Friday, March 13, 2020

Friday the 13th

If you’re superstitious, you’re no doubt cringing at the title. But how and why did this date become synonymous with bad luck?

Credit for popularizing the myth is often given to one Captain William Fowler, a noted soldier who rubbed elbows with many high-profile people of the late 1800’s. Fowler frequently noted that the number 13 was woven throughout his life. For example, he went to Public School #13 in New York and fought in 13 Civil War battles. He decided to combat the popular superstition, and started a society called the Thirteen Club, which had its first meeting on September 13, 1881.

The group met regularly on the 13th of the month, in room 13 of the Knickerbocker Cottage, a popular watering hole owned by Fowler. They passed under an open ladder to sit at a 13-seat table festooned with spilled salt. Four US presidents (Chester A. Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison and Theodore Roosevelt) joined the Thirteen Club at some time.

Of course, the idea that 13 may be an unlucky number goes back to mythology. Norse mythos tells of a party where 12 of the gods sit down to dinner and Loki, the trickster, showed up uninvited. He then shot Balder, the god of joy and happiness. The Code of Hammurabi reportedly omitted a thirteenth law. And Christian mythology has Judas, Jesus’ betrayer, as a similar unlucky guest at the Last Supper.

Friday has also been considered an unlucky day in Western tradition. Christians claim Jesus was crucified on a Friday, and some believe that day was when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. On Friday, October 13, 1307, King Phillip IV of France had hundreds of members of the Knights Templar arrested.

What about your character? Would they have considered Friday the 13th unlucky? That depends on you. Certainly the idea of “Unlucky 13” was well entrenched in cultural belief during the 1800s. And many would have believed Friday to be unlucky as well, so your character might be superstitious when the two fell together. It’s all up to your superpowers as an author.

JES Hays

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