From Matriarchies of Abundance to Patriarchies of Debt

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By Ellen Brown:

(excerpted from the book, Web of Debt)

"Located where Iraq is today, Sumer was a matriarchal agrarian economy with a financial system based on abundance and shared wealth. One of the oldest known bronze coins was the Sumerian shekel, dating from 3,200 B.C. It was inscribed with the likeness of the Goddess Inanna-Ishtar, who bestowed kingship in Sumer and was the goddess of fertility, life and death. Inanna wore the horns of a cow, the sacred animal that personified the Great Mother everywhere in ancient myth. Hathor, the Egyptian equivalent, had cow ears and a human face and was the goddess of love, fertility and abundance. Her horn was the “cornucopeia” from which poured the earth’s plenty. Isis, an even more powerful Egyptian mother figure, was portrayed wearing the horns of a cow with the sun disc between them. In India, the cow goddess was Kali, for whom cows are sacred to this day. Cows were also associated with money, since they were an early medium of exchange. The Sumerian word for “interest” was the same as the word for “calf.” It was natural to repay advances of cattle with an extra calf, because the unit of exchange itself multiplied over the loan period. This was also true for grain, for which the temples served as storehouses. Grain advanced over the growing period was repaid with extra grain after the harvest, in gratitude to God for multiplying the community’s abundance.

The temples were public institutions that also served welfare functions, including the support of widows, orphans, the elderly and infirm. Temples were endowed with land to provide food for their dependent labor, and resources such as herds of sheep to provide wool for their workshops. They operated autonomously, supporting themselves not through taxation but by renting lands and workshops and charging interest on loans. Goods were advanced to traders, who returned the value of the goods plus interest. The temples also acted as central banks. Sacrificial coins inscribed “debt to the Gods” were paid to farmers in acknowledgment that wheat had been contributed to the temple. These coins were also lent to borrowers. When interest was paid on the loans, it went back to the temple to fund the community’s economic and social programs and to cover losses from bad loans.

It was only after the Indo-European invasions of the second millennium B.C. that moneylending became the private enterprise of the infamous moneychangers. The Goddess Inanna was superseded as the source of supreme kingship by the male god Enlil of Nippur, and the matriarchal system of shared communal abundance was forcibly displaced by a militant patriarchal system. The cornucopia of the Horned Goddess became the bull horns of the Thunder God, representing masculine power, virility and force.

In the temple system, the community extended credit and received the money back with interest. In the system that displaced it, interest on debts went into private vaults to build the private fortunes of the moneychangers. Interest was thus transformed from a source of income for the community into a tool for impoverishing and enslaving people and nations. Unlike corn and cows, the gold the moneylenders lent was inorganic. It did not “grow,” so there was never enough to cover the additional interest charges added to loans. When there was insufficient money in circulation to cover operating expenses, farmers had to borrow until harvest time; and the odd man out in the musical chairs of finding eleven coins to repay ten wound up in debtor’s prison. Historically, most slavery originated from debt." (