The idea that something as innocuous as a number could control our futures seems pretty far fetched.
And yet of all the superstitions that plague the Western world, few are as ubiquitous as the belief that the number 13 is unlucky. An early description of the numbers power comes from author Charles Mackay, who in 1841 wrote A 13 persons sits at a table. One of them will die within the year and all of them will be unhappy. Of all the evil omens, this is the worst. Perhaps this is just a case of the human mind seeing patterns where none exist.
But more than a few ancient cultures agree on the numbers significance throughout folklore and mythology. Even in the Bible, where the number 13 occurs, disaster follows. Hi, everyone, I'm Alastair Murden, and this is Superstitions, the newest Spotify original from podcast. Why do we balk when stepping underneath a ladder? Why does a broken mirror send shivers down our spines? Why do we hold our breath when we drive past a cemetery? Belief in the supernatural does not belong to religion alone.
Our world is a strange place full of unsettling patterns and idiosyncrasies we struggle to understand. It is here at the intersection of chaos and fate that we find superstitions. We'll tell stories illustrating the horror, the weirdness and the truth behind these beliefs. We'll explore how they began and what their continued existence says about the fragile human mind.
Today, we'll examine one of the most pervasive superstitions in the Western world, the belief that the number 13 is unlucky.
You can find episodes of superstitions and all other originals from podcast for free on Spotify. Coming up, the story of the world's unluckiest integer. Today, many hotels have eliminated the 13th floor restaurant, skip a 13th table. Some airlines avoid labeling a 13 throe or a Flight 13. The belief that the number 13 as unlucky is so pervasive in the Western world, most people can't remember when they first learned about it.
This superstition has even spawned its own phobia. Triskaidekaphobia, literally the fear of 13, is estimated to affect around 10 percent of Americans. Famous sufferers include horror writer Stephen King, who claims he won't stop reading on page 94 because the digits add up to 13. Franklin Roosevelt famously refused to travel on the 13th day of any month or sit down to a table of 13 guests. Ironic for the president, who said the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
Nearly as widespread is the fear of Friday the 13th. Many people refuse to travel or get married on this unlucky date, costing the travel and wedding industries millions each year. You probably know someone who associates misfortune with the number 13, even if they aren't vocal about it. Maybe that's the nature of bad luck. Bad things happen all the time if they happen on the 13th, a day we already know is trouble. It reinforces our superstitions. Or maybe the number 13 really is unlucky.
I can't tell you what to believe, but I can tell you a story that has stuck with me. It's about a group of young people who found themselves bound to the number 13. It brought them more than their fair share of disaster, and yet they came to embrace it in their own way. They called themselves the unlucky 13.
Dana rang the doorbell and stepped back off the mat. She checked her reflection in the window, smoothing out to Chris in her black knee length dress. She would be meeting her fiance's old college friends for the first time tonight, and she wanted to make a good first impression. She glanced at the skinny 35 year old standing beside her, Ben was staring at the door with an expression of unconcealed dread. We shouldn't have come, he muttered.
Dana squeezed his hand reassuringly as the door opened, you'll hear Gasp the host, a slender, red haired man in horn rimmed glasses. He pulled Ben into a hug and addressed Dana over his shoulder. And you must be Dana Untag. Everyone's in the dining room. We started without you. Hope you don't mind. Everyone turns out to be nearly a dozen people in their mid 30s crowded around an oversized dinner table. Cries of surprise and delight filled the room as they entered.
And several guests move aside to make space for the couple. We didn't think he'd actually make it. Tagg's husband, Kellin, confessed as he filled their plates with scalloped potatoes. What were the dates and all? I told Tag we should do a different night, but he vetoed me. Dana frowned the date. Oh, you mean because it's Friday the 13th. It's tradition, shouted a young woman from down the table. The guests cheered and raised glasses, toasting to the unlucky 13.
