Today is May 13, a.k.a. this year’s Friday the 13th!
Superstitions like saying “tabi, tabi po” (Excuse me), the concept of “pagpag”, or believing in the unlucky nature of Friday the 13th are beliefs that may be hard for us to explain logically to non-believers—but are still firm beliefs/habits that are hard for us to break.
Friday the 13th happens at least once a year, and thanks to the Gregorian calendar that we follow, there is a possibility of experiencing a maximum of three Friday the 13ths in one year. A nifty trick to predict what month would have the “dangerous” day would be to look out for any months that start on a Sunday — *whispers* just like May 2022 did.
The fear of Friday the 13th is so prominent that there are quite a few phobias related to it. “Friggatriskaidekaphobia”, derived from Frigg – the Norse goddess whose name also makes up the word “Friday”, she is the queen of Asgard and the goddess of fertility and love— and the Greek words triskaideka for the number 13 and phobia, which means fear. “Paraskevidekatriaphobia” is another way to call the phobia of Friday the 13th. This version is derived from the Greek word for Friday which is paraskeví and dekatria which is a different form of saying the number 13.
More than inspiring such tongue-twisting phobias, Friday the 13th also causes a pattern loss of revenue that ranges from $700 to $800 million. The large sum is the result of people avoiding getting married and/or traveling on this intimidating day.
To understand where the fear of this daunting day came from, one must look at the eerie history of both of its components – Friday and the number 13 – separately.
The good ‘ol days
Before Friday and 13 were given the spooky connotations they now have, stretching way back to the pagan and pre-Christian times shows us that they were actually much-celebrated ideas.
A clue of Friday’s importance is held in its own name. As mentioned earlier, Friday was derived from the name of Norse goddess Frigg (also known as Frigga). The word “Friday” translates into “day of Frigg.”
Frigg was highly revered as one of the most powerful sky deities. She was believed to protect families, all kinds of love (i.e. marital and maternal), and she was also believed to have the power to bestow or revoke a woman’s fertility.
In this context, Friday may also be related to the goddess Freyja who was closely associated with Frigg. Similar to Frigg, Freya protected love and fertility, but unlike her, she also handled war. Freya was believed to be a powerful magician who could predict the future, including who would die from battle. She was also said to travel on a chariot pulled by two black cats. Because of the powerful women that Friday was dedicated to, people who believed in Norse mythology considered it lucky to get married on a Friday.
The number 13 also had feminine power attached to it in pagan culture. Other than representing the lunar cycle, the number 13 can also nod toward the number of menstrual cycles that (some) women experience in a year. Fertility was considered with high regard at the height of these cultures and often depicted in the art of the time – sometimes adding themes relating to the phases of the moon as well.
But wait, this doesn’t at all portray what we have come to associate Friday the 13th with, right? Where is the bad luck, the superstition?
Well, this change in association for both Friday and the number 13 may be attributed to the rise of Christianity in the Middle ages. As the spread of the patriarchal faith dominated the world, cultures that believed in multiple gods, with goddesses dedicated to love, fertility, and magic, were marked as “unholy”. To further push the Christian agenda, pagan deities and their female believers were also labeled as witches.
It is after this shift that the fate of Friday and the number 13 morphed into what we have come to know them as today.
Unlucky number 13
Other than just being fearful of Friday the 13th, triskaidekaphobia describes the fear of people toward the number 13 in general. The origin of the superstition around the number 13 isn’t as clear-cut as other superstitions.
A common misconception of where this fear started is the idea that the ancient legal document, the Code of Hammurabi, skipped the use of the number 13 in listing down its set of rules. Although, it was later discovered that this omission was the result of a clerical error in the first translation of the text and that the rules were not even listed using a numerical order in the first place.
The most popular source of people’s fear of the number 13, is “The Last Supper”. On Maundy Thursday, Jesus and his 12 disciples dined together for the last time. In total there were 13 guests, with the 13th being the infamous Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Jesus which led to his death the very next day, which was, yep, a Friday.
Norse mythology also has a story similar to the Last Supper which warns against dining with 13 guests. While 12 gods of Norse mythology were dining in Valhalla, Loki – god of mischief – decided to crash the party. Through strategic deceit, Loki was able to trick the blind god Hodr to shoot his own brother, Balder. Since he was shot with an arrow dipped in mistletoe, Balder was killed instantly. He was the god dedicated to light, joy, and goodness.
Two different stories, but the same theme – having 13 guests over to eat is just asking for trouble, likely leading to someone’s death.
