Frith

In modern heathendom one often hears the word frith. As a concept dear to the hearts of our forebears, this is as it should be. Unfortunately, like so many words in our language, frith fell into disuse for several years, so that many modern heathen only barely understand its full meaning. To better understand the word frith, then, it may well be a good idea to look at both its origins and its meaning in Old English.

The word frith derives ultimately from Proto-Indo-Euroepean *priyas, "one's own (as in one's own kindred or one's community)." From this root also derived many other words, such as Old English fréodom (our modern word freedom), frigian ("to love"), and Fréa ("lord," "the god FreyR"), each with underlying connotations of belonging to a greater whole, such as a household or a community or a tribe--any group of people a person could call "one's own."

According to John Clark Hall's A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, the Old English word friþ meant: 1. peace, tranqility; 2. security, refuge; 3. privilege of special protection and the penalty for the breach of it; 4. the restoration of rights to an outlaw. The first meaning,"peace, tranquility," appears to be the way most heathen use frith today.

Deriving from PIE *priyas, frith's original meaning was probably that of "the peace enjoyed while among one's own (that is, one's family or tribe)," this naturally led to secondary meanings of "security" and "refuge"--if a person cannot be safe among "one's own," then where can he be safe? Frith as the peace and security guaranteed by membership in a community can be seen in its meaning as "the restoration of rights to an outlaw." Among the ancient Germanic peoples an outlaw was someone who, having committed a crime, was declared as being outside the law, or no longer a part of society. As such he had no rights as an individual whatsoever, and outlaws could even be killed without fear of prosecution for murder. In restoring an outlaw his rights, he was then made a member of society once again; hence, he could once again partake of the frith.

In Old English and the other Germanic languages frith appears to have always carried with it connotations of "security, refuge," even when it was used to mean "peace." This is borne out by various compounds in which the word appears. The Old English word friþgeard basically meant "asylum, sanctuary" and appears to have been used for areas cordoned off for religious use. A friþgeard would then be any enclosed area specifically dedicated to the worship of the gods. From Icelandic sources we know that violence (beyond the violence necessary to perform sacrifices) was forbidden on holy ground, and there was no reason to believe that this was not true of the other Germanic peoples as well. With violence banned in holy places, then, a friþgeard would not only be a place of peace, but of security and refuge as well.

Another compound which utilizes both of the major meanings of frith is the Old English word friþgield (in modern English, frithguild). In Anglo-Saxon England the frithguilds were groups of men charged with keeping the peace; as such they are the forerunner of both England's mediaeval watchmen and modern day police force. Essentially the frithguilds insured that the frith was not broken--that the community as a whole remained peaceful--and in doing so insured that the community was a "secure refuge" for those who lived in it.

Frith's meanings of "peace" and "security," then, cannot be separated. When used to mean "peace," frith still carries the sense of being secure and free from harm. Similarly, when used to mean "security," frith still carries with it the sense of being peaceful and free from violence or hostility. This concept has not entiredly died out among the Germanic peoples, as today we are still inclined to refer to police officers as "peace officers."

Frith and Law

The implications of frith go farther than what it many seem by simply looking at the word's etymology and meanings. To further understand frith we should perhaps examine its relationship to the concept of law. The elder heathen saw law as the collective customs of the tribe, developed out of the collective deeds of the tribe and set by the precedents of the past. This concept of law survives somewhat in English Common Law, as well as in the United States Supreme Court, who must base their decisions upon a precedent set in the past (the Constitution). As it is difficult to separate an individual's deeds from the individual, the ancient Germanic peoples also found it hard to separate the tribe's customs from the tribe; hence to some degree the law was seen as the tribe as well. Frith, as the state of peace and security which allows the community to surivive, is then also a state which allows the law--the tribe and its customs--to survive. It is well, then, that police officers should be called "peace officers."

While the heathen concept of law still exists in the governments of all Germanic peoples, it does so beside a rival concept of law inherited from Christianity This concept of law dictates that the "Law" is simply a set of regulations handed down by a higher power (that is, Yahwe). It is reflected in both the governments of the ancient Hebrews, where the monarchs (such as David and Solomon)--as Yahwe's representatives on Earth--could create laws simply by their decrees, and Renaisssance Europe (particularly France), where monarchs ruled by "divine right." In heathen terms, law develops out of the past actions of the tribe, so that every past member of the tribe can be credited with its creation. In modern Judaeo-Christian terms, on the other hand, law is simply a set of regulations handed down to society by a higher power (such as a governing body, like Congress, or an absolute monarch). It is perhaps well to call the former concept law and the latter concept statute.

