If you are afraid of Friday the 13th, then hold on because 2023 has two of them.
Johannesburg, South Africa (13 January 2023) – Fear of Friday the 13th has spawned a horror movie franchise, its own hard-to-pronounce term — paraskevidekatriaphobia — and a widespread tradition of widespread paranoia when it rolls around each year.
And in 2023, we have two of them. Today, Friday, the 13th of January and Friday, the 13th of October.
The origins of superstitions can be hard to pin down. There are often several theories about how they started, and a bunch of people ready to debunk those theories. Friday the 13th is one such example.
- The most commonly held perception is that Friday is an unlucky day and 13 is a particularly unlucky number.
- In numerology, 13 is considered an irregular number and the number of witches you need to form a coven.
- There is also a biblical reference to 13 being considered unlucky. Judas, the apostle who later betrayed Jesus, was supposedly the 13th guest to sit down at the last supper. Christ was crucified on a Friday.
- In the 14th Century, Geoffrey Chaucer referenced Friday as being an unlucky day in his Canterbury Tales, “And on a Friday fell all this mischance”.
While folklore historians say it’s tough to pinpoint precisely how the taboo came to be, many believe it originates from the Last Supper and the 13 guests who sat at the table on the day before the Friday on which Jesus was crucified.
“When those two events come together, you are reenacting at least a portion of that terrible event,” Dr. Phil Stevens, 74, an associate professor of anthropology at the University at Buffalo, explains.
“You are reestablishing two things that were connected to that terrible event.”
What began as a Christian interpretation launched into a phenomenon that leads some to avoid staying at hotel rooms with the number 13, beware of venturing up to the 13th floor of any building or try not to sit in the 13th row in aeroplanes, Stevens says.
“The number 13 became a problematic number because of the number of people at that table during that fateful event,” he says.
But there are many other theories of how the ominous day came to be considered the harbinger of bad luck.
According to Dr Simon Bronner, a distinguished professor of American studies and folklore at Pennsylvania State University, most theories may exist in an attempt to explain the unexplainable. To him, Friday the 13th is just a convenient milestone for people looking to trace bad luck to a specific cause—but there’s nothing special about the date itself. After all, he adds that the number 13 is apparently considered lucky in some countries, like Italy.
“There’s a grain of truth to [the Last Supper theory], but the problem is that there is not much of a connection to the modern belief,” Bronner, 62, says. “It may be a case of religious folklore that rose to explain a belief. Psychologists treat [the fear of Friday the 13th] as real, but my sense is that…it’s something to blame. I think it was a constructed belief.”
Here are some crazy things that the fear of 13 has caused
- Many buildings, including offices, hotels and apartment complexes, do not include a 13th floor or a room 13.
- A spokesman for Otis International, the elevator maker, estimated in 2002 that 85 percent of buildings with more than 13 floors skipped that number.
- Many airlines have no 13th row on their planes.
- Cleveland Hopkins International Airport does not have a gate 13. Reports said that the former Continental Airlines, which had a hub in Cleveland, avoided 13 on planes and concourses.
- Former U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt refused to travel on the 13th of any month and would never sit with 13 people at table, according to triskaidekaphobia.info. Napoleon and Herbert Hoover also had triskaidekaphobia.
Still, regardless of whether people choose to purposefully steer clear of black cats or dodge sidewalk cracks on Friday the 13th, Stevens notes that it’s important not to mock other people’s convictions surrounding the day.
“Sometimes these are frivolous things, but sometimes they are deeply rooted cultural fears,” he says. “You can insult somebody by making fun of it or you can be ignorant yourself. Some people have deep cultural taboos that you cannot change by denying them.”
For what it’s worth to believers, there are only two Friday the 13ths this year—and of course, one of them is today.