Fear of Friday the 13th – Friggatriskaidekaphobia

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Practical Psychology

Do you know when the next Friday the 13th is? 

They always seem to sneak up on us! Most Gregorian calendar years experience two or three Friday the 13th each month. In 2020, you might remember that COVID-19 was declared a National Emergency on a Friday the 13th. For many, this was the “start” of lockdowns and the pandemic that changed our lives as we know it. 

Many people dreaded Friday the 13th before 2020. In fact, a fear of Friday the 13th goes way back to the 1900s. The fear of the number 13 goes back even further!

Why do we fear Friday the 13th? Should we? And why does it have such a long name? Let’s find out the answer to all of these questions now! 

What Is the Fear of Friday the 13th Called? 

The fear of Friday the 13th has two names: Friggatriskaidekaphobia and Paraskevidekatriaphobia. Yes, these terms are real! Friggatriskaidekaphobia and Paraskevidekatriaphobia may sound like nonsense, but they have real origins. They also describe a real fear that makes people very anxious once every few months.

Where Does the Term Paraskevidekatriaphobia Come From? 

In short, Greek! The first part of this word comes from the Greek word for Friday (Paraskevi) and for thirteen (dekatreís). Phobia comes from another Ancient Greek word: phóbos, or “fear.” This is why all fears typically end in the term “phobia!” 

Where Does the Term Friggatriskaidekaphobia Come From? 

You already know that phóbos is the root for phobia. Friggatriskaidekaphobia also takes another word from Ancient Greece: treiskaídeka, or “thirteen.” (As the Greek language evolved, the word for thirteen evolved into dekatreís.) Frigg is an old Norse word that means Friday.

You may be wondering why some people use an old Norse term to describe the fear of Friday the 13th. We can actually “thank” Norse mythology for this fear in the first place. The fear of a number or a date is not like the fears we may experience when we see a sabertooth tiger or think about jumping from a plane. Fears like this come from old folklore, and our minds “grow” to fear what this folklore tells us to fear. 

Reasons Why People Fear the Number 13

Experts believe that the first mention of 13 being an “unlucky” number took place back in the days of Loki and other Norse Gods. At a dinner meant for 12 gods, Loki crashed the party and became the 13th guest. That dinner resulted in chaos, with the death of one God and the world mourning that death. 

Similarly, in the Christian bible, Judas was the 13th disciple to sit down at The Last Supper. In the Bible, Jesus was crucified on a Friday. Although this day is known as “Good Friday” in Christianity, the combination of Friday and 13 is a recipe for bad things to happen!

Other strange occurrences lead people to believe that 13 is an unlikely number. Just take a look at this list of names

  • Charles Manson
  • Jack the Ripper
  • Jeffrey Dahmer
  • Theodore Bundy
  • Albert De Salvo
  • Adolfus Hitler

What do all of these people have in common? They’re notorious killers, whether they killed people themselves or led the killing of millions in the Holocaust. But take a closer look. All names have 13 letters in them.

Here are some other reasons why 13, especially Friday the 13th, is considered to be unlucky: 

  • The Nets never won a championship with Steve Nash (#13) on their team, despite Nash being one of the greatest players in the sport. Football great Dan Marino (#13) never won a Super Bowl.
  • Apollo 13’s oxygen tank exploded on April 13. 
  • A stock market crash took place on Friday the 13th in 1989. Oddly enough, a 1907 novel wrote about using Friday the 13th as a way to scare investors on Wall Street. Talk about literature predicting the future! 
  • It is one number off from 12. Seriously! The number 12 is considered to be a “complete number.” Just think about how many months are in a year, eggs are in a dozen, and inches are in a foot! One more than 12 may lead people to think the number 13 is “incomplete.” 

The Impact of The Fear of Friday the 13th 

The fear of the number 13 alone has a significant effect on businesses throughout Western civilization. The next time you go to a hotel, look closely at the numbers on the elevator. You’ll notice that 13 usually isn’t there! Hotels, cruise lines, or other hospitality businesses don’t want to lose any business by handing out rooms on the 13th floor or containing the number 13. 

