Friday the 13th: A Tale of Horror or a Tale of Comedy?

Or is that tempting fate? The meme I saw today says otherwise.

Nothing sends a good old-fashioned trickle down the spine like a good Friday the 13th story. And for fair reason – it cements all things eerie and mysterious. The superstition segued into a prized possession of popular culture, and ever since then, its reputation has preceded itself. 

Last year, on September 13th, the rare harvest moon, a “micromoon” if you will, eclipsed the skies – a phenomenon which will occur next in 2049. That’s right, by the time some scientists think our planet will be a wasteland and those of us who survive will be climate refugees. But that’s far too grim and real, and it steals today’s spooky limelight.

Do you find yourself wondering why, in fact, is Friday the 13th paranormal milestone? Friday the 12th or 14th don’t sound as bad. It’s all about history, superstition, and a cultural showdown. 

The Historical Verdict

What exactly inspired the genesis of this superstition? 

Last supper

The answer lies in the Old Testament, soaked in blood and betrayal. For most of human history, 13 has been associated with the evening of Last Supper, which recorded the gathering of Jesus and his 12 disciples. Judas was the 13th guest, and well, you know how that story goes. In other cultures, Norse mythology has its own rendition of Loki coming unannounced to a Valhalla dinner party as the 13th guest, bringing with him disruption and death.

When mystic tales trace a pattern, it’s best to draw some lessons from it. Historians have laid bare evidence of the ominous “13th guest”, which have inspired vintage tales of all kinds. Before you know it, superstition seeped into the dominant culture. 

The earliest recorded occurrence of an ill-fated Friday the 13th is in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. It was the 14th century when Chaucer termed it to be a day “of misfortune” – on his part it was reeling with mockery – but it did start a ripple effect of fear of the number.

…there’s more

Abstract things interest us to no extent – and one of those is the significance we give to meanings and the idea that certain numbers have a spiritual or mystic allure. Lucky numbers, the devil’s 666, you get the drift.  Our fascination spills into fear more often than we’d like, and that explains Triskaidekaphobia, a phobia of the number 13th. 

It’s interesting to note that the interest in coupling the two is a recent development of the 20th century – before that, unlucky 13 flew solo. It was only when Thomas Lawson penned Friday, the Thirteenth in 1907, that the two became a mystic combination. Lawson’s curse revolved around a stockbroker who chose the date to crash the stock market. Next year, The New York Times made a reference to the ominous date, and thus, the myth continued to build. 

And like all worthy things, it became a part of pop-culture

13 has carried the baggage of being ominous for far too long. It also tagged Friday, the best of the days based on popular belief, in a union of sinister matrimony. Together, they inspired a cautious modern reality.

Several hotels have omitted a thirteenth floor from their construction plans. A slate of paranormal movies owe their revenue to the myth, including the franchise which is literally named Friday, the Thirteenth. In many countries, Friday the 13th is one of the cheapest dates to fly, because the fear does play out in some way or the other. Some estimates have gone on to suggest losses between between $700 million and $900 million in revenue out of actives which people avoid doing on this particular date.

Over time, it has become a source of comic relief all while maintaining its superstitious mystique. There’s no scientific evidence to back this cultural phenomenon – it is just one of those things mankind indulges in for which there is no rhyme or reason. You can choose to live vicariously or be wary of pushing your luck. If there’s any thing we’re sure of, your next party isn’t going to have 13 guests.