Growing up in a military environment you get good at making friends quickly. With new schools every few years, or in some cases every few months and other pupils coming and going with the same regularity, your friendship group is constantly changing. This can be a positive thing. For example, it can make it very easy to fit into social situations later in life. But there are also downsides. It can be hard to form very strong bonds of friendship because of the experience of childhood friendships being so fleeting. It can also lead to being too quick to trust others, leaving yourself vulnerable to abuse and betrayal.
Heathenry has in some ways helped me to address some of these potential pitfalls. In the Heathen worldview there is a fairly clear differentiation between different types of relationship. Everyone you interact with can be split into groups. The closest group is your kin. This often includes blood relatives, but can also include friends to whom your are so close that you consider them family. Moving out from that there is your kith. Friends, colleagues etc. that you know and trust to a certain extent, but not as much as your kin. Outside of that comes the majority of people. The ones you do not know. You have no reason to distrust them, but equally you have no reason to trust them, and that is fine. Finally, there are the people that you distrust or dislike.
You expect different things from each of these groups, and they in turn expect different things from you. This understanding of human interaction helps to keep the individual safe by reminding them which groups they can be fully relaxed and open around, and which groups require some level of personal guard to be up, either just in case, or because of a known threat.
Running through all of this is the concept of frith. Frith is often translated as ‘peace’, but it is far more than that. Yes, to keep frith with people you do not like but have to work or interact with does involve keeping the peace and being polite and civil. But it is also frith the ties us to those we are closest to. It incorporates friendship and loyalty. It is the thing that makes you stand up for your friends and family when others seek to harm or discredit them.
Another important Heathen concept that is relevant to friendship is the gifting cycle. Friendship should be a two-way street. If you find yourself constantly giving but never getting anything in return, that is not friendship, it is exploitation. The Hávamál advises:
“Be your friend’s
Return gift for gift.
with laughter again
but betrayal with treachery.”
For me the boundaries between kin, kith and others used to be fairly unclear. This was in part because of my experience as a child, and in part because of my job. I have had to continue to form new relationships quickly, and yes I have been hurt by this on more than one occasion. But as I have grown older the boundaries have started to show themselves more clearly, and I can start to trust them to keep me safe. I am lucky to have a loving and supporting family and have a close-knit group of friends. I am still able to get on with people quickly as I was in my youth, but I am slowly learning caution when it comes to getting too close to people too quickly.
One final thing I would like to discuss in this piece is false kinship. In recent times it has become trendy, particularly amongst those new to Heathenry, to call all others who follow the same belief brother or sister. This is assuming bonds of kinship with those individuals that simply do not exist. Kinship, and any other form of friendship has to be earnt, not assumed. Calling anyone who follows the same spiritual path as you brother or sister devalues the ties of kinship with those you do consider to be family. Whilst I have many Heathen friends, there are only maybe half a dozen that I would consider to be as close to me as siblings, and two of those are my actual siblings!
Friendships can be complicated, but Heathenry has helped me to understand them. It has taught me that it is ok to have some friends that you trust more than others and given me the tools to spot when things aren’t quite right. As with everything I am still learning, but I get by with a little help from my friends.
Dan Coultas PF CSO