Human society has long been known to ascribe significance to certain days.
We have holidays, for example. These include Christmas, Labor Day, Beer Can Appreciation Day (which also happens to be my birthday), and my personal favorite, Halloween.
Sometimes we hold anniversaries in high regard, birthdays, or even simply “a good day”, in which nothing particularly negative happens within a 24-hour span.
But there is one day that, to many (barring a few fans of a certain horror franchise), is regarded with a certain air of dread and avoidance.
Paraskevidekatriaphobia* – because everything has scientific name – is the complete and paralyzing fear of Friday the 13th.
Often, we attribute phobias to an innate and understandable fear. Spiders, snakes, heights, clowns… these are all phenomena that, though not everyone shares the fear of them, everyone can at least understand why they would be scary to some.
Spiders likely feasted on our primordial ancestors, and on top of that, just look terrifying. Especially the Maratus Personatus. Google if you dare.
Heights are inherently dangerous, and doubly intimidating if you’ve ever seen Vertigo.
Clowns are… well, needless to say, research has been done.
But why have we in the Western Hemisphere all agreed to be afraid of a single, seemingly random day out of the month?
Perhaps this superstition has its roots in numerology. Many cultures regard a certain number as cursed or unlucky.
In Japan, the number 4 is often regarded with a similar solemnity, as the word for 4 in Japanese (“Shi”) is a homophone for the word for death (also “Shi”).
But in America, it is known as a fearful number. Probably even the most dreadful, aside from possibly 666 (the numbah! of! the! beast!). But why?
“Death” and “thirteen” don’t bear much resemblance, I would argue that 79 is far more intimidating, and no-one can seem to trace the origins of exactly why it’s meant to be unlucky.
The ancient Turks are said to have absolutely loathed the number – avoiding its use in all but the most necessary situations – and the ancient Vikings and Indians associated it with death.
The Vikings may have associated it with bad luck due to the God Loki (of course), who crashed a dinner party of twelve gods and consequently conspired with the god Hod there to murder Baldur, who was killed by a lance of mistletoe puncturing his heart… Man, Norse mythology is brutal.
The Indians believed that the 13th member of any gathering was sure to die by the end of the year.
There were 13 disciples at the Last Supper, one of which betrayed Jesus and caused his death (which occurred on a Friday).
I would argue this example has less to do with the number of people at the table and more about Judas’ motivations, but I’ll move on before this gets all Andrew Lloyd-Weber.
Our fear of Friday, however, has more of a tangible basis.
Though I personally like Friday – weekends are nice – the day is regarded as an unlucky one in Christian cultures.
Evidently, Adam and Eve were ousted from the Garden on a Friday. Thus, it is the weekly anniversary of mankind falling from grace.
As was mentioned before, Jesus was crucified on a Friday.
In English, it is named after Frigg, the Norse Goddess of – you guessed it – death.
So, uh, T.G.I.F? I feel like such a wet blanket when I research this kind of thing.
By the way, the oldest tale I could track down based on the well known day was the aptly titled novel “Friday, the Thirteenth” which was released in 1907.
It’s about bank fraud, or something. So, you know, exactly like the film.
So, do you laugh in the face of fear? Shroud yourself in Superstition? Or perhaps you have some interesting anecdotes about the Unluckiest Day in the Western World. If you do, send us your story, we'd love to hear it!
*”Paraskevidekatriaphobia” was coined in the early 90’s by a Dr. Donald Dossey, 1934-2016.