Bad Luck, Black Cats and Broken Mirrors

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Friday the 13th

It’s Friday the 13th. And I think that as long as you aren’t gallivanting near an abandoned summer camp located on Crystal Lake, you’ll be safe. Seriously, though, this day has gotten a bad reputation for being unlucky. And I’d like to take a little time to explore the reason why and also to discuss superstitions.

Friday the 13th hasn’t always been unlucky. There wasn’t evidence of the day’s significance until the 19th century when the first mention of it’s portends were written down in a biography of Italian composer, Gioachino Rossini. It is mentioned that Gioachino considered Friday an unlucky day and it was Friday the 13th of November that he passed away.

Origins

Twelve seems to be the perfect number and in numerology, it is considered the number of “divine organizational arrangement” or “chronological completeness”. Our year is broken down in 12 months, our day is counted in 24 which is divided into halves, the clock has 12 numbers on its face, and  there are 12 signs of the zodiac. Throughout history there were important groups of 12: Apostles of Jesus, tribes of Israel, Olympian gods, and successors of Muhammad (in the Shia Islam). 13 is a prime number, an odd number and considered to be the number that messes up all the good mojo of 12. One superstition, coming either from Norse mythology or the Last Supper, states that if thirteen people are seated at a table having dinner, one is going to die.

I think most people would agree that Friday is the day of the week to look forward to, the last day of the workweek so it might be a little surprising to learn (it was for me) that Friday has been thought to be unlucky since the 14th century, and considered the worst day to begin new ventures or journeys. However, Fridays are holy days in several religions.

Friday the 13th Facts and Trivia

Phobia

Are you afraid of Friday the 13th? You wouldn’t be alone. It’s estimated that somewhere between 17 and 21 million people have a fear of this day. The fear of Friday the 13th is called friggatriskadaidekaphobia or paraskevidekatriaphobia. The first is taken from the Norse goddess Frigga, who gave Friday its name, and combined with the phobia of the number 13 (triskadaidekaphobia) and the second is a combination paraskevi (Greek for Friday), dekatreis (13) and phobia (fear).

Friday the 13th is actually one of the safest days of the year for the people of the Netherlands, according to the Dutch Centre of Insurance Statistics, there have been fewer reports of accidents and fires on that day because people are extra careful, and vigilant.

Black Cats

We often hear that it’s bad luck to cross paths with black cats.

How could I not want to cross this kitty’s path? She’s too cute.

But in Great Britain and Japan, black cats are considered lucky and in Scotland the sudden appearance of a black cat is an omen of prosperity. Cait Sith (a faery of Celtic mythology) is said to often take the guise of a black cat.

However, with the fear of magic and witchcraft, black cats began to be associated with the unholy acts and dark arts of witches and evil. They were a witch’s choice of companions and familiars, acting as spies since they could transform into human shape. So the black cat got a bad reputation for being omens of misfortune and death. During the Middle Ages, the fear and superstition caused the massacre of black cats which lowered the feline population and in turn allowed the rat population to surge, spreading the Black Plague. The superstitions were transported here to the US by the Pilgrims, they believed that the creature was a combination of demon and sorcery and were associated with the Devil.  Anyone who owned a black cat was severely punished or put to death.

But the black cat received a mixed view from sailors. If there was a need for a ship’s cat, the black cat was the first to be considered for they brought good luck. And often a fisherman’s wife would keep a black cat, believing that the creature would somehow keep their husbands safe. 18th century pirates thought that if a black cat walked toward someone it would bring bad luck but if the cat walked away, it was a sign of good luck. Also if a black cat walked aboard a ship and walked off, it was an omen of doom. The ship would sink.

Interestingly, it is considered bad luck in Germany if a bad cat crosses your path from right to left but if the creature goes from the left to the right it is an indicator of good luck coming. Also, for most gamblers black cats are portends of ill fortune. If one crosses a gambler’s path, it is considered bad luck to go to the casino.

Black cats, or any animal black in color, have lower adoption rates than those of any other color.

