Ah, triskaidekaphobia. It’s a word that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it?
Triskaidekaphobia, alternately called friggatriskaidekaphobia or paraskavedekatriaphobia — and no, I didn’t make those up — is an aversion or fear of the number 13, specifically, Friday the 13th — a date which troubles the more superstitious among us as it’s connected with accidents, bad luck, and general misfortune.
With today being one such Friday the 13th, it bears contemplation as to why the date has become so associated with bad luck, and to present a few thoughts about its possible origins and some fast Friday the 13th facts.
Although the beginnings of the superstition remain a matter of supposition, many believe it arose in the Middle Ages, with traditions springing from this period that Adam and Even were kicked out of the Garden of Eden on a Friday, that the Temple of Solomon was thought to have been destroyed on a Friday, and that there were 13 people present in the Upper Room for the last supper and Jesus was crucified on a ... you guessed it .... Friday (which we now, interestingly, refer to as Good Friday).
Others speculate that Friday being unlucky predated the early Christian church.
The name Friday was so chosen in honor of the Norse goddess Frigg, also known as Freyja, who was the multitalented goddess of love, beauty, wisdom, war, death, and magic.
Early Germanic and European people are thought to have considered the day extremely unlucky, especially for weddings, due in part to the goddess for whom the day was named.
It’s hypothesized by some that the church later attempted to vilify Frigga, and the day named for her, calling it an unlucky day, but whether or not this is an actual contributing factor — like may of the theories about the actual origins of Friday the 13th — is largely conjecture.
Whichever the case, despite these centuries-old theories, well-documented instances of the notion that Friday was considered unlucky among the masses didn’t surface until the mid-17th century, and by 19th century, the idea of Friday being unlucky was nearly ubiquitous in certain cultures. And Arkansas.
As for the number 13, in addition to the aforementioned Bible-inspired origins, many early cultures and religions believed that it was bad luck for 13 people to gather together for any purpose at the same time.
In northern Europe, Vikings of ancient times had a few of their own ideas.
According to an old Norse myth, 12 gods were feasting at the banquet hall at Valhalla, when Loki, the god of Mischief, showed up uninvited. This brought the count of gods up to the dreaded number of 13. Loki then encouraged Hod, the blind god of winter and darkness, to murder Balder the Good with a spear of mistletoe, throwing all of Valhalla into mourning, and once providing another example of a story in history that congregating with 13 for dinner is a bad idea.
Not sure if any of this is going to be in the upcoming “Thor: Ragnarok,” but I digress...
I should also note that not all ancient cultures were averse to number 13.
Ancient Egyptians believed life was a spiritual journey that unfolded in stages. They believed that 12 of those stages occurred in this life, but last, the 13th, was a joyous transformative ascension to an eternal afterlife.
So, while the number 13 represented death to the Egyptians, but not death as in decay and fear, but as acknowledgment of a eternal life. Of course, it’s possible the association with death from Egyptian tradition later morphed into death in an unlucky sense later by cultures which were influenced by Egypt.
But when did Friday and the number 13 join forces to become a mutant super bad luck day to terrorize the superstitious?
Tradition tells us that it was a Friday, Oct. 13 when the Knights Templar were arrested, although, that origin story is a modern notion with no basis in any documented history.
Other stories point to the last day of King Harold II’s reign on Friday, Oct. 13, 1066. William of Normandy gave him the opportunity to relinquish his crown, which he refused, and the following day, William took it by force at the Battle of Hastings, causing Harold’s demise.
There are other potential historical citations that could be referenced as influencing the notion of Friday the 13th being the unluckiest of unlucky days, but the truth — if, as the X-Files would have us believe is out there — is probably lost to antiquity.
Here’s the thing:
By definition, “luck” is a success (or failure) brought about by chance rather than one’s own actions, in other words, “stuff happens.”
With respect to sufferers of friggariggaparadiggitydoggatriskaid- ekaphobia — okay, that one, I made up — luck, good or bad, is largely all in the perception, and probably in our genetic memories of thinking that certain signs were indicators of bad fortune.
Friday the 13th, black cats crossing your path, walking under a ladder, breaking a mirror, or getting a summons for jury duty — none of these truly portend disaster or misfortune, no more than horseshoes, four leaf clovers and rabbit’s feet bring good luck (unless you’re a rabbit, in which case, the latter would be bad luck).
On any given day, good things — or bad things — or, and this is a radical thought here, both good AND bad things — can happen, regardless of the date on the calendar or what crosses your path.
While many of us are inclined to make associations — good things happened when I wore a certain shirt, so it’s my “lucky” shirt, I avoid stepping on cracks or I’ll break my mother’s back, rubbing a redhead’s head is considered good luck (if annoying for the redhead), etc. — whatever happens will happen.
Fearing what may or may not happen because of the day of the day, week, or month it is only troubles the spirit, and ultimately, does nothing to increase or lessen the “luck” of the day. Who, by worrying, can add a single hour to their lifespan? We’re ultimately not in control of many of life’s circumstances, but we are in control of our responses to said circumstances, which can make all the difference.
So, regardless of how or where mankind started to get the heebie-jeebies every Friday the 13th, it’s a day that will probably remain embedded in our cultural subconscious as a day to be more cautious, mindful of our surroundings and on our guard — good advice for ANY day of the week.