Thinking on Modern Concepts of Money and Fehu

Something that is a current in many of the documentaries, blogs, and YouTube videos I watch is our modern society’s relationship with money. Money as we generally experience it in modern society is through the lens of fiat currency. This is true whether we are talking about the US dollar, kroners, or cryptocurrency. As I began to think on these things the Rune Fehu came to my mind.

Before I get into where Fehu gets into all of this, let us look at how modern currencies operate.

The US dollar ceased to be on the gold standard June 5th, 1933. On August 15th, 1971 dollars to gold ceased to be converted at a fixed value. What tethered the modern world’s reserve currency to any notion of physical boundaries disappeared a long while ago. Fiat currencies are the majority of the world’s currencies. So if there is no way that currencies are bound to physical things of value, where, then does our money come from?

All money is loaned into existence.

Both Investopedia and Chris Martenson of Peak Prosperity have explanations that agree on this. What does it mean for us that all money is loaned into existence with no backing to the currency by a physical object to which the value of money is tied?

As Michael Ruppert pointed out in the documentary Collapse:

Before the great growth of populaton which occured with the advent of oil came this revolution in the monetary system as well. There was a time when a pound sterling actually meant a pound of sterling silver. There was only so much silver out of the ground. You couldn’t print silver, it was something real. You cannot print any more money than there is energy to back it up.

That last point is deeply important especially since the banking sector relies on fractional reserve banking. Again, quoting Michael Ruppert:

Then there is Fractional Reserve Banking. If you brought me $10 deposit I could make $90 worth of loans just based on having that $10 in my drawer. It is all calculated that not everyone is going to come in and want their cash all at once -that’s a called a run on the bank. When I lend now a total of $100 based on that $10 deposit that is more money I create out of thin air. Well gee, that means that in order to pay off whoever gets that money [that person] has to make more money still to feed in at the bottom so that the banks can create still more money.

Because all money is loaned into existence at interest this means that the economy as a whole is constantly having to produce money, and thus, all those things tied to the economy have to keep on producing things that make money to keep up with the demand of the economic system. When a company goes under, unable to pay back its debts and defaults that money entirely disappears from the economy. Likewise, when I pay back a loan. This encourages debt to a degree heretofore unseen.

This kind of thing simply does not exist in nature. You cannot take any more carrots out of the ground than there were carrots growing to harvest. You cannot take any more milk from your cow than she is able to give. You cannot pull any more oil out of the ground than there is to be had.

The Rune Poems are quite simple and profound in what they have to say about Fehu. These translations I found on The Ragweed Forge. Fé, Fé, and Feoh are the respective Rune to each poem.

From the Icelandic Rune Poem:

Wealth
source of discord among kinsmen
and fire of the sea
and path of the serpent.

From the Norwegian Rune Poem:

  1. Wealth is a source of discord among kinsmen;
    the wolf lives in the forest.

From the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem:

Wealth is a comfort to all men;
yet must every man bestow it freely,
if he wish to gain honour in the sight of the Lord.

The first two poem sources note that wealth is destructive among kinsmen, while the last calls it a comfort. Fehu, the proto-Germanic reconstruction of the root to the Rune in these poems, translates to cattle. Fé and Feoh are both related to the word cattle and the concept contained within it: mobility, wealth, and mobile wealth.

It makes sense that Fehu is related to cattle. Cattle are a significant source of wealth in Proto-Indo European cultures for a few reasons. First, maintaining any size of herd is expensive due to their need for pasture. The land, the ability to hold it securely, to staff it, and to care for it need resources all their own to work allow for this. Second, cattle produce immense amounts of milk from the cows and any cattle slaughtered for meat produce a lot, as well as a lot of skin, fats, and bones, all useful for an incredible varied amount of foods and goods. Third, they produce incredibly useful manure that returns vitality to the soil and allows fields to grow green and tall. Cattle, in turn, require healthy places to range, protection, and care from those who raise them. There is reciprocity bound into the relationship as a mandate for animal husbandry to work -at all.

