Who's afraid of Friday the 13th?

Are you a triskaidekaphobe? Blame it on the Vikings.

That ten-dollar word refers to someone who is afraid of the number 13. And the Vikings apparently regarded 13 as a sinister number because their trickster god, Loki, once crashed a party for 12 at Valhalla and caused the death of beloved Baldur, god of joy and light. (No doubt this is also the origin of the term “party-pooper”)

The number 13 is bad enough, but add it to a Friday and the bad luck just gets worse. For one thing, you’ll have more big words to deal with – if you’re afraid of Friday the 13th, then you have friggatriskaidekaphobia, also called paraskevidekatriaphobia.

Think about it. Even if you don’t believe in luck or bad karma or cosmic forces, do you still hesitate before buying a lottery ticket on Friday the 13th? Or starting an important project? Or traveling? You might brush it off and carry on with your plans, but the day is so ingrained in our culture that few of us are immune. Fear of Friday the 13th is considered the most common phobia in America. But it’s not just us – one in four Europeans suffer from it too.

A calendar year may have 1 to 3 “thirteenths” occurring on a Friday, and those years with the maximum number are considered to be particularly calamitous. Fortunately for the fearful, the triple threat years don’t happen very often. 2009 was the first year this century to have a trio of Friday the 13ths. Before that, 1998 and 1987 were the unlucky years.

2010 is a relatively mild year for the superstitious, with only one Friday the 13th, which occurs in August. The year 2012 is another story – unsurprisingly, it will have THREE! (Is this what the Mayans were warning us about?)

Superstitions about the number 13 and/or Friday the 13th

• If you cut your hair on Friday the 13th, someone in your family will die. (Does it depend on how good the haircut is?)

• A clock striking 13 portends a death in the family. (Again with the family!) Or it may signal paranormal activity.

• If you’re born on Friday the 13th, you’ll be unlucky for life. Not to worry, apparently it’ll also be a short life!

• It’s bad luck to marry on this day. (In Middleton, New York, in 1913, a pastor offered to marry couples for free on Friday the 13th to counteract the superstition.)

• If you’re passed by a funeral procession on Friday the 13th, you’ll be the next to die. (So is everyone the procession passes doomed? You could wipe out most of a town in one fell swoop!)

• Leaving on vacation? Bad karma to do it on the 13th. Historically, mariners have declined to set sail on that day.

• It’s unlucky to have 13 coins in your pocket. (Given the current financial crisis, however, you’re fortunate to have any…)

• Wearing black on Friday the 13th will cause you to have to wear it to a funeral soon.

• Thirteen stairs? Bad news. (My knees think so too.) In British history, tradition held that a gallows had 13 steps, and Friday was known as “the hangman’s day”. Literally.

• Numbers that add up to 13 are unlucky as well, like 76 or 409. And you don’t want the number 13 in your street address. (In Florence, Italy, a house next to number 12 will be named 12 ½ , followed by 14!)

• Never have 13 place settings at the dinner table; it’s said that one guest may die within a year. Since the 1700s, Christian tradition has held that there were 13 people in attendance at The Last Supper. In France, you can still hire a professional quatorzieme, or 14th guest to balance your dinner party and avoid calamity.

Many airports still don’t have a Gate 13. Ronald Reagan National in Washington is on that list. So is Chicago’s Midway. Tall buildings and even hospitals still sometimes skip having a 13th floor (in name at least – the floor is still there of course). Hotels have known for years that customers dislike rooms with the number 13 in them.

Even Wall Street has been a little apprehensive about the day since the early 1900s. And of course, October 13, 1989 was the day of the Friday the 13th mini-crash, the second largest drop of the Dow in its history. (Mind you, it was a slide of a whopping 190.58 points. After the events of the past couple of years, it barely merits a raised eyebrow.)

Famous people with phobias

If you’re fearful of the number 13 or Friday the 13th, you’re not alone. Here’s just a few of the famous:

Stephen King

PT Barnum

Franklin Roosevelt

J. Paul Getty

Mark Twain

Herbert Hoover

Napoleon

Can you escape Friday the 13th?

No matter how enlightened we think we are, a lot of us exercise caution on this calendar day. In fact, it’s estimated that the US loses almost a billion dollars in business on Friday the 13th, because so many people postpone major purchases and reschedule trips. And that doesn’t count the number of workers who call in sick.

The Dutch Centre for Insurance Statistics published a study a couple years back, comparing accident, fire and theft rates on Fridays. Interestingly, there were fewer incidents on each Friday the 13th . It’s thought that people were naturally being more careful due to the superstition. The day will have its due however – the monetary losses for Friday the 13th were slightly higher!

The town fathers of French Lick, Indiana, tried to be proactive in October, 1939. They decreed that all black cats in town wear bells on Friday the 13th so that people could avoid them. This practice stayed on the books through 1941. After a particularly bad Friday the 13th (no mention of what happened), the law was reinstated for 1942. The person with the worst luck in all of this was probably the town marshal, whose job it was to bell all those cats.

Of course, you can always fight superstition with superstition. To counteract Friday the 13th, folklore says you can climb to a high place (mountain or skyscraper, whatever’s handiest) and burn all of your socks that have holes in them. Or you can walk around your house 13 times on Friday the 13th and hang your shoes out the window.

It goes without saying you should avoid anyone wearing a hockey mask.

Dani Harper

http://www.daniharper.com/ (Facebook and Twitter links are on my website)
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Your turn – How do YOU feel about the number 13 or Friday the 13th?

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