Did you wake up with a foreboding feeling today, like maybe you’ll cross paths with a black cat, break a mirror or encounter a hockey-masked killer? That’s Friday the 13th for you.
Scared of the number 13? Then you simply have triskaidekaphobia. But if you’re scared of Friday the 13th itself, you have paraskavedekatriaphobia—also known by the not-really-less-of-a-mouthful friggatriskaidekaphobia.
The actual origin of the superstition appears to be a tale in Norse mythology. Friday is named for Frigga, the free-spirited goddess of love and fertility. When Norse and Germanic tribes converted to Christianity, Frigga was banished in shame to a mountaintop and labeled a witch. It was believed that every Friday, the spiteful goddess convened a meeting with eleven other witches, plus the devil — a gathering of thirteen — and plotted ill turns of fate for the coming week. For many centuries in Scandinavia, Friday was known as “Witches’ Sabbath.”
Some experts think that it is a relatively recent correlation and is a modern-day invention. For example, records of the superstition are rarely found before the 20th century, when it became extremely common. One author, noting that references are all but nonexistent before 1907 but frequently seen thereafter, has argued that its popularity derives from the publication that year of Thomas W. Lawson’s popular novel Friday, the Thirteenth, in which an unscrupulous broker takes advantage of the superstition to create a Wall Street panic on a Friday the 13th.
Historically, Friday the 13th has seen its share of bad events, including deadly World War II bombings, killer earthquakes and storms and a 1989 stock market plunge.
But how much do you really know about the unluckiest of all days? Here are some Friday the 13th facts. Maybe they’ll bring a little luck to your day.
* Fear of 13 is nothing new. The Code of Hammurabi—Babylonian law that dates back until at least 1780 BC—omitted a 13th law because it would be unlucky. Theories abound as to why 13’s bad reputation persisted. Some tie it to the number of diners at the Last Supper, or the actions of the 13th dinner guest, Judas. Numerologists also point to 13’s position just after the rounder number 12—12 signs of the zodiac, 12 months in a year, 12 tribes of Israel and so on.
* The pairing of Friday and the 13th is statistically more likely to occur than any other day of the week. For reasons known only to him, mathematician B.H. Brown set out in 1933 to compute the distribution of days of the week on the 13th of the month. The calendar repeats every 4,800 months, or 400 years. Over that time, a Friday the 13th will happen 688 times. That’s more often than the 13th will fall on Sunday (687), Monday (685), Tuesday (685), Wednesday (687), Thursday (684) or Saturday (684).
* Some years are unluckier than others. There can be as many as 14 months between Friday the 13ths, and every year has one to three. The last Friday the 13th occurred in August 2010. Paraskavedekatriaphobics take heart—the next isn’t until January 2012.
So are you afraid of Friday the 13, would you get married on Friday 13?