Last Friday was Friday the 13th, a day considered unlucky by many. According to folklorists, there is no real written evidence for the “Friday the Thirteenth” superstition before the 19thcentury , when several theories were proposed about its origin.
One theory is that in numerology the number 12 is considered the number of completeness: there are 12 months in a year, 12 hours on a clock, 12 Gods of Olympus, 12 signs of the Zodiac whereas the number 13 is considered incomplete and unrounded. Many cities do not have a 13th Street or Avenue and many buildings do not have a 13th floor. If you have 13 letters in your name then some believe you will have the devil’s luck (Jack the Ripper, Charles Manson). Luckily for me I have a middle name!
There is also the concrete taboo that if there are 13 people seated at a table one is going to die within a year. This superstition it is suggested comes from the Ancient Vikings. 12 gods were invited to a banquet in Valhaila. Loki, the evil one, the God of Mischief, was excluded from the guest list but gate crashed the party anyway, bringing the total number of guests up to 13. In typical fashion, Loki raised hell and incited, Hod, the Blind God of Winter, to attack Balder the Good, who was the favourite God. Hod , killed Balder and the Vikings apparently concluded that from then on 13 people at a dinner party is just plain bad luck.
Add onto this, the notion of Friday being an unlucky day. It is said that you should never change your bed on a Friday, as this will bring bad dreams. If you cut your nails on a Friday, you cut them in sorrow. A Friday was regarded as an unlucky day to start a journey. Friday was also the day that Jesus Christ was crucified. About a hundred years ago it was thought that to set sail on a Friday may lead to misfortune. The British Government sought to quell this longstanding false belief among seamen by commissioning a special ship with the name H.M.S Friday. They laid her keel on a Friday, launched her on a Friday, selected her crew on a Friday, and appointed a man named Jim Friday to be her captain. To top it all, H.M.S Friday embarked on her maiden voyage on a Friday and astonishingly enough the ship was never seen or heard of again.
Not everyone, however, fears the number 13. The Chinese regarded the number as lucky, as did the Egyptians in the time of the Pharaohs. To the ancient Egyptians life was a quest for spiritual ascension which unfolded in stages- 12 in this life and the 13th stage beyond that, thought to be eternal afterlife. The number 13, therefore, symbolised death, not in terms of dust and decay but as a glorious and desirable transformation. Though Egyptian civilisation perished, the symbolism conferred on the number 13 by its priesthood survived, but was corrupted by subsequent cultures who came to associate 13 with a fear of death, not a reverence of the afterlife.
There are people called Paraskevidekatriaphobics who are afflicted with a morbid and irrational fear of Friday the 13th.Some people refuse to go to work or eat in a restaurant. There is a social impact from this. According to the Stress Management Centre and Phobia Institute in North Carolina an estimated 17 -21 million people in the USA are said to be affected by a fear of this day and it is stated that around 900 million dollars are lost in business in the USA on a Friday the 13th.
But none of the above could persuade me to take the superstition seriously. In fact on Friday the 13th there, I was bold. On that very day, I walked under a ladder, I spilt salt and a black cat crossed my path. Yet in truth all I wanted to do all day was to go home early, lock the doors, pull up the shutters and go to bed- not because I had become a Paraskevidekatriaphobic but because I was somewhat unglamorously laid low by a Glasgow common cold. Bad luck ?