Frith is an obsolete English word meaning “peace; freedom from molestation, protection; safety, security”. – Wikipedia
Frith is not obsolete to Heathens. We sign our emails, “In frith,” we wish it to each other when we part, and it’s a common blessing on the holidays. It was one of the first unfamiliar concepts I encountered in my discovery of Heathenry, but it resonated with me right away. Frith is a specific kind of peace. It’s not personal zen (which, as far as I can tell anyway, is not something recognized in a religious context for Heathens) or world peace (which would be great, but I’ve never met a Heathen who considers it a realistic possibility), but frith is somewhere in the middle. It’s having everything in harmony between you and your community and the people you consider yours (your “inner guard” as they used to call it).
Love all, trust a few. Do wrong to none. – William Shakespeare
My parents refused to put bumper stickers on their cars – I was never allowed to have one, and even though I love bumper stickers with their quirky self-expression, I have still never put one on my car – and yet when I was in high school my dad once put one on his truck that said, “Think globally, act locally.” The idea meant so much to him that he broke a cardinal family rule to display it on his travels. The concept was easy for me to figure, even at a young age: I can’t solve the world’s problems, but I can make sure my corner of the world runs a little smoother, and in doing so make the world a better place. I see frith being very much like this. It’s remembering the responsibility we have to our own communities – both geographically and the ones we have created through personal and online friendships. It’s keeping our own households in order instead of telling other people who aren’t part of our inner guard how to run theirs. It’s having friends that tell you truths you don’t want to hear because it’s a lot better to get it from them than to stumble in the outside world.
In the old days, people were tied to their physical community (their village or city) much more tightly than we are today, and not just because of our advances in communication and travel. The daily necessities of life were not something a single person could readily provide for themselves. I might raise sheep and spin the wool, and somebody else might make tools in their smithy, and we would need each other for those skills. It was necessary to keep good relations with our neighbors despite arguments or differences in personality or you wouldn’t have what you needed to make life work. Without Amazon.com (the faceless one-stop shop) our ties to other people were obvious and concrete. Now we truly can live as emotional hermits, going to work and coming home, shopping for all our necessities at mega-marts, and keeping people at a distance or cutting ties when it isn’t comfortable to keep them. In fact it seems sometimes that independence for many people is not a state of personal responsibility and “holding one’s own” but a state of being outside the bounds of community, of owing nothing in monetary debt or emotional support. I used to think that way myself, or at least, I used to think that was a goal worth striving for.
But frith says differently. Frith says we need those ties. We need other people, and we need them to need us in return. It’s okay to get help from your inner guard – that’s what they’re for – and it’s necessary to help your inner guard when they need it. I may not need to physically exchange my spun wool for your hammered kettle, but the need for the bonds of community is still a very human thing. “Social creatures,” which scientists will tell us we humans are, don’t simply need proximity, we need to connect.
I’ve wondered if this is why labels have been bandied about in the community so vehemently as we look for some concrete way of drawing lines around our inner guards… and everybody has a different sized village they feel most comfortable claiming. I personally see my inner guard (and therefore my responsibilities of frith) as extending outward in increasingly bigger circles like the rings of a tree — from the inmost ring of my home, to the next ring of my family and good friends, to my extended friends and the organizations I belong to, to my city and my state. I carry more responsibility the deeper in I’m dealing with and less the further outward those circles expand. I can’t save the world (what does that even mean?) no matter how much I’d like to, and I can’t count on a stranger to step in and save me when I need it. I need a community filled with frith.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on frith and community.