Friday, May 13, 2005

The Paraskevidekatriaphobia's Ball

I am not really the superstitious type of person, but if leaving the house was uncomfortable for me on the haloed stoners “4/20” holiday, then “Friday the 13th” makes me want to turn my humble abode into a complete militarized bunker in which to ride out the wake of whatever carnage that may erupt in the city streets.

Despite my overtly rational layman’s approach to understanding nature and the universe, I can’t deny that there is still something sinister and unnerving to me about the particular Friday the 13th calendar day. I can’t deny that I feel that things are just a bit edgier on Friday the 13th; people are more anxious; the air carries a more foreboding scent of sweat and fear; and I have this ever-present feeling that a grand piano is going to land on my head at any second.

Things are just weirder on Friday the 13th.

So maybe I suffer a little from a mild case of Paraskevidekatriaphobia: the condition that afflicts some with a morbid, irrational fear of Friday the 13th. Well actually, it’s not that I’m so much spooked by the whole unlucky taboo surrounding Friday the 13th itself, in so much as I am about the intensified stupidity of others around me.

But regardless, there it is – this nagging fear in the back of my head advising me to call in “absent-without-leave” to work, and stock up on vital stores of kerosene and jerky in order to wait out the inevitable onslaught of psychologically triggered wackos, lunatics, and psychopaths everywhere, all running amok and looking to bury a meat cleaver into the back of my head.

If that’s an “irrational fear”, then lock me up and throw away the key! At least I’ll be safe in my little padded cell.

Where did this irrational fear of Friday the 13th come from anyway?

Though no one can say for sure when and why human beings first associated the number 13 with misfortune, the belief is assumed to be quite old and there exist any number of theories purporting to trace its origins to antiquity and beyond.

It has been proposed, for example, that fears surrounding the number 13 are as ancient as the act of counting.

Primitive man had only his 10 fingers and two feet to represent units, so he could not count higher than 12, according to this explanation. What lay beyond that — 13 — was an impenetrable mystery, hence an object of superstition.

Which has a lovely, didactic ring to it, but one is left wondering: did primitive man not have toes? Were we evolved from badly injured pirates or something?

It is said: If 13 people sit down to dinner together, all will die within the year. The Turks so disliked the number 13 that it was practically expunged from their vocabulary (Brewer, 1894). Many cities do not have a 13th Street or a 13th Avenue. Many buildings don't have a 13th floor. If you have 13 letters in your name, you will have the devil's luck (Jack the Ripper, Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, Theodore Bundy and Albert De Salvo all have 13 letters in their names). There are 13 witches in a coven. It never ends.

There are more irrational ways to explain the fact that 21 million people (that’s eight per cent of all Americans) are wrapped in the grip of old world superstition – myself included.

Paraskevidekatriaphobia stems from two separate fears -- the fear of the number 13 and the fear of Fridays. Both fears have deep roots in Western culture, most notably in Christian theology. Who’s surprised?

Thirteen is significant to Christians because it is the number of people who were present at the Last Supper (Jesus and his 12 apostles). Judas, the apostle who betrayed Jesus, was the 13th member of the party to arrive.

Christians have traditionally been wary of Fridays because Jesus was crucified on a Friday. Additionally, some theologians hold that Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit on a Friday, and that the Great Flood began on a Friday. In the past, many Christians would never begin any new project or trip on a Friday, fearing they would be doomed from the start.

What’s with all this “TGIF” bullshit about then? By the sounds of it, I’m hunkering under my bed on Friday nights now shivering like a wet Chihuahua and praying to God to spare me until Monday!

Some historians suggest the Christian distrust of Fridays is actually linked to the early Catholic Church's overall suppression of pagan religions and women. In the Roman calendar, Friday was devoted to Venus, the goddess of love. When Norsemen adapted the calendar, they named the day after Frigg, or Freya, Norse goddesses connected to love and sex. Both of these strong female figures once posed a threat to male-dominated Christianity, the theory goes, so the Christian church vilified the day named after them.

So, Friday the 13th is really just a case of the Church attempting to cock block the other hotter, more attractive deities from it’s own legions of faithful believers? WTF?

This characterization may also have played a part in the fear of the number 13. It was said that Frigg, or Freya, would often join a coven of witches, normally a group of 12, bringing the total to 13. This idea may have originated with the Christian Church itself; it's impossible to verify the exact origins of most folklore. A similar Christian legend holds that 13 is unholy because it signifies the gathering of 12 witches and the devil.

NOW we’re getting somewhere! This more accurately depicts my own fears of Friday the 13th. It’s a day to strip down, draw chalk outlines on dirt floors, light some candles, smear yourself in goats blood, and dance around to Alice Cooper records being played backwards while pumping the air above your head with your hands made in the sign of the beast.

This is why I would rather stay home.

The Christian perspective on Friday and 13 is the most relevant today, but it's only one part of the Friday the 13th tradition.

Some trace the infamy of the number 13 back to ancient Norse culture. In Norse mythology, the beloved hero Balder was killed at a banquet by the mischievous god Loki, who crashed the original kegger of twelve, bringing the group to 13. This story, as well as the story of the Last Supper, led to one of the most entrenched 13-related beliefs: You should never sit down to a meal in a group of 13.

Another significant piece of the legend is a particularly bad Friday the 13th that occurred in the Middle Ages. On a Friday the 13th in 1306, King Philip of France arrested the revered Knights Templar and began torturing them, marking the occasion as a day of evil.

Both Friday and the number 13 were once closely associated with capital punishment. In British tradition, Friday was the conventional day for public hangings, and there were supposedly 13 steps leading up to the noose.

But ultimately, the complex folklore of Friday the 13th doesn't have much to do with people's fears today. The fear has much more to do with personal experience. People learn at a young age that Friday the 13th is supposed to be unlucky, for whatever reason, and then they look for evidence that the legend is true. The evidence isn't hard to come by, of course. If you get in a car wreck on one Friday the 13th, lose your wallet, spill your coffee, or melt your collection of vintage Yes albums on vinyl in the front seat of your Ford Tempo, that day will probably stay with you. But if you think about it, bad things, big and small, happen all the time. If you're looking for bad mojo on Friday the 13th, you'll probably find it.

Shit, I could find bad mojo at a Tibetan monastery on New Years morning – one specific calendar date wouldn’t be so fucking hard at all!


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