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The Last Dragon by Offa Whitesun

Much ink has been shed in recent months over the so-called ‘credit crunch’ and the ‘global financial crisis’.  Indeed, this subject has been the main news story for some time now, and has been approached form myriad angles.  But one aspect that has not been discussed in any great detail is the spiritual meaning, and purpose, of money and wealth. We will use the word ‘spiritual’ here for convenience’s sake.  What we are really referring to is the way that money has a meaning or function beyond its merely material aspect; the way that it influences individuals and societies in their understanding of the world. 

The guiding rune for this subject is Fe.  In the Old English Rune Poem we read:   “Wealth is a consolation to all men;Yet much of it must each man give away,If glory he desire to gain before the Lord.”[1]  So, wealth is seen as being a good thing but only when it is used correctly.  And the correct way to use wealth is to distribute it throughout society in order to create bonds of allegiance. “Gift-giving was a central act in Germanic society, cementing the bonds among the free classes.  It was neither random, spontaneous, nor purely emotional, but rather was strictly controlled by rules of reciprocation.  Warlords handed out weapons to their followers, but the weapons were not ‘given away’, they were held by the hearth-troop to be used in defence of the leader.”[2]  Wealth is a tool used to strengthen bonds of loyalty within, or between, communities. 

The antithesis of this system is symbolised by the dragon, jealously guarding his horde of gold.  In Beowulf, the dragon has been guarding his gold-horde for 300 years.  When a single golden cup is stolen from the dragon it is enough to arouse his wrath, and he begins his campaign of mindless destruction.  The cup was stolen by a slave who then gave it to his lord to ask forgiveness for some misdemeanour.  This illustrates the two opposed attitudes to wealth: that of the hoarder who has no interest in the social benefit that his money could inspire; and that of the gift-giver, who seeks to establish, or maintain, a harmonious social structure.  These, then, are the two fundamentally opposed attitudes to money: the materialistic, which covets it for its own sake; and the spiritual, which seeks to use it in the service of social harmony. It should be obvious that modern societies are guided by the materialistic attitude to money. 

One of the consequences of this attitude is the decline of the heroic ideal.  In traditional societies, where gifts were exchanged at a personal level, it would be possible for someone to win favour, and wealth, through his heroic actions.  Hrothgar rewards Beowulf with gifts of armour and horses for his victory over Grendel, and his retinue are also rewarded: “Thus did the glorious Prince, guardian of the treasure,reward these deeds, with both war-horses and armour;of such open-handedness no honest mancould ever speak in disparagement.”[3] The Beowulf poet makes it clear that both the giver and receiver of gifts bestowed as rewards are acting honourably.  Their love of treasure is mingled with a sense of pride for what that treasure represents.  The Lord has the power to employ warriors in his service, and the warrior has the courage to earn his treasure through his heroism.  Wealth is representative of heroic power. 

The contrast with the modern age could scarcely be sharper.  The examples of useless, overpaid idiots are legion, and we need not dwell on them here.  Suffice to say that wealth nowadays is rarely indicative of anything other than a love of material things, and of the desire to acquire them regardless of the consequences, social or otherwise.  Fame has replaced heroism, and we live in a time where: “The best lack all conviction, while the worstare full of passionate intensity.”[4]  In the modern world the traditional virtues of honour, truth and loyalty are usually associated with ‘failure’ in the strict materialist sense.  Those who seek to put such principles before their own personal happiness, or comfort, are ridiculed and socially maligned.  Honour might be discussed on a Radio 4 programme concerning ethics or some such, but it has become so marginalised as a concept that those who have any sense at all of what it means are the subjects of ridicule in the mainstream.  Where the pursuit of the noble virtues could once bring social glory it will now bring ostracism.  The ideals of individualistic hedonism are so well established in our society that anyone discussing the sorts of ideas mentioned here is likely to be diagnosed by the mainstream as having some sort of ‘issue’, some repressed sense of ‘guilt’, perhaps, that might explain why he would identify with such notions, and choose to forgo the self-evident pleasures of the modern cesspit. 

As for those who are the ‘successes’ of the materialist world, the opinion formers in politics and the media are well known to be corrupt and dishonourable.  But even occupations that a few years ago were highly respected, such as teachers and bankers, are now becoming increasingly tainted with the pollution of the system.  In the case of teachers, and other public servants, there is a compulsion to observe the politically correct diktats of Westminster, and in the case of the financial sector there are the inevitable results of the encouragement of greed with no reference to a sense of the greater good.  Where public servants have a noble desire to benefit the community this is snuffed out through unnecessary intervention, and where bankers have an ignoble lust for greed this is left uncontrolled.  In both sectors, those with the best motives are increasingly eclipsed by those with the worst.  Dishonour ensues, and we all suffer. 

This spiritual decline is reflected in our use of money.  The materialist creeds of credit and usury encircle the globe and seek to impose their profane systems everywhere.  Usury is the ultimate expression of the accumulation of wealth purely for its own sake, to the extent that it bears no relation to any useful, productive industry.  It is entirely parasitic.  The American poet Ezra Pound had this to say about usury: no picture is made to endure nor to live withbut it is made to sell and sell quicklywith usura, sin against nature,is thy bread ever more of stale ragsis thy bread dry as paper…Stone cutter is kept from his stoneWeaver is kept from his loomWITH USURA[5]  The entire global financial network depends on the existence of credit and usury, and this global network may well be the Midgard Serpent, which is killed by Thor at Ragnarok.  The Midgard Serpent is the ultimate dragon: it does not horde its gold in an old barrow mound outside the village, but instead encircles the entire world.  The global financial network operates like an acquisitive dragon of myth.  And like those other dragons of myth, it does not use wealth for productive and socially cohesive purposes, but instead dissolves all communal ties in its covetous avarice.  The last dragon is slain at the Ragnarok, when all the Gods die.  Only when this has passed may the new God be born.


[1] Anglo-Saxon Verse Runes, Louis J Rodrigues (trans)
[2] The Mead Hall, Stephen Pollington
[3] Beowulf, Michael Alexander (trans)
[4] The Second Coming, W.B. Yeats
[5] Canto XLV With Usura, Ezra Pound


 

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