They date back to at least ancient Roman times, but Friday-the-13th superstitions won't be getting much of a workout this year. It's lucky for those triskaidekaphobia sufferers, because last Friday was 2010's only Friday-the-13th.
This must come as a relief, after 2009's nine (9) Friday-the-13ths--the maximum possible in a year. At least as long as we continue to mark time with the Gregorian calendar, which Pope Gregory XIII ordered the Catholic church to adopt in 1582. The calendar works just as its predecessor, the Julian calendar did, with a leap year every four years. But the Gregorian one skips leap year on century years except those divisible by 400. I'm glad someone is looking after this!
"You can't have any years with none and you can't have any with four, because of our funny calendar," says Dudley Underwood, professor of mathematics at DePauw University in Indiana (USA) and author of Numerology: Or What Pythagorus Wrought. He also adds, "When the 400 year order is laid out, another revelation occurs: The 13th falls on a Friday more often than any other day of the week. It's just a funny coincidence." The Friday-the-13th superstitions are rooted in ancient bad-luck associations with the number 13 and the day Friday.
There's the obvious biblical reference to the unlucky number 13. Judas, the apostle said to have betrayed Jesus, was the 13th guest to the last Supper. As for Friday, it's well known that Jesus was crucified and died on that day. One wonders if it also was the 13th of that month. Some biblical scholars believe that Abel was slain by his brother Cain on Friday the 13th. Norse mythology also refers to a 13th god, Loki, coming uninvited to a dinner party in Valhalla and killing one of them. Witches in Rome gathered only in groups of 12. Any extra guest was believed to be the devil in disguise.
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 those 12 Apostles. "In exceeding 12 by 1," says Thomas Fernsler, a mathematical scientist, "13's association with bad luck has to do with just being a little beyond completeness. The number becomes restless or squirmy; not unlike some of those poor folks with triskaidelaphobia today. We all know what happened to Apollo 13. That scared a lot of people!"
The fear of 13 pervades many societies in our modern times. More than 80% of high-rise buildings lack a 13th floor. Many airports skip the 13th gate. Hospitals and hotels regularly have no room Number 13. Some people can be so affected that their symptoms can range from mild anxiety to full-blown panic attacks. The latter may cause many to reshuffle schedules or miss an entire days work.
The Way I See It....societies, past and present, seem to need something that is unlucky and somehow over the years, mythology, religion and numerologists have come to the conclusion that number 13 is "it". Hope I haven't stirred up any restlessness or squirming for your next encounter with Friday-the-13th.