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Letters
A History Of Friday The 13th
By Gabriella Kalapos
Feb 13, 2004, 9:14am

Hi everybody! Happy friday the 13th!
Here's an interesting article I found at suite101.com about Friday the 13th. Is it really a day of bad luck or actually another example of suppression of the feminine principle and of pagan myth and ritual? I know it is kind of a long article, but I found it very interesting.

Rich


Published on: October 13, 2000


A black cat crosses your path, you walk under a ladder, you break a mirror, so what!? What does this have to do with you receiving bad karma? Well a lot if you let superstitions hold some sway with you, and let’s face it, most of us do. Many of us may believe we are not superstitious, but most of us would be surprised to realize the role superstition has in directing our actions and behaviors. Have you ever been extra careful around a mirror for fear of having seven years of bad luck; knocked on wood; been afraid not to pass-on a chain letter; not opened an umbrella indoors; God-blessed someone when they sneezed? Chances are you have. It is nothing to be ashamed of, but you may be curious as to how these superstitions originated.

Perhaps the best known superstition is the fear of Friday the 13th. What is it about these two factors that gave this day such a bad reputation? After all, it is even the subject of a hugely successful horror movie series! Almost all of us have used the date of Friday the 13th to explain why something went wrong. Examples of the taboos for both Friday, but especially the number 13, are endless. Everything has a history, so to get to the root of this superstition we must first look at the two elements separately. As it turns out, both Friday and the number 13 have a fascinating past.

FRIDAY

What could possibly be so bad about Friday? Most people look forward to Fridays, as it is the end of the workweek for many. Hence the ever popular slogan T.G.I.F. Friday’s ill-fated day in superstition is believed to result from the belief that it was the day of the week on which Eve tempted Adam and Christ was crucified. Among the activities viewed as taboo to do on a Friday are: setting sail on a ship; moving house; beginning any new work; writing a letter; knitting; starting a journey; and, believe it or not, cutting your nails. In both England and America the custom to hang criminals on a Friday earned it the reputation of Hangman’s day. Although, it seems one activity offers some promise on a Friday - sleeping. The thought is, if you repeat the dream you had during the night to a family member on Friday morning the dream would come true. It is certainly worth a try, assuming of course you only tell your family about the dreams you want to come true.

Not everywhere does Friday have this dubious distinction. Friday is the Sabbath of the Jewish lunar calendar and the Sabbath of Islam. Scandinavian Pagans, Hindus, rural Scots, and Germans consider Friday to be a most propitious day for a marriage or courting because they consider it a day favoring fertility. Their more favorable view of Friday is a result of the history of Friday before Christianity.

Friday is the only day of the week named after a woman. The others pay homage to either Scandinavian male gods (Wooden, Thor, and Tiu – God of War) or celestial bodies (Saturn, Sun, and Moon). Friday was named after the Norse Goddess Freya who represented fertility and sexual love. She is strongly associated with spring, birds and cats. Romans named the day dies Veneris after Venus, their own version of the Freya goddess. Ancient fisherman did not set sail on a Friday out of respect for Freya, because she was considered Goddess of the Sea. This tradition is still practiced by many sea folk today, except their reason for not setting sail on a Friday is now due to a fear of bad luck rather than reverence for an ancient goddess. To make the history of Friday even more interesting, it turns out fish were often eaten on Friday as fertility charms in honor of Freya. Thus, it seems the catholic habit of eating fish on Friday was pagan in origin.


THE NUMBER 13

The number 13 has an even more special place in superstition and fear of its effects has even been given a scientific name, Tridecaphobia. In fact, buildings avoid numbering the 13th floor, and airlines avoid using the number in tracking their flights and in numbering their seat aisles. The number 13 is rarely found on offices or shops, and even less frequently on the rooms of a hotel or guesthouse. In some cities, such as Paris, scarcely a single house exists with that ill-fated number. They get around this by designating the property twelve bis (twelve twice).

The main reason given for 13’s ill omen is its association with the Last Supper, attended by 13 - Christ and the 12 apostles. According to tradition, if a gathering of 13 is held, one member of such a group – the first to rise from the table – will die before the year is out. Reportedly, an organization in France exists solely to provide a last minute party guest so 13 people are never at a dinner party! Again, as was the case for Friday, not all cultures share this dislike for the number 13. For example, the Chinese have no aversion to the number 13 because its literal meaning is "alive". Their taboo number, however, is four, because it sounds like the word for "dying" or "death".

