Superstition: Why do we still avoid the number 13? (2024)

Superstition: Why do we still avoid the number 13? (1)Image source, Sarah Thomas

Natalie Grice

BBC News

  • Published

On the 13th day of a month, the weather turns wet, cold and grey after a gloriously warm and sunny weekend. That's unlucky.

Coincidence? Of course - this is British weather. But 14% of British people surveyed believe the number 13 is inherently unlucky, while a further 9% don't know.

The continuing belief in 13's malign influence is so baked into our culture that even a down-to-earth profession like building is affected by it, as a construction site in Cardiff has shown.

As some commuters noted, one of the inner supporting towers being built for the Central Quay development on the old Brain's brewery site had numbers displayed on every floor of the unfinished building - with a glaring omission on the 13th.

This is more common than you might think in the 21st Century. Some buildings, including apartment blocks and hotels, skip 13 entirely.

The 13th floor may be named 12A, or used to house infrastructure the building needs rather than apartments or offices.

Others, like one of the taller hotels in Cardiff, jump straight from 12 to 14.

Image source, Getty Images

Houses numbered 13 are usually cheaper while in the past some councils have actually banned new housing developments from using the number because residents do not like living there.

Sarah Thomas from Grangetown in Cardiff spotted the tower on the Brains site when she was coming out of her offices at Network Rail nearby.

"It piqued my curiosity when I saw it was missing," she said.

"I did assume it was down to superstition, but I Googled to confirm and only then realised how widely practised it is. Quite a few friends have said they've been in buildings or lifts where the number 13 is missing - clearly I need to visit some taller structures."

She describes herself as not superstitious but feels some habits stem from common sense, adding: "I'd rather not walk under a ladder if possible, to avoid the risk of injury.

"I do find the history behind superstitions interesting as they give us an insight into how people connected specific events with more day-to-day activities."

Some of the most high-profile structures in the UK retain the superstition.

When London's Canary Wharf was redeveloped and the distinctive One Canada Square tower was built in 1990 - at the time the tallest building in the UK - it opened its doors minus a floor 13 and remains the same today.

And if you want to take a spin on one of the London Eye's 32 pods, you may be surprised to learn you can book number 33. Which, naturally, replaces the missing number 13.

Why is the number 13 thought to be unlucky?

Image source, Getty Images

Conventional wisdom has blamed a number of sources for 13's supposed bad luck.

One is linked to Christianity - there were 13 people at Jesus Christ's last supper which happened just before he was betrayed by Judas Iscariot, the 13th to be seated, and arrested for blasphemy.

Similarly in Norse mythology, Loki, the god of mischief and deception, is the 13th guest at a dinner of the gods where he tricks one of Odin's sons into killing another.

The fear of 13 - officially called triskaidekaphobia - goes into overdrive when coupled with Friday, which is also loosely associated with bad luck because it was the day Christ died on.

Image source, Juliette Wood

But why do people in supposedly enlightened societies still cling to such a belief?

Perhaps because, surprisingly, it is a pretty modern belief and not one with centuries of tradition behind it after all, according to Cardiff University lecturer Dr Juliette Wood, an expert in mythology and folklore.

"It isn't folklore in the sense that it's not an old tradition. It has nothing to do with the fact there were 13 people at the last supper," she said.

Instead, she believes it is essentially a media creation which became popular around the turn of the 20th Century, which has become a kind of modern folklore in its own right and is reinforced through media, including films such as Friday the 13th.

Image source, Marvel/Disney

Searches back beyond this time have not produced references to unlucky number 13.

But people look back for stories that fit the creation of a myth, and have latched on to the most famous examples.

"It kind of makes so much sense, particularly because of the last supper link, that it's stuck," Dr Wood explains.

The idea of Loki as a source is likely to be even more recent.

She added: "This notion of Norse mythology as a kind of touchstone for culture is actually quite recent.

"It goes back to the interest that you find in Britain in the 19th Century in finding our Germanic heritage and a number of British scholars translated the Nordic myths for the first time.

"And now of course since the Marvel films, Loki is a hero. So you get reasons to focus on a particular figure and you get this kind of transference."

Unlucky days

The idea of unlucky days is indeed a much older convention - think of the Roman Ides of March (the 15th) which was reinforced in Roman belief following the assassination of Julius Caesar on that day, and popularised by the Shakespearean tragedy telling his story.

Dr Wood said: "We love superstitions. We love to be able to say in this highly mechanistic, highly uncertain world 'oh well it's tradition'.

"It seems to go against all sense, but being able to ascribe something to an outside, not malevolent power but certainly fatalistic one, somehow makes us feel more comfortable and less insecure.

Image source, Katie Griffin

Katie Griffin, from estate agent body Propertymark, external, who runs her own business in Devon, confirms avoidance of the number 13 can still be a thing in housebuilding.

"I wouldn't say that it would detract from the value [of a house] but sometimes in order to stop that, developers will completely omit number 13. That has been in the past that you will go 11, 12, 14," she says.

"I don't specifically have people come in and say 'I'm superstitious and I don't want be in number 13' but they may say 'I don't want to be near a churchyard or a cemetery'.

"So when you scratch the surface you suddenly go, oh my gosh there are these things that are out there. It depends whether you are of a sensitive nature, but you could turn it on its head and say well if you buy number 13, you could get a better deal."

