When Adam named all the beasts and all the birds, he bequeathed to his descendants a two-edged sword. Nothing should be allowed to go nameless, they seem to feel, not even the nameless fear of Friday the 13th. So this fear is blessed with a name suitably terrifying, Friggatriskaidekaphobia. Frigga or Freyja is the Norse goddess who looks after an entire range of human experiences and states from love and beauty to war and death, after whom Friday is named. The rest of the word, triskaidekaphobia, is simply fear of the number 13. However inexplicable that fear may be, no one can doubt its respectability, because it’s all in the name.
The full word has a quasi-‘portmanteau’ quality, as Friday and 13 are two different units. The history of the fear, too — at least as far as can be discerned through lurid sparks in the gloaming of the past — makes it a ‘portmanteau’ fear, since negative superstitions about Friday and 13 were distinct sets till they began to coalesce in the popular imagination and therefore usage in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. But the fully-armed, fully-formed fear began to be most widely articulated in the the 19th century, slowly reaching a peak as one of the most widespread superstitions — a peak from which humankind in most of the West and Western-influenced regions does not seem to have descended yet. Numerous hotels do not have a 13th floor, some airlines do not have a 13th row in their craft, a few airports leave out gate number 13, even hospitals have been known to skip numbering a room or a bed 13. More, the United States of America, for example, loses around $800-900 million in business on that day because so many cool, highly efficient, rising-up-the-ladder kind of people refuse to fly or close business deals on that day.
Was it that Loki, gatecrasher and the 13th at the gods’ banqueting table in Valhalla, induced the blind Hoder to kill Balder the Beautiful, the god of joy, and the world was plunged into darkness, or was it Judas, who took the place of the 13th at table in the Last Supper? And the Crucifixion was on a Friday. Fridays were feared and holy for Teutonic people, because of its patron-goddess; maybe only the fear persisted. Or was it that Eve tempted Adam with a non-existent apple on a non-existent Friday, while 13 threatened human beings with a hint of chaos after 12 hours, 12 months, 12 signs of the zodiac? Maybe, sophisticated arguments suggest, fear of 13 is rooted in the number of lunar cycles in a year and the fear of the lunar connection to the female principle. Explanations abound, creating delightful sound without fury, and scripting the undefeated human desire to name the nameless. But not all cultures consider 13 unlucky, some even feel it is lucky. Luck and its lack were rather painfully played out on different levels on Friday 13 last with the sentence of hanging. Will it prove lucky or unlucky for those anointed that day for future honours?