First City, Delhi, Mythos, September 2007
July this year saw the thirteenth day of the month falling on a Friday. Deemed unlucky, people avoided all kinds of purchase and transactions on this day. Friday the 13 is considered so unlucky that there is even a word ‘Paraskevidekatriaphobia’ to describe fear of Friday 13. It has inspired Hollywood to crate an extremely successful horror film series called ‘Friday the 13th’ involving a masked serial killer.
Some say that Friday 13 became unlucky because on that day in 1307, Philip IV, king of France, ordered the execution of the Knights Templar, a body of very powerful priest-warriors, who he accused of Satan worship. Post the release of the book ,Da Vinci Code and the subsequent exploration into Church history, it is said that Friday 13, 1307, marks the day when the Church finally squashed the followers of Mary Magdalene and St. Paul became the official fountainhead of Catholicism. Thus came to an end any attempt to make Christianity more feminine and less monastic and misogynist.
To fully appreciate the Friday 13 fear, one has to first explore the number 13 and then Friday.
The number 13 was not always an unlucky number. Since there were 12 zodiacs in the sky, 12 was seen as a complete number. The number 13 which followed 12, became the number of beyond completeness, the number of the afterlife, the transcendental and the divine. Ancient cultures such as the Chinese and the Egyptians therefore considered 13 to be lucky and associated it with spiritual upliftment.
In the Sikh tradition, number 13 becomes rather holy for a very interesting reason. In 1497, at the age of 12 years, Nanak, the first Sikh guru, started to lead the life of a true householder at Sultanpur, a town in district Jalandhar of Punjab. He was working as the Modi, that is, keeper of the state granary. Once in the process of weighing, when he reached thirteen, he lost himself into God and went on weighing and counting repeatedly “Tera ! Tera ! Tera ! Tera ! Tera !” Numerically, tera means 13. It also means, “Yours.” For Nanak, a great devotee and mystic, the “yours” referred to God. Thus everything which followed 12 became ‘tera’ or ‘God’s’. To everyone’s utter surprise, there was no decrease in the store stock and it was founded to be accurate and in order.
But for the rest of the world 13 was so unlucky that even today floors in buildings, roads and seats in buses and planes are not numbered 13. After 12, one has either 12 A or 14 A. The Turks so disliked the number 13 that it was practically expunged from their vocabulary. In Victorian Europe, it was believed that if 13 people sat down for dinner, they would die within a year. This gave rise to a new class of socialites called the ‘fourteens’ who were specially invited to sit in the fourteenth chair and take away the bad luck. Americans believe even today that 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). In medieval times, 13 witches made up a coven. The reason for this was because 13 lunar cycles corresponded to one year. The duration of the lunar cycle was similar to the duration of the menstrual cycle, and this made 13 the number of feminine power that was looked down upon by patriarchal societies. This is why, some say, 13 became unlucky.
It is said that during the Last Supper, the 13th person to arrive was Judas. He betrayed the perfect man, the son of God, Jesus. This made the 13th position the Devil’s position. A similar story is told in the Viking tradition. According to their chronicles, Baldur was the sweetest and gentlest of gods. It was foretold that the day he died, the world would come to an end. To prevent this, his mother went around all the world asking all things to take a vow never to harm Baldur. All things agreed except the humble mistletoe which was so small that it had been overlooked by Baldur’s mother. Shortly thereafter, the mischievous god, Loki, gate crashed a great divine banquet. He was the thirteen guest, the unwanted one. Loki was determined to teach the 12 gods who had not invited him to the banquet a lesson. The gods were busy playing a game. They were throwing things at Baldur and enjoying the fact that nothing, even the sharpest and heaviest objects in the world did not harm Baldur. Loki got the blind god, Hoor, to throw a small mistletoe on Baldur. Baldur died instantly and the sun disappeared from the sky, marking the end of the world. Since then number 13 came to be associated with destruction and bad luck.
Friday is the day when Jesus was crucified. He died for the sake of humanity. Hence the day he died is considered ‘Good Friday’. But since it is associated with the death of the savior, Friday itself is seen as a bad day for people. For years, Friday has been associated with calamity. Friday is the day when the Original Sin took place – Adam and Eve ate the Forbidden Fruit. On Friday, Cain killed Abel making it the day of the first murder according to Biblical traditions. In England, criminals were executed by the state on Friday and the navy avoided letting ships leave port on Friday.
Friday became ‘black’ whenever something terrible happened on Friday. In England, it referred to the Friday before Christmas which was associated with a spike in the usually weekend antisocial behavior. In America it refers to the high traffic seen in the Friday after Thanksgiving and before Christmas.
One theory holds that the phrase ‘Black Friday’ actually referred to something good that happens to businesses across America in the Friday after Thanksgiving which serves the first shopping day of the Christmas season when the account books moved from losses, marked in red, to profits, marked in black.
Friday is named after Freya, the Venus of the Vikings. This makes Friday the day of fertility and femininity and renewal. As patriarchal traditions took over the religions of the world, Friday naturally became less sacred and associated with witchcraft. But in the Arab world, Friday continued to be sacred even after the arrival of Islam. Muslims believe that on Friday, Adam was born and on Friday, Adam died. Friday has become the day of rest, similar to the Saturday of the Jews and the Sunday of the Christians. Even today in the Arab world, Friday is the weekly holiday not Sunday.
Some speculate that during the crusades, when the Christians and Muslims fought each other, all that was Islamic came to be reviled by Christians. Since Friday was the holy day of Muslims, it became the unholy day of Christians. It became the day of purification. Hence, on Friday, many Christians fast and avoid eating meat.
Friday 13 brings both 13 and Friday together. Two bad things end up creating a worse thing. One may ridicule fear of Friday 13 as mere superstition, but it is a very real phenomena. Economists estimate failure to take a decision on Friday 13 leads to losses in business to the tune of a few hundred billion dollars worldwide. It reminds us once more that humans are not rational beings. We are governed by irrational fear as much as we would like to believe 0therwise.