Why are different cultures obsessed with good or bad luck being associated with certain numbers? Some people fear the number ’13′ (triskaidekaphobia).
The number ‘13‘ in western culture is thought to be ‘bad luck’. It’s origin may relate to:
Judas, by some considered to be Jesus’ (unlucky)thirteenth disciple.
In ancient Persia, 12 constellations were recognized – the number ’13′ was associated with destruction and chaos.
The Knights Templar were arrested on Friday 13, 1307 and subsequently executed. Paraskevidekatriaphobia is thus the ‘fear of Friday the 13th’.
The symbolic meaning of number thirteen also receives a shady interpretation in Norse myth, when an honorary banquet was held in Valhalla for Baldur (god of nobility, redemption and admirable strength) among other twelve Norse gods.
Loki(the trickster) came to the banquet as the uninvited thirteenth guest. Afterwards, we learn Baldur was slain by Höðr who, to execute the god, was given a magic spear by Loki. But the fear of the number ’13′ may go back even farther in time, as far back as ancient Egypt.
The symbolism of thirteen comes into play when we learn of Osiris (the Egyptian god of life, death and powerful solar symbol – see post: Symbols of the Sun) was murdered by his brother. Isis, Osiris’ wife and sister collected his body with intent to restore Osiris back to life. But the stolen body of Osiris was cut it into fourteen pieces and scattered about the earth. Isis continued her quest to revive her beloved, but could only reclaim thirteen of the fourteen body parts. The fourteenth part was Osiris’ penis which interestingly fell into the Nile and was eaten by a fish!…How unlucky can you get!
There are differences between western and eastern cultures as to why certain numbers are considered lucky and others unlucky. Often in the west, a number will bring bad luck if it has previously been associated with an unlucky event.
In Chinese culture, however, certain numbers are believed by some to be auspicious (good luck) or inauspicious (portending bad luck) based on the what word in Chinese that the number name sounds similar to.
For instance: The number 2 (èr or liăng) is most often considered a good number in Chinese culture. There is a Chinese saying: ‘good things come in pairs‘. It is common to use double-symbols in product brandnames, such as double happiness, double coin and double elephants. In Cantonese, ‘two’ sounds similar to the character for ‘easy’.
The number 5 (wŭ) is associated with the five elements (Water, Fire, Earth, Wood, and Metal) in philosophy. The number 6 ( liù) in Mandarin is pronounced the same as ‘liu’, meaning ‘fluid’ and considered good for business. The number 6 also represents happiness. In Cantonese, the number 6 sounds similar to the word for ‘blessings’. The number 7 (qī) symbolizes ‘togetherness’ – lucky number for relationships. In the West, 7 is one of the luckiest numbers, a rare agreement in ‘luck’ between east and west (see post” Seven Sages and Four Horsemen). The word for ‘8‘ (bā) sounds similar to the word which means ‘prosper’. The number ‘9‘ sounds similar to the word for ‘longlasting’.
In Asia, the number ‘4‘ is considered a bad sign (‘tetraphobia’). The number ’4′ (si) in Mandarin sounds similar to the word for ‘death’. Where I live, the apartment buildings have no floors designated 4, 14, 24, etc…and no 13th either!
On the other hand, in Italy ‘17‘ is considered unlucky and ’13′ lucky (’13′ is also lucky in China and Tibet). In Afghanistan, watch out for the number ‘39‘.
Numbers sure can be fun. More on that in a later post.
PS This blog was first posted on February 13 (Eastern Standard Time).
*Religious belief, superstition and numbers: subject of research for the novel The Tao of the Thirteenth God – Amazon Kindle.