Why is Friday 13th so unlucky? Where does the superstition come from?

Marie Claire Dorking
·4 min read
Where does the Friday 13th fear stem from? (Getty Images)
Where does the Friday 13th fear stem from? (Getty Images)

Today is Friday 13th and while some of us treat the superstition surrounding the date with a pinch of salt, others are filled with a sense of dread, vowing to steer clear of ladders, mirrors and black cats until we’re safely into tomorrow.

But where does the superstition actually come from and how often do we have to survive the date?

How often does Friday 13th roll around?

Each year, those who dread Friday 13th will have to endure at least one incidence of the unlucky date, but on some extra unlucky years we can get up to three months in which the 13th falls on a Friday.

In 2015, for example, the 13th of the month fell on a Friday in February, March and November.

For Friday and 13 to come together, the beginning of the month must be a Sunday. This occurs three times a year when a leap year begins on a Sunday, or when a normal year begins on a Thursday.

This year, like last, we’ve had a double dose of unluckiness with the 13th falling on a Friday in March and November.

Thankfully, next year we’ll be back to having just one Friday 13th to fear.

Where does the superstition come from?

There are are various theories about why Friday 13th is considered to be an unlucky date.

Many scholars, history sleuths and theorists trace the root causes of the fear of the number 13 back to Christianity, relating it particularly to the 13 guests at the Last Supper, according Monash University.

“In Christianity, the Last Supper feeds the fear,” states a blog post written by Burkard Polster, associate professor at the school of mathematical sciences and Graham Oppy, professor of philosophy at Monash University.

“The biblical reference relates to the number of diners at Christ’s last meal before his crucifixion, the 12 apostles and Jesus. Judas Iscariot, the apostle who betrayed Jesus, is often referred to as the 13th diner.”

Watch: Exploring the spooky superstitions of Friday 13th.

Women’s spiritual empowerment mentor, Dr Kate Tomas, AKA The Luxury Witch, has an alternative theory.

“Fear of Friday the 13th, like most bits of cultural superstition, is something we can’t quite locate the reason for,” she explains.

“Friday the 13th was considered to be unlucky by the Christian church from the 10th Century onwards, because 13 was the number associated with the Goddess; Christianity’s biggest threat.

“The number 13 was long considered the number of The Goddess; there are 13 moon cycles each year, and people with uteruses on average also experience 13 menstrual cycles.”

"Friday was the day of the Goddess Venus. For a culture and religion violently oppressing the culture of worship of a female deity, Friday the 13th became endorsed as a day to be feared.”

Fear of the date is also perpetuated by popular culture, particularly via Hollywood horror movie franchise Friday the 13th.

The Friday 13th fear

Fear of the number 13 is so ingrained in our culture, it even has a clinical term, triskaidekaphobia –triskaideka being the Greek word for 13.

Peter Norton a former Monash University psychology professor offers some insight about how this fear perpetuates.

He says humans are hardwired to find patterns in things, even where none existed, which is why some people hold on to superstitions about things being “bad luck”, such as walking under a ladder or crossing the path of a black cat, or that something terrible will happen on Friday the 13th.

“Our brains are basically pattern recognition machines,” he says. “We see patterns everywhere and piece together our expectations based on them.

“The problem that humans face is that we’re really good at making excuses for our patterns. If I expected something bad would happen on Friday 13th, but nothing bad happened, I might assume that nothing bad happened because I wore, say, a cross that day.

“What my brain then learns, though, is that something bad would have happened, but the cross protected me from the bad thing.”

Maybe steer clear of the ladders today. (Getty Images)
Maybe steer clear of the ladders today. (Getty Images)

Do people really fear Friday 13th?

In research commissioned by Lottoland of the 30% who see Friday 13th as an unlucky day, just under half (48%) of women will be following superstitions to avoid bad luck, with 58% of men admitting to doing the same.

“Having a predetermined idea that Friday 13th is unlucky or bad in some way, really can negatively impact our day,” explains Dr Kate Bartram-Brown, head of the Modern Mystery School Europe.

“I’ve seen in many people, the anticipation of Friday 13th causing stress, worry and anxiety and lots of negativity.

So what can you do if you’re feeling the Friday 13th fear today?

“I am a firm believer in positive mindsets, positivity unlocks the door to unlimited potential,” says Dr Bartram-Brown.

“If we truly believe something, it will happen, so in order to have a positive day we want to keep our vibration as high as possible.”

Whether you are superstitious or see it as a bit of mumbo jumbo – maybe try not to break any mirrors this Friday 13th!

Watch: Black cat and other superstitions debunked.