Contrast this with how our modern systems of money and value are utterly divorced from these relationships. Cattle cannot grow forever, cannot exponentially reproduce in their lifetime. They die. Like every other living being they go through a life cycle of birth, maturation, decline, and death. There is no International Bank of Cattle. To be sure, there are cattle ‘stocks’ per se, but these are based more on how much poundage a given rancher can squeeze out of their cattle. The rancher is actively encouraged by the economic system to ignore what is best for the cattle, and ultimately, their own livelihood and continued wellbeing, in order to squeeze a few more pounds onto their animals prior to slaughter. The maximization of profits at the expense of the cattle’s comfort, health, wellbeing, as well as that of the lands they graze, or in the case of CAFOs, the bare minimum square footage they occupy prior to being slaughtered. The introduction and continued use of sub-clinical doses of antibiotics, used to increase the weight of animals so they produce more meat for slaughter, now is affecting the ability of antibiotics to kill diseases. We now have diseases developing or that have developed resistance to every available antibiotic.

The way our money system works defies the value that Fehu, even on a basic reading of its etymology, presents to us. Go deeper. Fehu, in the idea of wealth, presents not only living concepts of wealth in that wealth is in the land, water, air, and our relationships with the living world. I firmly understand Fehu as living in right relationship. Cattle can only grow healthy, well, and in numbers able to keep the herd and the humans who work with it healthy in this way.

Why do both the Icelandic and Norwegian Rune Poems warn of Fé being a source of discord among kinsmen? In the Icelandic Rune Poem it is called the fire of the sea and path of the serpent. The fire of the sea is a kenning, as gold is often referred to in fiery terms and it was often raided for. The path of the serpent, in my understanding, is a direct reference to Fafnir, the dragon featured in the Volsungasaga who is slain by Sigurd. The path of the serpent is greed, hoarding, miserly behavior. Wealth accumulated for its own sake, not shared with the community, not allowed to flow, turns poisonous. What should be a healthy relationship with things of value, shared with the community, with friends and loved ones, when kept to oneself turns destructive, destroying both the ability of the hoarder to give and the community to receive. It destroys good bonds of hamingja, denies the vaettir the ability to circulate and develop relationships with those who the wealth would help, and in doing this, stops the wealth’s own ability to be a positive force. Fafnir’s lair is described as desolate, and the air and water around him as poisoned. If we understand the idea of wealth to be those things from which value is able to derive, eg good soil, clean air, clean water, right relationship with all these things, and so on, then the hoarding of wealth allows these things to be destroyed or spoiled. One could easily look to a modern Fafnir as the landowner who simply sits on land, allowing the buildings on it to crumple and blight a neighborhood. One could easily look to a modern Fafnir as the company that operates in a town for years then, once it has entrapped the local economy and destroyed local businesses, when it downsizes or goes abroad for cheaper, more exploitable labor, it leaves behind all its effluence and rips apart the town as it goes. Then it is free to do it again in whatever town it finds itself down the road.

So what of the wolf in the forest in the Norwegian Rune Poem? The wolf was a consistent source of strife for the farmers. You can invest countless hours of work in maintaining your herds of cattle, sheep, or flocks of birds, and find at least one if not many eaten. Those animals were going to help you and your family survive the oncoming harsh winter. Now, they go to feed something that neither lives in your community or contributes to it.

