Friday the 13th. Unlucky for some, or so they say. You may have noticed, if you are of the superstitious kind that last Friday happened to be the 13th, and not just that, but a full moon too; a double whammy sure to throw any superstition following individual into a fit of terror. But the fear is genuinely out there, they even attributed an actual phobia to it: triskaidekaphobia is the name given to those with a fear of the number 13. According to a recent superstition survey, 85% of people have at least one superstitious belief while 27% of people believe the number 13 is an omen for bad luck.
The origins of Friday the 13th being an unlucky date are shrouded in mystery. Some say the origins of the fear began simply with numerology where 13 has always been considered an irregular number and is therefore: the number of witches you need to form a coven. Others say the roots of 13 being considered unlucky lie in a Nordic myth about 12 gods having a dinner party at Valhalla. The 13th guest was Loki, the god of mischief, who arranged for the god of joy and gladness to be shot with a mistletoe-tipped arrow. He died and the whole world was thrust into mourning.
Either way, there are some hardened statistics and events that occurred to “support” the bad omen of the dreaded Friday 13th. Results published in the British Medical Journal, noted that the number of motor accidents in the South West Thames region increased from a total of 45 on the six Friday 6ths between 1989 and 1992, to some 65 accidents on the six Friday 13ths in the same period – that’s a whopping increase of 52 per cent.
Researchers in Sweden also claimed that the country was a more risky place to be on Friday the 13th, and we wouldn’t want to feel ill at ease in the country that so generously gave the world meatballs and ABBA would we?
As you can tell by my sarcastic tone, I’m not in any way shape or form superstitious. If I told you I watched all of the classic superstition based horror movies under the age of 10 then that shouldn’t surprise you. The Exorcist, The Omen, and The Ring to name but a few of my spine tingling favourites. All of these movies are deeply rooted in superstition. They are century’s old folkloric tales that use moral lessons to manipulate fans and the fearsome alike, adding great psychological and terror, which for lovers of the genre, like me, is an addictive, enjoyable combination.
That’s why I find this superstition business hard to take seriously. Sure, bad things have occurred throughout the years that happened to have taken place on Friday the 13th. Buckingham Palace was hit by five German bombs on Friday September 13 1940 with both King George VI and Queen Elizabeth coming close to being killed. The rapper Tupac Shakur died of his wounds on Friday September 13 1996 six days after being shot multiple times in a drive-by shooting. All these negative, often tragic events happened, there’s no doubt about that, but they also could have happened on Thursday the 12th too.
Here’s the thing: there is no known mechanism through which it could cause bad luck.
Surgeon and journalist, Atul Gawande found the increase in traffic accidents in a London suburb increased on Friday the 13th to be simply a random, meaningless finding from one narrow dataset stating that; “Friday the 13th is just an artefact of our Gregorian calendar, so there’s no known mechanism through which it could cause bad luck.”
Dr. Simo Näyhä of the University of Oulu in Finland conducted a 2002 study of fatal traffic accidents in Finland between 1971 and 1997, and found that while men were no more statistically likely to die in a traffic accident on Friday the 13th versus other Fridays, women were almost 1.7 times more likely to be in a fatal accident. “An estimated 38% of traffic deaths involving women on this day were attributable to Friday the 13th itself.”
However, two years later, these findings were squashed when Igor Radun and Heikki Summala, of the Traffic Research Unit in the Department of Psychology at the University of Helsinki published their own study, looking at all traffic accidents on Friday the 13ths between 1989-2002. They found, contrary to Näyhä, that neither gender was more likely to be involved in an accident on Friday the 13th, a conclusion that will do absolutely nothing to stop the prevalence of this superstition.
Perhaps a more human hypothesis is that while Friday the 13th itself doesn’t cause bad luck, the mind is a powerful tool, and can cause people to behave differently out of fear or anxiety, thereby causing accidents, which often get attributed to “bad luck.”
So where do you stand? Are you weary of stepping under a ladder or fearful of crossing paths with a black, innocent little kitty? Perhaps you experience extreme angst and stay firmly wrapped in the cosy confines of your duvet? Or maybe you’re like me, and believe it’s all in the mind.