Friday, July 13, 2012

The Origin of Superstitions: Friday the 13th

Being this is such an infamous day, I decided it would be fun to dedicate part of the Friday Fun's post to superstitions and where they come. There are many famous superstitions and weather you believe in them or not, we all try to avoid actions deemed as 'unlucky' not because we believe, but because of 'what if...'. I don't throw salt over my left shoulder, nor have I lived in fear after breaking more than my fair share of mirrors throughout my life, but I also am sure to knock on wood when I'm talking about the possibility of some unfortunate even befalling my family and beloved. I don't truly believe anything will change because I knocked on wood, but then again, I'm not hurting anybody so I keep doing it.

Superstitions are long engrained into our subconscious, just as the concept of luck, as a mechanism of defense; a way, an illusion, of asserting some control in our lives when the majority of events are simply out of our hands. Back in the days when most everything was either an act of God or the devil, when science didn't exist, superstitions brought small peace to the incertitudes of everyday life.

Many moons have passed since then and in the light of the Internet era, most people will keep quiet their superstitions from their friends, maybe only in sports are they still condoned as part of the trade. Still, those old wive's tales live on and are worth reading about, if for no other reason, because they talk to us about our past, about what living in those early years felt like. They paint a better image into the humane psyche than any history book can ever tell.


What people say: Don't start a trip on a Friday, you'll encounter misfortune. Never change your bed on a friday, it'll bring you nightmares. Ships that sail on a Friday will encounter bad luck. If you cut your nails on a friday, you cut them for sorrow.

History: Friday has long been considered unlucky. In Judeo-Christian tradition, it was a Friday that Eve offered her companion the fateful fruit back in The Garden, the same day they were spelled from Paradise and the same day when, later on, Adam repented, died, and was buried. The Great Flood is traditionally told to have happened on a Friday, the tower of Babel fell on a Friday, Solomon's Temple was destroyed on such a day, and have I mentioned Christ was crucified on a Friday (Good Friday)?

Beyond religion, in pagan Rome, Friday was execution day, later known as Hangman's day in Britain. And then there was October 13th, 1307; "a day so infamous that Friday the 13th would become a synonym for ill fortune" when "officers of King Philip IV (Philip the Fair) of France carried out mass arrests in a well-coordinated dawn raid that left several thousand Templars--knights, sergeants, priests, and serving brethren--in chains, charged with heresy, blasphemy, various obscenities, and homosexual practices. None of these charges was ever proven even in France, and the Order was found innocent elsewhere, but in the seven years following the arrests, hundreds of Templars suffered excruciating tortures intended to force 'confessions', and more than a hundred died under torture or were executed by burning at the stake." (Katharine Kurtz, Tales of the Knights Templar, Warner Books, 1995).

Need more? Well, there's the story of H.M.S. Friday. At some point during the 19th century, as an attempt to dispel the superstition that beginning a voyage on Friday brought bad luck, the British Royal Navy commissioned a ship named H.M.S Friday. Its, crew was hired on a friday, its keel laid on a Friday, and its captain was a man named James Friday, who set sail for its maiden voyage on a Friday. And she was never seen or heard from again. 

Only, of course, this story is known to be untrue, but how sweet it sounds when retelling it in the right context, doesn't it?

Number 13.

What people say: If thirteen people sit to dinner together, one will die within the year. If you have thirteen letters in your name, you will have the devil's luck (Jack the Ripper, Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, Theodore Bundy, and Albert de Salvo. If your name can fit here, too, please unfriend my Fb page). 

History: Number 13 has also a long and dubious history. It is the number of Death in the tarot deck, of steps on a gallows, of coils of rope on a Hangman's noose, the number of witches on a coven, and the number of dinner guests of the Last Super. But for such a renown well of unluckiness, 13's story started as being a portent of good things.

The ancient Chinese regarded the number as lucky, as did the Egyptians who believed life was a quest for spiritual ascension which unfolded in stages, 12 in this life and the 13th in the eternal afterlife. And so it was that 13 was associated with death, not in the doom and gloom kind of way, but as a celebrated and desirable step to ascension. As the Egyptian civilization disappeared, the positive significance of death did, too, and with it 13 found its way down to Great Great Grandaunt Gertrude's kitchen fire.

13 was the representation of the Great Goddess since times immemorial. There are 13 lunar (menstrual) cycles in the year; when Chinese women make cake offerings to moon gods, there are 13 in the plate; 13 is the number of blood, fertility, and lunar potency. Yes, 13 is the ultimate female numeric representation, and when the patriarchal religions in the early west world took over, it gain a bad rap. But there's also the ancient hindu belief that it is always unlucky for 13 people to gather in one place, a belief that is echoed in Viking religion where it is said that 12 gods were invited to a banquet at Valhalla, a banquet that Loki, god of Mischief, crashed only to raise hell, causing the death of one of the gods. Where have I heard something similar before? Oh, yes! The Las Supper! Hmmm...

Well, whether you believe or not, when the 6th day of the week gets together with 13, the sight of a calendar causes more than one pair of eyes to open wide, a few hearts to skip a beat, and sever foreheads to drip. Now, you know why.


Tia Bach said...

So interesting. And crazy about the HMS Friday. Eerie.

Mina Lobo said...

A co-worker of mine, who's from the Dominican Republic, says it's Tuesday the 13th that's problematic for her people. Still, that pesky number 13 is in the mix, ain't it? :-)
Some Dark Romantic

Catalina Egan said...

Great post. It is true that in some cultures Tuesday the 13 is the day to fear.
I have personally had some FANTASTIC and AMAZING experiences on the 13th day of a month..well if I am not too busy not to notice it just fly by!
Sharing your post...very well put together and fun to read!

Michael Bowen said...

Believe it will bring you luck, it will.
Believe it will make your day a mess, it will...
You choose. ;-)

Deniz Bevan said...

Neat! I like exploring the backgrounds of superstitions. What if it was a full moon on Friday the 13th? :-)

Lynn Proctor said...

haha very interesting stuff--:)

Gina said...

@Tia, I find all these folklore tales and old believes fascinating. So glad you enjoyed them, too!

@Mina, from Mexico, where I'm originally from, it is also tuesday the day considered as unlucky. Again, 13 is in the mix. Unredeemable 13... you unlucky bastard! ;)

@Catalina, I'm usually of the kind that doesn't even notice when tuesday or fridays collide with 13... time just flies by! Thanks so much for your kind words, I'm so happy you liked it!

@Michael, I'm with you. I think that we can conjure our luck. If we keep thinking something bad is going to happen, it will. If you think it won't. most of the time you will be fine. So I'm thinking summer will be so much fun... crossing my fingers, too. Just in case ;)

@Deniz, if friday the 13th has a full moon I bet you there will be many unhappy werewolves. Would they run up the hills if a black kitty crossed their paths? XD

Thanks, Lynn. It's great to know so many other people are enjoying this little piece of fun. =)

Michael Pierce said...

Very cool information. I knew a few of those things, but not all of those 13 superstitions. After working in a hotel, I always found the no 13th floor or room funny. Wouldn't it just make the 14th unlucky because it was "really" the 13th? Oh, and don't count the letters in my name. I can't believe I'd never done that before.

Gina said...

Thanks Michael. It was indeed very interesting and educating as I researched the theme. Crazy things, right? I would think that more people would be sensible enough to understand they're actually staying at a 13th floor, but hey, whatever floats their boat...