The Mystery of Money – Beyond Greed and Scarcity | Chapter 6 | Bernard Lietaer (2002)

Reproduced from:

Chapter 6: Case Study of Egypt

“He whose vision cannot cover
History’s three thousand years
Must in outer darkness hover
Live within the day’s frontiers.”

“The further we look into the past,
The more we can see of the future.”
Winston Churchill

Egyptian demurrage

In Egypt, as in the European Central Middle Ages, two types of currency were operational in parallel with each other. The Yang currencies were used in “long-distance” trade, for instance with Mesopotamia and Nubia and later with Greece and Rome. Jonathan Williams, the curator at the Department of Coins and Medals in the British Museum, makes the point: “Long-distance trade presumably played a significant role in the use of precious metals as money in all regions of the Mediterranean.”2 Among the tangible evidence of such “long- distance” trade are the many early Greek coins which have been found in Egypt, the Near East or in the region of the Black Sea. Similarly, “international” gifts and tributes would be paid and received in the form of gold rings (Photo 6.1), silver bars, incense, and other precious commodities, including silver and gold coinage (Photo 6.1 a)

Photo 6.1 from Jonathan Williams Money: A History page 16 ½ page

Ancient Egyptian wall painting showing gold rings being weighted on a balance. These are examples of an Egyptian Yang currency that would be stored and used for long-distance trading. Notice that the counterweight for the rings takes the form of a cow’s head, tying back to the role of the cow and the Goddess Hathor as symbol of fertility and abundance. (Thebes, c. 14thcentury BC).

Photo 6.11 b  ¼ page

Silver Stater from Acanthus (Northern Greece, c. 500 BC) found in a hoard of Greek coins in the Nile Delta. This coin has been cut open to check the purity and quality of the metal. Its beautiful design represents a lion attacking a bull, but the Egyptians were only interested in its bullion content.

Photo 6.1 a  (Darius vase from Williams) 1/3 page

One use of the Yang currencies, very familiar to everybody in the ancient world, including to the Egyptians, was the payment by vanquished populations of tribute in silver and gold coins to conquerors. This scene from a classical Greek ceramic shows the great Persian conqueror Darius seated on a throne, listening to the reports of his chief financial officer. The name “Darius” is marked above him. A young soldier stands guard behind him.

In the lower register bags of silver coins are being counted, while an “accountant” keeps track of the number of silver coins brought in. The numbers in front of him include millions and hundreds of thousands. At the extreme right, a representative of the vanquished population begs for mercy on his knees. [Detail from the so-called “Darius vase” dated 4th century BC]

However, exactly as in the Medieval case, another less glamorous Yin demurrage-charged currency functioned as a de facto common medium of exchange among ordinary Egyptians.

We already noticed in the previous chapter that the Egyptian demurrage system was more sophisticated than the Medieval one. In Egypt, the demurrage charge was systematically built in all currency transactions using the “corn- standard” currency, the most widespread currency used among ordinary Egyptians.

Egyptian demurrage charges were fine-tuned to the month and even the day. In addition, the demurrage charge was tied to the “real world” of spoilage and costs of storage. In contrast, the Medieval Renovatio Monetae were a stop and go process every five or six years, and as we have seen in the cases of later abuses, the arbitrariness of both the frequency and the level of taxation ended up discrediting the whole process.

So far I have not been able to find for Egypt as much precise evidence of the economic impact of this monetary system as I did for the Middle Ages. I have not even been able to track down for sure that it was Joseph who invented it, although he still seems the best candidate. Joseph’s story is usually dated between 1,900 and 1,600 BC. In any case, according to Preisigke, it was “a very old tradition” by the time of the Greek colonization of Egypt (ca. 4th century B.C.).

Egyptian Economy

Gendered Time?

Physicists generally see time as a human-manufactured illusion, a concept invented in order to make sense out of the world around them.1 The idea of linear time that has become our “common sense” time – measured today by our clocks and calendars – was first declared a universal concept by Aristotle. Not surprisingly, as most other “universal” Artistotelean concepts, it is a masculine construct. Women and many civilizations in the past were emphasizing instead cyclical time: “women are forcibly and repeatedly reminded of the cyclical character of their own biology”2. Their lives are characterized by cyclical continuity and discontinuity, in contrast to the greater physical continuum of men’s lifecycles. It should therefore not surprising that both in Egypt and during the Central Middle Ages cyclical time perceptions were the dominant form of time perception (e.g.: the annual Nile rising was the dominant feature in the Egyptian ritual year, and on almost all cathedral facades and/or roses the twelve signs of the Zodiac are similarly prominently in display3).

Furthermore, the perception of the importance of the future could similarly be gendered, although much fewer studies are available on that aspect. One exception is the one by Lin Foxhall about classical Greece4. For example, men would achieve public power in young adulthood, and their influence decrease with age and reduction of military capacities. A man’s influence would therefore tend to be of a short-term nature. In contrast, women’s authority would be limited to the household in Classical Greece, but continue to increase with time. By marrying young (typically at 12-14 years of age) and living older than men, the peak of a woman’s power over kin and household would tend to grow until she would influence three generations when she reaches her own old age. Could this be the reason that thinking about the longer-term future tends to be more “natural” in societies where the feminine is honored?

Intriguingly, Yin currencies with their demurrage charges, are quite coherent with this process. Specifically, whenever demurrage currencies were operational, really long-term thinking seemed quite natural, and this was certainly the case in both Egypt and during the Age of Cathedrals in Western Europe. Otherwise why would anybody be willing to fund a cathedral that would be completed only three to seven generations hence?

1 Hawking , S. W. A brief History of Time (London: Bantam, 1988).

2 Thomas, J. Time, Culture and Identity (London: Routledge, 1996) pg 52

3 An entire chapter on cyclical time perceptions in the Middle Ages is found in the Gilchrist, Robertaheology and Gender: Contesting the Past (London: Routledge, 2000) chapter 5 (pg. 79-109).

4 Foxhall, L. quoted by Gilchrist, Roberta Archeology and Gender pg 87-88.

Photograph 6.2 full page Agricultural Activities

(Robins pg 101) of Nahkt estate.

Agricultural activities on the estate of Nakht and his wife, who are shown together while making an offering of gratitude for the abundance in the top register. Lowest register shows plowing and sowing of grains. Harvesting and winnowing of grains is shown behind them.

(TT 52 Nahkt. Facsimile painting by Nina Davies. Metropolitan Museum of Art 15.5.19b)

Ostrakon 4633 Kestner

This is an ostrakon wheat receipt, the most common currency used among Egyptians. This particular receipt is relatively “small change”. Its translation is “Second year of the reign of Ramses II, second day of third month of Shamu. On this day three hin [a quantity of about 1.5 liters] of corn were received by the undersigned officer of the West.”

The value of such receipts would slowly diminish over time to reflect storage costs. Such costs would therefore represented a modest demurrage fee on this currency, making this a Yin currency by ensuring that this currency be used mainly as a pure medium of payment, and not as a store of value.

