Ever walked into a hotel lift and noticed the levels skip from 12 to 14?
It may reflect a deep-rooted superstition that the number 13 brings bad luck, misfortune and, in the most extreme cases, death.
Somewhere along the way, Fridays were added and, all of a sudden, the collective conscious became wary of a specific date.
But it’s hardly universal — Italians fear Friday the 17th and Greeks consider Tuesday the 13th to be unlucky.
So, is there actually a reason to fear Friday the 13th?
Why is 13 considered unlucky?
Why we consider the number 13 a bad omen may lie in Nordic mythology and a ruined dinner.
The story goes that Norse god Odin and 11 of his closest god friends were enjoying a dinner party at Valhalla, the Nordic version of heaven.
Loki, god of mischief and all-round buzzkill, gatecrashed the dinner and convinced Hoder (nicknamed Hod), the god of darkness-winter, to attack Balder the Beautiful. Loki whispered all the right words in Hod’s ear and the god then killed Balder with a mistletoe-tipped arrow.
A brawl ensued where several other gods were killed and Earth was plunged into darkness for the first time.
Because of this, in Nordic culture, it’s considered very unlucky to have 13 people dine at the same table.
Christianity has a similar parable known as the last supper: Jesus Christ was hosting a dinner with 11 of his disciples when Judas turned up late, taking the party to 13 and kick-starting a series of very unfortunate events.
Fear of the number 13 even has it’s own name — triskaidekaphobia. Fear of Friday the 13th also has its own even more rarely used word — paraskevidekatriaphobia.
Okay, so why is Friday thought unlucky?
For this, it’s back to Christianity: First and foremost, Christ was crucified on a Friday.
Furthermore, the Bible has been variously interpreted to assert that Friday also hosted the great flood, the day that Adam and Eve ate that apple, the unexpected loss of speech of the builders of the tower of Babel, the unfortunate destruction of the temple of Solomon, and so on.
By the late 14th century, Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales thought Fridays to be downright nasty, claiming: “And, on a Friday, fell all this mischance”.
Friday the 13th hysteria is actually quite new
While people have been wary of the number 13 and Fridays since biblical times, it was in the 19th and 20th century that the Friday the 13th myth became widespread.
In 1907, author Thomas Lawson released his novel Friday, The Thirteenth – about a stockbroker who chose that date to deliberately tank the market – which kind of came true when the stock market had a mini-crash on Friday 13 October 1989.
A year after Lawson’s book came out, in 1908, The New York Times ran a headline referencing Friday the 13th and possible terrors as they related to a political scuffle.
Horror films then took up the torch, first with the 1972 film Friday the 13th: The Orphan, then in 1980s came the massively successful Friday the 13th film series.
During the past 30 years, the franchise — which introduced the world to hockey-masked antagonist Jason Voorhees — spawned 11 films, eight books, multiple video games and a television series.
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Are there more accidents?
Probably not, but the urban myth persists.
A study published in the British Medical Journal in 1993 got Friday the 13th-fearers into a tizzy when it concluded that: “The risk of hospital admission as a result of a transport accident may be increased by as much as 52 per cent.”
However, the authors also acknowledged “the numbers of admissions from accidents are too small to allow meaningful analysis”.
More than a decade later, a study published in the National Library of Medicine all but dispelled the myth about Friday the 13th being dangerous, with a comprehensive study that spanned seven years of emergency department admissions.
“Although the fear of Friday the 13th may exist, there is no worry that an increase in volume occurs on Friday the 13th, compared with the other days studies,” the study concluded.
“Of 13 different conditions evaluated, only penetrating traumas were seen more often on Friday the 13th. For those providers who work in the ED, working on Friday the 13th should not be any different than any other day.”
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