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Freaky Friday the 13th

How did it all begin?

April 7, 2012
by GLYNIS VALENTI - Staff Writer ( , Times Leader

Did you say "TGIF?" (Thank goodness, it's Friday.) What if that "F" landed on the 13th? Are you one of the nearly 20 million people who fear the day? Though nearly all of the "Friday the 13th" hoopla is superstition and association, it seems to have stuck.

According to the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in North Carolina, up to an estimated $900 million in business is lost on these Fridays because of people postponing purchases, travel and contracts, and even staying home from work. Many people feel a little extra anxiety about the date, while it creates actual panic attacks for others. Though "Friday" and the "number 13" have historically had perceived negative connotations, researchers say written references to the superstition about "Friday the 13th" first cropped up much later, during the early 1900s.

The word "Friday" is a loosely translated "day of Frigg." Frigg (or Frigga or Freya) was a Norse goddess queen, Odin's wife, watching over married women, love and destiny while she spun clouds. The death of her son Balder by the trickster Loki was her great tragedy, but there are some hazy references to the conversions of Norse and Germanic tribes to Christianity. The male-dominated Catholic Church thus labeled Frigg a witch and banished her to a mountain. The story says that she gathered with 11 witches and the devil on one day each week to plan spiteful deeds. From then on, the evidence against Friday began stacking up.

Christians also believe that Jesus Christ was crucified on a Friday. Some scholars believe that Eve gave Adam the infamous apple on a Friday, and there is speculation that Cain killed Abel on a Friday, the Great Flood began on Friday, and the Temple of Solomon was destroyed on Friday.

Superstition holds that starting anything new on Friday will be ill-fated. This means a job, a marriage, a contract or a project. Even the birth of a baby or cutting one's hair and nails could have unpleasant consequences, according to old wives' tales.

Friday was execution day in Rome and England. And don't even think about leaving for a trip. British seamen were notoriously superstitious about many things but were most adamant about setting sail on Friday. One (albeit unsubstantiated) tale begins with a frustrated British government commissioning a special ship, dubbed the H. M. S. Friday, whose entire history centered on "Friday": selecting the crew on that day, launching her on Friday, hiring a Capt. Jim Friday and finally setting out to sea on her maiden voyage on Friday. The ship was never seen again.

When it comes to the number "13," the history and suspicion are even more prevalent. Back to Valhalla, haven of the Norse gods, where 12 gods are having a party. The guests include Odin, Frigg and their son Balder. Uninvited guest Loki, the trickster god, shows up as the 13th guest. Miffed that he wasn't invited, he plays a trick that sends an arrow of mistletoe through Balder's heart, killing him. The gods and earth go into mourning.

In Christianity, the 13th guest at the Last Supper is Judas, who ends up betraying Jesus Christ. On Oct. 13, 1307 (which happened to be a Friday) France's King Phillip IV sent out soldiers to round up the Knights Templar alleging crimes of Satanism and "unnatural" acts and practices. Many were tortured into "confessions," and others were executed. This was the end of the their official order.

In ancient days, a witches' coven was comprised of 12 witches plus the devil. In a traditional tarot deck, card number 13 depicts Death, the Grim Reaper.

Speaking of death, the hangman's noose was made with 13 knots, and the convicted trudged up 13 steps to the gallows. A guillotine dropped 13 feet to make the fatal cut.

In architecture, 80 percent of tall buildings do not have a 13th floor. Some hotels and hospitals have no "Room 13," and it's the same with apartment buildings. In some Italian cities, the house number between 12 and 14 is 12 1/2. Airports have also been known to skip "Gate 13."

Two modern-day examples onto which the superstitious have latched are the trouble-laden Apollo 13 mission and Princess Diana's death. The spacecraft was supposed to launch the 13th minute of the 13th hour on April 11, 1970, but was delayed. On April 13, the ship began experiencing problems that forced it to return home right away under dangerous conditions. They were successful.

People concerned with the numbers point out that on Aug. 31, 1997, Princess Diana's driver slammed into Pillar No. 13 at the Place de l'Alma in Paris while being chased by paparazzi, killing the Princess, her companion Dodi Al Fayed and the driver.

True, some horrible things have happened on Friday, on the 13th, and on Friday the 13th, but there are people who are born - through no fault of their own - on the 13th of the month. The website HomeofBeliefs. com lists a few traits of people born on this date: a rebellious side, a strange sense of being lonely, have a great number of enemies, see everything from a different point of view, inclined to social questioning and reforms, positive and unconventional. Objectively, the traits could apply to anyone no matter what the birth date.

For what it's worth, this writer was born on January 13th. What comes to mind as the happiest birthday ever took place on a Friday, and other Friday the 13th birthdays could only be described as non-eventful. No doubt others born on this "unlucky" day (Thomas Jefferson, Margaret Thatcher and Alfred Hitchcock) could say the same.

Is there really a mysterious energy about the date? Mathematicians say, "No." The Gregorian calendar with its leap years, 28-year cycles, 40-year cycles and 400-year cycles is to blame for day 13 falling on Friday more than other days of the week. No year can have zero Friday the 13ths. There is always at least one, but no more than three. This year there happens to be three, and, brace yourselves, triskaidekaphobics (people who fear the number 13), they fall 13 weeks apart. The good news is that you've already lived through January's. The final one will be in July, and you'll have until September 2013 to recuperate.



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