Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Paraskevidekatriaphobia ... one fear in the sea of superstitions




Last week, we experienced a Friday the 13th.  How many of you experience friggatriskaidekaphobia or a morbid, irrational fear of Friday the 13th or more specifically paraskevidekatriaphobia, fear of traveling on Friday the 13th? The latter term was coined by therapist Dr. Donald Dossey, whose specialty is treating people with irrational fears.  Many sailors refuse to leave port for a long journey on a Friday, much less a Friday the 13th. Triskaidekaphobics, on the other hand, fear the number 13. For their benefit, hotels skip the 13th floor and some airports even skip gate 13.


Friday the 13th might be the number one superstition in America today if one listens to the media hype. It appears, however, that only about 10% of us believe that Friday the 13th is an unlucky day (according to several polls conducted in the 1990s). Most years have two Fridays that fall on the 13th of the month, although occasionally as happened in 2012, there were three and they were exactly 13 weeks apart. (Doubly creepy.) Studies throughout Europe and North America show that auto traffic is much lighter on Friday the 13th, presumably because people avoid driving on that date. So there are fewer traffic accidents, although some studies (including one hoax) have suggested that the injuries may be more serious on that day.

Some of us actually like Friday the 13th and the number 13. It has always been lucky for me. Pagans considered 13 a lucky number as it corresponds with the number of full moons in a year. The number 13 was also considered a lucky number in ancient Egypt and China.

Friday may be considered unlucky because Jesus is thought to have been crucified on a Friday, execution day among the Romans. Friday was also Hangman's Day in Britain. The Knights Templar were also viciously attacked and virtually eliminated on a Friday the 13th.

Some think that 13 is an unlucky number because there were 13 people at the Last Supper. Some think 13 owes its bad reputation to Loki, the Norse god of evil, who crashed a banquet at Valhalla attended by 12 gods which started a massive altercation.  In France you can hire a guest to join you for dinner, the quatorzieme, to avoid having 13 at the table.

But we sailors are a superstitious lot. We avoid changing the names of our boats without elaborate ceremonies. We step off on the right foot,and  pay homage to gods of the sea. I guess the old adage about women aboard has been "debunked".  We sailed with a black cat, we had no idea what day of the week it was so it didn't matter when we left, and we renamed our boat. How about you?


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