Friday the 13th Superstitions: As the 13th of October falls on an unlucky Friday this year, the air is thick with superstition and trepidation. Spooky season gets extra scary with this eerie conjunction of day and date, and even though it happens one to three times a year, the fear of Friday the 13th in October has been amplified over the years by various factors, including the infamous Friday the 13th slasher movies. However, these superstitions surrounding the spooky date have a long history, reaching back centuries.
The ominous reputation of the number 13 has ancient roots, one of which can be traced back to Norse mythology. According to legend, 12 gods gathered for a dinner party in Valhalla. However, Loki, the trickster god who was not invited, crashed the gathering as the 13th guest. In his revenge, Loki manipulated Höðr, the god of winter and darkness, into shooting Balder, the god of war, with a mistletoe-tipped arrow. This story planted the seeds of misfortune associated with the number 13.
Friday the 13th’s historical notoriety can also be linked to King Philip IV of France, who ordered the arrest of hundreds of Knights Templar on Friday, October 13, 1307. The allegations against the Catholic crusaders were shocking, including accusations of recruits spitting on the cross, denying Christ, and engaging in homosexual acts during initiation ceremonies. Though these claims appeared to be baseless, they served as a convenient excuse for Philip to persecute the wealthy order and absolve himself of debts owed following a war with England. Many knights faced charges of moral and financial corruption, often after confessions obtained through torture, and met their end at the stake in Paris.
The superstition surrounding Friday the 13th has biblical origins too. According to Dr. Phil Stevens, a retired anthropology professor from SUNY at Buffalo, it’s linked to the Last Supper, which took place on a Thursday evening with 13 individuals, including Jesus Christ, at the table. As the story goes, Jesus was betrayed by Judas and crucified on Good Friday. Dr. Stevens points out, “Friday, the 13th, you get a double whammy. You get both of these elements coming together: the taboo against 13 and the crucifixion on a Friday.”
For centuries, people have held various superstitions regarding Friday the 13th, such as avoiding black cats, sidewalk cracks, and the practice of throwing a pinch of salt over their shoulders. These superstitions reflect historical beliefs and stories that have contributed to the aura of misfortune surrounding this date.
The superstition surrounding black cats has deep historical roots dating back to the Middle Ages when these felines were believed to be associated with witchcraft. In 1233, Pope Gregory IX issued a papal bull called “Vox in Rama,” in which the church declared that black cats were vessels of the devil. Historians suggest that black cats were often used to discredit individuals who challenged the church’s power, labeling them as witches or heretics.
On the other hand, avoiding sidewalk cracks isn’t rooted in a history of satanic panic. Instead, it’s believed to incur the wrath of the spirits of the dead if one were to step on them. Early European and American folklore claimed that cracks in sidewalks, walls, floors, or soil indicated rifts between Earth and the metaphysical realm. Stepping on these cracks, no matter how small, could allegedly bring about misfortune to you or your family.
Throwing a pinch of salt over your shoulder, according to Mahayana Buddhist tradition, is said to ward off evil spirits you might have angered.
Even skeptics and non-believers can be affected by these ancient superstitions, as behavioral scientist Jane Risen pointed out. “Even if I don’t actively believe, just the fact that Friday the 13th exists as a known cultural element means that I entertain it as a possibility,” Risen explained. “That adds a bit more fuel to this intuition, makes it feel a bit more true, even when you recognize that it’s not true.” In essence, these superstitions continue to have a hold on our collective psyche, even in the face of modern skepticism.
As we navigate the spooky season with Friday the 13th in October, the superstitions surrounding this date serve as a reminder of our enduring fascination with the mysterious and the uncanny. Whether you’re a firm believer or a skeptic, Friday the 13th continues to be a day when many exercise caution and avoid temptations that might invoke bad luck.