Friday the 13th has always had special meaning to me as I happened to be born on one. My mother said that Friday the 13th was good luck for her, not just because she got her first child that day, but because she was damn tired of carrying a fetus that felt like it was swinging by its toes from her ribcage.
Most people, of course, think the opposite. Friday the 13th is decidedly unlucky. But why?
Rumored Ancient Origins
While we have no clear evidence of where the tradition started, many sources suggest it refers to the Last Supper, where thirteen people (Jesus plus 12 disciples) gathered for the last time before Jesus was arrested and executed on the disturbingly named Good Friday. (I know, I know, it’s good because it is the day humanity is saved from sin, but it’s still also the day a man was brutally tortured and killed.)
Dan Brown, pretty much my least favorite author ever, suggests it comes about because the leaders of the Knights Templar were executed on a Friday the 13th in 1307. He’s not the first to suggest it, but he did highly popularize it. The problem is lots and lots of people – people more important and more well known than the Knights Templar – have died on lots and lots of days, and those days haven’t been demonized.
Seriously, do not trust anything “historical” in a Dan Brown book. He’s awful.
You can find additional theories on the internet. The problem with all of the ones that date back centuries or millenia is that we don’t have a record of Friday the 13th being seen as ominous until the 19th century, and it doesn’t appear to have become a popular belief until the 20th.
One theory of a modern origin is that it least is strongly encouraged by a piece of fiction.
“Thomas W. Lawson’s novel entitled “Friday, the Thirteenth” tells the story of an unscrupulous stockbroker who picks that particular day to bring down Wall Street. The book sold 60,000 copies in its first month.” (Mirror Online)
Unlike the fears of Friday the 13th, superstitions concerning the number thirteen really are quite ancient. The Code of Hammurabi, a law code from roughly 1800 BCE, has no law thirteen. It goes from twelve to fourteen, as if it would be unwise to assign a law to number thirteen, just as building owners today frequently will not acknowledge a thirteenth floor: elevators progress from floor twelve to fourteen.
Exactly why thirteen is avoided by so many people is obscure, but it may well have to do with the importance of the number twelve in a variety of cultures, including
- Zodiac signs
- Months in the year
- Olympian Greek gods
- Tribes of Israel
- Hours on a standard clock, which comes from Egyptian astronomy
Twelve is a number of completeness, so thirteen might be an aberration of that perfect wholeness.
So, does that make me an aberration, one past the perfect number twelve? Well, my due date was December 12th.
- Snopes, “Friday the 13th.”
- ABC Science, “Why are there 24 hours in a day?“