Wednesday, April 5, 2017
Superstition of the Number 13 by EJ Jones 1906
Superstition of the Number Thirteen by EJ Jones 1906
For more see The Number 13 & Other Superstitions - 100 Books on DVDROM
Thirteen enjoys among Numerals a dual position peculiarly its own. It is somewhat singular that a number regarded by some so sacredly as to be reverently venerated should have acquired in the eyes of others an unpopularity stigmatised by all that is evil, unlucky, and undesirable.
Passing swiftly from the remoter ages of superstition to more modern times of seemingly sounder reasoning, one finds it typical alike of good and evil according to the particular circumstances of the case. Superstition dies hard; and while the twentieth century, with its ripening intelligence, is wonderfully able to accept with alacrity what the revolution of ages has brought about in so many desirable directions, one sees it clinging here and there, like limpets to the rock, some persons even still going so far as to refuse to dine in a company of thirteen lest death should thereby claim too soon an unwilling victim. This notion is popularly supposed to have arisen through that memorable meal from which Judas rose to meet his doom.
Nothing is more surprising than the inconsistency and contrariness, at times, of the human race. Dr G. Russell Forbes has recently drawn passing attention to what is recorded in verse on the marble table in the chapel of the Triclinium Pauperum in Rome, adjoining the Church of St Gregory on the Caelian Hill—namely, that Pope Gregory the Great was in the habit of entertaining every morning twelve poor men. On one occasion Christ appeared as the thirteenth, and henceforth thirteen became 'lucky' for the time being. Here, as elsewhere in the numeral world, may be observed a strong tendency to let fancy take so powerful a possession of the mind that it appears to that abnormal imagination no longer as fancy but as fact. Thirteen, however, was the symbol of Death considerably earlier even than the beginning of the Christian era. If the Tarot or Gipsies' Gospel be referred to, it will be found that the thirteenth card is represented by a skeleton with his scythe. This symbolism may be traced through ancient oral tradition to the thirteenth letter of that sacred word of the Hebrew Kabbalah, YHWH, a word never, it is supposed, uttered by the Israelites themselves, and only by the High Priest once a year. A number being attributed to each letter of the alphabet, every word in due course gained a numerical value; and so from this ancient conception of an occult meaning in numbers certain results were attained. As the principal doctrines of the Kabbalah endeavoured to portray not only the nature of the Deity, the divine emanations, the cosmogony, the creation, the nature of the angels and of men, but also their destiny, it can be understood how 'death' became associated with its 'own' number.
Sitting down as the thirteenth at dinner was, we are told in the old Norse mythology, deemed 'unlucky' by the Scandinavians, because, at a banquet in the Valhalla, Loki, the Scandinavian God of Strife and Evil, intruded himself on one occasion, making the 'thirteenth' guest, and succeeded in his desire to kill, with an arrow of mistletoe, Balder, the God of Peace. It is noticeable that in this instance the thirteenth guest was the emblematic embodiment of Evil. In the case of Pope Gregory the thirteenth guest was the symbolic omen of Good.
'Thirteen,' says Wynn Westcott in his treatise on Numbers, 'was the sacred number of the Mexicans and the people of Yucatan. The method of computation among the Mexican priests,' he continues, 'was by weeks of thirteen days—their year being twenty-eight weeks of thirteen days and one over. Thirteen years formed an indiction— a week of years—the thirteen days over forming another week. Four times thirteen, or fifty-two, was their "cycle." In Yucatan there were thirteen snake gods.' He draws attention, too, to the fact that old authors speak of 'thirteen' as a number used to procure agreement among married people. Thirteen, it should be pointed out, is the number of the Hebrew word _achad_—unity.
We find from the old Julian Calendar that the feast known as epulum Jovis took place on the 13th November; and according to the Breviary of Salisbury, festivals were, before the Reformation, held on January 13th, August 13th, October 13th, and September 13th.
In opposition to this, the Turks, Russians, Italians, French, and English have all shown themselves more or less prejudiced, from time to time, against 'thirteen.' Moore in his Diary refers to a dinner of thirteen at Madame Catalini's, when a French Countess was hastily summoned to remedy the grievance. French prejudice, if report be true, has even gone so far as to delete the dreaded figure from their door-numbers; while individuals styled _quartozienes_ have held themselves in readiness to avert by their presence a supposed foreshadowing calamity. Yet prior to 1825 the Irish, superstitious in many ways though they be, could calmly carry about with them a coin worth just thirteen pence.
Thirteen—the 'baker's dozen' is, of course, everywhere regarded as including a vantage loaf. 'Would you not,' pertinently asks Dr Forbes, in contending for the luck lurking in thirteen, 'rather have thirteen guineas than twelve?'
