How this came to be: When we were discussing the Great Seal
of the United States, and we were noting the number of times the
number 13 popped up. When one of the students asked what the
significance of the number was, the teacher gave it to that
student as a research assignment. I was designated the official
backup and resource, in case one was needed.
I wrote up my version of the report, just to have on hand at
need, and gave a copy to the teacher. She liked it and told me
to prepare to give a presentation to the class in the near
This was presented in class on August 6, 1992.
Fortunately, I had made copies, because as it turned out,
everyone wanted one.
In class not too long ago, we were discussing the Great Seal
of the United States, and noting the repeated occurrence of
groups of thirteen. This was cited as evidence that Wiccan ideas
had played a part in forming the country. This may or may not be
the case, and the ideas may have come from Freemasonry rather
than Wicca, but there does seem to have been a fascination with
the number thirteen.
Why is the number thirteen so sacred in Wicca? The number
has quite a few correspondences and meanings.
First, there are thirteen lunar months in a year, give or
take. (A "year and a day" is thirteen canonical months of 28
days, and one day, which works out to 365 days.)
Second, by Qabalistic gematria, thirteen is the numerical
value of the Hebrew words for love and unity. Love is the force
which draws individuals together into one unified whole (e
Third, the thirteenth path in Qabala, the path connecting
the spheres of Kether and Tiphareth, is represented by the Hebrew
letter gimel, meaning "camel". The camel is an ugly and
ungainly beast, and people make fun of it. (Camel: A horse
built by a committee.) The beast is also ill-tempered, and spits.
With incredible accuracy.
But the camel fulfills an essential function in the desert,
and quite literally is essential for life among the Bedouins and
other nomadic peoples of the desert.
Likewise, the United States is founded upon principles that
are often awkward and cumbersome. People poke fun at various
applications of these principles. ("I don't make up jokes, I
just watch the government and report the facts." ■ Will Rogers.)
Other applications of these principles are reviled; people
complain about "loopholes" and "technicalities".
Yet the same "technicalities" that force people to allow,
for instance, the American Nazi Party to hold a parade on
Israel's Independence Day, protect the right of a group of
Witches to worship in a public park. The same "technicalities"
that accused criminals use to "get off" protect you and me from
the knock on the door at 3 A.M. on trumped up charges (or no
charges until and unless they find something in their search).
You get the picture. Funny looking, sometimes to the point
of ugliness; awkward and cumbersome; vitally essential.
In Pythagorean analysis, one way of understanding the
meaning of prime numbers (thirteen is the seventh prime, though
mathematicians tend not to count one as a prime) is to regard
them as transcending by one the composite number immediately
preceding them. Thus, thirteen is one greater than twelve, and
therefore transcends the concepts inherent in the number twelve.
Twelve is often held to represent the completeness of the
world. There are twelve signs of the zodiac, representing a
balanced structure of aspects. There are twelve solar months in
the year, one for each sign. Twelve is the product of four -
representing the establishment of a permanent structure, and
three - representing the synthesis new truth from two polar
opposites. Thus, twelve, the establishment of a structure which
reconciles opposites, represents the world■ the realm which is
rich enough and large enough to encompass everything under the
sun, even if they are opposed to each other. It also represents
the world as the realm where entities do not exist in pure
states, but must contend with and somehow adjust to the presence
of their opposites.
Thirteen is the prime which transcends this concept. It
contains the resonances of twelve within it, yet there is the
unit which remains above and outside the concept.
Thirteen is the traditional complement of a coven. This
worked out to six working couples and one leader. The
leader-plus-twelve unit is a very old tradition. We see it in
the story of Jesus and the Disciples, King Arthur and the Knights
of the Round Table, Robin Hood and his Merry Men, even Judge and
Jury in American and British law.
So thirteen is the number of leadership in the world. Yet,
it must be understood that this is not leadership by force.
Thirteen is the concept of striking out in a new direction and
leading by example.
In olden days, among Europeans, it was possible to count as
high as twelve without taking off one's shoes. Ten fingers, two
feet. Thirteen represented uncharted territory, that which was
outside the area made safe and secure. This is one reason why
thirteen has been regarded with some trepidation. It is a rare
individual who can not only strike out into this uncharted
territory, but inspire others to follow, thereby being "a light
unto the nations".
