On Paraskevidekatriaphobia

I’ll say it again:  Paraskevidekatriaphobia (Sheesh!  I’m glad I don’t have to say that out loud.)  If you woke up this morning in a cold sweat of terror that cannot be rationally explained, you could be suffering from this.  Don’t worry, it’s not a fatal condition, though it could make your day very stressful and make you a target of ridicule and practical jokes should it come out you have it.  Paraskevidekatriaphobia is the irrational fear of Friday the thirteenth.

Theories abound as to the origins of this particular superstition.  Some go so far back as to say that the day that Eve ate the apple in the Garden of Eden was a Friday.  We’ll never know that for sure, but we do know that Jesus was crucified on a Friday.  Friday is also the sixth day of the week.  With seven being the perfect number, six symbolises less than perfection (and use six three times in a row and you get the biblical symbol for evil personified).  According to Genesis, the sixth day is also the day God created man, which certainly makes it an unlucky day, at least for the rest of the earth…

One particular belief regarding Fridays was that one should never start a trip on a Friday.  Sailors especially believed this as a gospel truth.  To dispel this superstition, in the nineteenth century the British admiralty launched the H.M.S. Friday.  Not only was this ship named Friday, her keel was laid on a Friday, her skipper was Captain James Friday and she took her maiden voyage on Friday the 13th.  She disappeared with all hands and was never seen again.  Naturally the admiralty denies that this happened (Wikipedia states in outright that there was never such a ship and we know how trustworthy those guys are), but all British sailors know the truth of this.  (Guess you’ll now have to rethink those weekend travel plans, won’t you?)

The number thirteen is just as infamous.  Like seven, twelve is seen as a number representing perfection or completeness.  Thirteen goes beyond that, which makes it bad (and here I’ve always thought “beyond perfection” is a good thing).  Some say it is unlucky because there are thirteen lunar cycles in a year (which translates as thirteen menstrual cycles for women – also associating the number with femininity which we know is unlucky!)

One of the oldest beliefs around the number is that if thirteen people dine together, one of them will die.  This one has roots in both Christianity and Norse mythology.  We all know of the last supper, where Jesus dined with his twelve disciples.  One of them (Judas Iscariot) was a traitor, leading to Jesus’ death.  In Norse mythology there was a banquet in Valhalla to which twelve gods were invited.  Loki was not invited, but showed up anyway, started a brawl and one of the gods ended up killing another.  Apparently the belief that it is unlucky for thirteen people to gather in one place even exists in Hindu culture.  Wherever it comes from, many people today still believe to have thirteen people at table is just asking for trouble.

The origins of triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number 13) aside, for some people it’s a very real fear.  Some towns and cities don’t have a thirteenth street and many buildings don’t have a floor thirteen.  (Yes, I know if you count them you will find a number 13, but they reckon if you don’t label it, skipping instead from 12 to 14, you’re safe.  No, it doesn’t make sense.  That’s why we call it an irrational fear.)

Naturally, when Friday and the number thirteen converge we run the risk of widespread panic.  Machete-wielding, ski-mask-wearing psychopaths aside (luckily he only targets teenagers having sex, so I should be safe), on this date people refuse to go to work, get on planes, buy homes or trade on the stock market.  According to National Geographic it has been estimated that between $800 million and $900 million is lost every year on this date due to people refusing to do business as usual.  There has been a scientific study that proved that, even though fewer people drove on Friday the 13th, more people got admitted to hospital due to vehicular accidents on that day.  Coincidence?  Decide for yourself.

To be on the safe side, take the following precautions:  Don’t break any mirrors.  Normally breaking a mirror leads to seven years’ bad luck.  Should you break one today (I have this from a trustworthy source) that bad luck is multiplied by thirteen.  You do the math.  Also, don’t walk under any ladders.  That’s not wise in the best of circumstances.  Today is not the best of circumstances.  And while we’re firmly against cruelty to animals here on if all else fails…use a hammer, if a black cat tries to walk in front of you, kick that kitty.  No point in taking chances.

As an added safeguard you could carry around a horseshoe (please detach it from the horse first) or a lucky rabbit’s foot (though I’ve always thought that one bit dubious – it obviously didn’t work for the rabbit).  Touch a lot of wood – doors, furniture, banisters, even books can do in a clinch (paper is made from wood).  But it has to be real wood, none of that laminate rubbish.  Live trees are best (but watch out for coconuts, pine cones and kamikaze squirrels).  If you have the luxury of spending all day in the garden you could also go searching for that ever-elusive genetic mutation – the four-leaf clover (though as you have to be outside for that you run the risk of a lightning strike or a tree falling on you (though that would lead to you touching wood – don’t know, it’s a tricky area), so be careful).

Of course, if you’re Chinese you don’t have to be worried – in China thirteen is considered a lucky number.  (Stay away from four, though.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you).

Luckily (see what I did there?) Friday the thirteenth only comes around two or three times a year.  This year, 2013, Friday the 13th comes around twice, the next one exactly 13 weeks from today.  Erm…that’s it from me.  I’m gonna go lie in the fetal position sucking my thumb until tomorrow arrives.  Why tempt fate?

(P.S.  I wanted to include some funny pictures, but if I type “Friday the 13th” into Google all I get are creepy photos of this guy called Jason.  What’s that all about?)

11 thoughts on “On Paraskevidekatriaphobia

  1. I love your posts.

    You’ll be happy to know that I made it through Friday unscathed. It rained a bit and we couldn’t find any seats in any of the pubs/bars near our flat, but that’s about as unlucky as we got.

    Did you make it through ok?

  2. Snap! I just posted using that term too (but a totally different story…). What is it about ‘great minds’? It’s amazing how superstitions infiltrate our lives, though don’t walk under ladders is eminently practical, if you think about it. My favourite is ‘don’t look at the new moon through glass’ (and if you do, turn all your money over and bow to the moon). None with the slightest basis in science. And yet… 🙂

    As I write this, Friday 13th was yesterday in New Zealand. Though I recall a historic tale about HMS Royal Oak, placidly at anchor in Scapa Flow early in WW2. Friday 13th came and went – very worrisome for superstitious sailors. Thirty-eight minutes into Saturday 14th, BOOM! U-47 had snuck into the anchorage and torpedoed the battleship.

    1. I thought the same thing (great minds) when I read your post last night 😉

      One could probably argue that had the Royal Oak been sailing open water on the 13th it would not have been such an easy target. Their superstition did them in. And I’ve noticed that superstitions usually turn into self-fulfilling prophecies.

  3. I’ve always found superstitions to be fascinating. I loved the story about the H.M.S. Friday…that is brilliant. I’m not afraid of the number 13 or Friday the 13th…though I do enjoy the hype. Take care today!

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