Don't Know Much About - Friday the 13th
by Liz Lonergan
Friday the 13th has become a part of our pop culture, spawning a series of movies of the same name, making Freddy Krueger a shared memory of Generation X and even leading to forgettable movies such as Saturday the 14th. Mentions of Friday the 13th have worked their way into songs, books, movies and television series. When in need of material, a sitcom can always get a laugh from the tragedy of others, and Friday the 13th is an oh-so-easy a target. So where does all this fascination come from? As with much in the entertainment realm, the intellectual property that has been created around the “Friday the 13th” industry owes itself to folk lore and legend, and maybe to some ill conceived recommendations as well."
When we were planning our publishing schedule for this month’s newsletter we didn’t plan on publishing it on Friday the 13th, in fact, we were planning on publishing earlier in the week, but, for a variety of reasons, that didn’t happen, and then we became a bit enamored with publishing on Friday the 13th. We decided to tempt tragedy, fly in the face of fate and cast off convention to do so. And you know what? It didn’t happen. It seemed that every time we turned around last Friday, something prevented us from pushing that “send” button. So, here we are, publishing on May 16. We leave you to decide; coincidence, or not?
Friday the 13th is a day seemingly steeped in bad vibes, and the infamous movies of the same name, which are just plain bad (no fan of the horror genre, me), haven’t helped its reputation at all. But why, we wondered, is it considered unlucky, and where and when did the superstition begin? It seemed a simple question, that is until we Googled “History of Friday the 13th” and came up with 1,600,100 hits. We learned from several of those sources that Friday the 13th has a long and complex history, and that the bottom line is this: no one really knows exactly why it started or when, but, like any good conspiracy theory, there are lots of opinions floating around, and some of them are plausible, some are wild and some are just darn amusing.
Probably the most comprehensive explanation we found was on the About.com website, where author David Emory offers up a detailed analysis of the origins of the belief all over the world. It is here that we were first introduced to “Paraskevidekatriaphobics”, which are people who have a debilitating fear of Friday the 13th. “Paraskevidekatriaphobics” are believed to be afraid to travel, sign contracts, make purchases or go to work (hmmm) on Friday the 13th. A 1993 study published in The British Medical noted that while traffic was down on Friday the 13th (all those folks staying home from work, we reckon), the number of hospital admission from those accidents rose “significantly”, in fact, they stated the following in their report: “Friday 13th is unlucky for some. The risk of hospital admission as a result of a transport accident may be increased by as much as 52 percent. Staying at home is recommended.” So, folks, there you have it, a respected medical journal has recommended you stay home on Friday the 13th. Keep that info in the back of your mind for next year, when Friday the 13th falls twice, once in January and once in October.
So, a bunch of us believe in this, but how and why did it come about? Here is where the theories start flying fast and furiously. There are many who think they come from early man, and the unlucky number was because man has ten fingers and two feet, therefore that was as high as he could count, and that anything over twelve (10 + 2) was unknown, and therefore bad. Why early man didn’t use his toes to count we don’t know, perhaps early man was toeless?
Then there is the theory that early, matriarchal cultures worshipped the number thirteen because a woman has thirteen menstrual cycles in a year and early (wo)man associated that number with good luck (there are bound to be a few ladies shaking their heads when hearing “lucky” associated with “menstruation”). An allegedly 27,000-year old statue of a goddess in a goddess worshipping culture (how they know this stuff is beyond me, I am a mere reporter) depicted her holding a horn with thirteen notches. This line of thinking goes on to theorize that once the patriarchal, Christian societies triumphed over the goddess worshipping ones, the number thirteen was associated with those goddess worshipping cultures and was thought to be unlucky because of that.
The early Hindis and the early Norse both have an aversion to a gathering of thirteen people for dinner, for reasons having to do with misbehavior and murder in gathering of gods. The thought that having thirteen people to dinner at your home persists, at least according to some of the Web sites we perused, though we have to say we have never heard that one.
The Friday Connection
Now that you are enlightened about the number thirteen, let’s move on to Fridays. For those of us living in the 21st Century and working Monday – Friday, the unluckiness of Fridays doesn’t ring quite true. Heck, Friday’s almost the weekend, right? A Friday afternoon off can feel like a delicious guilty pleasure, you’re not working, and the rest of the world is. But, in history, Friday was a very unlucky day.
Ancient lore has it that tasks as varied as changing the bed clothes, cutting your nails, starting a trip or setting sail on a ship on Friday are all bad luck. The Bible states that Eve tempted Adam on a Friday, the folks building the Tower of Babel were tongue tied by God on a Friday, the Great Flood began and ended on a Friday, and the Temple of Solomon was decimated on a Friday. In pagan Rome, Friday was the day of executions, which certainly accounts for something. For some pre-Christian peoples, Friday was a day of worship and those who began journeys or generally behaved in a hedonistic way on Friday were thought not to receive blessings from the gods.
And if that’s not enough, there are many theories about witches and a coven of witches being the number thirteen, as well as the theory that the Knights of Templar, the famous “warrior monks” were beaten down on (Friday) October 13, 1307.
All of these are interesting theories, and, if you will, plausible to an extent. There’s just one small problem however: no evidence exists that anyone associated Friday the 13th with bad luck before the late 1800’s. Yes, folks, that’s right, despite the betrayal of Christ, it being Executioner’s Day and all the other bad things associated with Friday, it wasn’t until the “modern age” that the “unluckiness” of Friday and the number thirteen were associated with each other. The media of the age seized upon “Friday the 13th” and a media star was born. So, you decide, Friday the 13th, fact or fiction?