Who is afraid of big bad Friday the 13th? Well whilst on the twittersphere at the time of writing, it hasn’t made the top 10 of trending topics with Inception and Ramadan – there are a huge number of #related tweets on ‘why do things always go wrong for me on Friday 13th’ ‘spooky’ and general excuses for countering the protestant work ethic and staying in bed.
So back to the title. Paraskevidekatriaphobia is literally fear of Fridays when they happen to fall on the 13th day of the Roman calendrical month – so what is all the fuss about?
A study in the British Medical Journal provocatively titled “Is Friday the 13th Bad for Your Health?” published in 1993, undertook an examination of road useage, supermarket attendance, and hospital admissions on a Friday 13th as against the previous Friday the 6th in the South East of the UK. It was discovered in this limited but nevertheless wryly enlightening piece of research that whilst the utilisation of supermarkets remained fairly constant between the two fridays, the likelihood of hospital admission as a result of a transport accident was increased by as much as 52%. The report’s abstract finishes with the recommendation that staying at home, if not under the duvet, is to be recommended.
Whatever the shortcomings of the above research in terms of managing out other contextual impacts on road traffic accidents in terms of weather or specific local alterations in condition between the two Fridays in the study’s area of control, the South West Thames region of the UK and its associated stretch of M25, it does point to an enduring public anxiety attached to Friday the 13th in the UK which could do with some explication.
As David Emery points out on his blog in [http://urbanlegends.about.com/cs/historical/a/friday_the_13th_2.htm]
The sixth day of the week and the number 13 both have foreboding reputations said to date from ancient times, and their inevitable conjunction from one to three times a year (there happens to be only one such occurrence in 2010, in the month of August) portends more misfortune than some credulous minds can bear. According to some sources it’s the most widespread superstition in the United States today. Some people refuse to go to work on Friday the 13th; some won’t eat in restaurants; many wouldn’t think of setting a wedding on the date.
The figure in the United States, according to Dr Donald Dossey, an American psychotherapist specializing in the treatment of phobias, of those who experience a phobic response to Friday the 13th, could be a staggering 21 million people in the US alone. An unknown but probably significant proportion of phobia sufferers simply refuse to go to work when this particular conjunction of 6 and 13 coalesce – a combination which occurs from one to three times annually.
So where has this fear of 13 come from for the North European and North American mind? I put this geographical limiter on quite purposefully because in China and in Egypt the number 13 is not an omen of bad fortune, but a sign of luck and of happiness.
If we consider the roots of dominant northern societal myths, we need look no further than the Norse myths of Scandinavia, and the dominant religious motifs emerging from Judaeo-Christendom for some indications of wobbly moments around the numbers 13 and 6 some interesting details emerge.
In Norse myth a banquet at the gods Hilton – Valhalla – saw twelve gods on the celebrity invitation list. However Loki, the one that they all loved to hate, the god of mischief, was not invited. He crashed the party and brought the total number of guests to, you guessed it, 13. Loki got in amongst the conversations, and provolked Hod, the blind god of winter into an assault on Balder the Good. Balder was killed – remarkably by a sprig of mistletoe (thereby hangs some other tales for Christmas) shaped in a spear, thrown by Hod. The number 13 as a poor choice for dinner invitations has endured to this day.
Which leads us nicely to an upper room in Jerusalem. There on the night before Jesus was Crucified – on the crucifixion day set aside by Imperial Rome and later adopted across Northern Europe as hangman’s Friday, thirteen men sat down to dine. One of this number was to betray Jesus, thus solidifying Nothern European anxieties around the unequal numbers for dinner arrangements.
In other evidence from the Judaeo-Christian scriptures, Friday has been traditionally linked to the day when Eve ate some delicious fruit from the tree of knowledge and offered it to Adam, resulting in their subsequent eviction from the garden, the Tower of Babel project was interrupted by God with the confusion of languages on a Friday, the Temple of Solomon was ransacked and destroyed on a Friday and although linguistically marked as ‘good Friday’ Christians have traditionally recognised Friday as a day of penance, fasting and general abstinence.
I’d be interested to hear from those whose cultures mark out Fridays and baker’s dozens’ in an altogether more favourable light. Meantime happy Paraskevidekatria – watch out for making deals on these strangely ‘marked’ days as some of the right people may not be in the office or paying due attention – and may all your phobias be little ones.