The History of Friday the 13th
It’s a common notion in Western cultures to consider the 13th day of any month that falls on a Friday to be unlucky. And it’s possible to have between one and three months with “Friday the 13th” in it every year. (2017 has two — January and October.) But *why* do we consider Friday the 13th to be unlucky? It’s not just slasher horror movies or secret societies behind the superstition.
And one of the most difficult words in th English language refers to the fear of Friday the 13th: paraskevidekatriaphobia (pair-uh-SKEV-vee-day-CAT-tree-uh-FOE-bee-uh).
Western culture often associates the number 12 with good luck and completeness — 12 days of Christmas, 12 gods of Olympus, 12 months in a year, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 tribes of Israel, 12 labors of Hercules, etc. And its successor 13 is equally viewed as unlucky (Loki was the 13th guest in Valhalla, Judas was the 13th apostle).
Historians suggest the concept of Friday being an unlucky day stems from the Middle Ages, when people started suggesting the Biblical narrative of Jesus’ crucifixion happened on Friday the 13th. Also, in October 1307 — again on Friday the 13th — French King Philip IV is bto have arrested hundreds of the Knights Templar (although no references to that historical event are found until the 20th century).
“There’s a grain of truth to [the Last Supper theory], but the problem is that there is not much of a connection to the modern belief,” said Dr. Simon Bronner, professor of American studies and folklore at Penn State University. “It may be a case of religious folklore that rose to explain a belief. Psychologists treat [the fear of Friday the 13th] as real, but my sense is that…it’s something to blame. I think it was a constructed belief.”
Modern-day notions of the 13th day in a month being unlucky may be credited to Capt. William Fowler, a prominent soldier in the late 1800s. Fowler saw numerous references to the number 13 in his life, and started a prominent social club to combat “the popular superstition against thirteen,” thus drawing attention to the superstition. Fowler started the Thirteen Club in September 1881 (ironically on a Tuesday), where guests walked under ladders to a 13-seat table covered in spilled salt. Fowler’s notoriety and social status may have had the reverse impact, drawing attention to the number 13 being widely regarded as an unlucky number.
One of the earliest combinations of Friday and 13 together being exponentially unlucky can be traced to author Thomas William Lawson with his 1907 novel “Friday the 13th.” In the story, an unscrupulous broker took advantage of superstition to game the stock market on that date.
Finally, the date launched into the minds of nearly everyone with the introduction of Jason in the 1980 horror movie “Friday the 13th.” The movie was wildly successful, spawning multiple sequels, comic books, novellas, video games, merchandise and Halloween costumes.
Here’s an interesting footnote to the story; a few events that happened on Fridays the 13th:
- Germans bombed Buckingham Palace (September 1940)
- Kitty Genovese was murdered in New York City (March 1964)
- A cyclone killed more than 300,000 people in Bangladesh (November 1970)
- A Chilean Air Force plane disappeared in the Andes (October 1972)
- Rapper Tupac Shakur died (September 1996)
- The cruise ship Costa Concordia crashed off the coast of Italy, killing 30 people (January 2012)