© Frigga Asraaf 2021
Frith is becoming a philosophy to me, I realized recently, and I would like to share some of the insights my voyage of discovery on a philosophy of frith brought me so far. What follows are my thoughts and views. As we all are, I too am the sum of many parts like my upbringing and the spirit of times in which I grew up. I was not and still am not aware of many things simply because I never had to deal with them. I am mindful of my white privilege and an expert by experience to be a woman and a person with disabilities.
To me Germanic Heathendom has no doctrine or dogmas and everything could be questioned. I love science and I do love to listen to scholars and to learn from them. However, it is not my intention to re-construct or re-enact the live of our ancestors. There are valuable life lessons to learn from the past, some of which are ageless. But even amongst ageless lessons there are things we need to translate to our time, because we face at least partly different trails and tribulations. We need to face life as we live it today with in mind what was, what is and what is becoming even into a far distant future. We need to confront ourselves with our past to make peace with the future. And we need to realize that one day we will be the past too, so we need to ask ourselves: “Am I a good ancestor?”
A deep love for the earth is one of my innermost motivations. To me, to (take) care for Mother Earth is the core of Germanic Heathendom. About seven years ago, my concerns for the planet were the spark to kindle the prayer circle Flame of Frith (FoF), together with some friends. In the years that followed my concerns increased and when in March 2018 some rebels of Extinction Rebellion (XR) crossed my path, I joined this grassroots movement naturally. Soon the overlap between FoF and XR became clear to me. I’m a frith weaver and a healer, so to become a nonviolent healing and frith activist was a logical next step.
A definition of peace is a state of tranquillity or quiet, without things like disorder, strife or struggle. Nowadays there is a lot of disorder, strife and struggle, to which the COVID-19 pandemic added new layers. Underneath the climate crisis, the depletion of the earth, the exploitation of people, as the result of global capitalism, are still ongoing. Peace is also described a as the absence of violence. To me there is no real peace as long as there are things like factory-farming and laboratory animals. ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’, as Martin Luther King Junior once said. To me this applies not only to humankind, but also to the planet and all other living beings.
The times are grim and uncertain. But already long before the present crisis we were alienated from each other and from the earth. The present pandemic just mercilessly exposes the toxic mind set we live in. The dominant culture in the western world is one of consumption, quick rewards and instant gratification. The increasing effects of humankind on the earth even got a name: the Anthropocene. This is considered to be part of the Holocene, the current geological era. The lifestyle of a large part of humankind continues to disrupt the balance between culture and nature. The endless exploitation of the planet leads to the disruption of ecosystems, a loss of biodiversity and the extinction of entire species. Climate change drives the entire planet to a dangerous tipping point even faster than scientists predicted. A tipping point is the time at which a change or an effect cannot be stopped, so when it comes to our climate it means that it will change drastically and irreversibly. Already, global warming is having a measurable effect on the planet. This will effect the lives of many people, mostly in the global south. And it will lead to mass extinction of people, animals and plants. Large parts of the earth will become inhabitable for future generations if we do not act with haste. We are at the point we have to put the interests of the earth above our own and realize less is more. To speak with Mahatma Gandhi’s words: ‘The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.’
Languages are alive is something to keep in mind, and – like life itself – subject to constant change. Sometimes the meaning of words alter and to me that applies for the term frith. Hardly anything is known about the significance of frith for our Germanic ancestors. However, what little that has been past down resonates with us. We use the word frith in our daily lives and in names of heathen initiatives, like Frithcast, a podcast made by Kate Coldwind and Suzanne Martin and the heathen prayer circle for peace the Flame of Frith, which I am the founder of.
Mostly, when a particular word is the key word of a talk I first like to check dictionaries to be on the same page about the precise meaning and to let a word speak for itself. According to an etymological dictionary the word frith, related to the word free, derives from the old English friðu, friþ. These two and related words in the old Germanic languages mean as much as ‘safe conduct’, ‘good understanding’,‘peace (calm)’, ‘joy’ and ‘well-being’. The origin traces back to the Proto Germanic word *friþu– ‘calm’, ‘protection’ and the Proto Indo-European word *priyas, ‘specific to’ (‘specific to the clan’ or ‘specific to the community’). In our modern day Germanic languages related words for peace are vrede (Dutch), frede (West Frisian), Frieden (German), fred (Danish, Norwegian, Swedish) and friður (Icelandic). The word frith is mentioned in some old texts, but besides the etymology that is almost all we know about it from the past. Translating frith as peace does not do justice to the concept as far as I am concerned. To me the meaning is much broader as I would like to show with this philosophy of frith.
