A Baker’s Dozen of Tridecaphobics

“For 13 to be unlucky would require there to be some kind of cosmic intelligence that counts things that humans count and that also makes certain things happen on certain dates or in certain places according to whether the number 13 is involved or not.”—Douglas Hofstadter



Okay, technically, the fear of the number 13 is called triskaidekaphobia, but I find this term to be needlessly complicated, confusing and pretentious, not to mention hard to spell. I strongly suspect that Isador Coriat, the man who came up with this name, suffered from an inferiority complex because no one takes Moroccan psychiatrists seriously, and so he coined this unnecessarily intimidating term to compensate for his low self-esteem at the expense of sesquipedalophobics everywhere. Also, I bet he was really short.

In any case, tridecaphobia is every bit as real and valid a word, and until the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders designates a specific terminology for this phobia, it’s the one I’m going with.The more specific fear of Friday the 13th in particular is called paraskevidekatriaphobia. I’d simplify that one by converting it from Greek to Latin as well, but it doesn’t really help that much. Besides, veneristridecaphobia sounds like the fear of some weird social disease.

Both 13 and Friday have been considered unlucky in much of the Western world for centuries, but the combination of the two into one ominous double whammy didn’t happen until sometime in the 19th century. The first known mention of these two joining forces was in the biography of composer Gioachino Rossini, which reported that he considered both of these things to be unlucky, and then went on to die on Friday the 13th of November in 1868, probably due to acute hypochondria.

Some trace 13’s association with the sinister back to the Last Supper, with Judas being dinner guest 13. Some would argue that we have no idea in what order each of the guests arrived, but I would counter with the argument that if you were to rank your favorite Last Supper participants in order of popularity, Jesus would come in first by a comfortable margin, while Judas would finish a distant last place…except among Satanists. Then it’s probably the other way around.

Some also connect Jesus with the unlucky reputation of Friday since that’s the day he was allegedly crucified. Makes as much sense as anything I suppose. However, if this is true, then he must have risen from the dead on Monday. I know that some of you aren’t going to like this, but if he rose from the grave after three days, then he was either crucified on Thursday or came back on Monday. I’ve read some of the theological rationalizations of this discrepancy, and they’re all understandably hilarious. There is just no intelligent argument to be made for Sunday being three days after Friday.

Another possible dinner-party-related origin for the evils of the number 13 comes to us from Norse mythology. The infamous mischief-maker Loki was the 13th (and some say uninvited) guest at a banquet held in Valhalla, where he proceeded to stir up trouble, as Loki was wont to do. According to some versions of the story, it was here that he arranged the murder of the god Balder by tricking his blind (or optophobic?) brother Hod into inadvertently killing him. Loki was then once again the 13th guest to arrive at the funeral, which is just bad form. You can’t arrange for a guy to accidentally kill his own brother and then show up at the funeral.

Somewhere between this legend and the whole Last Supper betrayal of Jesus debacle arose the belief that having 13 people at a party will result in one of them dying in the next year, though I must admit that I’d never heard of this until a few days ago. Rest assured that from now on I will be counting the number of guests at any social gathering I attend and keeping tabs on the attendees if it turns out that there were 13 of us. Hell, I might throw a party and invite 12 people just to see what happens. I’m just barely evil and completely skeptical enough to try it.

It might be worth noting that Loki is also considered to be a mythological representation of the Jungian archetype of the Trickster, while some consider Judas to be the archetype of the Traitor, although that’s not an official archetype, and so most people just think he was a dick. But now that I’ve written this, I have no idea where to go with it, so I guess it wasn’t worth mentioning. Sorry.

One interesting but highly unlikely origin for the dreaded Friday the 13th is that it was on Friday the 13th of October in 1307 when King Philip IV of France had hundreds of the Knights Templar arrested, including Jacques De Molay, their Grand Master. Contrary to what some fans have ignorantly babbled, Dan Brown didn’t discover this little historical tidbit, although he did portray it as fact when it’s almost universally considered to be a good story, but one with no basis in reality. Like I said, Friday the 13th was no big deal until 600 years later.

De Molay curses Philip and ClementAnd speaking of good fake stories, another one that involves De Molay and may or may not have also been in The Da Vinci Code (I honestly can’t remember) is the one that says that just before he was burned at the stake, he told Phil-4 and Pope Clement that they would be called to judgment for their crimes within a year. Both of them did die less than a year after this: Phil after suffering a stroke while hunting and Clement after a long illness. By some accounts, he died screaming that he was burning up. However, most believe that this curse was invented after their deaths in order to further mythologize the status of De Molay and the Knights Templar.

