Do we have a superstitious belief in widespread superstition?

Is 2013 an Unlucky Year?” Hemant Mehta asks — quickly and correctly answering “No.”

He points us to this Philadelphia Inquirer article: “Those who dread number 13 face a troubling year.”

But it seems the Inky’s Michael Matza couldn’t find any such troubled and dread-filled triskaidekaphobes. Everyone he cites is someone who argues against the irrational fear of the number 13.

If this is such a big deal for so many people, shouldn’t such people be easy to find? When Matza reports that:

An estimated 17 million to 21 million people in the United States experience fear of the ill-fated integer, with symptoms ranging from mild anxiety to full-blown panic attacks, Donald Dossey, founder of the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, N.C., said in a 2004 interview. …

I call shenanigans. First due to the hopeless muddle of the infinite range there — “from mild anxiety to full-blown panic attacks.” So we could be talking about 20.9 million people on the “mild anxiety” end of that range — people whose main discernible “symptom” is saying something like, “Nah, not that one — gimme Jeter. No. 2, duh,” when the bar softball team jerseys are being distributed. And I’m doubtful of the claim that those at the other end of the range are really suffering panic attacks due to the number 13 and not to some other source of trauma or illness.

But mainly I call shenanigans because the source of this statistic is “founder of the Stress Management Center.” So you can pay him to lift the bad juju of your superstitious fears. Hmm.

Anyway, here’s the bit that really intrigued me in this article:

Triskaidekaphobia — the fear of 13 — is a dread so common that some buildings don’t label their 13th floors …

The idea of 13 as an “unlucky number” is a widely known bit of folklore. But does widespread awareness of such folklore really translate into this “dread so common” that Matza’s article asserts and assumes without ever supporting that claim with data or first-hand account?

Say you’re the manager of a 15-story downtown hotel, or even the manager of a 24-unit motor lodge on some stretch of American highway.

If it turns out that, in fact, that tens of millions of your potential customers do have a superstitious dread of the number 13, then renumbering the floors or the units of your business would be a rational business decision. If Mr. Dossey’s dubious figures are correct, then something like 7 percent of the populace has some degree of discomfort with that number, and you might marginally improve your potential business by accounting for that discomfort. Their fear may be baseless and irrational, but it could have a tangible, measurable effect on your business.

But it might also be that this widespread dread of the number 13 is, itself, a baseless and irrational belief. Without far more evidence than Matza’s article provides, it may be that renumbering the floors or units in your business would itself be a form of superstition — an irrational fear of dread-filled potential customers who may not actually exist.

Anyway, Hemant is right — 2013 is no more nor less “lucky” than any other year, just as Friday the 13th is no more nor less “lucky” than any other day.

Unless, of course, you’ve done something to earn an abiding dread of Friday the 13th. In that case, there’s nothing irrational about fearing that date and the haunting visitation it may bring.

But there’s still time — we won’t see another Friday the 13th until September, so you’ve still got nine months to repent and to work for justice.

(That last link goes to “Friday the 13th: A ghost story,” which is my attempt to invent a new legend about the ghost of Frederick Douglass. It hasn’t caught on yet — probably partly due to the way I keep introducing it as “my attempt to invent a new legend.”)


"Do not reply to the bad weed's spam. Do not reply to it, Sam I ..."

LBCF, No. 181: ‘Meet the Steeles’
"It's not in R'lyeh, where it's marketed as a light comedy."

LBCF, No. 181: ‘Meet the Steeles’
"Happy Birthday to Son-Of-Albanaeon!"

LBCF, No. 181: ‘Meet the Steeles’

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Sisuile Butler

    I’m going to point to as an actual real world example of someone who does have this problem. 

  • I am just so sorry there is no thirteenth month this year, no “13/13/13”, to go with all the previous series, December 12 of 2012, November 11 of 2011, October 10 of 2010, etc. Now we have to wait 88 years for that to come round again.

    You mean the Frederick Douglas ghost story is not true yet? Well, it should be! And I’m praying various bigots will start remembering accusatory nightmares about the great statesman confronting them and forcing them to see their ugly little selves, things they never dared even breathe of before., to anybody. A little retroactive haunting never hurt anyone.

  • Go_4_tli

    This is, in some sense, falsifiable.  We can see if model 2013 automobiles, for example, sell less well to some level of statistical significance.  Something that’s more widespread and up to individual decisions than building planning.

