Word and Phrase Origins
Friday the 13th

What is the origin of the Friday the 13th superstition?

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2010-08-20 15:43:40

The convergence of two superstitions between the number

13 and Friday seem to be at the heart of many

questions concerning this particular superstition. So lets start

with those.

FRIDAY has been an inauspicious day for a very long time,

and in many varied cultures. It has been held to be both unlucky

and as a day when evil influences are at work.

In Ancient Rome, Friday was execution day.

In some pre-Christian Religions Friday was a day of

worship, so those who involved themselves in secular or

self-interested activities on that day were not likely to receive

the blessings of the gods on their undertakings. Which may go a

long way to explain the superstition of not embarking on journeys

or starting important projects on Fridays.

From the Christian bible:

- Friday is reputed to be the day Eve gave Adam the


- It is said to be the day Adam & Eve were expelled from the

Garden of Eden.

- Friday is also reputed to be the day they (Adam &

Eve) died.

- The Great Flood is supposed to have started on a


- God was said to have struck the builders of the Towel of Babel

and created the confusion of many tongues, on a Friday.

- The Temple of Solomon was destroyed on a Friday.

- Christ was crucified and died on a Friday.

In Britain, Friday was customarily Hanging Day.

It is said accidents are more common on Fridays, however,

that may be more because Friday is the end of the work week

and people are hurrying to get away from work, than any sinister


It is supposed that witches favour Friday for coven

gatherings. This Pagan association was not lost on the early

Christian Church, which went to considerable lengths to suppress

them. If Friday was a holy day for "heathens" the Church

fathers felt it must not be so for Christians, hence in the middle

ages Friday became known as the "Witches' Sabbath."

The name "Friday" is derived from the Norse goddess known

either as Frigg - wife of Odin (the goddess of marriage &

fertility, the moon & witches) or Freya (goddess of love,

beauty, sensuality, war, good fortune, magic & wisdom). To

complicate matters the two goddesses are combined and used

interchangeably by many, however, the etymology of Friday

has been given both ways.

Pre-Christian Teutonic people actually considered Friday

to be lucky, particularly for wedding, because of its association

with the aforementioned goddesses. This however changed when the

Christian church came into ascendancy. Frigg/Freya was re-cast in

folklore as a witch and her day became associated with evil


Various legends developed in that vein, one however, is of

particular interest:

As the legend goes, the witches of the north used to observe

their Sabbath by gathering in a cemetery in the dark of the moon.

On one such occasion the Friday goddess, (Freya herself)

came down from her sanctuary in the mountaintops and appeared

before the group, who numbered only twelve at the time, and gave

them one of her cats, after which the witches' coven, and, by

"tradition," every properly-formed coven since, is comprised of

thirteen members.

Other superstitions concerning Friday include:

- Clothing made on a Friday will never fit properly.

- Visiting your doctor on Friday will not have a good


- Never change your bed on a Friday, as it will result in

nightmares and bad dreams.

- One should not move their residence or marry on a Friday, if

they expect any good to come of it.

- Cut your nails of Friday and you cut them for


- Ill news received on a Friday will etch wrinkles in the

face of the recipient, more so than the same news received on any

other day.

- Friday is an inauspicious day to start a trip as

"misfortune will bound to follow."

- Ships that set sail on Friday will have bad luck. ~

This superstition is supported by the Urban legend of the H.M.S.


It is reported that, in an attempt to debunk the many sailors'

superstitions centered around Fridays, the British

government commissioned a special ship. They named it the H.M.S.

Friday; the crew was selected on a Friday, the keel was

set on a Friday, and she was launched on a Friday.

They even went so far as to hire a man named Friday to

captain her. It was on a Friday that she set sail on her

maiden voyage, and as the story goes, was never heard of again.

Children born on Fridays are believed by some to be

unlucky, but they will enjoy the gifts of second sight and healing


On the other side of things, the old nursery rhyme says

"Friday's child is loving and giving", so not all cultures

agreed that Friday was a bad day to be born.

An old proverb said "If you laugh on Friday you will cry

on Sunday,"

There are those who say the weather on Friday will be

repeated on Sunday.

The number THIRTEEN is much maligned, The prejudice

against the number is more or less planet wide. The Turks are said

to have so disliked the number so much that it was all but

eradicated from their vocabulary. In fact there are so many people

with a fear (triskaidekaphobia) of the number thirteen, that

many will go to great lengths to avoid any association with it.

