Friday the 13th can evidently cause a fear fest. There’s even a name for it: paraskevidektriaphobia. Some doctors have speculated that it’s the most widespread phobia in the US.
Paraskevidektriaphobia is so common in Brittan that the folks at the Dept of Health in Sussex ran a study to determine if there might be truth behind the superstition. They compared the number of car accidents on any given Friday the 13th in southern England to other Fridays in the year. They shared their findings:
The results seem somewhat far-fetched and the scientists conceded that the study was a little tongue and cheek. They explained that self-fulfilling prophesy may have been involved; for instance, people’s fear and anxiety about the day could contribute to more incidents. Likewise, people are more likely to report accidents on notorious days rather than on “normal” days. They also agreed that their results could be swayed with a larger study.
Still, Friday the 13th, coined as a bad luck day, persists with or without evidence and it’s traveled a long way to convince us of its destructive qualities. This is a curious progression, however, because both the number and the day were once considered auspicious by certain influential cultures.
Jewish belief is similar to pagan views in that Friday is holy. Jews begin their Sabbath on Friday nights while Romans considered it the most fertile and propitious day of the week. Friday was named after the love goddess, Venus (Latin, “Veneris”), and the Norse named Friday after their goddess of love, Freya. Venus/Freya worshippers believed fish to be an aphrodisiac and could enhance fecundity. Early Europeans communed with their goddess by eating fish on Friday. As we know, the custom lingers.
According to Ann Baring from “Myths of the Goddess,” fish represented to ancient civilizations the spirit of the waters and is one of the oldest images of regeneration. Such imagery and ritual is found in indigenous populations all around the world.
Christians tried to eradicate Venus worship from across Europe where, in the guise of the reigning Fairy Queen, she was rumored to live on hilltops called “Venusbergs.” So beloved was the Fairy Queen/Venus, she was converted into the mythical Saint Venerina who is remembered mostly as a commune in Italy. Friday, in the meantime, became the Day of Lust.
Is it a coincidence that so many bad things were purported to happen on a Friday by religious thinkers? Tradition holds that the Great Flood began on a Friday; God tongue-tied the builders of the Tower of Babel on a Friday; the Temple of Solomon was destroyed on a Friday; and, of course, Friday was the day of the week on which Christ was crucified.
The number thirteen may have been purposely vilified by the founders of patriarchal religions in the early days of western civilization because it represented the divine feminine. Thirteen had been revered in prehistoric goddess-worshiping cultures because it corresponded to the number of lunar and menstrual cycles in a year (13 x 28 = 364 days).
As the solar calendar triumphed over the lunar with the rise of male-dominated civilization, the number twelve became the new black. Twelve became the new measure of time and completion; i.e., the twelve months of the year, twelve hours of the clock, twelve gods of Olympus, twelve Apostles of Jesus, the twelve successors of Muhammad in Shia Islam. The idea of thirteen was called into question.
To the ancient Egyptians, life was a quest for spiritual ascension which unfolded in stages: twelve in this life and a thirteenth beyond which was thought to be the eternal afterlife. The number thirteen therefore symbolized death, not in terms of dust and decay but as a glorious and desirable transformation.
Most significant of all sources of the number thirteen is perhaps also the oldest. The Goddess of Laussel is a 27,000-year-old relief found in a cave in Dordogne, France. In it a woman holds a crescent moon in her right hand and points to her pelvis with the other hand. There are thirteen lines inscribed on the crescent moon. This may represent not only the lunar calendar – it could be far more personal than that: there are thirteen nights, generally, between the first day of menstruation and the first day of ovulation. As the woman in the relief indicates with her left hand, she understands the connection.
I want to pay the forces in the universe their due, but perhaps the dread of Friday the 13th hangs over us like an old curse that must be rectified. Friday the 13th as day and number are both sources of a woman’s heritage of love, fertility and lunar connections.
When you order fish for dinner while you’re out Friday night, give pause and maybe even take a peek outside to catch a glimpse of the evening star of Venus in the west. The planet reflects an ancient history whose origins start with the veneration of women’s spiritual contributions and continue through you. That, then, must be good for your health.
To see an image of the Goddess of Laussel mentioned in this blog, visit:
Baring, Anne & Cashford, Jules. The Myth of the Goddess. New York: Penguin Books,
Campbell, Joseph. The Masks of God: Creative Mythology. 9th Edition. New York: Penguin Books, 1976.
Walker, Barbara. The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. New York: Harper & Row, 1983.
When history includes women, what once was suspect may be venerated.