  • Magic_Cracker

    I am just so sorry there is no thirteenth month this year, no “13/13/13”

    Well now, if you have your Scofield decoder ring calibrated correctly and squint sideways at the Gregorian (i.e., Papist) calendar,  you’ll see quite plainly that 1/13/14 is really 13/13/13.

  • 2013 looks very ordinary to me.  Hmm, 2013 is not even a prime number.

  • AnonaMiss

    It may not be catching on in general, Fred, but since you began telling the stories, I’ve begun thinking of Friday the 13ths as days dedicated to the remembrance of Mr. Douglass. 

    I have a Norwegian friend who is annoyed by Americans of Norwegian ancestry trying to celebrate Norwegian national holidays. “Make your own holidays”, he says. “The Feast of George Washington or something.” I’ve been considering putting together a minor ‘pantheon’ of the Saints of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, and populating my life with feast days in their honor, with Fridays the Thirteenth, of course, marked as specially dedicated to the Ghost of Frederick Douglass.

    I’m a little afraid the people in my life will think I’m silly, though.

  • Carstonio

    I’ve long suspected that superstitions are self-fulfilling prophecies combined with confirmation biases. The mild anxiety could subconsciously affect people’s actions, plus they might have stronger memories of, bad events that take place on the 13th.

  • Jessica_R

    My birthday is on the 13th which I always can use as an excuse for my sometimes rotten luck rather than my rather unfortunate lack of work ethic. My Grandfather’s apartment building in D.C. skipped from 12 to 14 on the elevator buttons too. 

  • Magic_Cracker

    Now, I’m no math genius, but as I understand it, 2013 also happens to 2000 more than 13, and, therefore, is not 13.

  •  I’ve been considering putting together a minor ‘pantheon’ of the Saints of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, and populating my life with feast days in their honor, with Fridays the Thirteenth, of course, marked as specially dedicated to the Ghost of Frederick Douglass.

    I think that’s a lovely idea, especially if you can populate your pantheon with figures currently lacking in their own holidays. (MLK might be a saint of equality, but he has a holiday, so find a lesser known figure!)

    I could definitely support the Feast of the Pale Blue Dot (November 9th) when we recognize the scope, scale, and awe of the universe in all it’s glory. February 7th could be the Retiring of the Cardigan Sweater, when we pause to remember all who love and loved us, and all the love that made us who we are. June 27th can be the Conversion of the Miser when we try to recognize the wealth we have, and set aside some of our bounty to lift up others.

    I can definitely get behind this idea!

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    First, I have NEVER been in a high-rise hotel that had a 13th floor.  It appears to have grown from a superstition to a tradition in the hotel industry.

    And I don’t know the name for the phobia, but fear of the number 666 is probably up there with 13 in the Christianese bubble.

  • Spalanzani

    Yeah, nothing to worry about this year. It’s when we hit 5013 that we’ll have to worry. Everyone knows Judas was the 5,013th person at the feeding of the five thousand.

  • Michele Cox

     “I’m a little afraid the people in my life will think I’m silly, though.”

    1. Silly is good!  2. Never, ever, ever refrain from doing something because people may think you’re silly :)  (see #1.)

  • flat

    Well the only people who were unlucky on friday the thirteen were the knight templars, and afterwards the french king and the pope who ordered their death.

    (the king and the pope died in the same year)

  • Magic_Cracker

    Wait, but Judas was the 4013th person fed at the Feeding for the 4,000!

  • rrhersh

     “First, I have NEVER been in a high-rise hotel that had a 13th floor.  It
    appears to have grown from a superstition to a tradition in the hotel

    This sounds like theater people talking about “The Scottish play”.  Do any of them really think that anything bad would come from saying “Macbeth”?  I doubt any significant number do.  But it becomes in insider thing.

  • use as an excuse for my sometimes rotten luck rather than my rather unfortunate lack of work ethic

    I see what you did there.

  • DorothyD

    Well, my grandmother once insisting on eating in her room rather than be the 13th person at the dining table. But that was specifically an objection to “13 people at the dining table” and not the number 13 in and of itself and maybe she just wanted to dine alone anyway…

  • lovecomesfromlife

    I love the number 13, it’s my birthday date!  It always seemed extra special that the date that other people avoided could be embraced by me.  I did turn 16 (and became legal to drive) on a Friday the 13th….

