‘Friday the Thirteenth,’ did you say? Well, touch wood

Karl Lyimo

While many folk harbour a morbid fear of ‘Friday the 13th’ – considering it a day of bad luck – a few instead fear ‘Friday the 17th,’ and even ‘Tuesday the 13th!’ In extreme cases, they don’t get out of bed that day...

NINETEEN (19) days ago was a Friday. ‘So what,’ you peevishly ask, noting that there’re a bazillion (!) Fridays in any year... Well, this time round, it’s different somewhat, somehow... That’s if only because it was both a Friday and the thirteenth day of the month – January 13 – in the Year of Our Lord 2017.

Indeed, there may be no apparent reason to be querulous about that... Or is there? Weeeeell... According to Wikipedia – the self-styled ‘free Encyclopaedia’ – ‘Friday the 13th is considered an unlucky day in Western superstition.

It occurs when the 13th day of the month – any month, for that matter – in the Gregorian calendar falls on a Friday, designated the sixth day of the week! In mythology, the word ‘Friday’ is derived from the goddess of Love (‘Fria’ in Old High German) and day (‘Daeg’ in Old English).

Bu, never mind that for the here and now... Historians suggest that the superstition surrounding Friday the Thirteenth may have arisen in the Middle Ages, ‘originating from the story of Jesus Christ’s Last Supper and Crucifixion’ this side of Heaven.

There were 13 individuals in the Upper Room on the 13th of Nisan Maundy Thursday – the night before Christ’s ‘Death’ on Good Friday, right?

Right! However, while there’s evidence of both a Friday and the number-13 being considered ‘unlucky,’ there’s no record of the two being referred to in conjunction before the 19th century as especially being unlucky! Some examples are the death on a Friday 13th (November 13, 1868) of the Italian Composer Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868).

Much earlier, King Philip-IV of France arrested hundreds of the Knights-Templar on a Friday, October 13, 1307... [‘Knights-Templar’ are members of a Freemasonry Order, a major secret fraternal society, a.k.a. Free & Accepted Masons.

These, of course, have nothing necessarily to do with the skilled masonry craft of stonework or brickwork! But, that’s another story...] Also, it’s mentioned in the 1955 historical novel ‘The Iron King’ (Le Roi de Fer) by Maurice Druon; John Robinson’s 1989 work ‘Born in Blood: The Lost Secrets of Freemasonry;’ Dan Brown’s 2003 novel ‘The da Vinci Code,’ and Steve Berry’s ‘The Templar Legacy’ (2006). Just Google for all that to find out more...

Indeed, ‘Number-13’ and ‘Friday’ are more than a pipe dreamer’s legend. They’ve, in fact, been given scientific names. The fear of ‘Number-13’ is known as ‘Triskaidekaphobia’ – and the fear of ‘Friday the 13th’ is ‘Paraskevidekatriaphobia.’ (‘Paraskeví’ and ‘Dekatreís’ are Greek for Friday and Thirteen!) But, it still sounds ‘greek’ to me, metaphorically speaking...

I mean, for example: why do Spanishspeaking countries consider TUESDAY the 13th (‘Martes trece’) a day of bad luck – and NOT Friday 13th? Apparently, they aren’t alone in this! The Greeks equate the thirteenth of Friday with that of Tuesday!!!

Also, in Italian popular culture, it’s Friday the SEVENTEENTH – NOT 13th – that’s considered a day of bad luck! Anyway, we’re told the ‘Tuesday oddity’ here has something to do partly with Tuesday being dominated by the influence of Ares, the god of War – Mars in Roman mythology – and partly because, while the fall of Constantinople to the Fourth Crusade occurred on a TUESDAY (April 13, 1204), the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans also happened on a TUESDAY: May 29, 1453!

If nothing else, this strengthened the superstition about Tuesday! In the Italian case, Friday the 17th (and NOT the 13th) is considered bad on account of the way the number ‘17’ in Roman numerals is written: ‘XVII.’

By shuffling the digits around, one gets the word ‘VIXI:’ Italian for ‘I’ve lived!’ – implying ‘death in the present,’ an omen of bad luck! In fact – observers tell us – ‘13’ is generally considered a lucky number in Italy! However, due to over-Americanisation, Historians argue, some people consider Friday the 13th unlucky as well; hence a double whammy for the ‘Eye-Ties/I-Ties’ – military Americanism for Italians!

In the US itself – we’re told by the Stress Management Centre & Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina – an estimated 17-to-21m Americans are affected by a fear of ‘Friday the 13th,’ the most-feared day-and-date in history! Some people are so paralysed by the fear that they avoid routine activities – such as travelling by air or getting out of bed! In the event, an estimated US$800m-$900m is lost in business on this day.

[See John Roach: ‘Friday the 13th Phobia Rooted in Ancient History;’ National Geographic News, August 12, 2004]. On average, there’s a ‘Friday the 13th, once every 212.35 days. ‘Friday the thirteenth,’ did you say? Well, touch wood – for what that’s worth... Cheers!

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