The Power of Money


Have you ever wondered why so many of us are so attached to our money? “Money makes the world go round” is a lyric from the musical Cabaret and there are more people than not in today's world who would agree with these lyrics. We sacrifice our well-being for it, some people kill for it, some people steal it knowing if they get caught they're off to jail, some people work themselves to death for it while many others base their self-esteem upon it. Obviously, in today's world we put a lot of emphasis upon money.

There is an interesting psychological term known as projection that will serve us well in our look at money. Projection happens when a person unconsciously denies his or her own strengths or weaknesses, thoughts, emotions or attributes and then, equally unconsciously, assigns, or projects, these personal characteristics onto others. For example, I may denounce some ignorant red-neck as a racist while not wanting to face my own, more or less unconscious, feelings of racism. By projecting my own feelings of racism onto some other person, I don't have to face this unsettling characteristic in myself. It's their problem, not mine. Money is like this; it is a projection carrier par excellence. In itself, money is neutral and because it is neutral we are able to project onto it so easily. Just look at some of the things we so easily project onto money: sexuality, power, even reality.

One of the most common sayings in English about money is that money is the root of all evil. However, money itself is not the root of evil. Indeed, it's not the root of anything. It's what each of does with our money that is good, neutral, or evil. And it's what each of us projects on to money that makes it good or evil.

It can easily be argued that money is the most powerful, practical, most easily accessible form of transformation, particularly in a culture like ours which is primarily a business culture. Money can be turned into almost anything in the world. Cars, food, holidays, influence, power, status, sex, security – you name it, money can be transformed into it. Nothing else can achieve such a range of transformational possibility for us as money can. Money's power then lies in this transformational potency that we have given to it. We invest this inert thing, money, with a power it doesn't have in and of itself. Many of us make money, say that five dollar bill in your pocket, a talisman, an object that is invested with a power to bring us luck, good fortune, or to ward off unwanted situations. We engage in magical thinking which is a way of thinking human beings have used since our ancestors first became self-reflective beings thousands of years ago.

While all of us in 21st century Canada like to think of ourselves as well beyond a more “primitive” stage of magic in which our ancestors dwelt, this stage of psychic development is still not too far beneath surface for most of us. Have you ever wondered from where our propensity for hanging on to good luck charms comes? Or from where athletes superstitious behaviour arises? Friday the 13th? Or the absence of 13th floors in many buildings? Ever cross your fingers when promising something, toss a penny into a wishing well? Play lucky numbers in a lottery? What about feeling uneasy on dark, starless nights because...?

The term 'money' is, of course, a word. Words have power. In naming a 'thing' that it names, a word gives meaning to that 'thing'. Naming sets boundaries and limitations around what it names so that we can understand what it is. Giving a thing a name gives it power; it gives the thing a role in our world. A plane is a plane and not a dish, a municipal bond is a municipal bond and not a guitar. The words we use all have a history, a parentage if you will, and it is important to know that history if we want to understand the power of the word to elicit both conscious and unconscious meaning contained in the word. Words don't just drop from the sky. Any English word that we use has a history, it comes from a particular place and had a particular meaning which may not be its meaning today. The modern word may have grown from an earlier word probably in Latin or classical Greek which served as the parent languages for many modern English words. The modern word is still imbued, and for most of us this imbuing process is unconscious to us, with all the power the 'parent' words had.

Let us look at the word 'money'. The modern 'money' comes from the Latin moneta and it is a feminine noun in that language. So here is an irony for us to consider. The word 'money', predominately seen in history as the domain of males, is originally feminine in its nature. Moneta provides us with a number of interesting facts. First, it is the name for the Muses who are the goddesses of memory. Second, it is one of the key titles for Juno, the chief goddess in the Roman line up of gods and goddesses. Juno's temple doubled as the Roman mint and as the treasury of Rome. While we may think, because of our western commercial history, that money is more male in its orientation, in fact, beneath the surface of everyday monetary activity, money is in the feminine realm.

But there is more. Moneta itself has a bit of a history. It comes from an older Latin word moneo which has a few meanings including “to remind”, “to advise”, “to teach” and “to admonish”. So residing within our word 'money' are the images of memory, advising, teaching and warning. In this relationship between 'money' and memory, it's easy to see what happens when we don't learn from our past experiences with money. For example, housing prices that rise too fast, debt that is incurred at a rate such that the debtor declares bankruptcy, or the rush of investors to investments that don't have the wheels to protect the initial investments. When this sort of monetary foolishness is a cyclical occurrence due to lessons not learned from previous financial disasters, then Juno, the feminine principal, creates mayhem.

We have more. Moneta is also derived from another earlier Latin root word, mens. Moneta has a sister word derived from mens, memini which means “to remember”. Like moneta, mens is a feminine noun and it means “mind”, “heart”, and “soul”. Mens was also the name of the Roman goddess of thought. More importantly, mens is also the root word for Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, reflection, poetry and weaving. All of this emphasis on remembering, warning and wisdom leads us straight into the arms of prophecy or trying to foretell the future. Money is as much about prophecy as it is about exchange. The modern financial system is rife with prophecy in the forms of forecasts, expectations, and predictions. Indeed, prophecy (forecasts) is at the heart of our capitalistic financial system. Juno Moneta has jettisoned her toga for a business suit, a MBA, and expensive shoes.

Lets take a closer look at one of the definitions of mens, the word 'soul'. By way of its etymological (history of a word's meaning) heritage, money is connected to the soul of the person. Is there any wonder why many people are profoundly affected by what happens to their money? Money has a etymological link with soul, the essence of a person, that easily morphs into a psychological link – for many, money is linked intimately with status, well-being, self-esteem, security. When their monetary fortunes increase, many people feel an expansion of their soul, their being. They can become euphoric. Conversely, when their monetary fortunes decrease, these same people will feel a threat to their very existence. Depression is often not far behind.

This simple two syllable word, money, then, is the projecting connector for so many people between memory, existence, soul, safety, threat, prophecy and status to name but a few connections. Is there any wonder, then, as to the central importance of the idea of money beyond a simple means of exchange in our culture? Our words, and in particular, this particular word – money – define who we are.

This article was inspired by reading an essay “Coins and Psychological Change” by Russell Lockhart in the book Soul and Money, Dallas , Texas: Spring Publications, 1982.