The History Behind Friday the 13th!
Diving Into the History Behind Friday the 13th!
Origins, Superstitions, and More!
Tomorrow is the BIG day. Friday the 13th. Insert suspenseful music here (dum dum DUM!)
The phrase alone can bring an element of uneasiness and dread to even the least superstitious of us. This is the day on which people react in many different ways. Some are completely unbothered. They go about their lives like it is any other day, living their lives, going to work, going out, and so on. After all, it is just an ordinary day, isn’t it?
There are also those, the “just in case-ers” as we could call them. Where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You may not completely change your normal routine, but you do change it up a bit. “Maybe I’ll make coffee at home instead of driving out of the way to get one. I might stay in tonight instead of going out.” The people that think….why tempt fate, the gods, or whatever your deity of choice is. They insert a little more caution into their day–because, after all, you never know. Right?
Then there are those who take advantage of the particular day and look to create mischief and use the day as an excuse. Pranks and mishaps are looked at as coincidence. Much like a full moon which is sometimes blamed for permission to behave badly, there are those who take advantage of these particular dates when they occur.
To others, it is much more powerful than that. Its occurrence creates a real and powerful reaction. The day for them is filled with superstition, dread, and fear. Changes are made to their ordinary lives. Special care is taken to avoid certain things. Some people, who are highly superstitious, don’t leave their homes at all. Those are the people who are afflicted by what is called “Triskaidekaphobia” - the fear of Friday the 13th. The word comes from ancient Greek and translates to “fear of the number 13”.
As far-fetched as something like that sounds to the naysayers of the world, it is a legitimate fear that affects millions of people in the world, though it readily goes undiagnosed. Stephen King, the famed horror author, is said to be one who suffers from Triskaidekaphobia. According to an interview with Shortlist.com, King states, “The number 13 never fails to trace that old icy finger up and down my spine. When I'm writing, I'll never stop work if the page number is 13 or a multiple of 13; I'll just keep on typing till I get to a safe number. I always take the last two steps on my back stairs as one, making 13 into 12. There were after all 13 steps on the English gallows up until 1900 or so. When I'm reading, I won't stop on page 94, 193, or 382, since the sums of these numbers add up to 13.”
Friday the 13th occurs at least once a year, up to three times a year depending on the calendar. It is especially spooky when the day falls within the month of October, which in and of itself houses the spookiest of days–All Hallows Eve (otherwise known as Halloween), and el Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead).
For a little trivia, 2026 will be particularly unlucky with a total of THREE Fridays the 13th in store for that year (February, March, November), though our next Friday the 13th during the month of October will not occur until 2028!
So what is the origin of this fear of Friday the 13th? Why is there so much superstition surrounding that day, and the number 13?
All research points to a few origins, though one of the most common has Biblical roots. It is, of course, widely documented that at the Last Supper, there were 13 guests at a table. Twelve apostles and Jesus. One of the apostles, Judas, would eventually betray Jesus and play a large role in his crucifixion. Jesus was then crucified on a Friday. (Friday was supposedly the day that Eve gave Adam the apple, and the day that Cain killed his brother Abel.)
There is also the story in Norse Mythology. The Norse gods were having a banquet for 12 in Valhalla when Loki, one of the evil gods, gate-crashed the party. Balder was the god of light, joy, and reconciliation. He had a blind brother whom Loki tricked into throwing a sprig of mistletoe on Balder's chest which killed him. Mistletoe is the only earthly thing that was fatal to Balder. After Balder’s death, the whole Earth became dark and fell into mourning. This event caused the number 13 to be considered unlucky in Norse Mythology.
So is Friday the 13th unlucky? Is there a statistical reason to uphold people’s superstitions?
According to numerologists, the number 12 is a "complete" number. There are 12 months in a year, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 gods of Olympus, 12 labors of Hercules, 12 tribes of Israel, and 12 apostles of Jesus. So as a complete number, the next number in sequential order’s (13) association with bad luck “has to do with just being a little beyond completeness. The number becomes restless or squirmy," according to Thomas Fernsler, an associate policy scientist in the Mathematics and Science Education Resource Center at the University of Delaware in Newark. He remarks that the number 13 suffers because of its position after 12. Even in a deck of Tarot Cards, which are believed by some to be a window into things to come, the number 13 card is death and misfortune.
According to National Geographic Magazine, Jane Risen, a behavioral scientist at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, has found that superstitions can influence even nonbelievers. In one 2016 study, Risen found that people who identify as superstitious and non-superstitious both believe a bad outcome is more likely when they've been jinxed. For example, they worry that stating they definitely won't get into a car accident will make it more likely to happen.
“Generally speaking, I find that this occurs because the bad outcome springs to mind and is imagined more clearly following the jinx,” she explains. “People use the ease of imagining something as a cue to its likelihood.”
According to a 1993 assessment in the British Medical Journal, an increase was found in transportation accidents by as much as 52% on Fridays dated 13, with researchers recommending staying home on that day. A UK insurance company found a higher-than-average number of claims for car accidents on that date. However in subsequent studies, like one conducted by the Automobile Club in California, it was actually found that there were no more deaths on Friday the 13th from 2002 to 2009 than on comparable Fridays. Also, a study carried out by the Dutch Centre for Insurance Statistics speculated that driving on Friday the 13th was actually safer than normal because of all the people avoiding the roads.
However, under the “better to be safe than sorry category,” there are many businesses (like construction companies who avoid using a 13th floor or including the number 13 in many addresses) who try to avoid the number’s potentially “unlucky” factor. Airlines such as Ryan Air, Air France, Lufthansa, and Virgin Atlantic also avoid the number 13. For instance, there is no Row 13 on any of these airlines’ planes. The number 13 was not used in the Indianapolis 500 between 1915 and 2002 and Formula One between 1977 and 2013. (Lufthansa also avoids the number 17, because in Italy and Brazil, 17 (not 13) is considered unlucky. Some believe that this belief started in Ancient Rome. When the number 17 is viewed as the Roman numeral XVII, and then changed anagrammatically to VIXI, it reminds Italians of the Latin language phrase that translates to "I have lived," which can be understood as "My life is over."
Observance and Reverence
Fear is an emotion, and it is likely embedded and influenced by your personal belief systems and what you were brought up to believe. To have a fear or a superstition (whether real or imagined) have power over you is something that everyone needs to decide for themselves. Fear and superstition only have the power that each of us gives it.
Much like hoping a black cat doesn’t walk across your path, or avoiding walking under ladders, many of these negative omens can be traced back to earlier times when fear was a way to keep people in line. Superstitions and fear led a lot of people into hysteria and irrational action–Salem Witch Trials, anyone? Right or wrong, belief is a powerful action, and can be used in both positive and negative directions.