This is why there are cities that do not have a thirteenth

Street or Avenue, highways often do not have a thirteenth

exit, many airports do not have a thirteenth gate and many

buildings do not have rooms and in some cases floors number


The number thirteen is associated with the supposed

number of members in a witches' coven. As the legend goes, the

witches of the north used to observe their Sabbath by gathering in

a cemetery in the dark of the moon. On one such occasion the Friday

goddess, (Freya herself) came down from her sanctuary in the

mountaintops and appeared before the group, who numbered only

twelve at the time, and gave them one of her cats, after which the

witches' coven, and, by "tradition," every properly-formed coven

since, is comprised of thirteen members.

It is also interesting to note in this story, the possible

origin of the belief that a witch's familiar is a cat.

One of the most commonly known and observed superstitions

concerning the number thirteen, has to do with dining. It is

said to be incredibly unlucky to be invited to dinner and have

thirteen people at table.

The belief is that the first person to rise from table and/or

the last person to sit down at the table are destined to die within

the calendar year. The only way to avoid this is for everyone to be

seated and to rise from the table at the same time. Not an easy

feat, however, there is some hope for everyone's survival if two or

more of the people at dinner are seated at another/separate


- This superstition is said to originate with the Last Supper at

which Judas Iscariot was the last person to take a seat at


- The superstition is also said to have originated in the East

with the Hindus, who believed, for their own reasons, that it is

always unlucky for thirteen people to gather in one place at

one time, say - at dinner.

- Interestingly enough, precisely the same superstition has been

attributed to the ancient Vikings. There is an old Norse legend

that seems tailor made for continuing this trend;

As the story goes, twelve gods were invited to a banquet at

Valhalla. Loki, the Evil One, (god of mischief) had been left off

the guest list but crashed the party, bringing the total number of

attendees to thirteen. True to character, Loki incited Hod

(the blind god of darkness and winter) into attacking Balder the

Good (fairest of the gods). Hod took a spear of mistletoe offered

by Loki and obediently hurled it at Balder, killing him instantly.

All Valhalla grieved.

This tale apparently explains why the Norse themselves adhere to

the belief that thirteen people at a dinner party is just

plain bad luck.

One of the more perplexing suggestions of origin is that the

fears surrounding the number thirteen are as ancient as the

act of counting. This speculative explanation suggests, primitive

man had only his ten fingers and two feet to represent units, so he

could count no higher than twelve. What lay beyond that

-thirteen- was an unfathomable mystery to our prehistoric

antecedents, hence an object of fear, confusion and superstition.

Which has the feel of possible truth, but my first thought was,

those self-same humans didn't wear shoes, so why didn't they use

their toes to count with as well?

There is also a theory which has a ring of truth to it that

suggests that the number thirteen may have been purposely

vilified by the founders of patriarchal religions in the early days

of western civilization because it represented femininity.

Thirteen had been revered in prehistoric

goddess-worshiping cultures, we are told, because it corresponded

to the number of lunar (and coincidentally, menstrual) cycles in a

year (13 x 28 = 364 days).

The "Earth Mother of Laussel," for example, a 27,000 year old

carving found near the Lascaux caves in France is often cited as an

icon of matriarchal spirituality. It depicts a female figure

holding a crescent-shaped horn bearing thirteen notches.

It is speculated that as the solar calendar triumphed over the

lunar with the rise of male-dominated civilization and religions,

so did the "perfect" number 12 over the "imperfect" number 13,

thereafter considered anathema.

It is said that if you have thirteen letters in your name you

will have the "Devil's luck." There may be some truth in that as

Jack the Ripper, Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, Theodore Bundy and

Albert De Salvo all had thirteen letters in their names.

More superstitions about the number thirteen include:

- There are thirteen steps leading to the gallows.

- There are thirteen knots in a hangman's noose.

- It is thirteen feet the blade of a guillotine


- There were thirteen people at the last supper.

- Lizzy Borden was said to have spoken only thirteen

words at her trial.

- There were thirteen original colonies.

- The US Seal has thirteen stars, bars, and feathers in

the eagle's tail. The eagle carries thirteen bars in one

claw, thirteen olive branches in the other.

- E pluribus Unum has thirteen letters.

- Ancient Romans regarded the number thirteen as a symbol

of death, destruction and misfortune.

- The thirteenth card in a Tarot deck is "Death" often

pictured as the Grim Reaper (a skeleton, often in a hooded cape,

carrying a scythe). It should be noted however, that the Death card

is rarely if ever read as "death" but as transition, change or new


- The driver of Princess Diana's vehicle hit pillar #13

at Place de l'Alma when she was killed in Paris, France.

- Apollo 13. In 1970, the thirteenth mission was

to be launched from pad #39 (13 x 3). The mission was aborted,

after an explosion occurred in the fuel cell of their service

module. The rocket had left launching pad at 13:13 CST and

the date was April 13th.

