//Calendar date superstitions are a numbers game

Calendar date superstitions are a numbers game

By Jeff Himle, Pittsburghlive.com , Friday, October 13, 2006

Whether you call it Black Friday or think of it as Lady Luck's day off, today, Friday, Oct. 13, 2006, arrives with a lot of baggage.

The convergence of the sixth day of the week and the 13th day of the month have long been seen as particularly inauspicious, whether one is simply careful not to compound the damage–by avoiding other traditionally unlucky encounters, such as crossing paths with a black cat, on that day–or is given to the extreme phobic reaction of staying in bed until 12:01 a.m. on the 14th.

The unwieldy terms "paraskevidekatriaphobe" and "friggatriskaidekaphobe," have been coined to describe a person with an irrational fear of Friday 13th, whereas those who fear the number 13, no matter when it occurs, are mere "triskaidekaphobes."

The cultural aversion to the numeral 13 is fairly well established, at least in Western cultures. Many high-rise hotels skip from floors 12 to 14, or insert a 12B, so as not to scare away superstitious guests. Likewise, airplane seating charts often lack a Row 13.

Though there are local examples (both Indiana and New Florence boroughs have them), some municipalities avoid designating a 13th Street).

Superstitious tradition also holds that having 13 people seated together at a table signals bad luck, possibly death, for one member of the party in the coming year.

According to alternate versions of the belief, the person marked for bad fortune either is the last to be seated or the first to leave the table. Thus, one way to supposedly neutralize the bad luck is for all guests to take their seats and rise from the table simultaneously.

Usual explanations for the number's ill portent, particularly as it applies to gatherings of 13 people, refer back to either Judeo-Christian tradition or earlier Norse mythology.

Judas Iscariot, the "thirteenth" person attending the Last Supper, gained eternal infamy by later betraying Jesus.

A parallel can be found in the Norse tale of a banquet among the gods of Valhalla. Loki, known as a spirit of strife and mischief, crashed the party, increasing the number present to 13. He then instigated events leading to the death of the favorite among the gods, Balder.

In today's fast-paced society, when workers looking forward to the weekend "thank God it's Friday," the separate superstitions of bad luck once associated with the sixth day of the week are less well known.

Traditionally, sailors would avoid launching a new ship or setting out on a voyage on that day, while farmers would pick any other day to begin their harvest and their wives would take care not to commence a new sewing project on that day.

Also, it once was thought those born on a Friday would be consigned to a life of misfortune.

Again, scholars look to both Biblical and Norse origins of the superstition.

In addition to Christ's crucifixion occurring on a Friday, Good Friday, the final day of the modern work week supposedly coincided with such unfortunate events as: Eve tempting Adam with the apple; the start of the Great Flood; the fall of the Temple of Solomon; the sudden confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel.

A more recent black day in the history of Christianity occurred on Friday, Oct. 13, 1307. On that date, France's King Philip IV had the Knights Templar imprisoned and subjected to torture and execution.

The Knights Templar were an order of warriors within the Roman Catholic Church whose original purpose was to protect Christian travelers visiting Jerusalem in the time following the Crusades. But the order later became a rich, powerful and allegedly corrupt organization, and its members were executed for heresy.

The Knights eventually became a rich, powerful and allegedly corrupt order within the church and its members were executed for heresy.

Given that many of our modern weekdays derive their names from those of Norse deities, it's not surprising one of that immortal number is blamed for giving Friday a black eye.

The day is named for Frigga, who originally was worshiped as a goddess of love and fertility in pagan times. But, with the advent of Christianity in Scandinavian countries, her reputation was tarnished and she became associated with more devilish pursuits, including witchcraft.

Superstitions about Friday the 13th have persisted into the modern era, including the space age.

Those who look for dark omens to explain spectacular tragedies or failures, point out NASA's unfortunately-numbered and ill-fated Apollo 13 space mission was aborted on April 13, 1970. But it should be noted that date happened to fall on a Monday, not a Friday.

Fear of 13, and Friday the 13th, isn't universal. In Egyptian and Chinese traditions, 13 actually is considered a fortunate number.

Ancient Egyptians believed that each person's existence involved multiple stages of progression, 12 occurring here on Earth and a 13th consisting of an eternal afterlife that was welcomed, not feared.

We Americans, in particular, have good reason to celebrate the number 13, rather than shun it.

The United States began as a collection of 13 colonies, a number that remains with us in the stripes on our nation's flag and symbols on the back of each dollar bill: an eagle poised below 13 stars while grasping in one claw 13 arrows and in the other an olive branch with 13 leaves.

Whatever the imagined consequences of Friday the 13th in popular lore, the dreaded date does have some undeniably real repercussions, studies have shown.

In 2005, ABC News reported that businesses lose nearly one billion dollars every Friday the 13th, due to such factors as superstitious workers who stay at home and others who avoid or cancel travel reservations, fearing a mishap while in transit.

Fittingly, in the Land Down Under, the notion of Friday the 13th as a unlucky occurrence has been turned on its head. Australian lottery agents report selling 50 percent more tickets on that day.

Aside from the seven years of bad luck one is said to risk by breaking a mirror, the number 7 appears to have universal appeal as a sign of good fortune.

As with unlucky 13, religion and myth lay behind the tradition of 7 as an auspicious figure.

According to the Biblical book of Genesis, God rested on the seventh day after creating the world.

Seven is the number of sacraments in the Roman Catholic faith and the number of Archangels according to some systems. Seven also is the number of heavens in Islamic tradition–the origin of the expression "seventh heaven," describing a state of extreme happiness.

Hindu mythology counts seven sages who are married to seven goddesses, known as the "Seven Mothers."

Seven Lucky Gods exist in Japanese mythology. In Chinese culture, the seventh day of the first moon of the lunar year is known as "Human's Day," meant to be celebrated as the universal birthday of all human beings.

The number seven also is of special significance within Cherokee cosmology.

In the world of nature, seven is the pH value of pure water.

And, traditionally, there are seven hues (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet) found within a rainbow. The rainbow, in a scriptural context, is said to be God's promise that the earth never would be subjected to another Great Flood; in a more whimsical sense, it's supposed to lead to a leprechaun's pot of gold.

Among other things, most people wouldn't think of tempting fate by entering into a marriage on Friday the 13th.

In contrast, couples are said
to be jockeying for church and reception bookings so they can exchange vows on the supposedly super-lucky date of July 7, 2007 (7/7/07).

I predict it will be some overzealous statistic hound's unlucky fate to someday track the divorce rate among those united on that date.

One thing's for sure: the citizens of either Sochi, Russia, Salzburg, Austria, or PyeongChang, South Korea, will experience a surge of good fortune on 7/7/07. That's the date when the International Olympics Committee is scheduled to select one of the above three cities as the host for the 2014 Winter Games.