(The following excerpt Fear of Friday the 13th Could Be Self-Perpetuating by Kathy Samudovsky recently appeared on post-gazette.com. To view it in its entirety click on the link below.)
Today is the second of three Friday the 13th days this year.
Every year has at least one Friday the 13th, and no year has more than three. Annual Friday the 13th trilogies occur either in February-March-November or January-April-July.
EarthSky.org reports that the current year’s February-March-November trilogy can only happen in a non-leap year. The year 2009 was the first of 11 total occurrences of this trilogy in the 21st century; the next will be in 2026, the website noted.
In Western culture, Friday the 13th is considered a particularly unlucky day. The origin of this thinking is not known, although there are many theories.
Fear of Friday the 13th is called “friggatriskaidekaphobia.” Frigga is the Norse goddess for whom “Friday” is named, and triskaidekaphobia means fear of the number 13.
Although Friday the 13th is often ranked as the No. 1 superstition in America, Frank A. Ghinassi, a clinical psychologist who is vice president of quality at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, said the day is no more lucky or unlucky than others.
Assigning bad luck to a specific day fulfills a need we have to predict and control the future, he said. Also, our mind’s “filter” affects how we see that day’s events.
“If something good or bad happens on a certain day, it’s going to appear to you that similar good or bad things are happening with more frequency around you,” he said. “I would argue that nothing is happening with more frequency — you’re simply filtering and noticing, whereas before, it just faded into the background.”
Believing superstitions is normal, according to George Loewenstein, the Herbert A. Simon University Professor of Economics and Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University.
“The human brain is a pattern-detecting organ, so it’s very normal to see patterns where they don’t exist. That is often associated with superstitions,” he said.
Once a day has been identified as a bad luck day, it tends to be self-perpetuating, he said.
“If anything bad happens on that day, a person won’t think of all the bad things that happened on other days … but will only focus on the bad things that ‘did’ happen on that day,” Mr. Loewenstein said.
Mr. Ghinassi said superstitions become problematic when they start to alter a person’s life, spike anxiety or cause a person “to imbue magical thinking.”
Last month, 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair published results of a December 2014 telephone poll of 1,016 adults, concerning the prevalence of superstitions in America. In part, the poll found that 54 percent of respondents said they are “not at all” superstitious; 22 percent said they are “not too”; 20 percent, “somewhat”; and 4 percent, “very.”
A Harris Poll of 2,236 adults surveyed online from Jan. 15-20, 2014, indicated that many people don’t believe in common superstitions. Of those polled, 14 percent said they believed that Friday the 13th is an unlucky day. The poll also found these percentages believe it is bad luck to: have a black cat cross their path, 13 percent; open an umbrella indoors, 14 percent; and walk under a ladder, 20 percent.
“We wouldn’t even think about not walking under ladders,” said Michael Golensky of Brentwood, owner of MLG Contracting and Painting. “I would yell at my guys if they were worried about that superstition.”
For those with a serious case of the heebie-jeebies today, a Dormont shop called Moonstones: A Metaphysical Haven may offer assistance.
“We try to educate as much as possible that the day is not negative or unlucky,” shop owner Amy Mokricky said. “But if someone wants protection, that’s fine; we have things to help.”
Among the items, she said, are snowflake obsidian, a crystal believed to ward off negativity, and Archangel Michael Spray, an elixir of meteorite essence and other ingredients believed to be protective.
Vince Kemper of White Oak said today is “just another day,” but Foley Zelenak of Monroeville countered that it’s “a good luck day.”
“I’m 100 percent Irish. We’re very superstitious — you know, ‘Luck of the Irish.’ I will only play the lottery on Friday the 13th. It’s never paid off to date, but I still do it,” Ms. Zelenak said.
Roger Schmitt of Monroeville was born on Sept. 13, 1965. He said he gets excited when his birthday falls on a Friday, as it did in 2013. “I just think it’s cool. I’m also interested in seeing what strange things happen that day,” he said.
Mr. Loewenstein said an entire class of superstitious people enjoy Friday the 13th specifically for the fear or titillation of it.
“It’s like riding a roller coaster. It gives some people a bit of a thrill,” he said.
Kathy Samudovsky, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.