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Thicker Than…? (a”missing” 2-for-1 post, for Monday-Tuesday) June 16, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Health, Love, Music, One Hoop, Religion, Science, Wisdom, Yoga.
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[This is the “missing” post related to Tuesday, June 15th and includes references to the Monday, June 14th practice. You can request an audio recording of the practices from Monday and/or Tuesday via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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“God, give me strength
And keep reminding me
That blood is thicker than water
Oh, but love is
Thicker than blood

And if blood is
Thicker than water
Then what are we fighting for?
We’re all sons and daughters
Of something that
Means so much more”


– quoted from the song “Thicker Than Blood” by Garth Brooks

June 14th is World Blood Donor Day, which coincides with the birthday of Dr. Karl Landsteiner (b. 06/14/1868). Coincidentally, the day devoted to celebrating and expressing gratitude for the generosity of millions of donors around the world is exactly one day before the anniversary of the first documented successful xenotransfusion. The term “xenotransfusion” shares a root with “xenophobia” (fear of “strangers” or fear of “foreigners”) and was originally used to describe the transfer of blood from one species to another, usually between a non-human and a human. Eventually it was also used to describe blood transfusions between a variety of non-human animal species, including canine to cat, bovine to caprine (cattle to goat), and caprine to bovine.

Several physicians and surgeons had attempted blood transfusion in animals, but the most significant experiments of this nature were conducted in 1666 – 1667 by Dr. Richard Lower (in England) and by Dr. Jean-Baptiste Denys (in Paris). On June 15, 1667, Dr. Denys* (with assistance from Dr. Paul Emmerez) transfused about 12 ounces of sheep blood into the elbow of a 15-year old boy who had been experiencing chronic fever – and who was not finding relief from leeches repeatedly administered by a barber-surgeon. Although most people agree that the small amounts of blood being transfused is what enabled them to avoid the fatal allergic reaction that occurs when mixing blood types (which had not yet been discovered since Dr. Landsteiner hadn’t even been born), Drs. Denys and Emmerez went on to conduct several other successful transfusions.

*NOTE: The information above reflects information from multiple sources which I have consulted since I first learned about the human xenotransfusion. I recently came across something that suggested that while the date, patient details, and source animal were confirmed, the identity of the doctor(s) was not and that Dr. Richard Lower may have conducted the first successful transfusion. However, most sources I researched indicated that Dr. Lower’s first documented xenotransfusion was on November 23, 1667, with the assistance of the surgeon and physician Sir Edmond King. Both Drs. Denys and Lower were physicians to members of the royal family in their respective countries and both may have been ousted from their Courtly roles because of politics. In the case of Dr. Denys, there was also the matter of a patient who died and a trial – during which it came out that the patient didn’t die from a xenotransfusion; they had been poisoned by their wife.

A year ago Monday, and to a certain extent this Monday, I spent World Blood Donor Day focusing on “dana” generosity and the idea that “love is thicker than blood.” I even went down the rabbit hole and got into the etymology of phrases like “blood will tell,” “blood will out,” and “blue-blood.” But this year, when I focused a little more on questions and how the questions we ask can cause us to look at things – ourselves and the world – a certain way, I took another look at the old saying, “Blood is thicker than water, but love is thicker than blood.” Where does the saying come from? And, does it mean what we think it means?

Simple questions, which (as it turns out), are not as simple as they seem.

I often say that the human mind-body is 60-75% water, depending on age, gender, and overall health. Of course, some of that water is (in) the blood and most of that water is saturated with salt, proteins, and other particles. Also, the fluidity of water is partially determined by the temperature of the water. So, the viscosity of water in the body varies. However, if we consider room temperature water (25°C or 77°F) at a pressure of 1 atmosphere then the resistance to flow is 0.00890 poise (or rounded up to 0.009 P or 0.01 P). At 37°C or 98.6°F (an average body temperature), blood plasma viscosity is 0.015 P and whole blood viscosity is 0.04 P.

I know, it’s not exactly apples-to-apples, but those are standard measurement points – and water’s viscosity is about 0.007 P at 37.8°C or 100°F, so I think you get the point. On the flip side, we can’t touch, hold, and measure love; we can only feel it. We can feel it flowing and recognize when there’s a resistance to the flow; but how do we measure that in order to compare it to water or blood? How can we determine if it’s thicker than blood?

Of course, I’m being a little facetious here. The old adage isn’t about physical science at all. It’s about something that is philosophical and metaphysical in nature and, therefore, requires going deeper.

“The first words [Dandie Dinmont, the farmer] said when he had digested the shock, contained a magnanimous declaration, which he probably was not conscious of having uttered aloud – ‘Weel – blude’s thicker than water – she’s welcome to the cheeses and the hams just the same.’”


– quoted from “Volume II, Chapter IX, Die and endow a college or a cat. Pope.” of Guy Mannering, or The Astrologer (pub. 1815) by Sir Walter Scott, Bart

One of the earliest literary references to blood and water can be found in the 12th century narrative poem Reinhart Fuchs, the oldest known German beast epic (which was itself based on a French poem). According to an English translation of a 13th century version of the poem about the trickster fox (Reynard), “I also hear it said that kin-blood [or, clan blood] is not spoiled by water.” Many believe this statement refers to the fact that not even distance or the “tumultuous tides” of the high seas can sever some connections. The idea that one can move away from home, marry into another clan / family, and still have some loyalty to your original family and tribe is an underlying premise in Sir Walter Scott’s novel Guy Mannering, or The Astrologer – which gets the credit of being one of the first literary references of the actual phrase “blood is thicker than water” (even though the phrase appeared in print as early as 1670).

