A Friday the 13th landing in the middle of the month of Halloween isn’t an especially welcome event for someone with triskaidekaphobia (extreme fear of the number 13). It’s even worse for someone with paraskevidekatriaphobia (fear of Friday the 13th).
But here were are, the first Friday the 13th of October since 2006 and the last until 2023.
“There are people who specifically avoid the number 13, regardless of whether it’s Friday the 13th,” said Justin Weeks, a Nebraska Medicine psychologist. “And you add that on top of the month of October … ”
Fears come in all shapes, sizes and severities, but whether a fear is rational or irrational — whether it’s sharks or black cats — the truism holds, well, true: You need to face your fears to overcome them.
“The fuel to all fears is avoidance,” Weeks said. If a person grows up with a fear of 13, they tend to avoid it, and the avoidance becomes a self-reinforcing behavior.
“Depending on how often the source of the anxiety comes up, it can actually make a person feel like they have to continue to rely on the avoidance,” Weeks said. “It can lock a person into a cycle.”
This, he said, is why exposure therapy is typically the first means of fighting fears for people with anxiety disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorders.
This can be a problem for people with a fear of something like Friday the 13th, which typically only happens one or two times a year. (Twice this year. Three times in 2026. And 26 is of course evenly divisible by 13 … )
Those who have a debilitating or even moderate fear of the day or number don’t have too much trouble avoiding triggers. Don’t go to the 13th floor. Don’t sit in the 13th row of an airplane. Don’t travel on Friday the 13th.
That last one might be having something of an economic impact.
In a National Geographic article, Donald Dossey, a folklore historian and founder of the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina, estimated that $800 to $900 million is lost each Friday the 13th because of people not flying or doing business as usual.
And it doesn’t take a crushing fear of 13 to want to avoid flying today. About one in four Americans consider themselves to be “somewhat” or “very” superstitious, according to a Gallup poll.
“Negative superstitions like the number 13 come from an attempt to order the world and have a greater control over events,” said Stuart Vyse, who was previously a professor of psychology at Connecticut College and is the author of “Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition.”
The fear of 13, like any positive or negative superstition, is something that gets reinforced by pop culture. The never-ending “Friday the 13th” series has helped spread anxiety of the day.
“But there are people who do a double-whammy on 13,” Vyse said. “There are people out there who turn it around and think of it as a lucky number.”
Taylor Swift is one of those people. She draws 13 on her hand before shows. She previously told MTV News, “I was born on the 13th. I turned 13 on Friday the 13th. My first album went gold in 13 weeks. My first No. 1 song had a 13-second intro. Every time I’ve won an award, I’ve been seated in either the 13th seat, the 13th row, the 13th section or row M, which is the 13th letter.”
Vyse himself considers 13 somewhat of a lucky number. There was that one time that he got a little freaked out during a turbulent flight after he realized he was sitting in the 13th row. But he has good reason to like the number.
Google various combos of “fear,” “13” and “psychology,” and Vyse’s name invariably pops up near the top article results. He and the number are forever linked.
“The number 13 has been very good to me,” he said. “I feel I owe a debt to all the superstitious people in the world.”
The supposed unlucky origins of the number 13 and Friday the 13th
Christ dined with 12 disciples at the last supper, and supposedly the 13th guest was Judas, the apostle who betrayed Jesus.
Friday is also considered a generally unlucky day by some biblical scholars. It is believed to be the day Christ was crucified and the day Eve tempted Adam. It is also believed that Cain killed his brother, Abel, on Friday the 13th.
In her 1921 work, Egyptologist Margaret Murray claimed that witches came in covens of 13 — 12 witches and one Satan. This was considered to be a mockery of Christ and his 12 disciples. Another theory: 13 was the maximum number of witches that could fit into a 9-foot dance circle.
In Norse mythology, the evil god Loki was thought to be the 13th guest at a dinner party in Valhalla.
On Friday, Oct. 13, 1307, the king of France began arresting hundreds of the Knights Templar.
The superstition has become more pervasive thanks to pop culture. Thomas W. Lawson’s 1907 novel “Friday the Thirteenth” helped fuel the day’s lack of luck. And the “Friday the 13th” movies have forever associated the day with a certain teen-killing, hockey-mask wearing psychopath.
Do you believe Friday the 13th is an unlucky day, lucky day or just another day?
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