Friday the 13th – Scariest Urban Legend
The fear of Friday the 13th is called friggatriskaidekaphobia, frigga, meaning “Friday” and triskaidekaphobia, or paraskevidekatriaphobia, a word derived from the concatenation of the Greek words Paraskeví (meaning “Friday”), and dekatreís (meaning “thirteen”), attached to phobía (meaning “fear”). The word was derived in 1911 and first appeared in a mainstream source in 1953.
Friday the 13th only happens a couple of times a year, so each and every time it does, it causes horror fans to celebrate. The day has always been billed as unlucky, given the superstitious nature of the number 13. Over the years, however, the superstitions have grown when it comes to Friday the 13th.
The next full moon is set to make an appearance on the most ominous date on the calendar this month. A September full moon, also known as a “Harvest Moon,” will be visible to many Americans this Friday the 13th. According to NASA, the moon will be full early Saturday morning, Sept. 14, at 12:33 a.m. EST, but for those who live in the Central, Mountain and Pacific time zones, the full moon will be visible shortly before midnight on Friday the 13th. NASA says that the moon will appear full for about three days centered around this time — from Thursday night through Sunday morning. A full moon on Friday the 13th is an extremely rare occurrence, according to the Farmers’ Almanac. It reports that this will be the first full moon visible across the U.S. on Friday the 13th since Oct. 13, 2000.
The number 13 has been unlucky for centuries. Some historians peg the superstition to the 13 people who attended the Last Supper (neither Jesus nor Judas came out of that one O.K.), but ancient Babylon’s Code of Hammurabi omits the number 13 in its list of laws, so the superstition dates back to at least 1700 BC. Thirteen is so unlucky, in fact, that in 1881 an organization called the Thirteen Club attempted to improve the number’s reputation. At the first meeting, the members (all 13 of them) walked under ladders to enter a room covered with spilled salt. The club lasted for many years and grew to more than 400 members, including five U.S. Presidents: Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. Despite the club’s efforts, triskaidekaphobia (that’s fear of the number 13) flourished; even today, most tall buildings don’t have a 13th Floor.
One theory states that it is a modern amalgamation of two older superstitions: that thirteen is an unlucky number and that Friday is an unlucky day.
* In numerology, the number twelve is considered the number of completeness, as reflected in the twelve months of the year, twelve signs of the zodiac, twelve hours of the clock, twelve tribes of Israel, twelve Apostles of Jesus, twelve gods of Olympus, etc., whereas the number thirteen was considered irregular, transgressing this completeness. There is also a superstition, thought by some to derive from the Last Supper or a Norse myth, that having thirteen people seated at a table will result in the death of one of the diners.
* Friday has been considered an unlucky day at least since the 14th century’s The Canterbury Tales, and many other professions have regarded Friday as an unlucky day to undertake journeys or begin new projects. Black Friday has been associated with stock market crashes and other disasters since the 1800s. It has also been suggested that Friday has been considered an unlucky day because, according to Christian scripture and tradition, Jesus was crucified on a Friday.
One theory suggested by OJ Ivey states that Jesus dies on a Friday and there were 13 people at the last supper.
On the other hand, another theory by author Charles Panati, one of the leading authorities on the subject of “Origins” maintains that the superstition can be traced back to ancient myth:
The actual origin of the superstition, though, appears also to be a tale in Norse mythology. 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.”
Another theory about the origin of the superstition traces the event to the arrest of the legendary Knights Templar. According to one expert:The Knights Templar were a monastic military order founded in Jerusalem in 1118 C.E., whose mission was to protect Christian pilgrims during the Crusades. Over the next two centuries, the Knights Templar became extraordinarily powerful and wealthy. Threatened by that power and eager to acquire their wealth, King Philip secretly ordered the mass arrest of all the Knights Templar in France on Friday, October 13, 1307 – Friday the 13th.
The connection between the superstition and the Knights Templar was popularized in the 2003 novel The Da Vinci Code. However, some experts think that it is relatively recent and is a modern-day invention. For example, the superstition is rarely found before the 20th century, when it became extremely common. One author, noting that references are all but nonexistent before 1907 but frequently seen thereafter, has argued that its popularity derives from the publication that year of Thomas W. Lawson’s popular novel Friday, the Thirteenth, in which an unscrupulous broker takes advantage of the superstition to create a Wall Street panic on a Friday the 13th.
A further theory goes back to a combination of Paganism, Christianity, and the Battle of Hastings. For many, the number 13 was considered a lucky number (such as 13 lunar cycles each year), but with the efforts of Christianity attempting to degrade all things Pagan, they promoted 13 as an unlucky number, with Friday thus also being considered a bad day of the week. However, on Friday the 13th of October 1066, the decision was made by King Harold II to go to battle on Saturday the 14th of October, rather than allow his troops a day of rest (despite his army having made a long and arduous march from a battle near York just 3 weeks earlier).
