How Friday the 13th Works


Announcer: Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from howstuffworks.com.

Josh Clark: Hey there, and welcome to the Podcast. I'm Josh; Chuck is with me as always.

Chuck Bryant: Present.

Josh Clark: Couldn't live without him. If you put the two of us together, you get a lumpy little podcast called stuff you should know, right Chuck?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: And that's what you guys are listening to now and if you are listening to this on its original publishing date, you should be nervous because that means that tomorrow is Friday the 13th.

Chuck Bryant: Indeed.

Josh Clark: And before we really get started, Chuck, I think we should give a proper shout out to two of our listeners, Cameron Clark and Pare Gabriel.

Chuck Bryant: Right. This is actually a listener suggestion.

Josh Clark: Yes, this is our second one. The first one was body armor.

Chuck Bryant: Yes.

Josh Clark: Yeah, and both Cameron and Pare independently suggested that we do a podcast on Friday the 13th and we haven't gotten to the bottom of whether or not they were separated at birth or anything like that -

Chuck Bryant: But it's a swell idea.

Josh Clark: It is. It is. So, here we are.

Chuck Bryant: The day before.

Josh Clark: So, Chuck, I'm - well, I'm a terribly superstitious person. I can't really say that I'm not but I know people who aren't that still kind of take a little extra measure of caution when Friday the 13th rolls around. Are you like that?

Chuck Bryant: No, I'm not really that superstitious and I don't really think about Friday the 13th.

Josh Clark: It's not even on your mind?

Chuck Bryant: No, I mean, I realize it if I look at the calendar but I don't think two things about it.

Josh Clark: Gotcha. Okay.

Chuck Bryant: Not one thing.

Josh Clark: I am of less intellect than you.

Chuck Bryant: No, you're just more superstitious.

Josh Clark: That's the same thing. So, Chuck, I guess what I'm trying to say is that there's actually a phobia. There's a guanine phobia. I don't consider myself having a phobia but there is a phobia on the books.

Chuck Bryant: And this all you, buddy.

Josh Clark: It is all me and that word, that phobia is paraskevidekatriaphobia.

Chuck Bryant: That is awesome.

Josh Clark: Thank you.

Chuck Bryant: It looks like the alphabet when I look at the word actually.

Josh Clark: It looks like the Cyrillic alphabet almost, right? It's like all consonants. But that is the actual fear of Friday the 13th and people actually do suffer from this phobia. One of the weird things about it is it is - this particular phobia, paraskevidekatriaphobia, is a cultural construct.

Chuck Bryant: Right, it's western.

Josh Clark: Very much so. Yes, so let's get into this. Why do people hate 13 - first of all, have you noticed in our building there's no 13th floor marked on the elevator?

Chuck Bryant: Right, even though there is a 13th floor, it is marked 14.

Josh Clark: Right. But, yes, it's still a 13th floor. You can call it whatever you want.

Chuck Bryant: True, I call it 13.

Josh Clark: Yeah. You can put lipstick on a hockey mom and it's still a pitbull.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: So, and it's not just floors and buildings. Hotels often don't have a room 13.

Chuck Bryant: Right, planes don't have the 13th row.

Josh Clark: Um-hum. That's just weird, right?

Chuck Bryant: It's unusual to me that it's played such a role in our culture that they actually go out of their way to do this.

Josh Clark: Yeah, and let me give you one more. Little league baseball, when I wore the number 13, 0.00 batting average for the season, hit in the head twice so it's entirely possible that 13 isn't a very good number; possibly an untoward number.

Chuck Bryant: Right. It's possible that you stink at baseball, too.

Josh Clark: That's actually much more likely but okay. So, this is old and like you said, it's rooted in western culture and actually the fear of Friday the 13th is the convergence actually of two superstitions.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, 13 and Friday.

Josh Clark: Yeah, we haven't liked either of those things for a while and it's not just - this western conception of Friday the 13th being a nervous date is actually rooted in Norse mythology and Christianity. And they seem very separate but they actually came together and one played off of the other to develop this current fear we have. So, you want to take it?

Chuck Bryant: Well, I can tell you a little bit about the Norse aspect of it. In Norse mythology there was a hero called Balder and Balder was killed at a banquet by another God, Loki, LOKI -

Josh Clark: Did you ever read Marvel's Thor comics?

Chuck Bryant: Oh, yeah.

Josh Clark: Loki was always the bad guy in them.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, yeah.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: So, Balder was killed by Loki who basically crashed Balder's party and it was a dinner party of 12 and he was the 13th guest so that story, when you tie into Christianity, the last supper, Judas, who betrayed Christ was the 13th guest. So, one of the common fears is - or common things is never go to a dinner party of 13.

