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April 8, 2018

There is no doubt that superstitions influence the behavior and peace of mind of human beings around the world. The variations are almost limitless. Breaking mirrors, spilling salt, walking under ladders, or lighting a third cigarette with one match are well-known taboos. For those who are superstitious, no day holds as much peril as Friday the 13th. The very thought of a black cat crossing one’s path on such a day is enough to send ordinarily sane men and women into conniptions.

For a group of Chicago-based business lesders and inveterate debunkers in the middle part of the last century, each Friday the 13th was the perfect opportunity to point out how thoroughly preposterous such fears can be.

In December 1941, Life magazine reported on the Anti-Superstition Society of Chicago.

At 6:13 p.m. on Friday, the 13th of December, 169 audacious and irreverent gentlemen sat down to dine at 13 tables in Room 13 of the Merchants & Manufacturers Club of Chicago. Each table seated 13. Upon each rested an open umbrella, a bottle of bourbon and 13 copies of a poem called “The Harlot.”  The speaker’s table was strewn with horseshoes, old keys, old shoes, mirrors, and cardboard black cats. Before the head table was an open coffin with 13 candles. The occasion was the 13th Anniversary Jinx-Jabbing Jamboree and Dinner of the Anti-Superstition Society of Chicago which meets regularly on Friday the 13th. Behind the ribaldry of its recurrent dinners lies the very sound thesis that superstition annually costs this country an inexcusable sum of time and money. People postpone trips because of mirrors and cats. Businessmen defer decisions because of coincidences of the calendar.

On Friday, May 13, 2011, an Anti-Superstition Bash was held near Essington, Pennsylvania. The event was designed to help party attendees overcome many of their superstitions. The organizers wanted to end magical thinking.  Participants enjoyed such events as Ladder Limbo, Horoscope Trashing, Open-Your-Umbrella Dancing, and a Mirror Breaking Ceremony.

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.

The same 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 occured 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.

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

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.

My father-in-law, Mr. Jack, who traveled frequently, refused to stay in a room on the 13th floor of a hotel.  Many hotels, apartment buildings, and office buildings don’t even have a 13th floor. Most airlines skip 13 when numbering 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.

In an episode of the television series “Friends,” Ross believed that triskaidekaphobia was a fear of Triscuits, the Nabisco snack cracker.

Triskaidekaphobia is the fear of the number 13, a malady that affects many people.

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. She was recast in early Christianity as a witch. In the Middle Ages, Friday was known as the Witches’ Sabbath.

Because Jesus was crucified on a Friday, the Church has always been leary of the day. Christians began attributing just about everything terrible to Friday: 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 were 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.

Dr. Donald Dossey, a psychotherapist specializing in the treatment of phobias, coined the term paraskevidekatriaphobia, the fear of Friday the 13th.  According to Dr. Dossey, 21 million Americans are afflicted. Eight percent of the population will have a tough day next 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. None of these charges were ever proven.  Hundreds of Templars suffered excruciating tortures. Many died, some 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 next 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, April 13, 2018, 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.

Might I suggest another option?

Next Friday, we might exclaim with the Psalmist. “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!”  (Psalm 118:24)


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