Friday, April 13, 2018

Friday the 13th: The SUPER Superstition

There are plenty of things in western culture that we associate with superstitions and luck.

A broken mirror brings seven years of bad luck. Don’t let a black cat cross your path. Walking under a ladder also brings bad luck. But of all the superstitious beliefs even those who are skeptic regularly acknowledge, the superstition surrounding the fear of Friday the 13th is compiled up an intriguing selection of different fears and beliefs which form a recipe for a super superstition, if you will.

According to Chambers Dictionary of the Unexplained, it has been estimated that as many as 8 percent of Americans actually suffer from the crippling fear of the day Friday the 13th, known in phobia terminology, as paraskevidekatriaphobia. Say that one five times really fast!

Let’s take a look at the two main ingredients that helped to create the commonly dreaded day of Friday the 13th.

The Number 13

One of the most commonly shared sources for the fear of the number thirteen usually comes from the thirteenth guest at Jesus’ Last Supper. Judas, the thirteen at that fateful meal, is said to have either been the thirteenth person to arrive or else the first to leave – either on his way from or on his way to his betrayal of Jesus.

Of course, the Romans considered the number 13 unlucky well before this, as they believed that twelve was a number that represented completeness. (Consider the elements of twelve months in a calendar year, the twelve signs of the Zodiac) Thirteen was outside of, or beyond this completeness, and was thus, considered odd, an outcast, unlucky.

But that number was, even before then, considered dangerous, because of the tales of the violent deaths of the ancient thirteen gods. In addition, thirteen is also considered the traditional number of members of a Coven of witches; sometimes said to be twelve witches and Satan. So, considering just those elements alone, there are plenty of sources or origins for the numerical half of this superstition.

Many apartment buildings and hotels actually skip the 13th floor in their labeling and design. Of course, nobody is really fooled, knowing that when they are on the 14th floor they are really on the 13th floor - but we do like to lie to ourselves for comfort.


Similar to the number thirteen, Friday can be traced back to biblical Christian sources. The death of Jesus, in terms of tying back to the number 13, as mentioned above, is said to have happened on a Friday. 

In addition, some theologians suggest an even earlier reference from the same texts and that the fear of Friday comes from suggestions that Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit on a Friday. Yes, some might say that humankind’s fall from grace might be considered a negative, bad or unlucky thing. Along these same lines, some scholars suggest that Christians adopted Friday as an unlucky day because it coincided with the Islam Sabbath.

Nautical legends have referenced that Friday is the worst of days to begin a voyage, which include that a new journey should never begin on a Friday. There is a corresponding “old wives” poem to that effect:

“Now Friday came, you old wives say,
Of all the week’s the unluckiest day.”

Tales are shared of a ship’s captain, a Captain Friday, who allegedly broke multiple superstitious rules upon the building of his ship, such as refusing the traditional red ribbon tied to the first nail building his ship as well as the gold coin laid beneath the mast. The ship, named the HMS Friday, was launched on a Friday and shortly after it set sail it was never seen nor heard from again. That tale, of course, was revealed to be an urban legend, but one that had been shared around enough that the superstition seems to have stuck. As we know, particularly from the past several years of our more and more bipartisan culture, it’s not often the actual truth of a tale that gets it shared and passed around, but how whatever story or “information” we are sharing supports an already held belief.

All Together Now

One of the earliest legends that combines the day and the number is associated with The Knights Templar, the chivalrous order suppressed by King Philip IV of France from 1307 on a series of charges of homosexuality, honoring a false God and heresy – these were, of course, just invented excuses for the King to impound the order’s wealth due to the huge debt her owed them. The raids were initiated and carried out at dawn on Friday October 13th and resulted in a huge number of arrests, tortures, forced false confessions and executions that included being burned at the stake.

An article about Friday the 13th in Chambers Dictionary of the Unexplained also says that there might be evidence that two unlucky elements of the 13th and Friday might have not been combined and considered together before the end of the 19th century. They site an 1898 edition of E Cobham Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable as having unique and separate entries for 13 as unlucky and Friday as unlucky, but the two aren’t considered in combination. 

The same article goes on to mention that the consideration of Friday the 13th might actually originate in a 1907 novel by Thomas W. Lawson called Friday, the Thirteenth. Lawson’s book was a romantic love-story about a rogue businessman who attempts to crash the stock market on Friday the 13th. By as early as 1925, share-traders developed a strong aversion of trading or doing any business of Friday the 13th.

Speaking of media, in 1980, the date was used for the title of what was initially a stand-alone horror film written by Victor Miller and directed by Sean S Cunningham. Inspired by the success of the 1978 John Carpenter film Halloween, Cunningham wanted the film Friday the 13th to be visually stunning, shocking and to make people jump out of their seats. The film did exactly that. It’s huge success prompted a series of sequels, for a total of twelve movies, a television show, novels, comic books, video games and other merchandise.

And even though Jason Voorhees (who didn’t don the now-famous hockey mask until the third film) only appears very briefly at the end of that first movie, he, and his iconic hockey mask, have become one of the most iconic and recognizable images in horror and popular culture.

Not Everyone, Though

Of course, there are some who do not consider Friday the 13th unlucky. For example, in Greece as well as in the Spanish-speaking world, Tuesday the 13th is considered a day that brings bad luck. An in Italy, Friday the 17th is considered an unlucky day.

Also, right here in Ontario, in the beautiful little town or Port Dover on the shore of Lake Erie, as many as 100,000 people flock to celebrate Friday the 13th in a ritual started from a small group of motorcycle enthusiasts who were looking to do something fun. It all started innocuously enough back in 1981 when a group of 25 friends gathered at a hotel in the small town on a Friday the 13th in November. They had such a good time that they decided to return every Friday the 13th after that. As more motorcycle enthusiasts heard about it, they thought it would be a good reason for a semi-regular destination getaway and embarked on a pilgrimage to the town of Port Dover.

The crowd also includes plenty of non-bikers who are eager to be a part of the thrill and excitement. I know that, while I haven’t yet taken the trek to Port Dover on a Friday the 13th I have, on multiple occasions, visited shortly before or shortly after to purchase some Friday the 13th swag.

After all, skulls and eerie paraphernalia are a part of my passion.

Speaking of my passion, as part of my series of Free Friday Frights, I will be talking about this superstition during a Facebook Live video on my Facebook author page at 10 PM Eastern. Barnaby Bones, my companion skeleton, will likely be hanging out with me for the chat.

Image from my #FreeFridayFrights scheduled for Friday April 13

For those who are fearful of Friday the 13th the day itself is unlucky enough on its own, but according to some lore, if you leave your daily calendar at this date, the devil will claim you on the 14th

So, if you have one of those desk calendars on your desk, before you leave the office for the weekend, make sure to tear off that page and get to Saturday the 14th.

It’s not, of course, that you are superstitious.

But you might as well play it safe.

[This article was originally written as part of Mark Leslie's ongoing #FreeFridayFrights at]

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