The Fear of the Number 13
Triskaidekaphobia is the fear of the number 13. We have all heard of it, and many have heard rumors as to its origin, but do we really know the extend to which this superstition reaches worldwide, and for how long this fear has existed?
From the vikings, to the disciples, to the Knights Templar, to the Lunar calendar, there are many theories of the origin of Triskaidekaphobia. The myriad of occurrences of 13 portrayed in a negative light have furthered the superstition to travel around the world and increase its intensity.
Let's dive into the mysterious number 13...
Photo by KAB - All rights reserved
The Fear of 13
The word triskaidekaphobia comes from greek: 'tris' meaning 'three', 'kai' meaning 'and', 'deka' meaning 'ten', and 'phobia' as we know meaning 'fear'. It is the fear of the number 13.
A specific fear of Friday the 13th is called paraskavedekatriaphobia or friggatriskaidekaphobia.
Related phobias include arithmophobia or numerophobia, which is the general fear of numbers, and hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia the fear of the number 666. Also, Tetraphobia, is fear of the number 4, a number considered quite unlucky in Korea, China, and Japan.
If you are interested in the names of (many) other phobias, visit the Phobia List.
The Guide to the 13 Superstition
Lachenmeyer does a great job in this book of telling the full story of the number 13. Equal emphasis is put on the history of the 13 superstition and the modern manifestations of the superstition over time.
My favorite items included in this book are some graphics used by the Thirteen Club around the turn of the century. These simple hand drawn images are just amazing.
Occurrences and Examples of the 13 Superstition in Action
- Many tall buildings have no floor numbered as "13". Check the elevator buttons to see if 13 has been omitted.
- Some passenger airplanes skip 13 when numbering the rows of seating to avoid apprehension for the superstitious.
- In Formula One and many other racing categories, no vehicle carries the number 13.
- Hospitals and hotels routinely have no room number 13.
- On streets in Florence, Italy, and in much of France the house between number 12 and 14 is addressed as 12 and a half.
- In Scotland, none of the airports have a terminal 13. Instead they are given the terminal number 12B.
- There is no sound stage numbered 13 at Universal Studios in California.
- Microsoft skipped the name Office 13. Office 12 (a.k.a Microsoft Office 2007) was followed by the next release whose working title was Microsoft Office 14 (then renamed Office 2010).
Possible Origins of this Worldwide Phobia - Why are we afraid of 13?
- Ancient man's counting method could be the very earliest cause of the 13 fear. Counting was done using ten fingers and two feet (presumably covered with a shoe). Anything beyond the countable 12 was deemed "unknown" and therefore suspect. In English, we have distinct names for the numbers one through twelve.
- Perhaps the 13 superstition stems from the Last Supper. At that meal 13 people sat a the table. Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, was the 13th to sit at the table. This may also be the cause for the superstition that if 13 people sit down to a meal, then one will die within the year.
- The is a a Norse myth about 12 gods who had a dinner party at Valhalla, their heaven. A thirteenth - uninvited - guest attended the party. The 13th guest was the mischievous Loki. Once there, Loki tricked Hoder, the blind god of darkness, to shoot Balder the Beautiful, the god of joy and gladness, with a mistletoe-tipped arrow, killing him.
- The thirteen superstition may also be linked to that fact that a luni-solar calendar has 13 months in some years, while the solar Gregorian calendar and lunar Islamic calendar always have 12 months in a year.
Thirteen: A Journey Into the Number
Cott's Thirteen: A Journey Into the Number is a bit different than Lachenmeyer's 13: The Story of the World's Most Popular Superstition in that it focuses more on numerology, sacred numbers, and tarot. Cott writes with humor and his narrative makes this book a fun one to read.
Does calling the thirteenth floor Floor 14 make it any less unlucky?
Financial Impact of the Fear of Friday the 13th
The cost of paraskavedekatriaphobia / friggatriskaidekaphobia
"It's been estimated that [U.S] $800 or $900 million is lost in business on this day because people will not fly or do business they would normally do," said Donald Dossey, founder of the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina.
- From National Geographic News: Friday the 13th Phobia Rooted in Ancient History
Fear of Friday the 13th has roots in a Viking myth, ancient Rome, and even the Last Supper.
- Urban Legends Reference Pages: A World of Luck (Friday the 13th)
Why is Friday the 13th considered an unlucky day?
