Sunday, October 23, 2011

Unlucky Thirteen

No dawn, no day.  I’m always in this twilight.
--Cosmic Love, Florence and the Machine

Thirteen.  The age when you are officially a teenager--and boys can have a Bar Mitzvah.  Perhaps that transition to adulthood explains why the number inspires fear.  If you’re in the mood for a tongue twister, there’s even a name for it:  triskaidekaphobia.  Not linguistically laborious enough for you?  How about paraskevidekatriaphobia?  That’s the fear of Friday the 13th, and according to a Gallup poll from 1990, 9% of us have the diagnosis.
Why does this number incite such apprehension? 
In the earliest cultures, thirteen actually represented a lucky number. 
Prehistoric goddess worshippers used the number thirteen to represent femininity.  The Earth Mother of Laussel, a 27,000-year-old limestone carving, depicts a female figure holding a crescent-shaped horn with thirteen notches.  It has been asserted that these marks represent the number of “moon cycles”, i.e. menstrual cycles, in a year.  If you’re a math type, that’s 28 days X 13 months = 364 days. 
The Earth Mother of Laussel
The true lunar calendar, however, only has a 13th month in certain years given subtle alterations of the moon’s cycle.  Still, there are those who believe the thirteen month calendar is the most suitable for timekeeping.  In his book Campaign for the New Time, Dr. Jose Arguelles, a New Age spiritualist who founded the Planet Art Network and the Foundation for the Law of Time, supported the use of a thirteen month calendar: 
     "If we choose the 13 Moon Calendar, the species will operate by a 28-day cycle which is the female biological cycle. . .We will find that this tool synchronizes the lunar and other world calendars according to a mathematical harmony previously unknown. . . A new synchronic order of human life will unify the planet.”  

I’m not sure if world peace will occur, but at least we may get holidays for PMS.

The goddess worshippers were not alone in their homage to thirteen.  To the ancient Egyptians, thirteen was a stage of spiritual ascension--twelve stages occurred during life, and the 13th represented the afterlife. 
In Judaism, God has thirteen attributes of mercy, reminding his followers that repentance is always possible.  The Magi even visited Jesus on his thirteenth day of life.
So how did thirteen meet its run of bad luck?
Some believe that as cultures turned more patriarchal and less pagan, the idea of following a cycle based on the female biological system and the moon was not as desirable as one based on the more "masculine" solar year.  Others think that people misinterpreted thirteen’s role in the afterlife to mean the concrete idea of death.  This confusion can also be applied to the tarot, in which the thirteenth card represents Death as well--but typically not in physical terms. 
Covens of witches were said to have thirteen members, reflecting goddess and moon worship.  As fear of the occult and pagan religions spread during the 14th and 15th centuries, ideas about the bad mojo of thirteen did, too.    
"Vanity Fair says these hats are the next big thing for covens everywhere."
Lest you think fear of thirteen reflects fear of women and witchcraft, some claim the execution of the Knights Templar by King Phillip IV of France on October 13, 1307 marked the number as evil--oh, and BTW, it was a Friday, too. 
Norse myth connects the fear to a banquet at Valhalla celebrating the invulnerability of one of their favorite sons, Baldur, God of Light and Joy.  Loki, God of Mischief, took offense at not being invited.  He crashed the party as the 13th guest and then tricked Baldur’s brother Hod, the blind God of Darkness, to attack Baldur with a piece of mistletoe--the one thing that could kill him.  Baldur died and with that, the world started its plunge towards Ragnarok, the great battle of the Gods and destruction of earth as we know it.  
Not quite such an innocuous tradition when you think of Baldur.
Similar to the Norse myth is the Christian belief linking thirteen to the Last Supper, where Jesus supposedly sat in the 13th seat and Judas, his betrayer, was the 13th and final guest.  In fact, the French are so opposed to having a 13 person dinner party that you can hire a quatorzieme, a fourteenth guest, from an agency to attend for a more aethestically pleasing soiree.
Contractors often avoid putting a thirteenth floor in buildings (or at least labeling it thirteen).  An internal review by Otis Elevators showed that up to 85% of buildings that utilize their elevators do not have a thirteenth floor.  It’s often renamed as a subfloor, or skipped entirely.  Hospitals often do not have a thirteenth operating suite or a thirteenth floor, believing it spares patients with thirteen phobia undue stress.  Fiction has a heyday with the idea of a hidden thirteenth floor where something sinister occurs--there was a 1999 film by that name, and reference to a thirteenth floor in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  
Other infamous thirteens include the ill-fated moon mission of Apollo 13 in 1970.  It launched at 1313 hours and the oxygen tank explosion occurred on April 13th.  If you want statistics, a study published in the British Medical Journal in 1993 compared traffic volume and accidents on two different days--Friday the 6th and Friday the 13th.  It showed that although volume was significantly less on the 13th, there were still more accidents on that unlucky day.  
Gratuitous picture of Olivia Wilde, aka Thirteen on House.
So if you weren’t triskaidekaphobic already, all of this may have you thinking twice before putting a downpayment on that house on 1313 Mockingbird Lane.  But before you get too down on the number 13, remember this--there were thirteen original American colonies and thirteen people signed the Declaration of Independence. There are thirteen stripes on the American flag.

