The three wise men, the magi, great magicians, came bearing gifts to the child who would become a healer and a saviour. One gift, the one we all know, the one that even very young children in their first nativity know, was gold.
What was the meaning of gold? What is its message to us today?
Biblical scholars tell us that gold represented value, dignity, authority and everlasting kingship. It is a gift for a king (or a queen of course).
Today, many of us yearn for a greater sense of value, dignity and authority in our own lives. Perhaps we are looking for more self-value, an authority to fully live our own lives or dignity and elegance in our relationships. How does gold give us this?
The American philosopher Jacob Needleman recounts the precise moment a very wealthy student offered him a briefcase full of gold. He recalls the impact this possibility had on him:
“The radiance of the gold blazed into my brain and a powerful lightening bolt of electricity snaked down the length of my torso igniting everything in its path, especially in the region of the solar plexus and genitals. My legs started trembling as though filled with nervous little sparrows. My breathing became rough and course like the panting of a hungry wolf… I saw with unmistakable clarity where money resided in my being – I saw how deep down it was, deep down in my body, not so far from where the impulses of sex and survival lived.”
Whatever it is that gold symbolises for us goes deep, very deep. For Needleman it goes to the deepest, oldest and most core parts of him. No wonder then that so many of us chase gold, or its modern equivalent – money.
Gold as the vitality of life
The mythologist Joseph Campbell points toward the inner meaning of gold. To understand our gold we must come to understand our dragons. Dragons, Campbell points out, guard gold. They sit on huge piles of it. And yet they can do nothing at all with the gold they guard. “He (sic) can’t make use of the gold, he just guards – there is no vitality of experience… Gold is the vitality of life.”
The aim of life, for Campbell is not to have or hoard gold, but to release it, to let it, and therefore life, flow. Gold represents our inner vitality, our inherent wealth (from the same word as ‘whole’ and also ‘holy’) as human beings. The European dragon represents our ego centred hopes and fears, our fixed and limited views – about ourselves, about others and about life itself. Gripped by this narrow and distorted view of life, many of us have become disconnected from our own inner richness and resources. Feeling this inner lack we chase and cling to gold (or money) believing it will magically bring to our life the qualities we yearn for.
But ultimately something external can never bring us these things. The real message of gold, the gift of the wise magi, is that the gold and all it symbolises is already naturally in each of us. Perhaps they saw that the infant Jesus was one who would come to know and live this truth fully. Vitality, authority, dignity and a sense of wholeness in our own life is already intrinsically within us all. It is our real wealth and a gift given freely. It is also a gift we have already accepted, even if in our excited distraction we have left it, unnoticed and neglected, under a pile of discarded wrapping paper, behind the sofa, on the living room floor.
Wishing you a happy and peaceful Christmas and a splendid 2019 of liberating dragons and sharing your gold with the world.
NB – Would you like to explore deeply your own relationship to money and life? And move past unconscious notions about money that are stopping you doing what you really want to be doing? I am running a number of workshops on this in 2019. You can find dates and details here. More will be added in the coming weeks.