Dana laughed along with the rest. Ben had told her many times about this group's origins how he'd been a friendless, lonely college freshman until he signed up for intramural kickball and found himself paired with 12 other misfits who were a lot better at beer bongs and Mario cards than kicking, catching or running. They'd lost every game in the season until the 13th and final game. That was when the accident had happened. Ben had gone sliding into home base with so much momentum it had carried him right into the chain link fence surrounding the dugout.
He'd gotten his arm caught in a hole in the fence, and when the rest of the team had tried to pull him out, he torn his radial artery open. Ben had bled buckets before they reach the E.R., but they made it just in the nick of time. He walked out the next day with a fresh scar and a story. And when the team signed up to play again the next season, it was under a new name, the unlucky 13.
As they ate and talked, Dana did her best to match faces to the names she knew so well, there were the hosts, Tag and Kelan Newlywed's, Skyler and Ross, twins Alison, Renee, Maryann and Dev in the seven and a half foot tall Swede and Dino, Dana counted again, 12 people were present counting Ben and herself. Two of the original members were missing. Of course, Dana had no not to expect one of them. Ben had never given her the details of that story.
She only knew that it had occurred in their senior year when all of them were present. One of the unlucky 13 had been tragically killed in a second freak accident. Ben had mentioned the event only twice in passing, and then it had been an offhanded reference, as if it was something that had happened to a stranger rather than a close friend. But that still left one member unaccounted for. Ben must have been thinking along the same lines because Dana kept catching him, glancing nervously at the entrance.
I guess Lance couldn't make it tonight. He asked Tag trying to sound disinterested. Actually, we didn't invite him, shrugged the host, I know he's busy shooting, and it's so far to travel. Why even make an issue out of it? Ben seemed to relax considerably after that. Dana watched him come to life before her eyes, and soon he was laughing and reconnecting along with the rest. You all seem so close. She said. I can't believe it's been over a decade since you've seen each other.
Kellin pointed a finger at Ben. You can blame your boyfriend for that, he said with a cheeky grin.
We always had our best parties on Friday the 13th and then he had to go and get all serious about the unlucky thing.
What do you mean? Our Stainer, looking at Ben in surprise tag, gasped. He hasn't told you he used to tell everyone he's got that Tristes, just Decky, what's it triskaidekaphobia supplied Ben It means fear of the number 13 and I don't have it. I just find it interesting. That's all. Really said Dana. She had expected that then might act differently around his old college friends, but superstitions were one of the last things she'd expected from him.
What's so interesting about it? The history, I guess, said Ben, swirling his asparagus around his plate with a fork. So where does it come from? Our Skyla ignoring her husband's attempts to shut her up? No, I really want to know. I mean, we're the unlucky 13, right? But who decided that 13 is so unlucky?
That's the question, isn't it? Said Ben, suddenly more engaged than he'd been all evening. Some people used to think it had to do with witchcraft because which cousins were supposed to have 12 members with a 13th spot reserved for the devil? Witches are not real. Interjected are in the sweet quite confidently. Ben shrugged and continued. There was also the idea that it was a curse connected to the Knights Templar. They were this Catholic military order that was charged with protecting rich Europeans on their pilgrimages to the Holy Land.
After the Crusades, they became increasingly wealthy and powerful, so much so that the French king Philip the Fourth, got nervous. He started spreading rumors that they were performing all these occult rituals and then had them arrested and horrifically tortured. You ever heard of the rack? That's where they'd strap your arms and legs to a wooden frame and stretch you until your ligaments, Maryann interjected. Oh, my gosh, Ben. Some of us are still eating. Sorry, he said, anyway, they tortured them for months and then burned them at the stake en masse, but the day they attacked and arrested them, the real end of the Knights Templar was Friday, October 13th, 13, 07.
So is that where Friday the 13th comes from? Ardino, whose appetite did not seem the least bit affected by discussions of torture. Possibly, said Ben. Personally, I think it could be even older, the number 13 shows up in folklore and mythology from cultures around the world, including the Bible. Maryanne's snorted loudly.
