Friday the 13th: The Fear That Will Not Die The superstition goes way back. And no matter how irrational, it just won't go away, says one psychologist and author of a book about holidays.

Friday the 13th: The Fear That Will Not Die

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One in seven, it doesn't seem extraordinarily rare, does it? No one makes a big deal when something happens 14 percent of the time. That's one-seventh of the time. Like, one in seven Americans polled say they do not believe in Heaven. OK. According to a recent Gallup poll, one in seven people say that, in general, they are satisfied with the way things are going in this country at this time. One in seven New York Christmases are white Christmases. And yet, when it comes to today's date...

(Soundbite of TV show "Friday the 13th")

PESCA: The particular date of the month, falling on this particular day of the week, well, some people are freaked out, because it is Friday the 13th.

Unidentified Man: Friday the 13th.

(Soundbite of song "Friday the 13th: The Series Opening Titles")

PESCA: Donald Dossey is a phobia and disaster expert. Sounds like a great job to me. He's the author of "Holiday Folklore, Phobias and Fun: Mythical Origins, Scientific Treatments," and he's also the founder of the Stress Management Center-slash-Phobia Institute of Southern California and Asheville, North Carolina. Hello, Dr. Dossey.

Dr. DONALD DOSSEY (Author, "Holiday Folklore, Phobias, and Fun: Mythical Origins, Scientific Treatments, and Superstitious Cures "): Yes, Mike, how are you today?

PESCA: I am well. I understand you have coined the word for fear of Friday the 13th. What is that word?

Dr. DOSSEY: Well, I did some research and coined the word paraskavedekatriaphobia.

PESCA: Pariskavy (ph) - what's the derivation of those parts of the word?

Dr. DOSSEY: I tell my patients, when you learn how to pronounce it, you're cured.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: How'd you come up with that?

Dr. DOSSEY: Well, I called the Greek consulate actually, called them up and say, how do you say Friday the 13th? And they told me, paraskavedeka. And I said, well, thank you very much. And now it's found in a lot of the medical journals.

PESCA: How'd you first get into researching Friday the 13th?

Dr. DOSSEY: I had some patients at that time who were afraid of Friday the 13th, and so I thought doing some research in the origins, you know, why Friday, why the number 13, that would help my patients.

PESCA: Well, what did you find about the origins?

Dr. DOSSEY: What I did find is that I became obsessed. Friday historically has been an unlucky day. Most scholars erroneously say that Friday, because Christ is reported as being crucified on a Friday. But it goes back to witches in Greek and Roman times. The witches gathered on a Friday, and in Norse mythology, the great god of joy and gladness was killed, the son of Frigga, and Frigga is from which we get our day, Friday...

PESCA: Uh-huh.

Dr. DOSSEY: She was so incensed and so mad. You know, you don't go around killing somebody's son.

PESCA: Right. And 13 was always kind of unlucky. I mean, the acclamation I knew is it's fear of the unknown. Once you count all the fingers on your hands, and then you count your two feet, 13 is beyond that. But is there another reason why we fear 13?

Dr. DOSSEY: That's right. So that - they speculated that early man looked down, you know, did that and didn't know what was next. Goes again back 2,000, 3,000 years ago to Norse mythology, the same god, Baldr, that got killed, he was having a dinner party with 12 of the other gods up in Valhalla, when the 13th uninvited guest came in and had him killed with the tip of a mistletoe. And that's when the whole Earth got dark and the whole Earth mourned.

PESCA: And 3,000 years later. How many people actually have a fear, versus just kind of know it's this funny cultural touchstone?

Dr. DOSSEY: You know, Mike, it's truly interesting, but it's been estimated now probably between 17, 21 million Americans have some form of paraskavedekatriaphobia. The symptoms range from mild anxiety to a nagging sense of doom. And still some people today will not get out of bed.

PESCA: Do you think that people who erect buildings play into this fear by not including a 13th floor.

Dr. DOSSEY: Absolutely, and some airlines I have found, one in California, did not have a gate number 13.

PESCA: So they should do it. In your opinion, they should say, this is 3,000 years old, and we're making some people not get out of bed, and possibly missing their connections. We should put 13 on our floors and on our gates.

Dr. DOSSEY: Well, I personally believe that, but I don't think that's going to happen.

PESCA: Yeah.

Dr. DOSSEY: This is so ingrained in the zeitgeist, so ingrained in the collective unconscious that this - the number 13, and Friday the 13th, specifically, is going to be around for a long time.

PESCA: Well, if that many people, which is, you know, maybe eight percent of the population, have some sort of fear, perhaps there's someone listening to our voices right now, who has a fear of Friday the 13th, give them a little over the phone cut-rate psychiatry, if you would. What would you tell them?

Dr. DOSSEY: I'd tell them this. Number one, there are no fewer than one and no more than three Friday the 13ths in any one year.

PESCA: Uh-huh.

Dr. DOSSEY: So if it's just the day that bothers them, and it doesn't get in the way of their lives, it doesn't bother them in their employment or their relationships, then I say chill out, you know, tomorrow's the 14th, and it's a Saturday. But if somebody has a severe fear, just like of any kind of fear, I would have them to recognize that they're looking in the wrong direction, Mike, rather than focusing on something that's more exciting, in what - like their goals.

PESCA: Or you could maybe just convince them that it's a - say you could picture yourself living in Perth, Australia, because it's already a day ahead. It's not even Friday the 13th there.

Dr. DOSSEY: Very good, that's right. Though, you've got to be careful trying to use logic, because logic does not work, by the very nature of a phobia. Phobia is an illogical fear. But having them look at a calendar, and thinking about Australia, that's a very good point. In fact I might rip you off and have - write that down.

PESCA: You got it. Well, we've ripped off your - we ripped of your expertise in this interview, so it's quid pro quo. Thanks a lot.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: Behavioral scientist Donald Dossey is the founder of the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute of Southern California and in Asheville, North Carolina. He lectures about posttraumatic stress disorder. Thank you, Dr. Dossey.

Dr. DOSSEY: Thank you, Mike.

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