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  • Writer's pictureMeirion Harries

DAY FIFTY NINE A Chance to Win

I do have a tendency to look forward to birthdays. Mine is next Thursday and because I'm on the move, I don't think I will be getting any presents. The Race Marshal showed a certain lack of interest when I raised the topic this morning. Not that it was a good moment – she was in uphill combat with a giant slice of Frankfurter Kranz.

It did give me an idea, though – which is to have a splendid Frankfurt Crown Cake as the prize in a charity raffle for my birthday. So, if you would like to be applauded as you head up to grasp some sensational patisserie at the Lancing of the Blisters Party at the end of this ride, do head over to our JustGiving page and donate £2 a ticket, £20 for a book of ten. The Race Marshal, not that she knows it yet, is in charge of the raffle's admin and propriety and will appoint someone independently suitable to draw out the winning ticket at the Party.

You will need to tell me that you have bought a ticket – so please either send me a text or email, or leave your email at JustGiving when you buy your tickets. The link to follow is:

I would like to wish you good luck and to reassure you that your participation will ride on a strong current of German history. For instance, Tacitus, writing about the Germania that his countrymen were even then corralling with the Limes, records:

To divination and casting of lots, they pay attention beyond any other people. Their method of casting lots is a simple one: they cut a branch from a fruit-bearing tree and divide it into small pieces which they mark with certain distinctive signs and scatter at random onto a white cloth. Then, the priest of the community if the lots are consulted publicly, or the father of the family if it is done privately, after invoking the gods and with eyes raised to heaven, picks up three pieces, one at a time, and interprets them according to the signs previously marked upon them.

In the Germany of the 1700s, Pietist Christians, for whom Christian living was based on personal faith (as compared with the Lutheran emphasis on doctrine), often drew lots to determine the will of God: The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord (Proverbs 16:33).

Until the 1880's, the Moravian Brethren in their settlement in Herrnhut in Saxony drew lots to identify suitable sites for churches and elect their Bishops. These days the Amish select their preachers by lot, as do Coptic Orthodox Christians in choosing their Pope – most recently in 2012, with the accession of Pope Tawadros II.

There is a wonderful story about John Wesley who in 1737, struggling to make his mind up about marriage, sought the help of his friend Charles Delamotte:.

… both of us sought God by deep consideration, fasting and prayer … but could not come to any decision. At length we agreed to appeal to the Searcher of Hearts. I accordingly made three lots. In one was writ, Marry; in the second Think not of it this year. After we prayed to God to give us a “perfect lot”, Mr. Delamotte drew the third, in which were the words, Think of it no more. Instead of the agony I had reason to expect, I was enabled to say cheerfully, “Thy will be done.” We cast lots again to know whether I ought to converse with her anymore, and the direction I received from God was - Only in the presence of Mr. Delamotte.

Christian and Jewish scriptures support a reliance on chance and there are many examples, including:

Numbers 26:55 - Moses said: But the land shall be divided by lot. According to the names of the tribes of their fathers they shall inherit.

Joshua 18:6 - Ye shall therefore describe the land into seven parts, and bring the description hither to me, that I may cast lots for you here before the Lord our God.

Jonah 1:7 - Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.

Esther 3:7 - In the first month, that is, the month Nisan, in the twelfth year of king Ahasuerus, they cast Pur, that is, the lot, before Haman from day to day, and from month to month, to the twelfth month, that is, the month Adar.

(Purim, a Jewish sacred holiday to commemorate salvation from the Persian Haman, is known as the Festival of Lots).

Apostles 1:26 - Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles (replacing Judas)

Even if one sticks to a narrow definition of cleromancy, not being tempted by bibliomancy, rhapsodomancy or even sortes astrampsychi, history is still full of choices made by drawing lots.

Aristotle's Constitution of the Athenians, which first came to light in 1879, describes the lottery in the democratic process for choosing citizens for official duties. They had a special device - the kleroterion, a slotted slab that held rows of tokens, each representing a person. The throw of a dice would decide which row of people was chosen and the lottery ended when enough tokens had been gathered. (In parentheses, the papyrus containing this new discovery is believed to have been written before 325 BC because Aristotle mentions triremes and quadriremes but not quinqueremes which only appeared in the Athenian Navy in that year).

There is a long tradition of deciding by lot who will serve in the armed forces. Judges 20:10 records an early example of conscription: we will take ten men of a hundred throughout all the tribes of Israel, and a hundred of a thousand, and a thousand of ten thousand. A horribly similar lottery was held during the Vietnam War to remove bias from the process of selecting conscripts.

Lotteries have also been used throughout military history to determine punishments – a process known as decimation. During the First Battle of Leipzig in 1642, the Archduke Leopold William's forces were crushed by a much smaller Swedish army because, it was said, one of the regiments of cavalry broke: some 900 horsemen ploughed back into their own lines shattering defences - so 90 young cavalrymen were condemned to hang, selected by the roll of a dice.

Life and death decisions have been made lot in medicine, and not just in the postcode lottery. In 1648, the Flemish physician Van Helmont proposed using a lottery to help resolve a dispute with another physician as to who was offering an effective treatment:

Let us take out of the hospitals … 200 or 500 poor people, that have fevers, pleurisies. Let us divide them into halves, let us cast lots, that one halfe of them may fall to my share, and the other to yours; I will cure them without bloodletting and sensible evacuation; but you do, as ye know … We shall see how many funerals both of us shall have.

More recently, in Britain after the Second World War when the country had few dollars and could not afford to buy expensive American drugs, the government ran a lottery to decide which patients would receive the new treatment for tuberculosis.

And of course, lotteries have always been employed to raise money.The first recorded lottery (in about 200 BC) was held by the Han dynasty to fund the Great Wall of China. The Emperor Augustus ran a lottery to raise funds to repair Rome. Many of the early English colonies in America raised funds through lotteries: the first in 1612 - two years before Hamburg held the first big lottery in Germany.

I admire Margaret van Eyck who, on Jan's death in 1446, raffled off the contents in his studio. But my most favourite lottery moment was provided by our elder son at the Forde Abbey fete some three decades ago. He refused to spend his sub for the day on ice cream or donkey rides, preferring instead to buy some lottery tickets from the nice lady. Of the fifteen prizes on offer that day, he won five - including the top two. There is something about a four-year-old staggering back in triumph with a magnum of Bollinger that lives in the memory.

Psalms, 22:18 - They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots. The soldiers around the Cross casting lots is a theme of The Robe, the 1953 film starring Richard Burton. This is a one minute extract -

Ginger Rogers singing We're in the Money from Gold Diggers (1933) -

What's My Line in 1954 with Ginger Rogers (her entrance is at 16 minutes) -

In case you have never won a lottery, here is Lisa Minnelli singing Maybe This Time from Cabaret -

Here is one selection of the top ten Nobel Prize winners -

And on the White Rose theme, we have had two recommendations for films: the first is about Otto and Else Hampel, who wrote and distributed more than 200 postcards denouncing Hitler, and the second tells the story of Franz Jägerstätter, who refused to fight for the Nazis:

The Hidden Life -

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