Josh Clark: Yeah, that just seems like a good rule of thumb after those two very monumental experiences in history under those circumstances. Okay. So, you said that kind of ties in this last supper and then this banquet in the Christian religion and in Norse mythology, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yes.

Josh Clark: And there's actually kind of a school of thought out there and it basically says that Judaism, Christianity and pretty much everything that came after that is rooted in ancient Egyptian religion. Did you know this?

Chuck Bryant: I did not. You're schooling me.

Josh Clark: Okay. You ready?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: So, there's this guy named Tom Harper. He's an astorian and he compiled a book in 2004 called Pegging Christ and you can make an argument that it gets a little too granular, like, he's proved his point too much and perhaps he's being led to see what he wants to see but basically what he argues is that Christianity and Judaism, just basically took popular beliefs that had been around for centuries, thanks to the camits, the ancient Egyptians. Specifically, between Christianity and the ancient Egyptian mythology, Horace, who's, like, the main guy, right -

Chuck Bryant: Which we'll get to later in listener mail.

Josh Clark: - Horace and Jesus Christ bear a very striking resemblance. Just some of the details! First of all, their embodiment, their like the savior of mankind under each religion but then there's details, too, like, both were born in stables, both births were heralded by stars, both had the ability to raise the dead and the births of both of them were witnessed by Sheppard's and it just kind of goes on and on. He finds -

Chuck Bryant: I didn't know that.

Josh Clark: He finds a couple hundred comparisons. As you look at some, you're, like, yeah, that's kind of a stretch but some you're, like, these are really close and it's not like the ancient Egyptians were without contact with anybody. The Greeks learned most of what they knew about mathematics and astronomy and all that from the Egyptians. So, all these people were interacting. It's entirely possible. The thing is Harper doesn't necessarily manage to prove anything. He illuminates a bunch of stuff, which I think was his intention. But it does undermine this competition that it seems like the early Christian Church had with everybody else, right.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: If you look, one of the parallels between Horace and Christ, their births were celebrated around the same time -

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: - and people point out that things like the choice of when Christmas lies on or when Easter lies on, these were kind of placed around the time of Pagan holidays to compete with them so people would have to choose. They couldn't go, well, I'm going to be Pagan on this date and then a month down the road, I get to have Christmas, too. That's not good. Right.

Chuck Bryant: No, no.

Josh Clark: If you're going to try to get everybody to your flock. And one of the Pagan groups that were heavily targeted by the early church were the Norse and there's an idea that 13, they already didn't like 13 but the Norse were also very - they venerated women and the early church was not big into women having power of any kind. So, Frigga, who was actually Balder, the hero Balder's mother, she used to show up at witch covens so there'd be 12 witches and she'd be the 13. Under Christian cosmology, any time you've got 12 witches, the 13th one is going to be the devil so they were - all this competition created all of this accepted ideas in one culture were horrible and bad and under Christianity, it was competition.

Chuck Bryant: Right. That's good stuff.

Josh Clark: Thanks a lot.

Chuck Bryant: I'm impressed.

Josh Clark: Okay. So -

Chuck Bryant: Friday - the day Friday actually in Christianity is also considered to be unlucky.

Josh Clark: Yes, you want to take that?

Chuck Bryant: Sure. Supposedly, Christ was crucified on a Friday - I shouldn't say supposedly, that's what they say and some theologians say that Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit on a Friday. So, that's another bad mark against it. The great flood began on a Friday when Noah built the arch and flooded the earth - Noah didn't flood the earth, he built the arch and a lot of Christians in the past would not begin any new project or trip on a Friday because they thought it would be doomed. So, if you take that Friday and you take the 13 and you marry them and that's why a lot of people thing that Friday the 13th came about is badness.

Josh Clark: Yeah, is that the case? I mean, is that true? Is there badness to it?

Chuck Bryant: Well, it depends on who you ask. There have been studies here and there. There was one in 1993, the British Medical Journal published one - I love this title, is Friday the 13th bad for your health which is -

Josh Clark: Yeah, I just saw that.

Chuck Bryant: - good stuff and they compared a ratio of traffic volume to the number of automobile accidents on Friday the 6th and Friday the 13th over a period of several years. And what they found out was consistently fewer people choose to drive on Friday the 13th but the number of hospital admissions, due to car accidents went up compared to a normal Friday.

Josh Clark: Did they conclude that it was possibly because people were a little more on edge on Friday the 13th or what?

Chuck Bryant: I think that was one of the conclusions, yeah which sort of makes sense.

Josh Clark: But that is strange that there is an increase on Friday the 13th.

