The Bizarre History Of Friday the 13th

OK, nobody freak out, but it’s Friday the 13th.

I know, I know, I didn’t see it coming either. It just sneaked up on us this month. Maybe because we already had one this year, back in September, and we weren’t expecting another. But it’s here. We can’t do anything about it. So all my Friggatriskaidekaphobics, stay with me. You know what will make today seem a little less threatening? A bit of history. 

No one knows for sure where a fear of Friday the 13th comes from. Some point to the last supper of Jesus Christ. The 13th guest at the table – Judas – ratted him out to the Romans, leading to Jesus’ crucifixion one day later, on a Friday. At least that’s how the story goes. Others link Friday the 13th to Norse mythology, which includes the tale of another dinner party (what’s up with these dinners going horribly?) Legend says the Norse gods were dining together when a 13th uninvited guest, Loki, arrived. One thing led to another and Loki arranged the death of Balder, the god of joy, for which the “whole earth mourned.” 

There's also a general fear of the number 13 itself. The idea that so many things are organized in groups of 12 – months, zodiac signs, apostles, tribes of Israel, etc. – might be why 13 is considered unlucky. Just don’t tell that to any bakers you know.

But most contemporary references to a fear of the number 13 didn’t hit the mainstream until the 19th century. One of the earliest superstitions around the number 13 included “if 13 people sit at a table together, one will die within a year” (again with these dinners, come on).

Friday the 13th has some troubled history, too. On Friday, Oct. 13, 1307, France’s King Philip IV began a raid against the Knights Templar, charging them with illegal activity and throwing them in prison, where many of them eventually died.

What about people born on Friday the 13th? Are all of them evil? Well, it depends who you ask. Births on Friday the 13th feature some notable names, including Fidel Castro, the Olsen twins, and noted witch Nate Silver.

Whether Friday the 13th is actually cause for concern or not, the fear is certainly real. Millions of Americans supposedly have a phobia of the date, which some suggest costs millions of dollars in turn, because people refuse to do business or travel. Hotels and apartment buildings often skip the 13th floor, jumping right from 12 to 14.

But take heart: today will be over soon. Stay safe – don’t cross any black cats, walk under ladders, or break any mirrors. Actually, you probably shouldn’t even look in any mirrors, just to be safe. 

And relax, there’s only one Friday the 13th in 2014.

But wait – there’s three in 2015?! PANIC.

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Benjamin Cosman

Ben graduated from SUNY Geneseo with a B.A. in English Literature and a minor in Political Science. He recently traveled through New England looking for pie. His second-favorite pastime is googling pictures of politicians laughing.

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