VIDEO: Are you afraid of Friday the 13th?

Donnybrook-Bridgetown Mail journalist Nina Smith writes about the truth behind unlucky 13  and The Courier's Gav McGrath explains it in more detail in our video.
Donnybrook-Bridgetown Mail journalist Nina Smith writes about the truth behind unlucky 13 and The Courier's Gav McGrath explains it in more detail in our video.

It’s time you knew the truth about the number 13.

Or at least, it’s the truth as I see it.

Truth, like superstition, is not a definitive science: it’s a point of view based on the judicious use or omission of relevant evidence. Ask a politician, they’ll tell you.

Superstition, like truth, is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If you say something is often enough, then it becomes self evident, at least to the speaker.

Ask Tony Abbott. He’ll look you in the eye and tell you from the bottom of his beating ventricles that people like his budget, because he’s told it to himself often enough to believe it.

It’s the same with the poor, maligned black kitty cat.

A superstitious person who fervently believes that a black cat crossing their path means bad luck will no doubt see said black cat, panic, not look where they’re going, stub their toe and yell, "SEE??? BAD LUCK! OMG!"

Then there’s the number 13. How did we get to this state of affairs, where a perfectly innocent number has gathered itself such a bad reputation?

I blame mathematics and religion, in that order.

There are a few different explanations of why it’s unlucky.

First, that there were 13 people at the Last Supper. So that’s a religious thing, right?

Then apparently there’s a Norse legend that there were 12 Gods sitting down to dinner when Loki showed up to make 13, and he’s always bad news.

And, uh ... okay, I’ve run out.

But it’s not actually about religion. It’s about mathematics.

You see, for a very long time, humanity has been in love with linearity, cause and effect, light and order.

"I blame mathematics and religion, in that order."

Probably from about the time monotheism (worship of one God) got funky and people started to understand their world through the lens of the opposing polarities of good and evil, God and the Devil, etc etc.

Two is a nice easy number. One plus one. One or the other. Nice, clear cut, easy to conceptualise and count on your fingers.

Plus the human body has two of a lot of things, and nice two-based symmetry, left and right, up and down. Even numbers are great, aren’t they?

Not like odd numbers. Oh, not the low ones you can count on your fingers.

The ones a little bit higher like 13. It’s a prime number, so it’s not divisible by anything except one and itself.

You can’t put it in any nice, neat groups. It doesn’t fit into anything.

I can almost see it now, those ancient monotheistic mathematicians trying to get their heads around such an unreasonable number before crying out “No! Stop! It’s evil!”

Let’s go a little bit further back for a moment. Or perhaps a step sideways, since monotheists who loved order didn’t always rule the whole world.

In ancient times, many polytheistic (worship of multiple Gods) cultures worshipped the moon.

Now in one year, there are 13 lunar cycles. For people who worship many Gods instead of one light/dark duality, this number wouldn’t have been quite so confusing.

If you look at various mythologies around the world, you can see that the light/dark duality is not nearly as clear cut.

There weren't necessarily good Gods and evil Gods; each mythological figure embodied a bit of both, to varying degrees. A bit like human nature itself.

Even the Norse Loki, a famed trickster, would sometimes do nice things to make up for doing nasty things.

In polytheistic societies people were kept quite busy trying to keep many conflicting Gods happy, which may have meant they were a little bit more open to complex things like cause and multiple effects, degrees of light and dark, chaos.

The number 13 in many cultures was considered sacred and powerful for its lunar associations.

"The number 13 in many cultures was considered sacred and powerful for its lunar associations."

Hey! Back to the monotheists now, because you have to admit, their impact on subsequent history has pretty much shaped the world we know, right down to Tony Abbott and the dredging of the Great Barrier Reef.

The early monotheistic religions, in order to establish themselves, systematically and ruthlessly wiped out polytheism in a campaign of genocide and terror that lasted centuries.

Don’t even think about arguing with me - it’s all right there in the Old Testament.

As a part of this, they vilified those things the polytheistic cultures held sacred.

If the Babylonians, for example, worshipped a moon Goddess and consequently held the number 13 sacred, then that Goddess was called a demon and the number 13... unlucky.

Eight thousand years later, here we are, still afraid, still hanging onto the vestiges of that ancient propaganda campaign like Tony Abbott to the shreds of his dignity after an international trip. Oops, bad example. No dignity there.

Like I said at the beginning, truth is not a definitive science.

You may choose to believe me, or you may not.

You may decide 13 is lucky or unlucky, and if you believe it hard enough, it will be true.

As for me, I think there are other things that are truly unlucky, like closed minds, pollution and the misuse of apostrophes on Facebook.