Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Money in Magic

Alright people, the first thing I want you to do is watch this video. It's a scene from "Schindler's List", so be warned.  Also be warned, the sound is a bit wonky, and I am going to ask you to watch it again at the end of this post.

I've been thinking a lot about money lately. With the global eco-econo-pocolypse possibly looming as it always does, Papa's been thinking more and more about The Hustle lately. Hustle as in making money, not the dance from the 1970's.

Money has had a long history in Magic ever since we invented it as a means of trade. Gift Economy, to barter was natural, but difficult as in order to make a trade we both had to have something the other wanted. If I am a cabinet maker, and you do not need a cabinet, but I need your grain in order to eat I may well be fucked. Then of course we haggle for something you may want, like my watch, horse, wife, or daughter. But people and livestock are very difficult to keep track of. They can run, kick you, or bash in your noggin when you sleep.

Sadly, people, animals, as well as land, et al. are considered commodities, and always have been. We've reorganized people into the umbrella of "Labor" as a commodity, but lets be honest, it's still in the same vein. Thus for ease, portability, and lack of free will we moved from exchanging big bulky things into small things that we all agree have value. Thus the use of shells, bat shit, coins, and salt as a means of currency. Do keep in mind that the term "Salary" comes from the payment of salt wages in classical times. This is commodity money of a different sort. Now the butcher can exchange value with the cabinet maker, even if the cabinet maker is vegan, because they both have something each other wants. There is now a universally agreed upon unity of exchange within a society. It also served to civilize society and spread power away from those who controlled food and water, and more into the hands of the average person.. well.. at least more than they were previously. Now you didn't have to own the water supply to be rich and powerful, you could simply be a financially savvy cabinet maker.

Later still we get more abstract money, such as the paper currency we have now. It used to have an exchange rate for precious metals back in the day, but since economies went off the gold standard, it is now more abstract. Now currency is much more flexable, at least partially debt based, and trickier and trickier to pin down. This leads to the latest development in the Digital.

Money is a talismanic crystallization, a living symbol of VALUE. Money is the very real product of your Labor, your Ideas, your Life! Think of it this way, when you buy a $5 dollar latte, think of how much you make in an hour, you have just spent a fraction of the value of one hour of your life on coffee. This has, btw,  helped me curb my spending. When I am going to buy something, I ask myself, is this thing worth this much of my labor, this many hours of my life?

When you hold a stack of currency in your hand, or even a debit card linked to a viable bank account you hold power. Real power. Shakti. Money is the embodiment of a Divine Force. When you hold a credit card in your hand, you are holding Debt. You leverage your life, the value of your sweat and mind, and you pay extra for the privilege. Make no mistake, it is sometimes necessary, but it is none the less someone shaving off a little extra power from you. It means that some of your Life belongs to this institution, in advance, before you even lived it.

When we give coins to the dead to cross over and back safely, when we pay the Ferryman, we are exchanging a small bit of our Life, our Time here. We've got two dollar bills in hoodoo for gambling, as gamblers were said to live off of whore's wages.. about two dollars. All money is a little unsavory. There are no clean feet in a muddy world.

Even our ritual supplies, if we don't wild craft them ourselves we are at least using a little money to buy them. Incense, idols, daggers, books, all cost small paper thin shavings of your life. Sometimes it goes meta: Taoists print hell bank notes for the dead, as well as paper clothes, televisions, video games, cell phones, etc to keep the Ancestors well stocked. All symbols translated to the Great Below, all purchased with real money.

Now, money isn't everything, but it is a powerful force. There are a few who live in a theft based, or gift based, or whatever else based economy still, in small pockets and subcultures. Amongst family and friends money should be treated carefully, more given than loaned, because a loan, is a Debt after all, and all Debts need to be settled eventually. Money is a tool, and quite possibly, the most powerful and versatile talisman we have ever created. Treat it carefully, use it wisely, and never, ever let it rule you.

Money is powerful, and sacred, but only because WE have made it so. It does not have intrinsic value to us like water or food or fire. WE give money it's power, and if we let it wander where it wills.. well.. out of control magical creations do not usually end well.. See the Golem, Frankenstein's Monster, and Mr. Hyde for examples. Money is our ability to translate our value to others in the form of a universally accepted symbol for the purpose of exchange. Money has value because your life has value! USE IT!

When next you see a coin on the street you will know what it really is. When you toss a coin into a well or fountain, leave one at a crossroads, or toss it over your shoulder, know the weight of what you do.

Now watch the video again.


Rose Weaver said...

Schindler's List has long been one of my favorite films for many reasons. Your use of this incredibly moving scene within this particular context is a powerful way to add extra punch to your message within this post.

Nicely done!

As for me, I always stop and pick up pennies I see on the ground. Many friends have often commented on what a waste of time it is to do this, especially since pennies aren't worth much in today's economy, but I don't consider it a waste and really, that's not even the point. A penny has many uses as well as value, and those pennies add up. I use those pennies for a variety of things, and the pennies which aren't used are collected in my fancy (Jack Daniels) bottle for later exchange at the bank into larger dollar bills which can be used to purchase needed items or pay debts owed to the electric company, etc.

However, I'll get a bit lax with my pennies on occasion, I'll confess. Your message of the true value of my pennies has been reinforced at just the right moment. Thanks for that.

Pallas Renatus said...

I'm thankful I was raised with this point of view. I could never understand seeing people piss away money, because I'd be thinking "you just wasted _____ hours of your life for that? But then, the same goes for those who stock away every penny and never spend a cent of it.

But these things happen when you serve money, instead of making it serve you.