Kestner Museum inventory # 4633

We also know indisputably that:

  • The Egyptians were quite happy with their money system. When Greeks would tease them about the mundane looking “ostraca”, they answered that they considered the Greek passion for gold and silver coins a rather strange fixation. They saw the precious-metal coins as “a piece of local vanity, patriotism or advertisement with no far-reaching importance.”3 The Egyptians would accept the Greek coins only for their bullion content, as a simple raw material. This is confirmed by the frequency of Greek coins found in Egypt that had been cut open just to verify their metal content (see photo 6.11b).
  • Egypt had been considered by everybody and for many centuries “the breadbasket of the ancient world.” Just the fact that there were fifteen different words commonly used during the Old Kingdom to differentiate between the different types of bread, and over forty New Kingdom words for bread and cakes, gives a feeling of a prosperous society.4
  • The advice offered by Scribe Any to his disciples provides another insight into a “gentle society”: “Do not eat bread while another stands by, without offering your portion to him. Food is always there. It is man who does not last.”5
  • Besides bread, onions, garlic, leek, beans, chickpeas, lentils, melons, pulses, cucumbers and other vegetables, there was also good supply of meat (particularly goats, sheep, wild fowl and domesticated geese and pigeons, more rarely pigs and cows), cheese and butter, and an exceptionally ample supply of fish. Diodorus Siculus reports that “the Nile contains every variety of fish and in numbers beyond belief; for it supplies all the natives not only with abundant subsistence from the fish freshly caught but it also yields an unfailing multitude of fish for salting.”6 Even the Hebrews, who as slaves must have been at the bottom of the social hierarchy, complained to their leaders after being freed from their bondage: “Will no one give us meat? Think of it. In Egypt we had fish for the asking, cucumbers and watermelons, leeks and onions and garlic…”
  • Both beer and wine (red in the Old Kingdom, white and red from the Middle Kingdom)werea common drink at all levels in society. Diodorus Siculus praised the beers “in smell and sweetness of taste not much inferior to wine.” The Greek-Egyptian Athenaeus, one of the first wine critics, already had developed a sophistication in taste and vocabulary which would not dishonor today’s connaisseurs. He describes “wine of the Mareotic region as excellent, white, pleasant, flagrant, easily assimilated, thin, not likely to go to the head, and diuretic. The Taeniotic wine is better than the Mareotic, somewhat paler, it has an oily quality, pleasant, aromatic, mildly astringent. And the wine of the Antylla province surpasses all others.”7 The amount of consumption was sufficient to justify a Middle Kingdom Wisdom Text to advise “Lend a hand to an elder drunk on beer, respect him as his children should.” Less leniant, the Scribe Any warned: “Do not indulge in drinking, less you utter evil speech and don’t know what you are saying.”
  • Education was not rare, particularly from the Middle Kingdom onwards, whenformalday-schools known as the “Houses of Instruction” were established in association with the various royal residences and the many temples. “Quite simply, anyone who was anyone in ancient Egypt could read and write.”8 Not everybody would know hieroglyphic writing, however, as this was reserved for monumental or sacred texts. Two other scripts were more in common use: the so-called cursive hieroglyphic and later on demotic script. Laundry lists, dressmaking advise and other household trivia from Deir el-Medina suggests that even ordinary housewives and servants were able to write and read.
  • The working day was eight hours long, including a midday meal break. However, there were many holidays. Ostraka show that out of fifty consecutive days, only eighteen were working days for the entire crew.9
  • The productive assets like the irrigation system were maintained at a quality level that was envied in the rest of the world.
  • Whenever the Egyptians built something they considered important, it was built tolastforever. Their temples still stand as witnesses for that point.

All this indicates the same kind of effects that a demurrage currency induced during the Central Medieval period.

Photograph 6.3 ½ page (Robins pg 93)

Egyptian estate dating to 18thdynasty with grape harvesting and wine making in the upper register; and fowl trapping and preparing in the lower register. Notice emphasis on storage vases repeated in both registers.”

(TT 52 Nakht. Facsimile painting by Nina Davies, detail. Metropolitan Museum of Art 15,15,19c)

In terms of quantifiable evidence supporting this view:

  • The yields obtained in grain production were the highest in the ancient world;averageestimates go as high as tenfold! But of course, in any comparison with other areas, one should take into account the high quality of the black soil of Egypt. I have not been able to discriminate between what components of that result is “gift of the Nile” and what component was human industriousness. Obviously both would play a role.
  • An unprecedented sign that something special must have gone on in food production in Dynastic Egypt is the fact that it initiated the first documented “foreign aid” program. There are written records proving that Egypt was giving grains gratis to the Athenian citizens when they suffered a famine in 445 B.C.10
  • One final indication that the monetary system had something to do with this wealth and general well-being is that it all ended as soon as the Romans replaced the Egyptian “grain standard” currency with their own money system, as will be shown later.

But did any of that have any relationship with honoring the archetypal feminine? This question will be addressed in three steps:

  1. First, what is the role of the feminine archetype in Egyptian mythology, and how significantly different was this from other contemporary societies?
  2. Second, did this make any difference for the real life of women in Egyptian society? Again the comparison should be made with other contemporary civilizations.
  3. Finally, why and how did this end, and what were the economic and social effects from its suppression?

Each of these topics will be addressed in turn next.

Isis: the Feminine Savior

Isis was the first daughter of Nut, the overarching night sky “who bore all the gods,” and the little earth-god Geb who laid below her. Her original Egyptian name was Au Set (Exceedingly Queen, that the colonizing Greeks modified to the now familiar “Isis”). According to one legend she initially was the Goddess of the hearth and home, but by discovering the secret  name of the Supreme God Ra, her powers became universal. Each living being is a drop of her blood.11 From the beginning, Isis turned a kind eye to humans, teaching women to grind corn, spin flax, weave cloth, and calm men sufficiently to live with them. Isis lived with her brother, Osiris, god of the Nile waters and the vegetation that sprouts up after the annual river floods. It is said that Isis and Osiris loved each other even when still in their mother’s dark womb. However, their evil and jealous brother Seth killed Osiris, and dismembered him in thirteen parts. Then starts the long saga wherein a desperate Isis tries to recover the body of her brother and lover. She sails with her boat down the river, and manages to recover, one by one, all the pieces of his body, marking each location with a Temple and a sacred city. She recovers all parts except one, his penis, which she ends up replacing with a golden one. Then she invents the art of embalming, and applies the magical words to the body of Osiris. Osiris rose, as alive as the corn after spring floods in Egypt, and Isis conceived a child thanks to the golden phallus, the sun god Horus.

Notice that here the feminine principle encompasses the solar god: “The daytime sky is the realm where the sun is born and dies, not, as later, the realm over which it rules.”12

Isis was known as the Lady of the innumerable Names (“myrionymos”13), who the Greeks also called Isis Panthea (i.e., Isis the All-Goddess). “I am the Mother of All that is, Mistress of all elements, origin of all time, first among all gods and goddesses…I govern everything.”14 She was the moon and the mother of the sun, she was mourning wife and tender sister, and she was the culture-giver and healer, originator of all the arts and of all that makes life comfortable and worthwhile. She was the Queen of Heaven and the guiding Star of the Sea, Lady of Joy and Abundance, Green Goddess, Maker of Kings, Maker of the Sunrise, Lady of Love. With Thot as her helper, “she had invented hieroglyphs and given them their esoteric value”15 as shown in the Andros Hynm where she claims that “I have discovered and carved with chisels the secret hieroglyphs […], engraving them for my initiates”16 She was Sothis, the opener of the New Year, she was Meri, goddess of the sea and Sochit,the cornfield. She was Hathor, the generous source of food as abundant as stars with a famous cult center in Denderah. She gave humans their daily bread, controlled the weather, the waves and the wind (hence her claim that “I invented seafaring”17), and Destiny (“I overcome Fate”), and caused righteousness to prevail. Finally, as Isis Medica she was the healer of all ills, as a Greek writer put it: “Men say that she is the giver of health, as we declare Asclepius is.”18 “She is in the fullest sense Love.”19 She was indeed Almighty.

Politically, she was also the Seat of Wisdom, identified by her hieroglyph in the form of a high-backed throne that rested on her head, often her only distinguishing feature.20 The lap of the goddess Isis became the royal throne of Egypt, and the pharaoh suckling her breast was the way to receive the divine nourishment of wisdom that guaranteed his right to rule. “The throne ‘makes’ the king,” as many texts say all the way back to the first dynasty21.

Her initiatic schools in Abydos and Heliopolis were famous all over the Ancient world. For instance, Solon, the famous Athenian law giver, and the Greek philosophers Pythagoras and Plato all were initiates from Heliopolis.

The Isis Cult

Photo 6.4 1/3 page

The Goddess Nut who bore all the Gods is shown surrounded by stars. She is giving birth here to the sun, whose rays in turn fall on a head of Hathor, the fertility aspect of Isis. Plants sprout on each side of the head.

Drawing by Moreno Tomasetig .

