Freaking Out over Friday the 13th? Skeptics Say “Relax”!


For Immediate Release: May 9, 2005
Contact: Jefferson Seaver, Communications
press@centerforinquiry.org - (207) 358-9785

AMHERST, N.Y. (May 9, 2005)—Friday the 13th is always a stressful day for

friggatriskaidekaphobes

—people with an overwhelming fear of Friday the 13th. (The term has its origins in Nordic mythology—the goddess Frigga is the namesake of the sixth day of the week—and ancient Greek—

triskaideka

means "thirteen.") According to a 1996 Gallup poll, 9 percent of Americans, or about 26.5 million people, say they are superstitious about the number 13.

The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), publisher of

Skeptical Inquirer

magazine, has been examining superstitions for 25 years. CSICOP's resident friggatriskaidekaphobiologists have plenty to say about the origins of this fear of all Fridays numbered thirteen. By easing fears of the unknown, or by raising alertness in certain situations, superstitions can provide the illusion of knowledge and control.

British psychologist and CSICOP Fellow Richard Wiseman, writing for the May/June 2003 issue of

Skeptical Inquirer

, found in his research that being lucky or unlucky has far more to do with attitude and personality than the date. In an article titled "The Luck Factor," Wiseman writes: "Lucky people generate their own good fortune via four basic principles. They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectation, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good." Superstitions such as fear of Friday the 13th represent people's attempts to control the elusive factors, says Wiseman.

How did thirteen get such a bad reputation? To understand, one needs to know the history of twelve, says CSICOP Senior Research Fellow Joe Nickell. "The number twelve has traditionally represented completeness in mythologies and religions around the world," says Nickell. "There are twelve months of the year, twelve chief gods of Olympus, twelve signs of the zodiac, and twelve apostles of Jesus. Thirteen exists just one digit beyond twelve, and is symbolic of the first departure from divine completeness or the initial step towards evil."

Friday has an equally bad history, Nickell points out. According to some traditions, Eve gave the apple to Adam on Friday, the great flood began on a Friday, the Temple of Solomon was destroyed on a Friday, execution day was Friday in ancient Rome, and Good Friday exists because it is the reported day of Jesus' crucifixion. An English schoolboy allegedly proved mathematically that thirteen, when examined over a 400-year period, falls on Friday more than any day of the year. (He was thirteen years old at the time, of course.)

Yet the number 13 has a lesser-known role as a

lucky

number: At the birth of our nation, thirteen colonies formed the original United States of America, a baker's dozen is considered a fortunate bargain, and if you are Jewish, age thirteen is your lucky time for a bar or bat mitzvah.



Skeptical Inquirer


is the official journal of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), a nonprofit scientific and educational organization founded in 1976 by Paul Kurtz, Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan and other prominent academics, scientists, and writers. CSICOP encourages the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view. Learn more about CSICOP and

S.I.

at

www.csicop.org

.

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The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The Center for Inquiry strives to foster a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at centerforinquiry.org.