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Weekly BlogScan: Fear and Loathing on Friday the 13th

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Triskaidekaphobia, the fear of 13 (of anything), is sometimes rationalized as “the number present at the Last Supper,” the twelve apostles and Christ. Because that repast is assumed to have taken place on Friday, a Friday numbered 13 is doubly cursed, ominous of death, disaster, and doom of all kinds. And for paraskevidekatriaphobics, the fear of Friday the 13th locks them indoors, trembling under the bedclothes, during a date that occurs one to three times a year.

Even more intriguing, many paraskevidekatriaphobics are not Christian.

So what is the real fuel for fear on Friday the 13th? Taflac did a survey of writings on the subject, of which the most nonreligious was this, from Charles Platt’s Popular Superstitions (1925):

The rise of the compound Three-Ten for Thirteen is so very general all over the world, that it seems clear that to the primitive mind of early Man it had no real meaning&#8212he stopped at Twelve. So persistent are these old instincts that, even today, we stop at “Twelve Times Twelve” in our school multiplication tables,… [due to an] inherited instinct that it was, and therefore still must be, the utmost limit of mathematical thought… Thirteen, therefore was not used as number, but as a vague word meaning anything beyond Twelve. To the untutored savage… anything unknown conveyed an immediate sense of danger. Thirteen was not really an unlucky number, but a fateful one&#8212a number full of vague and unimaginable possibilities and therefore a number to be avoided by any peace-loving man.

On the other hand, ABC News online (in their Health section today) attributes the fear to Norse mythology, and notes that it costs 800 to 900 million dollars in lost business as people refuse to travel, shop or go to work.

Still, some think 13 owes its bad reputation originally to Loki, the Norse god of evil, who started a riot when he crashed a banquet at Valhalla attended by 12 gods. Once there, Loki (who then became the 13th god at the banquet) arranged for Hoder, the blind god of darkness, to shoot Balder the Beautiful, the god of joy and gladness, with a mistletoe-tipped arrow.

Luboš Motl gives us a rational (if low-odds) reason to fear one particular Friday of dire number. On Friday, April 13th, 2029, there was expected to be a 2.7 percent average chance that “an asteroid named 2004 MN4 of around 390 meters” would impact Earth at around 9:07 PM GMT. Fortunately for all of us, phobic or non, the probability was downgraded on December 27th, 2004 to 10^-5, a very tiny number, although still not zero.

Flaming Friday 13
  Graphic courtesy HowStuffWorks

The author of wannabe weblogger takes a philosophical approach: “I seem to always have at least one unlucky thing happens to me every day so Friday the 13th is just like any other day for me.” She invites us to check out HowStuffWorks for their excellent recap of the superstition.

…Sailors were particularly superstitious in this regard, often refusing to ship out on a Friday. According to unverified legend (very likely untrue), the British Navy commissioned a ship in the 1800s called H.M.S. Friday, in order to quell the superstition. The navy selected the crew on a Friday, launched the ship on a Friday and even selected a man named James Friday as the ship’s captain. Then, one Friday morning, the ship set off on its maiden voyage… and disappeared forever.

With the Musings of a Caffeinated Mind, Cuppojoe shares with us the disasster he and his girlfriend experienced last Friday the 13th. CSI and Medical Investigation fans, take note! They never did figure out what it was that bit her. In a more-grim scenario, blogger Mc Dermott, a “reporter without borders” on Singabloodypore informs us that Shanmugam Murugesu will be executed there today for “returning by motorcycle from neighboring Malaysia in August 2003 with one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of marijuana.” 110 people convicted of drug offenses in that country in the last 5 years have been executed. In fact, he tells us, only six death row inmates have been granted clemency since Singapore’s independence from Malaysia in 1965.

On the other hand, Curtis is Singing Loudly his prediction that Connecticut Death Row inmate Michael Ross will be executed today. This makes it “Lucky Friday the 13th,” at least for once and future victims of this Connecticut serial killer. Also, from Today in Alternate History, Robbie Taylor reminds us that one Friday the 13th might have proved lucky for then-President Bill Clinton. If only these “Important Events In History That Never Occurred Today” had really happened, then it would be true!

in 1998, Friday the 13th proved to be good luck for President William Clinton&#8212the sexual harassment lawsuit against him was dismissed as “without merit”, in the judge’s decision. The rest of Clinton’s presidency went from triumph to triumph as he outmaneuvered the Republican Congress and managed to engineer his succession by his Vice-President, Al Gore, and a new Democratic majority in both houses of Congress in the elections of 2000.

And finally, the boys at EuroGimp Polls put their lives in the consensus mill of their voting readers. Along with deep questions like Who’ll get the most hammered in the Irish pubs? and Who will partake in “red light district” activities in Amsterdam? one poll offers the following choices.

Will our flight go down on Friday the 13th to Amsterdam?!?
o  Yes
o  No
o  You guys are twisted!

As for me, I think I’ll stay in bed today. After all, Blogger is going down at 2 PM. Given the day, who knows when it will come back up?

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About DrPat

  • francisco68

    Here is a Friday the 13th memory (from yesterday). I didn’t post it on my phoyoblog but can share it with Dr. Pat. I was scheduled for a delicate angioplasty (balloon catheterization of the coronary arteries) with the replacement of two connected stents — don’t try this at home kiddies. I waited 2.5 hours in the hospital waiting room, was ushered to pre-op, stripped, signed all the disclaimers (“If you kill me it wasn’t your fault) and was naked (hospital gown) in the bed for a while thinking the 13th wasn’t a good day for such games when the surgical nurse came in to say the cardiologist had a major emergency and wouldn’t work on me when he was tired. Come back Monday.

    So, according to your blog surfing, was Triskaidekaphobia, appropriate or was my time wasted?.

    Neat post, great graphic.

  • gonzo marx

    you missed a good one DrPat,

    it was on friday the 13th that the Inquisition arrested Jaques DeMolay and most other officers of the Templars on the continent of Europe

    3 days of torture later DeMolay, the current grand master of the Order, and two other ranking officials were burned at the stake in France

    what should be required reading for any study on the Templars “Holy Blood, Holy Grail”…i forget the 3 author’s name off the top of my head….but some good stuff and research in it..

    hope that helps..