Do you suffer from Triskaidekaphobia, fear of the number thirteen? Surprisingly many people do.
But why is thirteen special?
One reason might be that it is the number of lunar months in a year; astronomical facts usually play a role in shaping special numbers. It doesn't give it any character though.
Thirteen is often associated with bad luck (although some cultures consider it as lucky, as we will see below). The reason, as is often claimed, would be the last supper of Christ. Of the thirteen participants, one became a traitor (Judas Iscariot), while another was betrayed and executed (Jesus). This might be the reason why many people avoid having thirteen at a table, but it cannot be the original source of the bad reputation the number thirteen has, which evidently is older than that.
During the Greek antiquity, the number thirteen was associated with Hecate, originally a goddess of childbirth, but soon also of sorcery, witchcraft and ghosts, and her number occurs in many evil spells and magic texts.
She was the thirteenth, just outside the circle of the twelve great gods, and that is likely to be the reason why she got connected to that number; which in its turn can be the reason for the bad or evil aura of the number thirteen.
In Norse mythology there is a similar situation about Loki turning up at a banquet of the twelve great gods killing one of them, Balder. Loki then was the thirteenth.
During the Middle Ages, thirteen was the number of witchcraft and it is said that the witches of England were organised in communities of thirteen in each, and the thirteenth card in the Major Arcana (of Tarot) is Death.
In the teachings of Old Egypt, thirteen was the number of steps between life and death.
In certain cultures, thirteen can be a number of good luck, based on their own special reasons. So it is in Sikhism, after a special story about its founder, Guru Nanak Dev, the first of the ten Sikh Gurus (1469–1539); and in Judaism, based on Cabbalistic reasoning.
Why is this day especially ominous?
Some sources claim that the origin is to be found in the history of The Knights Templar, when the French king, Philip IV, had a large number of knights arrested on October 13, 1307, which was a Friday.
It is more likely that the Friday and the number thirteen are ominous for entirely different reasons, and that the combination of them later came to mean double jeopardy. But why the Friday?
Sometimes it is said that Eve tempted Adam with the forbidden fruit on a Friday, with a well-known result; or that the Great Flood began on a Friday, or that the Temple of Solomon was destroyed on a Friday. As far as I know, there is no information supporting any of these claims.
It is more likely that the real origin is to be found in the fact that Christ was crucified on a Friday, a day that has been ominous to Christians since; and after that, the evil number thirteen (of non-Christian origin), combined with the Friday, made a double danger!
It is worth mentioning that, until that event, Friday was considered a day of good luck and happiness throughout the Graeco-Roman Antiquity - except that it was the day of executions in Rome. But this does not seem to have been considered a bad event!
In some cultures, a similar bad luck is associated with the thirteenth when it occurs on another specified weekday.
It may be fun to know that irrational fear of Friday the thirteenth is called friggatriskaidekaphobia or sometimes paraskavedekatriaphobia.
(This article is based on material previously published in Meriondho Leo and in my e-book “Numericon”.)
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