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The Significance of the Number 13 to Man in Myth and Magick

In ancient Norse mythology Odin, father of the gods, has a feast and invites eleven guests. Among them is Baldur the Beautiful, the god of spring, loved by all. Almost all. Ugly Loki, god of mischief, jealous of Baldur, had fashioned a poisonous dart to kill him.

Loki invades the feast, making thirteen at table. After dinner, the gods take turns throwing weapons at Baldur. It is safe sport, because everything on earth has sworn never to harm him. However, twisted Loki had found the one plant that took no oath, wax-green mistletoe, too young to swear.

Loki places the mistletoe dart in the hand of Holdur, Baldur’s blind brother, and wraps his eager fingers tight around it. He turns him to sight on the god of springtime. Holdur’s innocent aim is true, and Baldur dies.

The death of the god of spring and light, at the hands of his blind brother and dark Loki, prefigures the last great battle between the forces of good and evil, Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods. After that, a new world will begin, and Baldur will be reborn.

Beliefs of Some Christians

A baker’s dozen, thirteen rolls or loaves of bread, made sure that a bakery did not stint its customers. It was a sign of abundance, or at least of value. Local authorities severely punished bakers for cheating their customers in medieval times, so bakers avoided even the appearance of wrongdoing with the baker’s dozen.

St. Augustine, a doctor of the Catholic Church, believed that numbers were a universal language created by God to show humanity proof of His truth; however, the saint never singled out the number thirteen.

.Beginning sometime in the Middle Ages, the number 13 took on overtones of betrayal for Christians. The Last Supper, when Jesus announced that someone present would betray him, had thirteen at the table. Jesus and the disciples must have dined many times in a group of thirteen; they traveled in a group of thirteen. The notion took hold anyway: if thirteen people sit down to dinner, one will be dead within a year.

Jesus died the next day, Good Friday, which, according to some traditions, was Friday the Thirteenth. At its most extreme, not only was Friday the Thirteenth accursed for Christian believers, but any Friday was a bad day to begin a new enterprise, and no ship would leave port on a Friday.

The thirteenth psalm is a prayer to God in desperation, for help against overwhelming trouble. At the end of the psalm, the singer resigns himself to God’s will. However, the superstitious take the despair of the petitioner as proof of the dark nature of the number thirteen.

Occult Beliefs

The great mathematician Pythagoras believed in numerology. That is, he believed that numbers had existence in themselves, and power over human lives. For him, numbers had more reality than the mere physical world, which he thought derived from them.

He was a great mathematician, but became interested in numerology the way some early astronomers such as Tycho Brahe dabbled in astrology and early chemists were alchemists. Followers of Pythagoras sometimes were more interested in his occult beliefs than in his mathematical knowledge.

Some Greeks ascribed magical powers to him. His followers became a sect, whose practices still influence occult groups today.

Most occult or “pagan” groups do not consider thirteen an unlucky number. It is, rather, the number of months in the lunar year. The lunar year, and thus thirteen, is associated with the ancient goddess, her power and her worship.

Therefore, the growing Christian religion denigrated and devalued thirteen as the church spread through Europe, extinguishing and replacing earlier faiths. This would explain why the number thirteen was not originally considered unlucky. It only grew fearsome as nature religions became associated with darkness, sacrilege, and sin.