Frith is a tricky subject, its one that comes up often on Heathen blogs, forums, and podcast’s; often it is covered in the most basic outlines. Frith is a familial bond, it’s the basis of the heathen family unit, it is a blood bond(extended to adopted family, which to my mind is blood). So what is it beyond the basic level, surely something so important, something so often discussed has layers and nuance that are rarely touched on. While my co-hosts unpacked this tonight on the show, I’m on vacation so I’ll do it here.
Frith is a natural bond, I’d even after argue its an evolutionary development. The frith bond is something that ensures that the bloodline is posted on and protected. It is an unmitigated call to arms in protection of your kin. That evolutionary drive to protect those that are “us” is formalized in frith. Frith also serves to protect, promote, and propagate orthopraxy, it serves to be the factor that pushes us towards what works over what we wish to work.
Frith was driven out, by necessity, of heathen culture by Christianity, but it died hard and like so much of Heathenry forever altered the face of that religion. Most of us carry some Christian baggage, I say most because there may be heathens with baggage from other religions, and will label people as toxic and attempt to throw off the frith bond with those people. Meanwhile we, often flippantly, extend the comforts of kinship to those that are not of our people. I have friends who I consider clan, but that position is hard earned and even the does not, cannot, put them on the same level as my kin. That foundation of, “this is family they come first”, has never left us on a visceral level, which is good, it means we can begin to rebuild formal frith despite our baggage.
In our world frith places an uneven burden on us, many of us will have competing claims on frith, and unclear obligations due to frith and will go through the painful realization that our families are not rebuilding this with us, and may in fact take advantage of our efforts. For some of us, myself included in that number, the concept of frith runs head long into our law code, and then we see the test of the thing. The call of frith is, to my mind, bigger and more important than the limits of modern law. However modern law, like all law, is the law of the fist. Thus when frith and law run head on, we have a conflict, one we must navigate carefully. We have an obligation to protect and back up our kin, even from the consequences of their actions, as is seen time and again in the lore, folk tales and history of our various folk. Yet in the modern world standing against the forces of law, only endangers the clan, it is a battle we cannot win, against forces unaccustomed to frith law. So what is the heathen to do? Do we stand with, aid and abet a kinsman who has violated the rule of law? I maintain that we do, until that stand threatens the good of the clan. When the force of law would endanger the whole of the clan, then frith, in my opinion, would dictate that the offending party turn themselves over in order to mitigate damage to, and shelter, their folk.
While breaking the law is a broad category, there are many laws on the books, the issue that seems to give most modern heathens the most trouble is what to do about family members who harm other family members. What does the frith bond do to protect the family against those within it who are abusers, molesters, and otherwise predatory? Is this occasion to break frith with that person, or have they broken the frith? First this isn’t an issue tracked statistically by the ancient heathens, we don’t know if they had struggles with these issues, that is a discussion for another time. The framework laid out does seem to offer us some insight though. First I would argue that an individual, either the aggressor or “you”, cannot break frith. The individual can transgress frith, can violate it, but never break it. We see that in the lore, the sagas, and other sources, heinous activities were typically not cause for the breaking frith. They were tragic violations, that is undisputed, but not a “break.” Instead it is my conclusion that breaking frith is a process similar to outlawry. That is the family, lead by the head (matriarch, patriarch, elders, what have you) would take the place of the Chieftain, Lord, King, or Jarl and make a decision to sever frith and cast out the individual who had so grievously violated the frith bond. The individual so cast out, would be without clan, without ancestors, completely alone and severed from the familial luck. In essence, the offender would be dead. I have even heard of cases where when such a decision was made a funeral for the outcast was held, and they were seen as dead. For any decision made in this manner the separation should be complete, and total the obligation that frith places on individuals within the family would require them to honor this decision. Obviously that is not a decision to be made lightly, nor one that an individual can make without the backing of the rest of the can. If there is a chance at reunification, well the repairing of the frith bond would be cause for celebration, it would however require a form of reparation, and again would not be a decision that an individual could make without the backing of the clan.
So what if the clan isn’t willing to make that decision and you are left with a kinsman who is dangerous to the folk? Well there is a thing I have come to accept, and I will quote it here:
That which is right, is not always honorable.
You may find yourself in a situation where you cannot honor the frith bond, and that is bad. You may have to do the “right thing” and excise kin from your life in order to protect yourself, or someone else. That is simply a fact of life. It does not matter how right, understandable or otherwise “good” the decision is, it is dishonorable. You have violated frith, and that is bad, even if it was good. It should be seen as a tragic choice, and not something to be celebrated.
I’ve kind of run out of things to say, I wish I had been able to discuss this live on the podcast, but alas vacation calls.