Two conflicting calendars were in use during most of the early Christian era in Europe. The Church's official solar Julian Calendar (the one we use today) and the peasants unofficial lunar calendar. When the number 13 is examined in a little more depth, a strong pagan and even stronger female pattern emerges. Paganism centers around Mother Nature and, within that context, the moon is vital. The moon and female fertility are also closely connected. The connection is so strong in fact that it is generally believed calendar consciousness developed first in women, because the natural menstruation of their bodies correlated with the moons phases. The 13 lunar months gave 364 days per year (13 X 28) with one extra day to make up the solar calendar. Nursery rhymes, fairy tales, ballads, and other repositories of pagan tradition always describe the full annual solar cycle as a year and a day. Thus, the thirteen months of the fertility or lunar year led to the pagan reverence for the number 13 and probably led to the Christian dislike of it.


FRIDAY THE 13TH

So when Friday is combined with the 13th day of the month we have a double dose of pagan symbolism and female significance. Up until the Middle Ages when pagans continued to celebrate symbolic pagan days, Friday the 13th was thought to be especially lucky because it combined the goddess’s sacred day with her sacred number (drawn from the 13 months of the lunar year). As a result, Friday the 13th was a celebration and festival day for many Pagans.

While the New Testament rationale for the dislike of both Friday and the number thirteen is often used as the explanation for the bad karma associated with Friday the 13th, it is, in my opinion, a little superficial to create such a strong taboo. Especially when one takes into account the pre-Christian history of both Friday and the number 13. After all, the Last Supper was certainly not the only time Christ gathered with his disciples and there were always 13 of them. No one suggests these earlier events were unlucky. In fact, based on the historical view of thirteen at the time of Christ, all indications show 13 as a lucky number, and this probably played a role in determining how many disciples there should have been. The same goes for the New Testament rationale for the dislike of Fridays. The crucifixion of Christ is the foundation of Christianity. After all this holy day is called Good Friday and is celebrated as a positive day!

What seems to appear, after one reviews the history, is that the modern taboo of Friday and 13 (and especially the two together) is the result of the Christian manipulation of earlier Pagan beliefs.

This is far from the only pagan celebration day Christianity has changed. Both Christmas and Easter are old pagan holidays, where many of the pagans’ traditions continue to be practiced, only without the understanding of their true origins. But Friday the 13th is different from these other plagiarized holidays because the Christians turned what used to be a day of celebration of female strength and power into a day of fear and taboos.

In trying to understand why they would try to do such a thing, one has to keep in mind that for the first couple of hundred years after Christ and the birth of Christianity, Christians were forced to practice their religion in secret for fear of persecution. This may explain why they linked their Christian celebrations with pagan celebrations to avoid being discovered. Their inability to practice Christianity in public during this time probably resulted in their dislike of pagan religions, the dominant religions during the time of the Christian persecution. And in turn, this led to their persecution of pagan celebrations when Christianity became the dominant religion.

It is not surprising this took place. After all, most conquering nations try to destroy or change the customs of the conquered. We do, however, have to recognize it as inconsistent with the teachings of Christianity - where tolerance and "turning the other cheek" is encouraged. In actual practice, however, the Christians of the time realized they would be much more successful in suppressing some pagan celebrations if, instead of trying to eliminate the holiday, they focused their energy on changing the meaning behind the celebrations to coincide with Christianity. Other holidays, such as Friday the 13th, they suppressed by convincing people that unfortunate things would happen to them if they celebrated on those festival days.

We need to take the history of Friday and the number 13 into account and look at them afresh in order to see them in a more positive light. Australians have one interesting way of looking at this day. Australian lottery ticket sales go through the roof on Friday the 13th. Maybe they try to defy the odds by taking the bad luck jinx on, or maybe they realize things are rarely what they seem on the surface to be. Ideas, superstitions and cultural symbolism exist for numerous different reasons, but it is usually based on the evolution or manipulation of beliefs or customs pre-dating them. It is important for us to question the origin of these customs, to make an informed decision on whether we want to partake in the custom, challenge it, or just ignore it.

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