ROOTED IN RELIGION?
Where does a fear of Friday the 13th come from in the first place?
It’s difficult to pin down the origins and evolution of a superstition. But Stuart Vyse, a professor of psychology at Connecticut College in New London, said our fear of Friday the 13th may be rooted in religious beliefs surrounding the 13th guest at the Last Supper—Judas, the apostle said to have betrayed Jesus—and the crucifixion of Jesus on a Friday, which was known as hangman’s day.
The combination of those factors produced a “sort of double whammy of 13 falling on an already nervous day,” Vyse explained in 2014. Some biblical scholars also believe Eve tempted Adam with the forbidden fruit on a Friday, and that Abel was slain by his brother Cain on Friday the 13th.
Curiously, Spain appears to have escaped this malevolent marriage of number and day. Friday the 13th is no cause for alarm there, and instead Tuesday the 13th is the year’s most dangerous date.
Other experts suspect even older roots for this form of triskaidekaphobia. Thomas Fernsler, an associate policy scientist in the Mathematics and Science Education Resource Center at the University of Delaware in Newark, said the number 13 suffers because of its position after 12.
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, and 12 apostles of Jesus.
The number 13’s association with bad luck “has to do with just being a little beyond completeness. “The number becomes restless or squirmy,” he noted in 2013.
Numerology may also explain why Italians have no qualms about Friday the 13th but fear the 17th instead. The Roman numeral XVII can be rearranged to spell “VIXI,” which translated from Latin means “my life is over.”
Arbitrary though they may be, superstitions like fears of ladders, black cats, or “unlucky” numbers are incredibly persistent.
“Once they are in the culture, we tend to honor them,” Thomas Gilovich, a professor of psychology at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, explained in 2013. “You feel like if you are going to ignore it, you are tempting fate.
Some people, whether by determination or necessity, grit their teeth and nervously get through the day. Others really do act differently on Friday the 13th.
They may refuse to travel, buy a house, or act on a hot stock tip, and these inactions can noticeably slow economic activity, according to the late Donald Dossey, a folklore historian and founder of the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute who spoke with National Geographic in 2013. (Read about animal phobias.)
“It’s been estimated that $800 or $900 million [U.S.] is lost in business on this day, because people will not fly or do business they normally would do,” he said.
Ironically, people heeding their superstitious fears may be passing up a chance to spend the day in a slightly less dangerous world. A 2008 study by the Dutch Centre for Insurance Statistics revealed that fewer traffic accidents occur on Friday the 13th than on other Fridays. Reports of fire and theft also dropped, the study found.
Soon enough, this Friday the 13th will end, and even the most superstitious among us can rest easy—at least until the next one.