Grith and Frith (Grið and Friþ)
Chances are that if you’re a heathen, you’ve heard of grith and frith. But is it really as simple as many people make it out to be? Is grith for outsiders and frith for kith and kin? Is grith for utangeard and frith for innangeard? As it turns out with so many other things, it is not so simple, it is more nuanced.
Grith and frith both refer to peace, both refer to peacemaking (griðian, friþsumian) , both refer to peace breaking (griðbrice, friþbræc), and have examples that cross the boundaries of family and outsider. Families could have grith. Outsiders could have frith. So has the whole world gone topsy turvy? No. What you have heard about frith and grith was likely a simplification due to the nuanced way that the two concepts work. That simplification can be correct in application but isn’t always and in most every case it is best to understand the term for what it really is rather than the simplified version.
What are Frith and Grith?
The main difference between Frith and Grith is not who is making the peace with whom but in how long it is going to last, where it is over, what special circumstances it entails, and who is enforcing it. Don’t take it from me though, here’s some sources and analysis.
The Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon Dictionary cites the Cleasby-Vigfusson Icelandic dictionary as saying “friðr is the general word, grið the special, deriving its name from being limited in time or space”.[i] I have not found a more concise definition elsewhere. This also shows the existence of the term in Icelandic and thereby Norse culture, so do not just think this is just an Anglo-Saxon thing.
The Bosworth-Toller defines Friþ as “peace, freedom from molestation, security guaranteed by law to those under special protection”[ii]
The Bosworth-Toller defines Grið as “peace limited to place or time, truce, protection, security, safety.”[iii]
Grith as truce and Frith as peace
“Þonñ nam man grið and frið wið hí.” [iv]
“Then was truce and peace made with them.”[v]
This one sentence shows that they viewed them not interchangeably but in different connotations. They laid down a grith (truce) to make a lasting frith (peace). Having now read the original document in context as well (the Bosworth-Toller citation was incorrect and incomplete so I tracked down the original source to cite it properly) it is plainly obvious that the grith functioned as a limited truce for lasting peace to be formed by treaty and upheld through “gafol” or tribute.[vi]
This is usage is also present also within the Skáldskaparmal of the Prose Edda because the Æsir and Vanir went to war but established a “grið” (truce) before they went into a “friðstefnu” (peace-meeting).[vii] This usage seems to speak volumes that grith should be a function that is temporally limited while frith should be utilized for formal, lasting accords and usage referencing peace in general.
Grith as an enforced or localized peace
Grith was a function which could be enforced in a localized event or area, in essence somewhere that had special rules. Two such ancient extensions of grith were made through the leadership, usually the king, enforcing and ensuring grith or the temple or church ensuring or enforcing grith. In both cases this had special rules to be applied. This concept was called “hand-grið”, basically these special rules were enforced in certain localized areas where they could be under the hand, the enforcement, of those in charge of them.[viii] One could, for example, violate the religious side of grith by fighting in a religious area (feohtlac), by stealing in a religious area (reaflac), or by fornicating in a religious area (unriht hǽmed).[ix] Or the person could violate the rules of the witan or king or the thing which would be a breach of grith. This expands the understanding of grith to include any area which had special conditions or rules that should be obeyed and enforced such as those for religious spaces. It would even apply to hospitality since there were specialized rules and customs involved and it had limitations to what one could and could not do while being guest or host.
By this we can understand that the difference between Frith and Grith is one of permanence and impermanence. The modern generalization of family vs outsiders and innangeard vs utangeard is a simplistic understanding of a nuanced concept and while it has become the common interpretation it is less correct.
Grith and Frith are both peace, but grith is “limited in time and space”. It would apply in any situation where peace, or at least truce, would be applied in a limited capacity or when there were special rules that needed to be followed in that space.
How does this apply to us?
As modern heathens we are unlikely to be making formal and permanent alliances with each other in the same manner as is thought of in the ancient world. Seeing how spread out we are it is unlikely we will live even in the same communities as one another. Much of our pagan time will be spent on online forums but when we do meet in person to conduct rituals together or just to hang out it is likely to be a public place or a private residence; in either case the meet up is probably held under the auspices of some larger pagan group or by a host or a leader. These meet-ups or events would not fall under just frith but would fall squarely under grith. There would apply a spoken or unspoken assurance that to commune with one another there would need to be a truce through that time both in word and in action and in that space the rules would be ensured and enforced by whomever was over the meet-up or even whomever ran the online forum. In the other case, that of a religious space, these areas often have specialized rules and protocol and the grith there would be guided over by the gods themselves but for practicality’s sake enforcement would again fall on whomever was over the rite or the leaders of the local organization who put the rite on. Breaking the rules of these areas or breaking the truce and peace of these areas would be breaking grith.
Our events, our rituals, and our online forums constitute special space that should be guarded and guided to ensure that the grith is maintained in them. That grith should be temporary and limited, it should extend only as far as the ability of the host or organization to enforce it and extend only as long as the people are present under the auspices of that event, ritual, or online forum. Frith would not be limited in that way, it would be necessarily be permanent and should be unlimited by location or time.
In the end, while they are both effectively peace, their subtle differences make them worthwhile for us to explore.
[i] Joseph Bosworth, “grið”, An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, Based On the Manuscript Collections of the Late Joseph Bosworth, Edited by Thomas Northcote Toller (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1898), 490.
[ii] Joseph Bosworth, “friþ”, An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, Based On the Manuscript Collections of the Late Joseph Bosworth, Edited by Thomas Northcote Toller (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1898), 338.
[iii] Joseph Bosworth, “grið”, An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, Based On the Manuscript Collections of the Late Joseph Bosworth, Edited by Thomas Northcote Toller (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1898), 490.
[iv] John Earle, Two of the Saxon Chronicles Parallel, with Supplementary Extracts from the Others (Oxford England: at the Clarendon Press, 1865), 145.
[v] Joseph Bosworth, “grið”, An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, Based On the Manuscript Collections of the Late Joseph Bosworth, Edited by Thomas Northcote Toller (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1898), 490.
[vi] John Earle, Two of the Saxon Chronicles Parallel, with Supplementary Extracts from the Others (Oxford England: at the Clarendon Press, 1865), 145.
Joseph Bosworth, “gafol”, An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, Based On the Manuscript Collections of the Late Joseph Bosworth, Edited by Thomas Northcote Toller (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1898), 358.
[viii] Benjamin Thorpe, editor, Index: “grið”, Ancient Laws and Institutes of England, Volume 1 (England: The Commissioners on the Public Records of the Kingdom, 1840), 702.
[ix] Benjamin Thorpe, editor, Ancient Laws and Institutes of England, Volume 1 (England: The Commissioners on the Public Records of the Kingdom, 1840), 146.