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The Myth of Friday 13th

The fear of Friday 13th, Triskaidekaphobia, is very common superstition today. 13 is a prime number. 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21… it is a Fibonacci number. 13 is the `unlucky number’ and Friday the 13th is supposed to be particularly unlucky. ‘Eleven plus two’ is an anagram of ‘twelve plus one’. Thirteen is the number of hearts in a pack of cards. Rugby League is played with teams of 13 players. Under British law, when you reach the age of 13 you can get a part-time job, but you cannot work for more than two hours on a school day or a Sunday. Many streets do not have a house number 13, my flats do not have a number 13, and planes often don’t have a 13th aisle and hospitals avoid having a ward 13. Even Number One Canada Square in Canary Wharf, the tallest building in the UK, does not have a 13th floor. Aluminum is a metallic element with the atomic number 13.

Some people avoid getting married, traveling or even going out on this date. Businesses, especially finance and the stock exchange, reputedly loose millions of pounds because people don’t want to do trade on this day. Many events have enforced the fear of this date and even Winston Churchill was put off traveling of Friday 13th.

The world was shaken on Friday 13th October 1972 when a plane crashed in the Andes, 29 people perished and the 16 survivors endured horrific conditions. After two months in the mountains in appalling conditions they were finally rescued after resorting to cannibalism.

The fear of Friday 13th probably stems from the negative history attached to the day Friday and the number 13. Most of the stigma surrounding Fridays is born from religion. It is believed that Jesus was crucified, Adam ate the forbidden fruit, St Peter was crucified and St Paul was beheaded on a Friday. It was the day of public hangings and in some areas Fridays are still known as ‘hangman’s day’.

In the Roman calendar Friday was devoted to Venus, the Goddess of love. And the day is thought to be named for the Norse goddess, Frigg. It was the only day named for the feminine and was considered lucky. The Catholic religion took over the Friday and blemished the reputation of Frigg, and since then Friday has been considered unlucky. The ‘Earth Mother of Laussel’ a 27,000 year old carving found near the Lascaux caved in France often cited as a an icon depict a female figure holding a crescent shaped horn bearing 13 notches, many medieval calendars had 13 months.

The Hindus believed that it is unlucky for 13 people to gather in one place and a similar superstition is recorded from the ancient Vikings. It is said that 12 gods were invited to a banquet at Valhalla, Loki the evil one, God of mischief had been excluded from the guest list but crashed the party anyway, later the god Hod took a spear of mistletoe offered by Loki and obediently hurled it at Balder which killed him. This was allegedly the origin of the saying ‘beware of uninvited guests bearing mistletoe’.

In Hungary, when a child is born, on a Friday 13th a few drops of blood must be burned in the same room or the infant will suffer bad luck in life. Sailors often refused to sail on a Friday. Lloyds of London, a ship insurer, is said to not to have insured vessels departing on Friday. It is rumored that that the British government tried to end these superstitions by commissioning a boat called HMS Friday, launched on a Friday, had a crew selected on a Friday and a Capitan called Jim Friday. The boat left the docks early on a Friday morning and was never seen again.

Apollo 13 ended in disaster and was launched on 11.4.70, with adds up to 13, and at 13.13 local time where mission control was based. The fear of number 13 stretches to all areas there is no car 13 in Formula 1 racing. The number was removed after two men driving cars numbered 13 crashed and died.

A baker’s, devils or long dozen is deemed unlucky and the reason for this also stems from religion. These were allegedly 13 people at the last supper and Judas, who betrayed Jesus, was the first to leave. In another old legend it states that if 13 people sit down to dinner one of them will die within a week. When you buy potatoes in a farm shop, they weigh them with an old pair of scales with weights. Although they only have three weights, they can accurately weigh any whole number of kilograms from 1 kg to 13 kg.

The Chinese regard the number 13 as lucky, as do the Egyptians who believed that life had 12 stages and the 13th therefore symbolized death, heaven, the afterlife and transformation. In the ancient religion of Mexico, number 13 was considered the most fortunate number, since it symbolized the sun, the calendar, the male and positive energy. In the cabala, the number 13 is not regarded as unlucky and in numerology 13 represents the practical, alert and intelligent. 13 is supposed to be the witches number and covens would hold their Sabbaths with 13 people. Ships sink, cars crash and people pass away, Friday 13th is famous in superstition, but are the events that take place simply coincidence or is this day really cursed. Friday 13th is just weeks away, so do we lock our doors and hide under the bed or carry on as normal?