In Sir Walter Scott’s novel, first published anonymously in 1815, Guy Mannering is a guest of the Laird and Lady of Ellangowan. He offers to determine the horoscope of his hosts’ young son, Harry Bertram; however, when he predicts that the boy will have three periods of bad fortune, he decides that the details of the bad fortune should be concealed until the boy turns 5. The only problem: young Harry’s first period of misfortune is getting kidnapped before the age of 5. As the paths of Guy Mannering and Harry Bertram (under his adopted identity) cross again and again in India, England, and then again in Scotland, the heir of Ellangowan (Harry) is presumed dead by all but the Laird’s sister (who has inherited the ancestral home). When the “last will and testament” of Harry’s aunt is read, one of those in attendance points out that she (the deceased) can do with her earthly goods as she desired. As Sir Walter Scott alludes at the beginning of the chapter, she can extend her generosity to a college or a cat; a deceased heir and a servant; and everything in between.

“With them, any two children nourished at the same breast are called ‘milk-brothers,’ or ‘suckling brothers;’ and the tie is very strong. A boy and a girl in this relation cannot marry, even though by birth they had no family relationship….But the Arabs hold that the brothers in the covenant of blood are closer than brothers at a common breast; that those who have tasted each other’s blood are in a surer covenant than those who have tasted the same milk together; that ‘blood-lickers,’ as the blood brothers are sometimes called, are more truly one than ‘milk-brothers,’ or ‘sucking brothers’ ; that, indeed, blood is thicker than milk, as well as thicker than water.”

– quoted from “I. THE PRIMITIVE RITE ITESELF. 2. An Ancient Semetic Rite” in The Blood Covenant: a Primitive Rite and It’s Bearing on Scripture by H. Clay Trumbull

Beyond literary references, we can find evidence of people making, reinforcing, and commenting about familial bonds and chosen bonds since the dawn of recorded time. In The Blood Covenant: a Primitive Rite and It’s Bearing on Scripture, the American clergyman and Civil War veteran Henry Clay Trumbull chronicled ancient rituals from around the world that are based on the premise “that the blood is the life ; that the heart , as the blood-fountain, is the very soul of every personality; that blood-transfer is soul transfer; that blood-sharing, human, or divine-human, secures an inter-union of natures; and that a union of the human nature with the divine is the highest ultimate attainment reached out after by the most primitive, as well as by the most enlightened, mind of humanity.” Many of these rituals were described to Trumball by people who had participated in the rituals themselves and/or were first-hand witnesses.

For example, he wrote about Syrian men in Lebanon becoming brother-friends in a public ceremony involving blood-letting, ingesting, and a blood-smeared written contract (in duplicate) that was worn by the men and that formed a sacred and legal bond that was considered stronger than the legal ties of marriage (as it could not be dissolved). He also described similar African rituals – although, in at least one tribe, the bond was established by through contact with incisions made on the hands, stomachs, and right cheeks foreheads and the blood was mixed in “beer” and drunk (as opposed to being licked off a knife). There was also an exchange of gifts to seal the bond. In the aforementioned cases, such bonds required loyalty between the bonded; that each person to defend the other in times of crisis/war; that each person support the other in times of need; and that each be willing to take on the other’s familial responsibilities should the need arise. These bonds could also, in theory, be used to end conflict just as some marriages have been used throughout history. After all, there is power in connection.

“Someone told [Jesus], ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’

He replied to him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’

Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’”

– quoted from The Gospel According to St. Matthew 12:47-50 (NIV)

There are, of course, conversations about covenants (and the power of covenants) throughout the Abrahamic religions – and these conversations are often related to conflict resolution and/or familial responsibility. In addition to the passages (above and below), where Jesus highlights spiritual relationships over (genetic) blood-kin relationships, there is a point in The Gospel According to St. Matthew (specifically Matthew 18) when Jesus instructs his disciples on “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” [little children] and what to do in various situations, like if one of their “sheep” go astray [leave the others to go after it]. In a situation where one brother “trespass[es]” against another and the two in conflict cannot come to an agreement, they are told to gather “one or two others” who can sever as witnesses [18:16]. Part of the explanation for this instruction comes from 18:20, when he tells the disciples that he/his teachings will be among them when “three or more are gathered in my name….” In other words, the will be more powerful and more spiritual grounded/connected.

These Christian contexts is why some scholars state that the “water” in the old “proverb” refers to “the water of the womb” – which twists the whole saying around. If we accept this etymology or origin of the phrase, the original meaning was always “love is thicker than blood.” If that was always the meaning, then it stands to reason that, at some point in history, someone added that last part to the public lexicon so people would stop misunderstanding the message.

“Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son, and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.”

– quoted from The Gospel According to St. John 19:25-27 (NIV)


There is no playlist for the Monday night Common Ground practice.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [“Look for “06142020 World Blood Donor Day”]


### “Love is, thicker than water” ~ Andy Gibb / Barry Gibb ###