Freaky phobia

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Superstition comes to the forefront on Friday the 13th

By Greg Summers

If you feel like pulling the covers back up or staying home today, don’t worry.


You aren’t alone. Friday the 13th has a way of doing that. 

According to research, as many as 25 percent of the population believe Friday the 13th is a day of calamity.

The fear of Friday the 13th is known as paraskevidekatriphobia (“para-ska-vee-decka-tri-phobia”), which stems from the Greek words for fear, Friday and 13. Friday the 13th happens three times in 2012 – today, April 13 and July 13.

In a 2000 Gallup Poll, 27 percent of Americans admitted to being superstitious in some fashion, with 9 percent of Americans admitting to being superstitious about the number 13.  

“Some people won’t get out of bed today,” said Dr. Donald Dossey in a 2008 interview on NPR. 

A psychotherapist and founder of the Stress Management and Phobia Institute in Asheville, N.C., Dossey is author of “Holiday Folklore, Phobias and Fun: Mythical Origins, Scientific Treatments and Superstitious ‘Cures.’”

Dossey said some refuse to fly, shop or keep scheduled appointments on Friday the 13th.

“I did have clients who wouldn’t get any kind of chemical treatments done on the 13th because they were scared their hair would fall out,” said Jan Williamson, cosmetology instructor at Lancaster High School Career Center.

“I didn’t have anybody who wouldn’t get their hair done on Friday the 13th, but they would limit services,” said Williamson, a former business owner. 

But it’s not just Friday the 13th. When it comes to hair, Williamson said superstition cuts a lot of ways. 

“Others don’t want someone who’s pregnant to cut their hair,” she said.

Dr. Wendell Goins of Mid-Carolina Surgery can’t recall anyone ever postponing surgery scheduled for Friday the 13th. 

“In our line of work, it’s possible there may be some patients who don’t come to the office on Friday the 13th,” Goins said. “When I was in emergency medicine, we used to keep an eye on full moons, but in my 30 years as a surgeon, I can’t ever recall anyone rescheduling surgery on that day.”

A day of dread      

Theories abound as to why Friday the 13th is feared. 

Dossey said tracking the origin of any superstition is guesswork. 

He said no one is quite sure how Friday and 13 converged to mark it as the unluckiest day of all.

Dossey started researching it to help patients get past paraskevidekatriphobia.

“When you learn to pronounce it, you’re cured,” he said. 

Dossey said according to Norse mythology, Balder, the god of joy and goodness (and son of the goddess Frigga), was killed by the 13th guest at a banquet in Valhalla. 

The culprit – Loki (the “Evil One”) – had not been invited, crashed the party and killed Balder with a spear of mistletoe. Friday, Dossey said, is derived from the Anglo Saxon word for Frigga. 

Others trace it to Scripture with Judas Iscariot being the 13th guest at the Last Supper and Jesus Christ’s crucifixion happening on Friday.

It’s also been attributed to the Friday, Oct. 13, 1307, well-coordinated mass arrests of the Knights Templar by King Philip IV of France in a power play against the Catholic Church.

An unlucky day?  

The one thing that is clear is just for some, the fear of Friday the 13th and the number 13 just won’t go away.

Dossey estimated that 17 to 21 million Americans suffer from a real fear of the number 13.  

But is it an unlucky day?

There may be a little credence to that, if you buy into research published by the British Medical Journal in 1993. 

The study – “Is Friday the 13th bad for your health?” – showed an increase of traffic accidents on that day, when compared to the sixth day of the month. 

The study looked at the number of vehicles on the road, the number of shoppers and the number of hospital admissions.   

While the number of shoppers was unchanged, there was a decline in the number of vehicles on the road. 

However, the study showed an increase in hospital admissions as a result of traffic accidents.

“Interesting,” Goins said. “I didn’t know that.”

An unlucky number?

It’s quite possible some of those hospital patients didn’t get admitted to Room 13. That’s because some hospitals don’t have that room number on their floors. 

Springs Memorial Hospital spokeswoman Ashley Shannon said that’s not the case here.

“We don’t have any low-number rooms, but on each of our patient floors, we have a ‘13’ room, so to say,” Shannon said. “In other words, we have a Room 413, 513, 613, 713 and 813. I guess the builders of our facility were not superstitious.” 

Dossey knows of cases where some hotels don’t have a 13th floor. He knows of an airline that doesn’t have a Gate 13 at one California airport.

The fear even carries over into sports. 

A quick survey of the county’s four high schools showed that two football teams use the number and two do not.

Lancaster High and Andrew Jackson High have No. 13 jerseys, while Buford and Indian Land do not.

Indian Land’s Mike Mayer admits to shying away from the number. 

“I guess you could say that,” said Mayer, IL’s head footbal coach. “We don’t own a No. 13 football jersey. We also don’t pack equipment until the final horn has blown or allow players to take off shoulder pads before the end of the game unless they are injured.”

Mayer isn’t alone. 

President Franklin D. Roosevelt wasn’t a fan of the number, either. FDR refused to travel on the 13th day of any month and would never host 13 guests at a meal. 

Napoleon and President Herbert Hoover were also triskaidekaphobic, and suffered from an abnormal fear of the number 13.

But is it really an unlucky day and number? Who knows? 

Young attorney Francis Scott Key wrote the “Star Spangled Banner” on Sept. 13, 1816, which was a Friday. 

It was the same case for baseball great Pete Rose, who recorded his 4,000th career hit on Friday, April 13, 1984.    

However, one who isn’t wary of the number is Lancaster High School junior soccer player Jaden Driggers. 

“I’ve always worn it or have worn it a lot,” the 16-year-old midfielder said. “It’s been my favorite for a long time. My birthday in on Jan. 26 and 13 plus 13 equals 26.”

When teammates or friends ask about it, Jaden said he takes it all in stride.

“They want to know why I  wear a number no one else wants,” he said. “I tell them, that’s why. I just wanted a number nobody else wears much.”