Friday the 13th – One day late

The following article is from Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter and is copyright by Richard W. Eastman. It is re-published here with the permission of the author. Information about the newsletter is available at http://www.eogn.com.

Do you suffer from Paraskevidekatriaphobia? That’s the morbid, irrational fear of Friday the 13th. According to some sources it’s the most widespread superstition in the United States today. In fact, many cities do not have a 13th Street or a 13th Avenue. Many buildings don’t have a 13th floor.

The number 13 is considered to be unlucky in many countries. For instance:

The Turks so dislike the number 13 that it almost doesn’t exist in their vocabulary. The number 13 is never spoken in polite conversation in the country.

On streets in Florence, Italy, the house between number 12 and 14 is addressed as 12 and a half.

Other fears do not seem to be limited to any one country:

If you have 13 letters in your name, you will have the devil’s luck (Jack the Ripper, Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, Theodore Bundy and Albert De Salvo all have 13 letters in their names).

There are 13 witches in a coven.

The Bible tells us there were exactly 13 present at the Last Supper. One of the dinner guests — er, disciples — betrayed Jesus Christ, setting the stage for the Crucifixion.

According to Katharine Kurtz in Tales of the Knights Templar (Warner Books, 1995):

On October 13, 1307, a day so infamous that Friday the 13th would become a synonym for ill fortune, officers of King Philip IV of France carried out mass arrests in a well-coordinated dawn raid that left several thousand Templars — knights, sergeants, priests, and serving brethren — in chains, charged with heresy, blasphemy, various obscenities, and homosexual practices. None of these charges was ever proven, even in France — and the Order was found innocent elsewhere — but in the seven years following the arrests, hundreds of templars suffered excruciating tortures intended to force “confessions,” and more than a hundred died under torture or were executed by burning at the stake.

In numerology, the number twelve is considered the number of completeness, as reflected in the twelve months of the year, twelve hours of the clock, twelve gods of Olympus, twelve tribes of Israel, twelve Apostles of Jesus, the 12 successors of Muhammad in Shia Islam, etc., whereas the number thirteen was considered irregular, transgressing this completeness.

Conversely, the Chinese regard the number 13 as lucky, as did the Egyptians in the time of the pharaohs.

In Spanish-speaking countries, instead of Friday, Tuesday the 13th (martes trece) is considered a day of bad luck.

In Italian popular culture, Friday the 17th (and not the 13th) is considered a day of bad luck.

The fear of Friday the 13th seems to be a recent phobia in America. In 1898, E. Cobham Brewer published a voluminous Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. He listed many old sayings and fables concerning both good luck and bad luck as well as other topics. Friday the 13th wasn’t even mentioned in the dictionary although one does find entries for “Friday, an Unlucky Day” and “Thirteen Unlucky.” (An ebook version of the Dictionary of Phrase and Fable is available at http://www.bartleby.com/81/.)

The phrase of Friday the 13th was never mentioned in American literature until 1907 but frequently seen thereafter. This apparently was caused by Thomas W. Lawson’s popular novel Friday, the Thirteenth, published in 1907, in which an unscrupulous broker takes advantage of the superstition to create a Wall Street panic on a Friday the 13th.

Every month that begins on a Sunday will contain a Friday the 13th, and there is at least one Friday the 13th in every calendar year.

For more fascinating facts about Friday the 13th go to Wikipedia.com.