The wolf lives in the forest, meaning it is utgard (outer yard aka outside) to the innangard (inner yard aka interior) of the farm. When looking at the Norwegian Rune poem, the idea I get is of the outsider coming in to disrupt the right relationship wealth has among kinsmen. A prime modern example would be the Pennsylvanians featured in the documentary Gasland. The companies that came in to set up fracking sites made a situation where one neighbor who profited via their mineral rights were pitted against their neighbors who did not until towns, even neighbors, were at each others’ throats over fracking deals being made. Whereas the Icelandic Rune Poem is a caution against the path of the serpent where wealth is hoarded and poisons both the person hoarding it and those around them, the wolf in the Norwegian Rune Poem is the outsider who ravages or pits neighbor against neighbor, profiting from the discord and gaining wealth for themselves and depriving everyone else of it. Since the wolf in this case is utgard, having no bonds of loyalty to those innangard, its disruptive force is even more impactful as it breaks good, healthy bonds of hamingja as well as those of right relationship between communities and the sources of wealth that sustain them and allow them to thrive. The wolf gets its meal in the form of the broken communities it leaves behind and the community gets to clean up after the slathering wolf who bounds away from the community’s slain lambs, licking its chops.

Contrasting these two poems, thankfully, is the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem. Where the previous two cautioned against the dangers of wealth, this Rune Poem extols its virtues. Indeed, wealth is a comfort to all. Good air, clean water, good soil, right relationship, and the ability to provide for one’s community and self through these things is a source of deep comfort. Without the ability to bestow it freely, and receive it in kind we are left either to hoard it or destitution. Which Lord’s sight would we gain in honor? In my view Odin or Freyr works here. Regardless, when wealth is allowed to flourish the good things of that wealth circulate. From here we are able to give good Gebo to our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. Without wealth our cup is empty. We cannot make offerings from an empty cup. The potential of wealth, and indeed money itself to do good is there. It needs to be cared for and allowed to flow to do so healthily. We must be free to care for the land, air, water, and our communities. We must be free to work with the sources of wealth, to bring up good things in it and from it, and to exchange in good Gebo with each other. Fehu’s usual entrance in Runic dictionaries of ‘cattle’ belies the deep ties and right relationships it requires.

So what of modern money and Fehu? If we understand that wealth is not money, but rather, money’s value is derived from wealth, it presents a very different understanding of things compared to how modern society operates. A fiat currency is only able to be exchanged as payment for goods and services because we, as a society, have decreed this currency is able to be used for that purpose. Untethered from any real good, such as gold, which could serve to give it a basis in reality for its value, money’s value fluctuates based on availability in the economy, at how much it is borrowed into existence, and the price of the goods it is able to buy. In the end, money in our society is backed up by the amount of energy that makes it able to purchase goods and services and to pay taxes and our faith that it is a good medium for exchange. This way of organizing how money works directly impacts how we care for all the sources of wealth, our communities, and ourselves. If the only way attain the value of a thing is to price it in terms of what x amount of dollars can buy y thing then unless the sources of wealth can be readily exploited and converted into cash they are deemed relatively worthless. This is why a single room apartment in New York City, cramped and with thin walls, can cost upwards of $2,000 a month where a two bedroom apartment here in Michigan can cost around $800 to $1,000 a month. This is why vacant farmland, cut up and parceled to sell to homeowners, can run anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000 an acre just depending on how close it is to the nearest city.

Fehu requires us to tend the things from which wealth flows. The land, air, waters all must be tended so cattle, mobile wealth, can flourish. So we need to not only protect the land, air, and waters, we need to work to regenerate them. Yellowstone found that when wolves were reintroduced it had huge knock-on effects because rivers would come back and flourish. This was because the trees which held water and held the soil together were not being destroyed by hungry animals. This, in turn, allowed more and more of the park itself to flourish. Fehu, then, requires balance and true appreciation for those things which are the very sources of life, of wealth, and of the good things we can make of this life. We must be living well both spiritually and physically with the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and with one another. The soil and water must be healthy so the grass is healthy, so that in turn the grass is healthy so the cattle is healthy, and we who eat the cow then are healthy as well. What we value needs to be valued in life and in death. Slaughtering a cow is still a big undertaking. They need to be cared for well, they should be slaughtered humanely, they are heavy, and their body can make a lot of food and tools. All of this requires preparation, skill, and care to be taken with each step. Even without slaughtering a cow, while the excreta of cows is a potent fertilizer and balancer to the soil, it can only be so if it is allowed to compost properly so it does not present as a vector for diseases to soil, water, to the cows, or to us.

