Friday the 13th: History, Superstitions, and Trivia

Apprehensive about the true potentials of Friday, the 13th? Clouded by the unflagging onslaught of rumors about the day? Read on to clear all your doubts associated with the phenomenon of Fridays which fall on the 13th.
Thirteen at a table is unlucky only when the hostess has only twelve chops. - Groucho Marx
Remarkable as he was, the master comedian had his way to make people laugh even when it came to the much-dreaded number 13. Now associate it with the word 'Friday' and voila! You shall see the expressions of utter fear and petrification setting in all around you. Statistics from the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute, North Carolina, show that nearly 21 million people in the United States are mortified by the fear of "Friday, the 13th". In fact, the statistics go on to reflect a gross loss of 800 to 900 million US dollars, recorded almost every year on that particular day, affecting all kinds of businesses. But before you freak out, relax! It's just another day-date combination.

However, I feel that this particular phenomenon should be an interesting read as the mention of the phrase 'Friday, the 13th' itself triggers curiosity. So much so that it had the potential to enrich the movie production house Paramount Pictures by a gross profit of 40 million US dollars in 1980 with the release of the movie Friday the 13th, thus giving birth to the iconic figure of Jason. Something that can influence commerce to such an extent should definitely be explored.

Historical Allusions to Fridays and 13

It is very commonly said that history has an answer for everything. So let us delve deep in order to find out the root causes behind the fear that has plagued generations.

In Roman mythology, Friday or the 6th day of the week was allotted to the beautiful yet vain Goddess of Passion - Venus. When the Scandinavians started to follow the Roman way of naming days, Venus was translated to Frigga or Freya, as per author Charles Panati. 'Friday' is an obvious derivation from the name of this Goddess. But with the adoption of Christianity by the Norse-Germanic tribes, Frigga was ostracized and forced to live on a lonely mountain summit. She was also declared a witch as her pet was a black cat. Belief has it that the scorned Goddess convoked a gathering every Friday with 11 other witches and the Devil to disrupt human life for the coming week. Due to this theory of the meeting of the witches' coven with 13 members, Scandinavians referred to Friday as 'Witches' Sabbath' for centuries afterward.

Besides this, the Norse mythology has it that once all the 12 Norse Gods had gathered for a party in their capital city of Asgard. The dinner was taking place in a grand hall called Valhalla, presided over by Odin. However, Loki, the shape shifting God of Mischief, was not invited. He got wind of this gathering and went there to seek revenge, thus, becoming the 13th guest. In order to avenge this insult, Loki employed Hod, the blind God of Darkness, to shoot his brother Balder, the God of light and beauty. Balder was otherwise invincible due to a blessing by Frigga according to which nothing in existence could harm Balder, the beautiful except for mistletoe. Frigga had found mistletoe to be too young and fragile to make it swear not to harm Balder. Using this one weakness of Balder, Loki made Hod use a mistletoe-tipped arrow to slay his brother. Immediately the earth was plunged into impenetrable darkness and mourning.

In a 27,000 year old carving sited near the Lascaux Caves in France, a feminine figure identified as the 'Earth Mother of Laussel' is etched out carrying a crescent horn with 13 clear-cut markings on it. The 13 notches supposedly were the representation of the annual number of feminine lunar menstrual cycles, given that a normal cycle is of 28 days. The digit thirteen was, therefore, considered to be lucky during the ancient era of goddess worshiping. With the onset of Christianity however, pagan goddess worship was done away with altogether. Temples of pagan gods and goddesses were demolished, thus rendering 13 unlucky.

According to the Quran, Adam was created by God on a Friday. But later, Eve had enticed Adam to consume the forbidden fruit of worldly knowledge, thus corrupting him on a Friday. Biblical references depict that as a result of this, God punished Eve and future generations to come with the painful cycle of menstruation, as she had seduced Adam. Thus, the 13 annual menstrual cycles was rendered a repentance for sin. It is also believed that after living for 930 years, Adam had died on a Friday as well.

Also, in Christianity, Judas Iscariot was the 13th member on the table during the Last Supper. It was Judas who, according to the Gospel of John, had betrayed Jesus for "30 pieces of silver" to the Romans. However, the Gospel of Luke states that Satan had usurped the mind and body of this 13th disciple at the moment of betrayal. Moreover, Jesus Christ was crucified on a Friday. Christians all over the world thus mourn on this day called Good Friday, Black Friday or Holy Friday.

