But What Does It All Mean?!?: Exploring the Allegorical Ingredients of the Baker’s Dozen

In a recent Rolling Stone article about the Baker’s Dozen, Trey Anastasio said of the 13 night run, “Hopefully we’ll go somewhere – somewhere spiritual.”

So what, might you ask, is the significance of the donut? Of a garden? Of the number 13? Of Phish/fish? Let us explore their symbolic resonance and allegorical potential.

Donuts are recognized as an American food emerging in the early 1800s, a form of sweet and raised bread: a form of spiritual and basic human nourishment. Bread is a reminder of man’s origins and relates to an active life.

Donuts are composed circles, representing completeness and freedom from distinction or separation. Undivided. Perfection. All-encompassing. Without beginning or end or variation. A symbol of time, cycles, movement, and the turning wheel. Revealing oneness of the center, where all radii are brought together. A perpetual series of fresh beginnings.

Donuts contain holes, a “symbol of all potentialities”. A “symbol of the threshold of the unknown through which one steps into the beyond (otherworld in relation to the physical world) or into the hidden (other world in relation to the visible world).” Holes are not a mere void. They may be regarded symbolically as a passage through which ideas naturally come to birth.

garden is an Earthly paradise, a gateway to heaven. Containing plant life and signifying purity and innocence. St. John of the Cross believed God himself is and was a garden. Yet a garden also represents man’s power to control nature and is a symbol of civilization, a conscious rather than unconscious entity.

Thirteen (13) has been viewed as an unlucky number due in part to religious and historical (con)texts such as Jesus Christ’s Last Supper and the evil spirits of the Kabbalah. Yet the thirteenth member of groups, such as Zeus and Odysseus, were viewed as the most powerful and most exalted and Ancient Mexican cultures regard thirteen as a basic sacred number. Aztecs believed thirteen to be the number of time itself and structured their weeks based on a cycle of thirteen days. 13 can also be viewed as “separated from the normal order and rhythm of the universe” and a representation of “a unity shaking the balance of the different interconnections in the universe (12+1)”.

Lastly, fish: symbols of life, water, fertility, cyclical birth, and re-birth.  Instruments of revelation containing sacred powers of the abyss. Navigators of the unconscious. The act of fishing allows spontaneous forces to operate and chance results to be collected.

All quotes and citations from:

Chevalier, Jean, and Alain Gheerbrant. The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols. Translated by John Buchanan-Brown, Penguin, 1996.