Are you superstitious? I never really thought I was.
I remember as a child somebody gave me a “lucky” rabbit foot keychain. It was so soft and made me sad to think I could have good luck at the expense of that poor little rabbit.
Do you know what the most common superstition is that still bothers people? The number 13.
I read that fact and decided to do some research, especially in light of the fact that this Friday is Friday the 13th.
Most statistics I found said that 10 percent of Americans have a fear of the number 13, which is called triskaidekaphobia. Try saying that three times fast.
That still means 90 percent of us don’t have that fear, so chances are good you don’t know anybody with it.
Still, most of us at one point in our lives have likely had that thought about flying on Friday the 13th, or doing something else “out of the ordinary.”
In fact, since estimates are that between $800 million to $900 million is lost every year for airlines and businesses due to people not scheduling flights or doing things they may otherwise have done due to the ominous date.
So just how did so many rational, intelligent people come to be afflicted by this date and how far back can its history be traced?
As with so many other traditions in all cultures, much of what we celebrate or practice is a mixture of mythology, history, folklore and legend.
Add to those factors, groups of people immigrating to other countries, bringing their own traditions and then assimilating into their new home, all have played a role.
From what I can determine, there were two “unlucky” stories about both the number 13 and the day, Friday. So it makes sense that when those two things came together, they were going to get a bad rap.
First, let’s talk about the Norse myth about the number 13. It involves 12 gods who were having a dinner party at Valhalla, which was their heaven.
While the gods were enjoying their party, in walked Loki, who had a reputation as a troublemaker. The uninvited guest, presumably after having a few too many drinks (OK, I added that part), convinced Hoder (the blind god of darkness) to shoot Balder, who was the beautiful god of joy and gladness.
Sounds like a cross between a bad “Harry Potter” movie and an equally poor soap opera. In any event, the story is the earth went dark and the number 13 was seen as unlucky forever after.
Are you, like me, beginning to feel a little silly for thinking this number is unlucky?
Let’s move on to Friday’s role. Again, back to legend and lore. It’s said that Friday is named for Frigga, the free-spirited goddess of fertility and love. That doesn’t sound so bad.
But the story goes on to note that when Norse and Germanic tribes converted to Christianity, Frigga was banished in shame and labeled a witch.
It was believed that every Friday, she held a meeting with 11 other witches and the 13th guest was the devil himself. Such weekly unions would certainly give Friday the 13th an ominous tone.
While that’s mythology, Friday the 13th has a place in Christian lore as well. While I’m certain you can find historians to dispute this, many sources said that Eve tempted Adam on Friday the 13th.
Other sources say that Christ died on the cross that day. It was also not lost on people that when the Last Supper took place, there were 12 apostles plus Jesus, making 13.
While it may seem difficult to find anything to celebrate about Friday the 13th, the good news is it’s not all negative for the number 13.
Taylor Swift, the princess of country music, was born on Dec. 13, and has always said it’s her lucky number. Indeed, her first album went gold in 13 weeks. Coincidence? Perhaps.
Apollo 13, the NASA moon mission was considered a “successful failure,” since the astronauts were able to return home safely.
I also like the positive facts about the number in our own American history. To name a few, we had 13 colonies. I’m certain every American felt lucky to be in the land of milk and honey, where they could live and worship freely.
Also, did you know on the back of the U.S. dollar bill that the bald eagle clutches an olive branch with 13 leaves and also 13 arrows? There are also 13 stars above the eagle. In addition, the pyramid has 13 steps.
Clearly, we are a culture steeped in traditions and superstitions. It’s fascinating to see how long ago some of these ideas originated and, in many ways, how silly it is that we lend them any credence.
I think it best to look at superstitions with amusement.
Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.