Originally there is the meaning of ‘specific to the community’. In the old days, even more than today, kith and kin was familiar and therefore safe in a predominantly hostile world. In our western countries the role of community has changed. No longer are we always directly dependent on family and community for food and shelter. Most western countries have some sort of welfare system for the poor and unfortunate, although many of these systems are under pressure, because of a shift in views and priorities. Still these systems offer many opportunities for support.
Society and community are considered to be synonyms, but to me they are not. The entire population of a nation-state together form a society. As an individual you are part of that society. At the same time you could belong to several communities, such as family, neighbourhood, school, work, hobby (sports), religion and so on. The West African shaman Malidoma Patrice Somé writes in his book Ritual, Power, Healing and Community: “Whenever several people come together with a common goal, a community is formed. What is needed is a community that meets the natural needs of each of its members.” Most western societies may think they do, but actually they don’t. Unfortunately, the needs of several minorities are consistently disregarded most of the time.
So, I would like to add to the words of Somé: “The natural needs require care and attention of inclusive societies and communities. Needs like being able to feel safe due to the protection frith could offer.” To me this means that without saying people could feel safe and valued and involved regardless of cultural or ethnic background, disability or chronic illness, talent, age, gender identity, gender, sexual orientation, social class or status, religion or belief, and level of income (people living in poverty are at a disadvantage).
If we want all lives to matter
we have to speak up
and do something about lives
that still matter less than other lives:
Within a healthy and resilient community there is affection, love, understanding, mutual respect, peace, honesty, pleasure, trust, well-being and safety. Likely, most members enjoy each others company and feel safe to express themselves without fear of rejection or prejudice. People take care of each other and could overcome disagreements or arguments. Yet, realize that within a society, community and family there always will be people we do not like and not everybody will get along fine. But even if we don’t get along on a personal level, we still should be able to respect each other and to offer each other safety. Because every human being is – or should be – entitled to be treated with the basic level of human dignity.
Also, within smaller communities, like our heathen ones, there is no need to be friends with everybody. Assuming all members of your community will have the same thoughts on issues like life or religion may lead to disappointment. There are plenty of differences among and between heathens. Something I actually like, because it could challenge my way of thinking. In every field (religion, community etc.) there are people all the way from very open minded to rigid inward looking, from religious progressive to conservative, from political left to right, and so on. Despite all these differences within communities, to me one thing is clear: frith means zero tolerance for racism, discrimination, hate, harassment and physical or mental violence. But frith also means to treat everybody with respect and to continue to see people as human beings, even if you don’t share their opinions and behaviours. Yet, to what extent do you respect people who disrespect other people, such as misogynists?
‘Frith, friendship and fun’ sounds great as a slogan for a heathen gathering. It is great, but to me frith is more complex than ‘simple’ friendship and fun. And, therefore, frith reaches out far beyond friendship and fun. Frith is inclusive! To eliminate things like prejudice, discrimination, racism and exclusion you must first recognize their existence. And then you need to ask yourself if you understand what the effects are on a person’s life. Be aware the only ones who can tell us what this truly implies, are the people who experience it on a daily basis. The more I listen to people who tell me about their experiences the more I realize how little I know and how much I still have to learn. Therefore, to claim to be inclusive as an individual (or a group or community) is not an end point. It is the beginning of a learning path, that may last the rest of our lives. A path that requires skills, like listening unprejudiced, talking with people (instead of talking about people), and accepting you may feel uncomfortable about what people will share. It also requires looking in the mirror over and over again, and maybe even more if one thinks to be on track and to be inclusive. Safe(r) space, frith space, requires permanent commitment.
Hail Loki, master of the magic mirror!
Hail Sygin, mistress of the magic mirror!
Offer us the mirror of our own hunamity.
Offer us the mirror of our past.
Offer us the mirror of our present.
Offer us the mirror of the next nine generations.
Women, people of colour, indigenous people, LBGTIQ+ people, disabled people and poor people often matter less. All these groups of people have been discriminated against and been excluded for centuries, often even by law. In addition, people of colour and indigenous people
have to endure systemic racism. And all of this continues up to today. Let sink in for a moment what this means: hundreds of years of pain and trauma, generation after generation. It is beyond my comprehension. To gain more insight in racism and its effects on people I started reading books and articles, and listening to videos and podcast’s. More and more I become aware that racism is not only about white normativity, but it is about the normativity of white straight able-bodied cisgender men with a middle class income. So, this toxic normativity not only effects people of colour, the same mechanism also effects women, LBGTIQ+ people, disabled people and poor people.
