Friday the 13th is considered to bring bad luck in some Western cultures, similar to beliefs that bad luck comes from walking under a ladder, seeing a black cat crossing your path, or breaking a mirror. But how did this superstition begin, why thirteen, and when is the next Friday the 13th? We explain.
Friday The 13th Superstition Origins
Folklore historian Donald Dossey believes the unlucky nature of the number “13” originated with a Norse myth about 12 gods having a dinner party in Valhalla. Loki, the trickster god, arrived as the 13th guest despite being uninvited, and arranged for Höðr to shoot Balder with a mistletoe-tipped arrow. According to Dossey: “Balder died, and the whole Earth got dark. The whole Earth mourned. It was a bad, unlucky day.” This event in Norse mythology caused the number 13 to be considered unlucky.
An unlucky 13th dinner guest also rings true in the story of Jesus’ Last Supper. Judas was the 13th person to arrive. His betrayal lead to Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday. However there is no record of the two items “Friday” and “13” being referred to together as especially unlucky before the 19th century.
One of the first references to the misfortune of Friday the 13th comes from a French play, Les Finesses des Gribouille (1834). A character says, “I was born on a Friday, December 13th, 1813, from which come all of my misfortunes.”
An early documented reference in English occurs in H. S. Edwards’ biography of Italian composer Gioachino Rossini, who died on a Friday the 13th. “Rossini was surrounded to the last by admiring friends; and if it be true that, like so many Italians, he regarded Fridays as an unlucky day and thirteen as an unlucky number, it is remarkable that on Friday the 13th of November he passed away.”
Many people attribute the popularization of the modern Friday the 13th superstition to T. W. Lawson’s novel Friday, the Thirteenth (1907). In this book, an unscrupulous broker takes advantage of the myth to create a Wall Street panic.
Phobia Of Friday The 13th
The dread of Friday the 13th is referred to as triskaidekaphobia (truh·skai·deh·kuh·fow·bee·uh), meaning a fear or avoidance of the number 13. Another synonym for “fear of Friday the 13th” is friggatriskaidekaphobia (frigg·ah·tris·kah·deck·ah·f·oh·bee·ah). Try saying that thirteen times fast!
Because of unluckiness associated with 13, hotel guests may be hesitant to occupy a room if it is on the 13th floor or even if the room number itself is 13.
In the US or China, some hotels dedicate their 13th floor for storage and maintenance only. The elevators will have a button to each floor except this one. The number 13 button is skipped so instead the buttons go from 12 to 14. Further, it is rare to spot a restaurant that has a table #13 or a hospital with a room or bed with the number 13.
When Is The Next Friday the 13th?
Friday the 13th occurs when the 13th day of the month in the calendar coincides with a Friday, which happens at least once and at most three times every year.
|Year||Months with Friday the 13th|
|2023||January and October|
|2024||September and December|
|2026||February, March, and November|
|2029||April and July|
|2030||September and December|
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13 — A Strange Number?
Number 13 is regarded by some as “cursed” because it comes after 12—a number signifying completeness. The fact that twelve can be divided equally (into 2, 3, 4, and 6) makes it a “friendly” number. Examples of 12 in everyday life include 12 months in a year, 12-hour clock, 12 inches in a foot, a dozen eggs, kindergarten through grade 12 (K-12), 12 pairs of ribs in a body, Twelve Days of Christmas, etc. On the contrary, number 13 is an odd, prime number which gives an impression of incompleteness. The number 13 is not easy to relate to and can be viewed as “unfriendly.”
American author Mark Twain poked fun at the odd number saying, “The thirteenth stroke of the clock is not only false of itself, but casts grave doubt on the credibility of the preceding twelve.”
The Bright Side Of The Number 13
- The Thirteen Club was formed in the latter part of the 19th century to debunk superstitions about the number 13 being unlucky and to advocate for number 13. The club was started in Brooklyn in 1882 with just 13 members, but its fame and reach quickly spread, so that by 1886, it boasted 550 members from all over New York City.
- The number 13 is not an unlucky number in all cultures. In India, the 13th day of the lunar fortnight is known to be highly auspicious and is called Triyodashi. It belongs to Lord Shiva and is believed to bestow long life, peace and good fortune. Number 13 is also considered very lucky in Chinese culture, representing “assured growth” or “definitely vibrant.”
- The number 13 is considered lucky in Italy, associated with the Great Goddess, fertility and the lunar cycles. The number is thought to bring prosperity and life. In ancient Greece, Zeus was the thirteenth and the most powerful God of Greek mythology.
- 13 is a sacred and lucky number in Tibet because the 13th layer of the heaven is said to be the desireless pure land described by Master Tsongkhapa.
- For Jews, 13 has been a symbol of strength and sometimes even good luck. The first provisional government of Israel had 13 members because its founders believed they needed as much luck as they could get.
- In Judaism, 13 signifies the age at which a boy matures and becomes a “Bar Mitzvah,” i.e., a full member of the Jewish faith qualified to be counted as a member of minyan. (Minyan is the quorum of ten Jewish adults required for certain religious obligations.)
- The Moon phases take approximately 29.53 days to complete which means it takes just 354 days to complete 12 lunar cycles. So, roughly every 2.5 years a 13th full Moon is observed within a calendar year, known as a Blue Moon.
- A full Moon on Friday the 13th is an extremely rare occurrence, according to the Farmers’ Almanac, the next occurs on August 13, 2049.
- Number 13 also holds a special place in US history because the first American flag was created with 13 stripes and 13 stars, signifying the 13 original colonies.
Join The Discussion
Do you believe that the number 13 is bad luck?
What is one superstition that you hold to be true?
Let us know in the comments below!
Dr. Aziz Inan
Dr. Aziz Inan is an electrical engineering professor at the University of Portland, Oregon. He has been studying palindrome calendar dates for more than a decade. Dr. Inan’s work with numbers has been featured in The New York Times, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, and many other news sources: NPR, CNN, CBS News, NBC News, and ABC News. Dr. Inan has also contributed to Smithsonian Magazine, Scientific American, Stanford Magazine, and Caltech Magazine.