How about you...
Many people change their activities for Friday the 13th out of a fear that the day us unlucky. Some people shy away from significant things they would normally be doing like flying, purchasing a home, purchasing a car, etc. Others don't even leave their house!
Would you schedule or altar your plans around Friday the 13th?
The LUCKY Child 13
A surprising twist
With so much unluckiness about the number 13, it may be is surprising to some that superstitions say that 13 is not always unlucky. Those who are superstitious believe that children who are born on the 13th of any month shall be LUCKY in all of their ventures in life.
This is excellent news since I was one of those children!
Early American 13s (or so the British said)
As Printed in a London Newspaper in 1776
The number 13 came up many times surrounding the Americans at the time of the American Revolution. How much of this was intentional, versus coincidental, we will never know.
Thirteen is a number peculiarly belonging to the rebels. A party of naval prisoners lately returned from Jersey say that the rations among the rebels are thirteen dried clams per day; that the titular Lord Stirling takes thirteen glasses of grog every morning, has thirteen enormous rum-bunches on his nose, and that (when duly impregnated) he always makes thirteen attempts before he can walk; that Mr. Washington has thirteen toes on his feet (the extra ones having grown since the Declaration of Independence,) and the same number of teeth in each jaw; that the Sachem Schuyler has a top-knot of thirteen stiff hairs, which erect themselves on the crown of his head when he grows mad; that Old Putnam had thirteen pounds of his posteriors bit off in an encounter with a Connecticut bear, ('twas then he lost the balance of his mind); that it takes thirteen Congress paper dollars to equal one penny sterling; that Polly Wayne was just thirteen hours in subduing Stony Point, and as many seconds in leaving it; that a well-organized rebel household has thirteen children, all of whom expect to be generals and members of the High and Mighty Congress of the "thirteen United States" when they attain thirteen years; that Mrs. Washington has a mottled tom-cat, (which she calls, in a complimentary way, 'Hamilton,') with thirteen yellow rings around his tail, and that his flaunting it suggested to the Congress the adoption of the same number of stripes for the rebel flag.
Source: Journal of Captain Smythe R.A. January 1780
History of the Flag of the United States, 1880, by George Henry Preble (p. 264)
A Dictionary of Superstitions
The various superstitions surrounding the number 13 are just a slice of those that have been passed down from generation to generation around the world. From black cats to four leaf clovers to rabbits feet, it's all covered in this comprehensive guide to worldwide superstitions.
Why is FRIDAY the 13th especially unlucky? - (paraskavedekatriaphobia or friggatriskaidekaphobia)
- The Crucifixion took place on a Friday, linking the bad luck of 13 (from the last supper) to the misfortune of the next day, Friday.
- The association of Friday the thirteenth with the arrest of Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the Knights Templar, on Friday, October 13, 1307 by King Philippe IV of France has oftem been referenced as the origin of paraskavedekatriaphobia (Dan Brown included this in The Da Vinci Code), however this is a modern-day story.
The Thirteen Club
An effort to end the superstition
In 1881, a group of rationalists joined together in forming The Thirteen Club. Their goal was to debunk the 13-at-table myth by dining once a month with 13 at each table, to show that no more of them died than in any other group. Though it took a year to recruit the first 13 members, by 1887 The Thirteen Club was 400-strong, with five U.S. Presidents as honorary members.
A copy of Robert Green Ingersoll's toast at the December 13, 1886 dinner is available online. It ends with:
"We have had enough mediocrity, enough policy, enough superstition, enough prejudice, enough provincialism, and the time has come for the American citizen to say: "Hereafter I will be represented by men who are worthy, not only of the great Republic, but of the Nineteenth Century."
More Bizarre 13 Facts
- There are traditionally thirteen steps leading up to a gallows.
- In Tarot decks, the 13th card of the Major Arcana is Death. While Death is rarely interpreted literally, it is possible that this furthered the perception of 13 as an unlucky number.
- On the 13th day of the Persian new year (Norouz), people consider staying at home unlucky, and go outside for a picnic in order to ward off the bad luck.
- The Code of Hammurabi, a collection of laws, created circa 1760 BC, does not contain a thirteenth law.
Are you afraid of 13? or Friday the 13th?
Have you no fear at all?