At least once a year the 13th of the month falls on a Friday and the Western hemisphere releases a superstitious shudder. Once is the minimum amount of bad luck and foreboding, but it can happen up to three times in the same year, for example, 2015 had one in February, March and November.
Friday the 13th will occur in any month that starts on a Sunday.
But why the irrational fear? Or to give it the scientific name ‘Paraskevidekatraphobia’ (find more weird phobias and philes here).
The story of the unlucky nature of the number 13 perhaps originates within a Norse myth. In said myth, 12 Gods are having a dinner party in Valhalla, when the trickster God Loki (who was not invited, perhaps due to his trickster ways) arrives as the 13th guest. Loki sets about his trickster ways, unconcerned that he will probably continue to be uninvited to social gatherings, and manipulates Höðr into shooting Balder with a mistletoe-tipped arrow. Balder dies and the whole Earth is plunged into darkness as it mourns. From then on, the number 13 was viewed with caution and became a symbol of bad luck.
It could also have originated in the Middle Ages, from the story of Jesus at the last supper and later the crucifixion. There were 13 attendees at the Last Supper on the 13th of Nisan or Maundy Thursday, the night before the death of Jesus by crucifixion on Good Friday.
However, while there is evidence of both Friday and the number 13 being considered separately, it wasn’t until the 20th century they were considered unlucky in conjunction.
In 1907 Thomas W Lawson published his popular novel Friday, the Thirteenth. In the novel, a broker takes advantage of superstition surrounding the date to create a Wall Street panic.
Elsewhere in Europe...
In Spain and Spanish speaking countries, it is instead 'martes trece' or Tuesday the 13th that is considered bad luck.
This is also the case in Greece, Tuesday is considered to be dominated by Ares, the God of war (Mars in Roman mythology). The fall of Constantinople took place on Tuesday, April 13th 1204 and strengthened this belief. What’s more, in Greek the name for Tuesday is Triti ( Τρίτη ) meaning ‘the third’ (as in the third day of the week) which adds weight to the superstition through the belief that ‘bad luck comes in threes’.
Tuesday the 13th occurs in months that begin on a Thursday.
According to the Stress Management and Phobia Institute of Asheville, North Carolina (yes, it does exist) between 17 to 21 million people in the United States are affected by a fear of this ominous day, which makes it the most feared day in history. Many people take it so seriously they will avoid their normal routines, travel or even leaving the house. This has resulted in an estimated $800 to $900 million of loss in business on this day alone.
A study published in the British Medical Journal in 1993 concluded that on this day “the risk of hospital admission as a result of a transport accident may be increased by as much as 52 percent”. This may be a kind of collective hysteria, that makes people behave irrationally, already consumed by a subconscious irrational fear of the day.
Finally, the myth, the fear and the superstition have been concreted in cult fiction with the film franchise ‘Friday 13th.’ In which the vengeful, seemingly indestructible corpse of ‘Jason’ is reanimated to deliver slasher-based justice upon scantily clad teens.