No one wants bad luck, which is maybe why we still think twice when there’s a ladder in our path or a black cat runs past us. We may not know why, but many of us still hold fast to the idea that Friday the 13th brings us bad luck. As tomorrow is one of those rare frightful Fridays, let’s look at what is behind this funny superstition.
The fear of 13
Historically, Western cultures have associated the number 12 with completeness and wholeness. We can see this in the 12 months that make up a year, the 12 zodiac signs, the 12 gods of Olympus and so forth. Its successor, the number 13 has long been caught in superstitions of bad luck. In fact there’s even a term for the fear of number 13: triskaidekaphobia.
The origins of Friday the 13th
Like many superstitions, it’s unclear why Friday the 13th is shrouded with doom and gloom. The most commonly accepted origin story is linked to the Last Supper, held on a Thursday. At the table were Jesus and his 12 apostles – 13 guests. One of the guests, Judas, would go on to betray him, leading to the crucifixion of Jesus the following day. This was a Friday.
Seen as the site of Judas’ betrayal that lead to Jesus’ death, 13 became an unfavourable number. The table seating of 13 at the Last Supper gave rise to a longstanding Christian superstition that 13 guests at a table was a bad omen. Specifically, it was thought to court death.
The rise of a superstition
Of course, it is popular culture that really grew the belief that Friday the 13th is a day to be feared. The day and date combination are no less rare than other combinations and even the origin story is a bit of a stretch. But just like a fear of the number 13, there is a term for those who are terrified of Friday the 13th: paraskevidekatriaphobia.
The Friday the 13th legend was ‘popularised’ in 1907 when the novel Friday, the Thirteenth by Thomas William Lawson was published. The book tells the tale of a New York City stockbroker who plays on superstitions about the date to create chaos on Wall Street, and make an unlawful killing on the market.
More recently, it is the horror film Friday the 13th that brought the superstition into pop culture history. Released in 1980 the film introduced us to a hockey mask-wearing killer named Jason, inciting comic books, novellas, video games and countless terrifying Halloween costumes that keep that superstition alive.
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