  • EllieMurasaki

    High-five! Born on Friday the 13th, here.

  • Jim Roberts

    Well, the oldest versions of the fear do seem to revolve around a meal involving 13 people, so may she was just superstitious, not phobic.

  • 2013 will be an unlucky year for some people: every year is. It’ll also be the best year ever for some people.

  • John Small Berries

    I’ve witnessed with my own eyes at least a dozen people purchasing an additional small item if their total (or change) contains the numbers “666” ($6.66, $16.66, etc.), but I’ve never seen it with the number “13”. I’ve never witnessed anyone hesitate before pressing the elevator button for the 13th floor. I’ve heard lots of ironic references to “Well, it’s Friday the 13th” whenever something’s gone wrong on such a date, but never one that seemed genuinely concerned. And I’ve never met anyone who admitted to being afraid of the number 13.

  • rizzo

    Really?  Have you only been in old hotels?  Actually, even the old hotels I’ve been have a 13th floor, at least the ones in the NY/NJ/PA area.

  • Magic_Cracker

    I’ve heard tell of people requesting new SSNs for their children when those SSNs contained three consecutive sixes. My thinking is if you’re really that concerned about the Mark of the Beast, you wouldn’t be requesting an SSN in the first place.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Having no SSN makes it hard to get paying work, and not all the people freaked by 666 are people who expect the world to not be here by the time someone born today would be looking for paying work.

  • vsm

    I make a point of being mildly paranoid on Friday the 13th. It’s a delightful tradition.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I suppose you’re one of the freaks who watches horror movies in order to be scared sleepless, too.

  • Isn’t there a story of LBJ being relatively unconcerned about civil rights in the 1950s, and then unexplainably having some kind of epiphany, pushing so hard for civil rights in the 1960s that he was willing to upset an age-old power structure in the South to do it?

  • I heard from a friend about a woman in front of him in line at a store who totally lost her shit when the total on the cash register came to $6.66

    Also, federal government phone numbers in Vancouver start off as 666-xxxx :P

  • Indiana Joe

    For those of us who shorten the date in the American fashion, today is 1/3/13.

  • hidden_urchin

    I’m hoping to be in the latter group.  Twenty-twelve sucked for me.  So did twenty-eleven.  As far as I’m concerned, I’m due a good one.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Having no SSN makes it hard to get paying work…

    “He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name.” ~Rev 13:16-17

    But, yeah, I’ll cop to it. I used to get freaked out by the number 666 when I was a teenager, but after I mention some End-Times nonsense to my priest, he basically said the Catholic Church doesn’t buy into any of stuff, that because the Book of Revelation was addressed to the 1st century church, 20th century readers should read it as a parable about earthly power, etc. Also, in some manuscripts, the number is <a href=""616.

    A few years about, a friend of mine got obsessed by the number 11 (particularly on clocks), which was a cosmic red flag according to a book on numerology he had; and then, by extension, he became obsessed with all double numbers (what with them being multiples of 11). I suggested that since he was was actively looking at clocks and everywhere else offor confirmation of this pattern, he was simply noticing that, yeah, sometimes there’s an 11 (or 22 or 33 or 44 etc.). His wife then started noticing it too.

    To this day, he credits the number 11 for warning him of the impending break-up of his marriage because, apparently, the fighting, cheating,and lying wasn’t enough. /smug superiority*

    *Who am I kidding? I can’t turn that shit off.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Uh. Huh. Linkfail.

  • EllieMurasaki

    That’s different. It’s like Sam’s Club. No membership card, no buying from Sam’s Club, only all the stores are Sam’s Club. Not at all the same thing as having no money with which to buy anything from anybody, though I admit it goes a similar place in the end (assuming all transactions are legal ones).

  • hidden_urchin

    Yeah, LBJ was worried the 1957 Civil Rights Act would destroy his party along North-South lines so he killed it.  By the time he made it into the presidency, he had enough political capital to start making changes in spite of Southern bigotry. 

    Frederick Douglass undoubtedly gave him a little nudge as well.   

  • The_L1985

    Oh hey, my birth day’s on a Friday this year. :)

    I was born on Friday 13th, so it’s always kind of nice to see it happen again.

  • vsm

     I like horror movies, but they don’t really scare me enough to make me lose sleep. For that, I need to read creepypastas like Candle Cove.

