Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday the Thirteenth

Image from
Haunted American Tours

Hey, black cats, walking under ladders, breaking mirrors...what could be worse? How about Friday the 13th?

The fear of Friday the 13th is called paraskevidekatriaphobia. Some sources it's the most widespread superstition in the United States today. About 9% of Americans believe that Friday the 13th is jinxed, according to a 1990 Gallup poll, more than any other bad-luck omen.

According to the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, N.C., an estimated 17 million to 21 million people in the United States are affected by a fear of this day.

Some folk are so paralyzed by Friday the Thirteenth's bad mojo that they alter their normal daily routines, call off work, avoid taking flights, or for that matter, don't even get out of bed. It's been estimated that over $800 million is lost in business on this day.

You can trace the infamy of the number 13 back to the ancients. For starters, the dynastic Egyptians of the Pharaohs' era equated the number 13 with death (although they considered it lucky, as it marked the beginning of the afterlife).

In Norse mythology, the beloved hero Balder was killed at a banquet by the trouble-making god Loki, who crashed the party of twelve, bringing the group to, yep, 13.

It also has a basis in Christian theology. Thirteen is significant because it is the number of people who were present at the Last Supper (Jesus and his 12 apostles). Judas, the apostle w­ho betrayed Jesus, was the 13th member of the party to arrive.

There's more lore. Legend has it that if 13 people sit down to dinner together, one will die within the year. The Turks so disliked the number 13 that it was practically expunged from their vocabulary. Many cities don't have a 13th Street; many buildings don't have a 13th floor; and many airlines don't have a 13th row of seats.

If you have 13 letters in your name, you will have the devil's luck (Jack the Ripper, Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, Theodore Bundy and Albert De Salvo all have 13 letters in their names). There are 13 witches in a coven.

Hey, Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino wore #13 for seventeen years. He was the hottest QB this side of Joe Namath, and still never won a Super Bowl. He never won a championship at his alma mater, Pitt, either, despite being All-America. Marino wore #13 there, too.

Friday isn't such a hot day, either, according to the Norse and later Christians.

"Friday is named for Frigga, the free-spirited goddess of love and fertility. When Norse and Germanic tribes converted to Christianity, Frigga was banished in shame to a mountaintop and labeled a witch. It was believed that every Friday, the spiteful goddess convened a meeting with eleven other witches, plus the devil - a gathering of thirteen - and plotted ill turns of fate for the coming week. For many centuries in Scandinavia, Friday was known as 'Witches' Sabbath'," explains Origins author Charles Panati.

And of course, Friday is the day that Jesus was crucified. Friday is also supposed to be the day that Eve tempted Adam with the forbidden fruit, the builders of the Tower of Babel started to babble, and that God launched the flood that drowned everything but Noah and his ark mates.

Cain slew his brother, Abel, on a Friday, and the Egyptians were visited with their 10th plague, the death of every first-born son, on that day, too.

Friday is an especially bad day to start a journey or project, and according to lore, for sailors to set sail. One hundred years ago, the British government sought to quell once and for all the widespread superstition among seamen that setting sail on Fridays was unlucky.

A special ship was commissioned, named "H.M.S. Friday." They laid her keel on a Friday, launched her on a Friday, selected her crew on a Friday and hired a man named Jim Friday to be her captain. Well, H.M.S. Friday embarked on her maiden voyage on a Friday, and was never seen or heard from again.

Some bad luck of Biblical proportions has occurred on this date in history.

On Friday the 13th of October 1066, the decision was made by King Harold II to go to battle the next day, rather than allow his troops a day of rest, despite his army having made a long and arduous march from a previous battle.

The decision to offer combat before the Brit troops were rested resulted in a bloody English defeat and King Harold's death, and helped establish Friday the 13th as an unlucky day throughout the Isles.

Katharine Kurtz in Tales of the Knights Templar (Warner Books, 1995) writes that "On October 13, 1307, a day so infamous that Friday the 13th would become a synonym for ill fortune, officers of King Philip IV of France carried out mass arrests in a well-coordinated dawn raid that left several thousand Templars — knights, sergeants, priests, and serving brethren — in chains, charged with heresy, blasphemy, various obscenities, and homosexual practices.

None of these charges was ever proven, even in France — and the Order was found innocent elsewhere — but in the seven years following the arrests, hundreds of Templars suffered excruciating tortures intended to force 'confessions,' and more than a hundred died under torture or were executed by burning at the stake."

The Aztecs brutally killed 39,000 in one day on Friday the 13th of August, 1539. This was done at the request of the recently arrived Hernan Cortez, who claimed to be a god seeking tribute. The next day he overthrew their empire.

Of course, it just may be another media creation. In 13: The Story of the World's Most Popular Superstition (Avalon, 2004), author Nathaniel Lachenmeyer argues that the pairing of "unlucky Friday" and "unlucky 13" had its genesis in the pages of a a novel published in 1907 titled — what else? — Friday, the Thirteenth.

The book, all but forgotten now, concerned dirty dealings in the stock market (everything old is new again, hey?) and sold quite well in its day. Both the phrase and the premise behind it — superstitious people regard Friday the 13th as a horridly unlucky day — were instantly adopted and popularized by the press.

Now in truth, the day was considered unlucky long before the book and was well-rooted in American folklore, but it sure helped cement the concept as a part of Americana.

At any rate, it's a way old superstition based in both mythology and Christianity. So if you decide to do anything other than stay in bed with the covers pulled over your head, well, it's your roll of the dice.

But if you're reading this, you've already survived February and March's Friday the 13ths this year, so...

Main Sources: Wikipedia and

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