You don’t hear too many people dreading Friday the 13th these days, possibly because the way things have been going lately, we figure… what else could go wrong?
It’s only coincidence, because nothing was done purposefully, but our family has come to embrace the number 13. My wife and I were married on the 13th. And our son was born on 13th. Neither fell on a Friday, but the number 13 by itself is almost as dreaded as the Fridays which bear that burden. Plus, my full, formal first and last names have a total of 13 letters. That in itself is lucky, I figure, because it disqualifies me from being the Antichrist.
A brief Web study of the topic found that the fear of Friday the 13th is rooted in ancient but separate bad-luck associations with the number 13 and the day Friday. The two unlucky entities combine to make one super unlucky day.
Paraskevidekatriaphobics — the term that’s been coined to describe people afflicted with a morbid, irrational fear of Friday the 13th — may total 21 million people in the United States, according to one estimate. And based on a 1993 study published in the British Medical Journal, the answer to the question, “Is Friday the 13th bad for your health?” is apparently “yes.” It studied the ratio of traffic volume to accidents on Friday the 6th and Friday the 13th over several years, and found that fewer people drive on the 13th but more are hospitalized from vehicular accidents. The odds of injury increased by 52 percent. So maybe it is unlucky, for some.
There’s a Norse myth about 12 gods having a dinner party at Valhalla, their heaven. In walked the uninvited 13th guest, the mischievous Loki. Once there, Loki arranged for Hoder, the blind god of darkness, to shoot Balder the Beautiful, the god of joy and gladness, with a mistletoe-tipped arrow. Balder died, and the Earth went dark and everybody went into mourning. It just goes to prove that you can make this stuff up. After all, they said it was a myth.
Several sources stretched things so far as to find a biblical connection to the unlucky number 13. Judas, the apostle who betrayed Jesus, was the 13th guest to the Last Supper, according to the explanation. Poor Judas. In addition to the guilt he has been carrying for all these centuries, they tag him with this deal, too.
A particularly bad Friday the 13th occurred in 1306. King Philip of France arrested the revered Knights Templar and began torturing them. That’s truly a day of evil.
In ancient Rome, witches reportedly gathered in groups of 12. The 13th was believed to be the devil.
Both Friday and the number 13 were once closely associated with capital punishment. In British tradition, Friday was the conventional day for public hangings, and there were supposedly 13 steps leading up to the noose.
Numerologists consider 12 a “complete” number. There are 12 months in a year, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 gods of Olympus, 12 labors of Hercules, 12 tribes of Israel, 12 disciples of Jesus and 12 donuts in a box — at least, there were 12 donuts before I arrived on the scene.
In exceeding 12 by one, the number 13’s association with bad luck has to do with just being a little beyond completeness, according to the experts.
And there’s irony to that. When you look at a calendar, the months that begin on Sunday certainly look neater on the chart than those that begin on, let’s say, Saturday, which have that one day hanging up there in the box line of boxes all by itself. Of course, the result of having a month begin on Sunday — the first day of week as most of us count the days — is you get a Friday the 13th with it.
Having the first day of the month fall on the first day of the week seems complete, but not “beyond” complete. “Beyond” complete is when you finished your column 100 words ago, but kept writing anyway.
Gene Deason is editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Friday. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.