Friday 13th is widely considered an ‘unlucky day’. According to the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, California, an estimated 17 to 21 million people in the United States are actively affected by a fear of Friday 13th, making it the most feared day in history.
Some people refuse to fly, or close a business deal on this date, while others refuse to leave the house.
“It’s been estimated that [US] $800 or 900 million is lost in business on this day because people will not fly or do business they would normally do,” said founder of the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute, Donald Dossey.
According to Dossey, there is no ‘13th floor’ in more than 80 percent of high-rise buildings. Many airports choose to leave out the 13th gate and hospitals and hotels often do not have a room number 13.
Why does this date strike fear into the hearts of so many people?
Despite being the most widespread superstition, the origins of Friggatriskaidekaphobia – as with most superstitions – are an inexact science.
Dossey traces fear of Friday 13 back to ancient, separate associations with bad luck surrounding Friday and the number 13, and references a myth dating back to Viking times. According to the myth, 12 gods were having a dinner party in their heaven, Valhalla. A 13th, uninvited guest known as Loki arrived, who arranged for Hoder – the blind god of darkness – to shoot Balder the Beautiful – the god of joy and gladness – with a mistletoe-tipped arrow:
“Balder died and the whole Earth got dark. The whole Earth mourned. It was a bad, unlucky day,” Dossey explained. From that moment, the number 13 has been associated with sentiments of foreboding.
According to Thomas Fernsler, an associate policy scientist at the University of Delaware, the number 13 suffers simply because it comes after the number 12. Numerologist consider 12 a “complete number”: there are 12 month in the year; 12 hours of the clock; and 12 signs of the Zodiac. The number 13 is irregular by comparison.
Friday is believed to have been considered an unlucky day since the 14th-century publication of Chaucer’s ‘The Canterbury Tales’: “And on a Friday fell all this mischance.” In Christianity, Friday is also the day on which Jesus was crucified and Eve tempted Adam with the forbidden fruit.
More recent reasons for such a fear are said to stem from the Friday 13th series of films, or the ill-fated Apollo 13 moon mission. On April 13, two days after the start of the mission, an oxygen tank exploded leaving the astronauts fighting for survival.
Phobia of Friday 13th is known as Friggatriskaidekaphobia, with ‘Frigga’ being the name of the Norse goddess after whom ‘Friday’ is named in English, and ‘triskaidekaphobia’ being a fear of the number 13.
Cures for the phobia can be as simple as refocusing negative thoughts, as Professor Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire, explains:
“They need to realise that they have the ability to create much of their own good and bad luck,” he said. “And they should concentrate on being lucky by, for example, looking on the bright side of events in their lives.”
Instead of Friday, Tuesday 13th is considered a particularly ‘unlucky day’ in Greece, as well as Spanish-speaking countries. For Greeks, Tuesday is said to be dominated by Ares, the god of war. The Greek name for ‘Tuesday’ is ‘Triti’, or ‘third’, heightening the superstition, since bad luck supposedly comes in groups of three.
Lucky for some
The 13th hasn’t always been considered an unlucky number. On the contrary, ancient Chinese and Egyptian civilisations, regarded it as lucky. Not one to give in to superstition, founding father of the United States, Benjamin Franklin, compiled a list of 13 virtues to strive for.
In addition, many successful sports players have worn the number 13 shirt, including American and English footballers, and Olympic champions.
Notable people who died on Friday 13th
Several notable people died on Friday 13th, including:
Sam Patch (November 1829)
A daredevil, Patch died during an attempt to jump over the 92-foot Genesee Falls in Rochester, US. His body was not found until the following spring.
Sir Henry Segrave (June 1930)
A world land speed record-holder, who died at the age of 33 while trying to set a water speed record on Lake Windermere in England. He survived just long enough to be told he’d broken the record.
Benny Goodman (June 1986)
Known as the ‘King of Swing’, the American jazz and swing musician died of a heart attack at the age of 77.
Julia Child (August 2004)
An American chef and television personality, Child died of kidney failure at the age of 91.
Richard D Zanuck (July 2012)
Hollywood producer and president of 20th Century Fox, Zanuck made his name with the film Jaws. He died of a heart attack, aged 77.
Photo Credit: Flickr – Skley