[Marxism] A Deck of Cards

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Dec 27 08:32:58 MST 2004

At 06:22 PM 12/25/2004, you wrote:
>Hello, I'm in the process of trying to write a socialist version of
>a Finnish story, 'A Deck of Cards', the original being religious
>in content. I would be grateful if people on the list could provide
>me with suggestions (I guess it's better to do it offlist if you have
>only brief ones) for historical or general marxist factoids relating
>to numbers 1-13. (See the story sketch below for the idea.)
>Especially it would be useful if you can suggest ones for the numbers
>which I haven't found anything good enough for, but I also take
>suggestions for replacements if you think you have better ones, esp.
>if you think I'm trying to mix two factoids that in reality wouldn't


The number that comes after 12
(Filed: 19/12/2004)

Tom Payne reviews 13: the World's Most Popular Superstition by Nathaniel 

It turns out that there are growing numbers of people who love the number 
13. Nathaniel Lachenmeyer quotes a 23-year-old massage therapist from 
Dallas, whose birthday is on February 13. "I find it a liberating number, 
one that goes against the grain. I always feel special and unique when I 
tell someone my favourite number is 13." A young convert to paganism 
confesses, "I look forward to when the 13th falls upon a Friday. I look 
upon it as a great love spell day."

Classified Motoring

Where does Lachenmeyer find them? He finds them on the internet. He 
encounters conspiracy theorists who believe that the Church and/or the 
government have done their best to promote the idea that the number 13 is 
unlucky: that Pope Clement V and Philip IV of France colluded to begin 
executing the Knights Templar on Friday 13, 1307; that when witches 
confessed to meeting in covens of 13, they were showing the vestiges of a 
religion that predated Christianity, and which priests were keen to destroy.

As he points out, the reasoning that produced the latter theory was rigged 
and ropey. Although he produces some vintage examples of 13-fearing, the 
superstition about the number is relatively recent. It flourished at the 
end of the 19th century, and attached only to seating 13. If 13 sit at a 
table, the tradition has it, then, by the end of the year, one of them will 
buy the farm.

Most folklorists agree that the superstition goes back to the Last Supper, 
where 13 people gathered and two fatalities followed within 24 hours. 
Worries that this might make a rule appeared in the late 17th century and, 
200 years later, dining clubs emerged to show there was no hex. Diners 
would spill salt, crack mirrors and cross their knives and forks.

There were casualties: a Thirteen Club in New Jersey was bombed. Matthew 
Arnold died within a year of eating with 12 others.

Really, that's all the book has to go on. The number itself was never so 
unlucky, except that it comes after 12, and is the beginning of the 
unknown. The author does examine the history of Friday 13th as an 
unfortunate day – Christ died on a Friday (unlucky enough) and in 1907 
Thomas W Lawson published a book, Friday, the Thirteenth, in which a broker 
picks that day on which to bring down Wall Street.

Then there's some discussion of the film of the same name, a list of the 
sequels, a few more anecdotes, a list of songs with the number 13 in them, 
and some other stuff, such as that Estonians don't like to place their beds 
over underground streams.

I believe all this, but there's enough misinformation in the book to make 
me wary. Even when Lachenmeyer is making a sound point, he muffs it. When 
he observes that Christ and his disciples must have sat 13 at a table 
often, he says: "The Last Supper was only one of any number of sabbaths 
that Christ and his 12 disciples spent together." They may have enjoyed 
many sabbath suppers together, but their final meal was on a Thursday.

He dismisses an early psychoanalyst as being "not much of an authority on 
etymology", but has already repeatedly garbled a Latin title, while his own 
etymologies aren't convincing. And he swallows the idea that the Church 
devised the solar calendar.

He also spends a while finding out what people do if they want a cure for 
triskaidekaphobia. True to form, he goes online. Admittedly, he finds some 
interesting types who say they can cure most phobias in three hours and 
then, after running a disclaimer saying they're not doctors and can't cure 
anything, add, "If you really need a disclaimer, this stuff is not for 
you." But he doesn't show us anyone who's asked anyone, "I fear 13, sort me 

I assume Lachenmeyer likes 13. His book costs £13. But it's quite a lot to 
charge for cuttings from the New York Times, e-mails from mystics and any 
length of time spent on Google. That's the problem with the internet. 
Suddenly, everyone's a scholar.

Louis Proyect
Marxism list: www.marxmail.org 

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