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Friday the 13th - Unlucky for Some?

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Friday the 13th.
Paraskevidekatriaphobia : the fear of Friday the 13th

If the 13th day of any month falls on a Friday, it will be an unlucky day - or so say the soothsayers. This Entry looks at some of the origins of this popular superstition.

The Number 13

Fear of the number 13 has only been around for a comparatively short length of time. During the Middle Ages, 13 was considered quite an important number; a baker's dozen was lucky in itself as you got an extra bun! Jesus was the leader, and 13th 'member' of, his gang of Apostles. It wasn't until the 17th Century that 13 began to have more sinister overtones.

The number 13 was to become known as the 'Devil's Dozen', and in 1695 a book was published called The Athenian Mercury, in which a ghost warned a lady that if she sat down to dine with 12 others she would die, being the 13th diner. This popular tale soon had people thinking about other dinners where the 13th guest proved to be either unlucky, or cause a horrible event, such as the Last Supper (with the 13th diner, Judas Iscariot, betraying Christ - which in turn led to his Crucifixion), or the Norse legend of the night Loki the trickster came to dinner with 12 others to Valhalla, and did away with the god Boden.

13 quickly became 'supernatural' in other instances, such as the more modern witches coven holding 13, the Death card in the Tarot being number 13, and of course just a general shying away of all things counted in at number 13, such as building floors, rooms, and even letters in your name - which is said to grant you the 'Devil's Luck'. Many today still believe it unlucky to have 13 people at a dinner table, and the Savoy Hotel in London counters the problem of dinner bookings for 13 by having a wooden black cat statue named 'Casper' to act as a 14th guest. But what if the 13th day of the month falls on a Friday?


In the 21st Century, global censuses show that more than 60 million people are affected by a fear of Friday the 13th. Some won't drive cars, leave the house or even get out of bed on this day. So, although the superstition developed relatively recently, there are allegedly much older origins. The novel The Da Vinci Code recounts the belief that the arrest and subsequent massacre of the Knights Templar on Friday, 13 October, 1307 perpetuated the idea that Friday the 13th is not a wonderful day. But that book is a work of fiction, so whether it is to be used as an accurate source for proving ancient superstitions is not unlike using REM's song 'Man on the Moon' for proving the moon landing of 1969 didn't happen...

So where did the superstition really arise? In pre-Christian times Friday was not thought of as ominous in any way at all. Linked with Venus1, the goddess of love and all things to do with romance and fertility, it was considered a good day for marriages or anything romance-related. Friday is also, in some parts of the world and certain faiths, equal to the Sabbath Day. It is quite possible that while trying to eradicate the old beliefs that preceded them, early Christians created and fuelled Friday's bad reputation. Many disastrous biblical events supposedly occurred on a Friday, such as Eve offering the apple to Adam, or the slaying of Abel. In fact Jesus himself was believed to have been crucified on a Friday, and to top it all off, any God-fearing person knew that Fridays were to be set aside for penance, so conducting any other business on that day would see you committing a sin!

During the Middle Ages, Fridays continued to be unlucky. In 1390 Chaucer wrote on Friday fell all this mischance, and throughout the following centuries people would attest to the fact that Friday was not the day to do business, travel, move home, start something new, be born2, get married, and of course, die. In fact, birth is an interesting one, because many believed that those born at midnight on Friday were fated to be unlucky, but also see ghosts, fairies, be able to overcome the work of a witch, and heal ailing animals or plants!

Not All Black & White

Over time, any Friday that was seen as particularly nasty became known as a 'Black Friday' - and all manner of horrific events befell these days; including plagues, invasions, fires, disasters, financial collapse, and the beginning of Christmas shopping. So, it wasn't too long before unlucky Friday and unlucky 13 joined together in unholy matrimony...

Interestingly, a myth about Friday the 13th became popular with many sailors, traditionally a very superstitious lot anyway. It was said that during the 1880s the British Government apparently took it upon themselves to dispel the fear of Friday the 13th; a ship named the HMS Friday was commissioned. Her keel was laid on a Friday, the crew were selected on a Friday and finally she was captained by a man named James Friday. The ship set sail on a Friday and was allegedly never seen or heard from again. But the story is most likely a load of old bunkum.

However, Friday is not the only day that has fear attached to it. In many Mediterranean countries, Tuesday the 13th is supposed to herald bad luck, and Wednesday isn't a great day either - especially in Australia - as many bushfires occur on that day. The Boomtown Rats and Garfield the cat hate Mondays, and Arthur Dent could never really get the hang of Thursdays...

Lucky or Unlucky?

So, while it seems there isn't really any concrete evidence to suggest that Friday the 13th is any more lucky or unlucky than other days, some studies have shown that perhaps Friday the 13th is a troublesome day:

The risk of hospital admission as a result of a transport accident may be increased by as much as 52 percent.
Staying at home is recommended
- British Medical Journal, 18 December, 1993

But coincidence no doubt plays its part also, along with the media and Hollywood4 perpetuating the superstition, together with the soothsayers who have predicted that the asteroid  Apophis will connect5 with the Earth destroying life as we know it on Friday, 13 April, 2036...

Let's look on the bright side though, the following people were born on a Friday the 13th:

And who would say their lives have been unlucky? However, the next few people might have felt Friday the 13th wasn't such a great day: They all died on the day in question.

1And many other pre-Roman gods and goddesses.2Friday's child 'is loving & giving' though, don't you know?3That article is satirical and the figures deliberately bogus.4The Friday the 13th horror films starring the hockey mask-wearing killer 'Jason'.5Astronomers say the Impact Probability is 2.2e-05 which means there is 0.0022% chance of Earth impact (or 1 in 45,000 chance), or 99.9978% chance the asteroid will miss the Earth.

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