Photo 6.5 1/3 page

Alison Roberts Hathor Rising pg 105 (photo AMR)

Isis with the horned symbol of Hathor, her form when she is referred to as fertility goddess. Here she wears the very specific “menit” necklace, one of Hathor’s attributes. She also has the royal uraeus snake rising on her front.

(from the tomb of Queen Nefertari, Thebes”

photograph 6.6. ½ page

Seti I suckling Isis reproduced in Baring, Anne & Cashford, Jules: 251 (Photo Peter Clayton).

Seti I from the 19thdynasty is shown suckling the breast of Isis. The milk of the Goddess is the source of the Pharaoh’s wisdom and authority to rule.” (from Temple of Seti I, Abydos, c.1300 BC)

It is difficult for our modern minds to grasp the religious- theological concepts of Egypt, an ancient agrarian society, polytheistic, whose beliefs were transmitted by myth and symbol rather than reason and logic. Our modern minds are easily baffled by the apparent contradictions and complexities. But if we look for the core, we can find important links between our present-day issues and thinking and Egypt’s ancient wisdom.

While the general perception of the Egyptian culture is one of just another patriarchal system, with an all-powerful male Pharaoh at the top, the whole esoteric tradition in Egypt was predominantly and explicitly matrifocal. And at the center of this tradition was Isis – “the great Isis” as the Pyramid Texts called her already in the very first dynasties – who was explicitly credited with being the inventor of that tradition. Isis was the greatest goddess in Egypt and was worshipped there uninterruptedly for more than three millennia from pre-dynastic times – well before 3,000 B.C. – until the second century A.D. Reading carefully through each one of the symbolic contents of the Isis myth provides abundant clues of the archetypal framework in place (see sidebar). In contrast with Greek and other Indo-European mythologies, the feminine principle is not only honored, but also systematically empowered. Osiris is almost a sidekick, the helpless one whom Isis is saving again and again out of love.

The relationship between Isis and the temporal power of the Pharaoh is also quite explicit. There are many representations of a Pharaoh suckling the breast of Isis as the source of his wisdom and of his authority to rule, such as is the case for Seti I, in Abydos (ca.1,300 B.C.) (Photo 6.6.) Also note the remarkable persistence of that image, given that after a thousand year hiatus, the hagiography of Saint Bernard would take over that unorthodox but precise image of his wisdom coming from the “milk of the Goddess.”22

One aspect that may baffle modern observers is what appears as a fixation in the Egyptian culture with death – with its elaborate preparations of tombs and mortuary furnishings. This may appear strange to our own culture because of our own taboos about death. And part of this impression is also due to the fact that artifacts recovered from tombs dominate the archeological record in Egypt. But it remains true that those among the Egyptians who could afford it, spent extraordinary efforts during their life to have everything prepared for their own death.

The key to this singularity is to understand that, to the Egyptians, death was inevitable but not necessarily final. They believed that it was possible – by taking all the precise and correct precautions23 – to enjoy an afterlife in the “Field of Reeds”, a land of pleasure and plenty ruled by Osiris that is a counterpart to the world of the living ruled by the Pharaoh as the living Horus. The elaborate mummifications and burial arrangements, initially reserved to the Pharaoh in the Old Empire, became accessible to anybody who could afford it from the Middle Empire onwards. They were considered as pragmatic technologies necessary to ensure the continuation of the “good life” even after death. They reveal in fact an acceptance and preparation of death as a fact of life. It is because they believed that “one had a chance of taking it all with you” that all these beautiful objects would accompany the mummy for its enjoyment in the Field of Reeds. The scribal advice that “do not delay building your tomb in the mountains, you do not know how long you will live”24 should therefore be seen in this matter-of-fact way, rather than as a morbid view as our own culture would take such a statement25.

From our archetypal perspective, all this is consistent with a society that is at peace with death, one of the three key attributes of the Great Mother. And of course, Isis with her faithful assistant Anubis, was the inventor off mummification and all the magical rituals necessary for this transition to be successful. As her mythology confirms, Isis was the indispensable “bridge” between the land of Horus (of the living) and rebirth in the land of Osiris (of the death).

The archetypal constellation all this reveals for Egypt is definitely different from the rest of the Western or Middle Eastern tradition. It is also a fact that the Egyptians adopted a money system quite unique in the ancient world. How would typical autocratic leaders – from Hammurabi in Babylon to Louis XIV in France – have reacted to Joseph’s simple idea of a monetary system where the production of even the most modest farmer’s could become money at the farmer’s choice?

Return to Our Core Thesis

Our core thesis is that there is a connection between honoring the feminine archetype and specifically the Great Mother archetype, and the appearance of money systems that promote sustainable abundance. Although we should be careful in automatically assuming a causality link between these factors, it is intriguing that the Egyptians themselves did not hesitate on making precisely such a linkage. They invariably attributed all material abundance and quality in life on the one side, and the unusual independence of women on the other, directly and unequivocally to Isis herself.


  • The connection between material abundance and Isis was powerful and strikinglypersistent.Forinstance, both the statue and a painting of the goddess found in the Iseum of Pompei, and many Hellenistic coins show Isis with an overflowing cornucopia in her hand.26 Even after Emperor Constantine had issued an edict for the christianisation of the Empire and the destruction of all pagan temples in 331 AD, Isis symbolism persisted stubbornly on the coinage until late in the 4th century. And as late as 376 AD, the Roman emperors Valens, Gratian and Valentian charged the superintendent of the year’s corn supply to restore the Iseum of Rome’s port at Ostia, in order to ensure a safe arrival of the food supplies fromEgypt.27
  • In terms of quality of life during the dynastic periods in Egypt itself,their foreign contemporaries considered the Egyptians of all social classes as an unusual joyful and vibrant people who enjoyed life and its pleasures to the full and without any guilt feelings for doing so. The Hathor aspects of Isis were explicitly about enjoying life, including good food and drink, music, and dance. Even the peculiar emphasis of the Egyptians on their own death preparations and rituals, when seen within an Egyptian context as noted above, reveals a way to secure a chance at continuing to enjoy such a “goodlife”.
  • It is also Isis who was officially credited with having made “the power of women equal to that of men.”28 She was hymned as the “upholder of the marriage covenant”, and during a wedding it was in her name that the husband should make a solemn contract to be obedient to his wife (an exact reversal of what we have been taught as the proper role!)29 To fully understand that aspect, we need to look at what was happening in the real life of normal, mortal, Egyptian women. This is what the next section willaddress.

The Status of Women in Egyptian Society

The Status of Women in Mesopotamia and Classical Greece

The best basis for comparison for the status of women is two civilizations with which Egypt had extensive commercial and cultural contact: i.e. first Mesopotamia and later Greece. Only some characteristic laws and customs will be synthesized here. Compare them with the Egyptian customs and laws described in the main text below.


Hammurabic law (c.1750 BC) considers it normal practice for a man who cannot repay his debts to give away his wife or children as slaves in compensation. The father, without the involvement of the mother or daughter herself, invariably arranges mesopotamian marriages.30 In general in the ancient Middle East “Adultery is possible only on the side of the wife, because she is the property of the husband.”31

“Divorce was easily obtained for men, who merely had to make a public declaration of the intent to divorce…It was difficult for a wife to obtain divorce and only those without blemish might attempt it because the law states that ‘If [the woman] has not kept herself chaste but is given to going about out [of the house], and so belittle her husband, they shall cast that woman into the water.”32


Under the city-states such as Athens in classical Greece, laws gave no independent existence to women at all. They had no political rights, and did not participate in any decision-making. Her father or a male relative arranged a woman’s marriage. She could not own or inherit any property, nor enter into any transaction involving more than the value of one bushel of grain.33 Women were kept in seclusion in the gyneceum, an isolated part in the back of the house, where no man could penetrate except close relatives. Xenophon (c 428-354 BC) offered the general rule that “It is better for a woman to stay inside the house, and not show herself at the door.” A century later, Menander (c.342-292 BC) confirmed that “a decent women must stay at home; the streets are for low women.” The only women who had access to the public arena, or were educated into literacy and the finer social arts were the hetaerae, i.e. the prostitutes.

