Friday 13th: Origins of Superstition Explained

Today (March 13, 2020) is Friday the 13th—unlucky for some—and for those who are not already self-isolating due to COVID-19, they have another reason not to leave the house today (and again in November, which is the next freaky Friday).

But why are people so spooked by Friday the 13th? Newsweek decided to find out.

Friday the 13th Origins

References to Friday the 13th date back to Medieval times but some believe that it was inspired by the Bible. At the Last Supper, Judas Iscariot, who went onto betray Jesus to the Romans, was the 13th person at the table, potentially inspiring further fears of the number 13, also known as triskaidekaphobia. Jesus was also said to have died on a Friday — also known as Good Friday — which has potentially resulted in Christians carrying the superstition from there.

Moving through to the Middle Ages, references to Friday being an unlucky day, in general, appear as early as the 14th century. The Canterbury Tales writer, George Chaucer wrote, "On a Friday fell all this mischance."

Then there are the Knights Templar. The Catholic military order was arrested on Friday the 13th in October 1307 by order of King Philip IV. The Grand Master Jacque de Molay and scores of other French Templars were accused of asking recruits to spit on the Cross, deny Christ and engage in "indecent kissing." They were charged with numerous offenses such as financial corruption, fraud and secrecy, and were also accused of idolatry. These prisoners were tortured and burned at the stake later on. This started a movement to arrest and disband the Knights Templar.

iStock Friday 13th Bad Luck March 2020
Stock image: Friday the 13th is unlucky for some, but where do the origins of superstition come from? iStock

Gioachino Rossini, the Italian composer, died on Friday 13th according to Henry Sutherland Edwards' 1869 biography. In it, he wrote: "He [Rossini] was surrounded to the last by admiring friends; and if it be true that, like so many Italians, he regarded Fridays as an unlucky day and thirteen as an unlucky number, it is remarkable that on Friday 13th of November he passed away."

So it's not surprising that some link it to Friday the 13th. However, today Italians actually consider 13 to be a lucky number and Friday 17th to be an unlucky day — the next one will be April 17, 2020.

The Fear of 13

Aside from Friday the 13th, some people have a separate fear of the number 13. This phobia has created traditions such as builders strategically forgetting the 13th floor when designing buildings, in an effort to avoid bad luck, or restaurateurs missing out the 13th table. In Norse legend, there were 12 people sharing a meal in Valhalla when a 13th person, Loki crashed the dinner and one person ended up dead. This story resonates with the belief that whoever stands up first at a table of 13 will die.

Logical minds might fear the number 13 because of numerology. Numerologists consider the number 12 to be a complete number, so 13 is considered to be useless.