“Now Friday came, you old wives say, of the weeks the unluckiest day.” But how did this day become known as a day of bad fortune? I realized I had no idea. What I found out is no one really seems to know the reason, but there has been much speculation. Still, the day is feared by an estimated 10% of the US population, impacting everything from business to architecture and inspiring a variety of media, including a horror franchise.
So is this day really damned?
The oldest evidence of the superstition comes from the Norse myth in which Odin, father of the Gods, sits down to a meal with 11 of his closest God friends when Loki, the God of evil and chaos, crashes the party. The story ends with Loki killing one of the Gods, Balder, who was the God of joy and happiness and incidentally was the son of the Goddess Frigg. (Her name contributed to the modern word Friday.)
A Popularized Retelling
As is common, the more well-known version of this story stems from Christianity and the Bible. In this version, known as the Last Supper, Jesus sits with 12 of his apostles and announces that one of the people at the table will betray him. The betrayer is Judas and the next day, Good Friday, Jesus is crucified.
Christianity has come up with a few other stories to add to their interpretation of the superstition. Some other tragic events to occur in the Bible on a Friday include, the start of the Great Flood, the confession at the Tower of Babel, and some even speculate that Eve gave Adam the apple on this wicked, wicked day.
Other Contributing Ideas
Another old belief is related to the missing 13th line from the Code of Hammurabi. This is said to be due to a mistake by a translator, as the original code was not numbered.
On Friday, October 13, 1307, King Philip of France arrested hundreds of men of the Knights Templar (most likely because they refused to grant him another loan) and then tortured many of them to false confession of crimes from heresy and fraud to devil worship and homosexuality. Many of these men were later executed.
In Britain, Friday was known as Hangman’s Day do to it being the day executions normally took place. As the name implies, these executions were typically by hanging.
Another source also credited as one of the reasons we specifically fear Fridays that fall on the 13th day, the book Friday the Thirteenth, by Thomas William Lawson, tells the story of a broker who uses the superstition to arouse panic on Wall Street.
A Western Belief
Other cultures share similar beliefs. In Asia, the number 4 is avoided due to the word sounding like the word for death. In Italy the fear is for Tuesday the 17th because 17 in Roman Numerals, XVII can be shuffled to say VIXI, which means “I have lived” in Latin.
On the other hand, in some cultures, including Ancient Egypt, the number 13 is considered lucky. The Egyptians considered the 13th phase of life the afterlife. In the Coperos religion in Brazil, they believe 13 is the number of God and will save humankind.
Good Friday is also sometimes considered lucky. Babies born on this day are considered lucky babies and sailors would set sail on Good Friday for luck.
In the Tarot, the number 13 is Death, but more often to mean the death of a struggle and birth of new beginnings. The number 13 is also considered a sign of fertility since there are 13 moon cycles and 13 menstrual cycles in a calendar year.
Just Beyond Perfect
The number 12 is considered “pseudo-perfect.”
On 12.12.12, a boy in Alabama turned 12 at 12:12. Some people started calling him the chosen one, others said he was a sign of the impending apocalypse.
Contrarily, the number 13 is just beyond completeness. This makes it restless.
There is a fascinating amount of information on the number 13 and all the cool mathematical things it can do, but to be honest, I didn’t really understand it, but it looked cool, totally worth reading more if you really like numbers.
Superstition in Practice
The result of the Judas story is the superstition of sitting 13 people to a table, it says that the 13th guest, either the last to sit or the first to leave, would be doomed to die within the next year. This led to weird practices such as having everyone sit or stand at the same time or using multiple tables or sitting a teddy bear at the table to offset the number.
Many will not shop on Friday the 13th, leading to hundreds of millions of dollars in lost sales. Around 80% of high rise buildings in the United States skip the floor 13 (opting for 12A or just moving on to 14) and hospitals, airports and other official buildings will also avoid the number when numbering rooms and such.
Groups of 13 are said to be doomed to inevitable tragedy. If, on a Friday the 13th, a black cat also crosses your path, that is said to cause extra misfortune. This particular combination of fears led to the town board of French Lick, Indiana to decree that all black cats were to wear bells on Friday the 13th.
Many people don’t even leave their house, to avoid misfortune. (The irony being that more accidents happen in the home.)
Some believed ways to deflect your misfortune include spilling salt and knocking on wood. Also, if you must leave your house on one of these misfortunate days, be sure to enter through the same door you exited through.
The Thirteen Club
As an act of defiance, in 1881, the Thirteen Club was created. 13 men (including 5 different presidents at varying times) would dine together, participating in other superstitious behavior, such as hanging open umbrellas around the room, breaking mirrors and walking under ladders. Apart from one assassinated president, no misfortune every came to the members.
Since there are anywhere from 1-3 Fridays that fall on the 13th in any given calendar year, it’s expected that eventually something monumentally bad would happen on one of those days, sooner or later. But were these misfortunes due to a cursed day or simply coincidence?
Some of these events include the German bombing of Buckingham Palace, the murder of Kitty Genovese, the death of Tupac, and the explosion of an oxygen tank on Apollo 13 that lead to the only unsuccessful attempt by NASA to land on the moon.
Jane Risen, a behavioral scientist at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business says both believers and non-believers both believed a bad outcome was more likely when jinxed. (For example, if you were to say, “don’t worry, I won’t get in a crash today.”)
“Generally speaking, I find that this occurs because the bad outcome springs to mind and is imagined more clearly following the jinx. People use the ease of imagining something as a cue to it’s likelihood,” says Risen. When events that would otherwise seem uneventful happen, it’s more likely to catch our eye.
More than likely due to people being more cautious and just lack of activity, in general, Friday the 13th tends to be less dangerous. There are less accidents, less fires and less theft.
So, Wait… is the Day Unlucky?
Far be it for me to ruin any whimsical beliefs you may have. For me personally I find Friday the 13th to be more of a lucky day than an unlucky day. I think it’s what you make of it. What do you think? Do you fear Friday the 13th? Is the day really filled with misfortune, or is it just a coincidence?