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Why Is Friday the 13th Supposedly Unlucky?

No one really knows–spooky, right?

Another supposedly unlucky thing: black cats. (Pixabay)
smithsonian.com

It’s Friday the 13th Part 2 (the first in 2017 was in January). Although a run on unlucky days might just seem like a sign of the times, we all know that Friday the 13th is a superstition.

Fittingly, this superstition has mysterious origins. But one thing that can be said for it is that it’s stuck: “Fear of Friday the 13th has spawned a horror movie franchise, its own hard-to-pronounce term—paraskevidekatriaphobia—and a tradition of widespread paranoia when it rolls around each year,” writes Melissa Chan for Time. Here are some historic reasons for the unlucky day. 

Bad associations with  both Friday and the number 13 pop up in Biblical scholarship.

Like a lot of other Western historical quirks, the Friday the 13th superstition has roots in the teachings of the Christian church. “Some superstitions about Friday the 13th are rooted in the guest list of the Last Supper,” writes Charlotte Alter for Time. “Judas was the 13th guest at the table, and Jesus was crucified on a Friday. Coincidence?”

Another Biblical root of the superstition comes from the book of Genesis, writes Kathy Padden for Today I Found Out. “By tradition, Friday is considered the day that Eve gave Adam the ‘apple’ and they were kicked out of the Garden of Eden– of course, “Friday” wouldn’t have been around yet,” she writes. (Nor would apples.)

You find them in medieval times (and stories about medieval times) too

References to Friday being an unlucky day pop up as far back as 14th-century writer Chaucer, Alter writes, who wrote the line "on a Friday fell all this mischance."

Then there are stories linking the Knights Templar to the unlucky event. “If you read Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, you might remember learning that members of the Knights Templar—a medieval society—were arrested on Friday the 13th,” writes Becky Little for National Geographic. “Brown’s book helped popularize the belief that these arrests are the reason people fear the date. But although some of the Knights Templar were arrested on Friday, October 13, 1307, that isn’t the origin of the superstition.”

Plus, far from being the mystical secret-carriers as portrayed in stories like Brown’s, the Templars were not very interesting. Medieval historian Helen Nicholson told Little that “the evidence that we’ve got shows them to be extremely boring Roman Catholics.”

The Templars’ big flaw was having money and power at a time when the King of France, Philip IV, needed both. So he accused them of being heretics, because he was the king and he could get away with that kind of thing. Not exactly romantic or spooky.

At some point along the way, Friday and 13 got definitively linked in bad luck

Templars aside, it’s possible that Friday and 13–two separate superstitions–got definitively linked in the early 1900s, writes Little. The thing linking them may have been a floridly written novel by an American stockbroker titled (you guessed it) Friday the 13th. It follows a stockbroker who incites a profit-making Wall Street panic on the day in question. That book begins:

“Friday, the 13th; I thought as much...I will see what I can do.”

The myths about Friday the 13th are, like the panic, probably entirely created. Still, are you consumed with paraskevidekatriaphobia today? Look at it this way: At least Mercury isn’t in retrograde.

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