Myth, folklore build frenzy for Friday the 13th

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Illustration by Alexandra Nelipa

Illustration by Alexandra Nelipa

Illustration by Alexandra Nelipa

Illustration by Alexandra Nelipa

By Carlos Ferrand

Despite being Friday the 13th, some people will get up and go about their day as they always do.

Others might drive a little more cautiously on the highway, keep an eye out for a crossing black cat or avoid ladders.

Some people won’t even get out of bed. The fear of being out in the world on Friday the 13th is just too much.

Psychology adjunct David Katakalos does think misfortune follows a calendar and that bad luck can happen to anyone any day.

“When misfortune coincides with numbers and dates, it starts to add credence to the myth,” he said.

“Paraskevidekatriaphobia” is the word coined by Dr. Donald E. Dossey for a phobia of Friday the 13th. The phobia of the number 13 is triskaidekaphobia.

Dossey is CEO of the Stress Management Center/Phobia Institute in Asheville, N.C.

Illustration by Alexandra Nelipa

Illustration by Alexandra Nelipa

In his book, “Holiday, Folklore, Phobias and Fun,” Dossey wrote that he jokes with his patients, “When you learn to pronounce it, you’re cured.”

“Paraskevidekatriaphobia” comes in two parts — a fear of the number 13 coupled with the fear of Friday.

The number 13 has long been considered unlucky that many buildings do not label the 13th level as the 13th floor as if it does not exist or there is no access via elevator.

The downtown Hyatt Regency San Antonio does not have a 13th floor. The elevator button panels skip from 12 to 14.

John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City shares a sense of superstition, and has no gate numbered 13.

The unfortunate luck of this number goes far back in history.

Douglas Hill’s “Magic and Superstition” references a 13th guest who brought bad luck in Norse mythology.

According to the legend, 12 gods gathered for a dinner party when demigod Loki, an evildoer, crashed the party.

Loki’s mischief resulted in the murder of Balder, the god of joy and gladness.

Thirteen was considered bad luck from then on.

The superstition also appears in Christianity.

Thirteen people sat down at the Last Supper. It is believed that Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus to the Romans, was the 13th to arrive.

A second component of the phobia is rooted in other historical unlucky events that fell on Fridays.

Some theories about Friday’s luck lead right back to Norse mythology and Christianity.

According to, the word Friday comes from the word frigg or frigga.

Frigga is the name of the Norse goddess of married love and the heavens. Also, she was the mother of Balder who was killed by Loki’s machinations.

On that day, Frigga’s sadness spread across the universe, leaving an unlucky feeling.

According to Christian faith, Good Friday is celebrated because people believe Jesus was crucified on that day of the week.

According to “Holiday, Folklore, Phobias and Fun,” the U.S. Navy will not launch a ship on Friday the 13th, and many sailors will not set sail on a Friday.

One sailor legend illustrating Friday’s bad luck is the tale of a ship owner who set out to disprove the superstition.

The keel of his ship was laid on Friday and then he named the ship Friday.

The command of that ship was given a captain named Friday, and its maiden voyage began on a Friday.

As the tale goes, the ship never made it to port and was never seen again.

One legend Katakalos shared involved King Philip IV of France who struck down the Knights Templars on Friday the 13th.

The poor luck that follows the number 13 and Friday are told through generations of legends and myths.

Such myths and legends may serve a higher purpose, Katakalos said.

“They may remind us that we should stay alert,” he said. “Just like the way we use fairy tales to teach our children.”

While only few people suffer from “paraskevidekatriaphobia,” it seems as if no one can escape the strange feeling Friday the 13th brings.

“For people who have had bad luck on Friday the 13th, it is real,” Katakalos said.

It also may be because people seldom hear many stories of good luck around superstitious things, he said. “You never hear that a black cat crossed my path and then I won the lottery.”

In “Holiday, Folklore, Phobias and Fun,” Dossey suggests that the erratic schedule of Fridays that fall on the 13th could cause some of the commotion.

Each year has at least one Friday the 13th, and no more than three.

This is the only Friday the 13th this year.

So is Friday the 13th bad luck?

The answer depends on how your day is going.


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