Why is Friday the 13th unlucky?
Myths and urban legends usually have some truth to them.
Myths, urban legends and superstitions all have a core of truth, but surrounding them there's usually more fiction than truth. So we can ask how did Friday 13th get the unlucky moniker attached to it? Why is Friday the 13th unlucky?
Well you can start with the most famous supper of all time. At the Last Supper where Jesus sat with his 12 apostles making it 13 people at the supper, one betrayed him. And He was crucified on a Friday. That might have something to do with it. But is there anything else?
Some Myths and Legends: When 13 was a Good Number
If we go back to the ancient Egyptians, life had 12 stages and the 13th was the beyond. To the Egyptians the number 13 symbolized death as a transformation that was welcomed and desirable, not as a symbol of bad omens. The symbolism conferred on the number 13 survived for a while but it would be corrupted by subsequent cultures that came to associate 13 with a fear of death instead of a reverence for the afterlife.
Calendars: Lunar vs. Solar
Another angle on 13 was developed by other cultures. This corresponded to the solar calendar of 12 months, whereas the lunar calendar had 13 months. Did the number 13 represent femininity? Thirteen was revered in prehistoric goddess-worshiping cultures because it corresponded to the number of lunar and hence menstrual cycles in a year (13 x 28 = 364 days).
But the solar calendar with 12 months triumphed in male-dominated civilizations. In this way 13 was associated with the moon and 12 with the sun. The moon consequently was not as important as the sun.
On the other hand one of the earliest concrete taboos associated with the number 13 was that it is unlucky for 13 people to gather together in one place. This taboo still observed by some superstitious people today originated in the East with the Hindus.
Dinner and 13 People
The myth of Loki, the Evil One, is an example of the dinner theme and the number 13 which keeps repeating itself across different cultures. The Norse story is about 12 gods who were invited to a banquet at Valhalla. But Loki, the god of mischief, had been left off the guest list. Nevertheless he crashed the party bringing the total number to 13.
Loki didn't like the arrangement so he incited Hod, the blind god of winter, to attack Balder the Good. Balder was a favorite of the gods. Hod threw a spear of mistletoe at Balder killing him. The Norse themselves apparently concluded that 13 people at a dinner party is just bad luck.
If 13 has a mixed history, what about Friday? Some legends have it that Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit on Friday and were subsequently expelled from paradise on Friday. Christ was crucified on Friday. The Tower of Babel was destroyed on Friday. The great flood started on Friday and the Temple of Solomon was destroyed on Friday.
But the Bible doesn't exactly spell out those events happening on Friday. But in pre-Christian, pagan cultures Friday was considered a holy day. The Church decreed that only the Sabbath was holy and Friday was un-holy.
Modern Day Views
Culturally, there have been myths about dinners, 13, and Friday but before the 19th century no one put Friday and 13 together as an unlucky combination.
One book, the 1898 edition of the Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, does not even mention Friday the 13th. You will find entries, however, for "Friday, an Unlucky Day" and "Thirteen Unlucky." They are not combined. But in later editions of the book they are combined together and that is only by saying that unlucky Friday and Unlucky 13 make an unluckier Friday 13.
As a result, some scholars believe that the stigma of an unlucky Friday 13th is a thoroughly modern phenomenon of 20th century media hype. So why is Friday 13th unlucky? There have been myths and legends about 13 and Friday separately, but not until the 20th century are they mentioned together and only as an editor's choice in a dictionary.