Friday, June 13, 2014

Summer of Fear Not Scared! Edition: Triskaidekaphobia

When I was young, I once read a book all about superstition. The only topic from it that stuck with me was about why we say "Bless you" after someone sneezes. The author said it had come from a superstition that our souls could escape or could otherwise be vulnerable to evil forces. Looking back on this now, it appears the author was not necessarily right. Good ol' Snopes.

Either way, it had a tremendous impact on me. Being a curious child who was taught to think critically about the information I received, I reacted appropriately. "That's ridiculous," I thought. "I don't believe that, so I'm going to stop saying 'Bless you.'" And I did-- from that day on, I never again uttered those words after a sneeze. Even if that isn't the real origin, I still see no reason to bless anybody because of a sneeze. I'm not religious, blessing things has no significance to me. And we don't feel compelled to bless anybody after they cough or vomit or anything. Why the sneeze? Sorry Snopes, but your explanation just isn't good enough to get me to start it up again. Doing something just because we've always done it is a poor reason to continue any irrational practice.

While this superstition is pervasive, it doesn't have an intense psychological effect on anyone, as far as I know. I've never had anyone sneeze, panic, grab me and scream "FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, BLESS ME OR WE'RE BOTH GOING STRAIGHT TO HELL."

There are others that can create serious phobias, with the most well-known being triskaidekaphobia.

Fear of the number 13 can supposedly be traced back to a couple different myths and religious stories (this article says Norse and Christian specifically). I'm not going to rehash them, but the Last Supper is a notorious offender in slander against 13. It honestly makes me wonder how people felt about it before all of these stories started bashing it.

Businesses often avoid 13 in anything they might have to number (floors, seats, rooms, etc.) and party hosts are wary of having 13 guests. People who have this legitimate phobia may go even further, avoiding any significant business or life decisions on the 13th of a month, avoiding the 13th step in a flight of stairs, or any home address that contains the number.

Now, I don't personally suffer from this phobia, but in thinking about this "Fear" series, I realized there were really interesting fears that I don't have, but are worth mentioning. A fear based on superstition may seem odd, but it makes a lot of sense to me. Some phobias are centered around very real things (spiders!) but are at their core, still irrational. I'd be the first arachnophobe to stand up and admit how silly it really is. I'm sure there are some theories about phobias developing for good reason, to keep humans from messing with dangerous creatures and situations. But in my life in this century in my part of the country, I have little reason to be afraid of a spider crawling on me. Mostly they run away, and even if they didn't, the worst most could do is a non-venomous bite.

Triskaidekaphobia is about a number, which is real, but is based in the idea that the number itself is "bad luck" or harmful. It's irrational, just like my spider thing. There's no logical reason to be afraid of it, yet people definitely are. I don't mean that as a judgement though, because your phobia is just as real and debilitating (with varying degrees) as mine is. We're both suffering from irrational fears about things that are not actually dangerous (usually). You get 13 people in an elevator built for 5, well, maybe that's just asking for trouble. Just like if I decided to start sleeping with a black widow in my bed. Bad ideas, but not a reason to always be afraid of every 13 or every spider-- especially if that fear starts significantly affecting your life.

In wrapping up, if you don't have triskaidekaphobia (or paraskavedekatriaphobia!) enjoy your Friday the 13th and spend it with someone special. If you do have the aforementioned phobias, stay safe and hunker down. It'll all be over soon.

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