Thirteen – it is a natural number following 12 and preceding 14. It is a prime number and in the Fibonacci sequence. That in itself doesn’t sound so bad. But the number 13 has a bad reputation. While I’ll admit to liking the Fibonacci sequence, I’m not so sure that I’m fond of the number 13.
Fear of the number 13 has a specifically recognized phobia: triskaidekaphobia, a word coined in 1911. The superstitious sufferers of triskaidekaphobia try to avoid bad luck by keeping away from anything numbered or labelled thirteen. As a result, companies and manufacturers use another way of numbering or labeling to avoid the number, with hotels and tall buildings being conspicuous examples as they often avoid having a room number thirteen or a thirteenth floor. It’s also considered unlucky to have thirteen guests at a table.
Potential origins for unlucky 13? At Jesus Christ’s last supper, there were thirteen people around the table, counting Christ and the twelve apostles. Some believe this is unlucky because one of those thirteen, Judas Iscariot, was the betrayer of Jesus Christ. Or perhaps it is related to the fact that on Friday, October 13, 1307, King Philip IV of France ordered the arrest of the Knights Templar and most of the knights were tortured and killed. Or maybe we need to look to the Vikings. It is believed that Loki was the 13th god in the Norse pantheon—more specifically, Loki was believed to have engineered the murder of Balder and was the 13th guest to arrive at the funeral. This is perhaps related to the superstition that if 13 people gather, one of them will die in the following year.
It can’t be all bad though. There are 13 notes, by inclusive counting, in a full chromatic musical octave. Our neighbours to the South started off with the 13 original colonies, and that turned out quite well (or perhaps that is because they kept growing…?).
All I can say for certain is that of the 3 Friday the 13’s this year, we only have 1 more to go in November. Plenty of time to book the day off if you feel the urge to stay home…