Spooky season is officially here. The hot summer days are finally cooling down, jack-o’-lanterns have taken over TikTok, and people are united by their hatred of candy corn.
But there are few things spookier than Friday the 13th in October, and this year is one of them. The 13th of each month falls on a Friday 1 to 3 times a year. This is the second Friday the 13th this year (the most recent one was in January), and the next one won’t be until September 2024.
The horror movie franchise may have fueled fears of Friday the 13th, but where did this superstition come from?
Dr. Phil Stevens, retired professor of anthropology at the University at Buffalo and author of the forthcoming book “Rethinking the Anthropology of Magic and Witchcraft: The Nature of Being Human,” spoke with USA TODAY This holiday and why it is an example of “magical thinking”. “
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Superstitions, taboos and lucky numbers are all forms of magical thinking
Stevens said he likes to think of superstitions around Friday the 13th as an example of magical thinking. Magical thinking, he said, is when someone believes there is a causal relationship between two otherwise unrelated events. For example, when Friday and the 13th fall on the same day, they take on different qualities.
He also considers it a taboo because superstition has a negative connotation, even if someone uses it to describe their own beliefs.
“The word taboo actually fits this superstition well. Because the word means to avoid making magical connections. People can actively perform magic to make things happen and recognize the connection between things, but if the connection between things may lead to unfortunate consequences, then people will avoid these connections,” Stevens said.
Some people look for positive connections between things. For example, the 2008 Chinese Olympic Games started at 8:08 pm on the eighth day of August because this number is associated with good luck.
Another example, Stevens said, is when someone has a good luck charm or giving an item a higher value after it belongs to a famous person.
The Biblical Origins of Friday and the Number 13
Stevens believes that Friday the 13th combines two biblical taboos. According to the story of Jesus’ Last Supper, 13 people were sitting at a table and this happened on a Thursday. That night he was arrested and the next day, Friday, he was crucified.
“So 13 is associated with that horrific event. On Friday, the 13th you get a double whammy. You get these two elements together: the taboo against 13, and the crucifixion of Friday,” Stevens said.
Stevens said that although the taboo was related to the Last Supper, it did not become common until more and more people became interested in the Bible 1,000 years after the story of Jesus. Now, he believes the taboo is weakening as people embrace the number 13 more, and it’s only a matter of time before it fades away.
Why superstition is a universal human experience
Stevens said superstitions, taboos and lucky numbers are part of the human need to find order in a crazy world.
“I think some form of superstitious behavior will be eternal,” Stevens said. “Some form of magical thinking will also be evident because it gives us a degree of control. The world is vast, complex, objective, and unpredictable, and the feeling that people have little control over things is Thankfully.”
So whether it’s avoiding a black cat, a crack in the sidewalk, or looking back on Friday the 13th, it all makes you the perfect person, Stevens says.