The Number 13
By Matty Jankowski
Many moons ago, when I was in Catholic school, they started a soccer team. That was 1969 and most Americans said “what’s soccer? When the time came to hand out uniforms, my number was even more unexpected. I was given number was 13. I immediately kicked the dirt and cussed, because it was bad luck. After the dust settled, and since I’ve gotten a whole new appreciation for the number 13, I think it is about time to add a 13 tattoo to my back, where I wore my soccer number. Tell me more.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
No sooner had I saw the numbers one and three than an outpouring of wicked and wonderful emotions washed over me. I’ve had many conversations about the good and pure evil superstitions and phobias that surrounds the digits. There is a common myth that the earliest reference to 13 being unlucky or evil is from the ancient Babylonian Code of Hammurabi (circa 1780 B.C.E.), which was created to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land. There have been many translations that have the 13th law omitted. Then and now it was believed to be unlucky. It was significantly absent in the translation by L.W. King (1910) edited by Richard Hooker.
Friday the 13th has the distinction as being the unluckiest day of the year. There are at least two and never more than three Friday the 13ths every year. However, certain cultures appreciate the number 13 or even revere it as being a symbol of life, fertility and good fortune. Judaism celebrates a young man’s coming of age, when he turns 13. In Punjabi, the word 13 is pronounced tera, which also means “yours,” evoking a devotional pronouncement to God.
Triscadecaphobia, or fear of the number 13, was first used by I.H. Coriat in Abnormal Psychology published in 1910 (Moffat, Yard and Company, New York). Fear of the number 13 affected the Vikings, who played a major part in the medieval history of Scandinavia, Britain, Ireland and the rest of Europe. It is believed that Loki in the Norse pantheon was the 13th god. More specifically, Loki was believed to have engineered the murder of Balder and was the 13th guest to arrive at the funeral. This is perhaps related to the superstition that, if 13 people gather, one of them will die in the following year.
The phobia also extends to addresses, with twenty-six percent of homebuyers saying they would not buy a property that was number 13, according to Lloyd’s TSB. That was not a discouraging factor for tattooist Sunday Dawne-Marie of Skinflower cosmic arts in the Catskill mountains of Phoenicia, New York (www.skinflower.org). Her house was the second one they looked at with the number 13 address. She affectionately describes the house as being nestled in the woods on one sweet acre with both a sunny open yard and its own tiny forest. It is wonderfully quiet at night and dark with a million stars. They call it the bumblebee ranch, where they make and appreciate art, music, books and nature. A pleasant surprise for the postman is Sunday’s colorfully decorated, tattoo-inspired number 13 mailbox.
The tarot card bearing the number 13 (Roman numerals XIII) symbolizes death. Tarot images have long inspired renderings for symbolic tattoos. The 13th floor doesn’t exist in most high-rise buildings, and having 13 dinner guests at one table is said to have fateful results. In 1881, an influential group of New Yorkers led by U.S. Civil War veteran Captain William Fowler came together to put an end to this and other superstitions. They formed a dinner cabaret club, which they called the Thirteen Club. At the first meeting, on Friday the 13th, January 1881 at 8:13 p.m., 13 people sat down to dine in room 13 of the venue. The guests walked under a ladder to enter the room and were seated among piles of spilled salt. All of the guests survived. Thirteen Clubs sprang up all over North America for the next forty years. Their activities were regularly reported in leading newspapers, and their numbers included five future U.S. presidents, from Chester A. Arthur to Theodore Roosevelt. Thirteen Clubs had various imitators, but they all gradually faded from interest as people became less superstitious.
Tattoos offered in celebration of Friday the 13th have long been an event that collectors looked forward to. The Friday the 13th tattoo tradition has added meaning to customer appreciation day at Michelle Miles’ Daredevil tattoo on New York’s Lower East Side. Today, tattoo shops worldwide are jammed by the adventurous souls in search of a permanent 13. It was always a special tattoo when inked at Freddy Corbin’s California shop, Tattoo 13. Tattooist Uncle Tim was cursed from birth. Born Friday the 13th November 1953, 13th kid born that day and born at one p.m. (the 13th hour). Folks partaking in one of his custom 13 tattoos find his cursed history to be a little something extra in the tattoo process. He tattooed 13 bands of a Hawaiian-inspired tribal pattern to celebrate a customer’s birthday at a show recently. Uncle Tim’s last shop was Studio 13 in Salinas or, en Espanola, Estudio Trece! Over the years, groups of tattooists have drawn number 13 pork chop tattoos and flash sheets and, just when you least expect it, you will find random appearances of number 13 designs popping up off to the side or buried in the bottom corner of a sheet of classic flash.
The only good 13 tattoo story that came to mind from legendary inkslinger Spider Webb takes us back about fifteen years. It was a Friday the 13th and 13 goth girls all dressed in black with all the bells and whistles filed into the shop, each wanting a tattoo of a roman numeral on the back of her neck from I to XIII. He whacked them all out in about ten minutes, then lined them up and photographed them. His prolific performance and conceptual artworks include a poster of a 13 Tattoo Vampire performance he did at Coney Island and a black-and-white clock with the little hand on roman number X and the big hand on III from his 1970’s Time Art work series.
In closing I gladly share these anonymous words of wisdom:“We embrace a lot of things that others fear, including tattoos themselves. We find beauty in what others perceive as mutilation. So, maybe it’s not such a stretch that we would also see fortune in what others see as unlucky. Or maybe we’re just all a bunch of optimists! Whether you consider it a baker’s dozen or the Devil’s dozen is up to you.
Questions or comments? Contact Matty at firstname.lastname@example.org.