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Friday the 13th: Where Did the Superstition of 'Cursed Day' Start?

Representative image of a woman holding a calendar reading 'Friday, the 13th'.

Representative image of a woman holding a calendar reading 'Friday, the 13th'.

The holy book of Christianity has some clues that give us a glimpse of why 13 is considered to be unlucky. Judas, who betrayed Jesus Christ, is thought to have been the 13th guest to sit down to the Last Supper.

Friday the 13th usually evokes the memories of an enduring superstition that the number 13 when occurring with the fifth day of the week is not-so-lucky. This superstition is mostly seen in western culture. The fear of Friday 13th also has a term to describe it: paraskevidekatriaphobia, which is a specialized form of triskaidekaphobia, a fear of the number 13. The fear of number 13 is such that some hotels have no room number 13, and many tall buildings do not name the 13th floor as such and just jump straight from 12 to 14.

So how did we reach here and where did it all start?

It is believed that the number 13 and Friday has been considered unlucky in several cultures. Former college professor, industrial physicist, and author of 1987 book, Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things, Charles Panati had mentioned that the number 13 had some reference in the Norse Mythology. Panati mentioned that when the god of mischief, Loki entered a banquet in Valhalla, bringing the number of gods in attendance to 13, the blind god Hodr was tricked into shooting his brother Balder, who was the god of light, joy and goodness, with a mistletoe-tipped arrow, killing him instantly.

Even the holy book of Christianity has some clues that give us a glimpse of why 13 is considered to be unlucky. Judas, who betrayed Jesus Christ, is thought to have been the 13th guest to sit down to the Last Supper. And even today 13 people sitting at a dinner table is considered unlucky.

When it comes to Friday, a series of events and traditions have led people to believe that the day is not quite auspicious. Friday was once known as the Hangman’s Day in England, because it was on that day when people who had been condemned to death were executed. However, the occasion of Good Friday, which marks the day of Christ’s crucifixion, is thought to be the only Friday that is an exception. Many sailors would begin their voyage on Good Friday for it was believed to bring them luck.

The superstition has also made its way into pop culture with movies like Friday the 13th. In 1907, American businessman and author Thomas William Lawson released his novel Friday, the Thirteenth. Being a stockbroker himself, Lawson’s novel detailed the story of a New York City stockbroker who played on superstitions about the date to create chaos on Wall Street.

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first published:August 13, 2021, 13:43 IST