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“Spirit is the life that itself cuts life.” This Nietzchean statement puzzles and challenges. What might a spirituality that cuts life -- rather than just skimming over its surface -- look like?
• Fehu •
Old English Rune Poem
Feoh (Money) is a comfort to humans all;
But each one should deal it out abundantly,
If he wants before the Lord to chance judgement.
Old Icelandic Rune Poem
Fe (Money) is kinsman’s quarrel
And flood-tide’s token
And necromancy’s road.
Old Norse Rune Poem
Fe (Money) causes kinsmen’s quarrel;
The wolf is reared in the forest.
~ Rune poem translations by Sweyn Plowright
Money tends to be bound up with intense feeling – particularly anxiety. It is essentially a symbol after all, onto which we are free to project a vast array of significances. Its spectral touch can thread throughout lives, throughout history itself. It is the justification for an infinity of injustices, absurdities, and cowardice.
Is money really so bad as all that? The Old English Rune Poem, after all, suggests that it is a comfort for everyone. A comfort yes; but in their own ways, hard drugs and manipulative scheming are also comforts, tools by which truths are avoided and looming fears deferred.
“Each one should deal it out abundantly:” if this advice or observation was felt necessary by the runic poet we can conclude that this ethos, though at one level rather trite, was not always considered or obeyed even among the poet’s contemporaries.
So we might follow in the path suggested by the Old English Rune Poem and propose that Fehu’s worth lies in the way that we choose to relate to wealth in our lives. So far as money – and by that I really mean any kind of relation of exchange – is used as a substitute for other, inner, processes, it becomes a danger and the root of gratuitous conflict.
Consider this: the ultra rich are often just as precious (pardon the pun) about money as the ultra poor, grasping at it fearfully, meting it out grudgingly. If we wish to use material plenty as a substitute for emotional well-being, honest and loving relationships, or ethical conduct, then we can never have enough money. Money will never be able to completely drown out the innate call back to our most fundamental truths.
This is a lesson that the upwardly mobile sometimes discover, although more often they seem to lose it amid an orgy of shallow consumerism and frantic commercial grasping. The emotional toll that poverty often extracts cannot be exclusively paid down with material things when better times come.
And sometimes it is the poorest who seem to be the most content, perhaps because in poverty the diversions and illusions of money are less available, forcing an increase in self-awareness. This is not to say that it is in anyway a joy to be poor; as it says in the Old Norse poem “Havamal”:
his heart doth bleed who has to beg
the meat for his every meal
Regardless of how much or how little each of us has, money is a distraction. It lets us forget that the whole of our experience is grounded in projection. By that I mean that everything I experience is finite, limited in perspective, fallible. I can only ever perceive a narrow slice of reality.
Fortunately our projections are often accurate enough that we can survive and even thrive. But they’re still projections, and if reality were to shift without our noticing we might find ourselves in all kinds of trouble. Unfortunately, when our projections do not align with reality we are very good at improvising workarounds – excuses, justifications, nodes of rigid belief, inflexibilities. We tend to be less talented at accepting the real circumstances, embracing the humility and effort they require.
As money, Fehu presents an exemplary metaphor for the all-pervasive challenge of reflection and action: of withdrawing ourselves from lazy acceptance of the status quo, of being sufficiently attuned to the world around us that we do not confuse knowing something with simply being used to it.
Insofar as wealth implies exchange and relationships the rune is pointing us to consider our place in the causal web of existence. It is inviting us to act with a sense of consequence that goes beyond the psychic wasteland of disposable culture. It is inviting us to consider that relationships, though often invisible, are more real than things (and we are ourselves a kind of thing).
Consequently, Fehu provokes an attitude in which we eschew simple, closed off explanations, interpretations, and responses to our experiences. It provokes us to be curious, to be open-minded, to look for ways to expand our understanding. It castigates us when we decide to focus only on the evidence that supports our opinions, when we decide to ignore anything that contradicts our cherished beliefs.
Everyone is enslaved by money – regardless of how much or little they have – so long as they do not accept the challenge that Fehu presents. Only by surpassing something can we truly come to lay claim to it. Only by stripping something of our illusions can we appreciate its truth.
The Old English Rune Poem emphasizes the importance of generosity. In this it anticipates Game Theory, which provides mathematical proofs for the principle that co-operation is always more efficient than competition. The more we circulate, the more integrated we become in our world. The more our lives are sheltered by webs of relationships, the less we flee from awareness into the empty universe of disconnected things that contemporary commercialism evokes.
The rune poems mention the place of strife – between family, no less – in all of this. So I would like to offer a challenge – to detach whatever anxiety, anger, or resentment you might have from the circumstances or people that provoke those feelings. And recognize these emotions as helpful messages and reminders to you from your unconscious. It is waving and shouting and crying “listen to me!” Do so.
Fehu comes first in all of the rune rows. Its emphasis on the importance of relationships, inter-connections, courage, curiosity, and epistemological humility certainly makes an excellent point of departure in our exploration of the runes that follow.
Ken Robinson says, “if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” Fehu is a reminder that the ultimate thing you are seeking to “come up with” is nothing more or less than your Self. There is no higher reward, so be willing to embrace the challenge!
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