Thursday, April 23, 2009


Since this is my thirteenth entry onto this site, it seemed appropriate to talk a little about Triskaidekaphobia (the fear of the number 13) and a few other superstitions.

The number 13 has been considered to be an unlucky number since at least the time of the Vikings, and possibly even earlier.

Over time, the general population became less superstitious, and at the close of the 19th century, Thirteen Clubs were formed all over North America:

In 1881, an influential group of New Yorkers led by U.S. Civil War veteran Captain William Fowler came together to put an end to this and other superstitions. They formed a dinner cabaret club, which they called the Thirteen Club. At the first meeting, on Friday 13 January 1881 at 8:13 p.m., 13 people sat down to dine in room 13 of the venue. The guests walked under a ladder to enter the room and were seated among piles of spilled salt. All of the guests survived. Thirteen Clubs sprang up all over North America for the next 40 years. Their activities were regularly reported in leading newspapers, and their numbers included five future U.S. presidents, from Chester A. Arthur to Theodore Roosevelt. Thirteen Clubs had various imitators, but they all gradually faded from interest as people became less superstitious.

Fear of Friday the 13th is called paraskavedekatriaphobia, and it’s a date that has been considered unlucky since roughly the time of the Knights Templar in the 14th Century.

On our honeymoon, our car was hit by a deer on Friday the 13th as we drove home towards St. Paul, but that didn’t deter us from acquiring a small black kitten (which we named Chester) as soon we moved into our first apartment in West St. Paul, Minnesota (just up the road from Highway 13).

Other numbers are considered to be unlucky in other cultures:

Tetraphobia, fear of the number 4 — (phonetically similar to 'death') is very common in Korea, China, and Japan. When I worked in Guangzhou, it wasn’t unusual to be in buildings that did not have a 4th floor. In one of the buildings that I lived in, the four apartments on the 1st floor where I lived were labeled 101, 102, 103, and 108

17 is Italy's unlucky number, because in Roman digits 17 is written XVII, that could be rearranged to "VIXI", which in Latin means literally "I have lived" but can be a euphemism for "I am dead".

Cesana Pariol, the bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton track used for the 2006 Winter Olympics, had turn 17 originally named "Senzo Nome" ("without name" in (Italian)), but the turn was renamed in 2007 in honor of luger Paul Hildgartner.

Black cats have long been associated with bad luck.

In the time of the ancient Hebrews and Babylonians, black cats were considered to be serpents, coiled on a hearth.

During the Middle Ages, many Europeans held the belief that the devil took the form of a black cat on a regular basis. As a result, black cats were hunted down and burned on holy days, such as Easter. In the 17th century, black cats also became associated with witchcraft.

For cats fortunate enough to live during the time of the ancient Greeks or Romans, life was pretty good, because both cultures considered cats to be sacred. In Egypt, killing a cat was a crime punishable by death.

In modern times, there ARE a few isolated places where black cats are looked upon favorably, but they are definitely in the minority.

For practical reasons, most of us avoid walking under a ladder (especially if you’re walking under the guys pictured below), but very few people are aware of the fact that the superstition itself dates back to the time of the early Christians, and is tied to religious beliefs.

Whether you’re superstitious or not, though, enjoy the rest of the day.

And don’t take any wooden nickels.

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