Triskaidekaphobia– The morbid fear of number 13

It is that day again this year, Friday 13th and thank God it is not a full moon day! The superstition that Friday 13th is an awful day is a common one.

What is a superstition? It is defined as a “belief in, or fear of, what is unknown, mysterious, or supernatural.” Superstitions are part of cultural and ethnic heritage in all societies. It is related to almost everything that one might think of. Many people in India are ruled by Rahu Kaalam and Yama kandam. Black cats crossing paths, a solitary man coming in front of you as you leave the home and other shagunams rule our daily life. The superstition about 13 being unlucky is more of a Western belief and fear.

Triskaidekaphobia, the fear of 13 first coined by Coriat (1911), is related to many incidents. In Norse mythology, Odin, supreme god of war, poetry, knowledge and wisdom, invited eleven of his friends to dinner in Valhalla. Loki, the god of evil and turmoil gatecrashed the party thus making the numbers 13 people. Agamemnon, the leader of the Greek attack on Troy, died on the 13th. The Greeks and Romans believed number 13 to be a symbol of death and destruction. The Romans believed that number 12, (months in the year and the number used to designate the hours in a day) suggested a natural cycle. Numerologists consider 12 a “complete” number. There are 12 months in a year, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 gods of Olympus, 12 labours of Hercules, 12 tribes of Israel, and 12 apostles of Jesus. To go beyond 12 meant to transgress natural limits. Luni-solar calendars like the Hebrew and Chinese calendars have 13 months in some years in order to synchronize the solar and lunar cycles.

Number 13 was not always considered unlucky. In ancient times, the number 13 was considered in a positive light. Bad luck’s association with the number 13 is mainly attributed to the 13 people at the Last Supper of Jesus. The association of 13 and Friday originated only in medieval times as seen in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, in the late 14th century–“and on a Friday fell all this misfortune”. It is also believed that Eve tempted Adam with the apple on a Friday, the Flood in the Bible started on a Friday as did the confusion at the Tower of Babel, So, Christians began to think that the number 13 symbolised misfortune and along with Friday it was an invitation to disaster.

 Sinister associations of 13 include the number of members of a witch’s coven and one leader and 12 followers dating to the Middle Ages. In a Tarot card deck, the trump numbered 13 is the Death card, a skeletal figure with a scythe. ‘Friday the 13th’ is also the title of a very popular horror movie from Hollywood. Many hotels and apartments in the USA, do not have a 13th floor, (the ‘elevator sequence’) or room No.13; hospitals do not use this number, the numbering of streets avoid 13th Avenue and airlines try to avoid it as well!

Recently the fear of Friday the thirteenth has been dubbed paraskevidekatriaphobia. However, Friday turns out to be the most common weekday on which the 13th of a month can occur in the Gregorian calendar. A study by Scanlon (1993) published in the British Medical Journal analysed the relation between health, behaviour and superstition surrounding Friday 13th in the UK. It compared the ratio of traffic volume to traffic accidents on Friday the 6th and Friday the 13th over a period of years and found that, “The risk of hospital admission as a result of a transport accident may be increased by as much as 52%. Staying at home is recommended.”

Even though there is no hard evidence to support the claim, it is believed that $800 to $900 million are lost each Friday the 13th because of people avoiding travel, wedding plans, moving, and so on.

By the way, if you are born on Friday the thirteenth then that is your lucky day.

BTW in Chennai where I live, the election results of State Assembly, a bitterly fought election, are being counted tomorrow. Two other states are also getting results. The election process has been on in many stages for the past month.

Who will win is the nail biting worry of all! The state results will impact Centre politics as well…the main platform on which the whole result rests is Corruption of the present government.

The question asked was Is Friday the 13th an unlucky day for Tamil Nadu ? My answer was: Depends on who you are–DMK or AIADMK–one has to lose–so unlucky for them. The other has to win…so lucky day alright.

About padmum

You could call me Dame Quixote! I tilt at windmills. I have an opinion on most matters. What I don't have, my husband Raju has in plenty. Writer and story teller, columnist and contributer of articles, blogs, poems, travelogues and essays to Chennai newspapers, national magazines and websites, I review and edit books for publishers and have specialized as a Culinary Editor and contributed content, edited and collaborated on Cookbooks. My other major interest used to be acting on Tamil and English stage, Indian cinema and TV. I am a wordsmith, a voracious reader, crossword buff and write about India's heritage, culture and traditions. I am interested in Vedanta nowadays. I am now an Armchair traveller/opinionator/busybody!
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2 Responses to MYTH MANIA FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH Triskaidekaphobia

  1. Rummuser says:

    I personally have been affected by an event that changed my life that occurred on a Friday the 13th.


  2. Grannymar says:

    My father was a very superstitious man. He would almost stay in bed on Friday 13th. We were never allowed seat 13 at table. If we numbered 13, then three or four of the younger members were placed at a table of their own in a corner of the room. They had the same food and shared in the banter. The only time I heard of ’13’ mentioned in a positive manner was – a Baker’s dozen – it was actually 13 buns or cakes!

    He had other superstitions… It was unlucky to walk under a ladder, cross knives, or wear green.

    The most ridiculous superstition came from rural Ireland long ago. If a farmer was leading his cattle to market and met a red haired woman, he should turn and take the cattle home. That red head was a sure sign he would not get a good price for the beasts.


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