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TGIF? The History of Friday the 13th

 

Friday the 13th is a cultural fixture. People warn you not to go on planes, take any risks, and, generally, blame any “unluckiness” on the date. Although I am definitely a fan of the horror genre, conspiracy theories, etc, I have never actually bought into the reality of these things. So, why do so many people believe that a random day and number will ruin their lives? Is it due to ancient traditions, a monopoly on horror films, or, is there something more to this seemingly harmless superstition?

Historically, the number 13 and the day of Friday have individually been considered “unlucky.” The fear of 13, or, triskaidekaphobia, possibly originates from Norse mythology. In the story, 12 of the gods gather for dinner and Loki, the uninvited mischief god, arrives and murders Balder, the god of happiness. The earth grows dark and terrible and, thus, 13 became notorious (Roach). Obviously, this religion lost a lot of followers as the years went on and Christianity took over Europe, but it is quite possible that the beliefs of the Vikings carried on anyway and were adopted into monotheistic practices.

Friday being unlucky has much more ambiguous roots, but they still exist. In maritime cultures, Friday was a particularly bad time to sail.  In the 19th century, Admiral William Henry Smyth described Friday in The Sailor's Word-Book as, “The Dies Infaustus, on which old seamen were desirous of not getting under weigh, as ill-omened” (Smyth).

The most likely explanation for the fear of Friday stems from Christian tradition. Good Friday, a holy day in Christian calendars, marks the date of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. And, this comes full circle to the combination of Friday and the 13th. Understanding that 13 was already considered unlucky, people realized that 12 disciples plus Jesus meant that there were 13 people present for the Last Supper (a Thursday) and, Jesus died the next day (DellaContrada). For any superstitious folk, this was like realizing you walked past a black cat, under a ladder, while punching a mirror. Interestingly enough, though, this now notorious fear did not become popular until the earlier 19th century with the 1907 publication of Thomas W Lawson’s Friday the Thirteenth, which capitalized on the superstition. From then on, this day of evil has lasted in most of Western culture. Perhaps the most famous example is the horror series, Friday the Thirteenth. Jason, the ski masked serial killer, first terrorized American homes in 1980 and, his last film only came out in 2001. Newer films like Happy Death Day also use the day for edgy release dates. If anything, it seems that keeping public fear alive is economically lucrative for the entertainment business.

However, Friday the 13th does not carry the same impact globally. In Spanish speaking countries, it is Tuesday the 13th that has sinister implications (Falcon). The Greeks also associate Tuesday with evil because of the belief that the day is dominated by Ares, the god of war (Chrysopoulos). In Italy, Friday the 17th is bad luck because the roman numeral XVII can be rearranged to VIXI, which means “I have lived” in Latin-- implying death in the current state (Grande).

Fear of Friday the 13th (or its affiliates), also known as paraskevidekatriaphobia, is a very tangible reality that affects millions of people. Symptoms can vary, but, generally, they mimic those of an anxiety disorder. People suffer from hyperventilation, rapid heart rate, nervous behavior such as giggling, refusing to leave home, and partaking in ritualistic tendencies in order to repel evil (fearof).  Like any other phobia, it is possible to seek out help to relieve the symptoms and, if you or someone you know suffers from crippling anxiety on this date, do not hesitate to reach out.

Finding particular days unlucky is a bit ludicrous, but it is a phenomena that occurs cross culturally. Whether it’s due to people’s fascination with the macabre, an actual evil entity, or the need to explain natural occurrences via unnatural means is up to you.  Whatever you believe, the impact of Friday the 13th on American/ Western society haunts everyday life in a way that, even after writing this, I still cannot completely explain. Maybe the truly harrowing thing about Friday the 13th isn’t the bad luck, but the unshakable grasp it has on our cultural mindset.

For Further Reading:

http://www.buffalo.edu/news/releases/2004/02/6576.html

Rafael Falcón, Christine Yoder Falcón Salsa: a taste of Hispanic culture, p. 64, Praeger (1998), ISBN 0-275-96121-4

http://www.fearof.net/fear-of-friday-the-13th-phobia-paraskevidekatriaphobia-or-friggatriskaidekaphobia/

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/02/0212_040212_friday13.html

Smyth, William Henry (1991), The Sailor's Word-Book, Conway Maritime Press, ISBN 0-85177-972-7

I'm an English student from Los Angeles, California. I love to write articles, poetry, and short stories!
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