The Power of 13

13… what is Dr. Rochelle thinking??

Starting a new Halloween magazine on Friday the 13th…how unlucky! Have you ever stopped to wonder why people get so excited about the number 13? What exactly is the big deal?

And indeed, it is a big deal. Millions of people worldwide suffer from triskaidekaphobia – or, fear of #13. Hotels are built without a 13th floor. Cities avoid creating a 13th Avenue or Street. Hospitals refuse to have an Operation Room #13. Trips are canceled. Many refuse to start new ventures, apply for new jobs, or even get married on a Friday the 13th.

So. It’s a serious fear. It even has a big fancy unpronounceable name. But why? The most common theory goes back to the Judeo/Christian religion. Traditionally, Judas (the man who betrayed Christ) was the 13th disciple. And the day of the Last Supper? Friday, of course. This is also said to be the day he was crucified, for Friday was when Romans preferred to perform executions. Or, going back further yet, some believe that Eve’s temptation of Adam occurred on a Friday…as did their subsequent expulsion from Eden. Noah’s grand sailing expedition, and the flooding of the world, supposedly started on a Friday, too.

Of course, other cultures have their own basis for their prejudice against 13. The Norse god Loki (god of mischief, turmoil and generic evilness) is said to have started a riot in Valhalla when he arrived uninvited at a dinner party being held for 12 other gods. Not only was he unwelcome, but he also managed to incite one of his fellow deities to inadvertently kill a heroic fellow named Balder the Good, a favorite among the gods! In honor of Loki’s bad manners, many people will not sit down at a dinner party where there are 13 guests, for it’s believed that the last one to be seated will be dead within a year.

The Norse goddess Frigg (goddess of fertility, love and sex) was worshipped on Friday – a day named after her. She was said to be the 13th member of witches’covens. Thirteen was long held to be a number associated with femininity – there are 13 lunar cycles in a year, as well as 13 menstrual cycles. So, in the battle between matriarchal and patriarchal societies, it might make sense that the power of 13 could become a much-feared one.

In Rome, 13 was always associated with death and misfortune. In their culture, 12 was trustworthy, natural. They had 12 months in a year, and 12 hours in a day. Thirteen, therefore, seemed unnatural and worthy of fear.

But not everyone fears 13. In ancient Egypt, the 13th stage of life was death/the afterlife, which was a Very Good Thing. In China, it’s considered a lucky number. The Japanese have no fear of 13 (but the number 4 is another matter). The Tarot card Death is #13, and it symbolizes transformation – yet again, good stuff. Cultures that use lunar calendars are rather fond of 13. The Mayans believed that there were 13 heavens, each with its own god.

And in the world of math, 13 is one of those rare and wondrous critters known as Prime Numbers – meaning, it’s only divisible by itself and by 1. Pretty neat stuff, that! So. Is Friday the 13th unlucky? Depends on whom you ask. But the evidence seems pretty circumstantial to me. Superstitions Abound

Have you ever wondered what creates the basis for other common superstitions? Here are a few to ponder:

  • An umbrella opened indoors will bring bad luck The reasons for this belief are vague. It’s generally thought that opening an umbrella indoors could be seen as an insult to the sun god(s). Also, many umbrellas are somewhat large – the opener of the umbrella stands a good chance of knocking something over and breaking it.
  • A broken mirror brings seven years of bad luck In ancient Rome, it was believed that a person’s life was renewed every seven years. It was also thought (and not just by Romans) that mirrors were capable of capturing one’s life or soul. Breaking a mirror, therefore, would require waiting seven years for the next life cycle to begin and the damage done to the soul to be repaired. (Not to worry, though – if the mirror is buried or washed in a running stream, the bad luck can be averted.)
  • Spilling salt is bad luck because of its ability to melt ice and preserve food, salt used Millions of people worldwide suffer from triskaidekaphobia – or… fear of #13.

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