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