Since May 31, 2003
The Old English word frith is related to the words for friend and free. Frith was power that made our forbearers friends towards one another, and free in relation to the rest of the world. Frith is often translated as "peace", but its full meaning extends well beyond peace to cover a large portion of the most meaningful and essential foundations of human social life in more traditional societies. Peace is an outgrowth of frith, resulting from the conditions of frith being met.
The Frith Guild, from illustration from 'Hutchinson's Story of the British Nation', c.1920 (litho)
The three wellsprings of frith are (1) kinship and kindreds, (2) the web of loyalty created among a lord or chieftain and his (occasionally her) folk and (3) the relationships between the folk and their gods, goddesses and other holy wights.
The words frith and sib were often used interchangeably to describe the state of being of people involved in a kindred relationship, and we can easily see the connection in the modern use of the term sibling to indicate a brother or sister. The term frith did not merely indicate the material fact of blood relationship. Rather, it described the essence of the relationship itself: the joys, responsibilities, interdependence, burdens, and benefits that characterized it.
The Frith guilds were the earliest form of guild, which emerged in the sixth and seventh centuries and perhaps stood as the archetype for all guilds that followed. Frith guilds are reflected in the Laws of Ine (688-95), which is the first legal compilation on the British Isles reflecting a jury system by requiring findings be based upon the oath of 12 theigns on a relic. As the original sources of frith were weakened by christianization, the growth of large, impersonal towns instead of small villages, movements of people away from their birth and kinsteads, the growth of merchant and artisan classes of society, and the rise of competing focuses of loyalty. The main purpose of the frith guild was to avenge wrongs and to keep the peace in a lawless age. Some of the general provisions of the frith guilds were:
1. Members of a guild were not to engage in strife with each other; but if they did do so, they were not allowed to bring it before any court for litigation, excepting the court of the Guild itself.
2. If anyone killed a man who was not a member of the Guild, the Guild must help their fellow escape with such provision as they could manage for his well being. Anyone who failed to help when they were able to do so was cast out as a niðing.
3. Every brother of the Guild was obliged to help every other one in lawsuits, by being an oath-helper, by guarding him in court and out.
4. If a Guild-brother was killed, other Guild members must refrain from eating, drinking, or having any social connections with his slayer, and must aid the dead man s heirs in seeking vengeance or restitution.
In essence, frith fills the spaces between people with something that is stronger and more important and more meaningful than mere modern peace, which is nothing more than the absence of strife. If frith were merely an absence of strife, we could not speak of weaving frith from nothingness. Weaving a fabric fills empty space with substance, pattern, and tensile strength by interweaving of many threads into a strong whole. Strife can occur between people who are in frith with each other, though there are limits to the severity of expression allowed. Strife is a natural component of existence. Strife only becomes dangerous when there is no frith, no committed relationship with recognized rules and patterns of behavior, to control and counterbalance it.