Spiritual Kinship, Incest, and Traditional Weddings: Honor, Shame, and Cultural Boundaries in Romanian Marriage Songs
Kinship and Incest
The significance of spiritual kin is invoked at weddings, where godparents specifically marry the couple by placing the crowns on their heads and thus generate their union. Through the godparents, the marriage is recognized, not only in a religious sense but also in a communal one. Assuming a public role, godparents occupy an important and influential social position; thus spiritual kinship provides alliances between families and security in the community. Spiritual kin relations strengthen social ties both horizontally as well as vertically: across generations as well as from one to the next.
Traditional Romanian Weddings
Fii tu naş în locul meu,
Şi eu fin în locul tău …
Că te-om scăpa de belea
Şi pe fina om lua,
Ca să faci casă cu ea.” 
“Be silent, Godson, don’t be afraid,
You be the godfather in my place,
And I’ll be the godson in yours …
Because we will rescue you from this mess
And we will get the goddaughter,
So you can marry [make a house with] her.”
The metaphoric journey to and from the bride’s home is richly symbolic, pointing to patrilocality and exogamy. The bride is the daughter of Letinul bogat ‘the Rich Latin/Infidel’ from Dobrogea (on the Black Sea), home to the largest Turkish population in Romania—a hyperbolic example of exogamous identity from the perspective of Orthodox ethnic Romanians. Not only do names and places speak to the bride’s out-group identity, but the journey itself—occurring “from Saint Peter’s Day” (June 29) “to Saint Dumitru’s” (October 26)—represents metaphorically how suitable an out-group bride she is by how far away she lives. 
Lăutarii tot cînta,
Aluneasca o juca.
Şi a fost o nuntă mare,
De la munte pîn’ la mare!
Şi a fost nuntă domnească,
De veci să se pomenească,
Cu mari boieri şi cocoane,
Ca la astă nuntă mare.
La boieri ca dumneavoastră
Noi facem cîntarea noastră,
Tutora ca să fie
Cu bine şi cu bucurie! 
They assembled a great circle dance,
The lăutari continued to sing and play,
They danced “the little hazelnut” [folkdance],
And it was a great wedding,
From the mountains to the sea!
And it was a royal wedding
That will be remembered forever,
With great boyars and great ladies,
Just like at this great wedding.
To boyars like you
We sing this song
So that all of you
Will enjoy it and be happy!
This recalls what Dwight Reynolds terms “overlapping performances” in Arabic oral epic, where “narrative strategies” enable the poet “effective means of moving back and forth through the boundaries of the story world.”  Lăutari likewise cross boundaries of verbal and cultural texts and organically bring “story, performance, and event” to life. 
Counterexamples: Incest and Spiritual Kin
Gift-Giving and Reciprocity
Cînd a fost la masa mare,
Toţi boierii i-a dat
Care vii, care moşii,
Care galbeni pe tipsii.
Numai Radu nu i-a dat
Nici o vie, nici o moşie
Şi nici galbeni pă tipsie. 
So, when Radu sponsored [Drăgan’s] wedding,
When they were at the great banquet,
All of the boyars gave [things] to him:
Some [gave] vineyards, some estates,
Some gold coins on trays.
Only Radu didn’t give him anything:
Not a single vineyard, nor a single estate,
And not even gold coins on a tray.
Social status and responsibility are transparently reflected in public gift-giving. Radu-vodă’s disregard of the etiquette of this event is a breach of duty for a godparent. Moreover, his understanding of reciprocity is totally inverted: he gives little or nothing and in return takes far more than his share: his goddaughter’s virginity and honor, and, importantly, Drăgan’s as well. Radu-vodă commits incest with the bride in the garden: a place that represents nature and disorder, away from the cultural and more ordered space of the wedding proper and outside of the rules of the household. Drăgan furiously accuses him:
În grădină te-ai băgat,
Făcuşi voia trupului,
Lăcomia ochilor!” 
“You took your goddaughter,
You shoved her into the garden,
You enjoyed the pleasures of the flesh,
You feasted your greedy eyes!”
As punishment, Drăgan threatens to behead not only Radu-vodă but (sometimes) his son Vlăduţ as well, predicting that if he were to spare Vlăduţ, the boy would simply grow up to repeat the sins of his father. Drăgan’s obliteration of both father and son speaks to the importance of honor within families over time, since a godfather in the Balkans “marries and christens, and his obligation passes from one generation to the next.”  In an attempt to salvage himself (and his son), Radu-vodă reminds Drăgan of their obvious spiritual kin relationship and recalls the important ritual moments they have shared, hoping that the memory of these purportedly inviolate ritual bonds will change his mind: “Că la mic te-am botezat, / La mare te-am cununat” (“Because when you were little I baptized you, / When you were big, I sponsored your wedding”).  Unmoved, Drăgan decapitates Radu-vodă (and his son) and sticks his head onto a stake, placing it on the main road to air Radu-vodă’s shame in public.
Cultural Boundaries Violated
Mîndră masă-mi este-ntins’,
Săvai masă dă batis’
Cu dalbe făclii aprinse.
Şade-m’ vere, şade-m’ dragă
F-o cinzăj’ dă priotese,
Patruzăj’ dă jupînese,
Cei mai mari căimăcănese …
Iar cu pahar cin’ de da?
