Are you a friggatriskaidekaphobic or just fearful of saying the word?
That’s dread of Friday the 13th, folks! Now let’s look at how this silly fear got started. Most think that it has to do with the Last Supper, and Judas being the 13th guest which, as we know, was a pretty messy deal. But there was another earlier supper, (or maybe it was a comida…we don’t know the time of day), where all the Norse gods gathered for a meal and the 13th guest at that table (no, it wasn’t Judas), happened to be Loki. During the course of the meal, one of the gods died, and Loki, who was known as a cunning trickster, was blamed. The two stories merged and created the anxiety of the number 13, but not necessarily Friday. The Last Supper took place on Thursday (though new research seems to point to Wednesday), and nobody knows what day of the week the banquet of the Norse gods took place.
Ever since then, the “thirteenth guest” is somehow threatening. According to an 18th century document, “when thirteen persons meet in a room, one of them will die within the year.” The number 13 is also associated with bad luck because of numerology and other unsubstantiated beliefs that certain numbers are intrinsically “good” and others “bad.” The number 12 is considered a complete or perfect number in many cultures—12 months of the year, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 gods of Olympus, 12 labors of Hercules—so the number 13 becomes “off,” and therefore a potential cause of harm. In a document dating back to 700 BCE, Hesiod tells farmers not to sow on “the thirteenth of the waxing month.” However, the Greek poet doesn’t explain why.
And then there is Friday. Christians have several Fridays on which bad things happened. The most significant is that Christ was crucified on that day; but supposedly Eve tempted Adam with the forbidden fruit (most likely a pomegranate or maybe a grape) on a Friday; and Cain killed his brother Abel, not just on a Friday, but on Friday the 13th!
However, it was not until the 20th century when the double whammy of Friday taking place on the 13th infected people’s minds. In 1907, in Thomas Lawson’s book, Friday the Thirteenth, a fictional stockbroker deliberately crashes the market. From that point on, the myth grew and magnified, culminating in the 1980s slasher films dubbed Friday the 13th, in which the villain (born on Friday the 13th), commits horrible murders. Some people are gripped by terror on Friday the 13th, and refuse to go outside.
There is, however, a counterculture that defies these beliefs and celebrates both the number and the concurrence of it happening on the fifth day of the week. For William Fowler, born in New York in 1827, the number 13 had always been propitious. He studied at Public School No. 13, graduating at age 13. He erected 13 buildings in New York, fought (and survived) 13 battles in the Civil War, and resigned his commission on August 13, 1863. A month later, September 13, he bought a cottage on Sixth Avenue. Not only did Fowler not have a problem with the defiled number, he wanted to promote it.
In 1882 he started the Thirteen Club at the cottage, where he and twelve candidates assembled. To get to the meal, guests had to walk under a ladder with the Latin inscription Morituri te Salutamus—“We, who are about to die, salute you.” They sat at a table with thirteen lit candles, and enjoyed thirteen courses, starting with lobster served in a coffin-shaped container. After a year of gatherings—including on those Fridays that fell on the 13th, the secretary of the society reported that not a single member had been ill or died. By 1887, there were over 400 members, and over time, five U.S. presidents joined—Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, and Theodore Roosevelt. FDR, however, would not join because “He hated Friday the thirteenth…and disliked sitting down with thirteen at dinner.”
Now you know why the phobia got started. But here is an interesting fact. Did you know that Friday the 13th is actually less dangerous than any other day of the year? Studies show that fewer traffic accidents take place, fewer fires and fewer robberies. You can also fly cheaper on Friday the 13th because so many are terrified to be in the air on what they consider a most unlucky day. So go ahead and go out on the town, go up to a rooftop terrace and make a toast to Friggatriskaidekaphobia, or just call out: “Happy Friday the 13th!”