Jan 13, 2012

Friday the 13th

The most unlucky day of the year, except maybe for whoever owned the rights to all those horror movies. I wish I knew where the fascination with the number 13 came from. At least in China, their superstition about the number 4 comes from it sounding very close to the word for death.

I love superstitions. There are some I believe and some I don't, but I never simply dismiss them. They're a fascinating look into the human mind and how we can take one small element ("don't whistle backstage in the theatre; that's the signal to drop the sandbags") and turn it into something different, but still related ("whisting backstage at a theatre is bad luck").

Much like my interest in the supernatural, I'm particularly drawn to superstitions that suggest the involvement of magical creatures. If you've grown up in Ireland, you know that you should never break ground in a fairy ring. If you have to dig, let someone else break ground first, then you're safe. You also never fall asleep inside a fairy ring or you might not be able to leave before dawn, or unless you turn your coat inside out and put it back on.

For those who're scratching your heads, fairy rings, or fairy forts, are circles of mushrooms, flowers, trees or stones which have not been arranged in that shape intentionally. They are believed to be home to fairies who will become angry if you disturb them and will curse you for doing so. Most everyone in Ireland has heard at least one story growing up of someone breaking a fairy ring and having something bad happen to them later. Like all good superstitions, no-one really knows where they first heard it, but it's quite a common story, even if most people don't believe it anymore.

Superstitions aren't just ancient stories passed down through generations. Modern society has all kinds of superstitions that influence our lives. Everyone's heard stories of sports players wearing the same underclothes at each game, for example.

Among gamers like myself, there's a common myth that dice have a will of their own, and can turn on a player they don't like, causing poor rolls. Some people blow on their dice for luck. If a die rolls badly too often, it might be consigned to the dice bag for the rest of the game. Another player might only roll theirs when the game calls for it, for fear of using up all the good rolls.

Myself, I'm quite careful about my dice rolls. Don't want to make the dice gods angry, now do I? ;-)


  1. I heard on the radio that the reason the number 13 is seen as "bad" or "unlucky" is because the number 12 is seen as such a good number, since there are 12 months in the year, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 gods of olympus, 12 disciples of jesus etc...so 13 was seen as just one too many! Apparently Fridays have long been considered to be the unluckiest day (who knew!) of the week (who knew!).

    I don't really have a problem with the number 13, but as someone born on the 12th, married to someone born on the 12th (of the 12th!), I'll go with the theory that 12s are awesome :)

    I find it both amusing and irritating when hotels don't have a room 13 or a floor 13, even been on a pitch & putt course with no hole 13.

    If you think about it, it differs all over the world. in China, it's the number 4 that is deemed to be unlucky (sounds the same as death!).

    Also, different cultures have different superstitions...in the states a black cat crossing your path is supposed to be bad luck, but my mum always told me that it was good luck depending on which way they are facing???

  2. One for me that i followed is you dont name your children after living family members.

    that made picking a boys name rather difficult as there are many males in my family with all the good ones :)

  3. I bet you didn't know this, Paul, but my street doesn't have a number 13. We have 12A instead :)

    Quilla, I've heard a version of that before! In Ireland it's called an 'ainm cul na clainne' according to my dad, which translates as 'a name against the family', or more literally, 'a name with its back to the family.' The idea was that your child could avoid family illnesses and bad luck by being given a name that the family had never used before.

    My father named me after his mother and grandmother, and my middle name is after both his great-grandmother and my mother's cousin. I invite everyone to make of this fact what you will.

    I'm very superstitious about magpies. I truly believe that if I see one magpie, something bad will happen if I don't wave. I have risked social ridicule in order to wave at magpies many times.

  4. Yep can't help myself with the Magpie thing, it really doesn't seem worth tempting fate the same with touch wood.

    At least 13 is a high number compared to 4, it was hilarious when I was in Korea and you would see car park spaces etc as 1 2 3 3+1 5 of instead of 4 they would have the letter F or they just skip that floor. At least there isn't actually that many 13 floor buildings in Ireland to have it be an issue!

  5. I totally understand the dice thing. Sometimes I have a game in which I feel completely confident, and my dice do exactly what I want them to, like they reflect how I'm feeling. And sometimes the exact opposite happens: I feel only so-so and my dice hate me. Of course there's absolutely no reason to believe there's a connection, but I still seem to have this happen all the time.

  6. Interesting. I only have one thing that can be called superstition, but it's not something debilitating. When I draft, it's on good quality paper with a specific type of black pen. :-)

  7. There's more I do without thinking I've realized since this post.

    My bed faces away from the door (feet towards the door is bad - you are carried feet first in your coffin)
    I always leave a tray in my oven when it's not in use (so there's never a time of having nothing to go in the oven apparently)
    I always come back in the house by the same door I left - this one I'm not sure about but I remember it was a big thing