The Spook That Counts

🎶On the second day of Spook-mas, a haunting gave to meeee a taboo number in western countingggg🎶

Man, I wish Halloween carols were a thing, but that’s beside the point. The second day of 13 Days of Spooks covers one of the most feared numbers in western civilizations, the number thirteen. For this post I’m generally referring more to superstition surrounding the number, but real fear, specifically when discussing dates (i.e. Friday the 13th), is a real thing called paraskevidekatriaphobia.

To understand the mystery of the number thirteen, it’s important to understand the role of the number twelve. In the mathematics and sciences of early civilizations twelve was considered the perfect number – it fits into endless descriptive categories and shapes, there are twelve months, twelve hour days and twelve hour nights, and so on. The number is prominent in religion too, with twelve Olympians in Greek and Roman mythology, twelve sons of Odin in Norse mythology, twelve Imams of Muhammad in Islam, twelve petals in the Anahata Chakra in Hinduism, twelve apostles and the twelve days of Christmas in Christianity, and the celebration of bat mitzvah at age twelve in Judaism. Twelve, for some unexplained reason, basically holds tremendous universal power.

So what makes thirteen spooky? Because twelve was so perfect and thirteen immediately followed, it was somewhat viewed as wicked, a catalyst of the perfection. Religion again played a role in creating importance for the number; in the ancient Persian civilization, followers of Zoroastrianism observed Sizdah Be-dar, which fell on the thirteenth day of the Iranian year, as a day when evil’s presence was at its’ strongest, and at the Last Supper in Christianity, Judas Iscariot was the thirteenth guest at the table and ultimately betrayed Jesus. Astrologically, early monks believed a year with thirteen full moons instead of the more common twelve indicated bad luck, as the additional moon threw off the planning of religious festivals.

13 Days of Spooks: The Spook That Counts

Superstition of the number isn’t isolated to ancient and early civilizations, however. In many European and North American hotels, floor numbering skips from twelve to fourteen, and gates at some airports follow suit, to avoid the existence and sequential bad luck of a thirteenth number. Also, numerous movies have been made related to the thirteenth day of events and Friday the 13th, generally in the genre of horror, so some people naturally assume it holds scary characteristics. Some people even go as far as to take days off work when Friday the 13th’s occur.

Thirteen isn’t all bad though. In the ancient Aztec culture, the numbers seven and thirteen were actually considered mathematically perfect like twelve, to which most of the civilization’s ruins can attest. Thirteen is also lucky in Chinese culture, where bad luck is instead attributed to the number four. How you feel about the significance of thirteen and other numbers is directly related to your cultural origins, and for now, thirteen remains a spooky number in America.

Thanks so much for reading! You can find more about the history of thirteen on History Channel and Wikipedia. Tomorrow we’ll continue with our 13 Days of Spooks, and, as tomorrow is a Wednesday, a Woman in History Crush post is in store, so stick around!

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