Friday the 13th: Myth, Superstition or Reality?

Apparently, there is no definitive date for the origin of the dreaded day of special misfortune. While there is evidence to suggest that the number thirteen was considered unlucky prior to the 20th century, there is no definitive link between Friday and the number 13, or so “they” say. I used to take that at face value, but not so much anymore. Actually, when you consider all of the origin stories, there are all kinds of connections between Fridays and thirteens.

There are some who insist that Friday the 13th is a modern conceptual invention. According to this theory, the first recorded mention of a Friday the 13th occurred in 1907 with the publication of Thomas W. Lawson’s popular novel, Friday, the Thirteenth. The storyline of the book tells of a stockbroker who exploits the superstition to create a panic on Wall Street on Friday the 13th. Obviously, it doesn’t make sense that this book is the first mention of Friday the 13th because the author had to draw from earlier superstitious beliefs about Friday the 13th to propel the plot of the novel. In my mind then, this origin story is crossed off the list.

So, what’s the deal then? Well, another theory is proposed by Donald Dossey, founder of the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina. According to Dossey, who is also a folklore historian, the phobia associated with Friday the 13th is the result of an ancient combination of two separate negative associations with the number 13 and the day Friday. Okay, so if something bad happens on a Friday, and it happens to be the 13th, then…that make Friday the 13th a day for bad luck? Well, considering bad things have happened to people on every other day of the week and on every other date as well, there’s got to be more to it than that. But, I do understand the psychology behind this explanation.

Some suggest Friday has always been considered to be an unlucky day. For example, there is the reference made by Chaucer in his 14th-century book The Canterbury Tales, where he states Friday is considered a day of misfortune and ill-luck: “…and on a Friday fell all this mischance.” Another explanation is based on the Christian belief that Jesus was crucified on a Friday. I can certainly agree this was a bad day for Jesus.

But wait, there’s more! We can’t overlook Wall Street’s perpetuation of the superstition for decades. On Oct. 13, 1989, Wall Street experienced what was at the time the second-largest drop of the Dow Jones Industrial Average in history. As a result, the day was nicknamed the Friday-the-13th mini-crash.

And finally, we can’t let Hollywood off the hook. “Fridays will never be the same again” was the tagline to Paramount Pictures 1980 release of Friday the 13th, starring Jason, every horror movie buff’s favorite slasher. Born on Friday the 13th, Jason chooses to make that day even more meaningful by seeking revenge on folks who are similar in behavior and appearance to those who allowed him to drown in Crystal Lake.

But long before the Friday the 13th mini-crash of 1989, Lawson’s 1905 novel Friday the Thirteenth, and Jason, for that matter, we find peculiar associations with the number 13. For example, it is curiously omitted in the list of laws in ancient Babylon’s (circa 1772 BC) Code of Hammurabi. No one seems to know what the reason was for the omission. And, there is an age-old myth that if 13 people dine together, one will die within a year. The myth is said to derive from both the Last Supper when Jesus dined with the 12 Apostles prior to his death and a prevalent Norse myth.

 

Blame it on Loki

Okay, so let’s blame it on the trickster. Apparently, twelve gods were having a dinner party at Valhalla, the majestic Norse hall presided over by Odin and where half of those who die in battle go to upon death. An uninvited 13th guest arrived, the mischievous Loki. Ever the trickster, Loki manipulated Hoder, the blind god of darkness, to shoot the god of joy and gladness, Balder the Beautiful, with a mistletoe-tipped arrow.

After Hoder shot Balder, the whole earth grew dark. Balder died and all of Earth mourned. It was an awfully unlucky day. Since then, the number 13 has been considered ominous and foreboding.

Consider this, despite its bad luck associations in superstition, the number 13 is considered in a positive light in esoteric traditions. It is the number of mystical manifestation. For example:

  • The teachings of Jesus are centered on the formula of 12 + 1 (Jesus plus his 12 disciples). According to Pythagoras, one added to 12 creates an unlimited number of 13. It is this formula that allows miracles such as the multiplication of fish and loaves.
  • Thirteen is the number of the Great Goddess, represented by 13 lunar cycles to a year.
  • Contemporary witches consider thirteen to be a lucky number.
  • In the Kabbalistic system, numbers are equated with letters, and the number 13 is equated with love and unity since the Hebrew letters for love and unity both equal 13.
  • Thirteen is the cosmic law of destiny: death through failure and regeneration.
  • And hey, let’s don’t forget the Baker’s Dozen…Okay, so that’s not esoteric, but it is a good thing, right? I mean, who doesn’t like an extra donut?

Friday the 13th always occurs at least once a year in the Gregorian calendar and can appear up to three times in any one year. In 2015, there will be three incidences of the dreaded day: February 13, March 13 and November 13. So, is there anything that can be done to prevent possible bad luck for believers?

Fortunately for paraskevidekatriaphobia, a number of remedies exist. You can escape to high ground, stand on your head and eat a piece of gristle (yum!) or burn all of your socks with holes in them for protection from inevitable. Or, you can carry the Friday the 13th lucky talisman.

Talisman magick goes back infinitesimally in the civilization of humankind, or by some estimates over 4,120 years. A talisman is a small amulet or other objects, often bearing magical symbols, worn for protection against evil spirits or the supernatural.

There are the interesting talismans that are said to protect us from the evils of Friday the 13th. An 1896 Illinois newspaper article reports on the sale of rabbits’ feet decorated in gold to help ward off the “voodoo of Friday the 13th.” Another form of talisman is the magic square. A magic square is a 4 x 4 square with the sum of each of 4 rows, 4 columns and 2 diagonals always the same, “magic” total.  They are found in a number of cultures, including Egypt and India, engraved on stone or metal and worn as talismans, the belief being that magic squares have astrological and divinatory qualities, their usage ensuring longevity and prevention of diseases.

Lucky for the paraskevidekatriaphobia there is a magic square to protect you from the evil and unfortunate events that seem to befall folks on the fated day. Pictured above in all its glory is a magic square for the year 2015.  Feel free to copy it, print it out, and carry it with you, should you feel the need. For extra protection, boost anoint it with Fiery Wall of Protection and write the prayer of protection to St. Michael on the back and you will be unstoppable.

Bonne chance and good luck on Friday the 13th, wherever you are!

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