When I realised that today was Friday the 13th, my initial response was “yay!” I’m a bit odd, in that I’ve always viewed today as a particularly auspicious day: as many witches will agree, 13 (the number of cycles in a lunar calendar, number of members of a medieval coven, etc.) is a lucky number, and hey, who doesn’t like the end of the working week? But for the majority, Friday the 13th is seen as a highly unlucky day. And it occurred to me that I didn’t really know the origins behind the superstition. So, I did a little research.
It turns out that the origins of the contemporary fear of Friday the 13th stem from the association of two unlucky superstitions in Christianity: the number 13, and the day Friday. (Note that before the 20th century, these two superstitions weren’t combined into one “super unlucky” day, according to this site.
Fridays are unlucky in Christian superstition because Christ was supposedly* crucified on a Friday (*I say supposedly because the Hebrew Lunar Calendar and the Gregorian calendar don’t actually concisely match up there).
The number 13 is unlucky in Christian superstition because:
- 12 was viewed as the number of completion in early Judaic/pre-Christian and Christian tales; the 12 original tribes of Israel, the 12 Apostles, etc.
- There were 13 people at the Last Supper, after which Jesus was betrayed (Interestingly, note the parallels between this superstition that “if you have 13 people seated at a table, the first one to stand will die”, and the myth about Loki dining with the Gods in Valhalla, and Balder being shot in the eye as a result).
- Like my reason for it being lucky, in medieval thought there were 13 witches in a coven (and witches were thought to epitomise evil and misfortune, etc etc.)
So, there you have it: the origins of the idea that Friday the 13th is a day of misfortune originates within Christian symbology. Incidentally, the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in North Carolina states that it “…counsels clients on how to overcome fear of Friday the 13th, a phobia that he estimates afflicts 17 to 21 million people in the United States.” (From this article). That’s kind of sad – a superstition that “debilitates” people, “causing” them to miss work? Sounds like a good excuse for a day off to me.
Enjoy the rest of your Friday the 13th!