very real. Affinal kin are accepted into the close-knit life of a stead only grudgingly. Though she may rapidly earn status and respect, she will not be completely accepted by Braggi's kin until the birth of her first child - who will be of Braggi's clan. This happy event will be marked by great celebration, and thereafter Kandreya may speak openly at the moot, command her junior sisters and the new wives, and even accept positions of ritual or legal power on the Clan Ring or in worship and ceremony. She might guide her husband to a position of high status, or openly gift and court influence herself.

This time of testing can be very hard for some wives, and many divorces occur in the first hard years of a new marriage.

It is relatively rare for a couple to claim their own stead before their children are initiated. A typical hearth will be home to three or four generations centred on a group of brothers, their wives and offspring.

Enough already.
Bright Blessings for Sacred Time


nysalor_at_primus.com.au John Hughes

When evil is afoot, and you don't have any arms, you gotta use your head. And when evil is ahead, and you're behind, you've gotta get off your ass and do the legwork. But, when you can't get a leg up, you gotta be hip, you gotta keep your chin up,  and kick some butt...

End of The Glorantha Digest V8 #194

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