Friday the 13th is a particularly inauspicious day for those of a superstitious inclination. Moreover, they may be unhappy to learn that 2012 will be an especially unlucky year.
January 13, 2012, is the first of an unusual three Friday the 13ths – the fear of which has its roots in Christian tradition – that will fall in 2012.
However, the good news is that they only have to get through this year and the phenomenon will not strike again until 2026.
And while they may spend the day cowering under the duvet in case any ill might befall them if they leave the house – and avoiding walking under ladders or over three drains at a time if they are forced to venture outside – they can take some comfort in knowing they are not alone.
More than 60 million people worldwide are claimed to suffer from fear of the day – known as paraskevidekatriaphobia, from the Greek.
It is believed that superstitions over Friday the 13th stem from two separate fears – the fear of the number 13 and the fear of Fridays, which both have their roots in Christian theology.
Thirteen is the number of people who were present at the Last Supper and Judas, who betrayed Jesus, was the 13th member of the party to arrive.
And Friday was the day on which Jesus was crucified.
Others say it has its roots in anti-paganism.
But whatever the cause, the fear is so deeply ingrained that many people will refuse to leave their homes for fear of an accident or some other misfortune such as losing money.
Dr. Donald Dossey, of the Stress Management Center/Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina, estimates this costs as much as $900 million to the US economy alone.
The other Friday the 13ths this year will come in April and July.
While some may find it hard to believe that any day of a year could be more unlucky than other a 1993 study found that on the day “the risk of hospital admission as a result of a transport accident may be increased by as much as 52%”.
The article “Is Friday 13th bad for your health?” published in the British Medical Journal concluded the date was actually unlucky for some and that it might be safer to stay at home.
Separate research in 2003 suggested people who thought they were unlucky were more likely to believe in superstitions linked to bad luck which could, in turn, actually lead to bad luck.
Psychologist Professor Richard Wiseman, of the University of Hertfordshire, said Friday the 13th could make some people anxious and more accident-prone.
Though with many preferring to stay at home on some an inauspicious day, it has been reported that the number of road accidents can fall on Friday the 13th.
Research in the housing industry suggests that superstitious people in UK are more likely to refuse to buy a house with a number 13 on the door – helping to knock more than $10,000 off its asking price.
And Friday the 13th also sees fewer property deals signed off as a result of new buyers and sellers worrying about it being unlucky.
The fear of the number 13 can be a financial burden to those trying to sell, but helps to pick up a bargain for buyers, said website FindaProperty.com.
The company reduces the selling price by an average of 4% – around $10,000 – compared with homes with other numbers on the door.
An analysis of transactions over a decade of sales found 144,789 homes with the number 13 were sold compared to 239,716 number 12s – a 33% gap.
Similarly there have been 222,127 number 14s. And the superstition does not stop there, said FindaProperty. There are fewer homes sold on the 13th of the month than any other day, around 32% fewer than an average day.
Samantha Baden of FindaProperty.com, said: “The fact that buyers avoid the number 13 is a trend that has been evident for the past 10 years.
“Many people believe Friday 13th to be one of the most unlucky days of the year and as a nation of superstitious buyers, we expect it will one of the quietest for property.”
Samantha Baden added: “What this research shows is that it’s not just the bricks and mortar that effect a property’s sale price – there are so many other less tangible things to consider and this is a prime example.
“Whether or not a potential buyer warms to a property can have a huge impact on its saleability and for some people, superstitions can play a big role in this.”
There are a wide range of reasons given for the fear, and in some cases it seems that the theories have been sought to later justify the belief.
Some theologians even claim that Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit on a Friday, and that the Great Flood began on a Friday.
Other historians suggest the Christian distrust of Fridays is actually linked to the early Catholic Church’s overall suppression of pagan religions and women.
In the Roman calendar, Friday was devoted to Venus, the goddess of love. When Norsemen adapted the calendar, they named the day after Freya, the Norse goddess of sexuality.
Both of these strong female figures once posed a threat to male-dominated Christianity, the theory goes, so the Christian church vilified their day.
A separate Christian legend holds that 13 is unholy because it signifies the gathering of 12 witches and the devil.
But some trace the infamy of the number 13 back to ancient Norse culture.
In Norse mythology, the beloved hero Balder was killed at a banquet by the mischievous god Loki, who crashed the party of twelve, bringing the group to 13.
This story, as well as the story of the Last Supper, led to one of the most entrenched 13-related beliefs – that having thirteen people seated at a table will result in the death of one of the diners.
Sailors were particularly superstitious with regards to Friday, often refusing to ship out on that day of the week, believing that to start a trip on a Friday mean you would meet misfortune.
One urban legend tells of the ship the HMS Friday, commissioned by the British Navy in the 1800s to combat the superstition.
The navy selected the crew on a Friday, so the myth goes, launched the ship on a Friday and even selected a man named James Friday as the ship’s captain.
Then, one Friday morning, the ship set off on its maiden voyage and disappeared forever. Sadly there is no record of such a ship ever having existed.
It is also said that 13 turns make a traditional hangman’s noose – anything less would fail to snap a neck.