Even assuming superstitions are not as prevalent as they once were — been a long time since we’ve seen anyone carrying a rabbit’s foot keychain — it is also far from ordinary to see someone defy the fates by deliberately walking beneath a ladder. And, around Halloween, animal shelters practically put armed guards around any black cats they might have.
It’s going to be pretty difficult for those who don’t like to take chances or tempt the fates to avoid looking at a calendar, or writing “13” as part of the date on a check for the next year.
Still, some will try. In Ireland, where the last two digits of the year are part of auto license-plate numbers, the government added an extra digit so the 131 will ward off the evil spirits. When that big “13” lit up for the ball drop in Times Square on New Year’s Eve it had 13 good-luck charms like four-leaf clovers and Buddha statues attached. Of course that was in Manhattan, the land of skyscrapers that rather routinely in this country have elevators that either skip numbering a floor as 13 or rename it 12A.
There’s even a name for the fear of 13: triskaidekaphobia. It is estimated that some 17 million Americans have some degree of this phobia although it is far from universal worldwide. In some countries, such as Italy, it is considered a lucky number and it is 17 that is feared. In most of the Asian countries it is the number 4 that is scary and that is known as tetraphobia. The origin is believed to be that in Mandarin the words “four” and “death” sound very similar.
AS FOR THE FEAR of 13, it has various origins the most common in Western nations being ascribed to there having been 13 persons seated at the Last Supper table. This conveniently ignores that in the Torah (and Jesus was Jewish) there are 13 positive attributes specific to God listed.
Most “unspoken fears” are not grounded in any actual facts or statistical proof, of course. Maybe 13 is unlucky because something bad happened to you on such a day (and there is one every month). Perhaps it is your lucky number because something good happened to you on that day, such as being born. It certainly was a lucky number for the United States, there having been a team of 13 former British colonies uniting to create it. Americans routinely put their hands over their hearts in the presence of 13, there being 13 stripes upon the U.S. flag.
Superstitions of all sorts are generally handed down mostly within families, kind of as part of tradition. The first dictionary definition of “superstition” (Websters) is: “a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation.” In other plain words: lie, false, error.
Which doesn’t keep superstititions from being perpetuated, of course, probably in the “better safe than sorry” sense. Resistance is apparently futile. Starting back in the 1880s and lasting for several decades one of the most popular U.S. social groups was known as “The Thirteen Club” and it openly flaunted superstitions at its meetings to reinforce the members’ belief that fact and reality trumped old wives’ tales. Future presidents belonged, including such as Theodore Roosevelt. Given some of the odd beliefs still found today in Washington, perhaps such clubs need to be revived.
EVEN SUPPOSING that some of the olden-days superstitions are fading — haven’t seen anyone throw a pinch of salt over their shoulder in a long while either — Americans may have good reason to wonder what their children and grandchildren will believe along the same lines. Given the popularity in the entertainment field among the young involving vampires, werewolves and zombies it may be by the turn of the next century Americans will make a habit of wearing garlic necklaces and never go our in public without wearing steel helmets to keep their brains from being eaten in a sneak attack.
But, back to 2013 and how to deal with it. Well, first of all it is the numeral version that seems to evoke the most dread ... 13. Perhaps switching to the written format of “thirteen” on checks or similar would confuse the evil spirits. Or the superstitious might precede it with AD for “Anno Domini” or “in the year of our Lord” as that should offer evidence of it being presented in a positive context of good.
That resolved, we could then return to walking carefully down the sidewalks paying close attention to avoid stepping on the cracks in order not to break our mother’s back.