A month for Freyr: day 10

There’s a sentence by a Harrison Ford character that got stuck in my memory and I keep saying every time I touch today’s topic: peace isn’t just the absence of conflict, it’s also the presence of justice. Which is pretty much a bull’s eye! Because there are two reasons for which there is peace: either violence is forbidden (and thus carries the risk of penalties) or there is no need for it; and no need means there is enough wealth to go around and that it’s distributed fairly. Both cases imply the presence of justice.

This is something that goes straight to the heart of friðr. In a book called Language and History in the Early Germanic world, published in 1998 by Cambridge University Press, D. H. Green suggests that friðr originally meant “the state or condition prevailing among those who regard each other as their own kindred” (p. 43), which naturally equals a readiness to help and defend each other. It is, in other words, a support system, a network of rights and duties or, in legal terms, the rule of law! Which is why Green says that the term is best translated as protection or help. A state of friðr is one where the individual is protected by his/her kindred and, as an extension, by his/her community. And this, my friends, is where the legal aspect of Ingui-Frey is to be found.

In a way, it lies in His phallic form, which has an apotropaic sense. It may also reside in the boar, if one is to be believe in Beowulf‘s reference to boar-helmets that guard the warrior against blades. The underlying notion here is one of inviolability, of something that is under a state of protection or friðr. Of course, a warrior saw this as meaning that he was invincible, but in legal terms it meant something else. As Ann Gróa Sheffield wrote in her Frey, God of the World, inviolable means someone who “could not be killed with impunity” (p. 31). D. H. Green implies as much when he says, and I quote from page 43, “whereas in modern eyes the antithesis of peace is war, in Germania (and through much of the Middle Ages) the contrast was rather with feuding and violence within a community”. As such, a god of friðr isn’t a deity who’s above violence or a Gandhi-like pacifist. If nothing else, because the law requires instruments that enforce the rules and penalties or, at the risk of stating the obvious, protection implies readiness to fight for one’s safety. It’s not, in other words, a matter of violence and non-violence, but right or legal form of aggression versus the wrong or illegal type: the former punishes criminals, ensures protection, peace and even defends people and property; the latter degenerates into chaos and destroys the social fabric.

This has practical implications, things over which Ingui-Frey can preside as a god of friðr, but more on that tomorrow.


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