What is the origin of the Friday the 13th superstition?
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FRIDAY has been an inauspicious day for a very long time, and in many varied cultures. It has been held to be both unlucky and as a day when evil influences are at work.
In Ancient Rome, Friday was execution day.
In some pre-Christian Religions Friday was a day of worship, so those who involved themselves in secular or self-interested activities on that day were not likely to receive the blessings of the gods on their undertakings. Which may go a long way to explain the superstition of not embarking on journeys or starting important projects on Fridays.
From the Christian bible:
- Friday is reputed to be the day Eve gave Adam the apple.
- It is said to be the day Adam & Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden.
- Friday is also reputed to be the day they (Adam & Eve) died.
- The Great Flood is supposed to have started on a Friday.
- God was said to have struck the builders of the Towel of Babel and created the confusion of many tongues, on a Friday.
- The Temple of Solomon was destroyed on a Friday.
- Christ was crucified and died on a Friday.
In Britain, Friday was customarily Hanging Day.
It is said accidents are more common on Fridays, however, that may be more because Friday is the end of the work week and people are hurrying to get away from work, than any sinister reasons.
It is supposed that witches favour Friday for coven gatherings. This Pagan association was not lost on the early Christian Church, which went to considerable lengths to suppress them. If Friday was a holy day for "heathens" the Church fathers felt it must not be so for Christians, hence in the middle ages Friday became known as the "Witches' Sabbath."
The name "Friday" is derived from the Norse goddess known either as Frigg - wife of Odin (the goddess of marriage & fertility, the moon & witches) or Freya (goddess of love, beauty, sensuality, war, good fortune, magic & wisdom). To complicate matters the two goddesses are combined and used interchangeably by many, however, the etymology of Friday has been given both ways.
Pre-Christian Teutonic people actually considered Friday to be lucky, particularly for wedding, because of its association with the aforementioned goddesses. This however changed when the Christian church came into ascendancy. Frigg/Freya was re-cast in folklore as a witch and her day became associated with evil doings.
Various legends developed in that vein, one however, is of particular interest:
As the legend goes, the witches of the north used to observe their Sabbath by gathering in a cemetery in the dark of the moon. On one such occasion the Friday goddess, (Freya herself) came down from her sanctuary in the mountaintops and appeared before the group, who numbered only twelve at the time, and gave them one of her cats, after which the witches' coven, and, by "tradition," every properly-formed coven since, is comprised of thirteen members.
Other superstitions concerning Friday include:
- Clothing made on a Friday will never fit properly.
- Visiting your doctor on Friday will not have a good result.
- Never change your bed on a Friday, as it will result in nightmares and bad dreams.
- One should not move their residence or marry on a Friday, if they expect any good to come of it.
- Cut your nails of Friday and you cut them for sorrow.
- Ill news received on a Friday will etch wrinkles in the face of the recipient, more so than the same news received on any other day.
- Friday is an inauspicious day to start a trip as "misfortune will bound to follow."
- Ships that set sail on Friday will have bad luck. ~ This superstition is supported by the Urban legend of the H.M.S. Friday.
It is reported that, in an attempt to debunk the many sailors' superstitions centered around Fridays, the British government commissioned a special ship. They named it the H.M.S. Friday; the crew was selected on a Friday, the keel was set on a Friday, and she was launched on a Friday. They even went so far as to hire a man named Friday to captain her. It was on a Friday that she set sail on her maiden voyage, and as the story goes, was never heard of again.
Children born on Fridays are believed by some to be unlucky, but they will enjoy the gifts of second sight and healing powers.
On the other side of things, the old nursery rhyme says "Friday's child is loving and giving", so not all cultures agreed that Friday was a bad day to be born.
An old proverb said "If you laugh on Friday you will cry on Sunday,"
There are those who say the weather on Friday will be repeated on Sunday.
The number THIRTEEN is much maligned, The prejudice against the number is more or less planet wide. The Turks are said to have so disliked the number so much that it was all but eradicated from their vocabulary. In fact there are so many people with a fear (triskaidekaphobia) of the number thirteen, that many will go to great lengths to avoid any association with it. This is why there are cities that do not have a thirteenth Street or Avenue, highways often do not have a thirteenth exit, many airports do not have a thirteenth gate and many buildings do not have rooms and in some cases floors number thirteen.
