Friday has been considered unlucky since at least the 14th century, when Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales associated the date with bad fortune. And, an ancient Norse myth may be responsible for the bad rap the number 13 gets. According to the story, the 13th guest at a dinner party arranged for the blind god of darkness to shoot the god of joy and gladness. Old wives’ tales mark Friday as a day of inauspicious beginning. Some sailors are still reluctant to begin voyages on this weekday.
According to numerologists, the prejudice against 13 might be due to its relationship with 12 which is considered a complete number. There are 12 months in a year, 12 zodiac signs, there are 12 main gods in Greek mythology, Odin had 12 sons in Norse mythology, 12 disciples of Christ in Christianity, and 12 Imams in Islam. The addition of one, supposedly, throws off the balance of 12. That’s when, in some people’s minds, bad things happen.
There are a number of popular myths and superstitions surrounding the day, most famously:
- If you cut your hair on Friday the 13th, someone in your family will die.
- If a funeral procession passes you on Friday the 13th, you will be the next to die.
- Do not start a trip on Friday or you will encounter misfortune.
- If you break a mirror on Friday the 13th, you will have seven years of bad luck.
- A child born on Friday the 13th will be unlucky for life.
- Ships that set sail on a Friday will have bad luck.
- If you walk under a ladder or if a black cat crosses you on Friday the 13th, you will have bad luck.
Historically, the arrest of Jacques de Molay, the Grand Master of the Knights Templar, did occur on Friday, Oct. 13, 1307, however the association between Friday the 13th and bad luck is thought to be a modern interpretation of the event.
The first noted reference in English of Friday the 13th is in Henry Sutherland Edwards’ 1869 biography of Gioachino Rossini, where Edwards writes: Rossini was surrounded to the last by admiring and affectionate friends; Why Friday the 13th Is Unlucky.
Nathaniel Lachenmeyer, author of Thirteen: The Story of the World’s Most Popular Superstition, however, suggests in his book that because references to Friday the 13th were nonexistent before 1907, the popularity of the superstition must come from the publication of Thomas W. Lawson’s popular novel, Friday, the Thirteenth. In the novel, a stock broker takes advantage of the superstition to create a Wall Street panic on Friday the 13th.
Wall Street has fostered a fear of Friday the 13th for decades. In Oct. 13, 1989, Wall Street saw, what was at the time, the second largest drop of the Dow Jones Industrial Average in history. The day was nicknamed the Friday-the-13th mini-crash.
Friday the 13th was also discussed in the popular 2003 novel, The Da Vinci Code. In the book, a connection is drawn between the slaughtering of the Knights Templar by the Church and Friday the 13th.
Bad Luck and Superstition
The number’s traditional association with bad luck is so much so that people do not like to buy houses numbered 13. The sales of number 13 properties were distinctly below the national average for properties numbered 12 or 14. In fact, the number 13 can be seen as so unlucky that some developers do not label a floor 13 in a high-rise block, and homeowners sometimes opt for a house name rather than this dreaded number.
On Friday the 13th, or any other day, you must not cross a knife and a fork on a dinner table. Not only is it improper etiquette but you will invite bad luck because it symbolizes difficult times ahead. Another superstition held that a knife presented as a gift should never be given outright to the recipient but instead either bought or loaned. You should ask for a token payment, perhaps a nickel or penny, lest the knife represent a severing of the bonds of friendship.
An old English superstition holds that any courtship undertaken on a Friday the 13th is doomed. Not only that, but neighbors and friends who saw a young couple out on this Friday were expected to harass them by beating loudly on pots and pans to shame them into delaying their courtship until the following day. This was part of a larger phenomenon of social control called chivaree, a form of community censure which embarrassed people into acting according to proper custom.
Whether there is any merit to the superstitions surrounding Friday the 13th will remain uncertain, but that will not stop millions of people across the world from worrying about the unlucky day. Regardless, have a happy Friday!