Egyptology has discovered that women were remarkably privileged in Egyptian society, that in a number of important aspects they were indeed “equal” to men. The historian Max Mueller claimed that “No people ancient or modern has given women so high a legal status as did the inhabitants of the Nile Valley.”34 Egyptologist Joyce Tyldesley concluded that “Egypt was undoubtedly the best place to have been born a woman in the whole of the Ancient World. During the dynastic period (3000 BC-332 BC), as the Greek historian Herodotus was intrigued to observe, Egyptian women enjoyed a legal, social and sexual independence unrivaled by their Greek or Roman sisters, indeed, by women in Europe until the late nineteenth century. They could own and trade in property, work outside the home, marry foreigners and even live alone without the protection of a male guardian.”35

Although Egypt should still be considered as primarily a “man’s world” in its official administrative aspects36, the contrast of the status of women in comparison with other contemporary advanced cultures remains striking (sidebar).

Intriguingly, there is another totally original parallel between Egypt and the European Central Middle Ages with the appearance of love songs. Egyptians are indeed the first people we know to write love poetry.37 And earlier we saw the importance and unusual appearance of the Amour Courtois literature in the Middle Ages. Much to the amazement of the contemporary Greeks, in Egypt women often took the initiative in courtship, and in the majority of the love poems and letters the woman addresses the man, or proposes marriage (see sidebar).38

Egyptian Love Poetry

Here I will give one example of a love poem first by a woman and then by a man, dating from the New Kingdom period.39


“My lover, it is pleasant to go to the pond and bathe myself while you watch me.
In this way I may let you see my beauty revealed through my tunic of finest linen, when it becomes wet and clinging…
I go down with you into the water and come out again to you with a red fish that lies beautiful on my fingers…
Come and look at me…”


“With her hair she throws lassoes at me,
And with her eyes she catches me,
With her necklace she entangles me
And brands me with her seal ring.”

Marriage “Contracts”

“Marriage in ancient Egypt was a totally private affair in which the state took no interest and of which it kept no record. There is no evidence for any legal or religious ceremony establishing the marriage, although probably a party was held.” However, what has been sometimes described as “marriage contracts” were very common, and over time they spelled out, in more and more detail, financial arrangements that had been left to custom in earlier times. These contracts would more appropriately be called “annuity contracts,” because they were concerned exclusively with economic and financial matters. “As such, they were extremely advantageous to the wife…The great majority of actual annuity contracts were made by the husband directly with the wife, not with her father. Already in Old through New Kingdom Egypt, women are full participants in the legal system, not dependent on a man to handle their legal concerns (see sidebar). Either party could divorce the other on any grounds, but the economic consequences of the annuity contract made this a serious step for the husband. The divorce, just like the marriage, was not a matter in which the state got involved. The word “divorce” simply was “leaving, abandoning.”

Egyptian “Marriage Contracts”

One actual contract40 has the man addressing directly the woman. He lists the value of all the expensive property she brought into the marriage, he notes that he will give her an amount of money as a ‘bridal gift’ and he declares that all his property is security for her money…The amounts of grain, oil, and money for clothing that he must provide every month are spelled out. If he defaults on his payments, she remains legally entitled to any and all arrears. By implication, if they divorce (whether the separation was initiated by him or by her), only after he has paid her the full amount of silver specified in the contract could his obligations be canceled. As in earlier Egyptian marriages, the wife ‘owned’ the property, but the husband had use of it.”41

The contract of Horemheb with his future wife Tais reads: “If I divorce you as my wife, and hate you, preferring to take another woman as my wife, I will give you two pieces of silver besides the two pieces of silver which I have given you as your woman’s portion…And I will give you one third of everything which will be owned by you and myself furthermore.”42

In another contract43, the husband cannot simply cancel his obligation by paying money; he must continue to support her until she asks for the money. This would apply even if they were to divorce and no longer live together. The husband declares further that “anything I have and everything which I shall acquire” is entailed not merely for his wife’s support but has to be passed on to their children.

Such standards may also have held true even for those with less property; even a poor man’s wife had similar assurances.44 This final example shows what commitments were made when no initial property was involved: “If ever in the future I desert the daughter of Telmont, I will be liable to hundreds of lashes and will lose all that I have acquired with her.”45

“If a man divorced his wife, he had to return her dowry (if she had brought one) and pay her a fine; if she divorced him, there was no fine. A spouse divorced for fault (including adultery) forfeited his or her share of the couple’s property…

Both sons and daughters could inherit property from either parent; both mothers and fathers retained the right to disinherit any child.”46 Finally, women tended to have custody rights for children in case of a divorce. Compare that with “patriarchal Rome, where a pregnant widow was obliged by law to offer her newborn baby to her dead husband’s family; only if they had no use for the child was she given the chance to raise her baby herself.”47

In conclusion, although there is an attempt at symmetry between husband and wife in marriage from a legal viewpoint, women may have been better off in practice. “Women may have been more independent and judged capable of making major decisions affecting themselves, their property, and their family; men were not. Although the men functioned in the public sphere and the women normally remained at home and raised families, women may have been freer to act independently and make decisions in some arenas than were their husbands”48

Even more surprising, women could choose whom they wanted to marry independently of social class – even with slaves or with foreigners.

All this obviously was totally different from customary practice in all the patriarchal societies of the Mediterranean area at the time. For example, the Romans would introduce complex inheritance regulations in Egypt to pressure people to marry only within their own caste.49

Women’s Legal Status

As marriage is a private legal issue, it is relevant to check on the broader legal status of women in the eyes of custom and public law.

“From our earliest preserved records (Old Kingdom), the formal legal status of women (unmarried, married, divorced, or widowed) was identical to that of Egyptian men… Egyptian women, like Egyptian men, were legally responsible for their own actions and personally accountable to both civil and criminal law. They were able to acquire, own, and dispose of both real and personal property. They could enter into contracts in their own names; they could initiate court cases and likewise be sued; they could serve as witnesses in court cases, they could sit on juries; and they could witness legal documents… Women had legal rights and were willing to fight for them.”50

One important indicator of status of women in Egyptian custom is their treatment in the after-life, an all-important dimension in Egyptian culture. There was obviously a social status discrimination in this domain – only the very rich and powerful could afford the extraordinary expense of the mummification and its complete paraphernalia.

However, there is little evidence for gender discrimination in this domain. “From at least the Old Kingdom the body of a deceased woman received the same sort of treatment as that of a man, and was buried with similar types of funerary equipment. Once the technique of mummification had been developed, women too were mummified to preserve their bodies for eternity…Other items such as jewelry, clothes, wigs and furniture are also found with both male and female burials.”51 However, it should be noted that in the Late Period, men’s funerary equipment becomes often richer than women’s.

Women’s Work52

“God’s Wife”

The exact powers of the women who became “God’s Wife of Amun” are uncertain. At some points, God’s Wife would wear the ureus and all the other royal insignia, and even write her name in a royal cartouche.53 The position came with its own endowment that grew over time: large tracks of land and a substantial and prestigious staff to administer it. “The owning of property made the office a powerful one, and the God’s Wife probably had real authority in the cult. The prestige conferred by the post would explain why for instance Ahmose Nefertari, Hatshepsut and Neferura [all three 18th dynasty Queens] so often used ‘God’s Wife’ as their sole title. In fact, Hatshepsut may have used its authority to build up her political position, since it was her preferred title during her regency when she must have been gathering support for her eventual claim to the throne.”54

Later however, the Persian conquest would bring simultaneously the 26th Dynasty and the function of “God’s Wife” to an end.

The Old Kingdom (2649-2134 B.C.) documents the largest number of women with titles, associating them with high positions in Egyptian public administration or courtly functions. This included female stewards for queens and princesses, “sealbearers” (i.e., treasurers), and chiefs of funerary priestdom. Henry G. Fischer compiled administrative titles of women in the Old Kingdom and Middle Kingdom. William Ward surveyed the Middle Kingdom, and Robins summarized the whole and included the New Kingdom as well.55 It appears that over time, foreign influences (Mesopotamian, Hittite, Persian, Hyksos and finally Greek and Roman) gradually eroded parts of the public visibility of women. For instance, the elimination of the powerful position of “God’s wife” is significant when the Persian conquest ended the Twenty-Sixth dynasty (sidebar).

