May 13, 2022, marks another Friday when the superstitious and the spooked will take extra care not to walk under wayward ladders or take pause if a black cat crosses their path.
The myth around Friday the 13th has plagued generations for centuries, with long held theories that have passed been passed down in a series of Chinese whispers that have brandished this day as unlucky.
Theories abound on how the day earned its unfortunate tag. Many trail back to Biblical times, naming Judas Iscariot as the 13th person at the Last Supper that was held on Maundy Thursday. Upon his kiss of betrayal, Jesus Christ was crucified the following day, on Good Friday. The Biblical theorising has continued through the ages: Adam and Eve allegedly tasted the forbidden fruit on a Friday; the great flood was on a Friday.
According to History.com, 12 is also considered the number of natural balance or completeness — there are 12 months in a year, 12 zodiac signs, 12 hours in a time cycle.
Even Norse mythology refers to Loki (the trickster deity) as the uninvited 13th guest at a feast for the deities. The character that was popularised in the Marvel movies was based on the legend of his chaotic nature.
Conspiracy theorists took the superstitions up a notch, associating a spate of catastrophic events to this day. Perhaps the most memorable association is the ultimate destruction of legendary warriors, the Knights Templar that ruled the lands during the Middle Ages.
The demise of the Templars can be traced to Friday, October 13, 1307 when more than 600 of these warriors were rounded up and imprisoned on charges of black magic and unholy rituals.
While the Templar calamity became part of historic lore (integrating further through books penned by fiction writer Dan Brown in recent times), popular culture continued with the Friday the 13th mythology following a series of tragic deaths that were somehow linked to this anomaly.
On September 13, 1996, the world of music was handed a blow with the death of hip hop legend Tupac Shakur, who succumbed to gunshot injuries following a drive-by incident in Las Vegas. The day was Friday.
Going back a few decades, New York City was rocked by the brutal rape and stabbing of Kitty Genovese on March 13, 1964. The attack last for more than 30 minutes and legend has it that 38 witnesses heard her cries for help but did not step up to help. The murder also took on notoriety for it being a Friday, while the incident also prompted psychologists to coin the term ‘Bystander Effect’, which is now used to explain how people in crowds don’t always act with humanity.
Another chilling incident occurred on October 13, 1972, when a plane crashed into the Andes carrying a rugby team from Uruguay, bound for a match in Chile. The 16 survivors were forced into cannibalism or face starvation and death. They were rescued after 72 days.
Over time, Friday the 13th has become so entrenched in popular lore that psychologists have even come up with a word for those who suffer from a fear of the day, calling them paraskevidekatriaphobes.
The myth snowballed further when Hollywood latched on with an enterprising mind and spawned the ‘Friday the 13th’ film franchise that ruled the box office through the 80s, 90s and 2000s.
While many have debunked this as psychological nonsense over time, others believe throwing salt over your shoulder for protection can surely do no harm.