I must have been sick that Sunday because I think I'd remember that homily. Does the Last Supper ring a bell? OSBOURN You know Jesus's last meal with his 12 apostles before he was crucified? Guess who was the 13th guest to join that party? Judas. Add in the fact that Jesus was crucified on Good Friday. And what do you get Friday the 13th? Gasperi Narayan Ben grinned. Exactly, he said. And that's not the only ancient dinner party with 13 guests that went horribly wrong.
The next one's an even better story. But before I tell it, I've got a P. Ben pushed himself away from the table, stood and headed out of the room, Kaelin called after him, grab a few bottles from the garage on his way back. Tag look mortified. He can't go in the garage. We haven't cleaned up since the ski trip. Speaking of which, did I tell you all that my husband made us go skiing with this group's luck?
I mean, really. Just then, the doorbell rang, Kellin jumped to his feet, now who could that be?
He said with a mysterious grin and hurried out of the room. When he returned a moment later, he was accompanied by a tall, curly haired man in Frade jeans and a white T-shirt carrying a gym bag over his shoulder while he was not conventionally attractive.
Something about him gave Dana the impression of an incognito celebrity. She leaned over to tag and whispered, Who's that?
The host sighed and shook his head. Honey, that's bad luck walking. Coming up, Dana meets the party's 13th guest. Hello, listeners, Alistaire here, it's the spookiest season of the year. And podcast network has many chilling surprises lined up for you, starting with its newest original series, a show that I host called Haunted Places Ghost Stories. Every week on Ghost Stories, I retell one of the scariest, most hair raising ghost stories ever imagined.
These stories come from all over the world, including Japan, India, the U.K., even ancient Rome, and were written by some of the greatest storytellers in literature. Join me as I bring stone cold classics to life, like The Kitbag by Algernon Blackwood, a sinister account of a condemned murderer's final wish and the lengths he'd go to fulfill it. And the misery. A Spanish tale of a wandering musician who hears a terrifyingly beautiful song in a burned out monastery and is doomed to capture its notes until he dies.
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Now back to the story. Dana watched as her fellow guests scooted chairs and shifted dinner plates to make room the table for their 13th member. So far, the dinner party with her husband's old college friends had gone better than she could have hoped. But from the moment the newcomer arrived, the mood in the room had turned downright frigid. Guys, Lance flew in from L.A. just for us, said Kellin enthusiastically from the looks between the host and his husband, Tagg, she could tell that only Caitlyn had been aware that Lance would be coming tonight.
I was in the neighborhood, actually, said Lance. His eyes fell on Dana. Hold up. Did you guys nominate a new member or did Ben suddenly get a lot better looking before anyone could respond? Dana heard Ben's footsteps returning from the bathroom. Who needs a refill? The next story's a doozy, he said. Stepping into the room, he spotted Lance and Fros. Dana watched as her fiance's face went sheet white, then slightly green, then a color she could only describe as puce, Lance grinned.
Hey, Bud, you were telling a story. Ben was telling us why the number 13 is supposed to be unlucky, said Maryann helpfully. Lance snapped his fingers. That reminds me, he said, reaching for his gym bag. The guests gasped in awe as he pulled out a large purple rubber ball. They passed the ball around the table, each taking a moment to examine it like some treasured artifact.
As it neared her, Dana saw that there were names written on it in black Sharpie Dukkha down to the garage last week, Lance said proudly, I had no idea I still had it. That's from our first season. Ben hardly looked at the ball before passing it to Dana. Everyone else had already seen it, so she just held it for a moment. She turns it over in her hands, reading the thirteen names until she landed on the one she didn't recognize.
I interrupted, said Lance. Ben, tell us your story.
Ben had lost his enthusiasm, but the rest of the guests insisted, so he reluctantly began. One of the earliest instances of the number 13 being unlucky comes from Norse mythology, where it was associated with a god of mischief, Loki. See, the Norse pantheon is composed of many gods, but one of their most beloved members, a God named Boulder, was killed in a horrific accident. I say accident, but it really wasn't an accident at all.
