Friday the 13th – Why is 13 the unlucky number?

The fear of the number 13 or even Friday the 13th even has a name, Paraskevidekatriaphobia – from the Greek words paraskeví (meaning ‘Friday’), and dekatreís (meaning ‘thirteen’). The fear of the number 13 itself is called Triskaidekaphobia.

Partly this is due to the number 12 being seen as being a good number; a number of completeness and natural order.  The are numerous cases of the number 12 occurring in key areas of life.  The are 12 hours on the clock and 12 months of the year.  The Ancient Greeks had  12 gods of Olympus whilst the Old Testament 12 tribes of Israel.  Jesus has 12 Apostles  and the line of directly descended Imams of Muhammad numbered 12.


The Last Supper by Da Vinci

In most western countries, 13 is a deeply unlucky number.  Some streets don’t have a house number 13 and tall buildings often omit floor 13.  The idea really took hold from The Last Supper and how Jesus was betrayed by the 13th, Judas Iscariot.   Since then you will never find 13 people dining together.

In Cumbria, the county where I was born, it was traditional for babies born on a Friday to be lain on The Bible.  Getting married on a Friday 13th is obviously a doomed affair, contacting doctors for the first time on a Friday means that death is near.

Even the old English writer Chaucer wrote that starting a new journey or new task or event on a Friday was a bad and unlucky thing to do and many people including American President Roosevelt refused to travel on Friday 13th.

Not every country sees 13 as being an unlucky number.  When I was watching Monday’s baseball on ESPN there was a feature on Venezuelan players and it was mentioned how in Venezuela their players happily take the number 13 jersey though the 13 number still heralds an element of bad luck as many Spanish countries have a bad thing for Tuesday 13th, perhaps due to the Ottoman Turkish conquest of Constantinople on Tuesday 13th May 1453. In Italy, 17 is the unlucky number whilst in China the number 4 is unlucky as its pronunciation sounds similar to the local word for ‘Death’.  The Japanese avoid number 9 as it sounds rather like Japanese for ‘torture’.


Today is Friday the 13th and as such has a little bit of a special feeling about it. Do you remember your first Friday the 13th?  I know I do.  I was about 12 when I first came across Camp Crystal Lake and the murderous Jason Vorhees but in all seriousness, the number 13 has a very long history of being in some way bad and foreboding.

It is possible that the origin is Friday 13th in October 1307.  Europe and France in particular was worried by a religious group known as the Knights Templar.  These knights were a pan-national organisation that though created for religious goals, became an extremely powerful political and economic network with little allegiance to Earthly kings.  They were famous for wearing white with a red cross, now best known for the Flag of England.  King Philip IV of France issued a surprise decree in which hundreds of Templars were arrested, imprisoned and many executed on flimsy and false allegation on Friday the 13th and the organisation was effectively destroyed.

The Knights Templar - Searching for The Holy Grail

The Knights Templar – Searching for The Holy Grail. The Temple area of London still carries their name.

Like almost any other day, bad things have happened in more recent times on Friday 13th. Buckingham Palace was bombed by the Luftwaffe on Friday 13th, September 1940.  The Chilean plane that crashed in the Andes and so forced survivors to live off the bodies of the dead also took place on this date.

In 1976 Daz Baxter was apparently so afraid of Friday the 13th he decided the safest place to stay was his bed. However, Mr Baxter who lived in New York was killed when the floor of his apartment block collapsed that day.   Meanwhile more recently in Wales, Bob Renphrey followed his example after suffering bad luck. The Welshman has crashed fours cars, fallen into a river and been made redundant on previous Friday the 13ths.

A study in the British Medical Journal, published in 1993, concluded that there “is a significant level of traffic-related incidences on Friday the 13th as opposed to a random day, such as Friday the 6th, in the UK.”  In the Netherlands however, Friday the 13th is a safer day than average though studies there do indicate the possibility that less people drive, or do events that could lead to accidents such as home decorating on Friday the 13th.

