We’ve all heard about it. We’re all familiar with the stigma. Have you ever wondered why exactly Friday the 13th is so ominous? Friday the 13th is not an August phenomena, of course. In fact every single year we have at least one Friday the 13th, and can have up to four. During the year 2021 however, August is the only month that brings us Friday the 13th. So let’s take a moment and explore the lore surrounding this most unlucky of days. If you suffer from paraskevidekatriaphobia, aka, the fear of Friday the 13th, this article is for you. Just so you know, if we’re ever playing Scrabble and you play that word, it’s an automatic win.
There are two components to Friday the 13th. The day Friday and the number 13. Funny enough, throughout history in Western culture both have negative connotations in their own right.
Triskaidekaphobia Fear of the number thirteen, also an instant Scrabble win
First off, let's look at the number 13. Thirteen has gotten a bad wrap from the beginning. Maybe it’s due to the number twelve representing completeness. All good things come in twelve right? There are 12 months in a year, 12 Olympians, 12 zodiac signs, 12 apostles, and 12 inches in a foot. I didn’t even mention the twelve days of Christmas. So the attitude is once you reach perfection in the number twelve, it’s all an unknown after that. Thirteen, by proxy is the number of the unknown.
But wait. There haven’t always been twelve months in the year. Twelve isn’t the perfect number for everyone. Mother Goddess cultures followed a 13 month, 28 day calendar. This followed not only the lunar cycle, but closely followed women’s own moon cycles. In these cultures thirteen was revered as a perfect number representing the divine and going with the flow, aka change. Thirteen is the Great Goddess’s lucky number. This is why many pagan traditions heavily involve the number thirteen. When the sun god traditions conquered the lunar mother goddess traditions everything to do with mother goddesses and feminine culture was demonized, placed in the shadows and labeled evil. This included not only women, but poor little thirteen. Who knew thirteen was also a victim of the patriarchy?
This could be the reason cultures that stemmed from sun god traditions see gatherings of thirteen as very unlucky. In Christianity thirteen people dined together at the Last Supper, twelve apostles and Jesus. The thirteenth person to join the meal was none other than Judas Iscariot himself. The following day Christ was crucified. (We will be coming back to this later.) Norse mythology has its own version of this tale. Twelve gods were dining in Valhalla and Loki, being uninvited, crashed the party bringing the number of people dining together to thirteen. Loki was angry, caused shenanigans, and I’m sure you already know, things didn’t turn out well, especially for Balder the Good. Hindu culture also states it is unlucky for thirteen people to gather together.
Wait, There's More!
In Egyptian culture life was considered to have thirteen stages. Twelve occurred in life, and the thirteenth was transitioning to an eternal afterlife. They viewed this as a joyous occasion, not a fearful one. At the end of the day, however, thirteen represents death in Egyptian culture, and while they viewed death as a celebration, other cultures that learned of this didn’t always share the optimism of Egyptians when it came to the afterlife.
There is another thirteen story coming from around 1750 BCE in what is now Syria. Apparently, the Code of Hammurabi, a list of 282 legal codes, omitted the thirteenth rule. Writing this code was a serious undertaking as it was cuneiform carved into some pretty tough stone. The funny part of this theory? Now people believe the 13th rule wasn’t omitted because the number was unlucky, but that there was a clerical error in translating it from cuneiform. This was bad luck for the number thirteen for sure.
Poor thirteen. Not only did it go from being revered as the number of transitions, it represents femininity, change, the unknown, and death. No wonder people fear it. As poor as thirteen is, it’s not the only unlucky part of Friday the 13th. It’s hard to believe as most people see Friday as one of the best days of the week, but Friday itself is not lost from being unpopular with some people.
What’s wrong with Friday?
Friday means day of Frigg. Frigg is an old Germanic goddess who represents marriage, motherhood, and clairvoyance. She is the wife of Odin in Norse mythology. Some believe she is also connected to Frejya, the Norse goddess of love, war, sex, and beauty.
Christianity, in particular, has a lot of problems with Friday. This may have stemmed from a campaign to demonize the goddess Frigg. The Fall of Man was said to have occurred on a Friday. Yup, Eve gave Adam the fruit of knowledge on Friday. It is also ultimately the day attributed to Adam and Eve’s death. Then of course, the hatred in Christianity for Friday climaxes with Good Friday, the day Jesus was crucified. Told you we would come back to this.
As unlucky as the number thirteen and Friday have been individually, documentation of the two being combined as one unlucky day doesn’t occur until the mid 19th century. Ironically the first documents we find that link Friday and thirteen together as being unlucky come from The Thirteen Club. This club was formed as a philanthropic secret society. They also set out to denounce silly superstitions. They would gather with thirteen people on Friday the 13th to dine in the thirteenth room. I’m sure they had lots of salt spilled on the table, and if the invitation would have been accepted, had thirteen black cats in attendance. Formed in 1890 by William Fowler membership grew exponentially and included honorary members such as Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt.
For the opera lovers out there, another documentation on the unlucky Friday the 13th comes from Rossini’s obituary. It was said he didn’t like Friday or thirteen due to superstitions. He died on Friday the 13th, 1868.
With all of the history around thirteen and Friday being unlucky this stigma has stepped into our collective unconscious. People swear that bad things happen on this day, and that is a true statement. On Friday, September 13, 1940 German forces bombed Buckingham Palace during WWII. On Friday, September 13 1996 Tupac Shakur died due to gunshot wounds suffered six days before. Friday, January 13, 2012 brought us the sinking of the Costa Concordia off of the coast of Italy killing 32 people. Also Nathan Bedford Forrest was born on Friday July 13, 1821. He was the first Grand Wizard of the KKK. There are a number of other accidents, deaths, natural disasters and chaos that have occurred on Friday the 13th. On Friday April 13, 2029, according to NASA, an asteroid will come within 20,000 miles of the Earth. This is far away enough to avoid direct impact, it’s very close in astronomical relations.
Yes, it is true, bad things happen on Friday the 13th. Bad things happen on other days as well, we just don’t take note of it. There are also Friday the 13th that pass in peace, we also just don’t take notice of that. Statistically speaking there is no evidence that Friday the 13th is worse than any other day. In 2008, in fact, the Dutch Center for Insurance Statistics ran the numbers and found that, statistically speaking, fewer accidents happen on Friday the 13th than any other day. This is most likely due to people not going out due to their paraskevidekatriaphobia.