Why do we fear the number 13?
Triskaidekaphobia, a tongue-twisting word pronounced tris-ky-de-ka-phobia, simply means fear of the number 13. A surprising number of people suffer from this condition. If you’re one of them, the number that comes after 12 and before 14 is indeed very scary.
Individual responses to the number 13 vary. For some people it’s just a vague superstition, while others will go to great lengths to avoid having anything to do with this unluckiest of numbers. Indeed, some folk dare not venture out their front door on the 13th of the month.
When I was a child, I recall playing with my mother’s sewing machine cams. In my young imagination they were like little people. They each had a number and were different colours, which seemed to give each one a distinct personality. I recall the cam that had the number 13: it was a deep blue that, for some reason, probably because I had heard about the unluckiness of 13, seemed to possess a rather malevolent nature. Its dark blue was unlike the other cams, which were bright, happy colours.
The age 13 marks the start of the teenage years and this can indeed be a scary time when the raging hormones of puberty take hold. Young teens often run wild and become “little devils” but beyond this it’s difficult to understand why the superstition and prejudice against the number 13 are so widespread.
Triskaidekaphobia is indeed prevalent in many regions of the world and the superstition runs deep. Average people in the street as well as corporate executives, architects and aircraft designers — people from all walks of life, in other words — seem to have an irrational fear of and deep prejudice toward the number 13.
The Mayans, who were skilled astrologers, developed calendars where 13 cycles of 20 days made a 260-day year. ABaktun was made up of 144,000 days and the 13th Baktun ended on the December solstice, 2012.
While doomsayers suggest that the end of the world is nigh and that humanity will soon be engulfed in a series of cataclysmic events, those who have studied the Mayan system are of the view that Friday, 21 December 2012, represents a time of transformation and awakening. They believe we will see the emergence of a new consciousness.
The avoidance of the number only perpetuates the myth that it is somehow unfortunate, or unlucky. For example, in Formula 1 racing, no driver has had the number 13 on his car since 1976. The longer that holds the less likely it is that anyone will take that number in the future.
Distrust of 13 is particularly noticeable in the United States where most high-rise buildings and motels don’t have a 13th floor. Interestingly, though, many of the symbols underpinning the US are filled with references to the number 13. In the Great Seal, the national emblem, there are 13 stripes, 13 arrows, 13 stars, 13 leaves and 13 berries as well as 13 rows of bricks in the pyramid, all of which are references to the original 13 states that signed the Declaration of Independence. This insignia is printed on the US $1 bill that citizens carry around with them without apparent concern.
Almost none of the world’s airlines have a 13th row on their aircraft. Ironically, Qantas and Air New Zealand, historically two of the safest airlines, do have a 13th row on their planes. To those who fear the number 13’s evil power, it doesn’t seem to matter that, logically, in buildings without a 13th floor and aircraft without a 13th row, when you count up from one, the 14th floors and rows actually become the 13th.
Some people say 13 is unlucky because it’s one more than 12, a number that’s seen to be complete. There are 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 months in a year and two lots of 12 hours in a day. Seating 13 at a table is considered unfortunate because there were a dozen apostles with Jesus at the Last Supper, making a total attendance of 13.
Despite our overwhelmingly negative associations with 13 — it was even assigned the Death card in the Tarot — it does have a fascinating connection to the natural world. Thirteen is one of the Fibonacci series of numbers. These numbers are important because when two consecutive numbers in the series are added together, they produce the next number in the sequence. The numbers — 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34 and so on — are associated with the natural pattern of growth that is intrinsic to life itself.
The ratio between any two of the Fibonacci numbers is 1.618, which is known as the “golden mean” or “golden ratio”. When plotted geometrically, these digits create the beautiful spiral pattern we see in shells, antlers, ferns, flowers and other living things. It is even found within the coils of DNA and the vast spiralling galaxies of the universe.
So if the number 13 is, in a sense, at the core of us all, why is it considered unlucky? How did this happen? Does it really possess some kind of dark energy that is intrinsically malevolent?
Power of the feminine
The origins of why the number 13 is considered evil or unlucky go back to the beginnings of Christianity. Before this time, pagan worship honoured the natural cycles of the seasons and another M word: the moon.
Since the earliest times it has been known that one lunar month correlates to the female cycle, and women — the carriers of life — were seen to have mysterious creative powers. Women were the primary keepers of natural methods of healing, and knowledge of herbal remedies was passed down from mother to daughter, the fertile carriers of life itself. The worship of goddesses was prevalent in many ancient cultures where feminine mysteries and traditions were honoured.
Fear of four
Tetraphobia, or fear of the number 4, is prevalent in many parts of Asia. It is not uncommon for apartments and motels to skip over this number, as well as other numbers that include the digit, like 14.
This originates from China, where the Mandarin word for four (sì) is very similar to the word for death (sÇ). These numbers are also linguistically similar in other Asian languages.