Ladders

And it’s bad luck to walk under a ladder.

A ladder opens up and creates a triangle, two sides and the ground. Even when leaning against a wall, it still creates a triangle. The belief of crossing under a ladder actually comes from early Christian teachings. Anything with three points represents the Holy Trinity and therefore anyone who walks through those three points are unbelievers and are in league with the Devil, making that person a witch. Over time, this reason was forgotten (at least by everyone that I know) but the fear and the superstition remained.

Broken Mirrors

This was probably due to the belief that a person’s reflection was actually their soul. Anything that messed with the reflection was bad because it could damage the soul or trap it in a Looking Glass world. But it was the Romans that gave the curse a duration, believing that life renewed itself every seven years, thus shedding the bad luck with the rejuvenation.

However, the belief morphed. Mirrors were costly items, and had to be handled with care. The warning that a breaking a mirror would cause seven years of bad luck ensured that accidents caused by careless handling would not happen.

There are remedies to counteract the curse. If a person was misfortunate enough to break a mirror they could take the pieces and bury them in the moonlight, throw them into running water, pulverize them until they could never reflect anything ever again, or you could simply leave them be for seven hours and then pick them up immediately afterward. Then again, you could light seven white candles and then blow them all out in a single breath at the stroke of midnight. If you feel adventurous, you could touch a piece of the broken mirror on a tombstone. The easiest ways to break the seven year curse are to throw salt over your shoulder (an often used remedy of evil and bad luck, make a sign of the cross with a five dollar bill, or  spin three times in a counter-clockwise direction (this is thought to confuse the evil spirits enough to break the curse since it is bad luck to spin around in a counter-clockwise direction). And yet more remedies suggest burning the edges of the pieces and burying them a year later, shortening the length of the curse.

The Thirteenth Floor

There are buildings that omit the number 13, or that’s what I’ve heard. I’ve never been in a building that has anything higher than a fourth of fifth floor. As I mentioned before, the number 13 is supposed to bad juju and it is for that reason that the 13th floor is often renamed. It becomes 12a/12b, 14a/14b, simply 14, M (the 13th letter of the Latin alphabet) or in some cases given a name like the Radisson in Winnepeg which has named its 13th floor the Pool floor. Sometimes that floor is left uninhabited, used for some purpose such as maintenance. However the empty floor has spawned speculation, especially in government buildings where it is thought the 13th floor is home to top-secret material or used for secret meetings.

It’s interesting that some buildings also omit 13 from room numbers.

Some of you may know the Stephen King short story “1408” which was made into a movie starring John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson. If you haven’t it is about a hotel room (and that is all I am going to say about that since it’s a favorite of mine and I recommend it seeing it or reading the story if you haven’t and you like Mr. King’s work). The numbers 1 4 0 8 add up to 13.

 

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7 responses »

  1. Great post! It often astounds me how people can be so superstitious in this day and age. I did work in a building with no floor numbered 13 and I have to admit I got a kick out of it. Well, I always wondered how this Friday the 13th thing came about!

  2. This is a great post, Melissa! I wasn’t aware of the origin of many of these superstitions. It’s nice to know that some people, such as sailors, were smart enough not to persecute black cats and recognized cats in general as beneficial. One superstition that has always puzzled me was the admonition that a person should never open an umbrella indoors. Do you happen to know how this superstition came about?

    • Thanks, Miranda! I was unaware too about the origins of the superstitions too which led to some fascinating and fun research. No, I don’t know how it became a taboo to open an umbrella indoors but that might make a really great future post, thanks! 😀

  3. Pingback: Friday The 13th Children Defecate On Tombstones. | Ramani's blog

  4. Well done, Melissa! A complete and solid post on superstition I can use as reference!

    Being Italian, the number 13 is actually good luck to us. And like you said, it is the safest day in the Netherlands. I can believe that considering people’s aversion to accidents. Maybe one day we won’t have to worry about bad luck. But what fun would that be? Black cats and Halloween belong together like coffee and donuts!

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