Moreover, if you pull a dollar bill out of your pocket, look at how many stairs there are on the pyramid.  How many leaves on the olive branch the eagle is holding.  How many stars are above the eagle, and how many arrows it holds.  Some go as far as to point out there are thirteen letters in E Pluribus Unum.  So, maybe thirteen isn’t all bad--unless money really is the root of all evil.

Have a wonderful Sunday.  And a special shout out to my friend Lydia Kang who landed a publishing deal this week with her awesome YA novel.  I can't wait to see it on the shelves!

Also, if I'm not following your blog but you're following me, let me know.  I like to know who's out there and keep in touch.  That is assuming you want me to find your blog.  If not, then never mind.


  1. I am not superstitious about the number 13 but I came close a few years ago. On that occasion the cars brakes failed while backing out the driveway (you could almost call that lucky) and on the same day the transmission expired. On the way home from the shop a tire blew. However, since I wasn't driving when any of this stuff happened....

  2. Some new facts I've learned today - and I so want that PMS poster :-)

  3. You are full of interesting facts today! Never had a fear of Friday the 13th. Unless you count the fact that I avoid those movies like the plague.

  4. I always thought that 13 phobia was crazy... because if I were going to pick a day as unlucky with the number 13, it would be a Monday. Besides, everyone knows the 13th season of the Simpsons was the best one.

  5. Poor number 13, so abused. Great post full of interesting facts :) I'm with Alex on Friday the 13th, no fear of the day, the movies on the other hand I avoid.

  6. Hey Julie! Love those witches! The exact same ones were on the front of a birthday card I either sent or received...or both! :D

    I though bar mitzvahs were at age 12. Guess not?

    Have a fabuloso week!

  7. I could probably come up with Thirteen Reasons Why this is such a great post. :)

    Also, I love the idea of a calender based on the female biological cycle. They say that when women sleep under the open sky their cycles begin to sync up with the full moon. I find that fascinating and quite convincing that we are all, in fact, goddesses. :P

  8. OT - I Love House
    On Topic - this was really informative! Also, i LOLd at the PMS demotivational poster. So true

  9. Delores--that sounds like a very bad day--was it by chance the same day your warranty expired? That would be almost poetic!

    Sarah--when I saw it, I knew I had to work it in somehow. Love me some PMS humor.

    Alex--I have seen all of them, mostly through my fingers. I love horror movies, but not a fan of gore. I know, that is totally silly, but true.

    Rusty--I would be way more scared of Monday the 13th.

    Raelyn--Thanks! This time of year I'm always catching bad horror movies. It wouldn't be the same without Friday the 13th!

    Becky--Girls can have their version age 12. I think boys wait until 13. Although I am not Jewish, but have been schooled by a few friends.

    L.G.--There's lots in the medical literature that when women live together their cycles sync, too. I absolutely love your last comment--I'm stealing it someday!!

    Sarah--I just wish sometimes I could actually say the things House does and not get fired. It would be cathartic!

  10. I know I'm following you, but I can't tell if you're following me.

    I think there's something spiritual about the number 13--though whatever it was we might've lost over the centuries.

  11. I find it interesting (and funny) that my man and I had our first date on Friday the 13th ;)

  12. My birthday is on the 13th, I personally always liked it and thought it was cool when it lands on Friday the 13th. I could never understand the big phobia about it. But your information about it, is very cool. A 13 month calendar would be interesting indeed. It would probably come with PMS stickers, so you could mark the calendar and warn fellow household members ahead of time.

  13. I've always been fond of the number 13. Well, other than a few exceptions, I have always felt far more attracted to the odd numbers than the even ones. Making me an Oddarian as opposed to an Evenite.

    And I liked that quarterback Kurt Warner always chose to wear the number 13 to disprove any myths about the number being unlucky. He went from being an undrafted athlete stocking groceries in an Iowa supermarket in the middle of the night to a Super Bowl champion in a Ram’s jersey sporting the number 13, so I’d say he indeed proved his point.

