Musement takes a look at seven superstitious rituals to help you try to ward off the bad luck on the dreaded Friday the 13th.
In Italy, the most dreaded day is actually Friday the 17th, but in Anglo-Saxon culture, as well as in Spain and South America, Friday the 13th is the most unlucky day of all. But where does this superstition ultimately come from?
For one, Friday is the day when Jesus died according to the Bible. Furthermore, in Italy there’s also an old saying, “Nè di venere né di marte ci si sposa né si parte” (“Don’t start anything or get married on Fridays or on Tuesdays”), a reference to the pagan roots of the days’ names: Friday (Venerdi) is named for the pagan goddess Venus, while Tuesday (Martedi) is named for Mars, the god of war. Thus, Friday and Tuesday are said to be the days that belong to evil spirits—not to mention the god of war!—which is why Italians traditionally avoid getting married, leaving on a trip or starting a new project on these two days of the week.
Then, if we look at the numbers, both 13 and 17 are prime numbers, already solitary and mysterious in and of themselves. The number 13 is considered unlucky in many different cultures: in Norse mythology, Loki is the thirteenth demigod, who, unlike the other 12, behaved wickedly towards humans. In the Christian tradition, Judas was the thirteenth participant at the Last Supper (Christ included).
However, heptadecaphobia (the fear of the number 17) is found only in Italy and other countries of direct Latin-Greek heritage. In ancient Greece, it was all a matter of mathematics: the followers of Pythagoras couldn’t stand the number 17, because it was between 16 and 18, which represented the perfection of four-sided figures (4 × 4 and 3 × 6). Furthermore, the Old Testament says that the Great Flood began on the 17th day, while in Latin “VIXI” (the past tense of “to live”: “I lived”), which was often cut into gravestones, is an anagram of the Roman numeral VXII (17).
But there are so many superstitions that have an influence, to a greater or lesser extent, on people’s lives. Besides, who doesn’t have a lucky charm that they always take with them, or who hasn’t ever avoided passing under a ladder or knocked on wood to avoid some misfortune?
In every country you go, you’ll find superstitions! Here are 7 superstitions from all over the world that we can try out on this (hopefully not too unlucky) Friday the 13th.
1. Touching wood (or knocking on wood)
Touching wood is a gesture that is used to ward off bad luck, so it’s perfect to ward off the ill omens that Friday the 13th brings. The origins of this superstitious gesture date back to the Middle Ages, and it apparently has to do with the wooden cross on which Christ was crucified. But there’s also an explanation from the pagan tradition: many trees (such as the birch or apple tree) were considered sacred by the Celts and were believed to harbor magical creatures. In fact, the English expression “knock on wood” comes from the fact that people used to knock on the trees as if they were house doors, asking the fairies and spirits inside for a bit of good luck.
2. Touching iron
In Italy, however, iron is the material you need to touch to avoid bad luck. According to a legend, this superstitious gesture comes from St. Dunstan, a blacksmith to whom the Devil appeared and requested a horseshoe. The saint was not fooled and started beating the Devil with his hammer until the latter promised not to appear anywhere where there was a horseshoe hanging.
3. The evil eye
If you think you might have fallen victim to the evil eye from someone who’s envying you, you can do as they do in Greece: in the cities and on the islands, people often put a blue painted glass eye on the door jamb to ward off the evil eye, and one can often see it being worn as an accessory (often found as a pendant for bracelets and necklaces).
4. Henna and poppy seeds
If you’ve just used henna to dye your hair, maybe you should play it safe and spend the night at home. What may seem like a harmless beauty product is actually believed to be a source of harmful curses and ill omen. In India, when a woman dyes her hair with henna, she is not allowed to leave the house after nightfall, as it is believed she might attract evil spirits. But if you have a really amazing evening planned, the remedy is to sprinkle poppy seeds on your head to keep the spirits at bay.
5. Scissors for sound sleep
If what you fear most in the world is a night of bad sleep (and that’s understandable, as modern life is so stressful that sleep has to be number one on the priority list), we recommend an Egyptian remedy: put a pair of scissors under your pillow. Under no circumstances, however, should you ever go around with open scissors, open them without cutting anything, or leave them open somewhere, because all these seemingly trivial things attract bad luck like few other things in the world.
6. A wreath of flowers
If you have a deep desire in your heart, you can do like the Welsh do: on this day (and on every other day), you have to put on a headdress made of leaves and hazel rods and wish for what you desire. Don’t worry if you’re not particularly skilled at crafting do-it-yourself headdresses: fortunately, it doesn’t need to look good to work.
7. Cursed stones
Lovers of jewelry, beware! Just for today, leave your trinkets with opals at home. It is said that these wonderful, mysterious and fascinating stones can bring bad luck. The origin of this superstition is in fact none other than Sir Walter Scott, who, in his 1829 novel Ann of Geierstein included a tale about the death of a mysterious princess, Lady Hermione, who was accused of being a demon and died when a drop of holy water fell on her opal jewelry.