A day of misfortune

Friday the 13th is here, and brings superstitious bad luck

If a black cat crosses your path
Image by: Sam Koebrich
If a black cat crosses your path

Proceed with caution and hope luck is on your side today — it’s Friday the 13th.

I’d like to think I’m not superstitious, but in reality I am. I knock on wood to prevent jinxing something I’ve said. If I see a black cat ahead of me, I mentally command it to stay in place until I walk past.

On Friday the 13th, I allow myself a bit of nervous curiosity. However, the fear of this unlucky day leaves some paralyzed, refusing to fly or even leave their house.

According to National Geographic, 21 million Americans are afflicted with a phobia of Friday the 13th, and it has been estimated that $800 to $900 million is lost in business in the United States on this day.

“The cause and the thinking behind Friday the 13th … is because we’re all prone to magical thinking and we all want to control essentially what is the uncontrollable,” William Morrow, a professor in the School of Religion, said.

Morrow said that certain events get connected with bad consequences, and therefore most superstitions have to do with actions meant to avoid bad luck or consequences.

“We in the West have a problem with the number 13 and it’s not clear that those problems are simply rising out of the Christian religion,” he said, “although they may be because Jesus had 12 disciples but Jesus plus twelve makes 13.”

When the 13th disciple betrayed Jesus, the events of Good Friday ensued.

In many cultures, the number twelve has a feeling of wholeness to it, Morrow said. Thirteen becomes unlucky because it is viewed as more than whole.

In other cultures, for example in China or Japan, Morrow said that the unlucky number is four, not 13, because one way of pronouncing the word four is a homonym for the word used for death.

“In some traditional cultures in Europe the bad luck day is not actually Friday, it’s Tuesday,” he said, “because Tuesday’s the third day of the week, and bad luck comes in threes. Therefore there’s a kind of nervousness about the third day.”

Superstitions have filtered their way into daily practices of modern circles.

“I’m an amateur actor, and if people ever ask me in the middle of rehearsal how the show’s going, I don’t like to tell them that it’s going well because I don’t want to jinx the show,” Morrow said. “One of the biggest superstitions in theatre is that … you’re not supposed to say the word … ‘Macbeth’. You’ve got to say the Scottish play as if somehow by saying that word you’re going to call in the three witches [who prophesize Macbeth’s demise].”

Morrow said that a problem with superstition is that it was used to distinguish “bad” religion from “good” religion since classical times, so to label someone’s faith system superstitious is demeaning.

Bad luck superstitions, however, derive from vague fears, for which there is only sometimes a concrete reason, he said.

“If you’re looking for bad luck you’re going to find it, and that’s the problem with Friday the 13th,” Kellye Crockett, owner of Sacred Source in downtown Kingston, said. “I think people forget the power of their own minds and they create their own difficult reality.”

Crockett provides psychic readings with the help of tarot cards at Sacred Source, which opened in 1999. As I sit in the shop, Zen, meditation-like music fills the room.

Crockett said that she studies esotericism, which refers to information or practices that are hidden and uncommon in the everyday world.

With 78 cards in a standard tarot deck, Crockett said that each one can hold many meanings depending on where it falls in the deck.

“It’s very visual and very complex as a system of divination,” she said. “It’s up to the reader to pick out the connecting themes and apply it to the life of the person asking the questions. It’s very in-depth.”

When Crockett offers me a tarot card of my choice from the deck, I extract the six of cups, a card meant to signify love, significant romantic relationships and inner harmony.

“The gift of a reading is to inspire people to make good choices or better choices, or confirm what they’re doing or perhaps give them some insight … that’s the benefit of it,” she said. “It’s not telling people what to do.”

Whether you spend the day bound by fear or indulge in superstition for pure enjoyment, the choice is yours. The misfortune of Friday the 13th will only amount to what you make it — knock on wood.


Culture, Friday the 13th, superstitions

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