Superstitious about the number 13? You’re not alone, writes John Daly.
HAVE you had a touch of the old triskaidekaphobia lately? There’s a lot of it going around. Fear of the number 13 is very much in the air this month, as the calendar ticks down to our New Year appointment with the numerical.
The Irish motor industry was the first to voice a concern about an expected lack of 2013 new car registrations due to research suggesting motorists would drive shy of buying any vehicle with the supposedly unlucky tag.
TD Michael Healy-Rae said people who might change their car every three years would instead wait an extra year to avoid the unlucky 13. Alan Nolan from the Society of the Irish Motor Industry said the possibility of a superstitious drop in sales would hurt a sector that is already struggling.
“You have to put this in the context of the market, which has fallen from around 180,000 new cars per year to 75,000. Even if five per cent of people opted against buying a 2013 car, in a market of 75,000 it’s still something that would cause a real problem.” Far from dismissing the notion as ancient myth, the Government heeded their concerns in the recent budget and designated all new plates from Jan 1 will instead be 131, with those after Jul 1, 132.
If you are one of those people who throw salt over your shoulder, note the number of magpies on a roof, avoid walking under ladders or cross your fingers at moments of stress, rest assured you are not alone. The combination of Friday and the figure 13 have had a distinctly bad press going right back to the Last Supper when Judas was the last man to join the repast — and look all the trouble that started. The day figures heavily in the Bible — it was a Friday in the Garden of Eden when Eve tempted Adam with the forbidden fruit; the Great Flood began on the same day; as well as being the day the Lord introduced different languages to stop the Tower of Babel being built.
It was also on a Friday that Christ was crucified. In fact, the superstition predates Christianity by a considerable period as ancient Babylon’s Code of Hammurabi, history’s first recorded laws dating back to 1700BC, supposedly omitted the number from its list of laws.
In Norse mythology, the number also brought bad hoodoo ever since Loki, an evil deity who snuck into a gathering of twelve gods in Valhalla, caused the death of Balder, the god of joy and light, by throwing a spring of mistletoe on his chest. 2012 brought three Friday 13ths — in January, April and July — each of them 13 weeks apart. 2015 is the next year in which we’ll have three Friday the 13ths, in February, March and November.
The number has turned up a few times in politics — especially the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 where Guy Fawkes and his 12 fellow conspirators attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament. It seems fitting that in that particular instance, 13 was the number of steps leading up to the gallows.
Over the decades, some people have taken on the challenge of debunking the triskaidekaphobia superstition — most notably the Thirteen Club of 1881. Composed of 13 members in Washington DC who attended the first meeting with black cats crossing their path and shards of glass from a broken mirror falling at their feet. They then all passed under ladders before finally entering a room whose floor was covered in spilled salt. The club eventually grew to over 400 members and included a number of US Presidents — Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. However, in spite of such heavyweight opponents, the superstition continued to grow.
Thirteen figures prominently amongst financial myths dating back to 1907 when Thomas Lawson, a Boston stockbroker wrote a novel entitled, what else, Friday the Thirteenth, whose plot followed the machinations of a market manipulator who attempted to crash the Dow Jones on a certain Friday. At a time when the man on the street was just beginning to wake up to stock market investing, the book became a bestseller, and some years later was adapted into a film.
The superstition got a further boost in 1925 when The New York Times declared investors “would no more buy or sell a share of stock today than they would walk under a ladder or kick a black cat out of their path.” The myth even retained traction 60 years later when some Wall Street traders blamed Black Monday on Oct 19, 1987, on the fact that the year had three Friday 13ths.
If all of these questionable facts don’t have you cowering in the cellar come New Year’s Eve, we could always blame Jason for our troubles. In 1980, the world got its first introduction to Jason Voorhees and his dexterity with a long blade upon some unsuspecting teens at Camp Crystal Lake in the first Friday the 13th film. Promoted with the advertising legend, ‘Fridays Will Never Be The Same’, the film was a huge hit, and went on to spawn 11 sequels. Ultimately, though,13 is probably just a number — no more, no less. “No data exists, and will never exist, to confirm that the number 13 is an unlucky number,” says Igor Radun of the University of Helsinki’s Institute of Behavioural Sciences. “There are no lucky or unlucky numbers; they exist only in our heads.”
WHEN 13 IS A LUCKY NUMBER
* In Judaism, 13. is the age at which a boy achieves Bar Mitzvah.
* To Sikhs, it bears special significance in the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev.
* America was founded with the 13 original colonies and occurs in a number of patriotic articles, including The Great Seal of the United States.
* In the ancient pagan tradition of Wicca, communicants convened in covens of 13 participants.
* Ancient Egyptians believed life has 13 stages, with death the last before the transition to eternal life.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved