Friday, February 13, 2009



It's Friday the Thirteenth, and as everyone knows, that's an unlucky day. This belief ranked seventh in the top ten supersitions in an English study in 1989.
The belief that Friday is unlucky is an old one. Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (15th ed.) remarks that Christians considered it unlucky as the day of the Crucifixion, but that it has also been considered unlucky "among Buddhists and Brahmans". The Noresmen, on the other hand, regarded Friday as the luckiest day of the week; it was the day of Freyja the Goddess of love, and the day on which weddings were celebrated. Brewer's notes that in Islamic tradition Friday is the day on which Adam was created, but also the day Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, and the day they died, and that it is also the weekly day of rest and worship; but nothing is said of whether it is held lucky or not. Friday seems to have been thought particularly unlucky for beginning ventures and journeys, especially voyages at sea; but in 1492 Columbus set sail on a Friday and on a Friday sighted land. These events are widely, but perhaps not universally, thought to have been good things. Oddly enough, "Friday's child is loving and giving".
The idea that the number Thirteen is unlucky is also very old; it was known even among the ancient Romans. A general distrust of thirteen in mediaeval England led to the idea that if thirteen sat down to dine, one would die within a year. According to the Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore, the first known reference to this belief dates from June 1695. It was then that the belief was said to come from the thirteen who lay down to the Last Supper, of whom Judas the first to leave the table later killed himself. Brewer, however, refers this superstition to a Norse myth. It was at a banquet in Valhalla, where Loki intruded himself to make thirteen guests, that Balder the fair was slain. (It seems to have taken a long time for this myth to influence English superstitions, but let that pass.) It is also noteable that the thirteenth day of any month was thought unlucky.
Although it might seem natural that two such venerable superstitions would have been joined early on, the fear of Friday the Thirteenth as such developed quite recently. Indeed, the Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore says that the two ideas are not found in combination before the beginning of the twentieth century. The earliest reference is said to be in N&Q in 1913. However, "the reputation of Friday the thirteenth is now thoroughly established, and constantly reinforced by the media".

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