The difference between law and statute can be seen better when viewed from the standpoint of preserving frith. As heathen law is both the collective deeds of the tribe and the tribe itself, it must by force be concerned with maintaining the peace and security of the tribe--literally the frith. While in theory statute should concern itself with the preservation of society, it is a fact that it does not always do so. As statute is simply the decrees of a single ruler or a group of rulers, there is little to stop those in power from instituting statutes that might well do violence to society. We need look no further than the absolute monarchs of Renaissance France, who lived in the luxury of a palace while the French peasants slowly starved to death in crude huts (it must be kept in mind that this eventually resulted in the French Revolution). While law must preserve the frith, statute does not necessarily need to do so.

Proof of this can be seen in the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings of the 1940s and 1950s. In theory, HUAC, as a committee of the United States Congress, operated under the principles of the Constitution (THE Law). In reality, they operated under a different set of rules (their own peculiar "statutes," many of which existed nowhere other than the Congressman's heads), often in direct conflict with the Constitution. Suspected Commuists called before HUAC were more often than not presumed guilty until proven innocent, while innuendo and hearsay were sometimes sufficient "evidence" to "convict" an individual of Communism. Taking the Fifth Amendment could result in the individual being charged with "contempt of Congress," while a person's First Amendment rights to express his own political views often were ignored. Not only did all of this violate the Law (that is, it was unconstitutional), but it violated the peace and security--the frith--of many individuals as well. As a result of the HUAC hearings, many people lost their careers, some of whom in turn left the country or committed suicide. At the same time many Americans--guilty of no more than being a New Deal Democrat--were frightened to express their own political views for fear of being labelled a "premature anti-Fascist" or a "Left wing bleeding heart." Operating under their own "statutes," HUAC and other "Red baiting" individuals had compromised the frith of the United States.

The conflict between law and statute can even be seen in today's attitudes towards officers of the law. The frithguilds of Anglo-Saxon England were essentially the forerunner of the modern day police department and can in many ways be considered an early equivalent. As the word friþgield shows, their primary duty was to see that the frith was not broken. They insured that members of the community continued to treat each other as "their own" and did not wreak havoc on each other as they might the member of an enemy community. The frithguild, then, saw that the community remained a peaceful, united whole, as opposed to disunited factions that were at constant war with each other. As keepers of the peace, the average Anglo-Saxon proabably looked up to and respected the frithguildsmen as an important part of society.

The modern day police department still retains some of the spirit of the frithguild. We still refer to police officers as "officers of the peace" and the phrase keeping the peace is still used of maintaining law and order. Unfortunately, as our society still retains the concept of statute or "law" as regulations handed down by a higher power, many Americans tend to view police officers not as keepers of the peace, but as enforcers of statutes handed down from on high. This view may well be compounded by the phrase law enforcement used to refer collectively to police officers, sheriffs, U. S. Marshals, G-Men--many people mistakenly equating law with statute. The end result of this view is both resentment and a lack of respect for officers of the peace, where the individual is apt to regard the police officer not as "one of the tribe" there to defend his right to peace and security, but as an "outlander" there to arrest him for violation of statute. Such feelings, no doubt, make the police officer's job harder to perform--a situation hardly coducive to preservation of the frith.

Learning From Frith

The lesson of frith is that in order for a community to survive, a sense of peace and security--literally frith--must be maintained. This is an epsecially important lesson for modern heathen to learn. The past several years have seen many disputes rise in heathendom, often over political or theological differences of little importance in the long run. These disputes would not be a threat to frith if they were conducted in a sane, rational manner. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. At different times individuals have brought rumour mongering and outright lies into play, and have sometimes even played one faction against the other. Such behaviour not only threatens to dirupt the frith of heathendom, but is also unworthy of a religion for which honour is supposedly a cardinal virtue. Not only does such behaviour disrupt frith, thus endangering the viability of heathendom, but it also demeans the religion itself so that outsiders are less inclined to join us, let alone be friendly towards us. Ultimately this could thwart any hope of heathendom once again becoming a healthy, flourishing religion.

Heathendom must then insure that its frith remains whole. This can be done simply by always acting in an honourable fashion--even when one disagrees with another's point of view. When someone insists upon acting with dishonour, it is up to we heathen to see to it that he is suitably punished--that is, "outlawed" or ostracized. Here I must stress that someone is NOT "acting with dishonour" simply because his political or theological views disagree with your own.

Our forebears valued frith almost more than anything else. If we are to truly revive thier religion and their world view, then we must insure tha our own frith be maintained above all else. If heathendom is to survive at all, we must see to it that frith, that combined sense of peace and security, prevails among us.