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    Газета School English #12, 2006

    Paraskevidekatriaphobia (2)

    by David A Wright (UK)

        One very common aspect of this superstition is the belief is that it is particularly unlucky for thirteen people sit down to dinner togetherI. An ancient Viking story tells how twelve gods were invited to a banquet at Valhalla. Loki, the evil god of mischief, had been left off the guest list but crashed1 the party, bringing the total number of attendees2 to 13. True to character, Loki caused trouble by inciting Hod, the blind god of winter, to attack Balder the Good, who was a favourite of the gods, with a spear3 of mistletoe4 killing him instantly. All Valhalla grieved and the Norse5 themselves apparently concluded that thirteen people at a dinner party is just plain bad luck.

        As if to prove the point, the Bible tells us there were exactly 13 present at the Last Supper6. One of the dinner guests - the disciple Judas Iscariot - betrayed Jesus Christ, setting the stage for the Crucifixion7 which took place on a Friday!

    Bad Friday

        It is said: Never change your bed on Friday; it will bring bad dreams. Don't start a trip on Friday or you will have misfortune. If you cut your nails on Friday, you cut them for sorrow. Ships that set sail on a Friday will have bad luck - sailors are notoriously superstitious. The reluctance8 of seamen to sail on a Friday reached such epic proportions, that (so the story goes) in the 1800s the British Government decided to take strong measures to prove the fallacy9 of the superstition. They laid the keel of a new vessel on Friday, selected her crew on a Friday, launched her on a Friday and named her HMS FridayII. They then placed her in command of one Captain James Friday and sent her to sea for the first time on a Friday. The scheme worked well, and had only one drawback10 ... neither ship nor crew was ever heard from again. Take that story with a pinch of (sea) salt!III

        Robinson Crusoe christened his servant 'Man Friday' because they met on a Friday, which was lucky for Robinson, but perhaps not so lucky for the poor servant!

        Some say it was on a Friday that: Eve tempted Adam with the forbidden fruit; the Great Flood began; God tongue-tied the builders of the Tower of Babel11; the Temple of Solomon was destroyed; and Jesus Christ was crucified, so Friday is a day of penance12 for Roman Catholics - but is a holy day for Moslems.

        In pagan13 Rome, Friday was execution day. In other pre-Christian cultures it was the sabbath, a day of worship, so those who indulged in secular14 or self-interested activities on that day could not expect to receive blessings from the gods. This may explain the lingering taboo on embarking on journeys or starting important projects on Fridays. The early Church went to great lengths to suppress pagan associations, so if Friday was a holy day for heathens15, they decreed that it must not be so for Christians - thus it became known in the Middle Ages as the "Witches' Sabbath".

        The name "Friday" was derived from a Norse deity16 worshipped on the sixth day, known as FreyaIV - goddess of marriage and fertility. Freya corresponded to Venus, the goddess of love of the Romans, who named the sixth day of the week in her honour "dies Veneris." Friday was actually considered quite lucky by pre-Christian Teutonic peoples, especially as a day to get married, because of its traditional association with love and fertility. When Christianity came along, the goddess of the sixth day, Freya - who had the cat as her sacred animal - was recast in folklore as a witch and her day became associated with evil doings. One legend has it that when 12 witches of the north were gathered in a cemetery observing their sabbath on a moonless night, Freya, came down from the mountaintops, appeared before the group and gave them one of her cats, after which the witches' covenV - and every proper coven since - comprised exactly thirteen women.

    The Unluckiest Day of All

        So there are numerous intriguing connections between events, practices and beliefs attributed to ancient cultures, both the superstitious fear of Fridays and the unlucky number 13, but there is no convincing explanation of how, why or when these separate strands17 of folklore converged18 to mark Friday the 13th as the unluckiest day of allVI.

        It seems that no one has been able to document the belief prior to the 19th century, so some scholars are convinced that the stigma19 is a modern phenomenon exacerbated20 by 20th century media hype.

        It seems probable to me that the extra misfortune attributed to Friday the 13th can be accounted for in terms of an accrual21, so to speak, of bad omens22:

        Unlucky Friday + Unlucky 13 = Unluckier Friday.

        So perhaps we should not call Friday the 13th "the unluckiest day of all", but should reserve that designation for, say, a Friday the 13th on which one breaks a mirror, walks under a ladder, spills the salt, and spies a black cat crossing one's path. On such a day, if there ever was one, you had best spend it in the safety of your home with the doors locked, shutters23 closed and fingers crossed!
    1 to crash – (зд.) являться без приглашения
    2 attendee – присутствующий
    3 spear – копье
    4 mistletoe – омела
    5 the Norse – скандинавы; норвежцы
    6 Last Supper – Тайная вечеря
    7 crucifixion – распятие
    8 reluctance – нерасположение
    9 fallacy – заблуждение
    10 drawback – помеха
    11 Tower of Babel – вавилонская башня
    12 penance – покаяние
    13 pagan – языческий
    14 to indulge in secular – предаваться мирским утехам
    15 heathen – язычник
    16 deity – божество
    17 strand – нить
    18 to converge – сходиться
    19 stigma – клеймо
    20 to exacerbate – усиливать
    21 accrual – возрастание
    22 omen – примета
    23 shutters – ставни

    I It is said that the mother of the British Queen would not allow thirteen people to sit with her at a meal. Others claim that Hindus also believe this to be unlucky.
    II There is no HMS Friday to be found in the naval archives, but why spoil a good story with facts?
    III Another superstition!
    IV Or Frigg. An alternative scientific name for the superstition is: friggatriskaidekaphobia.
    V A group of witches.
    VI It is interesting how these beliefs develop, persist and spread. An eminent Oxford University Professor, Dr Richard Dawkins, has suggested that pieces of information (‘memes’), such as these superstitious ideas, may evolve and ‘struggle’ for survival in a manner comparable with that of genes. I strongly recommend his books if you wish to learn more of this idea and of Darwinian evolution by natural selection in general.

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