Frith and the Thornish Hall

By Jack Wolf

In a tribal hall there should be Frith. Frith is an old word which has many layers of meaning depending on the individual who may be pondering it. It is much like honor in that way; subtle and complex – yet with a basic meaning that anyone should be able to grasp.

Frith is a concept which when understood leads to a system of balance and good intentions among human beings. In its most basic form the term Frith describes a situation in which persons of a specific relation to one another (blood, familial or oathed) may rely on an atmosphere of security, safety and mutual respect.  Frith may also be extended to include those who are not of direct relation to a specific tribe – under the customs of ritual interaction and of hospitality.

Frith is a way of regarding and treating other beings (not just human ones) with dignity and respect. The protections of Frith are bestowed upon those who are deemed worthy to receive it.

In the Thornish way of thinking at least, and of course I can only speak to the Thornish way here in this article –  those who are allowed the circle of Frith within should have respect for the folk who extended it to them and to the premises in which Frith is held.

A person to whom Frith is extended should treat the folk of the host lodge with respect and honor. Naturally this will be reciprocated.

A person should not speak against the generosity of one’s host or the quality of the guests in his hall. They are after all, guests.

A person, in recognition of the nature of Frith, should always be respectful of all others within its sacred bounds.

Those who break Frith; who disrespect the hall, should be immediately expelled.

The modern way of the ‘soft’ human being should be thoroughly disregarded. Where insult has occurred there is little room for compromise.

Intentional Insult must bear consequences. It is the way of our ancestors.

In the Thornish way there is a custom that all Thornish people have adopted. It is the way of the Frith-Knife. A Frith-Knife is a special kind of knife which is often bestowed upon new Learners in the Thornish tradition. It is a ritual blade which can be used in ceremony but it is also often used for practical purposes as well. Thornish people often wear their Frith –Knife when they are in traditional ceremony and sometimes this might include the sacred circle of Frith that attends certain rituals or moots.

Not all people understand this way when they first hear about it. Those who fail to grasp the inherent ideals of Thornish thought will question the need for such an implement and others, outsiders will perhaps have difficulty in fathoming how the word Frith (a protected circle of respect, peace and safety) and the word knife can go together in such a situation. Some pagan people who identify as Heathen – in particular – may have difficulty with this concept.

There is a reason that in Thornish culture the Frith-Knife is permitted within the bounds of sacred places and sanctuaries: Two reasons in fact. The first one is that the Frith-Knife is a veritable symbol of peace among the Thornish people. The Frith-Knife is a symbol that the peace will be kept – and is a warning to those who might consider breaking the peace.

The second reason is that in keeping with an old Thornish saying: “A Shar should always have his blade close at hand, for what is a steward without the tools of balance?” It is seen as being very important that a Shar (the term for a Thornish initiate) hold his or her sacred blade close. It is much more than a tool but also a sacred symbol of one’s duty as a steward of the land.

Some traditions do not allow the presence of weapons within Frithful  spaces.  This is not the case in Thornish tradition, though all Thornish people respect the hale customs of others and would never presume, our own traditions are our way. There are instances in our own tradition, in which a Thornish person may not bear a weapon, but such things are not within the scope of this post.

In the early days of the Thornish tradition, when the first women initiates were admitted, the Frith-Knife was bestowed upon them as a gift. This tradition came from a story told as far back as the Old Lodges and is known as the story of the Knife-Gift. In the Knife-Gift (also known by several other names in Thornish lore) a woman Chieftain is courted for marriage by the Chieftain of another clan. When he proposes the match he gives her a beautiful knife as a gift, saying that it is for her protection and as well a guarantee of his fidelity.

And so it was that with this in mind the first hearth-sisters in the tradition were gifted with Frith-Knives as a way of telling them that they were safe among their brothers.  The female-only aspect of the tradition did not last long however, and within a relatively short time, at the recommendation of a valued female Shar Master, the tradition was changed: The custom of the Frith-Knife was expanded to include male initiates as well.  Since that time, in the early 1960’s, all initiates have been entitled to wear the Frith-Knife.

So once again one can see that indeed there are differences between Thornish tradition and other Pagan traditions which exist in the modern world. Thornish people deeply honor the concept of Frith and Frithful places but hold their own interpretation of those bounds within certain parameters.

As a wise Master in our tradition once said:  “We may explain our ways to outsiders but we will never apologize for them.”


About Jack Wolf

Canadian author Jack Wolf has been a practicing Pagan for over 30 years, walking a path that encompasses both his Northern European and Native American heritage. He counts the late Heathen Goði and writer E. Max Hyatt, Professor Mark Mirabello, Dakota tribal Chief William Hoff and American author Allan Cole among his mentors. An avid outdoorsman, Jack has spent a considerable portion of his life exploring the deep wilds of British Columbia, a vast province on Canada’s west coast. He brings a great deal of his wilderness experience to his spiritual path. Over the past 15 years Jack has studied and written about a number of northern pagan traditions, having published for the most part independently or in small journals, blogs or websites. His recent works for Mandrake of Oxford Have certainly opened up his writing to a larger audience. Jack is also the author of several other books, including Circle of Bones (2012), The Way of the Odin Brotherhood (2013), Blood and Stone (2014) co-author of Tales from the Red Moon Lodge (2014) and co-editor of A Voice from the Thornwood (winter 2014). Forthcoming works include The Thornish Path, Ullr’s Road and The Urban Tribalist, all of which are planned for a mid-2015 and early 2016 release respectively. Spiritually, Jack identifies himself generally as a Deep Tribalist and more specifically as Thornish. He is a member of a primal pagan tradition whose spiritual path involves questing for the First Knowledge – that held by our most ancient ancestors whose hearts and spirits were deeply connected to the land. The Thornish path is the way of the warrior-steward; a Deep Tribal tradition which Jack has practiced since the late 1980’s Jack holds a degree in anthropology from the world renowned University of British Columbia and has long held an avid interest in history, tribal peoples, spirituality and the reawakening of pagan peoples worldwide. He currently resides with his wife and co-author Cassandra Wolf and their daughter, in Squamish, British Columbia.
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