Considering the incalculable complexity of the universe, the sometimes cruel vagaries of nature, the capriciousness of circumstance, the sheer precariousness of existence, people have always thought it prudent to propitiate the powers that be. To invoke their protection and to seek the good fortune of their favor.
It is simply too dangerous to leave life to chance. To do so would be to invite disaster. Luck must never be taken for granted. One can never assume. It requires constant courtship, demands undivided devotion. Luck exacts unrelenting vigilance and expects a perpetual attempt to appease. Luck trucks no indolence.
The Latin proverb encourages, "Fortune favors the bold." In Sicily, it is bad luck to say, "Good luck." Theater people agree and say, "Break a leg" when they mean "Good luck" so as to trick fortune into smiling on them. "When fortune turns against you, even jelly breaks your teeth," goes an Iranian proverb; "When fortune calls, offer her a chair," counsels a Yiddish saying.
Survival seems to depend on the ability to placate fate. So it is incumbent upon one to search for and respond to the subliminal signs, subtle portents, secret signals, and subconscious symbols sent by divine authority. It is essential to observe, interpret, and obey all omens, oracles, and other holy hints. Like milestone markers along the miracle trail, these are clear indicators of the almighty attitude of the moment - fortunate indulgence or fatal aversion.
The one sure thing about luck is that it's always changing. Like life itself, the only certainty is uncertainty. Still, throughout time and across culture, folks have devised complete systems of encoded behavior to ensure that their deities are kept satisfied. Methods, tested, tried and true, which seem to succeed in soliciting divine fortune are considered to be lucky. These magical formulas for fortune are the basis of myth, ritual, tradition, taboo, sanction, and superstition.
Lest we think that the currying of beneficent favor is quaint custom practiced by foreigners somewhere in the third, fourth, or fifteenth world, just take a good look at us. We knock on wood, step over cracks, and around open ladders. We tie ribbons around trees, knots around our fingers, and strips of silk around our necks when we go off to work. We carry the feet of small rodents in our pockets, and nail the footwear of horses onto our houses and barns. We close our eyes, hold our breaths, bite our tongues, and spit at our feet. We cross our fingers, cross our hearts and hope to die.
We throw salt over our shoulders and pick the petals off of flowers reciting love charm incantations. We put coins in our shoes and under our pillows, throw them into fountains, and toss them into the air to tell us what to do, which way to turn. We shun certain days, foods, colors, activities, plants, and animals. We balk when a black cat crosses our path. We think twice about opening an umbrella indoors or lighting three cigarettes with one match. We are convinced that bad things always happen in threes. We are wary of some numbers, yet bet our lives on others.
We especially steer scrupulously clear of 13 anything.
Fear of the number 13 is the most prevalent superstition in the Western world. We even have a name for it: triskaidekaphobia. It is quite common for even the most ordinarily rational and otherwise exemplary person to refuse to sit in row 13 in the theater or on an airplane. Most hotels and office buildings don't even have a 13th floor. That unlucky designation is often omitted because no one wants to be situated in such an inauspicious location.
To sit 13 people at the dining table is supposed to be exceptionally unlucky, the consequences of which could be potentially catastrophic. It is commonly thought that this particular prohibition in Christian culture comes from the fateful, fatal outcome of the Last Supper: Jesus shared a meal with his 12 disciples and he died the very next day. Judas is generally considered to be the 13th diner. In Norse mythology, the mischievous and cruel Loki crashed a feast attended by 12 gods in Valhalla, the Viking paradise. During the course of the evening, one of the guests, Balder, the embodiment of conviviality, joy and gladness, was killed.
In Babylonia, 13 people were chosen to portray the god/desses at certain religious feasts. The 13th participant, seated on a throne to one side was executed subsequent to the ceremony. Interestingly, the 13th seat at the Round Table in King Arthur's court, was reserved for the fortunate knight who would one day succeed in finding the Holy Grail. In France, it is still possible, even at a moment's notice, to hire a quatorziéme, a professional 14th guest, to ensure the safety and well-being of a dinner party which has been threatened by a dangerous number of cancellations or odd numbers of last minute guests.
When the 13th day on the month lands on a Friday, the culturally unfavorable attributes of each are multiplied by infinity. Friday is heavily charged with guilt and pain and death in the Judeo- Christian tradition. It was on a Friday that Eve served forbidden fruit pie at her legendary garden soiree. Friday was the day that Adam was expelled from Paradise, the day he repented, the day he died and the day he was cremated. And it was on a Friday - Good Friday - that Christ was killed on the cross. Friday, the day of original sin, the day Jesus died, the day of public hangings, in combination with 13, the number of steps on a gallows, the number of coils of rope in a hangman's noose, the number of the Death card in the tarot deck, is indubitably designated as a day of portent and doom.
Ironically, and in definite defiance of the laws of probability, the 13th day of the month, is more likely to fall on a Friday than on any other day of the week. The precisely aligned pattern of our calendar - days, weeks and months - repeats itself exactly every 400 years. In that 400 year period there are 688 Friday the 13ths. "Just our luck!" some might say.
And, though they would mean it facetiously, they would, indeed, be right. For up until the patriarchal revolution, both Fridays and 13s were held in the very highest esteem. Both the day and the number were associated with the Great Goddesses, and therefore, regarded as the sacred essence of luck and good fortune.
Thirteen is certainly the most essentially female number - the average number of menstrual cycles in a year. The approximate number, too of annual cycles of the moon. When Chinese women make offerings of moon cakes, there are sure to be 13 on the platter. Thirteen is the number of blood, fertility and lunar potency. 13 is the lucky number of the Great Goddess.
Representing as it does, the number of revolutions the moon makes around the earth in a year, 13 was the number of regeneration for pre-Columbian Mexicans. In ancient Israel, 13 was a sanctified number. Thirteen items were decreed necessary for the tabernacle. At 13 years of age, a boy was (and still is) initiated into the adult Jewish community. In Wicca, the pagan Goddess tradition of Old Europe, communicants convene in covens of 13 participants. Thirteen was also auspicious for the Egyptians, who believed that life has 13 stages, the last of which is death - the transition to eternal life.
Held holy in Her honor, Friday was observed as the day of Her special celebrations. Jews around the world still begin the observance of the Sabbath at sunset on Friday evenings when they invite in the Sabbath Bride. Friday is the Sabbath in the Islamic world. Friday is also sacred to Oshun, the Yoruba orisha of opulent sensuality and overwhelming femininity, and Frig the Norse Goddess of love and sex, of fertility and creativity. Her name became the Anglo-Saxon noun for love, and in the sixteenth century, frig came to mean "to copulate."
Friday was associated with the early Mother Creation Goddesses for whom that day was named. In Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian, Icelandic and Teutonic cultures she was called variously, Freya, Freia, Freyja, Fir, Frea and Frig. Friday is Frig's Day, Frigedaeg, in Old English, Fredag in Danish, Freitag in Dutch. In Mediterranean lands, She reigned as Venus. In Latin, Friday is the Day of Venus, Dies Veneris; Vendredi in French,Venerdi in Italian and Viernes in Spanish.
Friday the 13th is ultimately the celebration of the lives and loves of Lady Luck. On this, Her doubly-dedicated day, let us consider what fortuitous coincidences constitute our fate. The lucky blend of just the right conditions, chemistries, elements and energies, which comprise our universe. The way it all works. The way we are. That we are at all. That, despite whatever major or minor matters we might think are unlucky, we have somehow managed to remain alive and aware. This Friday the 13th, let us stand in full consciousness of the miraculousness of existence and count our blessings. Knock on wood.
With blessings of great good luck!