The Surprisingly Sexist Reason People Think the Number 13 Is Unlucky

Welcome, cosmic warriors. I'm Aliza Kelly Faragher, your resident astrologer, and this is Allure Astrology, a column dedicated to astrology, esotericism, and all things magick. Today, we're talking about the history of the number 13. Is fear of this number, also known as triskaidekaphobia, merely silly superstition, or is it something more?

As an astrologer and occultist, I spend my days exploring the gray area between worlds. The enchanted synchronicities that fuel mystical rhythms, the nonphysical vibrations that generate magick. In the process of identifying these patterns, it’s easy to assign associations to particular sequences. Some of these are links are self-discovered — your personal connection between self and other — while others are passed down through folklore. When our connection to symbols, dates, or events come from the past, they can sometimes be steeped in fear and paranoia. Over time, they begin to take on a life of their own, transforming into superstition.

I believe there’s a stark distinction between magick and superstition: Magickal practices enhance one’s innate energetic abilities, while superstitions suppress individual powers. Superstitions impose a "one-size-fits-all" philosophy based on blanket statements and generalities, and focus almost exclusively on an external variable. (For instance, the idea that black cats represent bad luck.) Additionally, superstitions prey on fear by stripping us of our individual connection to the world and taking away the critical notion that we have the power to manifest change.

We often don’t even understand why we harbor certain superstitions in the first place. While some are rooted in practicality (for instance, it’s just not a good idea to walk under a ladder), others have much more mysterious origins. Sometimes, in fact, the history of the philosophy is actually quite nefarious. One of the most pervasive superstitions is that of the number 13. At least 10 percent of people living in the United States believe that the number 13 reverberates bad juju.

So, what’s the deal with this specific number, and why is it so infamous? Read on, cosmic warriors, to discover the history of this strange integer — that is, if you dare.

Three Reasons People Are Superstitious About the Number 13

Historians believe superstition surrounding the number 13 began in the 17th century, though they can't identify one singular event that sparked its bad reputation. It wasn't until the 20th century, however, that the number 13's infamy exploded — fueled, perhaps not surprisingly, by a work of fiction. In 1907, businessman and author Thomas Lawson published a novel entitled Friday, the Thirteenth about a rogue broker who chose that date to destroy the stock market.

Today, the number 13 is synonymous with misfortune.

Subsequently, the concept of "unlucky number 13" entered the zeitgeist, and by 1910, the term triskaidekaphobia, which means "fear of the number 13," was coined by a pioneering psychologist, further perpetuating the superstition. The myth about the number's unlucky attributes continued to build throughout the 20th century, and in 1980, its place in the collective conscious — along with its connection to Friday — was solidified by the slasher film Friday the 13th.

Today, the number 13 is synonymous with misfortune and the macabre. High-rise buildings are often constructed “without” a thirteenth floor, and hotels, hospitals, and airports avoid using the number on rooms or gates. Friday the 13th is considered the “unluckiest” day of the year, which ultimately leads to millions of lost revenue.

People tend not to shop, travel, or schedule important events on Friday the 13, and according to CNBC, businesses lose hundreds of millions of dollars because of it. And while no one really knows why the number 13 has such a bad reputation, over the years, several convincing theories have been posited as to why the figure is so haunted. Below, read the three main reasons why the number 13 is steeped in superstition.

1. No one wants to be the 13th guest.

The most common theory that explains why the number 13 is deemed unlucky is actually based on Biblical Christianity. During the Last Supper, the final meal Jesus shared with his Twelve Apostles before his crucifixion, Judas was believed to be the 13th guest. It's no surprise, then, that the earliest incarnation of the number 13 superstition related to seating arrangements.

According to Nathaniel Lachenmeyer (author of 13: The Story of the World's Most Popular Superstition, it was believed that if 13 people sat at a table, one would die within a year. Though extreme, this fatalistic notion (referred to as "13 a table") was so ubiquitous that New England-based myth-busters created a group — The Thirteen Club — specifically to debunk the superstition.

The Thirteen Club's agenda was simple: Sit a group of 13 people for dinner to prove that no one would die after a year. Despite the fact that The Thirteen Club boasted some influential members (including several United States presidents), it still had a difficult time recruiting members: No one wanted to be the 13th guest.

2. The number 12 sets an impossible precedent.

According to many theorists, while 13 is not innately unlucky, it does have a shitty position in the number sequence. In both traditional mathematics and esoteric numerology, you can’t get better than the number 12. It is the only positive integer considered a “sublime number,” and in terms of its numerical and cultural symbolism, it is quite literally perfect. Simply put, 12 is a tough act to follow.

Throughout history, the notorious number was actually connected to female energy.

According to Broadly astrologer Annabel Gat, “Humans are kind of obsessed with symmetry. [There are] 12 zodiac signs, 12 apostles, a dozen roses, 12 days of Christmas — a 360 circle divides neatly into 12, and we just love order. Then 13 comes along and throws everything off balance.”

As the number immediately following magical 12, it makes sense that 13 feels strange, off-balanced, and flawed. Many systems of measurement conclude at 12, so the presence of 13 is both unexpected and unwelcome. It exposes imperfection and abstraction, so naturally, our ancient ancestors — who depended on natural order — feared this figure. Gat believes this is why “those who feel drawn to the number 13 are also those who aren’t afraid to think differently.”

3. The last reason for the superstition is actually rooted in sexism.

The final (and definitely most controversial) theory on why the number 13 is considered unlucky is, well, because of the fucking patriarchy. Interestingly, throughout history, the notorious number was actually connected to female energy: There are 13 menses annually, along with 13 lunar cycles (across most cultures, the moon is associated with women). It follows that many believe that the number’s negative association reflects female oppression.

Los Angeles-based intuitive Tanaaz Chubb explains that ancient cultures celebrated the number 13 in connection to the Goddess archetype — the Divine Feminine — and physical regeneration. Chubb writes that “[i]t was only when society became more patriarchal that women were made to feel shamed when they were having their periods and to ignore their amazing potential to create and hold space for new life.”

Based on this theory, the number 13 isn’t innately jinxed; instead, its infamy is rooted in systemic sexism. Of course, this doesn’t mean that people who believe that 13 is unlucky are antifeminist, as the origins of this particular superstition are long-forgotten. This notion, however, does encourage us to reconsider our relationship to the number 13. It's possible that it's not cursed, just misunderstood.

Cosmic warriors, when it comes to occultism, nothing is ever black-and-white. While I encourage cultivating a personal spiritual vocabulary — that is, associating certain patterns or events with broader concepts — it’s very important to actively consider the origins of cultural phenomena. After all, your unique magickal abilities will always be strengthened through knowledge. So, the next time you encounter the number 13, don’t be afraid to think twice. Who knows, it may be lucky after all.

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