Today’s date, June 13, got me to thinking about superstitious people who believe the number thirteen is unlucky. When that fear becomes immersive and ongoing, it becomes Triskaidekaphobia.
I’ve considered making a character in one of stories triskaidekaphobic. It would be a fun character flaw that readers would relate to since around 9-10% of Americans are superstitious about the number 13. Of course, not all of those 10% are triskaidekaphobes.
Why is 13 considered unlucky, anyway? There’s no definitive reason, but a little research turned up these ideas.
- Thirteen people were at the Last Supper. Judas Iscariot — the one who betrayed Jesus — was the 13th man to take his place at the table.
- Traditionally, 13 steps lead up the gallows.
- A hangman’s noose contains 13 turns.
- The thirteenth Apollo space mission, Apollo 13 was an unsuccessful moon mission.
- In Roman culture, witches gathered in groups of 12 where the 13th witch is the ‘Devil’.
- Old superstition says13 letters in your name, brings the devil’s luck. Slightly convincing when you consider the names of Charles Manson, Jack the Ripper, Jeffrey Dahmer, Theodore Bundy and Albert De Salvo all contain 13 letters.
In the late 1800s, a group called The Thirteen Club formed to debunk the legend that seating 13 people at a table would result in the death of one of them in the year to follow. Club members met on the 13th of the month for dinner with 13 people to a table. Members who showed up late were fined – you guessed it, 13 cents. For the next forty years, Thirteen Clubs cropped up all over the U.S. but then faded in popularity.
(Interesting to note, five U.S. presidents: Benjamin Harrison, Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, and Chester A. Arthur were club members. If you remember your U.S. history, two of these presidents were shot — one fatally. Kinda contradictory to the club purpose, don’t you think?)
The belief/superstition that the number 13 is evil and brings bad luck is so strong that many hotels, office, and apartment buildings skip numbering the 13th floor. Airports usually don’t have a Gate 13 and airplane aisles omit Aisle 13.
The fear of 13 can be especially heightened when the 13th day of the month falls on a Friday. Many people don’t even leave their homes when that happens. Fear of Friday the 13 may stem from the fact that Philip IV of France arrested and slaughtered the Knights Templar, an ancient Christian military unit, on Friday, October 13, 1307.
By the way, fear of Friday the 13 is called – paraskevidekatriaphobia You’re said to be cured when you can pronounced paraskevidekatriaphobia. (Just kidding!)
To counter all of this undue hatred of the poor number 13, there is one very good reason to love the number 13: a baker’s dozen.