The perceived perfection of #13’s predecessor doesn’t help its reputation at all. The number 12 is often associated with completeness. 12 months of the year, 12 zodiacs, 12 gods of Olympus, and 12 tribes of Israel. The number 12 is also one way that we split time: on a clock and even hours of the day (with 24 hours being made of two portions of 12 hours). Some believe that it’s highly unlikely for perfection to be achieved twice, and with 12 as “perfect”, as it is, there just had to be something off with its successor.
You may surely notice numerous high-rise buildings skipping the 13th floor altogether. Hotels try not to label rooms with the number 13, and some airports don’t have a #13 gate either.
Just like the number 13, the origin of the superstition of fear of Friday may not be as easy to pinpoint either. Though similar to #13, we can see the beginnings of the fear come from Christianity as well.
Jesus died on a Friday, but this is not the only significant religious event that happened on this fated day. It is believed that Adam and Eve tasted the forbidden fruit on a Friday and that their son Cain murdered his brother Abel on a Friday as well. Friday was also the setting for the fall of the Temple of Solomon and the first day that Noah’s ark set sail during the great flood.
Though, down the line, major and minor writers were recorded to add to Friday’s already tainted rep. In the 14th century, Geoffrey Chaucer writes in his Canterbury Tales that Friday is “a day of misfortune”. If this was meant to be a reference to an actual superstition about the day or an example of Chaucer’s iconic sarcasm and satire, we aren’t too sure.
200 years later, playwright Robert Greene used “Friday-face” to describe someone’s look of depression and anxiety. Another example may include William Rowley’s 1663 play A Match at Midnight where he writes, “A plague of Friday mornings- the most unfortunate day in the whole week.”
At this point, Friday was definitely a day people needed to watch out for (and not just because it signaled the start of the weekend). In Britain, Fridays were even once known to be “Hangman’s Day” since this was usually the time when people who were sentenced to death were hanged.
With the dated origin stories of the Friday and number 13 superstitions, you may be surprised to hear that the concept of an unlucky “Friday the 13th” isn’t as old as you might think.
The belief in the notorious unlucky holiday is sometimes inaccurately attributed to the Friday, October 13, 1307 arrest of members of the religious group: Knights Templar. This connection was also perpetuated by Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code which popularized this claim. While the arrest and eventual execution of hundreds of Knights Templar occurred on this fateful day, there have been no other direct relations between this and the superstition around Friday the 13th.
Friday the 13th only really stepped into the light thanks to the groundbreaking novel of Thomas William Lawson entitled Friday, the Thirteenth. Coming out in 1907, the novel revolves around a sly stockbroker who plans the crash of the stock market around this day. It was described on Vox as “essentially a turn-of-the-century Wolf of Wall Street.”
A year after Lawson’s book came out, The New York Times became the first media outlet to use the term with its spooky connotation in the context of a former senator bravely pushing 13 bills, The New York Times heralded that “Friday the 13th holds no terrors for Senator Owen.”
Maybe one of the most popular sightings of Friday the 13th in the media and popular culture would be the release of the first film in the Friday the 13th movie franchise. In 1980, the world met Jason Voorhees, a violent hockey mask-wearing child of one fateful Friday the 13th.
The movie has since spawned 11 other movies (ironically just shy of reaching the number 13 in their series list), a TV series, novels and comic books, video games, and thousands of Halloween costumes.
Not a universal fear
While there have been some tragedies occurring on various Friday the 13ths, one infamous one being the murder of Tupac Shakur, there have not been consistent links or patterns between devastating events and Friday the 13th.
Other cultures do not share this superstition at all. In some parts of Asia, it is the number 4 that is feared for the similarity of this word to the word “death” in the Chinese language. In Greece and Spanish-speaking countries, Tuesday the 13th is considered to be the harbinger of bad luck. Meanwhile, in Italy, it is Friday the 17th that should be feared.
Though, not everyone sees this day and date as a bad thing at all. Since 1995, Finland has dubbed at least one Friday the 13th in a year as National Accident Day. This day is meant to raise awareness of safety in all aspects of one’s life. A day of care and caution more than fear.
In today’s popular culture, singer-songwriter Taylor Swift has a completely different take on the number 13, claiming it as her own lucky number. At the start of her career, she was often seen performing with the number written on her hand. “I was born on the 13th. I turned 13 on Friday the 13th. My first album went gold in 13 weeks. My first No. 1 song had a 13-second intro.” Swift told MTV back in 2009, continuing that “whenever a 13 comes up in my life, it’s a good thing.”
Remembering the earlier feminine power that the day and number held, maybe it’s not the fault of Fridays, the number 13, or even Friday the 13th for being “unlucky”, but maybe it is what you associate them with. It’s up to you if you’re going to make this year’s Friday the 13th a good one or a bad one. But just take care… to be safe…
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