Chuck Bryant: Right, which goes back to the thing that you were talking about with Harper. Perhaps you're looking - when you're looking for something, you're bound to find it. Did you see the movie Pie?

Josh Clark: Yes.

Chuck Bryant: Darren Orenowski's first film.

Josh Clark: A drill to the head.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, that was tough. They brace a similar thing when the old guy kind of assaulted the dude and said if you look for any number, you're going to find it. If the number in your head is 24, you're going to find 24 step s to your apartment, 24 times that you use the whisk to beat the eggs, that kind of thing. So, perhaps that plays a part as well.

Josh Clark: Yeah, there's a psychological bias I guess. You're preparing yourself; you're looking harder than usual, right. Well, that makes sense. Well, you know, if you went to Italy on Friday the 13th you would probably find very few people who were particularly moved by it. In Italy actually the unlucky number is 17 because under roman numerals it would be what, XVII, and if you rearrange them to VIXI, that is he lived and it's past tense and you often find that on grave stones. Seventeen is an unlucky number.

Chuck Bryant: True. Good stuff.

Josh Clark: Try scaring somebody around here with 17; it's not going to happen. They'll just blink at you a little bit and walk away.

Chuck Bryant: Exactly.

Josh Clark: I've got another couple of examples of 13 being a good thing. In Judaism, 13 is the age at which a boy matures into a man and you have your bar mitzvah so that's good. Colgate University, did you know this one?

Chuck Bryant: No.

Josh Clark: I didn't share this one with you. They are a liberal arts college in New York State and they love the number 13. The tradition there they said Colgate was founded by 13 men with $13 and 13 prayers and 13 articles and the university is actually at 13 Oak Drive so every Friday the 13th they throw a big party basically and really embrace it and wear the school colors and that kind of thing.

Chuck Bryant: That's pretty cool so they're going to have one tomorrow then.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. Go, Colgate.

Josh Clark: Absolutely. Someone is at Colgate University right now listening to this and they're swilling some keg beer to Friday the 13th, I think that'd be pretty cool.

Chuck Bryant: I think so, too. So, you know in Japan and China what the unlucky number is?

Josh Clark: Isn't it four?

Chuck Bryant: It is four.

Josh Clark: I knew that.

Chuck Bryant: Because apparently in both languages, and I was surprised to hear this, in both languages the pronunciation of the number four is very, very much similar to the pronunciation for the word death so you may not find a four on a menu in a Chinese restaurant or something like that. I'm going to keep an eye out actually in the future and see if there's a four.

Josh Clark: That's good. Like, the number four meal on a Chinese menu, that kind of thing?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, yeah.

Josh Clark: Maybe it's happy family.

Chuck Bryant: Maybe so.

Josh Clark: I got a few more 13s for you if you're patient.

Chuck Bryant: I am.

Josh Cl ark: In the world of sports, there have been some very famous awesome athletes that wore the number 13 so you would think it would not be unlucky; Dan Marino, one of the best quarterbacks to ever play, but one of the best quarterbacks to ever play and not win a super bowl.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, it makes you wonder how much better he would've been had he not worn 13.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: Alex -

Josh Clark: I mean, that's the first thing that comes to my mind.

Chuck Bryant: Sure. Alex Rodriguez; famous baseball player right now for the New York Yankees!

Josh Clark: He could be a superstar.

Chuck Bryant: He is a superstar and he wears the number 13 but the Yankees have not been to a world series since he joined their rooster -

Josh Clark: That is interesting.

Chuck Bryant: - in 2004 even though they have the powerhouse all-star lineup so maybe that's unlucky. And Wilt Chamberlain is 13 but he won all kinds of things so I'd say that is lucky in that case.

Josh Clark: Yeah. Yeah, I've heard people say that the number 13 is a lucky number but that's not my experience. I'm among A-Rod and Dan Marino as just a failed sports figure who wore the number 13.

Chuck Bryant: Well, I don't know if I could call them failed sports figures. He has a batting average very much higher than 0.0.

Josh Clark: Agreed.

Chuck Bryant: Friday the 13th films. I'm sure you've seen some of these.

Josh Clark: Sure.

Chuck Bryant: There have been 12 including the one -

Josh Clark: No, there haven't.

Chuck Bryant: Yes.

Josh Clark: They've made 12 of those?

Chuck Bryant: Well, there were 11 original films including the Freddie versus Jason thing. It was pretty much terrible but tomorrow actually is the release of the remake of the original and that makes the fourth one in the series to be released on Friday the 13th so it's a good marketing.

Josh Clark: Wow. So, this is 12.

Chuck Bryant: This is the number - the 12th one [inaudible] -

Josh Clark: Surely they're going to make it to 13, right?

