The Reasons Why Some Numbers Are Superstitious

By Nancy Sutton – March 04, 2021
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People can attach significance to the strangest things and claim that it brings good or bad luck. Black cats, rabbits’ feet, broken mirrors - they’re all things that have had, at some point in the past, a whole new meaning given to them. One main superstition is lucky and unlucky numbers. Where do these particular superstitions have their origins?


In Christianity, the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit marks the number three out as being one of the good guys. The positive significance of the digit is a pattern reflected in other religions like Hinduism, too. Even pagans have got in on the act by seeing the number as forming the points of the land, the sky, and the oceans. 


How many of us have got on our hands and knees in a luscious green field, looking for a four-leaf clover? While the West sees them, and by extension the number four, as lucky, it’s a different story in the opposite hemisphere. In many languages of the Far East, the word for ‘four’ sounds very similar to their words for ‘death’ and its use is largely avoided. 


The Bible is explicit in the story of how God created the Earth in seven days, while Islam has the roots of its beliefs in seven heavens. There are seven deadly sins to go with seven wonders of the ancient world, too. It’s all hugely symbolic for one single digit. 


This is the big one, the number above all others that is said to be unlucky. Again, the superstition has its origins in the Bible and, on this occasion, the story of Jesus’s death. With there being twelve disciples and Christ at his Last Supper, the night before Judas Iscariot betrayed his leader, the number’s fate was sealed. 


Largely inoffensive everywhere else, the number 17 strikes fear into the heart of Italians. This is because the Roman numerals for the number - XVII - can be turned, anagram-style, into VIXI. In Latin, this roughly means a word translated as “I have died”. That’s some serious stuff. 


Be wary around the use of 39 in Afghanistan. While the reason for its bad luck is perhaps a little unclear - fables err towards it sounding like the words for ‘dead cow’ in Afghan - it’s no laughing matter to the everyday Afghan, for whom there’s no number 39 on their street.