MoneyPaul the Apostle said, “Love of money is the root of all evil.” On this, as on much else, he was wrong.

There is nothing inherently good about money and there is nothing inherently bad about it either. Money is the most explicit representation of potential in our culture. As such, used wisely, money is an incredibly potent tool for the achieving of one’s ends. Money is dynamic, it is mobile power, it represents the active principle: the desire to act, to exert one’s will in the world. A love of money and the power it brings is entirely in keeping with the ancient free culture of the Indo-Europeans. This notion of mobile wealth is expressed in the Elder Futhark by the rune Fehu. Although the Elder Futhark as we know it today is a reconstruction devised by modern linguists, the uncommonly precise correspondences between the Fehu verses in the extant rune poems and the equivalent letter’s name in the Gothic alphabet (Faihu) all suggest that the reconstructed Proto-Germanic name “Fehu” is highly likely to be correct.

The importance of this principle to the Indo-Europeans is clear. Any examination of ancient European literature immediately reveals two key aspects of their culture, which we might represent by two classes of person: the Warrior and the Trader. In most circumstances, we find both these principles combined in the same person. The famous Viking skald Egill Skallagrímsson wrote, “Björn var farmaður mikill, var stundum í víking, en stundum í kaupferðum.” Which in modern English means, “Björn was a great traveller, sometimes as pirate, sometimes as tradesman.” The Vikings not only raided and pillaged but also set up some of the most extensive trading networks in Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire. A willingness to venture into unknown territories in order to trade in exotic goods has always been found among peoples of Indo-European stock.

Of particular fascination for me is the Hanseatic League. This was a loose federation of German trading guilds that dominated trade throughout northern Europe and the Baltic for approximately four centuries. Their power, both economic and military, grew so much that in the 14th century they were able to successfully challenge the king of Denmark and to influence German imperial policy. They established trading cities in countries all over northern Europe and managed to win independence for their cities from the nominal rulers of the territories in which they were sited. I am particularly intrigued by the existence of guild enclaves, situated within foreign countries but run according to guild law rather than the law of the country. One such trading post, known as a “Kontor” (Counting-House), was based in Bergen on the west coast of Norway. A couple of years ago I was happy to get a chance to see some of the guild buildings, which alone of all the Kontors are still standing. In just over a month I will be returning for another look at the Bryggen, among other things. There is certainly something quintessentially European about an international trading corporation.

Money also played an important social role in Germanic society as the bond between lord and retainer was symbolised and strengthened by the giving of gifts. This system of mercenary loyalty lasted well into the 19th century with the Swiss mercenaries (and arguably continues today in the form of the Vatican’s Swiss Guard.) In Honor in German Literature, George Fenwick Jones writes, “The old Germanic ideal of service unto death, but only as long as the payments are prompt, lasted until modern times in the ethics of the Swiss mercenaries.”

However, the key fact about Fehu is that it symbolises potential, i.e. the ability to achieve an end, and not an end itself. Money can be used for ill just as easily as for good. A person can harm himself by misusing money just as easily, if not more easily, than he can help himself by using money well. More often than not, harm and destruction come about when money is allowed to become an end in itself rather than a means to an end. In a healthy society, money is a powerful tool used to achieve goals but those goals themselves have nothing to do with money. The goals are determined by the values and ideals of that society’s culture. When money takes the place of an ideal itself, then the adverse aspect of Fehu is revealed.

Fullar grindr
sá ek fyr Fitjungs sonum,
nú bera þeir vonar völ;
svá er auðr
sem augabragð,
hann er valtastr vina.
Fields and flocks had Fitjung’s sons,
Who now carry begging bowls:
Wealth may vanish in the wink of an eye,
Gold is the falsest of friends.

— Hávamál verse 78 (W H Auden & P B Taylor trans.)

Fé vældr frænda róge;
føðesk ulfr í skóge.
Wealth is a source of discord amongst kin;
the wolf lives in the forest.

— Norwegian rune poem

Published in: on May 19, 2007 at 12:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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