Posted by: justblade | June 15, 2009

Frith

posted as part of International Pagan Values Blogging Month 2009

Many virtues generally discussed in ethics and moral philosophy are framed as qualities of individuals. Understandably, many Heathen values are similarly focussed on the actions of individuals, including honour, truthfulness, generosity and self-rule. The heroic poems from which many are derived focus on the actions of an individual (both good and bad), and as Heathens we are influenced as much by our current context as by values expressed in the lore.

Frith is different. Frith is a characteristic of a community, not of an individual. Our Troth volume 2 (rev ed)  has this definition of frith in the Word Hoard –

“frithful security or ‘reciprocal inviolability’ as Vilhelm Groenbech put it, Derived from the PIE root *priyas, ‘one’s own’; frith is etymologically ‘the state of affairs among one’s own kinfolk or tribe.’ Frith is sometimes translated as ‘peace’ but frith is not necessarily the absence of strife; as people in frith can and do disagree, and people may have to fight to defend the frith against outside enemies. Rather frith is a dynamic state of affairs, established and maintained by the bonds of oath and kinship, in which potential strife is channelled constructively and mutual respect is maintained. This is easier said than done.” (p. 499-500)

It contrasts with grith, which is also translated as ‘peace’ and ‘protection,’ however grith differs in that it is generally understood to be imposed by the mandate of one person’s orders, a law or custom associated with a place or event, and most often used in the context of truces, negotiations and specific regions where peace was enforced. (ibid p.502)

Frith presents an opportunity for Heathen values to be radical, in the sense of turning the focus to the community as a unit of ethical activity. Western ethical philosophy has traditionally also focussed primarily on the actions of individuals as ethical actors, and only by extension the actions of whole communities.  Frith is radically a quality of a community and cannot be imposed by an individual or edict. Where an individual mandates that people play together nicely then it is grith, not frith.

Many of us live in Western countries heavily influenced by individualism. Frith is a value that it is simply not possible to ‘do’ on one’s own. It is something that can only ‘become’ among a group of people. It involves building of trust between people and eschewing the ‘rugged individual’ stereotype enamoured of some Heathens early in the modern revival (and still cherished by some Heathens now). The process of creating Heathen community necessarily involves care,  compromise, reciprocity and even (shock horror) love to build trust, not imposing one’s own will on a group by force of physical strength or personality or by volume of speech. Trust in such a community, an innangarth, can be tested by the extent to which people feel comfortable to express themselves, argue, be wrong, make mistakes and remain accepted within that group. These are characteristics of a community by which a frithstead might be recognised. Frith as a community value gives Heathens the opportunity and poses the challenge to move beyond the individualism of the world around us and make a stand for bonds of trust between people not imposed by the will of one person or law, but are generated in the process of relationship.

That’s the value of frith. How about it?

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Responses

  1. Thank you so much for your thoughts.

    May our frithsteads flow with abundance, peace and plenty.

  2. Thanks for this article, and this blog, as well.
    I would like to link it in our forum, – http://www.eldaring.de – would that be ok?

  3. Hi Ulrike and thank you – I would be delighted for you to link to it on the Eldaring website.


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