Victorian: Friday the 13th

black-catToday is Friday the 13th, so I felt the need to write something about the history of our attitudes toward this day. To my surprise, the history doesn’t go back very far. The idea that the day is unlucky appears to be one of those arch* Victorian inventions — an amalgam of unlucky thirteen with unlucky Friday.

Thirteen is considered unlucky because there were 13 men at the table during Christ’s last supper. The thirteenth was his betrayer, Judas Iscariot. That feels like a rather monkish reason to me, but these things do leak out of the monastery and go native, as it were. In Italy, a largely Catholic country, 13 is a lucky number. 17 is the one to be avoided.

Friday is unlucky because Christ died on a Friday. On the other hand, many people nowadays Thank God It’s Friday. In Hispanic cultures, Tuesday is unlucky, owing to its association with the dangerous god of war, Mars (martes, merdi.) That makes more sense to me.

The two were combined in 1907 in Thomas W. Lawson‘s popular novel Friday, the Thirteenth. In the novel, an unscrupulous stock broker takes advantage of the superstition to create a Wall Street panic on Friday the 13th.

The astute reader will notice the circularity of this argument: the superstition became popular after its popularity was exploited.

Just because it’s all in your mind doesn’t mean it isn’t real

black-lab
Fear me, for I am Labrador.

However it began, the fear is real. The Wikipedia article observes, “According to the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina, an estimated 17 to 21 million people in the United States are affected by a fear of this day, making it the most feared day and date in history. Some people are so paralyzed by fear that they avoid their normal routines in doing business, taking flights or even getting out of bed. “It’s been estimated that $800 or $900 million is lost in business on this day.””

Astounding! And a useful excuse, for those of you still gainfully employed. If you want a fancy word to use when calling in sick, tell them you suffer from Triskaidekaphobia.

Other superstitions persist. When I was adopting Lacey the Labrador, someone at the dog rescue organization told me many people are reluctant to adopt black dogs. Ghost dogs or black dogs appear when death is nigh. You don’t want one of those in your house!

Black cats can be either lucky (Celts, Britain generally) or unlucky (Europe). I believe cats deliberately cultivate that ambiguity.

*”arch,” I word I tend to misuse. I always imagine it means, “pretending to be childlike or playful in an annoyingly exaggerated manner.” OED says it means, “Clever, cunning, crafty, roguish, waggish. Now usually of women and children, and esp. of their facial expression: Slyly saucy, pleasantly mischievous.” Either way, it was a favored attitude of the Victorians.

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