Triskaidekaphobia v triskaidekaphilia

Oh yes? Those who seek explanations for the superstitious fear of 13 all seem to believe that its crucial quality is quantity. It was Judas, the betrayer of Jesus, who brought the numbers up to 13 at the Last Supper (never mind that the same could be said of any of the other disciples, or even of Jesus himself). It was the 13th era, the first after the dozen 1,000-year reigns of the 12 constellations, which supposedly presaged chaos for the ancient Persians, and which even now makes modern Iranians leave their houses and go out to cleanse their souls on Sizdah Be-dar, the 13th day of the year. It was women’s 13 menstrual cycles a year that gave the number a bad name when the solar calendar came to displace the 13-cycle lunar calendar. Or so it is said by credulous expositors.

Yet plenty of people think 13 is freighted with good associations. The ancient Egyptians believed that, on the last rung of a 13-step ladder to eternity, the soul would find everlasting life. The ancient Greeks—some of them, anyway—thought Herakles’s 12 labours were followed by a lucky 13th, his killing of the lion of Kithaeron for King Thespius, for which the reward was permission to make love to each of the king’s 50 daughters over 50 consecutive nights. Many modern Jews believe the “collective souls” of the Jewish people can be compared to the 13-petalled rose mentioned in the Zohar, a revered text for mystical followers of the Kabbalah school of thought.

The Romans were spooked by 13. So were the Vikings. Those who believe that 13 brings good luck have one thing in common with those who believe that it brings misfortune: the complete absence of reason behind their convictions.

Even so, prudent readers of The World in 2013 will tread warily in the year ahead. The superstitious may be a minority, but they are everywhere and, with the globalisation of political correctness, they should not, it seems, be ignored.


Sensitive souls (clearly most, if not all, of our readers) will realise that from 2013 on, neither hearts nor minds will be won with 13-point plans, bakers’ dozens, presentations at sixes and sevens, least of all with 13 red roses. For anyone engaged in business, or entertaining, or courtship, it will henceforth be as necessary to inquire about numerical allergies and preferences as it already is to ask about dietary ones: 2013 seems certain to contain nuts.

Categories: Facts