The root of the word triskaidekaphobia, which first appeared in the early 20th century, helps to explain its meaning: treiskaideka from the Greek, means ‘thirteen’; and a phobia is an extreme or irrational fear. And given that today is Friday the 13th and this is The Storyteller’s Night Sky, let’s see how the 13th shows up in the stars.
First, a little context:
*The number 13, lucky in some cultures, and unlucky in others, has been related to some of the world’s greatest mysteries, the greatest of which may be the mystery of true community. Hidden in the number is the dynamic role that individuals play in completing community, where “1” represents the individual that completes the dynamic that is the number “3”, which is stable enough to sustain itself (think of a tripod with three legs), but which seeks completion in the 4th element to give firm foundation: 1+3=4.
Some of this mystery is revealed in a contemplation of the progression of the Platonic solids, named for Plato, who put forth in his Timeaus that the classical elements (earth, air, fire, water and aether) are made of these regular solids:
Tetrahedron has four faces, each face is a triangle (the 3 surfaces used 4 times to describe this solid begins to reveal the mystery of community)
Cube has six faces, each face is a square
Octahedron is eight faces, each surface a triangle
Dodecahedron 12 faces, where each surface is a pentagon (which Kepler aligned to Earth’s orbit ~ where is hidden the combination of the third element seeking completion in the fourth to arrive at a true community of humanity: 3 x 4 = 12)
Icosahedron has 20 faces, and each surface is a triangle
The famous 16th century astronomer Johannes Kepler had an epiphany regarding the Platonic Solids while teaching that if he nested them one in the other, then he could calculate and predict the rhythmic orbits of the planets~and this during the period of time when the Copernican Model of our planetary system, which conceived of an Earth in motion around the Sun, was first taking hold. It was the surface area of the dodecahedron that most closely revealed the rhythm of earth orbit to Kepler (shown here, the icosahedron).
*In the legends of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, the Seige Perilous was the vacant 13th seat at the table that was reserved by Merlin for the knight who would one day be successful in the quest for the Holy Grail. The English word “siege” originally meant “seat or throne,” from the Old French sege (modern French siège). The use of the term siege to describe a prolonged military assault comes from the conception of an army “sitting down” before a fortress. The Seige Perilous was so strictly reserved that it was fatal to anyone who sat in it that was unprepared or incapable of the sacred spiritual quest to which it led, considered the highest and most difficult ~ to advance from a Knight of the Round Table, to become a Knight of the Grail.
*The 13th Apostle in the Christian tradition is Paul, who is aligned to the community of 12 after Matthias has been chosen to replace Judas, at which time the flaming tongues of the Pentecost descend. Paul says of his calling by the Christ, which is described in the Acts of the Apostles chapter 9: And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time (I Corinthians 15:8).
*In a traditional definition, it takes 13 witches to complete a coven, though this idea is much disputed in contemporary culture.
*There can sometimes be 13 Full or New Moons in one solar year, and in the indigenous traditions of the people of North America, the “13 Moons on Turtle’s Back” reveal the harmony of life between human beings and the natural world, with the changing names of Grandmother Moon (Nikomis)
indicating the season, the agricultural practice, the weather, and even the migration.
*And finally, in the zodiac, the 13th “hidden” member is Ophiucus, made infamous a few years ago by Parke Kunkle, director of the Minnesota Planetarium Society, who pointed out that the Sun appears to move through the foot region of the constellation Ophiucus for several of the weeks in the calendar that astrologers usually assign to Scorpio.
Ophiucus is a prominent summer constellation, and though large, there are not a lot of bright stars in this region of sky, which may in part account for why Ophiucus was never considered a member of the 12 regions of the zodiac. But if we consider his story and place it within the context of the reputation for the number 13 as we have been musing on it here, then it starts to become more clear why it is right to consider Ophiucus as the 13th member of the sacred community, but also, why he’s usually hidden. Knowing Ophiucus means bearing the responsibility of the mysteries associated with this being, which are those of the resurrection of life forces.
The mysteries of resurrection are not easy to describe in contemporary culture, and of necessity are born of obscure origins; Ophiucus is no exception. Before he was identified as a starry region of the sky, Ophiucus was either associated with the Thracian King Carnabon who sought to ambush and kill Triptolemis while he slept (he slayed one of the dragons harnassed to Triptolemis’ chariot, so Demeter slayed him and placed him in the sky, where he appears always trying to slay the serpent in his hands); or with Aesculapius, a son of Apollo and the first doctor, who was taught the healing arts by the centaur Chiron, and about whom it was written:
Now, despite the rumours concerning the death of Asclepius, he remained a living god, which shows that men know very little about life and death, and take both very lightly, often wasting the former and fearing the latter without properly investigating any of them.
Asclepius became the first and greatest of healers because he was the son of Apollo. For, it is said, the art of healing depends on divination, and it was after listening to his father’s responses and oracles that he adapted different drugs to different diseases. Thus he taught his own sons and others the use of healing herbs, which to apply them to running wounds and which to dry wounds, and in what doses to administer drugs. But without the forecasts of prophetic wisdom, they say, he had never ventured to mingle with medicines, which are the most deadly of poisons.
Find Ophiucus all summer long over the horizon in the south, and watch the the now-direct motion of the planet Jupiter, which will soon move through this region of sky! And Happy Friday the 13th!