Do you have “paraskevidekatriaphobia?”

Do you have “paraskevidekatriaphobia?” 

Are you feeling a bit … well, uneasy today?  Are you going about certain “lucky” rituals in order to avoid “bad luck.”  Then you have “paraskevidekatriaphobia.”   That is the term for fear of “Friday the 13th.”  It is related to “triskaidekaphobia,” or fear of the number 13.

One of the explanations for the fear of the number “13” in general, and Friday the 13th in particular, has to do with Jesus having 13 disciples.  One tradition even holds that Judas, who betrayed Jesus, sat at the 13th position at the table of the Last Supper.  And then, of course, Jesus was crucified on a Friday.

There have been some recorded incidents in history that have contributed to the superstition surrounding the number 13 and Friday the 13th.  For example, it was Friday, October 13, when the Knights Templar were arrested “en mass” under order of Phillip IV of France.  A short time later, almost all of the Knights were executed.

Another such instance includes the mishaps onboard Apollo 13. Hours into the trip to the moon, an oxygen tank exploded, and the lunar landing had to be aborted.  The mission then had to focus on getting the three astronauts safely back earth.

 There are other examples, but most all of them can be attributed to chance.  After all, throughout history the overwhelming majority of true tragedies were not in any way related to the number 13.

Not everyone buys into the superstition, though.  Nick Ley in an article entitled “If you bought this, you've already had bad luck” (Weekend Australian, 8–9 January 2005) reports the following:

“In 1881 an influential group of New Yorkers led by US Civil War veteran Captain William Fowler came together to put an end to this [the fear of 13] and other superstitions.  They formed a dinner cabaret club, which they called the Thirteen Club.  At the first meeting, on Friday, January 13, 1881, at 8:13 p.m., thirteen people sat down to dine in Room 13 of the venue … Their activities were regularly reported in leading newspapers, and their numbers included five future US presidents, from Chester A. Arthur to Theodore Roosevelt.”

The Judeo-Christian tradition, in fact, does not hold that the number 13 as bad or unlucky.  Indeed in some instances, this tradition embraces 13 as a good thing.

For example, in Exodus 34: 6-7, Moses records 13 attributes of God, and those 13 attributes have been the subject of many sermons about God.  Also, the New Testament does not record in what order the disciples of Jesus sat at the Last Supper.  In fact, when Judas died, the disciples elected someone to take his place.

So, why is it that people persist on believing that the number 13 and Friday the 13th are unlucky?  I believe it is because we human beings have an innate need to believe in something higher than ourselves.  We need to believe that someone, or something, is at work in the universe and in our lives.

As St. Augustine put it, humans have has a “God shaped” vacuum inside.  And, of course, nature abhors a vacuum.  When a vacuum occurs, something must rush in to fill it. 

If we do not have God at the center of our lives, then something will take God’s place.  It may be an addiction, it may be the belief that the universe is governed by mere random forces, or it may be something like paraskevidekatriaphobia.

 (The Rev. Al Henager is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Heber Springs, Arkansas.  He can be contacted at