In OnlineClock.net‘s last blog post, we discussed superstitions related to time and timepieces. In continuing that, we also wanted to mention that not all time-related superstitions are based on hours, minutes, seconds or even clocks. Some are based on calendar days.
One of the most popular examples is Friday the 13th. When the 13th of any month occurs on a Friday, there is a well-known superstition that this is bad luck. But why Friday? Or the 13th, for that matter? And what sparked the combination of the two? Online Clock decided to investigate the roots of this legendary superstition and dedicate a blog post to the subject.
Not only that, but we’re also celebrating the release of our brand new Countdown to Friday with this blog post. Wherever you are, and whatever day of the week or date it is, you can now celebrate in an online countdown to everyone’s favorite day of the week! So be sure to join the party…
Today we know that there is negativity surrounding Friday the 13th. But, in order to understand why people feel uneasy on this day, it is important to dig through history to the beginning of these deep-rooted superstitions. History scholars agree that the origins can be traced back to one of the world’s oldest texts – the Holy Bible. In the Gospels, there is reference to 13 people being seated at the table of the Last Supper. This event occurred on a Thursday. The next day was Friday, the day of the crucifixion of Jesus. Since those days, there are records of 13 being an unlucky number.
A news release published by the University at Buffalo records the words of renowned anthropologist Phillips Stevens, Jr., who studies cults and is an associate anthropology professor. He notes that old traditions convey the idea that it has long been socially unacceptable to seat 13 people at a table. Doing so may signify that one of the diners will die, as was the case with Jesus and his 12 disciples at the Last Supper. He also points out that most high-rise buildings don’t have a 13th floor. Airlines usually don’t have a 13th row either; this area is reserved for emergency exits. In relation to this theory, Harding University notes that Judas was the 13th person at the Last Supper. Judas was well-known in Biblical history for betraying Jesus, then going out and hanging himself. Perhaps these unfortunate events contribute to the theory of bad luck being associated with the combination of 13 and a Friday.
An article published by DePaul University notes that some people have a phobia of this dreaded day. The fear of Friday the 13th is so common that there is an official term for it: Paraskevidekatriaphobia. There is also an official term for fear of the number 13, which is Triskaidekaphobia. The article references “Work and Days” by the Greek poet Hesiod, who stated that the 13th day of the month was “unlucky for sewing seeds.” As far as Fridays are concerned, their unlucky connotations may have begun in Biblical times, but they are clearly referenced in 16th-century Western literature. Terms such as “Friday-faced” and “Friday-look” were used as early as the late 1500s, giving a negative reflection upon the weekday.
Greene wrote in 1592 about a fox making a “Friday-face.” Again in 1681, Robertson penned a question asking what made someone look so sad, making “such a Friday-face.” In Match of Midnight II, Rowley wrote of the “plague” of Friday mornings. There are no concrete reasons stated for Friday being such a negative day, but the subject sparks speculation. As far as the conflation of Friday and the 13th being such a bad-luck combination, it is believed that the first horrible event on record of the two occurred on Friday the 13th in October of 1307. On this day, the Knights of Templar were arrested after the Crusades and their leader was executed, as ordered by King Philip IV of France. However, this is only probable speculation, as Friday the 13th didn’t appear in lists of unlucky days until later in the 20th century.
The well-known Professor Woody Dudley of DePauw University shared his thoughts with National Geographic on the subject of Friday the 13th. He shared some interesting mathematical facts about this intriguing day. He stated that there is no way for a year to pass without a Friday the 13th occurring. Also of interest is that no year can have exactly four occurrences of Friday the 13th, due to the structure of the Gregorian calendar that is standard today. This doesn’t mean that there can’t be more or less than four occurrences. In 2010, there was only one Friday the 13th all year, but in 2009, there were nine occurrences of the date, which is the maximum number possible in a year. He notes something else very intriguing. The Gregorian calendar is structured to repeat itself every 400 years. When the 400 years are complete, Friday the 13th occurs more often than any other weekday. Dudley stated that it was a “funny coincidence.” Dudley certainly doesn’t endorse the superstitions surrounding Friday the 13th, calling them “moonshine” in the interview. He offered the explanation that people simply need something to blame bad things on, so they happened to choose 13.
One well-known story of a true and bizarre Friday the 13th tale is that of Arnold Schoenberg, an Austrian composer. Schoenberg was fascinated with numbers and studied numerology during his entire life. He was noted often for his intense fear of the number 13. He also had a fear of Friday the 13th occurrences. His fear began on Saturday, September 13, 1874, according to a Johns Hopkins University study. While composing page 13 of a violin concerto, he experienced much difficulty. Here comes the most bizarre part: he believed he would die at the age of 67 – and he did. He chose 67 because 6 and 7 added together equal 13. Now here is the intriguing twist to his last day – after Schoenberg sat terrified in bed all day, his wife checked on him 13 minutes before midnight, at which time he sat up and said “harmony,” then died. Is his story a grim example of unluckiness or did he literally scare himself to death? This is unknown, but it is definitely and intriguing debate.
In American pop-culture, Friday the 13th is treated as a day to be feared. One never knows what might happen. Movies and books depict horrible things happening. There is also a series of movies about Friday the 13th. These horror films depict a crazed and psychologically-deranged killer stalking people while wearing a ski mask. The killer, Jason, vengefully hunts the people down and kills them, targeting people who remind him of his torturous childhood. According to the official site for the Friday the 13th movies, there are 12 separate films that have been made, with the release of the 13th film set to take place in June of 2011.
In the Willamette University blog, international students were interviewed about superstitions and Friday the 13th, asked to convey the views of their individual countries. A student from Argentina said that in her country, there is a superstition that people should not marry on a Tuesday or Friday the 13th, as both are believed to be bad luck. Another student from Germany stated that Germans believe one should not do anything important on a Friday the 13th, as it is a bad-luck day. One view that was particularly interesting was that of a French student. She stated that in France, the number 13 can be lucky or unlucky. Streets often skip the number 13 because of bad luck, but in the lottery, the number is considered lucky. She mentions a special lottery that is held on all Friday the 13th occurrences, which is thought to be the perfect day for very good luck in winning the jackpot.
Each person must decide their own views on the matter, but there are certainly plenty of days in history where bad events have happened on Friday the 13th.
Somewhere in the world, despite what the clock or calendar says, there is something bad happening somewhere. What we choose to attribute to these occurrences is our own choice. Some may say that calendar days with the number 11 are unlucky – the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, the March 11, 2011 earthquake in Japan or the January 11, 2011 mudslides in Brazil are all examples. No matter what number or day we choose to be “unlucky,” there are only a maximum of 31 days and seven weekday names to choose from. In comparison with the thousands of years in history, this leaves plenty of room on each day of the week and month to attribute bad occurrences to.