Paraskevidekatriaphobia: The Irrational Fear of Friday the 13th

Friggatriskaidekaphobia is a morbid, irrational fear of Friday the 13th. Therapist Dr. Donald Dossey, whose specialty is treating people with irrational fears, coined the term paraskevidekatriaphobia. Perhaps Dr. Dossey has an irrational fear of friggatriskaidekaphobia. Anyway, he claims that when you can pronounce the word paraskevidekatriaphobia you are cured of the irrational fear. I’d like to see the science, however.

If you base your belief on media attention, superstition about Friday the 13th might be the number one superstition in America today. It appears, however, that only about 10% of us believe that Friday the 13th is an unlucky day (Zusne and Jones 1989, p. 244, put the number at 7%; Vyse 2000, p. 18, cites a 1990 Gallup poll that put the number at 9%, and a 2000 survey by American Demographics put it at 13%).

Friday may be considered unlucky because Jesus is thought to have been crucified on a Friday, which was execution day among the Romans. Yet, Christians don’t call it Bad Friday. Friday was also Hangman’s Day in Britain. Some even think that Friday was the day Abraham’s god threw Adam and Eve out of the garden of Eden, which is unlikely since the concept of Friday hadn’t been invented yet.

The irrational fear of things associated with the number thirteen is known as triskaidekaphobia. Some think that thirteen is an unlucky number because there were thirteen people at the Last Supper. Some think thirteen owes its bad reputation to Loki, the Norse god of evil, who started a riot when he crashed a banquet at Valhalla attended by twelve gods. However, the number 13 was considered a lucky number in ancient Egypt and China. According to a 1996 Gallup poll, 9 percent of Americans admit to being superstitious about the number thirteen.

There are several distinct reasons why certain days, numbers, colors, etc. are considered lucky or unlucky by different people or cultures, but the general reason for such superstitions seems to be to assert some sort of control and order over events that are essentially uncertain. Belief in lucky or unlucky things imposes purpose, design, meaning, and significance on otherwise indifferent and purposeless events. Confirmation bias assures that such superstitions will be supported by plenty of validating anecdotes.

Is Friday the 13th a particularly unlucky day? It could be, if you believe it is. Just as some prophecies are self-fulfilling, some beliefs are self-validating.


NOTE: The reasons why Friday came to be regarded as a day of bad luck have been obscured by the mists of time — some of the more common theories link it to a significant event in Christian tradition said to have taken place on Friday, such as the Crucifixion, Eve’s offering the apple to Adam in the Garden of Eden, the beginning of the Great Flood, or the confusion at the Tower of Babel. Chaucer alluded to Friday as a day on which bad things seemed to happen in the Canterbury Tales as far back as the late 14th century (“And on a Friday fell all this mischance”), but references to Friday as a day connected with ill luck generally start to show up in Western literature around the mid-17th century:

“Now Friday came, you old wives say, Of all the week’s the unluckiest day.”   (1656)

The origins of the connection between the number thirteen and ill fortune are similarly obscure. Many different sources for the superstition surrounding the number thirteen have been posited, the most common stemming from another Christian source, the Last Supper, at which Judas Iscariot was said to have been the thirteenth guest to sit at the table. (Judas later betrayed Jesus, leading to His crucifixion, and then took his own life.) This Christian symbolism is reflected in early Western references to thirteen as an omen of bad fortune, which generally started to appear in the early 18th century and warned that thirteen people sitting down to a meal together presaged that one of them would die within the year. Superstition held that the victim would be the first person to rise from the table (or the last one to be seated), leading to the remedies of having all guests sit and stand at the same time, or seating one or more guests at a separate table. The “thirteen at the table” form of superstition again harkens back to the Last Supper: the one who left the table first, Judas Iscariot, died at his own hand soon afterwards.

Last Supper Icon