Triskaidekaphobia quite literally means the fear of the number thirteen. From the original Greek words, “tris” means three, “kai” means and/plus and “deka” means ten so fear of three plus ten. Don’t you just love it when scientists use complex words to mask a simple subject that they don’t fully understand themselves? It’s a sign that they’re trying to sound smart when talking about it even when they’re not sure what’s going on. And why should they be any different from the rest of us? Why should scientists know why a simple number can invoke such mind numbing fear in the human mind? There are many theories about the number thirteen that purport to explain it’s power, but most of them are hokum. One says that Judas was the thirteenth member at the table during Jesus’ last supper and that his actions following that cursed the number for eternity. Can anyone guess which Pope led religion spread that one as scientific fact? An ancient Norse tradition holds that if thirteen people gather then one of them will die within the year, perhaps referencing Loki’s (who was the thirteenth god of the Norse pantheon, by the way) murder of Baldur. Maybe if Jesus had been a viking he wouldn’t have been betrayed and the Bible would have been adored by children all round the world as they learned about the time Jesus pillaged a village with only five loaves of bread and two fish… Anyway, time to move on. For this little piece I thought it might be interesting to have a look at someone who suffered from Triskaidekaphobia and see how it affected his life.
Arnold Schoenberg was born on the 13th of September in the year 1874 and went on to become a visionary force in composing music, developing a highly influential version of the twelve tone compositional method. In 1908 his wife left him to carry on an affair with a German artist of the day. She returned several months later but during that time Schoenberg composed a piece of utter chaotic despair. The atonal Moses und Aaron was the thirteenth song of the cycle Das Buch der Hangenden Garten. When Schoenberg noted that Moses und Aaron contained thirteen letters in the title as well he immediately changed the name to Moses und Aron to remove a letter. At the Vienna premiere of the Gurre Lieder on the 13th of February 1913, he received a standing ovation that lasted for thirteen minutes and ended with Schoenberg being presented with a laurel crown. Schoenberg spent his life convinced that he would die on a year whose digits added up to thirteen and was terrified of his sixty-fifth birthday as a result (The birthday was in 1939 and the working is as follows: 1+9=10, 1+0=1, 3+9=12, 1+2=3. From that 1 and 3 we make 13.) However a friend prepared a horoscope which put his mind at rest and allowed him to pass the year peacefully. However on his seventy-sixth birthday (7+6=13) the same astrologer sent him a warning that the year may be dangerous for him, which sent him into a depression. On Friday the 13th of July 1951 he stayed in bed as was his tradition on every Friday the 13th and fretted about the day. His worried wife called the doctor who stayed with him until the end because at 11:47pm (1+1+4+7=13, plus it was thirteen minutes to midnight.) he died.