Besides motherhood, by far the most common title provided to all married women was “Mistress of the House.” This apparently was much more than a polite way of describing a housewife. “Since women seem frequently to have received a house or at least part of a house as their ‘dowry/wedding gift’, at least in the Late Period, the generic title of ‘Mistress of the House’ may imply more than we normally assume.”56 There is even a pun in Egyptian: “Nebet Per, NebetPet” (literally “Mistress of the House, Mistress of Heaven”), which was often repeated on statues and texts referring to women. The legal status of women in the Egyptian household points out that the powerful role of Isis in Egyptian mythology had actual practical meaning for the ordinary woman as well. Another proof that Egyptian women had no difficulties identifying with the powerful Goddess Isis are spells most commonly used by mothers to invoke Isis’ protection for their own child. They would routinely recite “My arms are over this child – the arms of Isis are over him, as she puts her arms over her son Horus.”57

Photo 6.8 (Photo AMR in Alison Roberts pg 14) 1/3 page

Three young women participate in a ceremonial to Hathor. The musical instrument they are shaking is the sistrum, an important emblematic ritual object for honoring Hathor. It is more than a simple musical instrument, even the Pharaoh himself would use it exactly the same way whenever he would be performing rituals for Hathor. In Greece, the sistrum would become one of the musical instruments used by Maenads in honor of Dionysus. (from the tomb of Ramose at Thebes)

Also in all periods, women held many important religious cult functions. The most common was that of hemet-netjer priestesses, particularly of Hathor or other forms of Isis. After ca. 1,400 B.C., these priestesses appear in scenes performing rituals that had been purely royal prerogatives earlier on, such as foundation ceremonies for new temples.

Women temple musicians were also standard at all times (see photograph 6.8) Generally, it was claimed that “the work of Nut and Hathor is what acts among women. It is in women that good fortune and bad fortune are upon earth. Fate and fortune go and come when [these goddesses] command them.”58

Photograph 6.9 Woman grinding grain ¼ page (Robins pg 91)

Tomb model of a woman grinding grain. The light color of the skin is a standard identification of the sex of a figure, because women tended to spend more time indoors than men.

(Grave 604 Sidmant, Middle Kingdom. Courtesy Ashmolean Museum)

Economically, the two most important industries in Egypt were food production and textiles. Certain aspects of food production were specifically assigned to women, while others were invariably for men. In all periods, cutting down grains in the fields is a man’s job, but grinding them is exclusively a woman’s job. In the Old Kingdom, and less frequently, later, women are shown in frescoes as winnowing grain, but never cutting stalks. In contrast, some other functions are mixed in gender, such as brewing beer or pottery making.

The most important industrial craft in Egypt was the manufacture of linen textiles. It was critical for both the living and the death. A Fifth Dynasty tomb found at Gebelein contained several bolts of cloth, including one twenty-one meters long. A wooden chest in an early Eighteenth Dynasty tomb of Ramose contained seventy-six folded sheets. One single mummification could require as much as 1,000 square yards for internal and external linen cloth.59 From the available iconography, linen manufacturing seems to have been exclusively a feminine activity. Just like in Central Medieval Europe, women were involved in all aspects of this craft: harvesting the flax, hackling and roving the flax fibers, spinning them into threads, and finally the weaving itself. Even the hieroglyph for the word “weaver” is a seated woman holding what is probably a shuttle or a weaver’s sword. Weaving frequently included mass production “factories” with numerous workers, supervised by an overseer, who was usually a woman. Women are also reported as accepting payment for finished cloth or bearing the title “Overseer of the House of Weavers.” It is only by the late New Kingdom that some men got involved in the weaving aspect.

Photograph 6.10 Model of Weaving workshop (Robins pg 84) 1/3

Tomb model of a weaving workshop from the tomb of Meketra showing spinning and weaving on a horizontal loom. All figures, including the supervisor are women. (TT 280, Middle Kingdom, Egyptian Museum in Cairo JE 46723)

However, one should not imagine that Egypt did not have any gender discrimination. There were also a significant number of functions from which women seem to have been excluded. Only twice was the top courtly function of vizier ascribed to women (once in Dynasty 2 and once in Dynasty 26). Other key offices, such as chief treasurer, royal messenger, chief royal steward, city mayor, royal scribe, and military general, seem never to have been assigned to women. Similarly, a number of “public” crafts such as sculptors, carpenters, coppersmiths, barbers, public gardeners, brick makers or clothe washers, all apparently excluded women.

Women Rulers

Photo 6.7 ½ page

(Photo Alison Roberts from Roberts fig 125)

Hatsepsut, the best known female Pharaoh. This granite statue shows the delicate features of the queen. (Statue in the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, including a cast of the original head that is located in the Metrop

Museum, New York.)

While women seemed indeed legally “equal” or may even have been favored in some private and legal matters, recent research has drawn attention to the relative rarity of women in important public functions. “When the accepted ideal for a woman was that of a model wife and mother who did not go out to work or take part in public life, it is no wonder that scholars failed to notice the absence of women in public life in Ancient Egypt.”60

In this domain of public positions, the Egyptian record is clearly spottier. For instance, the most powerful position of all, the Pharaoh, was almost invariably a man. However, the very fact that there are at least four well-documented exceptions is remarkable by itself, particularly in comparison with other contemporary civilizations of the Mediterranean.

Egyptian Women Rulers61

  • Neith-Hotep, early in the first Dynasty (2920-2770 B.C.) is considered to have served as regent to Djer, possibly her nephew. Her name is known from tomb objects in both Nagada and Abydos. She was buried in her own enormous mud- brick tomb in Nagada, one of Egypt’s most ancient centers.
  • Mer-Neith (or Meryt-Neith) served with the title “Queen Mother” asregentforKing Den in the mid-First Dynasty. She is officially listed as Ruler on a seal giving the list of First Dynasty Pharaohs. She has her own royal tomb at Abydos from which are preserved two stelae identifying her as possessor of the entire complex.
  • Nitokret [Insert Cartouche Tyldesley pg 216] (also translated asNeith-ikretandNitocris ) assumed the actual rule of Egypt at the close of the Old Kingdom (circa 2150 B.C.). Manetho describes her as “the noblest and loveliest woman of her time, rosy-cheeked and of fair complexion.” A pyramid of “Queen Neith” is known but we are not sure it belongs to the same person.
  • Sobeknefru was the first to carry the full kingly titles “The Horus, She Who is Beloved of Ra, She of the Two Ladies, Mistress of the Two Lands, the Golden Falcon, the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, the Daughter of Ra Sobeknefru.” She was daughter of Amenemhat III in the late Twelfth Dynasty (1991-1783 B.C.). She reigned for 4 years as the last ruler of that dynasty, and is recorded as female ruler on all major king lists. A red granite column shows Amenemhat III offering the sign of life to Sobeknefru, clearly indicating his wish that she rule.62
  • Hatshepsut’s reign is well-documented,even in comparison with most male rulers. She is also the one that has captured most of our contemporary attention about female Egyptian rulers. During her 15-year reign, she pursued a very active building program, most notably her mortuary temple in Thebes at Deir el-Bahri, and several important buildings in Karnak and Nubia. She was particularly proud of her trading mission to Punt, an East-African source for incense, as well as her military campaigns in Sinai, Nubia and the Levant. Thirty years after her death, Amenhotep II would engage in an active campaign to erase her memory by obliterating any mention of her name. There is still debate whether her gender was the issue, or more likely whether Amenhotep II simply wanted to ensure that his lineage (Thutmose III) would prevail.
  • Nefertiti [cartouche Tyldesley pg 231] is another well-known name today.Her famous statue in Berlin reveals that her name meaning “A Beautiful Woman Has Come” was fully deserved. She was Akhenaten’s “Great Royal Wife” and is singularly visible on the monuments, wearing varied royal regalia, which suggests more than simple queenship. She performed many functions which hitherto had been exclusively the pharaoh’s own. It certainly implies that Akhenaten (1353-1335 B.C.) considered her role unusually important.
  • Tauseret, [cartouche Tyldesley pg 237] (also translated Twosret) is the last female ruler I will mention, lived at the close of the Nineteenth Dynasty. After the death of her husband (Sety II), her attempt to rule was thwarted by the installation of the young Siptah (1204-1198 B.C.), prompted by the chancellor Bay. Her own reign lasted only two years (1198-1196 B.C.). Setnakhte, founder of the next dynasty, swiftly expropriated for his own burial her tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

Between 3,000 and 1,000 B.C. there were four women who officially assumed the throne. They are, respectively, Nitokret (Dynasty 6), Sobeknefru (Dynasty 12), Hatshepsut (the best well-known case, dating from Dynasty 18) and Tauseret (Dynasty 19). In addition, a more common case has been that of regency, wherein a king’s mother ruled on behalf of her son until he matured sufficiently (see sidebar for examples of both regents and official rulers).