A brief survey of commuters near the tower seemed to suggest most people took the superstition with a pinch of salt (thrown over a shoulder?).

Odessa Barthorpe, from Cardiff, believes superstition is the result of culture or upbringing but would personally happily live on a 13th floor, adding: "I think it's probably a hangover from days when we didn't know how the world worked and we had to make stuff up.

"It's interesting. But in terms of living your life by it, no."

Carmen Abad from Rhoose, Vale of Glamorgan, grew up in South East Asia where there are "a lot of superstitions" but she doesn't really believe in them.

"So personally I wouldn't care about living on the 13th floor. If it was a cheaper apartment I would go for it," she says

For future residents of the Cardiff tower - the management company has confirmed the 13th floor will have both a number and apartments to rent once it is completed.

Cheaper? Now that would be lucky.

Related Topics

  • Wales
  • Cardiff
Superstition: Why do we still avoid the number 13? (2024)


Why is the number 13 considered bad luck? ›

In Norse mythology, the god Loki was 13th to arrive at a feast in Valhalla, where he tricked another attendee into killing the god Baldur. In Christianity, Judas — the apostle who betrayed Jesus — was the 13th guest at the Last Supper. But the truth is, sociocultural processes can associate bad luck with any number.

Why is the number 13 unlucky in hotels? ›

In Western cultures, the apprehension around the number 13 has biblical origins. The Last Supper in Christian tradition, for instance, saw 13 individuals gathered around the table, the 13th guest being Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus. Thus, 13 became synonymous with treachery and misfortune.

What does the number 13 mean spiritually? ›

Angel Number 13: A Manifestation Number

It embodies the energy of positive transformation and growth, urging us to collaborate with the universe in achieving our desires. When this number appears frequently, it's an invitation to set intentions and align ourselves with the positive energy encompassing us.

What is the secret of the number 13? ›

In numerology, the number 13 is often associated with mystery and transformation. While some view it as unlucky, others consider it a symbol of spiritual growth and rebirth. The secrets of the number 13 lie in its ability to catalyze change and bring about new beginnings.

Why is the 13th floor bad luck? ›

In Norse myth, it is believed that the 13th became an unlucky number after the god of mischief Loki appeared uninvited at a dinner party in Valhalla where 12 gods were having a good time. The same day Loki tricked another god Hoor to fire an arrow at another god Balder killing him.

Is 13 a bad house number? ›

Numerology House Number 13

Some experts believe that house number 13 in Indian numerology will bring bad luck to the house owner and thus should be avoided altogether, as per house number 13 Vastu. On the other hand, house number 13 Feng Shui is not considered unlucky and neutral.

Why is there no 13th floor in hospitals? ›

Early tall-building designers, fearing a fire on the 13th floor, or fearing tenants' superstitions about the rumor, decided to omit having a 13th floor listed on their elevator numbering. This practice became commonplace, and eventually found its way into American mainstream culture and building design.

Is 13 a mysterious number? ›

Throughout history, the number 13 has become associated with bad luck and a sense of impending doom. There's even a term for extreme fear of the number: triskaidekaphobia — which if you try to say that out loud, it might be unlucky for your tongue.

Is number 13 unlucky in Hinduism? ›

Number 13 is seen as irregular or incomplete. This imbalance is sometimes believed to bring bad luck.

What is the phobia of 13 called? ›

Triskaidekaphobia is the fear of 13, a number commonly associated with bad luck in Western culture. While fear of the number 13 can be traced back to medieval times, the word triskaidekaphobia itself is of recent vintage, having been first coined by Coriat (1911; Simpson and Weiner 1992).

Why is 13 considered a bad number? ›

Some believe this is unlucky because one of those thirteen, Judas Iscariot, was the betrayer of Jesus Christ. From the 1890s, a number of English language sources relate the "unlucky" thirteen to an idea that at the Last Supper, Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, was the 13th to sit at the table.

Which birth date is unlucky? ›

The 4th, 7th, 8th, 22nd, and 17th are believed to be ill-fated by some. Additionally, the superstition around Friday the 13th can add to the sense of caution for those born in October.

What is the origin of the superstition 13? ›

Judas, who betrayed Jesus, is thought to have been the 13th guest to sit down to the Last Supper. Even today, it's considered unlucky to have 13 people sitting at a dinner table, and some people pop a teddy bear in a seat to make the number of guests up to 14!

What does Lucky 13 represent? ›

Many believe that the Number 13 has the ability to bring about change which can often lead to having a positive outlook. Also known as the 'Angel Number' in some cultures it symbolizes leading with love and compassion. and remaining positive in the face of negativity.

Why is 13 unlucky in Chinese? ›

Number '13' (1+3) adds up to '4'. Since Number '4' sounds like the word 'death' (in Cantonese), therefore, 13 is a bad number. If you do not add 1 and 3, 13 may be a good number since it sounds like 'must prosper'. In other words, it depends on personal interpretation.

What is the unluckiest house number? ›

In numerology and Feng Shui, house number 4 is often considered unlucky due to its association with death and misfortune. This number is believed to bring negative energy and obstacles to the household, hindering progress and harmony. House number 5 is associated with fast-moving change and instability in numerology.

What is the luckiest number in the world? ›

There is a strong connection between the number seven and many religions around the globe. Lucky number 7 is even the basis for many myths and folklore. Ancient beliefs from around the world believed that the seventh son of the seventh son would be gifted with magical powers (both good and evil).


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