Though some pagan observances survived the spread of Christianity, most were outlawed by the church in its early days. So-called “witchcraft” came to be associated with the devil. The church wanted to establish “one true religion” and deemed natural healing and pagan rituals to be unnatural, heretical and against God. Many healers and herbalists who were said to be practising witchcraft were persecuted and executed. Along the way, the feminine was erroneously ordained to be sinister, dark and evil.
The world has since adopted a patriarchal system that emphasises the masculine and places more importance on quantity than on quality, thereby creating an imbalance between yin and yang. Our collective rejection of the number 13 is a symptom of this imbalance.
In another biblical link, Mary Magdalene, who shared a special relationship with Jesus and is thought to have been present at the Last Supper, had 13 letters in her name. Magdalene has been demonised by the church, which has implied she was a prostitute. Is there a connection between these unhappy affairs?
Interestingly, the letter M is the 13th letter of the English alphabet. Known as mem in Hebrew, which means water, this letter is found in many of the world’s languages, where it also ranks 13th. This link between the number 13 and water, the source of all life, is consistent with the letter M as the first letter of mother, mater, ma, madam, mama and similar words used to denote a woman. Perhaps it’s here that we finally have a clue as to why the number 13 has been ostracised: it is associated with the feminine.
The cycle of the planet Venus was revered by many ancient cultures, including the Mayans and the Australian Aborigines. Ancient star-gazers observed that Venus spends nine months as the morning star and nine months as the evening star, periods consistent with the human gestation cycle. Amazingly, the Venus–Earth cycle is exactly in the ratio of 13:8, the Golden Mean — Venus orbits the Sun 13 times to the Earth’s eight.
The Romans used to call the morning star Venus Lucifer, a term that means “full of light” or “light bearing”. Today, we think of the word Lucifer as representing the devil, but this should not be the case. In fact, it was given this devilish interpretation due to a mistake in a biblical translation. It seems that, in one way or another, the true meaning of many feminine symbols has been skewed, when they were once worshipped.
The cycle of the moon, that elemental symbol of feminine wisdom, is another powerful planetary connection to the number 13. One lunar month correlates to the female cycle, and there are 13 28-day lunar months in one solar year.
Many early calendars in the form of stone monoliths were erected to measure the motion of the moon and the sun. Ancient astrologers discovered that the moon orbits the earth 13 times each solar year and travels 13 degrees along the zodiac each day. The mysterious power of the moon was honoured and worshipped.
Force for good
So it seems that 13 is not the black sheep of the number family at all. Rather, it’s a number of feminine wisdom and creative power that resonates with the magic of the earth-moon cycle as well as the earth-Venus cycle.
Over the years to modern times, however, fears and superstitions surrounding the number 13 have grown, due partly to world events. On 13 April, 1970, for example, disaster struck the Apollo 13 moon mission when an oxygen cylinder exploded. Yet the crew managed to return safely to Earth. The moon herself assisted Apollo 13 to return to Earth, as it propelled the damaged spacecraft homeward. Perhaps the moon’s affinity with the number 13 somehow helped.
Friday the 13th
Superstition holds that Friday the 13th is an especially unlucky day. Not only is 13 considered unlucky, Frida has also been deemed unlucky on religious grounds because it’s believed that Jesus was crucified on Easter Friday. At least one Friday the 13th occurs annually and in 2012 there were three — in January, April and July.
Fear of Friday the 13th, this double-whammy of misfortune, is known by an even more tongue-tangling term: friggatriskaidekaphobia. The frigga prefix comes from the goddess for whom Friday is named. Frigg was the primary Norse goddess of love and fertility and, as such, is a counterpart to other female goddesses such as Aphrodite and Venus, the chief classical goddesses of Western culture.
Many problems we face today can be overcome by reconnecting to feminine values and the natural cycles of the earth. The time has come to once more honour the feminine, the natural cycles of the earth and her companion, the moon, by embracing the number 13.
In 2013 we have entered a new dimension of understanding. In 2012 the planet Neptune, symbol of the seas and oceans and the mysterious power of water, entered the water sign Pisces, heralding a new awareness of the interconnectedness of all life. Fascinatingly, Neptune has 13 known moons and spends 13 years in each sign of the zodiac.
The number 13 symbolises the power of the feminine and is infused with the creative life force. It is not in any way unlucky but actually quite the reverse: it is the beautiful and fertile number of the wise goddess. If you suffer from triskaidekaphobia, or have ever worried about the superstition surrounding the number 13, it’s time to shake off that foreboding and honour the magic of feminine wisdom once more.
Michele Finey is a Melbourne-based astrologer, hypnotherapist and author. Her latest book, The Sacred Dance of Venus and Mars, is published by The Wessex Astrologer (UK). Michele can be contacted via her website, www.celestialinsight.com.au.