The Tower of Babel in Babylon, which according to the Bible was built to commemorate the victory of humanity after the Great Flood, with a tower so high that it had "its top in the heavens", was supposedly destroyed on a Friday. Accounts of how it was destroyed vary though. In the Book of Jubilees and the Sibylline Oracles, apparently God generated a gale of wind so potent that it overturned the tower. In Midrash method of interpreting allegories in Biblical stories though the crown of the tower was supposedly burnt, the midriff left to the mercy of natural eroding agents and the bottom engulfed by earth.

Most recently, it was on a Friday, 13th of October, 1307, King Philip IV of France, in jointure with the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, issued a secret death warrant against the Knights Templar. This extreme step was a repercussion of the fact that these Knights, who were originally a monastic military sect from Jerusalem had acquired inestimable amounts of power and wealth by the beginning of the 14th Century. Founded in 1118 B.C., these Knights primarily protected the Christians during the Crusades. Theory has it that these knights held secrets regarding the Holy Grail which could hit at the very basis of modern-day Christianity and the Roman Catholic Church. The Templars were thus declared to be heretics, and killed. Their Grand Master, Jacques Molay, was tortured and crucifixed.

These abysmal allusions went on getting distorted, increasing in proportion and finally became sources of fear and superstition for the future generations.

The Unlucky 13

In the modern world, clubbed with other events, related incidentally and accidentally to either 13 or Friday, has had certain remarkable manifestations. Read on to find out more.
  • The deadliest associations with number 13 are the facts that there are 13 stairs leading to the gallows, the blade in a guillotine fell from a height of 13 feet and a hangman has 13 knots in a hangman's noose.
  • In numerology, the number 12 is considered to be a well-rounded and all encircling number. It is, therefore, that a clock has 12 numbers, a year has 12 months, and there are 12 zodiac signs. Mythology illustrates 12 Grecian Gods atop Olympus, 12 tasks of Hercules, 12 Israeli Tribes and 12 disciples in the innermost circle of Jesus, to spread the "good news".
  • Not only do Florentines number the 13th house in an avenue as 12.5 and then go on to 14, Italians further demonstrate their dislike for the number by doing away with number 13 in lottery.
  • The coinage 'baker's dozen' came into existence as a baker generally adds a 13th loaf to a dozen, offering it to the devil in an attempt to keep him from marring the rest of the basket.
  • The 32nd President of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt never traveled on a 13th and refused to have a meal with 13 people at the table.
  • The Friday the 13th mini-crash refers to the US stock market crash that occurred on Friday, October 13, 1989. The crash was apparently caused due to a chain reaction in multiple layers based on a news report about a deal worth $6.75 billion of U.A.L Corporation.
  • The 13th card in a deck of tarot cards stands for death showing the Grim Reaper or a skeletal figure mounted on a horse. However, the interpretation of this card is generally related to loss, end of an era or change rather than death itself.
  • 90% of American skyscrapers do away with floor number 13, according to reports by the Otis Elevator Company, the world's largest elevator manufacturers.
  • The Universal Studios located in California does not have a studio number 13. Similarly, there's no 13th gate in the Fresno Airport in the state.
  • In the US, the first ever demise in a car crash took place in New York on 13th October, 1899.
  • On April 13th, 1970 the lunar mission of Apollo 13 had to be aborted due to an explosion in the fuel cell. Surprisingly, This mission was the 13th mission undertaken by NASA, from launch pad no. 39 (a multiple of 13) at Central Standard Time of 13:13, 2 days earlier.
  • Tupac Amaru Shakur (a.k.a. 2Pac, Pac, and Makaveli), the American rapper and actor, breathed his last on Friday, 13th September, 1996 due to severe internal bleeding, cardiac arrest and subsequent respiratory collapse that was the culmination of being shot at 4 times 6 days earlier. In spite of recovering by 13% on the night of the 12th of September, the doctors declared him dead at 4:03 pm on Friday, the 13th.
  • The Mercedes-Benz carrying Princess Diana and Dodi Al-Fayed had hit the 13th pillar of Pont de l'Alma at a speed of 105 km/h, resulting in the death of the Princess of Wales and her beau, the night of 31st August, 1997.
  • In spite of being extremely superstitious about 'Friday the 13th', the British Navy had once ventured into making a ship with the same name. Incidentally, the vessel set sail on the much dreaded date as well. As ill luck would have it, all contacts were lost with it a little after it left the dock for the very first time.
  • The ancient Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, dating back to 1700 BC, pretermits the number 13 in its series of laws, rules, and regulations.
Here is a table that will tell you about all the upcoming Fridays the 13th till 2039!

