Why does Friday the 13th get such a bad rep?



What do people have against 13? After all, there is the baker's dozen. And Friday is payday, what's wrong with that? Apparently a lot.

Friday the 13th, which occurs today for the second time this year, is synonymous in American culture with superstition and misfortune.

The last Friday the 13th was in September and the next one won't be until June. But it's just as common as Tuesday the 9th and Saturday the 14th.

Sure, 13 has had its bad days. The 13th president, Millard Fillmore, signed the Fugitive Slave Act and brought us James Buchanan. Dec. 13, 1937, was the start of the Nanking Massacre in China by Japanese troops. On the other hand, actors Steve Buscemi and Van Heflin were born on Dec. 13.

The 12 "Friday the 13th" movies didn't help erase the stigma, with the hockey mask-wearing villain Jason Voorhees running around back from the dead.

Sumi Colligan, a sociology professor at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, said she is no expert on the subject but said lucky numbers can be found in "a number of cultures." Some numbers, she said, "are considered good luck and some are considered bad luck" in societies throughout the world. In that respect, the idea of an unlucky 13 is "not unique to us," Colligan said.

Anotonia Foias, a sociology professor at Williams College, said "other cultures have a developed sense of numbers being lucky or unlucky based on their calendars."

A student of Mayan culture, Foias said the number 13 is actual considered a good number and sacred part of the Mayan calendar. Numbers are highly important in Mayan culture, where the concept of time is different and based on math formulas and generations of following the solar system.

There have been other attempts to explain why 13 has been the odd man out in history. There were 12 Olympian gods, 12 tribes of Israel, 12 apostles of Jesus and 12 signs of the zodiac. Apparently, there just wasn't enough room for 13.

And then there's Friday, which has a bad rap as being the day Jesus was crucified by the Romans. There were 13 people at his last supper.

Friday the 13th also is remembered in history for an episode in the 1300s when French King Philip IV ordered the arrests and executions of hundreds of members of the Knights Templar, to whom he allegedly owed money.

For those worried about bad spirits on Friday the 13th, Dudley Levenson owns Inspired Planet in Lenox, which sells a host of ornaments from around the world intended to bring better karma to people.

When visitors enter his shop, Levenson rings the gong. "It clears off all these worries and negative thoughts," he said. "They walk in here and feel the good vibes."

The merchandise includes Buddha heads, flower Buddhas, Buddha tablets and weights. There are Burmese temple gongs and hand-carved wooden angels.

"I believe it's possible to turn around any kind of fear into a positive opportunity," Levenson said. "We can project our best wishes of love, protection and healing," he said.

"The world that we live in is much more interesting than [Friday the 13th]," Levenson said. "When you combine the mosaic of world culture. It has so much more possibilities."

Gamblers who think Friday the 13th isn't so unlucky might be taking a shot at one of the most impossible lotteries, Mega Millions, which draws today with an estimated $400 million jackpot.

A winning ticket worth $61 million for Wednesday night's Powerball lottery drawing, which sold at a Sterling store, contained the number 13.

To reach Nathan Mayberg:
or (413) 496-6243


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