This sounds silly, but it is a very real fear that people have! Experts estimate that hundreds of billions of dollars are lost every few months because people hold off on spending or acting during Friday the 13th. People don’t fly, they don’t make big financial decisions, or they don’t place bets. 

Pretty wild, isn’t it? 

On the other hand, there is one benefit to keeping your eyes out for the next Friday the 13th. Many tattoo shops offer special deals on this allegedly unlucky day. Customers can get a cheap tattoo (some for $13 or $130 plus tip) that has the number integrated into the design. People may get the number tattooed on them to counter the idea that “13” is an unlucky number or face their fears. Other people just enjoy getting a cheap tattoo. 

How To Know If You Have Friggatriskaidekaphobia

There is no medical diagnosis for Friggatriskaidekaphobia or Paraskevidekatriaphobia. If you are experiencing serious symptoms and fit the criteria for a “specific phobia,” a therapist or medical professional may diagnose you with just that: a specific phobia. This diagnosis is an umbrella term that covers everything from the fear of failure to the fear of ghosts. 

If Friday the 13th makes you a little nervous but doesn’t prevent you from carrying out your day, you probably do not need to see a professional. It is normal to feel spooked out by something that horror movies and classic literature have told us to fear for years! Even reading the list of strange coincidences surrounding the number 13 can get your heart rate up - temporarily. If Friday the 13th causes any of the following symptoms, you may want to reach out to a professional for treatment: 

  • Feelings of anxiety, panic, or dread leading up to/on Friday the 13th 
  • Increased heart rate and shortness of breath
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Nausea or dizziness
  • Inability to go to work, drive a car, or go about your normal routine on Friday the 13th
  • Intense avoidance of the number 13 (choosing a different address, refusing to pay amounts that total $13, etc.) 
  • Feeling a complete loss of control before or on Friday the 13th

If you are trying to decide whether you buy a flight on Friday the 13th or Saturday the 14th and decide to choose the 14th “just in case,” you probably don’t need to see a therapist for Friggatriskaidekaphobia. But if you call in sick from work and avoid leaving your home on Friday the 13th every time it comes around, you might want to reach out to a professional. 

About the Illusory Correlation 

Yes, a lot of bad things have happened surrounding the number 13. But let’s put this in perspective. Some of the world’s greatest musicians and artists are part of “The 27 Club.” They all passed away at age 27: Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin, etc. Does this mean that all the world’s greatest musicians will pass away at 27? No. More musicians have made it past the age of 27 than not. 

So why do we associate certain numbers with unlucky events? The same reason we wear “lucky” t-shirts or bet on certain numbers: the illusory correlation.

The illusory correlation is the connection between two events that (probably) have nothing to do with each other. Your t-shirt is not going to affect how well your favorite football player does on a particular day. The state of your knees does not control the weather. The presence of a number doesn’t affect whether you will live or die. Yet, if we let our minds think that two things are connected, the mind will not question it. If anything, our brains will seek out more examples to confirm what it already believes to be true. 

Why? Our brains have too much to take in already! Think of all the bad things that happen on any particular day of the year. It’s too much information to sort through. The brain has less work to do when it can connect a bad event with the number 13. 

Humans are meaning-making creatures, not natural statisticians. We attach meaning to the number 13, feel satisfied with that meaning, and move on. The meaning of the number may be unlucky or unfortunate, influencing our decisions, but that’s okay. As long as we have a reason for buying the flight on the 14th instead of the 13th, our brains are satisfied and can move on to the next decision. 

Overcoming Fear of Friday the 13th 

Continue to read about the Illusory Correlation and other biases that influence our thoughts and decisions. You will find that our minds want the world to be simple, follow a routine, and have meaning. Assigning meaning to Friday the 13th is one way the mind does that, even if the “meaning” is bad luck. With this knowledge, you may be able to talk yourself through the physical and emotional feelings that you associate with Friday the 13th. 

If the fear of Friday the 13th is impacting your life in a negative way, reach out to a mental health professional. They can help you work through Paraskevidekatriaphobia and any other fears you might have. You do not have to let one date control your life!

Reference this article:

Practical Psychology. (2022, May). Fear of Friday the 13th - Friggatriskaidekaphobia. Retrieved from https://practicalpie.com/fear-of-friday-the-13th-friggatriskaidekaphobia/.

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