Understanding Frith

Frith has been on my mind a lot lately, and how beautifully complicated the concept is. In Heathenry it is the concept that encourages me and challenges me the most. Frith is the word we use to describe the spiritual contract of kinship between folk. It is being there, being selfless, and being aware of other people and their needs and putting those needs above your own. We understand this most wholly by comparing it to family. That old saying “You don’t have to like them, but you have to love them” could describe frith. You can have a screaming match with your brother over politics and be angry at him over a Facebook comment all day, but if he called you at 4AM to bail him out of jail you wouldnt give it a second thought. You’d just ask for the address and grab your keys, even if you had not spoken to him in months. That is frith.

Chosen family gives and receives frith: best friends and beloved neighbors, for example. To some it is solemn and quiet. To other’s it's pounding chests and bonfire oaths. What it is, most simply, is connection to another more important than the self. It isn’t something you give away lightly and it isn’t something given to you without being earned. Frith is something I seriously desire to build and yet struggle to maintain, (sometimes with the same people). Whenever I get confused I look at the description of Frith written by Eric McSwain of the Ida Plainsmen:

Frith is probably the most misunderstood & undervalued concept in Heathenry, and is also a very fundamental component of it. Some authors assert that it is THE fundamental concept, the soul of the northman. Equating frith to family is a fallacy in modern society, though it was absolutely true for our ancestors. In ancient times, the family WAS inner yard, always. Not so now. Gronbech describes frith as some combination of; trust, loyalty, love, respect, peace, security, understanding, etc... Frith is a state of mutual selflessness that exists with those of your innangard (inner-yard). That means that you always put the needs of your inner above your own needs. ALWAYS. Those of your inner also put you above their own needs. It is explicitly mutual. You are responsible for their deeds, and they are responsible for yours. If they make an oath and can't keep it, you better help because it is your responsibility as well! There are not varying flavors (different variations) of frith, but there may be varying strengths. You either share it with someone, or you don't. Frith-breaking and oath-breaking were the two worst offenses a northman could commit. Frith requires that frith be maintained. Breaking of frith is not something that can be done with little consideration, and some argue that the individual can't determine if someone has truly broken frith. It is contended that only the tribal/clan leader can make that determination. You must fully understand this concept in order to fully understand who your inner yard is. Who, among your friends and family, meets the criteria above?

The challenge for me is understanding that frith doesn’t always mean smooth sailing. You can have frith with Kin (Heathen and non Heathen alike) and have trouble just holding basic small talk. It isn’t about your lives being easy together. It isn’t about love either. It is about knowing that person has a role in your life that demands the best you can give them when it is needed most. Would you house them if they were evicted? Would you find help for them if they fell ill? Would you do whatever you could when needs arose that went above the everyday wishes of wontedness? Does caring for them keep peace in your family and Kindred is it better for the tribe at large? I know there are complicared relationships in my own life that certainly maintain frith. It might be the only thing that keeps us connected. But it is more real, more poignant, and more important than anything on a Hallmark Card or attendance at a Birthday Party. It is certainty of each other's import in your lives.

As you read this you might be cocking your heads and raising your eyebrows. Maybe you struggle with it as well? Maybe you aren’t sure what my point is? I’m not sure I am either, but as a newer Heathen learning this concept and applying it to the modern world I have a lot of meditation ahead on the idea. It is something I crave to understand. It is something that makes me better. And it is something that makes our communities and families better, when it is understood and honored. That alone makes the confusion worth it.

#frith #essay #Jenna

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