This decision in going to battle before the English troops were rested (the English lost and King Harold was killed) further established Friday the 13th as an unlucky day.
In Spanish-speaking countries, instead of Friday, Tuesday the 13th is considered a day of bad luck. For example, the Fall of Constantinople, when the city fell to the Ottomans, a fact which marked the end of the Byzantine Empire, happened Tuesday, May 29th, 1453, that is why the Greeks consider Tuesday to be an unlucky day.
By the numbers
Here are 13 more facts about the infamous day, courtesy of Fernsler and some of our own research:
1. The British Navy built a ship named Friday the 13th. On its maiden voyage, the vessel left dock on a Friday the 13th, and was never heard from again.
2. The ill-fated Apollo 13 launched at 13:13 CST on Apr. 11, 1970. The sum of the date’s digits (4-11-70) is 13 (as in 4+1+1+7+0 = 13). And the explosion that crippled the spacecraft occurred on April 13 (not a Friday). The crew did make it back to Earth safely, however.
3. Many hospitals have no room 13, while some tall buildings skip the 13th floor.
4. Fear of Friday the 13th – one of the most popular myths in science – is called paraskavedekatriaphobia as well as friggatriskaidekaphobia. Triskaidekaphobia is fear of the number 13.
5. Quarterback Dan Marino wore No. 13 throughout his career with the Miami Dolphins. Despite being a superb quarterback (some call him one of the best ever), he got to the Super Bowl just once, in 1985, and was trounced 38-16 by the San Francisco 49ers and Joe Montana (who wore No. 16 and won all four Super Bowls he played in).
6. Butch Cassidy, notorious American train and bank robber, was born on Friday, April 13, 1866.
7. Fidel Castro was born on Friday, Aug. 13, 1926.
8. President Franklin D. Roosevelt would not travel on the 13th day of any month and would never host 13 guests at a meal. Napoleon and Herbert Hoover were also triskaidekaphobic, with an abnormal fear of the number 13.
9. Superstitious diners in Paris can hire a quatorzieme, or professional 14th guest. Another scary legend of friday-the-13th
10. Mark Twain once was the 13th guest at a dinner party. A friend warned him not to go. “It was bad luck,” Twain later told the friend. “They only had food for 12.”
11. Woodrow Wilson considered 13 his lucky number, though his experience didn’t support such faith. He arrived in Normandy, France on Friday, Dec. 13, 1918, for peace talks, only to return with a treaty he couldn’t get Congress to sign. (The ship’s crew wanted to dock the next day due to superstitions, Fernsler said.) He toured the United States to rally support for the treaty, and while traveling, suffered a near-fatal stroke. The scary legend of Friday the 13th continues.
12. The number 13 suffers from its position after 12, according to numerologists who consider the latter to be a complete number – 12 months in a year, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 gods of Olympus, 12 labors of Hercules, 12 tribes of Israel, 12 apostles of Jesus, 12 days of Christmas and 12 eggs in a dozen.
13. The seals on the back of a dollar bill include 13 steps on the pyramid, 13 stars above the eagle’s head, 13 war arrows in the eagle’s claw and 13 leaves on the olive branch. So far there’s been no evidence tying these long-ago design decisions to the present economic situation.
Origins of Friday the 13th
Where’s all this superstition come from? Nobody knows for sure. But it may date back to Biblical times (the 13th guest at the Last Supper betrayed Jesus). By the Middle Ages, both Friday and 13 were considered bearers of bad fortune.
Meanwhile the belief that numbers are connected to life and physical things – called numerology – has a long history.
“You can trace it all the way from the followers of Pythagoras, whose maxim to describe the universe was ‘all is number,'” says Mario Livio, an astrophysicist and author of “The Equation That Couldn’t Be Solved” (Simon & Schuster, 2005). Thinkers who studied under the famous Greek mathematician combined numbers in different ways to explain everything around them, Livio said.
In modern times, numerology has become a type of para-science, much like the meaningless predictions of astrology, scientists say.
“People are subconsciously drawn towards specific numbers because they know that they need the experiences, attributes or lessons, associated with them, that are contained within their potential,” says professional numerologist Sonia Ducie. “Numerology can ‘make sense’ of an individual’s life (health, career, relationships, situations and issues) by recognizing which number cycle they are in, and by giving them clarity.”
Mathematicians dismiss numerology as having no scientific merit, however.
