Column: That unlucky combination of Friday and 13

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From the Eclectic Mind of Roger VanHaren
By: 

Roger VanHaren

Our son Chris was born on Friday the 13th. He turned 13 on Friday the 13th. His birthday has been on Friday the 13th seven times; last Friday, July 13, was his birthday. It’s a good thing he doesn’t have a superstition about the number 13 or of Friday the 13th, right?

There’s a name for the fear of the number 13: triskaidekaphobia. (Tris-ky-dek-uh-phobia. It’s from the Greek “triskaideka,” meaning “13,” and “phobos,” meaning “fear.”) Paraskevidekatriaphobia is the fear of Friday the 13th.

Another son, T.J., chose to wear the number 13 on his team jerseys in high school, and when he graduated, his brother Mike took over the number. When they played soccer against each other in college, both of them wore the number 13. No triskaidekaphobia in our family.

My all-time favorite cartoon character, Pogo, more than once stated: “Friday the 13th came on Wednesday this month.” I’m not quite sure whether Pogo was superstitious or not.

When did this goofy fear of the number 13 or of Friday the 13th begin? I did a little research on the ’net and found that the origin of fears surrounding Friday the 13th is unclear. I found a couple of different references that said the concept came from the 1890s, when a number of English language sources related the “unlucky” 13 to an idea that at the Last Supper, Judas — the disciple who betrayed Jesus — was the 13th to sit at the table. The Bible says nothing about the order in which the Apostles sat, but there were 13 people at the table.

There is reportedly no written evidence of Friday the 13th superstition before the 19th century, but superstitions surrounding the number 13 date back to at least 1700 B.C. In ancient Babylon’s Code of Hammurabi, dating to about 1772 B.C., the number 13 is omitted from the code. Hmmm!

I found a number of legends or myths or superstitions relating to these fears. Many hotels do not have a 13th floor or rooms numbered 13, due to many people’s morbid fear of the number 13.

There has also been a longstanding myth that if 13 people dine together, one will die within a year. The myth comes from both the Last Supper, when Jesus dined with the 12 Apostles prior to his death, and a popular Norse myth in which 11 close friends of the god Odin dined together, only to have the 12-person party crashed by a 13th person — Loki, the god of evil and turmoil.

I found out that the number 13 has been considered cursed across the world for thousands of years. On the other hand, the number 12 is historically considered the number of completeness. There are 12 months of the year, 12 gods of Olympus, 12 hours of the clock, 12 tribes of Israel, 12 Apostles of Jesus, 12 Descendants of Muhammad Imams, among many incidences of the pattern historically.

I found that an organization called The Thirteen Club was created in 1881 in an attempt to improve the number’s reputation. The 13 members walked under ladders and spilled salt at the first meeting in an attempt to dissuade any negative associations with the number. Despite their efforts, the number 13 continues to have an unlucky association today.

Thirteen is so disliked that many cities do not have a 13th Street or a 13th Avenue. Some hospitals avoid labeling rooms with the number 13, and many airports will not have a gate 13.

Friday has also long been considered an unlucky day. One hypothesis says that Friday has been considered unlucky because Jesus was crucified on a Friday, according to Christian Scripture and tradition. Another states that the superstition regarding Friday comes from Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales,” published in the 14th century, where Friday is considered a day of misfortune and ill luck.

Whether there is any merit to the superstitions surrounding Friday the 13th will remain uncertain, but that will not stop millions of people everywhere from worrying about the unlucky day.

I found a number of popular myths and superstitions surrounding the day. Here are a few:

If you cut your hair on Friday the 13th, someone in your family will die.
If a funeral procession passes you on Friday the 13th, you will be the next to die.
If you break a mirror on Friday the 13th, you will have seven years of bad luck.
A child born on Friday the 13th will be unlucky for life. (Sorry, Chris!)
If you walk under a ladder or if a black cat crosses you on Friday the 13th, you will have bad luck.

That’s probably a lot more than you ever wanted to know about this subject, so I’ll quit now.

Contact Roger VanHaren at rjmavh@gmail.com.