(CNN) – When it comes to bad luck, there are few superstitions as pervasive in Western culture as Friday the 13th. Like coming across a black cat and breaking a mirror, the belief that a day that can bring misfortune is deeply ingrained, even if those who believe in it they cannot explain why.
There is even a name to describe the irrational fear of Friday the 13th: parascevedecatriaphobia, a specialized form of triscaidecaphobia, fear of the number 13.
While Friday the 13th may seem like a rare phenomenon, our Gregorian calendar means that the 13th of any month is slightly more likely to fall on a Friday than on any other day of the week.
But it is not a universal superstition: in Greece and Spanish-speaking countries, it is Tuesday the 13th that is considered an unlucky day, while in Italy it is Friday the 17th that people are afraid of.
This month, however, there is only one on the calendar: Friday, August 13.
The ingredients of a superstition
Like many superstitions that have evolved over time and between cultures, it is difficult to pin down the origins of Friday the 13th. What we do know, however, is that both Friday and the number 13 have been considered unfortunate in certain cultures throughout the history.
In his book “Extraordinary origins of everyday things”, Charles Panati traces the concept back to Norse mythology, when Loki, the god of lies, snuck into a banquet in Valhalla, bringing the number of gods present to 13. Tricked by Loki, the blind god Hodr shot his brother Balder, the god of light, joy and goodness, with a mistletoe-tipped arrow, killing him instantly.
From Scandinavia, Panati explains, the superstition then spread south across Europe, establishing itself along the Mediterranean at the beginning of the Christian era. It was here that the haunting power of numbers was consolidated through the story of the Last Supper, which was attended by Jesus Christ and his disciples on Holy Thursday. The 13th guest to arrive, Judas Iscariot, was the disciple who betrayed Jesus, leading to his crucifixion on Good Friday.
In biblical tradition, the concept of bad luck Friday dates back even before the crucifixion: Friday is said to be the day that Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge; the day Cain murdered his brother Abel; the day Solomon’s temple was torn down; and the day that Noah’s ark sailed in the Great Flood.
However, it wasn’t until the 19th century that Friday the 13th became synonymous with bad luck: as Steve Roud explains in “The Penguin Guide to the Superstitions of Britain and Ireland”, the combination of Friday and the number 13 is a Victorian invention.
In 1907, the publication of the popular novel by Thomas W. Lawson “Friday, the Thirteenth” captured the imagination with the story of an unscrupulous broker who took advantage of superstitions surrounding the date to deliberately crash the stock market.
In the 1980s, a hockey-masked killer named Jason Voorhees in the “Friday the 13th” movie series secured notoriety.
Then came Dan Brown’s 2003 novel “The Da Vinci Code”, which helped popularize the incorrect claim that superstition originated with the arrests of hundreds of members of the Knights Templar on Friday, October 13, 1307.
An alternate history
Given the number of doom-laden traditions, you’ll be forgiven for thinking that Friday the 13th is truly ominous.
However, if we dig deeper, we also find evidence that both Fridays and the number 13 have long been considered an omen of good fortune.
In pagan times, for example, Friday was believed to have a unique association with the divine feminine. The first clue can be found in the English weekday name “Friday”, which is derived from Old English and means “Frigg’s day”. Both the queen of Asgard and a powerful sky goddess in Norse mythology, Frigg (also known as Frigga) was associated with love, marriage, and motherhood.
Frigg provided protection to homes and families, maintained social order, and was able to weave destiny as she did with clouds. He also possessed the art of prophecy and could grant or remove fertility. On the other hand, Freyja, the goddess of love, fertility, and war with whom Frigg was often equated, was gifted with the power to perform magic, predict the future, and determine who would die in battles, and was said to ride a wagon. pulled by two black cats. These goddesses were widely worshiped throughout Europe and, because of these associations, the Norse and Teutons considered Friday a lucky day for marriage.
Meanwhile, the number 13 has long been considered a portentous number by pre-Christian and goddess-worshiping cultures for its link to the number of lunar and menstrual cycles that occur in a calendar year. Fertility was prized in pagan times and works of art used to make connections with menstruation, fertility, and the phases of the Moon.
For example, Laussel’s Venus, an approximately 25,000-year-old limestone carving depicting a voluptuous female figure supports her pregnant stomach with one hand and a crescent-shaped horn with 13 notches in the other. Many scholars believe that the figurine may have depicted a fertility goddess in a ritual or ceremony, while the 13 lines are typically read as a reference to the lunar or menstrual cycle, both of which symbolize female power.
Rewriting a reputation
However, as Christianity gained momentum in the Middle Ages, paganism faced the new patriarchal faith. Its leaders not only objected to the worship of multiple gods and goddesses, but the celebration of Friday, the number 13, and the goddesses who invoked love, sex, fertility, magic and pleasure were considered unholy.
However, these deities were so revered that getting people to abandon them turned out to be a real challenge. But the Christian authorities persisted in their campaign, labeling both the deities and the women who worshiped them as witches.
“When the Nordic and Germanic tribes converted to Christianity, Frigg was banished to the top of a mountain and labeled a witch,” writes Panati. “It was believed that every Friday the spiteful goddess would call a meeting with eleven other witches, plus the devil – a meeting of thirteen – and plot bad twists of fate for the next week.”
These days, of course, Friday the 13th still haunts the Western imagination. But with the conversation about the role misogyny has played in silencing powerful women throughout history, perhaps the narrative of this unfortunate date and the female deities associated with it will soon be rewritten.
The tide may have already started to turn: Take Taylor Swift, for example, who considers 13 her lucky number and, early in her career, often showed up with the number written on her hand.
“I was born on the 13th. I turned 13 on Friday the 13th. My first album went gold in 13 weeks. My first number one song had a 13-second intro,” he told MTV in 2009. “Every time I won an award I sat in seat 13, in row 13, in section 13 or in row M, which is the letter 13. Basically, every time a 13 comes up in my life, it’s a good thing. “
With more support like this, good luck, rather than fear, could well become the legacy of Friday the 13th.
1 thought on “Why is Friday the 13th thought to be bad luck? The cultural origins of an enduring superstition”
Comments are closed.