GUEST COLUMN: Why are we scared of Friday the 13th? by Roy Bainton
Friday was named after Frigga, a Scandinavian goddess. To give it its full name, friggatriskaidekaphobia is a morbid, irrational fear of Friday the 13th.
Annually, the financial world loses over $900 million on Friday the 13th because even hard-nosed stock exchange traders go haywire, and many executives refuse to fly.
Many believe this weird superstition is ancient, based the story that Jesus died on a Friday and that the 13th guest at the Last Supper was Judas Iscariot.
Yet ‘Black Friday’ is not followed everywhere. In Greece and Spain, the bad luck day is Tuesday the 13th and in Italy it’s Friday the 17th. Many believe this is a very ancient phobia associated with the arrest and execution of the Knights Templar on Friday 13th October in 1307. However, it only dates from 1852. All almanacs, calendars, and dramatic works before 1852 make no mention of Friday 13th as a bad day. This superstition is a Victorian invention.
Yet many otherwise intelligent people have an irrational dread of the number 13. An example was the Viennese composer and painter Arnold Schoenberg, born on Sunday September 13th 1874. He believed he would die in his seventy-sixth year (7+6=13) and he was correct. He not only expired at that age in 1951, but managed to pass away on Friday the 13th of July at thirteen minutes before midnight. After completing his opera Moses und Aaron in 1932, he counted the number of letters in the title - thirteen. So he dropped an ‘a’ and changed it to Moses und Aron. But other people challenged the superstition head on.
Captain William Fowler of the US Army was challenged by 13 all his life. On September 13, 1863, he bought Knickerbocker Cottage, a hostelry on New York’s 6th Avenue. Fowler attended New York’s Public School No 13 until 13 years of age. He worked in construction, erecting 13 notable New York buildings. In the Civil War he took command of 100 Union Volunteers on April 13, 1861, and fought in 13 major battles. Wounded, he left the army on August 13, 1863. He ran Knickerbocker Cottage for 20 years until finally selling it on Friday April 13, 1883. On Friday January 13, 1882, at 8.13pm, he inaugurated The Thirteen Club. He persuaded 12 friends to join him. 13 candles burned on the dinner table, and each man walked under a ladder. Salt cellars were tipped on their side, guests instructed not to throw salt over their shoulders. There was lobster salad shape like a coffin. Membership grew to 400 members, including four US Presidents. They sat at tables of 13 diners, defying superstitions, deliberately breaking glasses and happily opening umbrellas indoors. Nothing untoward happened to the members.
So if superstition bothers you, remember - 13 is just another number. As Stevie Wonder sang: “When you believe in things that you don’t understand, then you suffer.”