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Does Friday 13th bring bad luck? Understand the cultural origins of superstition

While it may seem like a rare phenomenon, the 13th of any month is slightly more likely to fall on a Friday.

When it comes to bad luck, there are few superstitions as pervasive in Western culture as that of Friday the 13th. Like crossing a black cat and breaking a mirror, the notion of a day that can bring misfortune is deeply ingrained – even if the believers cannot explain why.

There’s even a name to describe the irrational dread of the date: parascavedecatriphobia – a specialized form of triskaidekaphobia, a fear of the number 13.

Importantly, while Friday the 13th may seem like a rare phenomenon, our Gregorian calendar indicates that the 13th of any month is slightly more likely to fall on a Friday than any other day of the week. 

It is not, however, a universal superstition: in Greece and in Spanish-speaking countries, it is Tuesday, the 13th, which is considered an unlucky day, while in Italy, it is Friday, the 17th, which faces the fear.

This month, however, there is only one on the calendar: Friday, August 13th.

Like many superstitions that have evolved over time and across cultures, it is difficult to pinpoint the precise origins of Friday 13. What we do know, however, is that both Friday and the number 13 were considered unlucky in certain cultures when throughout history. 

In his book “Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things”, Charles Panati traces the concept of the cursed back to Norse mythology, when Loki, the god of mischief, broke the gate of a banquet in Valhalla, bringing the number of gods present to 13. Deceived by Loki, the blind god Hodr was tricked into shooting his brother Balder, the god of light, joy and goodness, with a mistletoe-tipped arrow, killing him instantly.

From Scandinavia, explains Panati, superstition spread south across Europe, becoming well-established along the Mediterranean in the early Christian era. It was here that the unsettling power of numerals was cemented through the story of the Last Supper, which featured Jesus Christ and his disciples on Maundy Thursday. The 13th and most infamous guest to arrive, Judas Iscariot, was the disciple who betrayed Jesus, which led to his being crucified on Good Friday.

In biblical tradition, the concept of unhappy Fridays goes even further than the crucifixion: the day of the week is said to have been when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge; the day Cain murdered his brother Abel; the day the Temple of Solomon was brought down; and the day Noah’s ark sailed in the Great Flood.

It wasn’t until the 19th century, however, that Friday the 13th became synonymous with misfortune: as Steve Roud explains in “The Penguins’ Guide to the Superstitions of Great Britain and Ireland”, the combination of Friday and the number 13 is a Victorian invention. 

In 1907, the publication of Thomas W. Lawson’s popular novel “Friday, the Thirteenth” captured the imagination with the story of an unscrupulous stockbroker who took advantage of the superstitions surrounding the date to deliberately crash the stock market.

Fast-forward to the 1980s, a hockey mask assassin named Jason Voorhees in the “Friday the 13th” horror film franchise has secured notoriety. Then came Dan Brown’s 2003 novel The Da Vinci Code, which helped popularize the incorrect claim that superstition originated with the arrests of hundreds of Knights Templar on Friday, October 13, 1307 .

An alternative story

Given the mass of doom-laden stories, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Friday the 13th is indeed threatening. If we dig deeper, however, we’ll also find evidence that both Fridays and the number 13 have long been considered a harbinger of good luck. 

In pagan times, for example, Friday was believed to have a unique association with the divine feminine. The first clue can be found in the name of the day of the week, Friday, which is derived from Old English and means “Frigg’s day”. Queen of Asgard and a powerful sky goddess in Norse mythology, Frigg (also known as Frigga) was associated with love, marriage and motherhood.

Frigg protected homes and families, maintained social order, and could weave fate as he did the clouds. She also possessed the art of prophecy and could grant or remove fertility. On the other hand, Freyja, the goddess of love, fertility and war with which Frigg was often confused, was endowed with the power to perform magic, predict the future and determine who would die in battle, and was said to ride a chariot. pulled by two black cats. 

These goddesses were widely worshiped throughout Europe and, because of these associations, Friday was considered a lucky day for marriage by the Norse and Teutonic.

The number 13, in turn, has long been considered a portentous number by pre-Christian and goddess-worshiping cultures because of its connection to the number of lunar and menstrual cycles that occur in a calendar year. Fertility was valued in pagan times and works of art used to make connections with menstruation, fertility and the phases of the moon.

Consider the Venus de Laussel, an approximately 25,000-year-old limestone sculpture depicting a voluptuous female figure holding her pregnant belly in one hand and holding a crescent-shaped horn with 13 notches in the other. Many scholars believe that the figurine may have depicted a fertility goddess in a ritual or ceremony, while the 13 lines are commonly read as a reference to the lunar or menstrual cycle, which symbolizes female power.

rewriting a reputation

As Christianity gained momentum in the Middle Ages, however, paganism came into conflict with the new patriarchal faith. Not only did their leaders oppose the worship of various gods and goddesses, but the celebration of Friday, the number 13 and the goddesses who invoked love, sex, fertility, magic and pleasure were considered profane.

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However, these deities were so revered that getting people to abandon them was a real challenge. But Christian authorities persisted in their campaign, marking the deities and women who worshiped them as witches.

“When the Nordic and Germanic tribes converted to Christianity, Frigga was banished in shame to the top of a mountain and labeled a witch,” writes Panati. “It was believed that every Friday, the spiteful goddess called a meeting with eleven other witches plus the devil – a meeting of thirteen – and plotted twists of fate for the following week.”

Simone

Simone is one of the first four anchors hired by SnewsLog, which launched in August. An Emmy Award-winning reporter, she spent the previous seven years reporting with CNN at its Atlanta headquarters and now is working with People News Chronicle.

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