Here's Why People Are Afraid of Friday the 13th

As often as three times a year, superstitious people spend an entire day on edge, expecting a terrible event to occur, merely because the 13th day of the month falls on a Friday. Along with black cats, walking under a ladder, or smashing a mirror, the superstition surrounding Friday the 13th is one of the most well-known omens of bad luck, though few people even know why they feel such unease on the ominous date. While a cinematic psychopath who wears a hockey mask and murders teens that borrows its name from the event doesn't help matters much, most theories about the superstition date back to the time of Jesus Christ.

There were 13 attendees at Christ's Last Supper, including Jesus and his 12 disciples, with Judas Iscariot being considered the 13th individual. With his betrayal of Christ that caused his death on Good Friday, the number 13 has long been considered an "imperfect" number, as evidenced by the Gregorian calendar only containing 12 months. While Christ's death might not have immediately inspired a superstition around Friday the 13th, Judas' actions and Christ's death on a Friday added superstition to both of these indicators. Christian beliefs aren't the only ones to associate the number 13 with bad luck, as Norse mythology notes that a dinner party of the gods was ruined by the 13th guest, Loki, resulting in death and darkness.

Another instance of terrible occurrences connecting with these omens would be Philip IV of France ordering the arrests of hundreds of Knights Templar on Friday, October 13, 1307. In the 14th century, Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales noted that Fridays were an unlucky day to begin a journey, adding more caution to that day of the week. Additionally, Britain often considered Friday to be "Hangman's Day," as it was the day that individuals condemned to death were hanged.

The specific fear of Friday the 13th, also known as "paraskevidekatriaphobia," didn't take prominence until the 19th century. In 1980, the unlucky day was cemented into pop culture permanently.

In 1978, Halloween landed in theaters and became a major success, resulting in filmmaker Sean S. Cunningham being inspired to craft a movie around the ominous "Friday the 13th," ultimately hiring Victor Miller to write the script. The original story was tentatively called "A Long Night at Camp Blood," though with the title "Halloween" seemingly aiding that film's success, Cunningham hoped that borrowing another ominous title could result in similar success. The events of the film happened to unfold on Friday, June 13th, as a group of camp counselors was murdered by a woman whose son drowned at the camp years ago due to negligent counselors.

While the original Friday the 13th failed to earn the critical success of Halloween, it was a financial success when it landed in theaters in 1980, with a sequel being rushed into production and hitting theaters in 1981. By 1989, the franchise earned seven theatrical releases since its inception and, while the events of the films themselves might not have been intrinsically linked with the superstition of "Friday the 13th," it spread the fear of the day that much further.

Other notable events that have occurred on Friday the 13th include the bombing of Buckingham Palace during World War II on September 13, 1940, Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crashing in the Andes mountains — with the survivors going on to eat the deceased passengers as made famous by the 1993 film Alive — on October 13, 1972, a stock market crash on October 13, 1989, Tupac Shakur's passing on September 13, 1996, and various other plane and ship tragedies, in addition to a variety of weather anomalies afflicting areas.

The next Friday the 13th will be in November.

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Header image courtesy Getty Images/mbbirdy/Paramount Pictures

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