Check your wall calendar! (Oh, all right—Check your cell phone, or your wristwatch, or your computer monitor.) It’s Friday the 13th!
It’s a day which can strike terror into the hearts of superstitious people everywhere! Triskaidekaphobians—people who are afraid of the number 13—somehow believe that numbers have meaning, that 13 is a particularly unlucky number which, when paired with the unlucky day of Friday, may bring bad fortune.
A subset of those fearful people is the Paraskavedekatrians, those who are afraid, not just of the number 13, but of this one date: Friday the 13th.
As a non-Triskaidekaphobian, I tend to face every morning with the same hope and the same enthusiasm. Why in the world, I wonder, would anyone attribute to a particular number the power to influence the events of one’s life?
ORIGINS OF THE SUPERSTITION
Some believe that the number 13 is “unlucky” because Judas was the 13th person to be seated at the Lord’s Table at the Last Supper; and Judas, of course, betrayed Christ later that same evening. Actually, though, the Bible tells us nothing about who sat first, and who took the last place at the table. And Scriptures do not, in other instances, show a fear of the number 13. In the Torah, for example, there is a list of thirteen attributes of God.
Another story pre-dates the Old Testament, going back to the ancient Babylonian Code of Hammurabi. It’s rumored that the Code of Hammurabi skips the 13th “rule”. Actually, though, the original Code did not rely on enumeration at all. It wasn’t until 1910 when a particular translation of the Code by L.W. King omitted the 13th article. Other translations of the Code of Hammurabi—such as the translation by Robert Francis Harper—include the 13th article.
Other examples of civilizations which feared the number 13 are plentiful:
- The Vikings believed that Loki was the 13th god in the Norse pantheon. Loki was responsible for the murder of Balder, and was the 13th guest to arrive at his funeral.
- And in another Norse myth, three uninvited guests showed up at a birthday party for a young noble, Norna-Gest, bringing to 13 the number of guests at his table. The infant is cursed by the visitors, and his lifespan is inextricably linked to that of a magical candle which was presented to him.
- In Grimm’s familiar fairy tale Sleeping Beauty, the 13th fairy is the wicked one, who pronounces a curse on the young maiden.
- The ancient Persians believed that the twelve signs of the Zodiac controlled the world, and the number 13—the thirteenth month—was the number of chaos. In a tradition called “Sizdah Bedar”, Persians leave their homes on the 13th of the month to avoid bad luck.
WHAT DOES THE CHURCH TEACH ABOUT SUPERSTITION
The Catholic Church believes that all superstitions—from fear of the number 13, to spilling salt and breaking mirrors and walking under ladders—attribute to some earthly object a power which truly belongs only to God.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (Paragraph 2111) says:
Superstition is the deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes. It can even affect the worship we offer the true God, e.g., when one attributes an importance in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition.