As with most everything else in American culture, Friday the 13th has its roots in ancient European medieval folklore and religious ideology. In European-based societies, the number 13 is associated with the worst humanity has to offer. Triskaidekaphobia, or fear of the number 13, is ridiculously genuine, although its purported effects are unsubstantiated. Friggatriskaidekaphobia, or fear specifically of Friday, the 13th – is an equally anomalous condition. Friday has been considered an unlucky day at least since Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales.”
The original thought behind why the date is so unlucky can be traced back to 1700 B.C. The number 13 has always been regarded as doomed. The ancient Babylon’s “Code of Hammurabi” omits the number 13 in its list of laws. Businesses have reported losses of revenue as people either stay home from work or refuse to travel on the 13th of any month. Many professions have regarded Friday as an unlucky day to begin new projects. Black Friday has been associated with stock market crashes and other disasters since the 1800’s. Some buildings supposedly don’t have a 13th floor, which is difficult to achieve in, say, a 25-story structure.
In the Christian Bible, Eve offered an apple to Adam on a Friday. The “Great Flood” began on a Friday, and the “Confusion of Tongues” at the Tower of Babel also occurred on a Friday. Finally, there were 13 people at the “Last Supper,” including Jesus – who then died on a Friday.
Charles Panati, a physicist and former science editor for Newsweek, is one of the leading authorities on the subject of folklore origins. He notes that, in Norse mythology, Friday is named for Frigga, the free-spirited goddess of love and fertility. When Norse and Germanic tribes converted to Christianity, Frigga was banished in shame to a mountaintop and labeled a witch. It was believed that every Friday, the spiteful goddess convened a meeting with eleven other witches, plus the devil – a gathering of thirteen – and plotted ill turns of fate for the coming week. For many centuries in Scandinavia, Friday was known as “Witches’ Sabbath.”
Another theory points to a monastic military order in Jerusalem in 1307. The Knights Templar had become extraordinarily powerful and affluent with their order to protect Christian pilgrims during the Crusades. King Philip allegedly felt threatened by that power and was eager to acquire their wealth; thus, he secretly ordered the mass arrest of all the Knights Templar in France on Friday, October 13, 1307.
For many people in Pagan Europe, the number 13 actually was considered lucky, such as 13 lunar cycles each year. But, with the efforts of Christianity to degrade all things Pagan, they promoted 13 as an unlucky number and considered Friday a bad day of the week. However, King Harold II of England decided against going to battle with William of Normandy on Friday, October 13, 1066; choosing Saturday, October 14 instead, in what became the “Battle of Hastings.” It was a fatal choice, as William’s army conquered the Saxons and subsequently changed the history of Britain.
In 1881, Civil War veteran William Fowler formed the “Thirteen Club” in an effort to improve the reputation of the number 13. At the first meeting, the members – all 13 of them – walked under ladders to enter a room covered with spilled salt. The club lasted for many years and grew to more than 400 members, including five U.S. Presidents: Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt.
You’d think people would have matured in the years since and become more enlightened. But, in 1993, the prestigious British Medical Journal actually analyzed the confluence of health, behavior and friggatriskaidekaphobia by comparing the ratio of traffic volume to traffic accidents on Friday, the 6th, and Friday, the 13th, over a period of years. The study found that, “The risk of hospital admission as a result of a transport accident may be increased by as much as 52%. Staying at home is recommended.” Loud sigh.
I ‘m not scared of black cats mainly because I don’t like cats. I also have an allergy to felines. I’ve never had the opportunity to walk under a ladder and often, when jogging or walking, will unconsciously step on a crack and not worry about any repercussions. I’ve never accidentally broken a mirror and would be more upset with the cleanup than possible bad luck. In other words, I’m not scared of such foolish things. I equate friggatriskaidekaphobia with coulrophobia, or fear of clowns. How could any adult be scared of clowns? And how, after centuries of education and scientific advances, can people still be frightened of the number 13? Another loud sigh.