(Among many "primitive" tribes, one was a leader not by
strength of arms, but because people chose to follow. The reason
they chose to follow is that they had come, through experience,
to recognize the merit of the path their leader chose. Any
leader who attempted to exert power for the sake of power was
liable to wake up one day to find that "his" tribe had declined
to follow him any more; in fact had taken a different path and
left him. Sometimes, quite literally, voting with their feet.)
Numbers can also be analyzed by reducing them in various
The digits can be added, for example. In the case of
thirteen, we get 1 + 3 = 4.
As has been mentioned, four is a stabilizing number. It
represents the addition of structure, the codification, of the
relationship which materialized in the number three. Four is the
number of the elements and the directions.
Four is also the number of the sphere of Chesed in Qabala.
Chesed, or Mercy, is the middle sphere on the pillar of force.
It was formed from the energy overflowing from Binah, the sphere
of restriction, and it receives its energy most directly from
Chokmah, the sphere of pure force. Chesed is where the
restrictions and forms inherited from Binah are animated and made
flexible by the controlled use of force. This is where the
letter of the law is animated and ennobled by the spirit of the
law. (In the now defunct USSR, and in many other places, the
letter of the law is a straight jacket. It describes why one can
not do what one wants or needs to do. U.S. law and custom has
generally tried to find ways to work inside the law to allow
personal freedom. This is the Chesedic interpretation of law.)
Chesed also represents what is known as "power with". That
is, the sort of power that exists because it is shared. The
magical image of Chesed, "a wise and kindly king", is followed
not because his followers feel they have to, but because they
want to. Rather than "might makes right", Chesed rules by the
principles of "right makes might".
The digits of a number can also be multiplied together.
One times three is three. This is the number which
represents the synthesis of opposites to arrive at a new truth.
When opposites are combined, they do not cancel out. They react
in various ways, and in order to maintain each in the presence of
the other, it is necessary to discover the hidden truths held in
common by each. This is the sphere whose magical weapon is the
cauldron of Cerridwen, from which live things emerge dead, and
dead things emerge alive. The hidden unity of life and death is
a mystery, upon which meditation will bring riches.
Three is also the number of the Goddess and the Christian
The Qabalistic sphere of Binah represents pure form. It is
the kind of form we see in a crystal, where all the atoms are
arrayed in a strictly regular order. Interestingly enough, there
are no perfect crystals in nature. A perfect crystal would have
to be infinite in extent, since an edge would represent a break
in the crystal structure. But it is the breaks (the edges and
facets) which give a crystal its fire.
One of the conflicts which had to be resolved in forming the
United States was regarding the correct balance of restriction
and authority. The Founding Fathers feared central authority,
and wished to take steps to ensure that despotic rule would never
take over this new land. As a result, a structure was
established which fragmented power, in a controlled way. All
power was not to reside with one entity, but to be balanced, as
evenly as possible, among all the different entities that
Thirteen can also be regarded as the sum of various numbers.
In Wicca, the five fold salute is actually comprised of eight
kisses, since there are two feet, two knees, and two breasts.
Eight and five is thirteen. Eight is also important in Wicca,
since there are eight paths to the center, eight festivals in the
Wheel of the Year, and eight ways of raising power in circle.
There are five things one must have before one can practice the
magical Art. These are: Intention, preparation, invocation,
consecration and purification. There are five elements, each
given to one point of the pentagram. Five also represents the
four elements plus spirit, or the four directions plus the Holy
Interestingly enough, we have derived the numbers 4 and 3
from 13. The product of 4 and 3 is 12, which takes us back to
the number which 13 transcends. The sum of 3 and 4 is seven, the
number which represents the union of pure spirit and matter.
Seven is also a mystical number, since it also represents the
relationship and synthesis (3) of the laws of matter and energy
(4), and the universe (12 = 3 X 4). 13 is the seventh prime.
This essay really only touches the surface of the possible
ways of analyzing the number 13. There are many other areas to
explore in gematria, including examining the multiples of 13
(YHVH, in Hebrew numeration, works out to 26 = 2 X 13).
Pythagorean analysis can be extended by examining all the
pairs of numbers which add up to 13. We have examined two out of
the six here.
Temura is a method in the Qabalah by which the letters in a
word or phrase are replaced with others according to specific
rules. Obviously, changing the letters in a word will change the
numerical total of that word. It can be interesting to examine
words which yield a value of 13 after temura.
Other useful explorations in gematria include examining
pairs of words and phrases whose numerical values differ by 13.
This is one area where the possibilities are, quite literally,