/:Săvai finu-său Vartici. :/
/:Iar în capu mesiei :/
Şade-m’ vere, şade-m’ dragă,
Şade doamna Ileana,
Frumoasă ca icoana … 
/:In the court of King Dumitraşe, :/ …
A beautiful table is set,
Even a table [covered with a cloth of] printed silk
Lit with shining white torches.
All around the table
Are sitting, cousin, are sitting, my dear,
About fifty priests’ wives,
Forty boyar wives,
The greatest wives of the caimacans …
But who is serving them glasses [of wine]?
/:Even [Ileana’s] godson Vartici. :/
And at the head of the table
She sits, cousin, she sits, my dear,
Lady Ileana sits,
As beautiful as an icon …
Questions that propel the story forward that the lăutar poses to the public (as in the highlighted verse) are also metanarrative devices for connecting with the listeners as are vocative nouns addressed to them (also highlighted).  The narrative banquet ironically relates to the “real” banquet at the wedding, while as an unconventional banquet it immediately sets up the story as a series of other unexpected, inverted events in which boundaries of all kinds are transgressed. Ileana frames her desire for Vartici with “Vino lîngă mine-aici”  (“Come here close to me”), accentuating the physical, which becomes the moral, boundary that she is violating. She knows that this path may take her beyond another even more imposing boundary as she tells Vartici: “Chiar de azi să intru-n iad, / Dar să iubesc ce mi-e drag!” (“Even if I enter Hell from this day on, / Just let me love what is dear to me!”).  The boundaries created between Ileana and Vartici by spiritual kinship are the principal obstacles to a sexual relationship from Vartici’s perspective. Employing verses that are reminiscent of Radu-vodă’s plea for mercy from Drăgan, Vartici makes clear what Ileana also knows: that she has been a godmother for two generations in his family and that these spiritual kin bonds preclude the intimacy that she desires:
Mai mare m-ai cununat,
La mijloc m-ai retezat, 
Trei copii mi-ai botezat …
Nu ţ-o fi, naşă, păcat
Şi frică dă blestemat?!” 
“Because when I was young, you christened me,
When I was older, you [sponsored my wedding],
In between you [ritually] cut my hair,
You christened my three children …
Isn’t it a sin for you, Godmother,
Aren’t you also afraid of the curse?!”
The ritual context of what a godparent means and the boundaries that spiritual kinship entail are concisely summed up by Vartici’s four consecutive references to Ileana’s past sponsorship.
Să-mbrac ieu d-ale curveşti,
Pintru tine mă gătesc,
Prea frumos să te iubesc!” 
“I’ll take off these princely clothes
And put on my whoring clothes
In order to get myself ready for you,
So I can make love with you just right!”
Although Vartici returns home, he immediately departs, heading for yet another, distant boundary, into the unknown—to the “Tatar land,” “Armenian region,” or “Ţaligrad”  —where he hopes to evade Ileana and his family forever, echoing the disconsolate Drăgan in “Radu-vodă” and the dejected brother in “Lizie Wan” (who, after mortally stabbing his sister, pregnant with his child, aimlessly sets out to sea),  all of them shamed and eternally wandering. Incest destroys relationships and families with a certain finality; as Larry Syndergaard notes, incest ballads “offer no strategy for mitigation or recovery, or for continuance of life in any endurable form after the incest itself.”  Once Vartici has departed, Ileana goes in search of him, usually finding him far away, living with a new wife. She drugs Vartici, and when he awakens to realize that he has been wed to her against his will, he promptly grabs a dagger and stabs himself “Să scape de naşă-sa” (“So he could escape his godmother”).  Ileana follows suit. In incest ballads, as Atkinson notes, stabbing “is a potent symbol of sexual assault, combining penetration with destruction”; and the “phallic nature [of the knife] as a weapon of penetration is more or less inescapable in these texts.”  In “Vartici,” the knife as a weapon of suicide is clearly associated with incest—although initiated by a woman, not the usual male perpetrator. In “The Wedding of Nenad,” when the bloodbrother attempts to seduce the bride, she kills him with a knife: also a metaphor in reverse.
De mai stam niţel pe prag,
Chiar mă dedea de păcat!” 
“I left her and fled!
If I had stood on the threshold even a little longer,
She would have led me to sin!”
And once Ileana has declared her love, Vartici deserts his wife and children, unable to fit any longer into his own world or hers. He simply flees “Ca să scape de păcat”  (“In order to keep from sinning”). Ileana sometimes denounces Vartici, claiming that he desired an adulterous affair.  She reverses the guilt and portrays her own shame as Vartici’s, for which Ştefan-vodă hangs, beheads, or mercilessly stabs him. Ileana then takes her own life. 
Family Versus Spiritual Incest in Oral Narrative Song
The Romanian (and other Balkan) epic songs of incest warn of the fallout from crossing forbidden boundaries. They advocate, through counterexample, behavior that reinforces the foundation of social groups—interpersonal and group relations based on alliances and trust—and the cultural boundaries that are so vital to social survival. The narratives uphold—in dramatic, symbolic, and sometimes inverted terms—the stability and continuity that are essential to traditional society, where marriage, family, and spiritual kin generate critical bonds that can falter and dissolve, bringing devastation and anguish, but where they also have the power to create, reinforce, and sustain social order and communal cohesion.