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It's Friday the 13th, But Not to Worry

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SeattlePI: Take triskaidekaphobia, or fear of 13s, and combine it with a Friday, a generally well-regarded day of the week, and you get Paraskevidekatriaphobics, a deep fear of Friday the 13th. (Fear of splatter films of the same name is Jasonvoorhephobia.)

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Connecticut College psychology professor Stuart Vyse, the author of "Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition," agreed to set aside his fear of reporters and answer a few questions to debunk the day. At least that's the way the conversation started ...

What is the origin of Friday the 13th as a day of bad luck or ill omen?

It has several possible sources. One (about the number 13) is the Last Supper and that there were 13 people at the dinner table. The next day Jesus was crucified. Another is in Norse mythology. There was a party involving 12 benevolent gods. An evil god, Loki, crashed the party. In the resulting battle, Balder, a benevolent god, was killed. This might have led to an ongoing superstition about 13 people at the dinner table.

The Friday aspect is that in medieval days Friday was called hangman's day. If there were hangings that needed to be done, that was the day.

How did the two get hitched?

That I don't know. Sometimes these things get mixed up and, over time, people combine the two. You put these together, however, and you get a particularly unlucky day.

Do a considerable number of people worry about additional bad luck today?

It is one of the most pervasive worries, as superstitions go. According to Gallup polls, the rate of belief in 13 having bad luck ranks along with black cats and (walking under) ladders. The question is whether you ... believe in the superstition. About 8 to 15 percent believe.

There are other things I would call benign that do come up, like belief in astrology. There the number is 20 to 30 percent.

Look at buildings. Many don't have a 13th floor. Of course they do but it isn't called that. My speculation on this that people believe it would be hard to rent the 13th floor. If you sort of pretend there is no 13th floor, it is easier to avoid that issue. It is a common superstition that still has its effect today on a lot of people.

Do you have any superstitions?

I don't really. I am not a superstitious person. However, because of the book, I feel I owe a great debt to people who are. Here's a story: I was coming home with another psychologist from a conference. I was on a flight with considerable turbulence and I'm not good with that. We were finally coming in to land. My colleague turned to me and said, "Did you realize were sitting on the 13th row and that it was a full moon?" I admit I had a twinge (of worry) for a moment there.

It's a lesson in no matter how rational you are you can be affected by these things. Of course, maybe you should. (Laughs.) One study that has recently been done says that superstitions can kill you.

So people should fear superstitions? Do you even have a word for that?

(Laughs.) Someone looked at traffic fatalities in Finland on Friday the 13th as opposed to other Fridays. They found that there were more traffic fatalities on Friday the 13th but only for women. I was asked to comment on this study. Clearly, it could be an anomaly. But my interpretation of the study was that it's generally understood that women are more superstitious than men. If you add that piece of information to the Finnish results, it could be true that women driving on Friday the 13th were more anxious and may have been involved in more accidents because of their beliefs.

Of course, with existing information, there's no way to prove it.

Sounds like a perfect superstition.

Exactly.

SUPERSTITION OR PHOBIA?

"A superstition will become a phobia when it impacts someone's behavior or activity or level of function. Or causes them a lot of internal distress. You might actually consider that someone had a phobic problem if they were really nervous and anxious and went to work anyway. But they would be doing better (than the deeply phobic) because they had not acted on the phobia. The treatment for phobias is exposure to the phobia. You end up seeing that the thing you are automatically afraid of doesn't happen."

Read more hot stories Moms Are Talking About.


2 comments so far | Post a comment now
Mike November 13, 2009, 12:41 PM

Another reason is that Friday the 13th was the day the king of France had all the Templar Knights arrested in 1307.

Tito November 13, 2009, 7:01 PM

Well 13 is not unlucky for me. I have seen many people on sports teams have number 13 on their jersey and they are the stars of the game! Like today, I had a lot of good luck, so I don’t know about y’all, but 13 is kinda lucky for me.


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