from The Runestone Summer 1984 #48
by Stephen A. McNallen

If most people had to state the single trait most valued by the Norsemen, the majority would unhesitatingly name “courage”. And rightly so – for once, our stereotype does us justice. Courage was a thing of inestimable value not only to the Norse, but indeed to all the Germanic tribes and the peoples of ancient Europe generally. We are compelled to rank it very highly, or even first, among the values of our faith, Asatru.

Today we live in a world where the anti-hero has won (or rather has been given) a niche of prominence. The hard virtues have softened, and the stern code of courage and it’s fraternal twin, honor, are out of fashion. In modern society at large, people are simply not prepared for the trials soon to be visited upon us by history. All the more reason that we who follow the ways of our noble ancestors should be infused with these powerful traits. Let us begin acquiring courage by first understanding it.

Quite correctly, it is often pointed out that there is a difference between courage and fearlessness. The person who does not feel fear may be able to do great deeds, but only because he or she is insensitive or unimaginative. While this may be useful, it is not especially virtuous. The real accomplishment is to fully experience fear, yet to master it. We who opt for the well-rounded enhancement of all our powers in the desire to transcendence so common to our Folk must choose the latter, for we seek awareness and fulfillment of perception in addition to force and mastery. There is no shame in feeling fear. To know fear is human, and to thoroughly overcome it raises one to the realm of the gods.

Another truism is that courage comes not only in the physical variety, but manifests also as spiritual bravery. Again, some things are truisms because they’re true, and the code of Asatru would agree with this statement. We would take this somewhat superficial analysis a step further, however, and say that there is a substratum which underlies both kinds of courage, and that bedrock is the heroic will. Facing an enemy bayonet charge and facing the threat of losing one’s job because of one’s belief in Asatru have little in common – except that both instances test the individual’s mastery of self through a deliberate and unwavering will to take the honorable course.

In reading the sagas, we see such a willful adherence to this high standard of courage. Revenge for wrongdoing was an absolute necessity, because appearing soft and defenseless meant that one’s family and one’s self became targets for others who sensed an easy prey. However retribution was not exacted instantly, in the heart of passion. Rather, the emotional fury had to subside, so that the avenger could demonstrate self control and so that the deed could stand forth as an imperative of duty, not as an act of rashness. Courageous feats (rather of vengeance or not) were best if done deliberately and with calmness, not impulsively. It is worth noting that among the greatest heroes were men like Beowulf and the semi-legendary Ragnar Lodbrock. Neither died in the brashness of youthful impetuosity, but in the coolness of mature, tempered courage under the mastery of will.

All very well for those of such celestial stature, you may say – but what about those of us who lead ordinary lives yet wish to honor our gods and our ancestors.

A two-fold approach presents itself. First, since a powerful will underlies courage in all its forms, develop that will in not just one but in several, or many, aspects of your life. Self-mastery will bring with it courage. Secondly and more specifically, do the thing that you fear. One man’s successful use of this method is described in the book titled (of course) WILL by G. Gordon Liddy.

Courage, out of fashion or not, is one of the cornerstones of personal behavior for those who follow our gods. We may not all be courageous – or, more likely, we have some measure of courage, but not all we’d like. Whatever our failings or our strengths, it is our duty to try – courageously! – to develop this value so praised by our forebearers.

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