Friday the 13th: The Fear That Will Not Die

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OK, we all know that the number 13 has at times been associated with bad news. Going way back to Norse mythology, for example, the 13th guest at a famous dinner-party gathering of the gods killed one of the other, much-beloved diners. There were 13 people at the Last Supper. And as for Friday, Jesus is widely believed to have been crucified on a Friday.

But does any of that explain why people are scared of Friday the 13th?

No, says Donald Dossey, a psychologist and author of the book Holiday Folklore, Phobias and Fun: Mythical Origins, Scientific Treatments and Superstitious 'Cures.'

Irrational as their fear may be, some people apparently are very scared of Friday the 13th, according to Dossey, who says 17 million to 21 million Americans have some form of fear of the date. "The symptoms range from mild anxiety to a nagging sense of doom," he says, adding that "some people will actually not get out of bed."

The fear is widespread enough that many buildings continue to skip the 13th floor, and airports often omit gate 13. And the fear is international: Italians don't put the number 13 in their nation's lottery. There's even a secret organization in France whose sole purpose is to get last-minute guests for dinner parties to make sure the host doesn't end up with 13 guests.

Dossey says he has had patients in his own practice who have claimed a debilitating fear of the date. He just tells them to get over it, but, he notes, "You've got to be careful trying to use logic, because logic does not work by the very nature of a phobia: A phobia is an illogical fear."

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