  • The_L1985

    Likewise! As an added bonus, I was a scheduled C-section. So I was deliberately born on Friday 13th.

  • I bought a hard drive about 20 years ago; the price came to $666 (for a mere 50MB!) so the salesperson insisted on taking a dollar off it. I just thought “yeah, whatever, stop wasting my time.”

    Wish I’d known that “The Apple I went on sale in July 1976 at a price of US$666.66, because Wozniak “liked repeating digits” and because they originally sold it to a local shop for $500 plus a one-third markup.”” – could’ve told the salesguy that (he was kind of annoying in general).

  • JayemGriffin

    Really? Nearly every theatre person I know has a “Someone said M**B*** and then something bad happened, DO NOT SAY THAT IN HERE” story. Also they panic when you turn the ghostlight off. 

  • Andy

    On the subject of the number 11, part of the recent Mayan non-apocalypse nonsense was the fact that the winter solstice supposedly occurred at 11:11 GMT. That obviously must mean something! In fact, the solstice was actually at 11:12 GMT; at least one website, however, stated that the U.S. Naval Observatory had changed the time from 11:11, as part of a conspiracy I guess.

    Of course, even if the solstice were exactly at 11:11 GMT, the cause and effect would still be rather shaky. (Winter solstice at 11:11 => world ends–a  few steps seem to be left out there. As they say, show your work.)

    Also, for what it’s worth, 2013 is divisible by 11 (2013=183 x 11=3 x 61 x11). Probably nothing apocalyptic though; otherwise the world would end every 11 years.

  • Most of the theatre folks in my theatre group  don’t take this seriously, but we nevertheless don’t say “Macbeth” because it’s a social convention not to say “Macbeth.” Admittedly, it’s not clear how someone new to the group would be able to tell the difference.

  • I am just so sorry there is no thirteenth month this year, no
    “13/13/13”, to go with all the previous series, December 12 of 2012,
    November 11 of 2011, October 10 of 2010, etc. Now we have to wait 88
    years for that to come round again.

    Lousy Smarch weather.

  • If 2013 is unluckier for me than 2012 and 2011, I will probably officially give up. Though the end of 2012 was good in that I got married.

    But I expect 2013 to be an improvement, because I have health insurance thanks to our current president. So I will be able to get surgery. Not luck, but the hard work of innumerable people over decades or even centuries. 

    I did manage a spectacular fall out of the shower last night, though, taking the curtain and rod with me. That was sort of bad luck and sort of not realizing that the occasional lightheadedness I’ve been feeling lately means I should not attempt a shower. Never, ever shower when you have a bad sinus infection that has spread to your ears. 

    Oh and my dad has pneumonia. He’s not old enough for it to be a really serious worry yet, but he’ll probably have to go to the hospital because antibiotics aren’t working.

  • EdinburghEye

    I was born on Friday the 13th, too, and my brother used to taunt me that this made me especially unlucky.

    I counter-proposed that this meant that on Friday the 13ths, all of us who had this day as our birthday got all the good luck that was going, which was why all the people born on other days got less luck on our day.

    I swear, I think it’s caught on…

  • EllieMurasaki

    That would explain a few things. If luck’s the deciding factor, things tend to go my way. It’s the things I do (or don’t do) without thinking of the consequences that fuck me over.

  • Timothy T.

    I felt very much the same way about the hoohar over the ‘mayan apocalypse’. Despite widespread and numerous debunkings in the media and online and people complaining about other people (just ‘other people’) who believed the world was going to end I saw nothing to indicate that anyone at all actually  believed it to be a real thing. Of course there were some crazies who believed in it but I saw no trace of them (I must not have been visiting the right websites).

  • ReverendRef

    Personally, I’ve always thought Monday  the 13th was always more unlucky than Friday the 13th. 

    If I were Emperor of the Universe and Everything, there would be a 13/13/13 — because I’d institute a calendar with 13 months, 28 days per month, every month beginning on Sunday and ending on Saturday.  Nothing torques me off more than having to deal with those ridiculous 23/30 and 24/31 half day things on current calendars.

    And just because I always put my left sock on first does not mean I’m superstitious, it just means I’m meticulous.

  • hidden_urchin

    Liking the getting married and health insurance part.  Disliking the sinus infection and sick dad part.  I hope y’all get to feeling better soon and congrats on your marriage!