I agree with Kelly Harrel’s point in The Runic Book of Days: as the first Rune in the Futhark, Fehu is the warming power of Muspelheim where Uruz is cold solidity of Nifelheim. Both these Runes are thethered not only to physical concepts but to the spiritual and intellectual ideas found within the Runes. Again and again, wherever I look, Fehu is homeostasis, living balance found in living with the environment one is in. It is not peace; that is another thing entirely. Imbalanced, Fehu is the out-of-control population of hooved animals eating a piece of land to death, hot manure spread over soil, but not allowed to decompose. Imbalanced, Fehu is the path of the serpent and the wolf who breaks the boundariess of the yard, leaving privation and destruction behind.

Our ideas of money, then, should be oriented towards those things which allows the wealth of the soil, the water, the air, our bodies and our spirits to be healthy. This, in turn, makes our money useful to all these things while giving it the opportunity to grow in a useful way rather than for its own sake. When we herd we place boundaries on where the herd is able to go to protect the soil, the water, the air, and the cows themselves. We need to do the same with our money so it does not all leave us, just as we need to give it room to move and be useful. For our purposes, the budget shares the same purpose as the fence with cattle, and the objectives we turn our money toward are similar to the pastures we raise the cattle on. When it comes to Fehu and money I ultimately see a regenerative relationship should we keep in right relationship. The money we ‘graze’ today as investments can come back to us as good cows whose lives we honor by using everything they give us to its best extent. Ideally, we grow our sources of wealth and our money as we would actual cows: by making strong relationships that our descendents are able to benefit from and grow long after we become part of the Ancestors.

  1. Keith McCormic
    September 1, 2019 at 1:57 pm

    You make many excellent points, especially about the difference between real wealth and plunder.

    I would caution against thinking of specie or backed currencies as “real” money, anymore than fiat currency. This is because even those have value backed not by utility but by social convention. Gold and silver had nearly zero day-to-day utility for much of human history. Instead, we valued them for emotional reasons- beauty, social standing, portability, even simply as a sign of our ability to trade for impractical things.

    Indeed, it’s worth noting that money itself was entirely an “outside” concept. Contrary to the Victorian notion of early human communities bartering internally and thus leading to money, we actually see the opposite. Anthropologists and economists are now coming around to the idea that internal (to a small community) transactions were almost always gift- or trust-based until fairly recently. Barter and barter tokens were for outsiders or members of the community who were on probation- presumably for breaking the trust.

    In this sense, healthy human economic exchange has always been based on fiat, the social fabric of trust in each other.

    What has broken is not, and was not ever, the money itself. The failure is in the internal strength of our communities and in the rapacious mores of the civilization that connects those communities.

    • September 1, 2019 at 2:30 pm

      Currencies are a medium of exchange, stand-ins for the energy required to do work or derive goods and services from sources of wealth. Too many things would be cumbersome to barter, or too convoluted, and that gifting cycle and right relationship is what I am referencing there.

      In regards to gold or silver, in a world where we are living with LESS, Less Energy, Stuff, and Stimulation (thank you John Michael Greer!) gold will only retain what value folks put on it. Given peak oil and climate change I have little doubt that gold and silver will lose their utility, as most of what uses gold and silver for connectors and components in electronics, for instance, requires too much input to survive in a post-petroleum world. Gold and silver, and likely many other ‘precious’ metals will go back to being visually/aesthetically stimulating, and from a spiritual point of view quite viable for a lot of things, but I doubt they’ll retain their use as they have now.

      Those innangarð connections are going to matter more and more as time goes on because we are going to have to get to know our neighbors and community members better, putting deeper trust than we have been taught to in the last few generations. This is part of where I see us needing to head in order for our spirits, communities, and all the sources of wealth I mentioned to be healthy.

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