Africanus, a commentator of the famous Egyptian historian Manetho, states that during the reign of Ny-netjer of the Second Dynasty (2770-2649 B.C.) “it was decided that women might hold the kingly office.”63 While obviously rare compared to the number of male rulers, the above list is enough proof that there was indeed no ideological or theological impossibility for women to rule in Egypt. This situation contrasts clearly with the traditions prevailing in other contemporary societies in the ancient world. Even today, there are many countries, including the most important such as the United States, China, Russia, France, Germany, or Japan that have yet to have their first woman Prime Minister or President.

A Greco-Roman Ending

The “Egyptian exception” ended gradually. First, Greek influence grew steadily from the 4th century onwards. The last truly Egyptian pharaoh, Nektanebos II (360-342 BC), issued the first Egyptian gold coin, although even this coin’s use was specifically to pay Greek mercenaries and not Egyptians (see photo). This Greek influence would further intensify after the conquest by Alexander the Great (336-323 BC). The change in mood can be represented symbolically (Photo 6.11 c). The Roman occupation and later the Christianization would seal the end of both the old wheat-standard demurrage-charged currency and the Isis cult. The comparatively privileged role attributed to women in Egypt similarly first degraded and slowly died out.

Photo 6.11 c  ½ page

Scene showing men bargaining with prostitutes. The man on the left offers a purse to the woman in front of him. The man in the center is offering a price with his three fingers raised, while the woman is countering with four” (from a Greek painted cup).

Photo 6.11 d

Nektanebos II (360-342 BC), the last Egyptian to rule the country until President Nasser, issued this gold coin. It was the very first coin ever which had a hieroglyph on it. Specifically, the hieroglyph of the words “good gold” (“Nef’r Nub”) is shown on the right side. It is significant that even this coin had as purpose to pay the Greek mercenary soldiers (not Egyptians) he had hired to fight against the Persians. He lost, and the next pharaoh was the Persian Artaxerxes III. Kestner Museum Egyptian catalog 1989.90 (recto + verso)

Maybe Egypt was the gift of the Nile, but I believe that the good old Biblical Joseph as well should get some of the credit for making it the proverbial “breadbasket of the ancient world.” The corn standard currency system functioned quite successfully for well over a thousand years, possibly even more than two thousand years. Then the Romans took over financial system during the late Ptolemaic period (sidebar of Cesar teasing Cleopatra).

Cesar teasing Cleopatra

I imagine the following conversation between Cesar and Cleopatra.

– “I can’t believe you still use that archaic wheat money system.”

– “Well, it works”

– “Have you never heard of real money?”

– “But the people are happy with the old ways.”

– “Peasants maybe. But you should know better. Look, I’ll build you a nice bank, and get you finally into the Roman world. I’ll make sure that your good profile is on the coin.”

Unless, of course, they had better things to talk about.

The net result is that just after the Roman currency replaced that “archaic wheat money,” Egypt became a developing country. The “Modern” Roman currency had “normal” positive interest rates, interest that tended to accrue to Rome. Is it a coincidence that from that time on, and to this day, the economic “miracle of the Nile” has never recurred?

The Nile is still there, but even the Bible forgot to mention what Joseph’s money system looked like.

Photo 6.11 1/8 page

This silver tetradrachm bears the name of Alexander the Great and was struck in 280 BC to finance his conquests.

Significantly, the two figures represent Heracles (Hercules) and Zeus, two obvious symbols of the masculine power in the Greek Pantheon.

These coins were used throughout the empire, even after his death. Under Greek influence the role of such currencies increased in Egypt.

Photo 6.12 ¼ page

This picture shows the place where a giant head of Hathor was protruding, exactly in the axis of the Temple of Dendara, and which was protected by an overhanging canopy. This sculpture of the goddess was completely obliterated and hammered out by Christians when their influence grew in the later Roman empire

.Concentration of wealth also started to accelerate thereafter. In a typical Fayum village of the Roman period, such as Kerkereosiris, a population estimated at 1,500 families was farming some 3,000 acres, i.e., an average of 2 acres per family. At the other end of the spectrum, the Apion family, natives of Egypt who had twice achieved the position of praetorian prefect in public administration during the 6th century A.D., controlled one estate of some 75,000 acres, from which they contributed an estimated 7,500,000 liters of the annual grain levy to Constantinople.64 The concentration of wealth that had typified the Roman empire during its decay period had obviously taken hold in Egypt as well by that time.

Looking Back for what is Common between the two civilizations using demurrage currency

Initially I had thought that it was a mere meaningless coincidence to find two historical precedents of demurrage-charged currency systems in the world. Then I discovered that, contrary to my initial expectation, both civilizations had also in common an archetypal constellation honoring the feminine in a way significantly different from the rest of the ancient world. Finding that the Black Madonna of the Central Middle Ages was the Egyptian Isis – to the point where the exact Isiac titles and her emblematic chair were transferred, where even some original pagan Isis statues were venerated as Black Madonnas – was a bit too much to remain a simple coincidence.

More striking still, both periods where these currencies were used coincided with unusual abundance for the ordinary people. Finally, in both situations, the cults of the Black Madonna and of Isis respectively were dropped from collective focus at about the same time that the demurrage currency systems stopped, and that the abundance for the ordinary people also disappeared at that point.

I do not claim there to be any “magical” direct causal effect between Great Mother veneration and the choice of money system, but the evidence of these last two chapters confirms at the very least an intriguingly strong correlation between these two phenomena. When the Great Mother was honored, a demurrage-charged currency useful only for exchange and not for hoarding appeared as a significant agent among ordinary people. In turn, this Yin demurrage-charged currency, in complement with the traditional Yang precious metal currencies, fueled in both historical cases an exceptional economic boom that benefited the little people.

I am concluding that all three factors – honoring the Great Mother archetype, demurrage-charged currencies, and abundance for all – are footprints of the same archetypal coherence. To use a shorthand notation, what the two civilizations had in common is a particular Zeitgeist. What made the “good” periods in both these civilizations historically so exceptional was that in both cases Yin coherence was honored.

In both cases at the end, a centralizing military power took over: in Egypt the Greeks and the Romans; at the end of the Central Middle Ages the growing power of Kings by divine right. After such a take-over, Yang coherence became increasingly dominant, and a monopoly of Yang type currency became compulsory. What happened after that is similar to what was happening all along in the rest of Western history. This Yang take-over process can be summarized as the re-affirmation of a patriarchy and the concomitant repression of the Great Mother archetype. By definition the shadows of the Great Mother would thereby increasingly manifest. The collective emotions of greed and scarcity would then get frozen into visible reality for everybody via the money system.

Relevance for Gender Relations

There are broader issues involved than the choice of money systems when the Great Mother archetype is repressed or not; we have focused only on that aspect because money is the topic of this book. For instance, attitudes towards the Great Mother archetype obviously also influence feelings towards gender differences. The following table synthesizes the changes in attitudes towards women in Patriarchal societies vs. Matrifocal ones. The two ends of the spectrum are presented here, and obviously various societies at different times have presented a continuum in between these polarities.

