Friday the 13th: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

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Actor Derek Mears arrives at the premiere of Warner Bros.’ “Friday the 13th” at the Chinese Theater on February 9, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

May 13, 2016 is Friday the Thirteenth. It is culturally viewed as a day of bad luck, but why? Find out the history of Friday the 13th here and how it became part of American culture. How Friday the 13th came to be viewed in this light is arguable, as there are no considerable mentions of superstitions associated with this date prior to the 19th century. But there are educated guesses as to how it came to be, so read on to learn more.

1. ‘Friday’ and ’13’ are Associated With Jesus’ Crucifixion

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A man hangs on a cross during a re-enactment of the crucifixion of Jesus by the Romans on Good Friday on April 2, 2010 in Bensheim, Germany. (Alex Grimm/Getty Images)

Both Friday and the number 13 have importance with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Friday is the day that Jesus was crucified (Good Friday) and is commemorated weekly by Catholics. And there were thirteen people present at the Last Supper.

The Buffalo News Center report:

[Phillips Stevens, Jr.], a renowned anthropologist who studies the origins of cults, superstitions and cultural identities, says Western culture’s fear of Friday the 13th and the number “13” most likely started in the Middle Ages, originating from the story of Jesus’ last supper and crucifixion.
“There were 13 people at the table (at the Last Supper) and the 13th was Jesus,” explains Stevens. “The Last Supper was on a Thursday, and the next day was Friday, the day of crucifixion.
“When ’13’ and Friday come together, it is a double whammy for people who have these kind of magical beliefs,” he says.

Avoidance of thirteen is visible throughout Western culture. High-rise buildings rarely have a 13th floor, and it is considered bad luck to sit thirteen people at a table. Some airplane rows even skip from 12 to 14.

2. There are Other Numerological Factors

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1314, Jacques de Molay (c. 1244 – 1314), the 23rd and Last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, is lead to the stake to burn for heresy. He is shouting to Pope Clement and King Philip that they will face ‘a tribunal with God’ within a year. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Other contributing to factors to the avoidance of 13 are both biblical, historical, and fictional in nature.

In numerology 12 is often viewed as a whole: the twelve gods of Mount Olympus, the twelve tribes of Israel, the aforementioned twelve Apostles of Jesus, and later the 12 successors of Muhammad in Shia Islam. Anything over twelve would be considered discordant, or unwhole, by numerologists.

A newer theory perpetuated by Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code was that on Friday, 13 October 1307, hundreds of the Knights Templar were rounded up and arrested in France.

The Truth About Da Vinci writes:

On October 13, 1307, France’s King Philip IV ordered the abrupt arrest of all the Knights Templar, which had accrued considerable monies and lands in two centuries. Philip accused the Templars of various forms of sacrilege, and since they were a tightly disciplined secret order, they had difficulty disclosing their true activities. Pope Clement V vehemently protested the king’s actions, and he suspended the bishops and inquisitors who helped interrogate and torture the Knights, but by 1312 he had become persuaded that the order was sufficiently nefarious and corrupt to suppress it. Dan Brown’s account eliminates Philip’s role in the process, singularly blaming the pope, who in fact had initially tried valiantly to protect the order.

Chaucer also referenced unlucky Fridays in his writings, but it is not clarified as the 13th. According to MathWorld:

The association of bad luck with Friday appeared in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in the late 14th century (“and on a Friday fell all this misfortune”), but references to Friday as a day associated with ill luck in general first appear around the middle of the 17th century (Mikkelson and Mikkelson). In particular, it appeared in numerous publications as a particularly unlucky day to start a new venture (beginning a journey, giving birth, getting married, moving, starting a new job, etc.) beginning around 1800 (Mikkelson and Mikkelson).

But as to where Chaucer derived this belief is anyone’s guess.

3. It Became Mainstream in the 19th Century

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The city of New York, with Castle Williams and Governors Island on the bottom right, and Battery Park and Castle Clinton in the centre, 1855. An engraving by Cheltnam. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

As stated earlier, the modern paranoia of Friday the 13th became mainstream around 1800.

Henry Sutherland Edwards’ wrote in the 1869 biography of Gioachino Rossini, who died on a Friday 13th, that:

He [Rossini] was surrounded to the last by admiring friends; and if it be true that, like so many Italians, he regarded Fridays as an unlucky day and thirteen as an unlucky number, it is remarkable that on Friday 13th of November he passed away.

Later a 1907 novel titled Friday, the Thirteenth by Thomas W. Lawson’s popularized the idea in America. The novel is about a “Wolf of Wall Street” type broker who takes advantage of the superstition to wreak havoc on Wall Street.

4. Other Dates Are Considered Bad Luck in Other Cultures

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circa 1850: Ruins of ancient edifices in Rome. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Spanish and Greek countries both associated 13 as an unlucky date, but pick Tuesday the 13th as the day to fear.

Each of these dates have their own interesting historical reasoning.

For Greeks and Spanish, it derives from the ancient Greece god of war, Mars (Ares). Tuesday (martes in Spanish) is the day of Mars, and that is considered a bad omen for violence.

Italians keep “Friday” as the unlucky day, but choose the 17th as the date to fear. 17, in ancient Latin, is written as “XVII”, which can be rearranged as “VIXI.” Vixi in Latin means “I lived”, which could translated to “I’m dead.”

5. The Fear of the Number 13 is a Psychological Condition

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circa 1950: A doctor at the Headache Clinic in the Montefiore Hospital using the Rorschach personality test to determine whether the patient’s headaches have a psychological origin. (Orlando /Three Lions/Getty Images)

Triskaidekaphobia is the correct word to describe “the fear of 13.”

There is no word to describe the fear of Friday the 13th, though.

According to National Geographic:

“It’s been estimated that [U.S] $800 or $900 million is lost in business on this day because people will not fly or do business they would normally do,” said Donald Dossey, founder of the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina.

Symptoms range from mild anxiety to full-blown panic attacks. The latter may cause people to reshuffle schedules or miss an entire day’s work.

Oddly enough, Friday is the most common day for 13 to land on in the Gregorian calendar. However, the next Friday the 13th isn’t until January 2017.

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