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Why Is Friday the 13th Considered So Unlucky?

Superstitious souls avoid air travel, driving, and playing the stock market every Friday the 13th. But where does their fear originate?


It’s that time of the year again, and we’re not talking about the holidays.

We’re in the presence of Friday the 13th, arguably the most feared date on the calendar. There’s even a clinical term for the anxiety triggered by the ominous day: “Friggatriskaidekaphobia.”

Superstitious individuals will no doubt be wary of air travel, driving, or playing the stock market today, while others will simply stay home to avoid the supposed sinister forces at work. But where does the fear of Friday the 13th originate?

Many researchers trace the superstition to the story of Jesus and the Last Supper. Thirteen guests joined Jesus at the table on Maundy Thursday, with Judas taking the final spot. Jesus was arrested and sent to be crucified the following day.

In cultures across the globe, 12 signifies completeness while 13 implies trouble. There are 12 zodiac signs, two sets of 12 hours in a day, and 12 months in a year. In myths and religion, the number of gods on Olympus, the number of animals in the Chinese horoscope, the number of tribes of Israel, and the number of apostles of Jesus all equal 12.

Adding just one more digit seems to throw everything off balance—and invite bad luck. Loki, the mischievous god of Viking mythology, is believed to be the 13th god in the Norse pantheon.

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  • Members of London’s Eccentric Club, similar to the Thirteen Club, tempting fate with a Friday the 13th lunch. 

    Photo Credit: E. Dean / Getty

Not everyone accepts the unlucky reputation of the number. In 1881, a group of 13 members formed the Thirteen Club. They tempted fate by walking under ladders, spilling salt, breaking mirrors, and dining in groups of 13 on the 13th day. Five U.S. Presidents joined in on the fun: Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, and Theodore Roosevelt.

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As for the cursed combination of Friday the 13th, many trace it back to October 13th, 1307. On this day, King Phillip IV of France imprisoned—and later executed—members of the Knights Templar under accusations of idolatry. The 2003 novel The Da Vinci Code brought world-wide attention to the legendary connection.

Related: Nightmare Fuel: 10 Books That Will Haunt Your Dreams

Other examples includes the 1907 book Friday, the Thirteenth by Thomas Lawson. The novel tells of a stockbroker who plays on people’s fears of the day to bring down Wall Street.

When the stock market did crash on Friday, October 13th, 1989, it was quickly labeled a Friday the 13th mini-crash. This unlucky day was partially credited with triggering the recession of the early 1990s.

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  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Today, references to Friday the 13th and unlucky 13 abound. Born on Friday the 13th, Jason Voorhees of the slasher flick series Friday the 13th struck fear in the hearts of many. Numerous reports of the tragic death of beloved Princess Diana include mention of her car striking the 13th pillar in the Pont D’ Alma tunnel. The pervading fear can be seen in the absence of a 13th floor in most office buildings and hotels, and 13th row in most airlines, including AirFrance, Emirates, and United.

Meanwhile, popular myths surrounding the date run from morbid to comical. According to this list of superstitions from International Business Times, if a funeral procession passes you by on Friday the 13th, you’ll be the next to die. Meanwhile, if you stop by the barber on the ominous date, someone in your family will pay for it with death.

Related: The Cursed History of the Lemp Family Mansion

Yet the big question remains: Is the day indeed cursed? While some studies have found a correlation between Friday the 13th and ill-fated activity, many others suggest the day is slightly safer. One such study compared motor vehicle accidents on a Friday the 13th with other Fridays in the month and found a slight downtick in crashes—perhaps due to superstitious motorists driving a little safer.

As for the stock market? Historically, it hasn’t been negatively affected by the day.

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  • Photo Credit: Keystone / Getty

So fear not the black cat that crosses your path or the ladder looming over your head today. Statistically, you can take it all with a grain of salt—but on second thought, try not to spill the shaker.

[via LiveScience; The Independent; International Business Times

Feature photo: Bettmann / Getty