As mentioned in the Daily Telegraph, Dr Caroline Watt of the University of Edinburgh says that it is the belief in the Friday 13th superstition that could, in fact, prove the greatest risk to the average person:

“If people believe in the superstition of Friday the 13th then they believe they are in greater danger on that day. As a result they may be more anxious and distracted and this could lead to accidents. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is like telling someone they are cursed. If they believe they are then they will worry, their blood pressure will go up and they put themselves at risk.”

If you like 80’s horror movies like I do then I’ll end this post with some friendly advice on how to survive Friday 13th.



About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including several #1 sellers. I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. I run my private tours company with one tour stated by the leading travel website as being with the #1 authentic London Experience. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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16 Responses to Friday the 13th – Why is 13 the unlucky number?

  1. Great post Stephen. I try to see 13 as a lucky number. Mighty bad luck about the guy who stayed in bed and then was killed by his apartment block collapsing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Ekaterina. I don’t see it as a bad number myself, I think bad things and good things will happen as they will. It’s understandable though why in times past, people could be scared of the date.

      I agree about the that poor chap. What bad luck. If it were me, I know my final word would be “Typical” 🙂

      Have a lucky and safe day!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Rifleman III says:

    Reblogged this on Rifleman III Journal and commented:
    It basically took root when the Pope of France, to demonstrate the he was God’s emissary on earth, put to death, “FIFTY RIGHTEOUS MEN”, and as proof, nothing would happen to the pope. He was dead the year later.
    Tradition has it, you go to one knee on the ground and make the Sign of the Cross, not for yourself, but for the FIFTY RIGHTEOUS SOULS, and the whole day, you are Blessed with Good things.
    The number 13, in some cryptic circles, was to indicate “M” or money, and the teaching remains, whomsoever controls the “13” (Money), controls the world. Amazing, isn’t it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Rifleman III says:

    I added this on my side. (I am working on my first mug of coffee):
    Amazing, isn’t it. Keep people away/affraid of money/finances, and they will always be followers/led like sheep.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m on my third cup of tea (2 milk, this one lemon) and trying to put off writing on my book! It is amazing, apparently there are now special deals not just in shops but in International Finance to manipulate people into spending on Friday 13th!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Rifleman III says:

        How true. The topic has indeed been a foundational teaching of Freemasonry and the Knights Templar. An understanding, of what and how, one should conduct themselves, financially. Everything fits. Many, who are not Freemasons but are involved in the world of finanaces, too, understand the importance.
        Wonderful post, Thank You.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Francis says:

    Most intersting post. Friday 17th is the most unfortunate day in Italy where I live. This is because the roman numeral for 17 is ‘XVII’ which rearranged reads latin ‘VIXI’ which translated means ‘I lived’ i.e.Ii am dead. 13th lucky here. In fact I’m joining friends tonight for a ‘happy hour’. If you don’t hear from me again then the UK’s still following me!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like that Italian idea, it manages to take things even further by turning numbers into letters and coming to a bad conclusion! Hope you have a Happy and Lucky Day, if your car brakes down on the way to your friends you will know the UK is following you for sure!


  5. choosejoy says:

    As I’m innocently reading this post…scrolling along… the thought hits me. I look at the date-friday 13th. Aaahhhhhh

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Rasma R says:

    It’s different for me – I was born on a Friday and 13 counts as one of my lucky numbers….So actually every Friday the 13th counts as being very lucky for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • How nice to have a famous date as your birthday! I was born near Christmas in the UK in 1973 and the Christmas Number 1 Music hit is probably the most played piece of music so a little bit of my birthdate follows me around for 6 weeks every year 🙂


  7. Pingback: Quote of the Day: Origins of the Friday 13th Superstition | The Secular Jurist

  8. Boyer Writes says:

    Today is Friday, 13th of May which happens to be my husband’s birthday. I am happy to report we rode in a car that didn’t wreck or hit a deer in the VA mountains; had dinner in a restaurant and didn’t die of food poisoning; had a piece of chocolate cake with a candle lit…and didn’t burn down the house. Must be a luckier day than we think…and it was a happy one I’m glad to say. No big plans for tomorrow…but then the 13th will be 14th…so we’re all safe.

    Liked by 1 person

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