It's Just A Number?
By: Jayde Lazier
Photo Credits: Kokorevas, Artūras. “Mask left in the woods”, Vilnius City, Lithuania
13. A number that is largely avoided in our Western societies due to its negative connotations. But why 13? Well, for the superstitious, the answer dates back to biblical times and ends with a quirky little serial killer from the Friday the 13th movie franchise.
With that being said, let’s take a trip back to ancient Norse lore where the negative connotations first began. During a dinner party in Valhalla, Loki disrupted the fruitful engagement by being the 13th guest. In doing so, he upset the balance of the 12 gods already in attendance, which then caused mischief to ensue. But, if we take a look into biblical times, we’ll see that the number 13 represented misfortune and was largely seen in relation to Satan. (The thirteenth chapter of the Bible in particular speaks of the Revelation and is reserved for the antichrist and beast.) On top of that, Judas, the disciple who brutally betrayed Jesus, was the thirteenth member of the group, ultimately furthering this superstitious mentality.
Over time, our society has morphed this ancient superstition into a global fear through pop culture and Western societies’ willingness to give in to the propaganda. The fear of the number 13 slowly formed into a heightened fear of Friday the 13th with the 80’s horror movie franchise featuring the slasher killer Jason Voorhees. The mass marketing of this film and how the plot centers around horrible things happening on Friday the 13th further imposed this ideology of society’s pre-existing fear onto an entirely new generation.
Nowadays, you will find that many Western places you’ll visit, such as apartments or hotels, will not have a 13th floor. Many hospitals avoid using the number 13 for patients’ rooms, and people will avoid driving or even getting married on Friday the 13th just for fear that something bad might happen. But the big question that continuously floats around is: how much truth to this is there, and why is it such an isolated topic in Western society? If you look across other cultures, you’ll find that they have completely alternative meanings to the number 13. For example, 13 is considered to be a very lucky number in Chinese culture because it resembles growth and wealth. In the Buddhist religion, the number 13 is considered to be a sacred and lucky number as Tibetan culture states that heaven is composed of 13 layers, and the thirteenth layer is meant to be the purest of them all.
Now aside from the religious and cultural influences that created this fear and superstition of the number 13, it’s important to look at what has continued to fuel this fear for over a millennium. And the answer is people and their subconscious. A lot of people are susceptible to believing in mass-distributed information while others are influenced by their personal experiences in life. It’s possible that one person may have experienced many horrible events in their life that correlate to the number 13. Now while some of us might chalk this up to a coincidence, it can be a way for some people to explain their misfortunes in life. Sometimes, having a reason for horrible things happening to you makes the outcome of said events easier to deal with.
It also doesn’t help that every Friday the 13th, you see tons of news articles covering the world wide web about this specific day. These articles date more than 100 years back detailing events such as the Buckingham Palace bombings in 1940 and the first day of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. Researchers have even gone as far as predicting a future event of an asteroid getting dangerously close to Earth on Friday the 13th in April of 2029.
The mass marketing of all of these events, in combination with the religious and cultural ties that brand 13 as a demonic number, eventually wrangle people into being afraid, to the point that there’s even a phobia dedicated to it called “friggatriskaidekaphobia”. After coining the name for this phobia, there was a study done in 2010 by the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute that estimated that there is an average of $700 to $800 million lost every Friday the 13th simply because individuals are too afraid to shop, travel, or participate in any form of business.
Now, the answer to the question of the number thirteen’s luck might never be found. Everyone will interpret the information that I have just laid out for you in this article differently. Some may just see it as an unfortunate coincidence, while others may swear that the number 13 and anything that correlates to that number is cursed and bound to bring bad luck and misfortune to the world. This fear has grown in our society overtime through harsh religious and cultural beliefs as well as the mass marketing that is done with a set bias that 13 is a demonic number. This type of societal influence over an extended period of time can be quite hard to avoid—and once you hear something often enough, you might just give in to believing it.
(The role of the number 13 in astrology)
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"Number Symbolism." Britannica, <https://www.britannica.com/topic/number-symbolism/13>. October 2023.
Shaw, Gabbi. "18 terrible things that happened on Friday the 13th." Insider, 13 May 2022, <https://www.insider.com/worst-things-friday-the-13th-2017-12>.
"The role of the Number 13 in Astrology." The India Times, 5 July 2017, <https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/the-role-of-the-number-13-in-astrology/articleshow/10326415.cms#>.