The number thirteen is associated with the supposed number of members in a witches' coven. As the legend goes, the witches of the north used to observe their Sabbath by gathering in a cemetery in the dark of the moon. On one such occasion the Friday goddess, (Freya herself) came down from her sanctuary in the mountaintops and appeared before the group, who numbered only twelve at the time, and gave them one of her cats, after which the witches' coven, and, by "tradition," every properly-formed coven since, is comprised of thirteen members.
It is also interesting to note in this story, the possible origin of the belief that a witch's familiar is a cat.
One of the most commonly known and observed superstitions concerning the number thirteen, has to do with dining. It is said to be incredibly unlucky to be invited to dinner and have thirteen people at table.
The belief is that the first person to rise from table and/or the last person to sit down at the table are destined to die within the calendar year. The only way to avoid this is for everyone to be seated and to rise from the table at the same time. Not an easy feat, however, there is some hope for everyone's survival if two or more of the people at dinner are seated at another/separate table.
- This superstition is said to originate with the Last Supper at which Judas Iscariot was the last person to take a seat at table.
- The superstition is also said to have originated in the East with the Hindus, who believed, for their own reasons, that it is always unlucky for thirteen people to gather in one place at one time, say - at dinner.
- Interestingly enough, precisely the same superstition has been attributed to the ancient Vikings. There is an old Norse legend that seems tailor made for continuing this trend;
As the story goes, twelve gods were invited to a banquet at Valhalla. Loki, the Evil One, (god of mischief) had been left off the guest list but crashed the party, bringing the total number of attendees to thirteen. True to character, Loki incited Hod (the blind god of darkness and winter) into attacking Balder the Good (fairest of the gods). Hod took a spear of mistletoe offered by Loki and obediently hurled it at Balder, killing him instantly. All Valhalla grieved.
This tale apparently explains why the Norse themselves adhere to the belief that thirteen people at a dinner party is just plain bad luck.
One of the more perplexing suggestions of origin is that the fears surrounding the number thirteen are as ancient as the act of counting. This speculative explanation suggests, primitive man had only his ten fingers and two feet to represent units, so he could count no higher than twelve. What lay beyond that -thirteen- was an unfathomable mystery to our prehistoric antecedents, hence an object of fear, confusion and superstition. Which has the feel of possible truth, but my first thought was, those self-same humans didn't wear shoes, so why didn't they use their toes to count with as well?
There is also a theory which has a ring of truth to it that suggests that the number thirteen may have been purposely vilified by the founders of patriarchal religions in the early days of western civilization because it represented femininity.
Thirteen had been revered in prehistoric goddess-worshiping cultures, we are told, because it corresponded to the number of lunar (and coincidentally, menstrual) cycles in a year (13 x 28 = 364 days).
The "Earth Mother of Laussel," for example, a 27,000 year old carving found near the Lascaux caves in France is often cited as an icon of matriarchal spirituality. It depicts a female figure holding a crescent-shaped horn bearing thirteen notches.
It is speculated that as the solar calendar triumphed over the lunar with the rise of male-dominated civilization and religions, so did the "perfect" number 12 over the "imperfect" number 13, thereafter considered anathema.
It is said that if you have thirteen letters in your name you will have the "Devil's luck." There may be some truth in that as Jack the Ripper, Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, Theodore Bundy and Albert De Salvo all had thirteen letters in their names.
More superstitions about the number thirteen include:
- There are thirteen steps leading to the gallows.
- There are thirteen knots in a hangman's noose.
- It is thirteen feet the blade of a guillotine falls.
- There were thirteen people at the last supper.
- Lizzy Borden was said to have spoken only thirteen words at her trial.
- There were thirteen original colonies.
- The US Seal has thirteen stars, bars, and feathers in the eagle's tail. The eagle carries thirteen bars in one claw, thirteen olive branches in the other.
- E pluribus Unum has thirteen letters.
- Ancient Romans regarded the number thirteen as a symbol of death, destruction and misfortune.
- The thirteenth card in a Tarot deck is "Death" often pictured as the Grim Reaper (a skeleton, often in a hooded cape, carrying a scythe). It should be noted however, that the Death card is rarely if ever read as "death" but as transition, change or new beginnings.
- The driver of Princess Diana's vehicle hit pillar #13 at Place de l'Alma when she was killed in Paris, France.
- Apollo 13. In 1970, the thirteenth mission was to be launched from pad #39 (13 x 3). The mission was aborted, after an explosion occurred in the fuel cell of their service module. The rocket had left launching pad at 13:13 CST and the date was April 13th.
