Although it is not clear when these phobias originated, Dr Donald Dossey, a folklore historian and author of Holiday Folklore, Phobias and Fun, said that fear of Friday the 13th is “rooted in ancient, separate bad-luck associations with the number 13 and the day Friday. The two unlucky entities ultimately combined to make one super unlucky day.” Thomas Fernsler, an associate policy scientist in the Mathematics and Science Education Resource Centre at the University of Delaware, believes that the number 13 has a negative light cast upon it because of its position after 12. Fernsler states that numerologists consider 12 a “complete” number. There are 12 months in a year, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 gods of Olympus, 12 tribes of Israel and 12 apostles of Jesus. Therefore, by exceeding 12 by one, 13’s association with bad luck “has to do with just being a little beyond completeness. The number becomes restless or squirmy.”
Even though there is no clarity on the origins and whether it is lucky or unlucky, the number 13 is considered a mystical number in mythology and the ancient history of many cultures. When looking at some of the connotations associated with Fridays, it becomes apparent why the two associated together might culminate in the fear of a “super unlucky day” for some, as Dr Dossey puts it.
Before the religions such as Christianity, Islam and Judaism took root, both the day and number were in fact held in high esteem. Pagans associated both Friday and the number 13 with great goddesses, and they were therefore regarded as the sacred essence of luck and good fortune.
Sufferers can take heart though, as superstitions, when not taken to extremes, can even give some believers a psychological boost Prof. Stuart Vyse, a professor of psychology at Connecticut College in New London and the author of Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition, believes that there is a psychological explanation as to why superstitions are so prominent in human nature. He says intelligence has little to do with whether or not we succumb to superstition. Prof. Vyse states that “sometimes the creation of a false certainty is better than no certainty at all.” Superstitions give us a sense that we are in control of our lives and a degree of certainty in a world that often seems to thrive on presenting us with the unexpected.
Ironically though, this sometimes paralysing fear could result in a slightly less dangerous world. A 2008 study by the Dutch Centre for Insurance Statistics revealed that fewer traffic accidents occur on Friday the 13th than on other Fridays. Reports of fire and theft were also lower. Dr Dossey speaks of an economic drawback, though. Many people will refuse to fly, buy a house or act on a hot stock tip, and these actions noticeably slow economic activity. Dr Dossey continues to say that in the United States it has been estimated that $800 to $900 million is lost in business on this day. Superstition, no matter how irrational, undoubtedly affects human behaviour.
For those of you who really do not care one way or another and do not mind sleepless nights after being shaken to the core, Jason Voorhees will be defying all logic in another Friday the 13th movie. As of yet, it is unclear whether the release date is to be 13 November 2015 or 13 May 2016. But be warned, if you have any latent superstitions it might be only fair to point out that this release marks the 13th appearance of the hockey-masked slasher.
Image: Kirsty Mackay