When I looked back to certain things that happened the last couple of years in the light of this dominance of white straight able-bodied cisgender men with a middle class income, some scales fell from my eyes. I am a woman who dares to speak up, which often isn’t appreciated. And in some situations the fact that I also have a chronic illness must have played a role as well. By now, I more or less dare to admit to myself that I am not crazy to think this way. It hurts to realize that other women still follow the norms of white male dominance. Including myself, women still too often live up to please society and live up to the expectations of society and the norms of white male dominance. Even while it is probably unconscious both for the women and the men involved. Here too things are changing, but unfortunately women don’t always support each other.
At the age of 62 I begin to understand how important feminism still is, although it is no longer up to women only anymore. Women can be emancipated and women’s rights are strengthened, but as long as men stay behind, it remains an attempt to empty an ocean with a thimble. Here too it’s about generating real change in the mind set of a society, the necessary shift from ‘protect your daughter’ to ‘educate your son’.
The last couple of decades much has been achieved, including better human rights in general, women’s rights, disabled people’s rights and LBGTIQ+ people’s rights. But it is not enough yet, especially not as long as rights on paper are not the same as actual rights in life.
And with the rise of populism, of right-wing extremist ideology and the creepy union with new agers, anti-vaxxers, light workers, and conspiracy thinkers, many of these achievements are at risk. Yet I feel the need to quote the Dutch sociologist Willem Schinkel: “There is a lot of focus on conspiracy thinking because, people know they are being screwed. That’s the truth in conspiracy thinking.” (2)
Eliminating institutional racism begins with recognizing it exists.
As a frith weaver I stand with people of colour.
I am working to become more aware of institutional racism.
I am working to unravel my own colonial thinking.
I am working to become more aware about intersectionality.
I strive to be mindful of my white privilege.
I want to use my privilege to support people of colour.
To do so I will listen to life experiences of people of colour.
I ask people of colour to allow me to support them
in ways that are beneficial for them.
I strive to do better in the days going forward.
More and more minorities claim their rightful place in society, although it often takes a fight to get it. Resistance meets resistance, I sometimes say. Speaking with the words of Nicholas Klein: ‘First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.’ (3)
People who rise up using nonviolent resistance can often count on violent opposition of people who are unaware, in denial and/or privileged. Common tactics used to undermine people are pretending your are insignificant, making fun of you and humiliating you. Words can be weapons and do damage. Healing is needed. But before a new balance will be found, the scales sometimes tip. Patience and understanding are required. If you get upset because, for example, LBGTIQ+ people demand in your eyes unrealistic gender-neutral language, take a look inside first. You may think their demand is unrealistic, but would it hurt you in any way to meet it? You could also be compassionate by recognizing the problems, in this case, LBGTIQ+ people experience and by acknowledging the trauma they suffer. As a disabled woman I can tell it makes a huge difference if people acknowledge the effects of my chronic illness on my abilities. Even if in the end, for example, I still can not join an event. Because I feel seen and heard, and therefore accepted as a human being.
Voices for the planet grow louder. They demand climate justice and to make ecocide an international crime. ‘We only need to remember ‘our extraordinary capacity for altruism and our remarkably social nature are the central, crucial facts about human kind’ (Monbiot 2018) and to me, amongst other things, this means to change our mind set from short-term thinking to long-term thinking.
Flowery meadows, verdant forests,
flourishing wetlands, fresh and fertile waters.
All ways of life that honour and value the earth,
plants, animals and people over profit.
Free and safe drinking water as a right for all living beings.
Clean soil, clean air and clean water.
Growing back trees and forests.
Conscious consuming, recycle and replant.
Legal rights for rivers!
Legal rights for animals!
Legal rights for our seas!
Legal rights for nature!
Legal rights for the planet!
The world needs story tellers, activists, change-makers and artists who rise up for Mother Earth! Every second of every day we could choose to be the change we want. One could be an activist in many ways: a revolutionary activist, a spiritual activist, a healing activist, a frith activist or an earth activist. Some rise up out on the streets, others make art, some perform ceremonies. All are of the same value, complementing and supporting each other and they could intertwine in an action. So now and then I rise up on the streets with Extinction Rebellion NL, however the heart of my activism is healing and frith through ceremonies that connect. In my mother tongue, I call it bezielde verbinding. The Dutch word bezielen means ‘to inspire’, ‘to animate’ and verbinding ‘connection’ which leads to ‘an inspiring and animating connection’, but mostly I translate it as ‘community connection’.
Frith ceremonies could be an act of activism to me, even the smallest ones, like ligthing a candle for peace. Frith keepers of the other worlds call us to the frith garth between the worlds. A place were the everlasting Flame of Frith is kept alive through prayer and ceremony. Every time we lit a frith candle, with every frith prayer and each time we perform a frith ceremony we feed the fire of peace. All are welcome: all inclined to honour frith from this world and the other worlds people, ancestors and descendants, gods and spirits of all traditions, beliefs and philosophies of life, willing to work together for the good of all living beings, from the smallest living creature to the earth itself.
All you need is your imagination to join fellow frith keepers in the frith garth. Just imagine a safe space between the world. Picture a bend in the river. On one side of the frith garth the river forms a natural border and on the other side there is a natural fence of trees. The frith fire is burning brightly. Some frith keepers sit near the fire and tell each other stories. Others are singing soul songs on the beat of drums or dance their prayer for the earth. Some found themselves a quiet spot near a tree.
Ancestor and Descendant worship
Amongst the frith keepers of the other worlds are forebears. Ancestor veneration is part of the heart of heathendom, and many other religions, and one of the keys to our future. Frith in our time and age requires not only to listen to the voices of ancestors, but also to become silent to hear the soft whispers of generations to come. The title of a new book of the philosopher Roman Krznaric The Good Ancestor resonates deeply with me: ‘The realization that our fleeting existence is dwarfed by the immense span of cosmic history, freeing our minds to look far into the past and beyond our own lives into the distant future.’ It feels like the ancestors are speaking to me through this book and telling me to grow from only ancestor worship into ancestor and descendant worship.
As the living we stand in between them and we are both heirs and testators. Again to speak in the ways of wyrd: what was, what is and what is becoming. The ancestors whisper in the winds to switch from short-term thinking to long-term thinking, and to restore frith with ourselves, with each other, with flora, with fauna, with Mother Earth. Besides this we should also consider there is more between heaven and earth, some might call it spirituality and some might call it the Other Worlds. Our ancestors urge us to take the interest and well-being of the next nine generations into account with every decision you make. As I understood we should honour the First Nation Haudenosaunee in the USA for this philosophy. They say we should consider the impact of our lifestyle today on seven generations into the future to leave them a healthy and thriving planet. My germanic ancestors whisper ‘the next nine generations’, for nine is one of our magical numbers.
According to Krznaric the Swedish schoolgirl and climate activist Greta Thunberg and her movement call for intergenerational justice ‘a fair balance between meeting the needs of current and future generations, and she is looking for ways to defend the interests of tomorrow’s citizens, within today’s political institutions.’ (4) Taking responsibility for ones actions is considered one of the core values of heathendom. To me kids are right to call upon us to take our responsibilities for intergenerational justice.
Hail to our fore-bears!
We hail ancient mother
Hail ancient fathers!
We hail grandchildren!
We hail children’s grandchildren!
Hail to the next nine generations!
We work our way through weft and warp
to design a pattern of balance and peace.
We tell our tales of times to come!
Of all that is worth living and loving for:
a healthy and thriving planet and
flourishing and resilient communities.
We uphold frith with head, heart and hands.
Philosophy is an everlasting conversation with all thinkers across the boundaries of time and space. (5) Which means that we have to keep questioning ourselves and each other. And we will have to keep re-examining what our answer will be to the question: “Am I a good ancestor?”
Last but not least I would like to express gratitude. Foggy brains and dyslexia often make it difficult for me to express myself in ways I would like, even more in a foreign language. With the help of friends my writings become much better. For my philosophy of frith I would like to thank Jochem Verdonk, both for sharing his knowledge and experience as a queer and disability activist and for improving language and grammar.
First published Spring Equinox Online Festival Pagan Federation
Brandt, Stefaan Van – Het voordeel van de twijfel, hoe filosofie je leven kan veranderen – Uitgeverij Epo, Berchem, België 2019
Extinction Rebellion – Nu het nog kan – De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam 2020
Krznaric, Roman – The Good Ancestor, How to thing long term in a short-term world – Ebury Publishing, United Kingdom 2020
Monbiot, George – Out of the Wreckage, a new politics for an age of crisis – Verso Books, Brooklyn, USA 2018
Somé, Malidoma Patrice – De kracht van rituelen, Wat betekenen zij voor mens en samenleving – Kosmos–Z&K Uitgevers, Utrecht/Antwerpen 1996
Lex Bohlmeijer in gesprek met Willem Schinkel – Welkom in de eeuw van de necropolitiek, waar bedrijven én staat over lijken gaan – De Corespondent, The Netherlands 2021
Online Etymology Dictionary
1 Unless stated otherwise, all lines in italics are Flame of Frith texts
2 Willem Schinkel: ‘Er is veel aandacht voor complotdenken, omdat mensen weten dat ze genaaid worden. Dat is de waarheid die in het complotdenken zit.”
3 Nicholas Klein at a convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America in 1918.
4 Krznaric, The Good Ancestor, 2020
5 Brandt, Stefaan Van – Het voordeel van de twijfel, hoe filosofie je leven kan veranderen – Uitgeverij Epo, Berchem, België 2019