YearDateYearDate
2012Jan 13
Apr 13
Jul 13
2013Sept 13
Dec 13
2014June 132015Feb 13
Mar 13
Nov 13
2016May 132017Jan 13
Oct 13
2018Apr 13
Jul 13
2019Sept 13
Dec 13
2020Mar 13
Nov 13
2021Aug 13
2022May 13
Jul 13
2023Jan 13
Oct 13
2024Sept 13
Dec 13
2025June 13
2026Feb 13
Mar 13
Nov 13
2027Aug 13
2028Oct 132029Apr 13
Jul 13
2030Sept 13
Dec 13
2031June 13
2032Feb 13
Aug 13
2033May 13
2034Jan 13
Oct 13
2035Apr 13
Jul 13
2036June 132037Feb 13
Mar 13
Nov 13
2038Aug 132039May 13

Superstitions of Friday the 13th
  1. Right from the 13th Century, the prevalent Aristotelian belief has illustrated the anti-malefic properties of garlic.
  2. It is believed that walking around the house 13 times on this day helps keep the evils away.
  3. Keeping a mirror outside the main door of the house does not allow negative forces to enter the house. Rather they get reflected in the opposite direction.
  4. Walking around the block with a mouthful of water is potent enough to keep bad influences at bay.
How effective these antidotes are, is however, highly doubtful. But before you try these out, let us see some more things that actually took place on many a Friday, the 13th.

Trivia on Friday, the 13th
  • In 1881, a group of 13 people came together to form The Thirteen Club. Their main objective was to dissipate some of the ominous associations of number 13. The number of members eventually rose to 400 which included 5 US presidents namely, Benjamin Harrison, Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, and Chester Arthur. It is, therefore, that Theodore Roosevelt placed the cornerstone for a new county courthouse in New York on Friday, 13th July in the year 1900.

  • It was a Friday on 16th of September, 1814 when Francis Scott Key finished composing the poem "Defence of Fort McHenry", from which came the lyrics of the national anthem of the United States of America, "The Star-Spangled Banner".
  • The report issued by the Dutch Centre for Insurance Statistics on June 12, 2008, states "fewer accidents and reports of fire and theft occur when the 13th of the month falls on a Friday than on other Fridays, because people are preventively more careful or just stay home." This in turn was reflected in the reports received by Dutch insurance companies, in the last three years, which showed that on normal Fridays, the number of traffic accidents touched a figure of approximately 7,800 but it decreased to 7,500 on a Friday, the 13th in The Netherlands.
  • On Friday, 13th November, 2009, NASA scientist Anthony Colaprete, confirmed the discovery of 25 gallons of water in the southern polar region of the moon.
  • Lizzie Borden, the prime accused in the infamous Hatchet Murder Case of 1892, uttered a total of 13 words during her trial and got acquitted.
  • For Muslims, Fridays are an extremely auspicious days referred to as 'Jumma Vaar'.
  • Daniel Handler who writes under the name of Lemony Snicket, released the thirteenth and the last book of his series A Series of Unfortunate Events called The End on Friday, 13th October, 2006.
  • Julius Henry "Groucho" Marx, the celebrated American actor produced exactly 13 feature films with his brothers, entertaining us for years.
So in reality, it can be seen that both Fridays and the digit 13 has actually given us a lot to be proud of. It is just like any other day and date combination, probably with a lot of historical weightage. In sooth, the superstitions and prejudices about Friday the 13th stem from the fear inculcated in us from childhood. Besides, it is the natural tendency of man to remember the bad that something has to offer and forget the good. Did you know that the founder of The Hershey Chocolate Company and world-renowned confectioner Milton Snavely Hershey was born on 13th September, 1857. Now he gave the world nothing but the sheer pleasure, enjoyed with every helping of Hershey's Chocolate. Now there's something awesome. So, this Friday, the 13th, let the warmth of chocolate fill you up, the mythological accounts entertain you and let all evil thoughts take a hike. Cheer up, you have an entire weekend to look forward to!
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