Tag Archives: thirteen

Maya, the Dancing Ghost

The Interviewer will be referred to as ‘I’, and the informant as ‘V’. Translations for Hindi words, if any, will be italicised and in parentheses. The Informant is a 13-year-old Punjabi girl, born and raised in North India, attending a boarding school in North India.

I: So, you mentioned you played some pranks on your friends based on a ghost story they tell at your school. Could you tell me about it?

V: Yeah, sure, so basically, I’m in this old boarding school and this is a really old story that basically every student who ever came here knows. Maya was a dancer for the Nawabs (this refers to the royal families that would rule South Asian states, primarily during the period of Islamic rule), so she used to dance for the king and queen. She was beautiful and she used to dance really well, and slowly the king fell in love with her. And when the queen found out, she sent her guards to kill Maya, and they killed her on the thirteenth, and cut her into thirteen pieces, and she’s buried all around the school, because this is the same place where they were then. So, what we are always told is that on the thirteenth, if Maya can get all her body-pieces back in the same place at 12:00AM, like, at that exact time, then she can come back, and she will haunt our whole school. It’s kind of scary and fun because, basically, we prank all our classmates because of this, like, we scare people on purpose on the thirteenth, in the dorms, especially on any Friday the Thirteenth because everybody thinks that’s scary now. 


This is a particularly interesting iteration of a ghost story, because it visibly and obviously has both older, and newer elements. The idea of her being a royal dancer seems older, like a part of the story that has been preserved over the generations it has been told, especially since the location of this school in North India tracks. However, the idea of ‘thirteen’, the thirteen pieces and the thirteenth, points to a newer iteration, because thirteen, historically, is not a particularly unlucky number for Indians the way it is in other cultures. With the increasing prominence of globalisation and digital media, including social media, the homogenisation of information across cultures, and even multimedia such as horror movies and franchises, the idea of “Friday the Thirteenth”, and thirteen in general as a number that inspires bad luck and fear, has been propagated even to India. Therefore, I would hypothesize that the ‘thirteen’ portion of the story is newer, a modification, especially considering my informant here is very young and part of an especially globalised generation. There is a certain plausibility to this story, since it is rooted in a real time and place in India, even though it concerns ghosts and is largely believed by the student body of the school (or, alternatively, used as an excuse to play pranks), making it essentially a legend amongst this particular community, however niche it may be.

The Unlucky Number Thirteen

Main Piece

Subject: So Grandma Gordon was a very superstitious woman. She believed in many of the superstitions that have been passed along from the “Old Country” and carried forth through generations.

Interviewer: The Old Country? That would be Russia?

Subject: Yeah Russia. That’s probably ultimately where it came from. People really believed in a lot of things. Like thirteen was a really bad number. And even to this day, I still have that in my head that there is something about thirteen. So Grandma Gordon wouldn’t live in a building that had a thirteenth floor. So the building that they lived in interestingly, in Fort Lauderdale, didn’t have a thirteenth floor. It was almost a thirty story building but it didn’t have a thirteenth floor. And they built the buildings that way because they were trying to sell to people who really believed in these things that wouldn’t live in a building that had that thirteenth floor. So it went twelve… fourteen.

Context: The subject is a white middle-aged male of Ashkenazi and Eastern-European descent. He was born and raised in Tiverton, Rhode Island with his parents and two siblings. He also happens to be my father, and we are currently quarantined together at our home in Charleston, South Carolina. After dinner one night, I was sitting with him in my dimly lit living room, and I asked if he would share with me any folk beliefs he had heard passed through the family.

Interpretation: I am very familiar with superstition that the number thirteen is extremely unlucky, but I had no idea of its ties to “The Old Country.” Upon further research, I found that the number thirteen is considered unlucky across many religions and cultures. The superstition is also tied to the measure of time. Sumerians built the ancient calendar using the number twelve. There are two sets of twelve hours in a day, twelve months in a year. Because twelve was considered the perfect number, thirteen was considered unlucky. Additionally, in Christianity, it is considered unlucky because at the Last Supper, there were thirteen people sitting at the table and one of them, Judas, ended up betraying Jesus. This seemed to be the most common source of thirteen’s unluckiness. I suspect the superstition’s spread in Russia to have originated from a variety of origins. Furthermore, I found that the number thirteen is significant but not considered unlucky in some cultures. In Judaism, thirteen is the year where a young Jewish boy or girl becomes a bar or bat mitzvah. I find it so interesting that despite my being Jewish, my father, and his grandmother, the belief that thirteen is still very unlucky is ingrained in their brains. 

Wedding Ritual/Religious Folklore – Mexico

Esposo: (nombre de la esposa)recibe estas arras como prenda del cuidado que tendre de que no falte lo necesario en nuestro hogar.

Groom: (Name of the Bride) Take these coins as a guarantee of the care I will have to make sure that everything necessary will be not be missing from our home.

Esposa: Yo las recibo en senal del cuidado que tendre de que todo se aproveche en nuestro hogar.

Bride: I receive these coins as a sign of the care I will have to make sure that everything is taken advantage of in our home.

The thirteen coins which are called arras are exchanged between the bride and groom during the recitation of the promises shown above. The first twelve coins represent each month of the year and the last or thirteenth coin represents the poor. This exchange of coins is only performed during marriage ceremonies in Catholic Churches specifically those in Mexico and has recently appeared in the U.S. due to the large amount of immigrants arriving from south of the border.

Veronica told me that she believes the exchange of the coins signify the financial responsibilities both share. She also believes the tradition is carried on because it helps make the couple conscious of the economic hardships they might face. She herself performed this exchange during her wedding in the late 1980s in Mexico.

I knew about this tradition, but I was never aware of what the act represented. I had an idea that it was related to money, but did not know much else. I do agree with Veronica’s interpretation of what the coins represent and the purpose they serve. I feel as though this tradition is slowly disappearing in the U.S. especially because it is only performed when requested by the bride or groom, and because religious wedding have become less popular.


Williams, Norma. The Mexican American Family: Tradition and Change. New York: General Hall, 1990. p.31