The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind… ‘Tis not the concern of a day, a year, or an age; posterity are virtually involved in the contest, and will be more or less affected, even to the end of time, by the proceedings now.
— Thomas Paine
We are winding down our exploration of the meaning and magic surrounding money. This week, we’ve focused on the symbols and intentions on the American dollar bill. Whatever your country and currency is, I suggest you take a good long look at the words and pictures and get to know what they mean, where they came from, and why, because they have great power.
On the dollar bill, the most complex (and even notorious) symbols are in the Great Seal, which is on the back. Of course, any analysis of it would be incomplete without mentioning the motto on the pyramid side of the seal, Novus Ordo Seclorum. The motto was chosen by Charles Thomson in June, 1782. He adapted it from a line in Virgil’s Eclogue IV, a pastoral poem written in the first century B.C.E. that expresses a longing for a new era of peace and happiness. Thomson specifically said the motto refers to “the new American era” which began in 1776.
Novus Ordo Seclorum means “a new order of the ages.” It does not translate to “New World Order” as some would claim, nor to “a new secular order,” as others declare. The word seclorum does not mean “secular,” as one might presume, if they had not studied Latin. Instead, it is the genitive (possessive) plural form of the word saeculum. A saeculum is the approximate length of time equal to the normal life span of a person, or the equivalent of the complete renewal of a human population.
The term was first used by the Etruscans. Originally it meant the period of time from the moment that something happened (for example, the founding of a city) until the point in time that all people who had lived at that first moment had died. At that point a new saeculum would start. According to legend, the Gods had allotted a certain number of saecula to every people or civilization; the Etruscans themselves, for example, had been given ten saecula.
A present-day example of a saeculum , which has been given a lot of recent media attention as it is coming into its final days, might be the so-called Greatest Generation, those people who lived and served during World War II.
At the time of the American Revolution, having defeated the most powerful military might in the world, the new nation certainly saw itself as the beginning of a new era in history. Rightly so, as it turns out. Keep in mind that this is simply the Great Seal of the United States that they were creating. It was not designed to be the imprint for our money. It was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s order that put it on the back of our dollar bill.
Consider for a moment the context of Roosevelt’s 1935 decision. It was during the darkest days of the Great Depression. The world was still reeling from the enormous impact of the Great War (WWI). And there were a bunch of particularly unpleasant fellows stirring up big trouble in Germany, Italy and the U.S.S.R.
If there was ever a world-wide need to beseech the Divine for help, it would have been in 1935. And on America’s Great Seal, were the magical words and intentions that our country might herald a new era of man; one that would be based on peace and prosperity that would be given by the hand and blessings of Providence.
In other words, I invite you to realize that every dollar bill that passes through your hands contains a prayer. And it is the eternal prayer of all humanity: “Please” and “Thank You.”