Have you ever noticed that notorious killers have 13 letters in their names?
JACK THE RIPPER (count ’em)
CHARLES MANSON (count ’em)
JEFFREY DAHMER (you guessed it!)
Cue eerie music.
Humankind has long associated the number 13 with evil. Some office buildings and hotels have been built without a 13th floor. Some airlines, including Continental and Air France, do not have a 13th row in their planes. Even Winston Churchill, the ultimate pragmatist, refused to sit in the 13th row in theaters.
But wait! Thirteen may not be as bad as we think.
Consider the ancient Aztecs. They were pretty smart, and they revered the number 13. The Aztec week lasted 13 days. They measured their year in 260 days. It was divided into 20 thirteen day periods. The thirteen day period was called a Trecena.
The Aztecs even had a goddess of the number 13.
In Aztec mythology, the goddess Tlazolteotl ruled the 13th Trecena. She was, to be fair, a bit of a bad girl — the goddess of sin and patron saint of adulterers. However, Tlazolteotl was also beneficent and wise. It was her place to forgive sins of a sexual nature. In Aztec culture, she was associated with the steam bath and encouraged it as a purification ritual.
In Tarot, although 13 is the Death card, it is not necessarily to be feared, as the card represents true change and reinvention that can only come about through symbolic death.
One of the reasons 13 got its bad rap was because of the Last Supper. Jesus had 12 disciples, so including himself there were 13 people attending the infamous dinner. Some say Judas Iscariot was the last to arrive (the 13th guest). Some say it was Jesus himself. Regardless, both men came to a bad end. Judas betrayed Jesus, resulting in his crucifixion. Later, in grief, Judas hung himself from a tree.
On the other hand — the events were necessary for the salvation of humankind. The Gospel of Judas speaks of these events as a Divine plan, conspired between Jesus and Judas, all necessary for the enlightenment of planet Earth. So maybe 13 turned out to be lucky in the long run.
Norse Mythology tells a similar tale of a Valhalla Banquet in which 12 gods were invited. Loki, the famous trickster, crashed the party. Using poison mistletoe, Loki then caused the death of Balder, one of the most beloved gods. Balder, unlike Jesus, did not resurrect. Despite numerous efforts by Odin and other gods, in the end Balder was not permitted to leave Hel.
On the other hand, Hel, the Underworld, was ruled by the goddess Hel. It could also be seen as a place of transformation and contemplation. Perhaps Balder found peace with Hel after all.
In 19th century America, a society was created to dispel the myth of unlucky 13, once and for all.
In 1881, Captain William Fowler, an American Civil War veteran, took it upon himself to form “The Thirteen Club”. Fowler had taken part in 13 major battles and had been forced to resign on August 13, 1863. On September 13, 1863 he purchased the Knickerbocker Cottage in New York. The cottage would later be used for his club dinners.
The first dinner of The Thirteen Club took place at 8:13 P.M. on Friday, January 13th, 1882, in Room 13. There were of course, 13 people in attendance. All subsequent meetings took place in room 13 on Friday the 13th.
On the December 13, 1886 meeting, Robert Green Ingersoll, a member and prominent lawyer, declared:
“We have had enough mediocrity, enough policy, enough superstition, enough prejudice, enough provincialism, and the time has come for the American citizen to say: “Hereafter I will be represented by men who are worthy, not only of the great Republic, but of the Nineteenth Century.”
By 1887, the Thirteen Club was 400-strong, over time gaining five U.S. Presidents as honorary members: Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. Not bad pickings!
It should also be noted that the United States came from 13 original colonies. The 13 stripes on our flag represent these. (Count ’em!)
And what of Friday?
Friday got a bad rap because of its association with evil events in the Bible. Besides Jesus crucifixion, the Great Flood allegedly took place on a Friday, as well as Eve’s temptation of Adam. Back then of course, they didn’t have weekends!
For us, Friday marks the end of the work week and beginning of weekend fun. Besides that, Friday is the day of Freya, the Norse goddess of love, sex, beauty, fertility and gold. She was also fond of black cats. What’s not to like?
Have a safe, happy and healthy Friday the 13th!