2013: How Unlucky is the Number “13” Anyway
The Roots of a Worldwide Phobia
By: J. Marlando
I do not know the worldwide statistic but over 20 million Americans admit that they are superstitious about the number thirteen and especially Friday(s) the thirteenth. I imagine that most of those folks were like me and raised with the superstition that there is something forbidden and evil about the number itself. I was also raised believing that breaking a mirror meant seven years of bad luck; that walking under a ladder was unlucky and a black cat that crossed in front of a person’s path caused that person to have bad luck.
It’s difficult—even impossible—to say when exactly the number 13 began its association with evil because it probably began being a lucky. Indeed, it was a favorable number by the ancient Egyptians who offered that we humans go through twelve steps or stages in this life and that the thirteenth step was entering the afterlife. Entering the afterlife was thought of as being “fortunate” for the earlier Egyptians with the aspects of death being dark and foreboding evolving millenniums later.
The terrible fear of death probably arose with the old god/kings and their high priests who began controlling their populations through the rhetoric of the invisible God’s Wrath—those who were obedient to the city/state were to be rewarded after death but those that weren’t were to be severely punished. This coerciveness would be carried on by organized religions creating death a dark and frightening mystery for the believer.
What we do know is that the concept of number 13 being unlucky began unfolding in mythologies long before the classic Greek era. A Norse myth tells the story of 12 gods having a wonderful feast in heaven when in walks the 13th, the notorious Loki. Loki has Balder, the god of joy and happiness shot with a poison arrow and it is said that darkness fell upon the earth when he died.
This myth is repeated in a few legends including Christ having the Last Supper with his twelve apostles with Judas (the thirteenth guest) betraying Jesus.
By the time of Rome the superstition was widespread and in the whispers of the people witches gathered in groups of twelve with the devil being the thirteenth.
As for combining Friday and the 13th as being the year’s unlucky day, it is historically understandable since lots of bad stuff happened on Friday—the great flood, for example, was supposed to have started on a Friday…Salomon’s temple was supposed to have been destroyed on a Friday…and, as just about everyone knows, Jesus was supposed have been crucified on a Friday.
Most probably what had the most influence in creating Friday as a day of “bad luck” was that in Pagan Rome, Friday was execution day. Obviously, for those being executed, no doubt including many who were undeserving of such a tragic end Friday would become a day of extreme “bad luck” in the minds of the people.
Speaking of Pagan Rome, Friday was once considered a holy day which of course the Church of Rome resented calling it, he Witches Sabbath. Here’s a witches gathering on the “Sabbath” painted by Goya in the later 1700s.
We human beings are indeed a superstitious, phobic species…at least in general. I have an ex-professor who is a friend of mine who is always at the ready to poke fun at those who bow to the totems and traditions of superstitions. Yet, one day I caught him knocking on wood for good luck. (You’re right I’ve never let him live that one down). The truth is, however, that we all have at least one or two egocentricities that protect us from evil of some kind. Little habits we have before entering an important business meeting or taking a test or charging into life’s battles. Most of us say that we simply don’t believe in such things as “Friday the 13th” being unlucky but we avoid doing anything very risky on the day in any case. We are simply uncertain in a world of uncertainties!
And so, with all this in mind, I wish you all good fortune throughout 2013 and a very happy New Years!