6 minutes

Imagine you have this friend who is going to get married. Everything is planned down to the last detail and the invitations are on their way. But then, when the moment comes to open the card, a shiver runs down your spine when you look at the date: “Where did this crazy idea of getting married on the 13th come from? Well, let’s just hope it doesn’t fall on a Friday…” In any case, it’s already doomed by bad luck. 

For many people, the same cautious feelings and assumptions apply to summer trips, contract signatures, difficult surgeries, big decisions. With so many free days on the calendar, why choose precisely the unlucky one? Plane rows and seats skip it, cruise decks omit it, hotel rooms and floors drop it. Even house owners avoid it. So, our fictional groom seems to be a gracious exception in the Western World. 

Any sceptic would fight back: “What can be so wrong about an odd natural prime number?” 

The unexplained fear of the number 13 can be traced to ancient times. An early myth involves one of the world’s oldest legal documents, the Code of Hammurabi, proclaimed by the Babylonian king, Hammurabi, who reigned from 1792 to 1750 BC. 

Carved onto a massive, finger-shaped black stone stele, the code omitted a 13th law from its list. However, the omission was an error made by one of the document’s earliest translators, who neglected to include a line of text. 

But the most popular theories revolve around uninvited guests: in the Bible, Judas Iscariot, the apostle who betrayed Jesus, was the 13th to arrive at the Last Supper; the mischievous god Loki joined another 12 gods at a dinner party at Valhalla, Norse mythology’s heaven. Once there, he arranged for Hoder, the blind god of darkness, to kill Balder the Beautiful, the god of joy and gladness. 

Another attempt to explain this superstition lies in the idea of perfection and completeness that is synonymous with 13’s predecessor: 12. There are 12 hours in a half-day, 12 months in a year, 12 days of Christmas, 12 apostles, 12 Olympian gods, 12 signs of the zodiac. Total balance. 

Dispelling the superstition 

While the number 13 means bad luck for many Western cultures, in much of East and Southeast Asia, tetraphobia is the norm: in Chinese language (and Chinese-influenced linguistic sub-groups), the words for “four” and “death” are quite similar.  

Conversely, the Tibetans regard the number 13 as holy, appearing frequently in Tibetan cosmology, history and religion, particularly Bon or pre-Buddhist. For instance, the early kings of Tibet began their reign at the age of thirteen, or else reigned for thirteen years. Heaven is described as consisting of thirteen layers.  The Ancient Egyptians believed that life as a spiritual journey unfolded in stages. Twelve of those steps occurred in this life, while the last, the 13th, represented a transformative ascension to the eternal afterlife.  

The concept of new beginnings associated with thirteen also prevails in Judaism, as Jewish boys become full adults at the age of 13 at the Bar Mitzvah (the ceremony for girls, the Bat Mitzvah, occurs when they turn 12). There are also a lot of testimonials from people who consider 13 to be their lucky number. 

The Thirteen Club 

In 1882, a Civil War veteran named Captain Fowler (1827-1897), whose life was positively ruled by the number 13, created an organisation called the “Thirteen Club”, to prove there was nothing to fear about the number. The club was launched at 8:13 p.m. on a Friday, 13 January, in room 13 of his Knickerbocker Cottage in Manhattan.  

He and twelve men assembled for a symbolic dinner. They walked under a ladder and banner that read “Morituri te Salutamus” (meaning “Those of us who are about to die salute you”) to enter a room covered with spilled salt. Thirteen candles lit the first of 13 courses. So, almost every superstition was included in this dinner party.  

By 1887, the club had at least 400 members and counted among its honorary members five former US Presidents: Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. The Thirteen Club no longer exists, but there are no reports of anything bad ever happening to its members. 

Qualifying for luck 

In F1, the number 13 was used only sporadically and, since 1974, the Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado has been the only pilot to break with the superstition and dare to use the number 13 on his car. He eventually won one race and, despite facing many crashes during his career, he always escaped without any major injuries. 

In 2022, Mercedes unveiled its W13, whose approval process was completed on 13 January. The team also pointed out that the crash test regulations were contained within Article 13: “Luckily, we’re not superstitious about these things!”, a spokesperson joked. 

Apollo 13: Houston, we have a number 

Apollo 13 is famously described as a “successful failure”: the crew never made it to the lunar surface, but the astronauts were brought home safely.  

The mission’s launch date written numerically was 4-11-70: if you add up the digits, you get… 13. The spacecraft was set to launch at 1:13 pm Houston time. Then, two days, seven hours, 55 minutes and 20 seconds later, on 13 April, one of Apollo 13′s oxygen tanks exploded. Curse or luck? The question remains. By the way, it was a Monday. 

13 curiosities

about the number 13:


The fear of the number 13 is called triskaidekaphobia. The term was used as early as 1910 in “Abnormal Psychology”.

13 is the Death tarot card. It represents the inevitability of transformation and growth.



In the French region of Provence, 13 desserts are enjoyed after Christmas Eve dinner, traditionally representing Jesus and his twelve Apostles.

In the football pools, Totobola (in Portugal) and Totocalcio (in Italy), for many years the winner was the one who correctly guessed the results of the 13 games. Then, the system was adjusted to 14 games.



Each season has 13 weeks.

A standard deck of 52 cards comprises 13 ranks in each of the four suits: clubs (♣), diamonds (♦), hearts (♥) and spades (♠).



The Ethiopian Calendar has 12 months of 30 days each, plus five or six additional days (“the 13th month”), which are added at the end of the year to match the calendar to the solar cycle. That means that the Ethiopian Calendar is seven to eight years behind the Gregorian Calendar.

13 is the atomic number for aluminium.



In the United States, the flag-folding ceremony involves 13 folds, with the 13th fold representing the original 13 colonies.

The term “Baker’s Dozen” (or “Devil’s Dozen”) describes the former practice among bakers and other tradespeople of giving 13 items to the dozen as a safeguard against penalties for short weights and measures.



Police radio code 13 means Major disaster activation.

Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense, was born on the 13th day of August in 1899 (it was a Sunday, not a Friday) and the title of his first movie was “Number 13”.



The number 13 has been used in literature to create intrigue and mystery. A famous example is Agatha Christie’s mystery novel The Thirteen Problems.