Friday 13 February 2009

Friday the 13th: lore, luck and superstitions

Today is Friday 13 - are you worried?

Many people are. The idea that Friday 13 is unlucky is the most common superstition. It is so infamous that a calender turned to that date was chosen as the cover picture for the book Are You Superstitious? by Lore Cowan.

Paraskavedekatriaphobia, or fear of Friday 13, has even affected serious business decisions in the past. A story in The Evening Standard of January, Friday 13, 1967, said:
"Are Britain's company chairmen getting more superstitious? It certainly looks like it. Out of the thousands of public companies which have to hold an annual meeting, not one of them is listed for today, Friday the 13th!"
I don't know if business people are shunning today for important meetings, but with the deepening economic woes the world is facing, I wouldn't be at all surprised if they are doing their best to avoid unnecessary bad luck.

Both Friday and the number 13 are considered highly unlucky. According to Are You Superstitious?, the ill-luck associated with Friday is because the crucifixion of Christ happened on that day. It is considered a bad day to start a venture, move house or get married. About the only lucky thing to do on a Friday is to be born on it - according to an old nursery rhyme, "Friday's child is loving and giving", perhaps because Friday is associated with Venus, the goddess of love.

One possible origin for the bad luck associated with number 13 is the Last Supper, which Christ shared with his 12 disciples before his life went pear-shaped. Another possible origin for superstition pre-dates that. In Norse mythology, 12 gods held a banquet in Valhalla, to which troublemaker Loki turned up uninvited and was responsible for the death of Baldur.
Thirteen is not always an unlucky number, however. Those given "a baker's dozen", are getting something for free. This began in the 13th century, when the Assizes of Bread and Ale ruled that bakers who shortchanged people could be punished. Traders began selling 13 for the price of 12, and the term was coined.
It also reminds me of a joke: What do you call 13 witches? A baker's coven!

The linking of superstitions about Fridays with the number 13 are first documented in the 19th century. The earliest reference in English is in a biography of composer Gioachino Rossini, written in 1869:

"[Rossini] was surrounded to the last by admiring and affectionate friends; and if it be true that, like so many other Italians, he regarded Friday as an unlucky day, and thirteen as an unlucky number, it is remarkable that on Friday, the 13th of November, he died."
Despite people's fears - or perhaps because of them - Friday 13 is actually often one of the safest days to go about your business or travel, according to studies by insurance companies. Perhaps superstition makes everyone just that little bit more careful.

Are You Superstitious?


Catty said...

I'm not afraid of Friday the 13th but I wish I'd known about it being bad luck to move on that day. I was moving house on the day back in the 90s and fell through my balcony. I got a tasty settlement out of it though so maybe it wasn't ALL bad luck?

Anonymous said...

When my mother was pregnant with me she went into labor on the 11th or 12th, but it was false labor and she was sent home. I decided to be born on Friday the 13th! My grandmother was horrified but 13 has always been my lucky number. (My husband was born on the 13th as well.)