Many of you fear the combination of calendar date and weekday that is Friday the 13th. It’s part of a much older fear of the number 13 in general, about which I have a simple theory (shared by many others). Before I do that, I need to make it clear that not only do I not fear it – it is actually a sign of good luck in my family. 

So why do you fear 13? There are many different answers (and I’m going to cut out the folklore references such as the 13 people at the Last Supper and the Friday on which the Templars/Cathars / Bogomils / {insert other heresy here} were brutally wiped out by the Catholic Church), but there are just two I want to focus on today. 

Firstly, it’s an odd number – and since we are animals that love to echo our bilateral symmetry with even numbers, that makes odd numbers (except 7) basically the source of all strange and scary things. Hence we call those numbers “odd”. When even numbers occur in multiples of odd numbers, bad things also happen – think of 666 (222 x 3).

Secondly (and this is by far the more interesting answer), 13 is a lunar number. Numbers with base 6 are related to the human concept of solar time, hence we now have 12 months and 24 hours and 60 minutes. At some point in history, this idea of 12 being the fullest number representative of all the cosmos was systematically forced onto the people who believed anything else. The number 12 came to be associated with the Sun worshippers, who still cling to their male-oriented cosmos in imagery like that of the 12 Olympians, the 12 apostles of Christ or the signs of the Zodiac. It is because of them that we measure large quantities in dozens.

A Baker’s dozen, however, has 13 loaves in it. That decision may not seem subversive, and may in fact appear to be the very paragon of economy, “just in case something goes wrong with one of the other loaves”, but it is one of the last vestiges of the cult of the Moon. You see, there is another way to measure the year – in Moons (izinyanga, mo(o)nths, maande). Each moon takes roughly 28 days to go through its cycle, which means that 12 of those would take you to… 336 days. 

Wait a minute. A year is 365 days, isn’t it? so what if we add another 28 on to 336? Ah. now we have 364. That’s better. 

But that means that there are 13 moons in one year! The horror! Quick, do something about that! My OCD is acting up! Even it out! Even it out!

And thus we have our current system – where we have 12 months with irregular days, needing a mnemonic to remember it. 

There are, however, still cultures which follow the moon – Islam and Judaism and traditional African religions are among the top contenders here. Interestingly, both Islam and Judaism make the lunar calendar fit the solar norm of 12. One of the many little acts of oppression enforced by the European colonists on isiZulu was to “normalise” the number of months in the Zulu year by removing the month of Luthuli (last month of the year, occuring at the end of winter) completely. 

The sun-worshippers didn’t just do that to isiZulu – they systematically did it throughout Europe, and spread their idea (the supremacy of 12, and the evil of 13) to the rest of the world by fire and preaching and the sword (not necessarily in that order).

I am a child of 13. I was born on the 13th of May. My father was born on Friday the 13th of March, and celebrated his birthday yesterday. When I met my Khethiwe, I realised that there were others who were also triskaidekaphiliacs – she lived at number 13 twice growing up, won her first boat-race in 13 minutes and 13 seconds, and Dambuza (her eldest) was born at 6:13 on her birthday. When we first met, it would happen that we would meet each other or contact each other at 14:53 (add the numbers up and you’ll see why), and since then the number 13 keeps cropping up. At the beginning of this year, I was seated at seat number 13 to introduce my isiZulu highschool curriculum to the school. And yesterday, I was given ticket number 113 when getting our Friday night pizza. I think you get the idea. 

Let’s set ourselves free from the heliocentric propaganda. Embrace the oddness of the moon instead.