A Thirteenth Club at one time made itself conspicuous in a ludicrous endeavour to upset this widely spread prejudice and other ill-foreboding omens by boldly breaking mirrors and otherwise identifying themselves with skulls and skeletons, black cats, cross-eyed waiters, and coffin-shaped saltcellars, so that the Spectator in 1894 found itself unable to refrain from facetiously exclaiming, 'Who could have believed that there were one hundred and sixty-nine men in London so singularly lacking in humour!'
Mention might also be made of the celebrated 'Thirteenth Regiment,' of whom it was spoken: 'Gallant deeds in all parts of the globe for upwards of one hundred and eight years, combined with excellent conduct in quarters, have obtained for the regiment the respect of the country, and the Queen [Victoria] has graciously named it after her Royal Consort, in testimony of its many and varied services.'
Attention may now be turned to several lately revived instances in the annals of American history of 'thirteen' being felicitous rather than the reverse. The country of this ever-increasingly prosperous people was, it is contended, discovered on the 13th; comprised originally thirteen States; and the national motto, intentionally or not, 'E pluribus unum,' consists of just thirteen letters. The American eagle claims to have exactly thirteen feathers on each wing. General Washington, when raising the Republican standard, was saluted with thirteen guns. It might almost be styled the 'Land of Thirteen.'
A remarkable example in evidence of the influence which personal feeling may have over one's opinion is worth recalling. Bismarck is credited with holding in supreme veneration the number 3, but he had a particular antipathy to it when preceded by the figure 1, and would never, it is said, sit down to dine if he happened to be the thirteenth person at table. Pythagoras declared three to be the 'perfect' number, typical of 'beginning, middle, and end.' Bismarck's reasons for his predilection were briefly stated at the time of his death. He served three masters; he was responsible for and fought in three great wars; he signed three treaties of peace; he arranged the meeting of three Emperors; he established the Triple Alliance; in the FrancoGerman War he had three horses killed under him; he had three names (Bismarck, Schoenhausen, and Lauenburg); he acquired three titles (Count, Prince, Duke); the ancient arms of his family are a leaf of clover and three oak-leaves. His family motto, 'In Trinitate robur' — Strength in Trinity— was surely in itself sufficient to give a leaning in this particular direction. So closely were his feelings associated with the triple number that the caricaturist represented him with three hairs on his head. He had three children. Under his administration the Conservatives, National Liberals, and Ultramontanes were formed. These circumstances considered, then, it is hardly to be wondered at that Bismarck should have had a penchant for 'three' rather than for 'thirteen.'
Richard Wagner the musician, on the other hand, preferred 'thirteen.' Born in 1813, Fate endowed him with a name of thirteen letters, and in course of time allowed him to compose thirteen works. His Tannhauser was finished on April 13th, and was first performed in Paris on March 13th. He left Bayreuth on September 13th, and died February 13th.
Even in the present year of grace folks may be found firmly believing that there is 'luck in odd numbers'—not alone in three and thirteen, but in seven also. As shown in a former paper, like 'three' and 'thirteen,' 'seven' has played no inconspicuous part in the story of the past. Had Cobden been a man of constitution a little less matter-of-fact he might have dwelt with a sense of satisfaction on the number seven; for was it not owing to the power of seven men and the patience of seven years that those crushing Corn Laws were in the end so completely conquered and overthrown?' Luck will come, if it can,' was, in substance, what Carlyle once tersely and soundly predicted; to which one ventures to add, Yes, and in the train of three and seven and thirteen irrespectively, and in spite of rather than because of any particular number. The reflection carries with it an amazing amount of comforting consolation. But it should not be forgotten that while awaiting its appearance one may be actually speeding its advent in a calm pursuance of the Chelsea philosopher's sensible counsel: 'Work— work hard; work well.'
An instance in which this may be seen, and in association with the so-called 'unlucky' number, is in the time-honoured and still popular game of whist. Thirteen cards are dealt out to, and rigorously demanded by, each player. It depends largely, of course, upon the player himself whether those thirteen cards are turned to his advantage or disadvantage.
One more remark about thirteen. At roulette, quite recently, 'thirteen' was reported as having come up 'three times in succession,' losing the Casino, it was stated, no less than five thousand pounds—enough, one would think, to upset the prejudiced attitude of many a superstitious mind. The case strikingly bears out the contention advanced above. The winners found thirteen lucky; the Casino found thirteen unlucky. How, under these particular conditions, could it possibly be any otherwise?
For more see The Number 13 & Other Superstitions - 100 Books on DVDROM