Many people, especially in Anglo – Saxon cultures feel that the number thirteen is unlucky. They will laughingly decline a raffle ticket with number thirteen on it or, when giving a dinner party, will avoid there being thirteen diners at table. People joke that they are going to stay in bed all day when the thirteenth day of the month falls on a Friday. It is all superstition and most people know this and laugh at their susceptibility and irrationality. They know that it is silly to feel that any number is any more, or less, unlucky, than any other. However, some people have an irrational fear or phobia about the number thirteen, it is called triskaidekaphobia and, when combined with a phobia about Friday the thirteenth, it is Paraskevidekatriaphobia.
Triskaidekaphobia sufferers can experience very real symptoms when confronted by the number thirteen, these may include panic, terror, dread, a racing heart, hyperventilation, nausea, shaking and anxiety. Triskaidekaphobia may, or may not, be part of a larger anxiety state, an obsessive disorder, a mental illness, or an autistic spectrum disorder.
However, most people do not experience such unpleasant experiences, but many people, in western societies are superstitious or feel uneasy about the number thirteen and there are parallels in other cultures. In many oriental cultures, including Korea, China, and Japan, number four is unlucky because the Mandarin Chinese word for ‘four’ sounds like the word for ‘death’. In those countries, buildings often do not have a fourth floor, and all the other restrictions, which in western cultures apply to number thirteen, in eastern societies apply to number four.
It is easy to understand why east Asian cultures, especially the Chinese, fear the number four, but why Westerners are uneasy about the number thirteen is less clear. It would seem that this superstition, fear, or unease, about thirteen originates from many places, and at many times in Western history. Some say it is because Judas Iscariot, the disciple, who betrayed Jesus Christ, was the thirteenth disciple to sit down at the last supper, but nowhere in the four gospels does the bible give the order in which the disciples sat at the table.
Some people say that it is because thirteen witches form a coven or quorum to celebrate the Sabbath. Others say it because the thirteenth major Arcana card, in a tarot pack, is the death card, yet this Card, yet this card does not usually signify death but transformation or the end of one thing, clearing the way for something better, a blessing in disguise, or a major change in life. Rarely does the death card actually signify a death.
Superstition about the number thirteen may be very much older than either the tarot or Christianity. There are thirteen months in the lunar calendar, many archeologists believe man worshipped the moon goddess and the earth mother goddess from the earliest times, gradually, the sun god overtook both as the superior deity.
Perhaps an ancient story from Norse mythology explains the mystery. At a banquet in Valhalla, twelve gods were invited to dine, Loki the god of mischief was not invited and came anyway, making thirteen. Loki tricked Hod, the blind god of winter, into killing Balder, god of beauty, a great favourite with all the gods. Balder could have been resurrected if all creation wept for him, which all animals, plants, humans and gods duly did, every living thing cried except Loki, and so the ancient Norse people took thirteen to be a very unlucky number. The Norse religion arose from earlier Indo-European culture and the origins of superstitions, around the number thirteen, may come from very early in human cultures.
The fear about Friday the thirteenth is lost in the mists of time. In 1309, King Philip the Fair of France, in massive debt to the knights Templar, decided to kill them all, rather than repay the debt. Phillip ordered the killing of all the Knights Templar. Beginning Friday October 13 1309, Philip’s men hunted the Knights Templar down and killed them, this continued for years, until Phillip had the Knights Templar’s Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, burned at the stake. Sailors have always regarded putting to sea on a Friday, as very unfortunate for the voyage.
Thirteen is just a number, it is no more, or less, unlucky than any other number. If you still think twice about buying a car, with a licence plate that adds up to thirteen just remember that, in the East Asian cultures, thirteen is a lucky number.