When it comes to ethics, Heathens have a unique view of what is “good” and what is “evil” compared to what is common in modern society. Due to their tribal nature, the communities of the ancient Germanic peoples were small, and each man, woman, and child contributed to each other’s survival. Consequently, a system of morality developed that emphasized the need to work together, while de-emphasizing the rugged individualism common to modern, Western society. At the center of this morality is a concept called frith.
What is frith?
In dictionaries today, the word “frith” (ON friðr, OE friþ) is defined as an archaic term for “peace” or “security.” The true meaning is more complex, however. Historically, it evoked a sense of “reciprocal inviolability” — that is, those who were frith-bound to each other agreed not to cause physical harm to each other, no matter how much they disagreed or argued. They could neither wound, maim, nor kill each other; if they did, even accidentally, they could be considered frith-breakers and cast out from society as outlaws. People who share frith-bonds were most likely related by blood or marriage. Bonds of frith usually extended to members of other homesteads in a village, but rarely beyond that.
What does frith look like in modern day?
Most modern Heathens no longer live in villages of only 2-4 homesteads, but instead live in cities and towns, and they will interact with many, many more people than an ancient Germanic person ever did throughout their lives. A modern household (also called a hearth) may not even be made up of individuals who are related to each other, whether by blood or marriage. Moreover, society has developed to the point where we know “harm” can be more than physical, but also mental and emotional.
But most importantly, the modern Heathen faces a particular cultural struggle, especially in Western societies: Most non-Heathens are unaware of the concept of frith. Even if a non-Heathen person upholds frith to a certain degree, they will not know to call it frith. Since frith is reciprocal, there can be no frith-bond if one party does not recognize frith or strive to uphold it.
A point of contention among some Heathens today is whether frith is still a valid concept considering the aforementioned challenges. Another debate is whether frith can be intentional mindfulness or if it must be intrinsic to a lifestyle. It is not within the scope of this website to make an argument for or against either side. Instead, we can only present one potential definition of frith for the modern day, based on the old one: “A mutual agreement to avoid causing each other physical, emotional, and mental harm; and to avoid negatively affecting each other’s honor, worth, and luck.” It is up to you to decide if such an agreement can be established and maintained between people, Heathen or non-Heathen, in the modern age.
- Honour, Exchange and Violence in Beowulf — Peter S. Baker
- The Hostages of the Northmen: From the Viking Age to the Middle Ages — Stefan Olsson