The following descriptions of blood-brotherhood rituals were excerpted from Blood-Brotherhood and Other Rites of Male Alliance, by Nathan F. Miller and Jack Donovan.
Many more rituals are included in the book, which is now available in paperback through Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and other online retailers.
Blood-Brotherhood and Other Rites of Male Alliance is based on a massive amount of research about blood-brotherhood stories and traditions from around the world. There’s nothing like it out there, and no better book about dead serious, “who would you call to get rid of a body” friendships between men.
The Ugandan Coffee Bean
The Ganda people of Uganda called blood-brotherhood mukago. During the ritual to make mukago, the men divided the two beans of a coffee berry. Each man made a cut in his stomach, rubbed the bean in it, and fed his blood-coated bean to the other man. Then each man put a knife and a spear beside himself, to symbolize mutual protection. This ritual was followed with a great feast.
The bloodied bean was thought to somehow remain in the body, and to have the ability to swell up and kill an oath-breaker. If either man were to attempt to cheat this magic by not swallowing the coffee-bean, it was thought that the bean would immediately kill him by swelling up in his mouth.
Roman Civil Brotherhood
A very different sort of bond between men not using blood was a practice of legal brother-making in imperial Rome. Second and third century Roman jurist Julius Paulus is cited in the Digesta of the Code of Justinian discussing this legal bond. He describes how one man could properly make another his heir simply by declaring, “Let this man be an heir to me,” with the indicated man present. Paulus further states that in this way a man who was not a brother, but loved with brotherly affection, became a properly instituted heir with the description of “brother.”
Scthyian Men Don’t Have a Trashy Number of Brothers
Second century CE rhetoritician Lucian of Samosata also refers to a blood-oath of friendship among the Scyths in his Toxaris, a work which takes the form of a dialogue about between a Scyth and a Greek about friendship. Toxaris, the Scyth, says that this form of friendship is made only with men who are found to be brave and capable of great deeds, and is pursued with the same patience and seriousness as courting for marriage. The men make a solemn vow to live together and to be ready to die for one another, if need be. The bond is sealed by cutting the fingers and dripping the blood into a cup; the men then dip their sword points into the cup and drink from it simultaneously. Toxaris says further that such compacts may include no more than three men, and that the Scyths compare men with excessive numbers of friends to promiscuous women.
Blood and Sod
A detailed account of the methods of a Norse blood-brotherhood ritual appears in the Gísla Saga Súrssonar (Saga of Gisli Sursson), one with four men making a bond simultaneously. The men went out upon a sandy spit of land that jutted out into the sea. They cut up a long strip of the grassy turf, being careful to leave the ends still connected to the ground, so that the strip could be lifted up into an arch. The strip was propped up with a spear that was ornamented with runes. The spear was quite tall; a man reaching up could just touch the rivets attaching the spearhead to the shaft. All four men were to pass under and through the lifted sod. Each man then opened a vein and let the blood drip together into the hollow of earth under the arch, and then they mixed together the blood and soil. Then they fell together to their knees, and calling to the gods as witnesses, swore to treat each other as brothers and to avenge one another.
The Covenant of Blood
A blood-brotherhood rite that survived into the 19th century among the Syrians was known as the “Covenant of Blood” (m’ahadat ed-dam) and the men who made use of it “Brothers of the Covenant” (akhwat el-m’ahadah). The two men would call together relatives and neighbors who were to bear witness to the sealing of their compact. Their oaths were written down in duplicate and signed by both men, and also by the witnesses. One man then opened a vein in the other’s arm, and inserted a quill in the vein, through which he sucked the blood out. The blood remaining on the blade used to make the cut was then wiped onto one of the covenant-papers The second man then repeated this with the first man’s arm. The two then declared, “We are brothers in a covenant made before God; who deceiveth the other, him will God deceive.” Each of the papers was then folded and sewn up into a small leather case about an inch square, known as “the House of the Amulet” (bayt hejab), which the men would wear hanging from the neck or upon the arm.
This bond was considered greater than marriage, as marriage could end in divorce, but the blood-bond could not be dissolved. It was also stronger than natural brotherhood. Siblings were called “milk-brothers” or “suckling brothers,” as connected by common milk; the created connection of blood was thought stronger still. The blood-brothers thought themselves possessors of a double life, as each man was ready to lay down his life for the other, or with him. In fact, the blood was taken from the upper arm in the ceremony because the arm represented a man’s strength. The blood covenant was often used by business partners acting in confidence, by conspirators and robbers, yet also was the chosen compact of loving friends.
Read more about blood-oaths and blood-brotherhoods in Blood-Brotherhood and Other Rites of Male Alliance, by Nathan F. Miller and Jack Donovan. now available in paperback through Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and other online retailers.