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Friday the 13th: Myth and History

For many, thirteen is an unlucky number, and especially Friday the 13th is a phenomenon that keeps some superstitious people in bed. There's even a scientific term for the pathological fear of the number 13 – triskaidekaphobia. Where does the fear or presumed misfortune associated with the number 13 come from?

History and Religion

We can find the answer in history and religion. Jesus Christ was said to be crucified on a Friday. Moreover, the famous fresco The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci depicts 13 diners, with the thirteenth being Judas, who betrayed Jesus.

Mythical Stories of Misfortune Associated with the Number 13

Another story, this time from Scandinavian legends, tells that Vanhalla's dinner was attended by 12 gods. However, the god of mischief, Loki (13th participant), was not invited and, in protest, fatally pierced Balder, the god of joy and pleasure, with a spear. This legend illustrates how the number 13 can be perceived as a sign of misfortune.

The Templars

On Friday, October 13, 1307, extensive arrests of the Knights Templar began, after French King Philip IV the Fair (French: Philippe le Bel) joined forces with the church. The Templar order was a thorn in his side due to its power and wealth. He accused the Templars of heresy and confiscated their immense wealth, partly driven by the desire to acquire the order's riches.

A Knight Templar

Figure 1: A Knight Templar (source: Craiyon)

The Templars were originally an order of warrior monks who became significant financial and military supporters of the Crusades to the Holy Land during the Middle Ages. Their sudden fall was one of the most significant moments in the history of the Templar order, and many believe that Friday the 13th became a symbol of their downfall and subsequent superstitious fears about this date.

Friday the 13th in the Calendar

Based on elementary logic, we can say that Friday the 13th occurs in any month whose first day falls on a Sunday. Check your calendar on purpose.

Impact of Superstitions on Human Life

Excessive fear – phobia – of Friday the 13th (and generally other superstitions) can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies, where a person subconsciously directs themselves toward misfortune. Conversely, it can lead to exaggerating trivialities attributed to this date that would go unnoticed on other days.

Number 13 in Film and Sports

The theme of thirteen appears in film, for example, in the famous horror film Friday the 13th. More lightheartedly, it is featured in the Czech film Go Back to Your Grave! (CZ: Vrať se do hrobu! 1989) where a clever student prepares a small, easily detectable trick for the examination board. He draws any question number but then puts it back into the bag, saying, "I don't want the thirteenth," assuming that he will have to keep the well-learned question No. 13. The board indeed responds, "Just keep it..."

For Brazilians, the German player Müller with the number 13 might have been unfortunate, as he initiated the crushing defeat of Brazil by Germany 1–7 in the 2014 FIFA World Cup semi-final with the first goal.

Unlucky Numbers in Other Cultures

An interesting fact is that in some countries and cultures, there is no such fear of the number 13. On the contrary, other numbers are considered unlucky. For example, in Chinese culture, the number 4 is associated with misfortune because it sounds similar to the word for death. Japanese, on the other hand, have concerns about the number 9 because it sounds similar to the word for pain or suffering. This shows us that the perception of numbers and their symbolism can be very diverse and culturally dependent.


Because laughter is the spice of life, here's a good joke to finish: Two friends are having a conversation, and one asks the other: "Did you know that New Year's Eve falls on a Friday this year?" And the second one says: "I hope not the 13th."

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Based on the original Czech article: Nešťastná třináctka a pátek třináctého.