Friday the 13th falls upon us this week, and it feels particularly apt as the days grow shorter and the nights darker.
If you’re a superstitious sort, you might regard this as the unluckiest day of the year – so keep away from ladders, don’t break any mirrors and don’t let any black cats cross your path.
Fear of this date is known as friggatriskaidekaphobia (named after “Frigg”, the Norse goddess whom Friday is named after and “triskaidekaphobia” meaning the fear of “13”.)
Among the genuine tragedies to befall this day were the bombing of Buckingham Palace on September 13, 1940, as part of Hitler’s strategic “Blitz” bombing campaign.
November 13 1970 (also a Friday) saw a massive storm kill around 300,000 people in Bangladesh, with subsequent floods killing as many as a million in the Ganges Delta.
What’s more, some people say Jesus Christ was crucified on Friday the 13th and some websites list the birth of the Olsen twins on this date as similarly sinister....
Thomas Fernsler, a professor at the University of Delaware, has studied Friday the 13th extensively and even goes by the moniker ‘Professor 13’.
He says one of the most common explanations for the origin of the date being associated with bad luck stems from the Bible.
There were 13 people at the Last Supper — Jesus and his 12 apostles. The Crucifixion took place on a Friday, and the two have been linked ever since. But Fernsler also says Norse mythology asserts that the god Loki went uninvited to a party of 12 other gods and caused the death of the most beloved one, Balder, causing the world to plunge into darkness.
To this day, parties are wary of having 13 members, he says. In Paris, there are businesses that will rent you a professional 14th dinner guest, called a quatorzieme.
Some people however put absolutely no stock in superstitions about this date.
Wake Forest University professor Eric Carlson once led a group called the Carolina Skeptics, who would gather every Friday the 13th and encourage people to do “unlucky” things, just to prove that the world wouldn’t end as a result.
“We would deliberately challenge superstitions,” he said. “At 13:13, I would stand under a ladder. We’d have a fake black cat (I’m allergic to real ones), and break a mirror and spill salt while standing on a crack. We like to have control in our lives, and it’s very discomforting that bad things happen that we can’t control, so we try to find ways to control these bad things. Superstition gives us a sense of being in control.”
He says nothing bad ever happened to him during or after tempting fate on Friday the 13th.
“I have a good life,” he said. “I have a wife and two children, and all of us are healthy.”
Besides, he told the Associated Press: “It’s bad luck to be superstitious.”