All the perplexities, confusion and distresses in America arise, not from defects in the constitution or confederation, nor from want of honor or virtue, as much as from downright ignorance of the nature of coin, credit, and circulation.
John Adams, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson
After just stopping by about a month ago, in this week that kicks off with the Moon in pragmatic Capricorn, let us welcome back the Page of Pentacles for another visit.
For my previous, more traditional overview, you can visit here. But for this week, I am taking a side trip, inviting this Page to be our guide to consider what wealth and material abundance actually may be.
After all, the Pages are messengers, and this one is often associated with scholarship and studying. And Pentacles are the suit of the Tarot concerned with the physical, manifest world. That includes health, security (like hearth and home), career, and work. It also examines what supports our survival as living beings.
And in the 21st century, we are supported, in main, by something we call “money.”
What Is Money, And How Can I Get Some More?
One of the interesting premises behind the popular Law of Attraction is that wealth (and other desirable stuff) can come simply from thought. The Secret and The Law of Attraction are really a New Age repackaging of ideas that have been around for many years, like Napoleon Hill’s 1937 classic, “Think and Grow Rich,” as well as the many inspirational works by authors like Vernon Howard and Norman Vincent Peale.
If we use the Page of Pentacles as our inspiration, we might become more intentional in how we call money to us and how we use it. He would suggest we need to have a better understanding of what it is, where it has come from, and the energy it has carried, for better or worse, for thousands of years.
We spend a lot of time thinking about how much money we have and how to get some more, but did you ever stop to wonder what money actually is?
The classic economic definition of money is that it is “a good that acts as a medium of exchange in transactions.”
While barter is the oldest form of exchanging goods, it can be very clumsy. For instance, if I have some peaches that I would like to sell, and I am seeking some wool thread, I can either find someone who just happens to want peaches and has wool to sell. Or else I can find someone who, like me, uses some kind of representative token that will stand in for both.
Having everyone agree on what this token of exchange should be has historically been a tricky business. Sometimes it has been a tangible item, like a metal coin, cowrie shells, beads, cattle, jade, wampum, whales’ teeth, or even salt, which were the wages that were paid to the Roman legions, and from which we get the saying that someone is worth his salt.
However, it is an oversimplification to think that money was invented only as a way to streamline the cumbersome practice of barter and trading goods.
While this makes logical sense, historian Glyn Davies, in his classic work, A History of Money, suggests there was much more to it. “Money,” he writes, “originated very largely from non-economic causes: from tribute as well as from trade, from blood-money and bride-money as well as from barter, from ceremonial and religious rites as well as from commerce, from ostentatious ornamentation as well as from acting as the common drudge between economic men.”
For instance, many societies had laws requiring compensation in some form for crimes of violence, instead of the less enlightened Middle Eastern practice of ‘an eye for an eye.’ Davies explains that the word to ‘pay’ is derived from the Latin ‘pacare’ meaning to pacify, appease, or make peace with – through a unit of value acceptable to both sides.
A similarly widespread custom was payment for brides, in order to compensate the head of the family for the loss of a daughter’s services.
And since very ancient times, rulers have imposed taxes on or exacted tribute from their subjects. Sometimes this was paid in the form of trade goods, but money made keeping track much easier. Religious obligations might also entail payment of tribute or sacrifices of some kind.
I Dare You
For the past 500 years or so, money has been in the form of paper or metal coins. Now, though, it comes in the form of a plastic card, and increasingly, as typed symbols converted into electronic codes that flicker through the air, and don’t exist in any physical way whatsoever.
What gives these imaginary numbers value? For that matter, what gives gold or silver more value than, say, pinecones or glass?
So if it is simply arbitrary, made up by people, then it has no real power of its own, right?
Let’s find out. Go get a dollar bill. Really, I mean it. Dig one out of your wallet, and take a moment right now to examine it. Read it, notice how it feels, how it smells. Hold it up, like this Page is doing. How does it feel to you?
Seems pretty inert, doesn’t it?
Now rip it in half.
I double-dog dare you.
Go ahead, I mean it. I’ll wait….
Okay, how did it feel? Or did you chicken out? Did you just read this and imagine doing it? (Sorry, that’s a cop out. Come on, humor me. Go get a buck. Try it. I’ll wait)…..
Weird, huh? What cascade of emotions do you feel, just by reading this exercise? What went through your mind as you decided whether to really do it or not? By the way, as long as you only tore it in half, most banks will still accept a taped dollar bill, although most automated snack machines, etc. may not. Oh, well.
I hope it was worth a dollar to you just to notice your own feelings as you did or did not actually try this. Did anyone sitting nearby see you? Or did you close the door to make sure they wouldn’t? Wonder what they would say about it? Feels a little crazy, doesn’t it?
No? No big deal? Well, try it with a twenty or a fifty sometime.
Why can’t we just hold a piece of dirty paper with pictures of dead presidents on it, and rip it up without a care?
This is a question that opens the floodgates of many other important questions regarding this thing that some have called “the blood of the planet,” and that one famous show tune declares “makes the world go round.”
The Study of Money
With this visit from our Page of Pentacles, following last week’s Four of Pentacles (in which I referred back to the PREVIOUS Page of Pentacles visit in April), I think there is something very important that the Tarot is suggesting regarding our financial well-being, and this encore from the Page would suggest we start with a “beginner’s mind.”
What do you need to learn about the nature of money? Perhaps you might re-examine what you know and believe about wealth, “enoughness,” scarcity, and what is truly of value.
Like the way he holds his coin, do you need to lighten the heaviness of this subject into something simpler and more enjoyable?
As the serious student, the Page of Pentacles would encourage us to start asking questions about what we eat, where our goods come from, and learn how the flow of money really works. He would also urge us to teach our children how to manage their money, as well as to become more media savvy — knowing when they are being sold to, and for what purpose.
As John Adams pointed out to Jefferson in the quote above, ignorance of these matters puts our country, and our own quality of life, in peril.
Debt and Decisions
This weekend, two of my local colleges, including Duke University and the University of North Carolina, held their graduation ceremonies. What an exciting time, as a whole new crop of students leaves the shelter of academia, and begins working and surviving in the wider world for the first time!
However, it is also true that many of them are headed into what amounts to indentured servitude, if they can find work. Some of the latest figures show that the average debt owed, upon graduation, is nearly $40,000. In the study cited, even three years out of school, most respondents still had at least 75% of their loans to pay.
Nevertheless, as they enter the work force, what power they hold, if only they can recognize it.
They can use their new wages for positive change in the world. For, like all of us, they will “vote” with their wallets.
For instance, do you know if you are buying (and therefore supporting) corporations who routinely use child labor, exploit their workers, trash the environment, or ignore basic safety practices?
As one outstanding resource, The Better World Shopping Guide, notes:
Money is power. And wherever large amounts of money collect, so also new centers of power form. The latest historical manifestation of this is the modern corporation.
Make no mistake, these new power centers are not democracies. We don’t vote for the CEO’s or their policies (unless we are: rich enough to be significant shareholders, informed enough to know what’s going on, and compassionate enough to care about more than just personal profit), yet our destinies are increasingly in their hands.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need but not for every man’s greed.” Our participation in these processes is not optional. Our mindfulness is.
Are there some products or corporations you personally boycott, because of their environmental track record, unjust practices, or political affiliations? Why or why not?
Understanding the interconnectedness between our living planet and the health, wealth, and well-being of each individual is of deep concern for the Page. He looks to the future, considering his strategies for investment and rewards, while firmly grounded in his fertile field of possibilities.
May our Page’s budding sense of responsibility and stewardship be an inspiration for each of us.