Chuck Bryant: Well, they're probably going to start remaking them all I would say if this is successful.

Josh Clark: Okay.

Chuck Bryant: And this year there are three Friday the 13ths actually which is kind of unusual and two months in a row, February and March, which is very unusual.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: So, that's good stuff.

Josh Clark: I agree.

Chuck Bryant: And I got one more for you.

Josh Clark: Okay.

Chuck Bryant: The band Black Sabbath.

Josh Clark: I love Sabbath.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, we both do. They released their debut album on February 13th - Friday, February 13th, 1970.

Josh Clark: That seems like something they would do.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, absolutely.

Josh Clark: Yeah, isn't that crazy that they've been around since '70?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: Isn't it crazy that Ozzy can still walk?

Chuck Bryant: Barely.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Well, that's funny that you bring up the calendar, Chuck, because I've got one last little snippet. One of the reasons why Friday the 13th is a problem is because we moved to a solar calendar under Pope Gregory the V I think.

Josh Clark: Yeah, Greg.

Chuck Bryant: Okay. So, he commanded that we move to a solar calendar from a lunar calendar, again, Paganism, because in the Pagan culture - in the Pagan calendar there are actually 13 months based on the lunar cycle which is connected to the menstrual cycle, which again, gotta get away from women. There you have it.

Josh Clark: I'm not going to go there.

Chuck Bryant: So, this Friday the 13th, and February, Friday the 13th in March, that wouldn't have happened had we stayed with the original Pagan lunar calendar.

Josh Clark: Interesting.

Chuck Bryant: Yes, well, love you. Thanks.

Josh Clark: These are all nice little tidbits. This was full of water cooler type of -

Chuck Bryant: That's because there's absolutely nothing to Friday the 13th.

Josh Clark: Well, that's one of the main points though is even though there's all these ancient things it's rooted in, the modern fear of Friday the 13th evidently, most people don't even know these ancient things so it's pretty much just one of those things that's been created.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, for our enjoyment.

Josh Clark: Yep, nothing to it, folks. Don't worry.

Chuck Bryant: Basically, just one way to make it through the day on a Friday.

Josh Clark: Absolutely. A little more on guard than ever. So, there you go. Well, you guys be safe just in case, just in case this Friday the 13th, the next Friday the 13th and all the Friday the 13th's, we want you around to listen to our sweet voices for as long as possible.

Chuck Bryant: So don't leave your home.

Josh Clark: All right. Well, Chuck, you have any listener mail?

Chuck Bryant: I do.

Josh Clark: So, Chuck, what do you have for us?

Chuck Bryant: Josh, I have listener mail that we're going to call the Horace firestorm of '09. We got a lot of emails about you messing up the fact that - I believe you said -

Josh Clark: I said Horace was the God; he was the one with the dog's head. I didn't even have the right animal, right, okay.

Chuck Bryant: Ancient Egypt we're talking about.

Josh Clark: It turns out what I should've said was Horace has the head of a jackal, if I were even going to be in the right ballpark but that's Anubis - Anubis, one of the two - actually has the head of a jackal. That was the ancient Egyptian God with the head of a jackal. Horace, and I'm sorry everybody, it turns out Horace is the one with the head of a cat. So, I apologize to everybody who -

Chuck Bryant: No, no, no.

Josh Clark: Horace had the head of a falcon.

Chuck Bryant: What?

Chuck Bryant: I will not let you mislead our listeners anymore and thank you to all of these people who wrote including Satiar Mishra from India, age 13; Jessica Sastra of Jacksonville, Florida; Logan Larson studying in France; Katherine Lee; Thomas Raggy; Chris Albrecht of KU Jayhawks.

Josh Clark: Go, Jayhawks.

Chuck Bryant: Eric S. of Philadelphia; Jeremy Shehan; Alex Clifford of Livermore, California; Ric, R-I-C; nothing more; Tommy Skiano of the Mafia; Jason Barnhart; Andrew Smith of Jerusalem; and then my favorite, Rachel Austin in Boulder sent this correction in the form of a haiku, which we love. It is Anubis Jackal Horace Sun to Moon Eye Falcon Egypt Next Podcast. So, thank you, Rachel for being so creative with that.

Josh Clark: Thanks to all of you. Ever since the first email trickled in, I've been wearing my [inaudible] shirt so I think I can take it off now, what do you think, Chuck?

Chuck Bryant: You've been punished enough.

Josh Clark: It's so itchy.

Chuck Bryant: Horace is not a cat.

Josh Clark: Well, if you want to send us a podcast about ancient Egyptian Gods or anything that strikes your fancy, you can send it to stuffpodcast@howstuffwo rks.com.

Chuck Bryant: Meow.

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