Friday the Thirteenth

Friday the 13th is this Friday May 13, 2011. This is a great day for witches because of the significance of the number 13. Traditionally a coven had twelve members with the 13th member being the Goddess or God – or in more modern circumstances the High Priestess or High Priest. Nowadays covens usually have many more members than thirteen but here is some witchy folklore (and general superstitions regarding the number thirteen) on the  number and how it applies to witchcraft.

Why is the number thirteen so sacred in Wicca? The number has quite a few correspondences and meanings.

First, there are thirteen lunar months in a year, give or take. (A “year and a day” is thirteen canonical months of 28 days, and one day, which works out to 365 days.) Second, by Qabalistic gematria, thirteen is the numerical value of the Hebrew words for love and unity. Love is the force which draws individuals together into one unified whole.

In Pythagorean analysis, one way of understanding the meaning of prime numbers (thirteen is the seventh prime, though mathematicians tend not to count one as a prime) is to regard them as transcending by one the composite number immediately preceding them. Thus, thirteen is one greater than twelve, and therefore transcends the concepts inherent in the number twelve. Twelve is often held to represent the completeness of the world.

There are twelve signs of the zodiac, representing a balanced structure of aspects. There are twelve solar months in the year, one for each sign. Twelve is the product of four – representing the establishment of a permanent structure, and three – representing the synthesis new truth from two polar opposites. Thus, twelve, the establishment of a structure which reconciles opposites, represents the worldþ the realm which is rich enough and large enough to encompass everything under the sun, even if they are opposed to each other. It also represents the world as the realm where entities do not exist in pure states, but must contend with and somehow adjust to the presence of their opposites. Thirteen is the prime which transcends this concept. It contains the resonances of twelve within it, yet there is the unit which remains above and outside the concept.

Thirteen is the traditional complement of a coven. This worked out to six working couples and one leader. The leader-plus-twelve unit is a very old tradition. We see it in the story of Jesus and the Disciples, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Robin Hood and his Merry Men, even Judge and Jury in American and British law. So thirteen is the number of leadership in the world. Yet, it must be understood that this is not leadership by force. Thirteen is the concept of striking out in a new direction and leading by example. In olden days, among Europeans, it was possible to count as high as twelve without taking off one’s shoes. Ten fingers, two feet. Thirteen represented uncharted territory, that which was outside the area made safe and secure. This is one reason why thirteen has been regarded with some trepidation.

Thirteen can also be regarded as the sum of various numbers. In Wicca, the five fold salute is actually comprised of eight kisses, since there are two feet, two knees, and two breasts. Eight and five is thirteen. Eight is also important in Wicca, since there are eight paths to the center, eight festivals in the Wheel of the Year, and eight ways of raising power in circle. There are five things one must have before one can practice the magical Art. These are: Intention, preparation, invocation, consecration and purification. There are five elements, each given to one point of the pentagram. Five also represents the four elements plus spirit, or the four directions plus the Holy Center.  (credit: Karl Lembke)

  • The human menstrual period occurs in a typical woman every 28 days, and this in many ancient cultures suggested a connection between thirteen and women. The association of thirteen with bad luck may be a vilification of the “female” number.
  • According to another interpretation, the number 13 is unlucky because it is the number of full moons in a contemporary year, but two full moons in a single calendar month (mistakenly referred to as a blue moon in a magazine article of the 1940s) only happens about every 5 years.
  • Early nursery rhymes stated there were thirteen months in a year because of the natural moon cycle that was used to count the lunar year. In England, a calendar of thirteen months of 28 days each, plus one extra day, known as “a year and a day” was still in use up to Tudor times.
  • It was suggested by Charles A. Platt writing in 1925 that the reason 13 is considered unlucky is that a person can count from 1-12 with their 8 fingers, two thumbs and 2 feet, but not beyond that, so the number 13 is unknown, hence frightening, hence unlucky. This idea discounts the use of toes or other body parts in counting.
  • In Scotland, there is no gate 13 in any airport, instead there is a gate 12B.
  • Inside of a Lufthansa plane with row numbers going straight from 12 to 14.
  • Some airplanes skip a row 13, going straight from 12 to 14.
  • Some tall buildings have resorted to skipping the “thirteenth floor”, either by numbering it “14” or as “12a”.
  • Some streets do not contain a house number 13.
  • In some forms of motor sport, for example Formula One, there is no number 13 car.
  • In many cultures, getting married on any day of the week that falls under number 13 is highly discouraged.
  • There is a superstition that should thirteen sit at a table to dine, one will die in the next year. This prompted the formation of The Thirteen Club to debunk it.
  • The legion with which Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon was the Legio XIII Gemina or the 13th legion.
  • The Code of Hammurabi, a collection of laws created ca. 1760 BC, does not contain a thirteenth law.
  • The College of William and Mary claims 13 priorities, or achievements of the academic world, which they accomplished before any other university or college in the United States. For example, William and Mary was the first college in the US to establish an honor code. A marble plaque commemorating these 13 priorities hangs on the exterior wall of the Wren Building, the nation’s oldest academic building still in continuous use. Today, the Wren Building houses the college’s Religious Studies department.
  • The Apollo 13 spacecraft malfunctioned after being launched on April 11th at 13:13 CST, forcing it to return to Earth without a landing on the moon and imperiling its crew.
  • After 13 years of being the richest man in the world, Microsoft Corporation chairman Bill Gates lost this title, according to Forbes magazine’s 2008 list of the world’s billionaires.