For the superstitious

Friday the 13th is back in 2023

It’s the big bad wolf of superstitions. It can wield a moment of unease over every continent and in every aspect of daily life, including games of chance, travel, religious practices, even the teaching of history and astronomy. What exactly is this pinnacle of fear, bad luck, or even good luck? It’s the number 13, otherwise known as Thirteen or XIII.

Where is it found? In Western civilisation. Its symptoms are well known, and its name even features in medical dictionaries. Derived from Ancient Greek, triskaidékaphobie is a fear of the number 13; and the French expression, paraskevidékatriaphobie, is a fear of Friday the 13th. There are numerous «explanations» about its origins: there were thirteen guests at the Last Supper, and also at the dinner held by the Nordic God Odin, where another of the Viking gods, Balber, died; not forgetting the anger of the 12 gods on Mount Olympus when Philip II of Macedonia erected his statue alongside them in the Pantheon, which is where Philip would meet his death…


In 2023,  there will be two Friday the 13th’s, one in January and one in October. On both of those dates, whilst the casinos might not be heaving, you will see an increase in occasional superstitious players: the ‘unlucky’ ones will stay away, leaving room for the ‘lucky’ ones to savour their Barrière moment. Beyond the gaming tables and rooms, the Grands Hôtels have become accustomed to dealing with these superstitions, as have the group’s hotels. At Barrière, you won’t find any Suites or Rooms bearing the number 13. Of course, the group is not the only one in the world of leisure and entertainment to adapt its practices for the well-being and peace of mind of its guests. Air France flights and destinations have banned the number 13 from their seats, and low-cost airline Ryan Air has removed row 13. In Formula 1 car racing you won’t find any number 13s, and golf still limits its courses to 12 holes (even if scandalmongers say that’s down to the fact that you can’t get more than 12 glasses out of a bottle of Scottish whiskey…). The devil is definitely in the details.


So, what if the Great Manitou of this date-related dread was… a duodecimal system based on the number 12 and used in ancient times: starting with 12 Gods on Mount Olympus with the 12 Labours of Hercules; and on the calendar - 12 full moons in a year, 12 months, 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness. The number 12 was just perfect. Adding an additional one to make 13 - whether at the table or in terms of beliefs - would only result in breaking harmony. In a nutshell, the number 13 is a troublemaker, a disturbance, a misfit. 

But in addition to these well-informed explanations, let’s consider a French theory about the scorn cast on the number 13. Up until 1860, the city of Paris was divided into 12 arrondissements. In the middle of the 19th century, living together out of wedlock was not socially accepted. When alluding to these couples, one would say that they were «married in the 13th». Without delving into social propriety, they were a round peg in a square hole. Each era has its idiocies. Some are deep-rooted, going back thousands of years. Others, are more recent, such as fishmongers offering “thirteen to the dozen” oysters to attract superstitious (or not) foodies…