History and humans are fascinating. Friday and 13 were unlucky before they were added together to create double bad luck beliefs.
Friday: A Bad Day For Christians
Friday the 13th of any month is considered by many people in Western cultures, even those who say that they're not very superstitious, as a bad day on the calendar. It is a commonly held belief in Christianity that dates back over two thousand years.
Friday was the day of Christ's agonising crucifixion. For the faithful, the Fridays that followed became known as days for penitence, reflection and for abstinence. As the years passed there was a general disinclination to begin or complete a project on a Friday. Friday—as much as we love it in the 21st century as the gateway to the weekend—was the dreaded day of the week.
Did you know that Noah's Ark set sail on a Friday, Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden on a Friday and that Cain murdered his brother Abel on a Friday?
Pagans had no issues with Fridays. They considered them as good omen days concerned with feminine qualities, marriage, motherhood and love, honouring the goddess Frigg sometimes called Frigga. Frigg(a)'s day in old English soon became Friday. 13 was the number of lunar cycles in a year, the moon was symbolic of fertility.
Why Is the Number 13 Unlucky?
The number 13 and the 13th of the month are prone to cause a superstitious shudder when they present themselves. Why does the number 13 have such a bad reputation—it's just a number like any other, isn't it?
The basis for the belief that 13 is negative can be traced back to Easter, just as with Friday. There were 13 people at the Last Supper and one of these men, Judas Iscariot, betrayed Jesus.
Since the 17th century when someone (we don't know who) reinforced the belief that it was unlucky to have 13 people sit around a table or at a gathering, there has been a sense of discomfort around the number.
An earlier suggestion of 13's malign influence comes from the Norse legend about Loki, the god of mischief. Loki's tale travelled into other European cultures. The god apparently gatecrashed a gathering of 12 gods making the total there 13. Loki played a trick on Hodr, a blind god which resulted in Hodr shooting and killing his brother Balder, the god of light and love.
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So, with Friday and the 13th both having a poor reputation when separate, why were the two put together to create the shiver-inducing doubly bad day of Friday the 13th?
The Victorians Believed Friday the 13th Was a Bad Day
We have the folklore-loving Victorians to thank for our sustained distaste for Friday the 13th. Their belief in the double helping of bad luck was derived from the uncertainty of life. People had little control over what happened in their lives; diseases were rife, the poor were truly poor, sanitation was lamentable and people simply couldn't guarantee that they would survive another week, month or year.
The overriding feeling was that somehow the status quo, the correct world order, would be compromised, altered or lost forever on Friday the 13th and that people couldn't dodge fate. It was a superstitious person's worst nightmare.
Is Friday the 13th Really Unlucky?
Some people hold no superstitions about these days. However, Friday the 13th has been the date on which significant bad luck has occurred which helps to solidify the negative belief:
- Hundreds of the Knights Templars were arrested on Friday the 13th of October 1307 and they were subsequently executed for heresy. The Knights Templars ceased to exist.
- On Friday the 13th of July 1821, Nathan Bedford Forrest, an early member of the Klu Klux Klan, was born.
- In 1972, on Friday the 13th of October, two tragic aeroplane crashes occurred, one in Russia and the other in Chile.
- On Friday the 13th of August 2010, a little boy in southeast England was struck by lightning at precisely 13:13 on the clock.
- We are so reluctant to travel or work on this date in the western world that businesses and the economy, including stock markets, are seemingly always impacted. According to research, the world's economy loses approximately $900 billion (approximately £7.2 billion) on a Friday the 13th.
Friday the 13th Superstition
Why Do Superstitions Survive?
Superstitions are learned behaviours, so scientifically we shouldn't pay attention to them knowing that they have no basis in cold hard facts. Still, we are compelled not to tempt fate, just in case something bad occurs. Superstitions very often have their roots in religion and social rules, allowing them to survive and strengthen over the years.
From quaking on Friday the 13th to not walking under ladders propped against walls (apparently, when you do this the symbol of the holy trinity is broken and this brings bad luck), to throwing spilled salt over your shoulder to ward off the devil, a cornucopia of superstitions has endured through the millennia and presumably will continue to do so for as long as we humans believe in them and a higher power.
- 13 Odd Things That Happened on Friday the 13th | Reader's Digest Australia
- Why is Friday the 13th unlucky? The cultural origins of an enduring superstition | CNN
When it comes to bad luck, there are few superstitions as pervasive in Western culture as that of Friday the 13th. Here's why.
- Why is Friday 13th considered bad luck? | BBC News
We look at the psychology behind the superstition.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Joanne Hayle