You’ve experienced it before – you spill your coffee on your way to class, you get a parking ticket from Public Safety, you trip on the cobblestone pathways more than usual; bad luck seems to be following you wherever you go! You’re not the only one. Studies have shown that over 21 million people admit to feeling some anxiety or bad luck on Friday the 13th. You may even suffer from what is called paraskavedekatriaphobia, or an extreme fear of Friday the 13th. For some, this phobia is debilitating. Individuals will refuse to even get out of bed on a Friday the 13th, while others live as if it were any other typical day. This creepy phenomenon happens at least once every calendar year, but will never occur more than three times. In 2017 it has occurred twice. Once in January of this year and a second time this October.
The number thirteen is so unlucky that most high-rise buildings don’t have a thirteenth floor. Next time you’re in an elevator, pay attention to the number on the screen – it will switch from twelve to fourteen, completely skipping over thirteen. Airports tend to omit a thirteenth gate, and airplane seats lack a thirteenth row entirely. So what makes the number thirteen and, more specifically, the date of Friday the 13th so menacing? Whether you consider yourself to be superstitious or skeptical, scientists have been able to find no solid evidence that this date is unluckier than most. So it is likely just a psychological placebo effect. Still, millions of people claim to experience some form of bad luck on this day – so where did the superstition come from?
Donald Dossey of the Stress Management and Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina suggests that the negative association with the number thirteen originated in Norse mythology and the evil god Loki who was the 13th unwanted guest at a dinner between gods at Valhalla. Some say the superstition comes from the story of Jesus’ apostle Judas and his betrayal. Judas is said to have been the thirteenth guest at the Last Supper, which occurred the day before Jesus was killed. Jesus is sometimes said to have been crucified on a Friday, hence the negative association with the day.
Regardless of its origin, Friday the 13th has become a cultural phenomenon. A whopping 12 installments have occurred in the slasher-movie franchise “Friday the 13th”, and music, books and television continue to be inspired by the day of perpetual bad luck. We will never know why this modern superstition occurs, but it is likely to continue for a very long time. So, the next time it comes around (April and July of next year if you have the sense to plan ahead), tie your shoelaces extra tight and watch your step!