Some Attitude Differences between Patriarchal vs. Matrifocal Societies

Patriarchal Societies Matrifocal Societies
Women not educated in writing, reading Women educated in writing, reading
No love poetry Love poetry, including written by women
Women cannot choose own mate Women choose their own mate
Men control fertility Women control fertility
Restrictive, anxious attitudes towards sexuality Permissive, relaxed attitude towards sexuality
Ascetism; pleasure suspect Pleasure welcomed, including for women
Women have no legal rights Women have same legal rights as men
Narrow range of activities available to women Broad range of activities available to women
Women have no access to income producing activities Women have access to income producing activities
Women cannot own property Women and men can own property
Only male rulers acceptable Both male and female rulers acceptable
Only male spiritual leaders Both male and female spiritual leaders
Monopolies of Yang currencies Both Yang and Yin currencies operational

Our two case studies – the European Central Middle Ages and Dynastic Egypt – have both illustrated a significant shift in attitudes between these two polarities. They do so both in comparison with other surrounding contemporary cultures, and even more strikingly with the situation prevailing in the same geographical areas a few centuries after their respective Great Mother cults and Yin-style demurrage-charged currencies had fallen out of favor.

In short, we can see that the type of currency system operational in a society is only one of the signs – but a sign that is quite coherent – of the type of society in which they are operational.

Relevance for Money Systems

The next logical step is to evaluate what collective mechanisms generate monopolies of Yang currencies on the one side, and the Dual Yin-Yang currency systems on the other. The following table can be read as a continuation of the previous one, and synthesizes those findings.

Patriarchal Societies Matrifocal Societies
Economic Characteristics of Monetary System
Scarcity Sufficiency
Currency Accumulation Currency Flow
Competition Cooperation
Permanent Growth Sustainability
Social and Psychological Results
Individualism Community
Power Concentration Group Decision Making
Conquest Maintaining

Relevance for Today

What is striking is that the majority of people in Western cultures would subscribe today to the values underlying the Matrifocal column, although we should be aware they are the results of changes dating to only the last few generations. And there are still some continuing “culture wars” for instance about who should control fertility (i.e. abortion rights). But the biggest exception in the list is the last one: the predominant viewpoint today is still that monopolies of Yang currencies are not only totally “normal” and “obvious”, but are considered the best way to attain our overall objectives.

The next chapters will show how that the trend towards an awakening of the Great Mother archetype in the Western mindset is going strong, and that simultaneously a spontaneous experimentation at the grassroots level has also started with Yin-type currencies that operate as complements to the conventional national currencies.

If the connection between archetypal changes and money system changes is valid, an unusual opportunity may become available for the first significant overhaul of our money system in many centuries. “We do have an advantage, over any other time period in history. When other profound change took place, those living through it tended to be unaware of the historical significance, and aware mostly of the transition pains and difficulties. We are fortunate enough not only to be able to watch major change taking place within a single life time, but also to possess enough knowledge to have a good picture of what is going on. Our part in it can be exhilarating and fun. Given the choice, why not perceive it that way?”65

In short, this could be the first opportunity ever to make a monetary overhaul a conscious choice. It represents a unique opportunity to learn from our past to create a Sustainable Abundant world in our future.

All this also confirms the usefulness of the “left leg” of our archetypal human to inform us about the evolution of money systems. When something switches in the archetypal coherence involving the Great Mother, it suggests we start looking at what is changing in the money system, and vice-versa.

An Agenda for Research

This whole Part Two is also an agenda for research. We clearly do not know enough about our monetary and economic history. As history is the only way whereby we can test any economic concept, such research is also important for our future. Studying comparative monetary systems will require exploring historic precedents much older than is usually done in economic research, centuries before the Industrial revolution. This needs to be a trans-disciplinary approach.

Archeologists and anthropologists typically do not know enough about monetary theory to ask the relevant questions. And monetarists have not been trained to study dead civilizations. Paul Einzig’s work on “Primitive Money” is the exception that confirms this rule.66 Even Preisigke’s meticulous study of Egyptian ‘ostraca’ didn’t make him aware that he was dealing with a demurrage-charged currency. And these studies are respectively 50 and 90 years old; isn’t it time for a fresh look?

It would be particularly interesting to find out whether other ancient matrifocal cultures, such as the Minoan or some Anatolian civilizations locally used Egyptian-style Yin currency systems, or not. As far as I know the monetary systems in both these cultures are still part of the vast “terra incognita of primitive currenciesabout which historian Toynbee was complaining. For instance, the currently prevailing view for Minoan Crete is that there was nocurrency at all, and therefore no market economy either. Supposedly, only a “palace economy” was operational: a central administration was supposedly dictating everything that was produced and exchanged in Crete, in a way somewhat similar to the ex-Soviet Gosplan bureaucracy.

The strongest scientific test on a hypothesis is possible when a non-trivial forecast can be made on the basis of it, and this forecast can then be verified or refuted in accordance to evidence subsequently becoming available.67 A scientific test of the hypothesis of a correlation between matrifocal values and currency types is therefore objectively possible. The claim here is that it is the lack of a Greek-style scarce commodity currency (i.e. Yang currency) that has triggered the interpretation that there was no currency at all in Minoan Crete. Nobody questions today that the Minoan civilization was a matrifocal culture. Therefore – if our hypothesis is valid – instead of glamorous-looking Yang currencies, decentralized Egyptian-style Yin currencies should have been used in Minoan Crete. Such Yin currencies would be receipts for agricultural goods stored in the vast food storage facilities that characterize all the Minoan “Palaces”. Furthermore, such a currency could have a demurrage-charge similar to the Egyptians wheat-standard currency. Such a currency wouldn’t look like conventional ancient Yang “money”, but could take the form of a symbol or inscription on a mundane-looking piece of terra-cotta. Finally, I would venture the proposition that the economic results for the average person in Minoan Crete were positive. If this hypothesis can be positively proven, it would provide a scientifically verifiable test of the core thesis of this book.

Other kinds of questions that only further research could determine include: Are there lessons from the extraordinary stability of the Egyptian system relevant for our own future? What has made the European “First Renaissance” of the 10-13th century tick? What is the mechanism underlying the connection between archetypal changes and economic and monetary results? How can we make the process of money choice a conscious one?

One important focus of that research should be the economic impact that the demurrage-charged currencies had in the historical precedents uncovered in this research. If it can be conclusively proven that dual Yin-Yang currencies – with a Yin currency having a demurrage-charge – created abundance in a sustainable way for many centuries in the past, should implementing such systems not become one of our priorities for the future?


