Thanksgiving is one of those times of year that most of us spend with our family and relatives. Like it or not, we have to. There is an old saying to remind us of our family duties: “Blood is thicker than water,” meaning that family bonds are stronger than friendship. Is it really what it means?

Reading this phrase, I am puzzled. I understand the part about the blood. Ok, the blood that runs into my veins came from my ancestors, half from my father, half from my mother.

But what about the water?

I have strong bonds with a few people, so I wonder what could be the link between my very good friends and the water. When I need them, they never run through my fingers. Maybe it’s because of the water they give me when I am thirsty- soul thirst I mean.

I decided to so some research. Here is a piece of history:

In his book, “Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society,” Prof. James M McPherson explains that a North Carolina Editor used the phrase, “Blood is thicker than water,” to justify his choice of the Confederacy during the Civil War.

We can find it in Walter Scott’s book “Guy Manning” 1815;  “Weel, blude’s thicker than water; she’s welcome to the cheeses and the hams just the same.” That, I must admit, left me more confused than ever.

The saying is also found in a collection of proverbs written in 1670 by John Ray, a noble English man. Earlier, in a German book, “Reinhart Fuchs” (Reinhart the Fox), written by Heinrich der Glïchezäre in 1180, the phrase had this form: “Kin-blood is not spoilt by water.” Those poems were inspired by the French “Roman de Renart” in which Renart (Fox) tricks all the other  animals, especially wolf Ysengrin.

At that point in my research, it looks to me  noble men wanted a motto for tight family allegiances they could easily use for their wars, or to seek revenge; a noble way to command a sense of duty on their vassals. Our culture is full of stories of that type.

Going back in time, “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb”  was meant to seal a pact between two people. They cut their palms and mixed their blood by pressing each others wounds together. The blood of each partner runs in the other’s veins. The sense of attachment between the blood brothers was heightened by this gesture.

Another possible meaning is soldiers using this sentence to express that the person with whom they spill blood on the battlefield is closer to them than the person with whom they shared a womb, therefore the water.

Now that you have the whole story, you can pick the explanation that suits you.

Thanksgiving can be hard on some of us. The emotional blackmail, the guilt, the anxiety that accompanies some family reunions can leave a heavy load. Some of us can handle that, some just take too much on themselves. Nothing can force us to participate. Sometimes it is better to avoid people who can hurt us. I know the feeling of duty can be stronger than our own well-being.

I have another phrase in mind now. I took it from the Tao Te Tching of Lao Tzu (in one of its multiple translations): “We don’t own people we love.”
And I would add for our own sake: “And they don’t own us.”

Buoy Blogger

I found various information in these different blogs

On the origin of seven phrases:

On the blood of the covenant:

Prof. McPherson’s book: