Recreation of Lussell's Venus, France, 25,000 BCE
Banner by Lydia Rhule
Banner by Lydia Rhule
Whenever Friday the 13th comes around we hear a lot of piffle about why the number 13 is thought to be unlucky. Most web sites will pass along the old canard about Judas and the Last Supper. That's not the real story. The real story is much more interesting (and before I tell it, I will ask the indulgence of feminist and other scholars for simplifying a very long tale indeed). Here we go:
The 13 Moon Calendar - AKA the Lunar Calendar - is a 28 day calendar that dates from prehistoric times. It dovetails with a woman's menstrual cycle. The link between women's blood mysteries, and the moon is held in high esteem among many Neopagans. This calendar was used all over the world for many thousands of years, and is still used in some cultures today. For example, the ancient major holidays celebrated by Muslims, Jews, and many people in Asian and India are all based on a lunar calendar. Native Americans also used a lunar calendar, and some still use it.
The so call "Venus Laussel" image (2) dates back 25,000 years. It is one of the earliest known calendars. The Woman/Goddess figure portrayed in this neolithic carving holds a lunar crescent in her right hand. (1) It has 13 notches, one for each of the 13 moons in the lunar calendar. (Here is a note on her position in the cave and how that relates to God/ess worship of that period.)
The number 13 has long been associated with the moon, women's mysteries and the Goddess. When patriarchy (usually run by those warrior guys with the pointy spears and the horses) took hold, women were subjugated, enslaved, dehumanized and turned into chattel. Queens, priestesses, artists, healers and leaders became mere breeders who would produce soldiers for the endless wars required by the God/King of that region. Worship of the Goddess in this period was destroyed as far as was possible. Conquerors would then change the rituals, stories and myths to make Her less powerful and subject to their male, solar God. (There are many books that write about this transition, but you can start with The Chalice and the Blade by Riane Eisler - see book notes at the bottom of this post). Anything that belonged to Woman and the Goddess (including snakes, cats, the moon and the number 13) was held to be suspect and demonized. Stories were later made up to hide the real reasons why these things were so feared.
Ever wondered why there are 13 Witches in a coven? Each witch stands for a different moon in the year.
Donna Henes writing for Pagan Circle says that
Thirteen is certainly the most essentially female number — the average number of menstrual cycles in a year. The approximate number, too of annual cycles of the moon. When Chinese women make offerings of moon cakes, there are sure to be 13 on the platter. Thirteen is the number of blood, fertility and lunar potency.
She points out that,
Post-patriarchal mythology is also rich with symbolic references to the mystical power of 13. Besides Christ and his 12 disciples, there are Jacob and his 12 sons, Odysseus and his 12 companions, Medea and her 12 princesses, Romulous and his 12 shepherds, Roland and his 12 peers, Arthur and his 12 knights, and the head of Osiris and his 12 dismembered body parts...The United States has a full complement of significant 13’s, beginning with the original 13 colonies. The Great Seal pictures 13 stars, 13 bars, and a bald eagle sporting 13 tail feathers, holding 13 arrows and 13 olive branches. The official motto, "E Pluribus Unum" contains 13 letters.
The lunar calendar is found in many cultures, from the Incan, to the Druidic to the Egyptian, to the Essene, to the Mayan, to the Polynesian and the various Asian cultures, mostly famously the Chinese calendar. The ancient Hebrews also used a lunar calendar, and they, too, worshiped the Goddess. This 13 moon calendar was used throughout neolithic times and in the period we know as "pre-history"; a time when the Goddess and her image could be found around the globe. Not surprisingly, much of the best art from this period comes from Africa, the birthplace of us all.
This Christian story about the number 13 and Last Supper was simply their way to justify fear and distrust of what that number represents. The church Fathers knew that many outsiders in the Middle Ages; midwives, herbalists, alchemists, as well as "pagans and heathens" (my Celtic, Viking and German ancestors among them), were drawn to this number because they thought it was lucky, powerful or blessed in some way. The church feared it, just as they feared cats and the sexual/social power of women. This power was something they urgently sought to control.
Many people who dwelt outside of cities in those times (and thus outside much of the church's power) still lived and farmed by the lunar calendar. Among these "simple folk" may well have been those who passed along as much of the old traditions and stories as still survived.
I believe that the sacred feminine was once honored and that in that time women enjoyed respect, power, and freedom. I believe that we, as human beings, and especially our children and elders, were all the better for it.
The Subjugation of Women - Root Cause of Hunger
Early Calendars & Astrology (Venus & The Dog Days of Summer)
Why 13 Is a Very Lucky Number Indeed by Urban Shaman
Homepage for Catalhoyuk
The Christian Goddess
(1) Some scholars believe it to be a horn, possibly an early horn of plenty.
(2) The term "Venus figure" is problematic at best. Among other things, it demotes these figures to the level of sexualized icons or fertility totems, and denies them the status of revered Goddess figures.
(3) Again, let's try it for 30 generations or so, and find out.
Art by Lydia Ruyle
The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future by Riane Eisler
For those who love images of the Goddess: The Great Mother (Mythos Books)
and Celtic GoddessesQueen of the Night: Rediscovering the Celtic Moon Goddess
Two by Gerda Lerner:
The Creation of Patriarchy (Women & History)
The Creation of Feminist Consciousness: From the Middle Ages to Eighteen-seventy (Women & History)
Click here to read an interview with the author