May 13: If there’s one day you don’t want to walk under ladders, break any mirrors, or run afoul of any hockey-mask-wearing lunatics, it’s Friday the 13th. The day, which occurs one to three times every year, is synonymous with bad luck, and folks on the Web are eager to know how it got such a scary reputation.
The urban legend experts at Snopes.com offer several theories on why Friday the 13th is so feared. The site writes that "some of the more common theories link it to a significant event in the Christian tradition said to have taken place on Friday." The big examples include the crucifixion and Eve offering the apple to Adam in the Garden of Eden.
And then there’s the number 13. Many buildings don’t have a 13th floor; some airplanes don’t have a 13th row. Clearly, many people are a bit worried about it. According to About.com’s urban legend expert, the aversion to all things 13 may have begun when early man was learning to count. "Primitive man had only his 10 fingers and two feet to represent units," this explanation goes, "so he could count no higher than 12. What lay beyond that — 13 — was an impenetrable mystery to our prehistoric forbearers, hence an object of superstition."
Another theory: Thirteen became feared because it represented femininity. Some believe priests vilified the number because it "corresponded to the number of lunar (menstrual) cycles in a year." That number was "revered in prehistoric goddess-worshipping cultures."
A 2001 column on Yahoo! cites UselessKnowledge.com with yet another theory. The "superstition stems from the events that took place on Friday, October 13, 1307. On that day, the pope of the Roman Catholic Church, in combination with the king of France, sentenced the Knights Templar to death and ordered the torture and crucifixion of their leader."
So many superstitions, so little evidence! To many, Friday is considered a day to be extra cautious, because bad things may happen with a bit more frequency. And to others, the number 13 is incredibly unlucky for any number of perceived reasons. Combine the unlucky day of the week with the unlucky number, and you get a day that makes even the otherwise nonsuperstitious run for cover.
And really, it’s not just the superstitious people who put credence into these theories. There was even a 1993 study published in the British Medical Journal on whether or not Friday the 13th is bad for one’s health. About.com tracked down the study, which concludes with an ominous endnote: "Friday the 13th is unlucky for some. The risk of hospital admission as a result of a transport accident may be increased by as much as 52 percent. Staying at home is recommended."