“I don’t endorse this at all,” Livio said, when asked to comment on the popularity of commercial numerology for a story prior to the date 06/06/06. Seemingly coincidental connections between numbers will always appear if you look hard enough, he said.
Friday the 13th, the most widespread superstition
The sixth day of the week and the number 13 both have foreboding reputations said to date from ancient times, and their inevitable conjunction from one to three times a year (there happen to be three such occurrences in 2009, two of them right in a row) portends more misfortune than some credulous minds can bear. According to experts it’s the most widespread superstition in the United States today. Some people won’t go to work on Friday the 13th; some won’t eat in restaurants; many wouldn’t think of setting a wedding on the date.
How many Americans at the turn of the new millennium actually suffer from this condition? According to Dr. Donald Dossey, a psychotherapist specializing in the treatment of phobias (and coiner of the term paraskevidekatriaphobia, also spelled paraskavedekatriaphobia), the figure may be as high as 21 million. If he’s right, eight percent of Americans are still in the grips of a very old superstition.
Exactly how old is difficult to say, because determining the origins of superstitions is an inexact science, at best. In fact, it’s mostly guesswork.
LEGEND HAS IT:
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 (Brewer, 1894). Many cities do not have a 13th Street or a 13th Avenue. Many buildings don’t have a 13th floor. 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.
Although no one can say for sure when and why human beings first associated the number 13 with misfortune, the superstition is assumed to be quite old, and there exist any number of theories — most of which deserve to be treated with a healthy skepticism, please note — purporting to trace its origins to antiquity and beyond.
It has been proposed, for example, that fears surrounding the number 13 are as ancient as the act of counting. Primitive man had only his 10 fingers and two feet to represent units, this explanation goes, so he could count no higher than 12. What lay beyond that — 13 — was an impenetrable mystery to our prehistoric forebears, hence an object of superstition.
Which has an edifying ring to it, but one is left wondering: did primitive man not have toes?
Life and death
Despite whatever terrors the numerical unknown held for their hunter-gatherer ancestors, ancient civilizations weren’t unanimous in their dread of 13. The Chinese regarded the number as lucky, some commentators note, as did the Egyptians in the time of the pharaohs.
To the ancient Egyptians, these sources tell us, life was a quest for spiritual ascension which unfolded in stages — twelve in this life and a thirteenth beyond, thought to be the eternal afterlife. The number 13 therefore symbolized death, not in terms of dust and decay but as a glorious and desirable transformation. Though Egyptian civilization perished, the symbolism conferred on the number 13 by its priesthood survived, we may speculate, only to be corrupted by subsequent cultures who came to associate 13 with a fear of death instead of a reverence for the afterlife.
Still other sources speculate that the number 13 may have been purposely vilified by the founders of patriarchal religions in the early days of western civilization because it represented femininity. Thirteen had been revered in prehistoric goddess-worshiping cultures, we are told, because it corresponded to the number of lunar (menstrual) cycles in a year (13 x 28 = 364 days). The “Earth Mother of Laussel,” for example — a 27,000-year-old carving found near the Lascaux caves in France often cited as an icon of matriarchal spirituality — depicts a female figure holding a cresent-shaped horn bearing 13 notches. As the solar calendar triumphed over the lunar with the rise of male-dominated civilization, it is surmised, so did the “perfect” number 12 over the “imperfect” number 13, thereafter considered anathema. Could it be Friday the 13th
On the other hand, one of the earliest concrete taboos associated with the number 13 — a taboo still observed by some superstitious folks today, apparently — is said to have originated in the East with the Hindus, who believed, for reasons I haven’t been able to ascertain, that it is always unlucky for 13 people to gather in one place — say, at dinner. Interestingly enough, precisely the same superstition has been attributed to the ancient Vikings (though I have also been told, for what it’s worth, that this and the accompanying mythographical explanation are apocryphal). The story has been laid down as follows:
And Loki makes thirteen. . .
Twelve gods were invited to a banquet at Valhalla. Loki, the Evil One, god of mischief, had been left off the guest list but crashed the party, bringing the total number of attendees to 13. True to character, Loki raised hell by inciting Hod, the blind god of winter, to attack Balder the Good, who was a favorite of the gods. Hod took a spear of mistletoe offered by Loki and obediently hurled it at Balder, killing him instantly. All Valhalla grieved. And although one might take the moral of this story to be “Beware of uninvited guests bearing mistletoe,” the Norse themselves apparently concluded that 13 people at a dinner party is just plain bad luck.
As if to prove the point, the Bible tells us there were exactly 13 present at the Last Supper. One of the dinner guests — er, disciples — betrayed Jesus Christ, setting the stage for the Crucifixion.
Did we mention the Crucifixion took place on a Friday? Was it Friday the 13th