    I don’t know whether or not you’re “Following” my blog, but I’ll continue “Following” yours regardless. I’ve never played that “You Follow me, I’ll Follow you” game. I regularly read the ones I like, and I don’t want anyone “Following” mine out of a sense of obligation or misplaced “etiquette”. (Besides, I have too many non-reading “Followers” as it is and don’t need any more.)

    As long as your blog installments continue entertaining me, I will continue “Following”. That’s all I’m about.

    ~ D-FensDogg
    ‘Loyal American Underground’

  14. Olivia Wilde is freakin' hot! Sorry, that's all I saw from your post today.

  15. I absolutely loved these facts on 13!! So interesting!

  16. Great post, Jules. You rock. And thanks for the heads-up about Lydia. I rushed over there and squee'd. =o)

  17. Jules, I always enjoy these posts but this one had a special delicious creepiness that I particularly enjoyed.

    (Speaking of particularity, Stephen's comment strikes me as particularly amusing.)

  18. Where in the world do you always find such fascinating material? You are a research superstar, Google or no. I love this, and am persuaded that 13 is a mystical number that deserves respect. Tarot's Death card naturally caught my eye, and it is so interesting that while people generally react to that card with extreme fear, it is actually about transformation (which you pointed out). Maybe that holds a key to the fear of the number 13? We don't like change! But, hmmm, those traffic accidents. p.s. Love the moon cycle/women orientation.

  19. Another informative compilation. Fascinating! Glad to hear about Lydia's book deal.

  20. I've never really worried about the number 13, or whether it lands on a Friday--I'd live on the 13th floor of a building if it was available. :P

    Interesting post!

  21. I do find it interesting that many hotels or buildings don't have a named 13th floor.

    But I just think it's a number.

  22. I'm not superstitious, but this was really interesting stuff!

    I'm not into celebrating my cycle, but if it gives me a holiday, why not. ;-)

  23. Fantastic facts! I've never been really superstitious but growing up in Poland I've been exposed to some really crazy believes associated with number 13 :-)

  24. When I was younger I thought triskaidekaphobia had to do with crackers.

  25. Maria--I think it's amazing how much gets lost just in the passage of time. That's why I feel compelled to write it all down, right?

    Stephen--I actually like the look of 13, if you can like a number aesthetically. And Wilt Chamberlain also wore the dreaded 13. Love what you said about following, but I always want to know about the people who make it around here, and someone's blog is sort of a little portal into their mind, so I do like to keep in touch. Hope I keep providing you a reason to follow. ;)

    Stephen--she is insanely beautiful. I don't think she is real. They do amazing stuff with CG nowadays.

    CQG--Thanks lady!

    B.E.--I have squeed many times for her as well. Lydia's a great girl.

    Suze--I aim to make your skin a little crawlier every day, babe.

    Linda--I am totally loving your tarot bit, so when I started this I knew I had to include Death somehow. And to steal what L.G. said above, the moon/woman cycle just proves that we are all goddesses.

    J.L.--Thanks! I always learn something new with these. I'm becoming a fountain of trivia.

    Golden Eagle--Thirteen's been lucky for me, so I'd have to be your neighbor.

    Kelly--I wonder if they realize that just because you rename it something else, it's still the thirteenth floor?

    Tara--I would totally throw a PMS party if it meant a holiday.

    Angela--I'm Eastern European, too (Czech). We have a tendency to come up with some crazy stuff, don't we?

    Copyboy--Triscuits are worthy of a phobia. They will suck all the moisture out of your body in the blink of an eye. Like a deadly desiccant of dough.

  26. Thirteen is my husband's favorite number :) He's quirky like that.

  27. Very cool history on our fear of thirteen. I get kind of creeped by 13 and odd numbers in general. It does not sit well with me so I'm more of a Noah person two by two. :)

  28. I can see how PMS can lead to witches and bad omens. =)

  29. Angela--quirky is good. And if it's been lucky for him, then more power to 13!

    Melissa--those prime numbers are a bit sinister, aren't they?

    E.--isn't PMS in itself a bad omen for anyone near, lol?

  30. Nope, not scared of 13 at all. It's actually a happy date. And to add to your fearful numbers, I went to the grocery story yesterday. The total came out to $6.66. The cashier asked if I wanted some gum. Ha! :)

  31. One of the greatest posts I've read about the number 13. I LOVE A GOOD THEME it being so close to Halloween. YAY! Love it so so so much.

  32. really cool run down on the history of 13. like so many superstitions in our culture, some use the power of such things to work in their favor.

  33. I knew a family in my youth who had 4 children, each born on a 13th! Crazy. And none of them had hunchbacks, one eye or warts :)

    Great stuff, as always!


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