Table of Contents | INTRODUCTION











  1. Goethe Westöstlicher Diwan.
  2. William, Jonathan Money: A History (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1997) pg 22.
  3. Finley, M.I. The Ancient Economy (Berkele 1985) pg 166
  4. Tyldesley, Joyce The Daughters if Isis: Women in Ancient Egypt (London: Penguin Books, 1995) pg. 105.
  5. Ibid. pg 104.
  6. Ibid. pg 106-107.
  7. Ibid. pg 112.
  8. Ibid. pg 115.
  9. Ibid pg 138.
  10. 445 Finley, M.I Ibid. pg 170
  11. Chevalier, Jean & Gheerbrant, Alain Dictionnaire des Symboles (Paris: Laffont, 1983) pg 524.
  12. Neumann, Erich The Great Mother (Bollingen Series XLVII (Princeton University Press, 1955) pg 223.
  13. Myrionymos” (whose names are innumerable) is significantly different from polynomos (whose names are numerous). Several goddesses and gods were referred to as having “many names” (e.g. Aprhodite, Apollo, Helios, Hermes, Artemis). “Isis, however, was the only divinity whose epiclesis marked that the number of her names was not merely large but infinite. It was in this endless diversity that her uniqueness rested. It was the source of her strength, and her weakness. She alone claimed an infinity of divine titles: and became all things to all men. She could be “chaste” and yet raise high the phallus. She could banish life’s storms by her calm, and yet become the Roman goddess of war.” (Witt Ibid. pg 121). “To many critics the picture may seem riddled with contradictions. But the evidence that Isis is mutilated by the removal of any of these elements is irrefutable.” (Ibid. pg 138) In the archetypal Yin-Yang framework developed earlier (Figure 3.2 ) she embodied perfectly the Yin “capacity to hold ambivalence”.
  14. Posener, G. Dictionnaire de la civilisation Egyptienne (Paris, 1959) pg 140.
  15. Witt, R.E. Isis in the Ancient World (Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press, 1971) pg 101
  16. Ibid pg. 108.
  17. Ibid. pg. 107
  18. Ibid. pg. 192.
  19. Ibid. pg. 137.
  20. Baring, Anne & Cashford, Jules: The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image (London: Arkana, Penguin Books, 1993) pg 250.
  21. “Isis was originally the throne personified…The throne made manifest a divine power which changed one of several princes into a king fit to rule. The awe felt before the manifestation of power became articulated in the adoration of the Mother Goddess” Frankfort, Henry Ancient Egyptian Religion (New York: Harper and Row, Torch Books, 1961) pg 17 . It is interesting that this all important throne symbolism of Isis was incorporated in the Medieval Black Madonna as the cathedra, one of Her thirteen unique identifying characteristics.
  22. See sidebar on Saint Bernard of Clairvaux in the previous chapter.
  23. These “precautions” were both precise and exacting. They included the knowledge by the defunct of a series of elaborate passwords at different stages of the journey in the Underworld (hence the “Egyptian Book of the Dead” which accompanied each burial, and which provided a textbook reminder of those stages and the relevant magical passwords for each) as well as the appropriate physical supports for the afterlife. The Egyptians believed that what we call the human “soul” was made out of three components, respectively the Ka, the Ba, and what we might call the individual consciousness. The Ka was destined to remain close to the corpse; the Bawas represented as a human-headed bird that could leave the tomb but also sometimes needed to return; and finally the consciousness would actually experience the journey into the Afterlife. All three needed to be taken care of, hence the need to preserve the body forever through mummification, and the elaborate food, furniture and other amenities that would be necessary for a successful journey towards and life in the realm of Osiris. If the transition failed for whatever reason, there would be a second and final death. Therefore, to the Egyptians the “first” physical death was inevitable but not necessarily final. Hence also the importance of taking all the right precautions to ensure a pleasant afterlife, because according to the Egyptians you really had a chance to “take it all with you.”
  24. Teldesley Ibid. pg. 272.
  25. This is why in our culture only the Trappists – an order of particularly strict monks catholic monks – greet each other with the statement “memento mori” (“remember death”), but here it is meant as a warning not to be tempted by the joys of life, exactly the opposite of the Egyptian view.
  26. See Witt, R.E. Isis in the Ancient World (Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press, 1971) pg. 109 for the statue, Figure 24 for the painting, and Figure 64 pg. 129 for the coin.
  27. Ibid. pg 240 and Figures 62, 65, 66 for the coinage; and pg. 180 for the edict of restoration of the Ostia Iseum
  28. Witt Ibid. pg. 110.
  29. Witt Ibid. pg 41. Original quote from Diodorus Siculus Geography i, 27.
  30. Lerner, Gerda The Creation of Patriarchy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986) pg. 114.
  31. Epstein, Louis M. Sex Laws and Customs in Judaism (New York, 1948) pg 194.
  32. Lerner, Gerda The Creation of Patriarchy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986) pg 115-116.
  33. Ellis, Peter Beresford Celtic Women (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1995) pg 99.
  34. Briffault, Robert R. The Mothers (New York, 1924) Vol I. pg 384
  35. Tyldesley, Joyce The Daughters if Isis: Women in Ancient Egypt (London: Penguin Books, 1995) back cover page
  36. See. Robins, Gay Women in Ancient Egypt (London: British Museum Press, 1993).
  37. Delightful translations of Egyptian love poetry can be found in Säve-Söderberg, Torgny Pharaohs and Mortals (New York: Bobba Merrill, 1961) particularly the chapter entitled “In the Shade of the Sycomores: Of Perfumes and Love.”
  38. Stone, Merlin When God was a Woman (San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1976) pg. 35-38.
  39. Tyldesley, Joyce The Daughters if Isis: Women in Ancient Egypt (London: Penguin Books, 1995) pg. 162 and 170.
  40. Papyrus British Museum 10593 described in Thompson H. A Family Archive from Siut (1934).
  41. Johnson, Janet H. Ibid pg 181.
  42. Tyldesley, Joyce Daughters of Isis: Women in Ancient Egypt (London: Penguin Books, 1994) pg. 55.
  43. Papyrus British Museum 10591 described in Thompson H. A Family Archive from Siut (1934).
  44. Johnson, Janet H. Ibid pg 183.
  45. Tyldesley, Joyce Daughters of Isis: Women in Ancient Egypt (London: Penguin Books, 1994) pg. 57.
  46. Johnson, Janet H. Ibid pg 183.
  47. Tyldesley, Joyce Ibid. pg. 58.
  48. Johnson, Janet H. Ibid pg 185.
  49. Tyldesley, Joyce Daughters of Isis: Women in Ancient Egypt (London: Penguin Books, 1994) pg. 48.
  50. Johnson, Janet H. “The legal status of women in ancient Egypt” in Mistress of the House, Mistress of the Heavens: Women in Ancient Egypt (New York: Hudson Hills Press, 19960 pg 175.
  51. Robins, Gay: Women in Ancient Egypt (London: British Museum Press 1993) pg 166, 168.
  52. When no other references are provided, the data from this section refers to Roehigm Catharine H. “Women’s Work: Some occupations of nonroyal women as depicted in ancient Egyptian art” in Mistress of the House, Mistress of the Heavens: Women in Ancient Egypt (New York: Hudson Hills Press, 19960 pg 13-24.
  53. Tyldesley, Joyce The Daughters if Isis: Women in Ancient Egypt (London: Penguin Books, 1995) pg. 205.
  54. Robins, Gay: Women in Ancient Egypt (London: British Museum Press 1993) pg 122
  55. Henry Fischer “Administrative Titles of Women in the Old and Middle Kingdom” in Egyptian Studies ; William Ward “Non-Royal Women and Their Occupations in the Middle Kingdom” in Lesko ed. Women’s Earliest Records ; Robins G. Women in Ancient Egypt (Cambridge, Mass. 1993) pg 114-117.
  56. Johnson, Janet H. Ibid pg 185.
  57. Robins, Gay Women in Ancient Egypt (Cambridge, Mass. 1993) pg. 86.
  58. Lichtheim Ancient Egyptian Literature (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: California University Press, 1976) Volume III, page 192
  59. Winlock H.E. Excavations at Deir el-Bahri 1911-1931 (New York, 1942) pg. 226.
  60. Robins, Gay: Women in Ancient Egypt (Cambridge, Mass. 1993) pg 15.
  61. Bryan, Betsy M. “In Women good and bad fortune are on earth: Status and roles of women in Egyptian culture” in Mistress of the House, Mistress of the Heavens: Women in Ancient Egypt (New York: Hudson Hills Press, 19960 pg 25. All Egyptian dates are based on Baines and Málek Atlas(New York, 1980) pages 36-37.
  62. Habachi Annales du Service des Antiquités de l’Égypte (1952) 464-465, pl. 52.
  63. quoted by Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs (Oxford, 1961) pg 431
  64. Finley, M.I. The Ancient Economy (Berkeley: University of California Press: Sather Classical Lectures Volume 43 , 1985) pg 99.
  65. Harman, Willis Global Mind Change (New York: Warner Brothers, 1988) pg. 168-169.
  66. Einzig, Paul Primitive Money (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1st edition 1948; 2d edition 1966).
  67. This approach is the one described in Milton Friedman’s seminal paper on the epistemology of economics, which has become the philosophical backbone of contemporary economic theory. In it, he applied for the first time Popper’s view on history to the field of quantified economics. He explains that economics is not about describing reality, but about making non-trivial forecasts which can be refuted by new evidence.

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