This second week of September leads us toward yet another Friday 13th — the first of year 2013. Does the thought creep you out? Make you superstitious? You’re not alone — triskaidekaphobes, or people who fear the number 13, total between 17 to 21 million in the United States alone according to Donald Dossey of the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute.
But where did the fear of Friday the 13th originate from? I can tell you right off the bat that it didn’t come from the 1980 slasher film Friday the 13th — though I’m sure the film didn’t ease anyone’s already existing phobia. According to Dossey who is also a folklore historian, the superstition of Friday the 13th is rooted in ancient myths, that are separate from each other but combined over time creating this super unlucky day.
So what are these ancient myths? We’ll begin with the number 13. There isn’t one historical event to pinpoint as to the emergence of the superstition, though there are many theories out there. Here are a few:
- One theory is the number 13 has been unlucky since 1700 BC, when ancient Babylon’s Code of Hammurabi omitted the number 13 from its list of laws
- Another theory links unlucky 13 with The Last Supper. Judas, the apostle who betrayed Jesus, was the 13th guest. Neither Jesus nor Judas lasted much longer.
- In ancient Rome, witches gathered in groups of 12. The 13th guest would be the devil.
- Dossey believes the number 13 is unlucky because of a Norse myth in which 12 gods are having dinner in Valhalla, their heaven, when a 13th uninvited guest showed up — Loke, the demi god of mischief. Needless to say, chaos ensued culminating in Balder the god of joy and gladness being killed by Hoder the blind god of darkness. When Balder died, the earth became a dark place and everyone mourned.
- For the Ancient Egyptians, the number 13 was unlucky because the 13th stage of life was the afterlife, so 13 was associated with death.
- Numerologists in general believe 12 is a complete number; there are 12 months in a year, 12 zodiac signs, 12 gods of Olympus, 12 tribes of Israel, and 12 apostles of Jesus. Thus, the number exceeding 12 is beyond complete, excessive, and unlucky.
So now you know most of the theories behind number 13. The superstition about Friday being an unlucky day is a bit more obscure. A regular Friday to the working individual is a blessing! It signals the end of a long work week and the beginning of a relaxing weekend. Yet there are many who believe that many tragic Biblical events occurred on a Friday such as the flood during Noah’s time, the day Jesus Christ died, and the day Eve tempted Adam with the apple. Also, many believe Cain killed Abel on Friday the 13th.
According to Time magazine, Friday became associated with 13 in the 20th century with the publication of the book Friday the 13th, about an evil stockbroker who tries to crash the stock market on what is the unluckiest day of the month. The book was successful, but people started to take it too seriously and very little trading activity took place on the date. Dossey’s phobia institute estimates “$700-$800 million dollars are lost every Friday the 13th because of people’s refusal to travel, purchase major items or conduct business.”
Many triskaidekaphobes refuse to leave their house on Friday the 13th in fear something bad will happen, and will even call out of work. And it’s not just individuals; high rise buildings usually lack a 13th floor, airports skip the 13th gate, and hospitals don’t have a room number 13.
What are you doing this Friday the 13th? If you’re going about business as usual, you’re probably doing the right thing.
Dr. Anthony Lavacca is an accomplished dentist and the owner of Naperville Dental Specialists in the suburbs of Chicago. He is the official dentist of the Chicago Blackhawks and is he and his practice is extremely involved in their community. Check out his Facebook and Twitter pages and see what NDS Care is all about.
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