The murky origin of Friday the 13th

Hold onto your horseshoes, for the notorious Friday the 13th is here again to terrorise your day.

We’ve always been told that Friday the 13th is a day of bad luck. Growing up, I would be gripped by a shiver whenever someone would tell me they were born on the 13th of the month, knowing that one day in the far reaches of the future, their birthday would fall on a Friday.

After a lifetime of secretly labelling these people as bad luck, I find myself asking a question that a lot of us probably never consider: what is so unlucky about Friday the 13th?

We’ve been told about the evil black cat and the dangers of a cracked mirror, but where did Friday the 13th come from?

The superstitions surrounding the date have been ongoing for centuries. Although there is no single origin for this particular tradition, a string of events occurring on this date has propagated the spurious belief. There have always been negative connotations behind Friday and the number 13 individually. Put together, the two are so commonly fearsome that psychologists have a name for the phobia: Paraskevidekatriaphobia or Friggatriskaidekaphobia.

Many believe that the superstition emerged from religious beliefs, namely Christianity. Judas, the 13th guest at the Last Supper, betrayed Jesus Christ, leading to his crucifixion – which also fell on a Friday. Since then the number 13 has been associated with Judas Iscariot, thus giving rise to the lingering Christian superstition that having 13 guests at a table was a bad omen.

Biblical scholars also believe that Eve convinced Adam to take a bite of the forbidden fruit on a Friday and that Abel had committed his first murder, his brother Cain, on Friday the 13th.

Similar to this, in Norse mythology, Scandinavians believed 13 indicated bad luck because of their 13th evil mythological demigod, Loki, who brought misfortune upon humans. As the Norse myth goes, about 12 gods had a dinner at Valhalla—the fabled hall where legendary Norse heroes would gather and feast for eternity after they died. They were soon interrupted by a 13th guest, the malicious god, Loki.

In Roman culture, witches are believed to have gathered in groups of 12 where the 13th witch was the “devil” himself.

In British culture, Friday’s position as the unlucky day may have been fuelled by it being the day of execution of criminals for several years, frequently called ‘hangman’s day’ or ‘the noose’.

There are numerous possible origins for why the number 13 and Friday were individually considered to be cursed.

However, the first account of a superstition associated with the date, Friday the 13th, emerged during the Middle Ages. This was the time when the Knights Templar were tortured by King Philip IV of France – which happened to occur on Friday 13th.

The horror behind the date has been spread across many cultures and religious beliefs for centuries, bringing us back to our modern day version of the superstition, Friday the 13th – a horror film based on a fictional mass murderer named Jason Voorhees.

“Centuries or maybe even decades ago, people believed that Friday 13th was bad luck so they’d literally stop doing anything and everything,” pyschologist Nasreen Hanifi told Hatch. The way superstition works, she says, is that people draw conclusions from experiences that repeat on the same day, over and over.

“Naturally, the human mind has the tendency to create a sense of fear which alters thought patterns and emotional reactions. So when these things happen people will always relate it back to Friday the 13th because of an already ingrained episode in their minds.”