Are you Paraskevidekatriaphobic?

01-wd1109-superstitions-2That giant word up there means afraid of Friday the 13th.

The history and folklore that surround the superstitions of the Friday the 13th fear are pretty neat. They are on my mind this week, because we do have a Friday the 13th this Friday. And, I have a black cat. Unfortunately, I do have to worry about him when this day comes around. So, he will be spending the n ext few days safely in the house and away from any crazy folk who think he may be bringing them bad luck or some other rot.

Some interesting facts for this year, 2012. We have three occurrences of Friday the 13th this year. And they are 13 weeks apart! This week is the last of them. They were January 13th, April 13th and of course the coming July 13th. We do have 3 in a year fairly often, but this year is special, because it is also a leap year. Aren’t the human constructs of calendars fun?

Most folks do have some sort of superstition. What is a superstition and what is an accepted norm vary from culture to culture and change with the fashion of society. So living out here on the edge by hedge, I just don’t put a lot of stock into it all. I’ve got my superstitions I’m sure, it all just depends on who is doing the looking and the judging.

But back to our fear of a calendar day…..

The number 13 itself reoccurs in many mythological and religious traditions. Some of the more well known include the 13 people at the last supper from several branches of Christianity. This dining event was when a member of the party betrayed the Christ figure and it lead to his murder on a Friday. This may hearken back to the Norse custom of forbidding 13 at a table, for it means that one must die within the year. If only 13 attended, a 14th place was set for the visitor at the door. Or that inclusion may come down to us from the conversion times.

Many folks think of the Knights Templar in connection to Friday the 13th. This was the date that King Phillip IV sent his army out to capture and imprison monks of this medieval order. In the information we have from this event, there does not seem to be any significance to the date, other than that is when King Phillip IV finished his planning and was able to get implementation. After all, the order sent to the bailiffs had gone out nearly a month before. He had to have an effective strike happen simultaneously all over France, so he had been planning and sending notice for sometime. Each set of orders was accompanied with instructions to open at dawn on Friday the 13th and not before. It hasn’t helped the legend much that in 1307, when this event occurred it was also October.

In modern times, we have Tupac Shakur dying on Friday, September 13th in 1996. But he was gunned down on the 7th of September, so the murderer could not have known how long he would linger.

Here are a few more superstitions to fuel your nightmares or gales of cackling. In fact, I think I will list 13 of them.

  1. If you have 13 letters in your name, you will have the Devil’s luck; Jack the Ripper (not even his real name), Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, Theodore Bundy and Albert De Salvo. Nifty how you get to count or not count middle names as is convenient to make it fit the facts.
  2. Superstition held that in ancient Rome, a witch’s coven comprised 12 women, with the Devil being the 13th member. Not sure how ancient this ancient superstition is, but with the Devil being Christian and all, how did he do the time traveling bit?
  3. Mirrors, ohh now there is a good one. Break a mirror and get 7 years bad luck (more mystical number love). This idea goes with the whole body of belief that is built around mirrors reflecting the soul. That same body of belief gives us a fount of interesting beliefs surrounding mirrors. This sounds like a good way for Grandma to have to stop buying expensive mirrors with rambunctious kids around. Hey, it works for fairy tales!
  4. Biggest Wins! Break a wishbone in half, and whom ever got the bigger part gets their wish. More ancient Rome references, that apparently our Ancestors spent their time fighting over the prized dried bones from their feasts, resulting in them breaking. And the one with the bigger pieces somehow won the fight, or the luck, or paying for the beer. And toss them broken bits around, bone divination is great after a turkey dinner!
  5. Don’t open umbrellas in the house, or you’ll poke someone’s eye out. But there is more to it than that, don’t even open it alone, or it brings bad luck. Where this came from is rather hard to pin down. More references to ancient Rome, if you want to talk about some serious time traveling of having pop up umbrellas back with the togas. But hey, if you won’t listen when Mom says don’t do that, then attach some spooky myth and let it scare you into behaving.
  6. 66. The number of the beast of course. Three sixes in a room is scary due to the Book of Revelations out of a translation of the Bible, the common Holy Text of several Christian sects. According to State University of New York at Buffalo anthropologist Philips Stevens, the writer of Revelation was writing to persecuted Christians in code, so the numbers and names in the book are contemporary references. Three sixes in a row is probably the numeric equivalent of the Hebrew letters for the first-century Roman Emperor Nero.
  7. Waiting for the other shoe to drop, if you have 3 feet. Bad luck comes in threes. Nowadays you hear it often in relation to celebrity deaths. Three is a magical mystical number. But I think there is a little confirmation bias going on here. Just go check yourself. You’ll be sure to find it three times.
  8. Black cats crossing your path. The original thought that started this whole missive. Cats have been the companions of humans for thousands of years, and feature prominently in mythological roles. They also have a different set of sense than we do. So they sometimes see or hear things we can not. This has contributed to the idea that cats are psychic or magical. The maligning of our black feline friends may be due to their long association with shape shifting witches, or simply with their magical qualities and the tendency of any black animal to be hard to see at night. They can be quite startling when you suddenly come upon a live animal in what you thought was a shadow.
  9. Crossing under ladders. This seems like more of Grandma’s practical advise, like the mirror and umbrella. It was later attached to the idea of breaking the triangle, representing the Christian Holy Trinity (even though thousands of other cultures have Holy Trinities, they don’t seem to mind being in the presence of them). It has also been pointed out that a ladder is similar to a medieval gallows. But I haven’t had enough wine to really see that one yet.
  10. Knock on wood. This is done when someone says something bad or portends an ill omen. The old use of this was to deafen the ears of the Fates, who are always listening. And if you give them a challenge, like making things worse, or proving your word. Why, they are more than happy to oblige. They have a crooked sense of humor.
  11. Throw spilled salt over your left shoulder. Salt is an ancient substance, of much importance. Humans need salt to survive. Salt is so precious, it is of course the origin of our word salary, as it was used as a form of payment. Salt is grounding, neutral and can drive away spirits. So if you spill such precious a substance, it must be due to the presence of evil spirits. And they often lurk on the sinister side (the left). So don’t turn around and be captured by them, and potentially possessed. Instead toss some of that spilled salt over that left shoulder to get rid of them.
  12. Hold your breathe when driving by a graveyard. This one of course has to be modern. No way you could hold your breathe walking by one. You would pass out and join the residents. But this has to do with airy quality of spirits and ghosts, and the idea that you could accidentally breathe one of them in, and become possessed.
  13. And finally, bird poo. The superstition is that if a bird poops on you, and it lands on your head, you will have good fortune. One of those balance of life kind of things. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather carry an umbrella.

So what have we learned from all of this? Possession is around every corner. Grandma knows best. The ancient Romans really got up to some weird stuff. And someone, somewhere apparently does have a time machine.