Today is Friday the 13th, a day filled with ominous overtones and dread, if you happen to be superstitious. I wanted to find out a little about the origins of this commonly-held belief.
Friggatriskaidekaphobia is an amazing word that means “fear of Friday the 13th”. Many otherwise rational people will still cling to the strange notion that the simple coincidence of calendar dates is an actual harbinger of ill fortune or bad luck. The superstition has some surprising origins.
Basically, the bad rep that Friday the 13th lives under is a result of a merging of two separate long-standing superstitions. One, that Friday is the day of the week most associated with bad luck; and two, the belief that the number 13 is also a bad sign. Like rituals commonly associated with Easter, Halloween, and Christmas, the phobia stems from the first centuries of Christianity, and attempts to neutralize or appropriate Pagan religious symbols.
For centuries, Friday was considered to be the most unlucky day of the week. The day’s name comes from Frigga, the goddess of Norse mythology who was married to Odin and is considered the original Earth-Mother. Worshipped by many Pagans, her namesake day appears to have retained its negative associations. 13 has also long been considered unlucky, because it is considered to be the number of people at the Last Supper, and the number of turns needed for a hangman’s noose. Also, 13 was considered extremely lucky in Pagan religions, as it related to the number of lunar cycles in a given year. Voyages and tasks begun on Friday the 13th were considered doomed, and marriages and births that occurred on this day were also considered to be ill-fated.
Indeed, for fans of folklore, etymology, and general trivia, a trip down the rabbit hole of the internet will provide fascinating reading. Probably my favorite explanation of the merging of the two beliefs is the following:
What we now call “witches” were simply followers of ancient Frigga (remember her?) who worshipped her, believing her home to be the moon. The first followers of Frigga were 12 women (disciples?) , and, one night, the goddess herself came down from the moon to bless the gathering, giving the women one of her cats, thus making the number of the gathering to be 13. Combine that with the name of the goddess and you have a mash-up of superstitions. This story is also considered the reason why witches’ covens must have 13 members, and why cats have for centuries been considered to be “familiars” of witches.
I consider myself to be a rational, intelligent person, but if I am honest, I (consciously or not) subscribe to some superstitions: I don’t walk under ladders, I will knock on wood if I wish something to go in my favor, and I won’t say the name of Shakespeare’s Scottish Play in a theatre. I don’t do this because I rationally believe that I am “protecting” myself from evil forces. Sometimes you just want to feel like you have control over situations.
What superstition do you believe in? Let us know in the comments.