|What is it about the number 13 that envokes fear into so
many people? When counting, it's just a number, after all, right? The number after 12 and before 14 on the
cardinal numeral scale, right? Well, so many people look at it as so much more. It seems that while it
doesn't bother as many people internationally, it definitely seems to bother a lot of people in the Western
While there has been a ton of debate over just why the number is unlucky, it is argued that the
original 'unlucky thirteen' superstition was the 19th century belief that if thirteen people sat at a dinner
table, the first one to rise would die before the end of the year. This is due to the fact that thirteen is
the number of Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve Disciples of Jesus in The Bible; and the one who betrayed him.
Judas, Disciple #13, was the first to rise from the table, and was also the first to die.
Another myth was that Loki, the Norse god of trickery who (of course) betrayed all the others, was the 13th
of the Aesir (battle gods). The Norse God Odin had a party for 11 demigods, including himself, Loki arrived
uninvited and when Baldr, Odin's second son, tried to remove Loki, Baldr was murdered. Therefore 13 was
unlucky. Friday the 13th was unlucky because Friday means "Freyja's Day," and Freyja (the goddess of love)
was known to be hot-tempered and had a grudge against Loki.
Other beliefs as to why the number 13 is feared so much in society include:
- The ancient Hebrews thought 13 was unlucky because the thirteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet is the
letter M, which is the first letter in the word "mavet," meaning death.
- Belief that 13 is unlucky because it follows 12, which in ancient Babylonia, China, and Rome was considered
to be a lucky number associated with completion and perfection
- The Bakers Dozen: Some believed that the baker's would add a half loaf as a token to Satan to assure that
the other twelve would turn out good. London bakers were subject to harsh penalties if they were caught
selling bread in what was called short weight that the bakers would add the extra loaf to avoid the
- A perfect coven consists of 13 witches.
However this irrational fear may have materialized, it certainly spread. Many writers associate someone or
something to the number thirteen to show that they are dark, evil, unnatural, or just unlucky. By the early
20th century, in fact, the word triskaidekaphobia was coined to describe an irrational fear of the number
thirteen, a fear which has become so prevalent that many buildings in America will not have a 13th floor.
Some speculate that a fear of the number 13 is the reason we recognize only 12 constellations in the Zodiac,
omitting a thirteenth Ophiuchus, the Serpent Holder.
Did ancient actions of the gods influence our thinking today? Obviously, they did. While it is just a number
to some of us, it will alway carry a connotation of evil to others, and it's very sight is enough to ruin
their lives. Even in the future, I assume the fear will prevail.