.- In France, a "quatrorzieme" is a professional 14th guest

hired by people who had only thirteen guests in attendance

for dinner, and who felt that was unlucky.

- A baker's dozen is a term used to describe bakery items such

as rolls, or doughnuts sold in a pack of thirteen. I have

heard many explanations for this, however, the following is pretty

much exemplary of them.

The story tells of a witch near Albany, NY who demanded

thirteen items every time she came in to a particular

bakery. One day the old bake, who could not afford her extra

biscuit, refused her. She is said to have sneered some strange

words at the man, and thereafter he suffered terrible luck, until

he brought her another thirteen rolls. After that life was

once again easy for the baker and word spread around town. The

custom is still sometimes practiced today.

The prejudice against the number thirteen is of obscure

and ancient origin, as it existed in Roman times long before

Christ, and the last supper.

Perhaps of interest, is that the Chinese consider

thirteen to be a lucky number.

The ancient Egyptians revered thirteen was the number of

the last step a soul took on its journey to eternity, twelve steps

taken in life and the final one at death into the eternal glory of

the afterlife. Thus making the thirteenth step a joyous one.

It is only after the Civilizations of the Pharaohs were ancient

history that the association of the number thirteen with

death became one of fear instead of one of celebration.

There are some schools of thought that attribute the

thirteenth step into the afterlife to be of Hindu


FRIDAY the THIRTEENTH is believed to be the most

widespread superstition.

There isn't much documentation prior to the nineteenth century,

on why humankind decided to amalgamate the two superstitions, other

than the obvious one, in that the thirteenth of a month falls on a

Friday between one and three times a year and someone was bound to

eventually put two and two, or in this case thirteen and Friday

into one day with a really nasty reputation.

The earliest traceable reference to the combination is from the

biography of Italian composer Gioachino Rossini. In the book The

Life of Rossini, by Henry Sutherland Edwards, it says: "[Rossini]

was surrounded to the last by admiring and affectionate friends;

and if it be true that, like so many other Italians, he regarded

Friday as an unlucky day, and thirteen as an unlucky number, it is

remarkable that on Friday, the 13th of November, he died."

There is a theory that notes references to the superstition are

nonexistent prior to 1907, and argues that the Thomas Lawson novel

Friday the 13th is what has given rise to the popularity of the

superstition. The book, all but forgotten now, concerned dirty

dealings in the stock market and sold quite well in its day. It

seems unlikely that the novelist, literally invented that premise

himself. He treats it within the story, in fact, as a notion that

already existed in the public consciousness. This may have set it

on a path to becoming the most widespread superstition in modern

times, it certainly was readily adopted and popularized by the


There is evidence to show that although most people will claim

not to be superstitious, businesses, worldwide, show a marked

decline in sales etc. on Fridays the thirteenth, as many choose to

put off business decisions, investments of money, business and

personal travel and even personal events such as weddings. Many

others choose not to go in to work, eat in restaurants, go to

movies, theatrical performances or to entertain in their homes on

that day.

It has been known for the departure of certain ocean liners to

be delayed until after midnight to appease passengers' fears of

setting sail on a Friday the 13th.

According to Dr Donald Dossey, a psychotherapist specializing in

the treatment of phobias (and the man who coined the term

paraskevidekatriaphobia, sometimes spelled

paraskavedekatriaphobia), there may be as many as 21 million people

in the United States that currently suffer from some form of the

phobia. If he is right, eight percent of Americans are still in the

grips of a very old superstition.

There has been research in Britain showing there are fewer cars

on the road on a Friday 13th than on any other Friday, and yet

there are more accidents reported.

Friday, January the 13th 1939 is one example people hold up for

the belief the day is inauspicious. In Australia, on that day, a

devastating bushfire swept across southern Victoria, killing 71


Another supposed origin of the Friday the 13th superstition

comes from the historical destruction of the Knights Templar.

The Dan Brown novel The Da Vinci Code and the Movie of the same

name, (directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks) popularized

the thought that the superstition is tied to the mass arrest of the

Knights Templar. Secretly ordered by King Philip of France, (and

Holy Roman Emperor, Pope Clement V) the mass arrest, of all the

Knights Templar in France happened on Friday, October 13, 1307. The

eventual condemnation, and eradication of the Knights Templar was

to follow. The King of France and the Pope got the spoils, and a

date was cemented in time.

Very nearly everyone you ask has a theory about the origin of

the Friday the thirteenth superstition, and no few of them will

happily share some frightening or apocryphal story to back it up.

And in all honesty most of us enjoy a good "scary tale," as

evidenced by the popularity of the series of movies titled "Friday

13th" 1 through 705 (okay, I will admit that may be a bit of an


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