A Modern Mystic

Musings on life, work and contemporary spirituality

The Archetype of the Coward: Facing Fear Part I


cowardly-lion6I admit it. I’m a Coward. Yet thanks to the work I have been doing with Caroline Myss http://www.myss.com/CMED/home/ in her yearlong Sacred Contracts Course (or Scared Contracts), I have some new tools for facing my fears. I’d like to explore the archetype of the Coward and share my own experience.

First, let’s define the word. My trusty Webster’s New World Dictionary defines the term coward as “one who lacks courage or is shamefully afraid.” The word comes from the Latin cauda, or tail. The coward would be the one who “turns tail” to flee rather than face danger.

Many archetypes face personal danger. Some examples are the Hero, the Martyr, the Warrior, and the Knight, to name a few. Each of these stands out because of its unique goal or prize. Thus, the Hero conquers the ego, the Warrior vanquishes the enemy, the Knight wins the lady’s hand by facing dangerous tasks and the Martyr takes a stand against injustice or immorality.

But the Coward, alone, has his primary relationship with the Fear rather than the goal. He faces his fear and choosing to act or not, he learns about himself. As primarily action archetypes, the others–Hero, Warrior, Knight–undoubtedly experience fear, they just don’t give it a second thought. Therefore I would argue that the Coward is primarily an archetype of the mystic or wisdom family. While he might accomplish great tasks in the process of facing fear, he primarily wrestles with his own thinking. As William Shakespeare put it, “Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.”

The Coward, therefore, has much to teach us about facing our fears. Two well-known American figures, one real, one fiction illustrate the archetype well: Franklin Delano Roosevelt and The Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz.


While FDR is best known for single handedly pulling our nation out of the Great Depression, his most famous quote, uttered in the first paragraph of his inaugural speech in early 1933, marks him as a Coward:

“Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

It is interesting that FDR used the word “paralyzes,” as he himself, a paraplegic polio victim, never allowed the press to photograph him in his wheel chair. Indeed, he must have faced many fears during the illness that robbed him of his mobility and that could easily have killed him. A staunch introvert, FDR was known to be adept at keeping people at a distance. Although very charming and engaging in person, very few people claim to have known him well, and perhaps this is another manifestation of the Coward archetype.

FDR held back in other ways, as well. His political campaign against Herbert Hoover in 1932 during the lowest point of the Great Depression was most notable for its lack of concrete solutions to the nation’s financial problems. His inaugural address, with its spiritual tone, speaks of the nation’s “common difficulties” concerning “only material things.” Clearly FDR recognized that we would never solve our practical problems without first healing the spiritual crisis. (You can listen to this inspirational speech online at http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5057/) In classic Coward style, he challenged himself and the nation to face our fears, our own negativity. Rather than bully his opponents, FDR transformed his Coward through spiritual honesty, integrity and will, while accomplishing national political reforms that stand to this day. The transformational energy of the Sacred Coward comes through very clearly in his speech.

The Cowardly Lion

On the lighter side, most of us are familiar with the Cowardly Lion from the book and movie The Wizard of Oz. The lion represents the companion archetype to the Coward, the Bully. For every Coward who does not successfully transform, bullies himself or others as the Lion bullies Dorothy and her other companions on the Yellow Brick Road. His famous lament, “If I only had a heart!” of course refers to courage — from the Latin cor meaning heart — the elusive quality the Coward covets for himself.

During the journey to Oz, the Lion repeatedly encounters the dangers perpetrated by the evil witch and each time he must conquer the urge to run. At one point, startled by his own tail, the Cowardly Lion begins to see his fear as illusion, his tail signifying the internal and personal nature of the struggle. Only after he understands that it is his own fear, not the outside world, that undermines his power, is the Lion fully initiated. The Wizard then confers the medal of valor and we see that lovely moment when the adorable Lion owns his rightful place as a tenderhearted soul.

Every Coward must ultimately uncover his own fears as unjustified or remain forever the Bully, acting out his unconscious desires for real power against himself or others.


In my own Sacred Contracts Archetypal Chart of Origin, I have the Coward in my First House, the house of the ego, the personality, the identity. In the next installment of this article I will elaborate on my own experience of facing fear. Stay tuned!

Author: Carrie Ure

Carrie Ure is a teacher, editor and happiness coach based in Portland, Oregon.

11 thoughts on “The Archetype of the Coward: Facing Fear Part I

  1. Very well put Carrie. That resonates with me. Overcoming the mind. I look forward to reading more!

  2. This piece has a nice flow to it. I really hear your voice in this piece. Its my favorite so far.

  3. Vau, I’m positively surprised how just today I stumbled upon coward in me and was searching about cowardly lion archetype on google and found your post that is written last week.
    I’m also in let’s say “spiritual school” last 13 years and currently problems get out in my business aspect of life. In my trading, I blog about it. That’s all from me, just dropped to say hi.

  4. FX,
    Thanks for the comment. I’m happy that you found it. When I began “tuning in” to my coward I couldn’t find much information. Please stay tuned! I will be writing much more on this topic.

  5. Beautiful description of the coward! Feels much easier to own my coward archetype after reading this! I like that you link the coward’s process of facing fears to transforming the mind, accessing wisdom and helping others. Good point that the coward isn’t facing personal danger like the hero, but rather the imagined dangers of the mind… lots of great food for thought!

  6. Was there a part 2? I’d love to hear more about this….

  7. Alison, there’s always a part two…it’s just a matter of writing it down. Fear is one of my topics. Please stay tuned…and thanks for listening!!!!

  8. Pingback: 2010 in review–thank you readers! « A Modern Mystic

  9. Ms Carrie, What I am interested in is life and how we live in it.
    I understand that there are processess that must take place in order for the body to heal itself completely and that the body will be filled with energy to spare. I call the energy light…

    I need to get another book titled The Anatomy of the Soul. by Dr Myss so I can finish reading it.

    I found what I read to be very interesting, so much so that my mind wont leave it alone.

    Also, I have a lot of energy depletion at times and am wondering why?

    Is it possible that perhaps you might be able to identify the issue?

    I need to know what the charges might be for information.
    I am not sure what more to say, but thank you for you time and energy.


  10. Larry,
    As to the mysteries of healing, energy and light, I have my own theories based on my own life experience. I do suggest that Anatomy of Spirit is a wonderful place to begin. I have met and studied with Dr. Myss and I believe she is on the right track.

    As to whether I can help you, the answer is possibly. I will contact you by email in the next few days. In the meantime, be well my friend!

  11. I too am seeking an ever-opening heart through acts of courage. I carry much fear which feels deep and primal. I have been listening to dr Myss for the last three years: Entering the Castle, Sacred Contracts and Defying Gravity. I found your blog in my internet search for Ms Myss and the Cowardly Lion and am happy to have found it. Looking forward to reading more on your experience.

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