There are also traditionally 13 witches in a coven, but no one seems to know exactly why. There must be a connection, but it might just be that 13 already had a bad reputation.

Unlike Christmas, Friday the 13th usually comes but twice a year, unless one of them is in February, which has exactly four weeks (except for leap years), and so you get an extra one in March. You can also have three of them in a leap year that starts on a Sunday, but that doesn’t happen very often. There can also be only one in a year if that year begins on a Tuesday (or Saturday in a leap year). Plan your vacations accordingly.

Some claim that Friday the 13th costs the U.S. economy $900,000,000 either per year or per occurrence. Sources vary on which one it is, but it likely doesn’t matter because it’s probably crap. Lots of people take a Friday off for a long weekend every once in a while. Even if Friday the 13th sees more of this, it’s still likely a personal or vacation day that the person had coming anyway. Some major airlines have reported seeing no significant difference in bookings for these days, but they could be lying. With an estimated 10% of the population supposedly having a fear of 13, you gotta figure Friday the 13th is having some kind of impact.

One of my favorite forms of stupidity ever since I was a little kid is buildings pretending not to have a 13th floor. Even then I knew that unless you’ve got an empty space between floors 12 and 14, then you’ve got a 13th floor. You can call it 14 if you want, but that’s just a sad testament to how dimwitted and easily fooled some people can be.

Do they factor this “missing” floor into the total when stating how many stories a building has? I have no idea, and I’m really not curious enough to spend a day downtown riding elevators to find out, although it might be a fun way to spend next Friday the 13th after I tell my boss that I’m too scared to come to work that day.

The standard treatment for phobias is to gradually expose the patient to the object or situation that they fear. I’m not sure how you do that to people who are afraid of a date on the calendar. Maybe you could try convincing them that by the time they wake up at 6 am, it’s actually Friday the 13¼th. By lunchtime, it’s the 13½th. Or I suppose that you could arrange for something really rotten to happen to them on Thursday the 12th (utilitarians and pragmatists only). That way, no matter what happens the next day, it won’t seem so bad – may God have mercy on your cold, dead soul (utilitarian and pragmatic deists only).

If you want the rare opportunity to be both logical and foolish at the same time, you could try to reason with the unreasonable and point out to them that there have been many calendars over the millennia and that the Gregorian calendar is just an arbitrary human construct. There is nothing in the laws of nature that designates that any day is Friday, or that any day is the 13th day of anything. Case in point: by the Discordian calendar, today is Boomtime, the 25th day of the Season of The Aftermath, Year of our Lady of Discord 3181. Good luck with that.

And finally, while there’s no shortage of websites that have lists of unusual/amusing phobias, most of them really aren’t that great. Following their bold example, I will now join them in their mediocrity by listing my own favorite phobias that aren’t all that funny.

Amnesiphobia – fear of amnesia, and possibly the most irrational of all irrational fears, because if you actually got amnesia, you wouldn’t remember being afraid of it.

Coprastasophobia – the fear of constipation, and

Defecaloesiophobia – fear of painful bowel movements, either of which could have been the inspiration for the phrase “scared s@#tless.”

Lutraphobia – fear of otters, because they are terrifying beasts.            

Aliumphobia – fear of garlic, and

Spectrophobia – fear of mirrors: a common combination among vampires.

Atomosophobia – fear of atomic explosions, because most of us just take those in stride.

Epistemophobia – the fear of knowledge, and

Eleutherophobia – fear of freedom, both of which are currently running rampant in the Middle East, along with:

Eurotophobia – the fear of female genitalia. No wonder things are so screwed up over there.

Phobophobia – the fear of phobias. That’s an infinite loop you’ll never get out of.

And my absolute favorite:

Anatidaephobia – the fear that you are being watched by a duck.


If you doubt the reality of any of these, keep in mind that it only takes one person to have a phobia for it to be a real thing. With 7,000,000,000 screwed up people on this planet, anything is possible. Somewhere there’s probably some poor schmuck who’s scared to death of Snickers bars – sokolatarachicalamellophobia?

And one parting thought, because I honestly think that it might be relevant in trying to understand and show compassion for our fellow messed up human beings:

Some think that phobias might be caused by a dormant memory of a frightening experience from a previous life. If you’re terrified of horses even though you’ve never had a bad experience with them, maybe you were trampled in a stampede in a previous life, or something like that. Maybe.

and all the devils are here


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