Friday the Thirteenth in America
How did Friday the 13th become a day surrounded by superstition?
In checking into the background of it, I was surprised to learn that Friday itself has long been viewed as an unlucky day. In today’s culture, I think most of us like Friday because we are anticipating the pleasure of a weekend. That seems to be a more modern phenomenon that must have arrived when unions began to insist on the concept of the weekend or equivalent.
Friday is thought to have gotten a bad rap because Friday was the day that Jesus was crucified. Long after that, The Canterbury Tales put forth the idea that a Friday was a bad day to begin a journey.
Fear of 13
Experts say that the dread of 13 is rooted in ancient history, with no one story where we can proclaim, “this is the beginning.” Ancient Greeks and Romans practiced numerology, and they considered 13 to be a number signaling destruction. Witches’ covens were believed to involve 13 members. Norse mythology tells of 12 gods having dinner together when a 13th uninvited god appeared and played a trick on them all.
Ancient Vikings considered the number 13 unlucky and their hangman’s noose always has 13 knots. There are also13 steps to the gallows. Thirteen people attended the Last Supper; the 13th guest was Judas who betrayed Jesus.
As we move forward in time, I have read about how throughout the 19th century, ship captains preferred not to start journeys on Fridays, and definitely not on Friday the 13th.
Lloyds of London refused to insure any ship that was set to sail on a Friday the 13th.
Even today many people try to avoid traveling on this day.
There are also often rumors of computer virus threats that are to unleash on Friday the 13th.
Culture Reinforces It
This whole belief system of avoiding “13” is buffered by many business and cultural practices. Otis Elevator Company reports that about 90 percent of high-rise buildings do not have a 13th floor.
Hospitals, hotels and office complexes tend to avoid giving a room a number of 13.
Universal Studios in Los Angeles has no studio 13.
Airlines and sports arenas usually omit the number 13 for seat numbers. Some places avoid the gate number too.
Amazingly, all these efforts at avoidance add up to serious business loss. The North Carolina Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute estimates that between 800 and 900 million dollars are lost in the U.S. economy because of travelers deciding to stay home or shoppers opting not to go out and spend money.
But You Can Protect Yourself
But there are some things you can do to avoid having bad luck on Friday the 13th:
- Walk around your house 13 times on Friday the 13th.
- Hang your shoes outside on Friday the 13th.
- For the three Friday nights preceding a Friday the 13th, sleep with a mirror under your pillow. On Friday the 13th you will dream of your true love.
- Walk around the block with your mouth full of water. (Don’t swallow!) This will make you safe for Friday the 13th.
And with that in mind, there are some people who just went right along with what they were doing, and it was a good thing for us. Here are just a few of them:
George Washington laid the cornerstone for the White House on October 13, 1792; the cornerstone for the Supreme Court was laid on the same date in 1932.
Francis Scott Key wrote “The Star Spangled Banner” on September 13, 1814.
Igor Sikorsky successfully tested his new invention, the helicopter, on Friday September 13, 1939.
Happy Friday the 13th!