Loki was behind it, which or the gods pretty much assumed because Loki was behind everything that went wrong. Lance interrupted. I think I took this class with you. Weren't all the gods amusing themselves by throwing spears and rocks at Boulder? That seems pretty reckless.
Ben glared at him if you want to get into it. Twelve of the guards sat down for a feast one evening, low key uninvited showed up as the 13th guest. After the dinner was over, the gods decided to play a game throwing deadly weapons at Boulder. You see, they thought Boulder was invincible, but Loki learned that he was vulnerable to mistletoe. So he gave boulders blind brother Hodd a mistletoes spear and helped him aimed at his heart. Lance butted in again.
Didn't the other gods start this whole thing by being total jerks to Loki? I thought they imprisoned his son until the end of the world or something. Dana watched the vein in Ben's forehead grow visibly more pronounced.
The point is the gods Blain's Lokey for Boulder's death, they were really torn up about the whole thing. So some stories say that they decided to throw a big party to distract themselves. And as you might expect, Lokey was not invited, but he came anyway, said Lance. I remember now Logi snuck into the party in disguise and started causing mischief. Eventually, they figured out who he was and tried to throw him out. So he killed one of their servants in front of them.
Right then, without waiting for Ben to take the reins again, Lance continued. The guards weren't too pleased about that. They caught Lokey and chained him in a cave deep underground with a big snake drooling acid onto his face. I think he's still supposed to be down there now, but when he inevitably escapes, he'll finally get revenge by starting the end of the world.
Dana looked around to see several of the guests nodding thoughtfully. She guessed that most of them were pretty drunk. It's too bad about the God servant getting killed.
Muse Tag. It's really after the party that you need the help. Lance stretched in his chair. I always thought the gods should have just included Lokey from the start. Now we've got the end of the world to deal with. I know who I blame. Ben opened his mouth to argue that Kellin was quicker. Who's ready for dessert? Everyone pitched in to clear the dishes away, though the boys gave up much quicker. Tagg and and carried out the passionfruit cheesecake tarts and Dana found herself alone in the kitchen with Skylar.
Sky, she said suddenly, what's the deal with Ben and Lance? Did they always not get along? Skylar gave her a confused look. You mean before Kaura? Cause the girl who died, Dana, pressed, I can't believe he didn't tell you, Skyler said in amazement. If she'd had less to drink, she might have stopped herself, but she kept going. Cora was with Ben for a while, and then she was with Lance for like a minute.
Dana felt that her world had suddenly turned sideways, Ben had never mentioned dating a member of the group, especially not someone who died, she couldn't comprehend him keeping something like that from her. But Skylar wasn't finished. It was our last Friday, the 13th party, she continued, which also happened to be Kooris birthday, and Ben was in charge of ordering the cake, but he was running late, so he asked Lance to pick it up. Ben must have really known Cora's tastes because she wolf down a second piece before I'd even taken a bite.
And then all of a sudden she just started choking and puking up blood, so much blood. They found a nail in her esophagus during the autopsy like a hardware nail.
Pretty big. It was in the cake.
Dana stared at Skyler in horror. You don't think Lance, she didn't want to complete the thought, but Skyler did it for her, put it in the cake. No, I don't think so. I mean, he was always pulling dumb pranks, but he wouldn't have done something like that. And her family sued. The bakery got a huge settlement. It's kind of ironic. You know, one horrible accident brought us together. Another started splitting us apart.
Dana was about to ask another question when she heard shouting from outside the room, she hurried out of the kitchen to find most of the guests standing awkwardly around the foyer. There was no sign of Ben, but Lance was pulling on his jacket in the doorway and Kellen was making a half hearted attempt to get him to stay.
Dana whispered urgently to tag the host shook his head. Lance said he thought you seemed cool. And Ben just started shouting at him. He said in a mortified voice. Honestly, it wasn't very coherent. I sent him to the garage to cool off.
