For centuries, we’ve been wary of the number 13. We’ve built office blocks and condominiums with 12th and 14th floors but no 13th, and Winston Churchill, considered by many to be one of the most rational and pragmatic historical figures, refused to sit in the 13th row at the theater.
Even some airlines, like Continental, Air France, and Ryanair, don’t have a 13th row. We both fear and respect the number 13 – but just what is triskaidekophobia – the fear of the number thirteen – and where does it originate from?
First of all, we must consider the number 12 as the perfect number. The ancient Sumerians produced a numeral system based on the number 12 that we still enjoy today. Calendars have 12 months; the day is halved by two sets of 12. 12 is a whole, complete, perfectly divisible number. So why, then, is 13 so sinister? Is it just that 12 is so ideal that we must find something inherently bad in 13?
As any theology student will tell you, there were 13 disciples at the last supper and the 13th person to take his seat was probably Jesus, although some say it was the backstabbing Judas who took chair number 13. Whoever took that last 13th seat came to a sticky end.
Matthew says that Judas committed suicide after the crucifixion while the early Christian leader Papias says that “Judas walked around in the world a sad example of impiety, for his body having swollen to such an extent that he could not pass where a chariot could pass easily.” So Judas may well have grown to a size 13.
The Last Supper took place on the 13th day of the month, and the crucifixion occurred on Friday the 13th. The Knight’s Templar, protectors of the Holy Grail, the cup Jesus drank from at that ominous shindig, were all slaughtered, on order from Pope Clement, on, yes, Friday the 13th.
13 is also an unlucky number if you find yourself unfortunate or guilty enough to be sentenced to hang for a crime. There were thirteen long steps up to the gallows and only one short cut down.
A coven of witches has 13 members and if there are thirteen letters in your name you are surely cursed to damnation. Jack the Ripper, Jeffrey Dahmer, Charles Manson and Hitler all had 13 letters in their birth names.
And it’s not just on planet earth that the number 13 is considered unlucky. Apollo 13, the seventh manned mission in the Apollo Space program was launched in 1970 from the Kennedy Space Center but the lunar landing was aborted after an oxygen tank exploded and the astronauts were lucky to return to earth six days later with their lives intact. Even in space the number 13 is the unluckiest number.
In tarot, the 13th card in the deck is Death. To draw the Death card in the tarot doesn’t mean that you will die straight away. Death in the tarot sense is more about change, rebirth and creation – but if you do draw the death card on the 13th day of the month, and see a black cat crossing your path, and the moon is full, and you happen to be superstitious, you may potentially have an unlucky day. But you probably won’t die, not that day anyway.
But why is Friday considered the unlucky day? In biblical terms Friday has had a checkered history. Jesus was crucified, and Eve tempted Adam, on a lazy Friday afternoon. Abel was slain by Cain and the great floods began on a Friday. Historically, Friday doesn’t fare well either.
Citizens were executed in Rome on a Friday, and also on a Friday, in Britain, people were usually hung, meaning that on Saturday people were usually hung-over after merrily watching one of their fellow men be eliminated the night before. Fridays in theological and historical texts usually spells bad news.
The number 13 isn’t totally unlucky wherever you go in time and history – the ancient Egyptians considered 13 fortuitous, China has a deep fear of the number 4, the Japanese avoid the number 9, and the unluckiest number in Italy is seventeen. Indians have a deep distrust of 26, and in Bulgaria the number 088 888 8888 is the one to be most terrified of all numbers following the acquisition of that jinxed phone number by a number of high profile people who subsequently died according to urban myth.
The former US flag had 13 red and white stripes and 13 stars representing the first 13 colonies that founded the country. Christopher Columbus landed on the Western hemisphere on October 13th,, although deliberately changed the official date to the 12th of October to avoid the scandal of a cursed landing.
Sikh religion believes the number 13 is special – in Punjabi 13 translates to “yours” or “I am yours my lord” and is considered divinely lucky. Moreover, in bakery circles 13 is also considered lucky, a baker’s dozen, or 13, is the ordinarily 12 with one added, just for luck.
The number 13 also represents femininity as the number of lunar or menstrual cycles in a year is often around 12 or 13. In China women make offerings of moon cakes with the number 13 imprinted on them as 13 denotes blood, fertility and lunar potency and good luck from the Great Female Goddess. 13 represents the life cycle and the rhythm of nature and the moon. So although considered unlucky by some, the number 13 represents the very thing that brought us all here to watch this episode, so perhaps 13 isn’t that unlucky after all.
So, what do you think about the number 13? Lucky or unlucky? Let us know why in the comments.
- 13 reasons people think the number 13 is unlucky. Stacy Conradt, Mental Floss, 13th October 2017
- What’s so unlucky about the number 13? Barbara Maranzani, History channel, 13th September, 2013.
- 6 unlucky numbers from around the world. James Shickitch
- Quora, why 13 is considered unlucky.
- India Times, The role of the number 13, July 5th 2017.
- Apollo 13. Wiki.
- Judas. Wiki.
- Why Friday the 13th is a very lucky day indeed.