A short time ago, another Friday came along that was the 13th day of the month.
And of course, with the arrival of another “Friday the 13th,” I heard some funny comments from some of my friends and co-workers about begin wary of the mystical powers of the day.
That got me wondering about exactly how that whole eerie aura that surrounds the number 13 got started. Even though it might be kind of silly, it’s so engrained into society that some hotels, hospitals and other tall buildings don’t have 13th floors, athletes don’t want the number 13 on their uniforms, people don’t like getting married on the 13th of a given month and you’re not likely to see a Gate 13 at any major airport.
Some people have even been know to place a teddy bear in a seat at a dinner gathering to increase the number of guests from 13 to 14.
And those are just a scant few examples of the large-scale avoidance of 13.
But while 13 is widely considered an unlucky and undesirable number (or even sinister in some cases), I guess it’s not all that surprising to realize that there’s really no definitive, singular origin of the phenomenon; it just sort of developed over the centuries.
Nevertheless, there are a bunch of potentially contributing factors.
•In the realm of numerology (which is the belief in the divine or mystical relationship between a number and one or more coincidental events), 12 represents perfection and completion, so it stands to reason that trying to improve upon such excellence by adding a digit is at best a bad idea, and such greed will surely be rewarded accordingly.
•In the Bible, Judas Iscariot was the 13th guest to arrive at the Last Supper and is the person who betrays the Lord Jesus.
•Ancient Norse folklore indicates that the world’s first encounter with evil and turmoil took place when the treacherous and mischievous god Loki appeared at a dinner party in Valhalla. Legend has it that he was the 13th guest at the gathering, which upset the balance of the 12 gods already in attendance.
The list goes on and on.
With regard to 12 again, 13 has the unfortunate “honor” of following a number that is frequently associated with good or important things, including the 12 of months of the year, 12 signs of the Zodiac, 12 sons of Jacob, 12 apostles of Jesus and 12 days of Christmas.
For the record, 13 isn’t alone in its predicament, as the number 4 occupies a similar status in much of Asia. Also for the record, according to the Gregorian calendar (which is of course the one used almost exclusively nowadays), the 13th day of any given month is more likely to be a Friday than any other day.
But while we’re at it, let’s make sure not to overlook that in some Spanish-speaking countries the unlucky 13th day of the month day is Tuesday instead of Friday. In fact, the title of the 1980 movie “Friday the 13th” was even translated as “Martes y 13” (Tuesday the 13th).
And we should also recognize that 13 is sometimes considered a lucky number.
Like in Belgium, where employees often receive a “13th month paycheck.”
And then there’s famous singer-songwriter Taylor Swift, who was born on Dec. 13th, turned 13 on Friday the 13th, had her first album certified gold in 13 weeks, and whose first No. 1 song had a 13-second intro. Swift also claims that every time she’s won an award she has been sitting in either the 13th section, 13th row or 13th seat of the hosting venue.
Anyway, the belief that 13 is an unlucky number basically stems from plain old superstition, and superstitions thrive on what’s referred to as “confirmation bias.” That means once people develop a belief and their mind becomes set on it, it’s hard to for them to change that mindset.
My take is that there’s nothing to the whole stigma that surrounds the number 13, and I’m not likely to change my mind about that.
To borrow a term that might have first been spoken by an early settler of the Ozarks, “I ain’t skeered.”
Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.