Courage is the first virtue in the second “Triad” of ADF virtues, and is often considered a “warrior” virtue.
Our Own Druidry defines courage as “The ability to act appropriately in the face of danger”, while the Oxford Dictionary for Students defines it as “The ability to control your fear in a dangerous or difficult situation”.
One version of the Asatru Nine Noble Virtues states that “by facing life’s struggles with courage, we constantly extend our capabilities, Without courage nothing else can be done”.
None of these definitions are exclusive to warriors either ancient or modern, and are applicable to anyone who faces a difficult situation in their lives. “Danger” does not have to mean physical fight-or-flight danger, and courage is needed in the world in many other ways than in battle. Pacifists who object to conscription in war, even if it means imprisonment, are just as courageous as any warrior. Standing up for what you believe in, and campaigning for issues like LGBT rights and environmentalism takes courage too.
It is interesting that none of the definitions given involves not being afraid. Fear is an essential part of courage, as the virtue s developed not by being fearless, but by facing one’s fear and confronting it. The “ability to act appropriately” does not necessarily mean rashly charging ahead either. Deciding when to back down, retreat or not take a particular course of action has its own form of courage, tempered by other virtues such as vision and wisdom.
I am no warrior, and don’t have to use the virtue of courage in a life or death context most of the time, but as a first aider, I have to have the courage to stay calm in an emergency and take responsibility for a patient in the first instance. I try to demonstrate courage in other, simpler ways too, such as going caving or rock-climbing on holiday and placing myself in situations that I find challenging in order to overcome them.
I have social anxiety, so going out in a crowded place, meeting new people and speaking in public all cause a great deal of fear for me, up to the point of panic attacks, so the virtue of courage is definitely called upon in those times as well.
It seems that all pagan cultures valued courage highly, from Classical heroes like Odysseus sailing to unknown lands or Thor fighting battles in defence of Midgard. These heroic narratives remain culturally important today, as can be seen in the huge popularity of superhero comics and films. For me, the figure that springs to mind as an example of courage in the Norse mythos is Tyr, not for his battle prowess, but for the tale in which he agreed to put his hand in the mouth of the wolf Fenris as he was being bound. Tyr knew that the wolf would take his hand, but he did it anyway, knowing the necessity of the task and the greater good. In Tyr’s case, courage was about making a hard sacrifice to help his fellow-Asgardians in a time of need.
While we may not do anything as dramatic as that, small acts of courage can still be cultivated in everyday life, and form an important part of any ethical system.
ADF, Our Own Druidry. ADF Publishing, 2009
Oxford English Dictionary for Students. Oxford University Press, 2006
Kevin Crossley-Holland, The Penguin Book of Norse Myths. Penguin, 2011
Michael J. Dangler, The ADF Dedicant Path through the Wheel of the Year. Garanus, 2010