The garage was even more cluttered than Tagget indicated, the walls were lined with metal shelving, weighed down with tools, gardening equipment and sporting equipment, art supplies and miscellaneous boxes were crammed haphazardly alongside one another. Ben had found the sole patch of bare wall in the entire place and was bouncing the purple kickball against it. He left, she said quietly, You can come out or we can stay in here for a bit, then sighed.
I shouldn't have lost it, he muttered. He always knew how to set me off. Dana took his hand and squeezed I'm sorry for making you come. I wanted to know more about your past, not make you relive it. No, I'm glad you did. Ben insisted it was good to see everyone again. They stood there for a long moment. Finally, Dana released Ben's arm and turned back toward the door. I'm going to go back in and let everyone know you're fine, she said.
Come in whenever you're ready. I'm ready now, said Ben firmly, he dropped the kickball and punted it across the garage into a block of metal shelving. There was a loud groan and the structure buckled and collapsed.
Releasing a deluge of skis, tennis rackets and weights, Dana saw a ski pole becomes sandwiched between two falling shelves. It bent like a bow before snapping in half. The force of the sudden release sent the pole hurtling through the air straight into Ben's chest. Ben stumbled forward and hit the concrete floor. The jagged pole erupted out his back, spurting blood like a geyser. He flailed and then went limp.
Inside the house, the ten remaining guests heard Dana's is splitting scream coming from the garage, Kaelin turned to tag. I told you we should have picked a different day. The view that the number 13 is unlucky is one of the most widespread superstitions in the modern world, and yet its origins remain confoundingly murky. Several explanations have been suggested from witchcraft to the Knights Templar, the Last Supper and even Norse mythology. But no single story can fully explain how it took on such nefarious meaning.
But perhaps the simplest explanation lies not in history, but in the math. There are some who believe the thirteens bad reputation is a natural result of the fact that it occurs after 12. The number 12 is often referenced as a naturally balanced number. There are 12 hours of daylight in a standard day, 12 months and 12 signs in both the Western and Chinese zodiac. Mathematicians refer to 12 as a perfect number because it is the sum of its own devices one, two, three and six.
And it's also a sublime number because it has a perfect number of positive factors which themselves add up to another perfect number by going one step further. 13 disrupts that perfect, sublime balance created by 12, leaving things inherently incomplete. But the number 13 doesn't carry the same negative connotations in every part of the world. For many Asian countries, it's the number four that is seen as unlucky, leading some buildings to leave out the fourth, 14th and 24th floors, similar to how the 13th floor is sometimes skipped in the West.
In the 18 80s, a private supper club of wealthy New Yorkers went to great lengths to disprove the idea that 13 was unlucky. Their organization, named the 13 Club, only met on the 13th day of the month in groups of 13. They would attempt to confront as many superstitions as possible, walking under ladders, breaking mirrors and spilling salt like there was no tomorrow.
The club eventually disbanded, but it inspired a wave of daring imitators, some of which continue to this day. Their ranks have included a number of famous members, including five U.S. presidents. And while many members of the 13 club live to a ripe old age, it might be worth noting that two of those presidents were shot and one, William McKinley, was assassinated. Whether there's any truth to the superstition, it's clear that triskaidekaphobia is here to stay. Believe or not, you'll be in good company.
And if you do ever find yourself at a dinner table with 13 guests, you'd better hope it's not your luck that runs out first. Thanks again for listening to superstitions. We'll be back Wednesday with a new episode, you can find more episodes of superstitions and all other originals from podcast for free on Spotify until next time. Be wary of the things you cannot explain. Superstitions was created by Max Cutler.
And as a podcast studio's original, it is executive produced by Max Cutler, Sound Design by Kenny Hobbs with production assistance by Ron Shapiro, Carly Madden and Bruce Kaktovik.
This episode of Superstitions was written by Andrew Kelaher with Writing Assistants by Alex Garland. Andrew Cole. I'm Alistair Murden. Remember to join me every Thursday for the all new series, Haunted Places, Ghost Stories. Don't miss the most chilling spirits ever imagined by authors from around the world. Follow haunted places, ghost stories free on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.