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Friday the 13th

August 9, 2010

Next Friday is August 13th. It will be the only time in 2010 that the 13th falls on Friday. The next occurrence will be in May 2011.

Why do some folks expect Friday the 13th to bring bad luck? The day combines two old superstitions, the fear of the number 13 and the fear of Fridays. 

According to David Emery, who analyzes urban legends, the phobia of the number 13 may have come from the Hindus, who believed it was unlucky for 13 people to gather in one place.

A similar superstition has been attributed to the ancient Vikings. Twelve gods were invited to a banquet at Valhalla. The god of mischief, left off the guest list, crashed the party, bringing the total number of attendees to 13. A murder occurred at the table. The Norse concluded that having 13 people at a dinner party is bad luck. This developed into the legend that if 13 people sit down to a meal together, all will die within the year.  

Christians believe that 13 people were seated at the Last Supper. Judas, the traitor, was the last to arrive, the first to leave, and the first to die.

The Egyptians at the time of the pharaohs considered the number13 unlucky. They believed life unfolded in 12 stages followed by stage 13, death.  In Tarot, the Death Card bears the number 13.

My father-in-law, Mr. Jack, who traveled frequently, refused to stay in a room on the 13th floor of a hotel.  Many hotels and office buildings skip 13 when numbering floors. Most airlines avoid 13 when designating aisles. Many cities do not have a 13th Street or a 13th Avenue. In Formula One racing, no car carries the number 13.

Mothers, be careful how you name your children! The infamous serial killers Jack the Ripper, Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Theodore Bundy, all have 13 letters in their names.

Triskaidekaphobia is the fear of the number 13, a malady that affects many of people.  In an episode of the television series “Friends,” Ross believed that triskaidekaphobia was a fear of Triscuits, the Nabisco snack cracker.

There is a long-standing tradition that Friday is a day of bad luck. The name Friday was derived from Freya, the Norse goddess of love worshipped on the sixth day. Her sacred animal was a cat. In the Middle Ages she was considered a witch. Friday was known as the Witches’ Sabbath. 

Because Jesus was crucified on a Friday, the Church began blaming Friday for just about every terrible thing that happened: Eve offering Adam the apple in the Garden of Eden; the Great Flood; the destruction of the Temple of Solomon; and the massacre of the innocents by Herod.

Some people never begin a new project or embark on a trip on a Friday, fearing they will be doomed from the start.

Sailors are particularly superstitious, often refusing to ship out on a Friday. In order to quell the superstition, the British Navy commissioned a ship in the 1800s called H.M.S. Friday. They laid her keel on a Friday, selected the crew on a Friday, launched the ship on a Friday, and selected Captain James Friday as the ship’s commander. On a bright Friday morning, the ship set off on its maiden voyage. It was never heard from again!

There are other superstitions about Friday. Never change your bed sheets on Friday because it will bring bad dreams. If you cut your nails on Friday, you will have misfortune.

In Rome, Friday was execution day. In Britain, Friday was the conventional day for public executions. 13 steps lead up to the hangman’s noose.

Both Friday and the number 13 have foreboding reputations. The conjunction of the two, Friday the 13th, portends added misfortune. It may be the most widespread superstition in the United States. Some people won’t go to work or eat in restaurants on Friday the 13th. Few would think of setting a wedding on the date.

According to Dr. Donald Dossey, a psychotherapist specializing in the treatment of phobias, the fear of Friday the 13th affects 21 million Americans. Eight percent of the population will have a tough day on Friday!

The Knights Templar, a legendary order of warrior monks, had grown so powerful by the 1300s; it was perceived as a political threat. On Friday, October 13, 1307, officers of King Philip IV of France carried out mass arrests in a dawn raid that left several thousand Templars in chains, charged with heresy. Hundreds of Templars suffered excruciating tortures. Many died by burning at the stake.

The superstitions about Friday the 13th have more to do with personal experience than history. If we believe the day is unlucky, evidence isn’t hard to come by. If you have an automobile accident, lose your wallet, or spill your coffee on Friday, you might be tempted to blame it on the day. Look for bad luck on Friday the 13th, and you’ll probably find it.

You might decide to spend Friday the 13th in the safety of your own home with doors locked, shutters closed, and fingers crossed.

Who knows? You might break a mirror, walk under a ladder, spill salt, or spy a black cat crossing your path.

Want another option?

We might exclaim with the Psalmist. “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!”

 Kirk H. Neely
© August 2010

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