A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

Critical Thinker's Dictionary

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paraskevidekatriaphobia

Friggatriskaidekaphobia or a morbid, irrational fear of Friday the 13th. Therapist Dr. Donald Dossey, whose specialty is treating people with irrational fears, coined the term paraskevidekatriaphobia. Perhaps Dr. Dossey has an irrational fear of friggatriskaidekaphobia. Anyway, he claims that when you can pronounce the word paraskevidekatriaphobia you are cured of the irrational fear. I'd like to see the science, however.

If you base your belief on media attention, superstition about Friday the 13th might be the number one superstition in America today. It appears, however, that only about 10% of us believe that Friday the 13th is an unlucky day (Zusne and Jones 1989, p. 244, put the number at 7%; Vyse 2000, p. 18, cites a 1990 Gallup poll that put the number at 9%, and a 2000 survey by American Demographics put it at 13%).

Friday may be considered unlucky because Jesus is thought to have been crucified on a Friday, which was execution day among the Romans. Yet, Christians don't call it Bad Friday. Friday was also Hangman's Day in Britain. Some even think that Friday was the day Abraham's god threw Adam and Eve out of the garden of Eden, which is unlikely since the concept of Friday hadn't been invented yet.

The irrational fear of things associated with the number thirteen is known as triskaidekaphobia. Some think that thirteen is an unlucky number because there were thirteen people at the Last Supper. Some think thirteen owes its bad reputation to Loki, the Norse god of evil, who started a riot when he crashed a banquet at Valhalla attended by twelve gods. However, the number 13 was considered a lucky number in ancient Egypt and China. According to a 1996 Gallup poll, 9 percent of Americans admit to being superstitious about the number thirteen.

There are several distinct reasons why certain days, numbers, colors, etc. are considered lucky or unlucky by different people or cultures, but the general reason for such superstitions seems to be to assert some sort of control and order over events that are essentially uncertain. Belief in lucky or unlucky things imposes purpose, design, meaning, and significance on otherwise indifferent and purposeless events. Confirmation bias assures that such superstitions will be supported by plenty of validating anecdotes.

Is Friday the 13th a particularly unlucky day? It could be, if you believe it is. Just as some prophecies are self-fulfilling, some beliefs are self-validating.

See also numerology.


reader comments

further reading

books and articles

Dossey, Donald E. Holiday Folklore, Phobias and Fun: Mythical Origins, Scientific Treatments and Superstitious 'Cures' (Outcome Unlimited Press 1992).

Radford, Edwin. Encyclopedia of Superstitions (Marlboro Books 2000).

Vyse, Stuart A. Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition (Oxford University Press 2000).

Wiseman, Richard. The Luck Factor: Change Your Luck - And Change Your Life (Century 2003).

Wiseman, Richard. "The Luck Factor." Skeptical Inquirer, May/June 2003.

Zusne,  Leonard and Warren Jones. Anomalistic Psychology: A Study of Magical Thinking. 2nd edition. (Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc. 1989).

websites

Why Friday the 13th Is Unlucky by David Emery

Snopes.com on Friday the 13th

Friday

The Frequency of Friday the 13th

Last updated 22-Dec-2013

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