Friday the 13th – The History Behind the Date

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Image Credit: A witch at her cauldron surrounded by beasts. Etching by J. van de Velde II, 1626.

Friday the 13th has been a date on the calendar which has caused issues for many over the years – even before Jason came along. The date, specifically the number 13, is referenced in the Bible as being particularly unlucky.

Paraskevidekatriaphobia – from the Greek words paraskeví (meaning ‘Friday’), and dekatreís (meaning ‘thirteen’). The fear of the number 13 itself is called triskaidekaphobia.

Historically the number 12 is considered complete, it’s no surprise then that 13 is an outsider. There are 12 months of the year, 12 gods of Olympus, 12 hours of the clock, 12 tribes of Israel, 12 Apostles of Jesus, 12 Descendants of Muhammad Imams, among many incidences of the pattern historically. Did you know that US President Roosevelt refused to let 13 people dine together and didn’t travel on the date?

Whilst the fear of Friday the 13th isn’t spread among all humans worldwide, many take their fear of the date to the extreme. In 1976, New Yorker Daz Baxter was apparently so afraid of Friday the 13th he decided the safest place to stay was his bed. However, Mr. Baxter was killed when the floor of his apartment block collapsed that day. Unfortunately for some, they can’t escape the unlucky date no matter how hard they try. In 2010, lightning struck a 13-year-old Suffolk boy on Friday 13th at 13:13.

In Western countries, the 13th floor of buildings is often missed out, with many homes and hotels removing the number almost completely. An example would be the Carlton in London which misses out the 13th floor entirely.

Dr Caroline Watt of the University of Edinburgh says that it is the belief in the Friday 13th superstition that could, in fact, prove the greatest risk to the average person:

“If people believe in the superstition of Friday the 13th then they believe they are in greater danger on that day. As a result they may be more anxious and distracted and this could lead to accidents. It becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.

“It is like telling someone they are cursed. If they believe they are then they will worry, their blood pressure will go up and they put themselves at risk.”

Events such as the death of well-known rapper Tupac Shakur happened on Friday the 13th, as well as the bombing of Buckingham Palace by German bombers in 1940 – almost killing King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. A Chilean Air force plane disappeared in the Andes on Friday 13 October 1972, with 16 survivors turning up two months later.

Friday the 13th is also closely related to witches and their feline friends – it being bad luck coming across a black cat on the date as many in history though witches were able to morph into these animals at their pleasure. The number 13 is also the number of witches that are supposedly needed to create a coven.

With all this being said, it’s up to each individual to decide if Friday the 13th is really a day of bad luck and ‘scary’ events. Are you superstitious of this date? Leave a comment below!