.- In France, a "quatrorzieme" is a professional 14th guest hired by people who had only thirteen guests in attendance for dinner, and who felt that was unlucky.
- A baker's dozen is a term used to describe bakery items such as rolls, or doughnuts sold in a pack of thirteen. I have heard many explanations for this, however, the following is pretty much exemplary of them.
The story tells of a witch near Albany, NY who demanded thirteen items every time she came in to a particular bakery. One day the old bake, who could not afford her extra biscuit, refused her. She is said to have sneered some strange words at the man, and thereafter he suffered terrible luck, until he brought her another thirteen rolls. After that life was once again easy for the baker and word spread around town. The custom is still sometimes practiced today.
The prejudice against the number thirteen is of obscure and ancient origin, as it existed in Roman times long before Christ, and the last supper.
Perhaps of interest, is that the Chinese consider thirteen to be a lucky number.
The ancient Egyptians revered thirteen was the number of the last step a soul took on its journey to eternity, twelve steps taken in life and the final one at death into the eternal glory of the afterlife. Thus making the thirteenth step a joyous one. It is only after the Civilizations of the Pharaohs were ancient history that the association of the number thirteen with death became one of fear instead of one of celebration.
There are some schools of thought that attribute the thirteenth step into the afterlife to be of Hindu origins.
FRIDAY the THIRTEENTH is believed to be the most widespread superstition.
There isn't much documentation prior to the nineteenth century, on why humankind decided to amalgamate the two superstitions, other than the obvious one, in that the thirteenth of a month falls on a Friday between one and three times a year and someone was bound to eventually put two and two, or in this case thirteen and Friday into one day with a really nasty reputation.
The earliest traceable reference to the combination is from the biography of Italian composer Gioachino Rossini. In the book The Life of Rossini, by Henry Sutherland Edwards, it says: "[Rossini] was surrounded to the last by admiring and affectionate friends; and if it be true that, like so many other Italians, he regarded Friday as an unlucky day, and thirteen as an unlucky number, it is remarkable that on Friday, the 13th of November, he died."
There is a theory that notes references to the superstition are nonexistent prior to 1907, and argues that the Thomas Lawson novel Friday the 13th is what has given rise to the popularity of the superstition. The book, all but forgotten now, concerned dirty dealings in the stock market and sold quite well in its day. It seems unlikely that the novelist, literally invented that premise himself. He treats it within the story, in fact, as a notion that already existed in the public consciousness. This may have set it on a path to becoming the most widespread superstition in modern times, it certainly was readily adopted and popularized by the press.
There is evidence to show that although most people will claim not to be superstitious, businesses, worldwide, show a marked decline in sales etc. on Fridays the thirteenth, as many choose to put off business decisions, investments of money, business and personal travel and even personal events such as weddings. Many others choose not to go in to work, eat in restaurants, go to movies, theatrical performances or to entertain in their homes on that day.
It has been known for the departure of certain ocean liners to be delayed until after midnight to appease passengers' fears of setting sail on a Friday the 13th.
According to Dr Donald Dossey, a psychotherapist specializing in the treatment of phobias (and the man who coined the term paraskevidekatriaphobia, sometimes spelled paraskavedekatriaphobia), there may be as many as 21 million people in the United States that currently suffer from some form of the phobia. If he is right, eight percent of Americans are still in the grips of a very old superstition.
There has been research in Britain showing there are fewer cars on the road on a Friday 13th than on any other Friday, and yet there are more accidents reported.
Friday, January the 13th 1939 is one example people hold up for the belief the day is inauspicious. In Australia, on that day, a devastating bushfire swept across southern Victoria, killing 71 people.
Another supposed origin of the Friday the 13th superstition comes from the historical destruction of the Knights Templar.
The Dan Brown novel The Da Vinci Code and the Movie of the same name, (directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks) popularized the thought that the superstition is tied to the mass arrest of the Knights Templar. Secretly ordered by King Philip of France, (and Holy Roman Emperor, Pope Clement V) the mass arrest, of all the Knights Templar in France happened on Friday, October 13, 1307. The eventual condemnation, and eradication of the Knights Templar was to follow. The King of France and the Pope got the spoils, and a date was cemented in time.
Very nearly everyone you ask has a theory about the origin of the Friday the thirteenth superstition, and no few of them will happily share some frightening or apocryphal story to back it up. And in all honesty most of us enjoy a good "scary tale," as evidenced by the popularity of the series of movies titled "Friday 13th" 1 through 705 (okay, I will admit that may be a bit of an exaggeration)