Get ready. Here comes Friday the 13th again. This makes three in 2012 -- January and April and July, oh my! The paraskevidekatriaphobes among us are not happy campers. Nor are the triskaidekaphobes.
Triskaidekaphobia is the fear of the number 13. Paraskevidekatriaphobia is the more specific fear of Friday the 13th. Together, they are the most common superstitions in most of the western world. The number 13 has long been rife with superstitious fear, fueled by its mythic association with death. There are 13 knots in a hangman's noose, 13 steps to the gallows, 13 feet that the guillotine falls, the number of the Death Card in the Tarot deck.
It is quite common for even the most ordinarily rational and otherwise exemplary person -- Winston Churchill, for example -- to refuse to sit in row 13 in the theater or on an airplane. In his book I Was Churchill's Shadow, Walter H. Thompson recalls, "Invariably the two berths allotted to us seemed to be numbered 12 and 13 ... He [Churchill] always took 12 and left me with 13."
J. Paul Getty and Franklin Delano Roosevelt suffered from triskaidekaphobia. FDR reportedly refused to travel or hold dinner parties on the 13th of a month. Napoleon, also plagued by a dread of 13, habitually sought to assess the practical value of a man by inquiring, "Has he luck?"
Christopher Columbus, too, seems to have been afflicted. In the 1950s, the Columbiana, a group of Italian Columbus experts, concluded upon careful study of his ships' logs and notes, that Columbus actually landed on the Western Hemisphere on Oct. 13, 1492. The date, apparently, was deliberately changed to October 12, to avoid the imprint of such an evil omen.
Louis XIII of France, of course, claimed that 13 was his favorite number, and to prove it, he married his wife, Anna of Austria, when she was 13 years old. His bravado, however, failed to quash the negative connotation of 13 for the Windsors, the British royal family. When Princess Margaret was born in Glamis Castle in 1930, her birth was not immediately registered, because it would have made her the 13th name in the roll book.
To sit 13 people at the dining table is supposed to be exceptionally unlucky, the consequences of which could be potentially catastrophic. It is commonly thought that this particular prohibition in Christian culture comes from the fateful, fatal outcome of the Last Supper: Jesus shared a meal with his 12 disciples and he died the very next day. Judas is generally considered to be the 13th diner. In Norse mythology, the mischievous and cruel Loki crashed a feast attended by 12 gods in Valhalla, the Viking paradise. During the course of the evening, one of the guests, Balder, the embodiment of conviviality, joy and gladness, was killed.
In Babylonia, 13 people were chosen to portray the god/desses at certain religious feasts. The 13th participant, seated on a throne to one side, was executed subsequent to the ceremony. Interestingly, the 13th seat at the Round Table in King Arthur's court was reserved for the fortunate knight who would one day succeed in finding the Holy Grail. In France, it is still possible, even at a moment's notice, to hire a quatorziéme, a professional 14th guest, to ensure the safety and well-being of a dinner party which has been threatened by a dangerous number of cancellations or odd numbers of last minute guests.
Most hotels and office buildings don't even have a 13th floor. That unlucky designation is often omitted because no one wants to be situated in such an inauspicious location. According to the London Sunday Times in 1960, "Although this splendid hotel (Charlton Tower) is described as having eighteen storeys, there are only 17 floors. Number 13 is missing." In Florence, Italy, 121/2 replaces 13 in the addresses of many streets and piazzas. And in Turkey, that unpropitious number is never spoken, having been all but expunged from the language.
The 13th day of a month is believed to be an inauspicious time to begin anything, especially travel. Apollo 13 was launched at 13:13 CST on April 11, 1970, and crashed on April 13th. Most airline terminals do not have a gate number 13. When in 1965 Queen Elizabeth traveled by rail in West Germany, her train was supposed to leave from platform 13 at Duisburg station, it was hastily changed to 12A. Sailors, especially, object to setting off from port on that date, fearing that the voyage would be jinxed. It is not unheard of for ocean liners scheduled to leave on a 13th to devise a delayed departure until after midnight in order to fudge the date.
Car travel may actually become more dangerous on Fridays the 13th. The British Medical Journal did a study comparing the incidence of traffic accidents on Friday the 6th with those on Friday the 13th and discovered that "the risk of hospital admission as a result of a transport accident may be increased by as much as 52 percent."
The fear of 13 has far-reaching effects. Last year, in the United States alone, triskaidekaphobia was responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue due to canceled travel reservations, missed work, postponed medical procedures, and other behavioral modifications.
But the demonization of 13 and Friday is relatively recent, a patriarchal denial/repression/reversal of the original power and glory of the number 13 and the day Friday -- both once held sacred to the Great Goddesses and honored in Her name. Friday is named for the Norse goddess Frigg or Freya. Friday is the Day of Venus, Vendredi in French, Venerdi in Italian and Viernes in Spanish. Another name for the fear of Friday the 13th is friggatriskaidekaphobia! Fear of Frigg. Fear of the female!
Thirteen was revered as the number of annual revolutions of the moon and the cycles of a woman's hormones. The two together, a celebration of the Feminine Divine.
So, triskaidekaphobe andr paraskevidekatriaphobes take comfort in knowing that behind all the fear and gloom and doom is a rich tradition of love and good fortune. (Read my blog post, "Why Friday the 13th is a Very Lucky Day, Indeed!")
It's time to reclaim the original meaning of Friday the 13. Let's reject the fear factor and find luck and abundance, safety and pleasure wherever we look. What is the difference between a seeker and a seer, after all? If you look for miracles, you will surely find them. If you look for trouble, you better believe you'll find it. Plenty of it!
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