More Than Apples, We Need Frith

I ache to experience it. And I long for a kindred where frith is central. It seems in short supply in my own family.


From the Urban Dictionary entry for Frith:

Frith is an Old English word that means Peace and Freedom; but means so much more. It is an important concept in the religion of Asatru. It might be described as a combination of loyalty, honor, hospitality, and support. It is the obligation to one’s community, friends, and family to consider their welfare in your actions, and not to set out to harm them.

[And this example which shows the use of the word] Our forebears valued frith almost more than anything else.


But why do I say we need “more than apples?” What do apples have to do with anything?

Ilja_Jefimowitsch_Repin_002
Ilja Repin, Apples and Leaves, 1879.

I recently watched an extremely sad documentary, God Knows Where I Am, the story of Linda Bishop, a woman in her early 60s struggling with severe mental illness who ends up living on rainwater, snow melt, and apples for four months, during an extremely severe winter in New Hampshire, with no power, no running water. She broke into an unoccupied farmhouse for shelter and eventually starved to death as the apples ran out. She kept a journal until she was too weak to write.

Apples were essential to Linda. And that apple tree was probably the only bright and generous being in her universe, during those last months of her life. It feed her through most of the winter until all the apples were gone. The apples were essential to her survival, but that fabled milk of human kindness was more important yet, and of that, there was none.

This poor woman was not miles away from nowhere. There were neighbors just across the street. People drove past this unoccupied farmhouse every day. You cannot tell me that no one in that neighborhood ever saw this woman wandering to the nearby stream or the apple tree, while the weather still permitted. Or that they never saw her in the attic window where she looked out upon the world and read the cast off books she’d found there.

What kind of people, what kind of society would allow this woman (and others) to live and die in such a manner?

A people without frith, that’s what.

I imagine that Linda–as a mentally ill woman–had been rebuffed, scorned, and mistreated enough so that she was unable to reach out to other humans, even as her situation became dire. Yes, she dreamt of rescue by an imaginary lover, but when he did not appear by Christmas, she seems to have given up hope.

Remember that quote from Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire? She says, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” This is her last line as she’s carted off to an institution after having been abused and raped by her brother-in-law. Linda Bishop had probably given up on any expectations of “kind strangers.” She was clearly afraid of people and there may have been a good reason for that.

We all hope that acts of violent abuse are at the further end of the spectrum of human cruelty and we hope that they are rare. But great damage can be done, especially to someone who is vulnerable, by an sequence of dismissive, uncaring, or callous actions. Put-downs, dismissals, writing someone off, not listening or paying attention to the emotional truth at the core of a confused narrative–such things can lead a person to back off from the hope of kindness from others. In fact, it hurts too much to hope!

But if there were a greater emphasis, in all of us, on cultivating and enacting social values such as the kind contained by the word “frith”–loyalty, honor, hospitality, peace, support, freedom (with responsibility)–perhaps fewer people would fall through the cracks and perhaps more people would feel they had a respected and dignified place at the community “table,” even if they were damaged, broken, or had been cast off or cast out in some way (too old, too disabled, too poor, too whatever else). For me, frith has a resonance with “aloha,” a word that means much more than just “love” or “good-bye” in ‘Olelo Hawai’i (Hawaiian language).

It would seem to make common sense that in order to receive frith, you would have to extend it to others–and so I do. But that only works when there is a shared set of values, the possibility of reciprocity. Otherwise, all such efforts may be doomed.

And so I ask, where are those who are doing their best to inclusively (as in The Troth, Heathens Against Hate, and various stray Lokeans) live by frith, to establish and cherish familial and chosen kindred? And is there anyone out there in these here parts? And can I have some of what you’re having too?

Apples, I’ve got.

I can share.

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