Why is Friday the 13th Feared?

Today is Friday the 13th. In 2015 we are (un)lucky enough to be graced with three Friday the 13th’s (2014 and 2016 both have only 1). And although you are not likely to encounter any hockey mask wearing psychopaths today, for many, the fear of Friday the 13th, and the number 13 is real. Fear of the number 13 has a scientific name: “triskaidekaphobia”; and fear of Friday the 13th is called paraskevidekatriaphobia, also sometimes called friggatriskaidekaphobia.

The number 13 has been considered unlucky across the world for thousands of years. The number 12 is usually considered the number of completeness, while its sibling, the number 13, has been seen as an unlucky. There are 12 months of the year, 12 gods of Olympus, 12 hours of the clock, 12 tribes of Israel, 12 Apostles of Jesus, 12 Descendants of Muhammad Imams, Whereas the myths surrounding the unlucky number 13 date back to at least 1700 BC. In ancient Babylon’s Code of Hammurabi, dating to about 1772 BC, the number 13 is omitted in the list of laws.

There has also been a longstanding myth that if 13 people dine together, one will die within a year. In an ancient Norse myth, 11 close friends of the Odin dine together only to have the party crashed Loki, the god of evil and turmoil. Loki makes up the 13th person at the party. One of the most beloved gods, Balder, tried to throw Loki out of the party, resulting in a scuffle and ultimately Balder’s death.

National Geographic reports that the fear was fueled by Judas, the 13th apostle at the Last Supper, who betrayed Jesus, and the crucifixion of Jesus, which occurred on a Friday.

jacques_de_molay_burned_at_stakeSome people believe that the last supper fueled the superstition in the Middle Ages, and others believe that the arrest of Jacques de Molay, the Grand Master of the Knights Templar, on Friday, Oct. 13, 1307, and the subsequent slaughter of the members of the Knights Templar by the church is the medieval basis for the superstition. However, there is no record of the two items being referred to together as unlucky before the 19th century. Even though both Friday and the number 13 where separately considered unlucky throughout the time period. The association of bad luck with Friday appeared in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in the late 14th century (“and on a Friday fell all this misfortune”), but references to Friday as a day associated with ill luck in general first appear around the middle of the 17th century Friday appeared in numerous publications as an unlucky day to start a new venture such as giving birth, beginning a journey, starting a new job, getting married, moving, etc.) beginning around 1800.

An early documented reference of Friday the 13th being bad occurs in Henry Sutherland Edwards’ 1869 biography of Gioachino Rossini, who died on a Friday 13th:

“He [Rossini] was surrounded to the last by admiring friends; and if it be true that, like so many Italians, he regarded Fridays as an unlucky day and thirteen as an unlucky number, it is remarkable that on Friday the 13th of November he passed away.”

To some, the 1907 publication of Thomas W. Lawson’s novel Friday, the Thirteenth, contributed to spreading the superstition of Friday the 13th as an unlucky day. In the novel, an unscrupulous broker takes advantage of the superstition (which must have already been in effect at the time of the writing of the novel) to create a Wall Street panic on a Friday the 13th.

There is no question that the 1980 release of the film Friday the 13th did an amazing job at permanently planting the superstition in the subconscious of modern society. The film, and its 11 sequels will always associate Friday the 13th with hokey mask clad serial killer, and brutal deaths of promiscuous teenagers.

Whatever the origins, the number 13 continues to have an unlucky association today. 13 is so disliked that many cities do not have a 13th Street or a 13th Avenue, many high-rise buildings avoid having a 13th floor, some hospitals avoid labeling rooms with the number 13 and many airports will not have a gate 13.