Watch out for the year's unluckiest day

South Africans are not scared of this year’s unluckiest day, Friday May 13.

But if you, along with more than 20-million Americans, suffer from paraskevidekatriaphobia (fear of Friday the 13th), then perhaps you should be extra careful.

South Africans do not fear this unlucky day, said Professor David Coplan, head of the social anthropology department at the University of the Witwatersrand, because most believe that bad luck or “curses” can only be brought about by another person, a witch or an ancestor.

“The superstition of Friday the 13th is imported from the West and not very important,” said Coplan, who has been studying cultures for 30 years. “It may be amusing, but not scary.”

Professors from the universities of Pretoria and Stellenbosch agreed, saying the modern man tries to portray an image of not being superstitious, as it is considered old-fashioned.

Out on the streets, people are fearless against the evil of this week’s Friday the 13th, which is the only one to occur this year.

Connie Rogers said the day does not faze her and despite once having a car accident on the date, she generally has a “particularly good day”.

“I will be going along with the general flow of things,” she said.

Vivian Maselela and Mike Short both know of Friday the 13th but said they are not superstitious. Jay Harkison said he has never heard of any superstitions around the date.

Unclear origin

The origin of paraskevidekatriaphobia, a term coined by United States psychotherapist Donald Dossey, is unclear.

Some believe it originated out of early Christianity, with Christ being crucified on a Friday and 13 guests attending the Last Supper.

Others believe the superstition was created by primitive people.
Once they reached 12, exhausting their fingers and both feet, they considered anything higher to be an evil taboo.

Less popular theories are that the date was the work of witches or an evil plot by men in early civilisation to abolish the number as it was “feminine”.

In 1993, a study in the British Medical Journal concluded that the “risk of a transport accident on Friday the 13th may be increased by as much as 52% and that staying at home was recommended”.

But hospitals across South Africa said they have not experienced higher volumes and have had no cancellations of surgeries for Friday.

A spokesperson for Milpark hospital in Johannesburg, Trudie Naicker, said it is business as usual. Incidentally, she was born on a Friday the 13th.

Sunninghill hospital, also in Johannesburg, and Panarama hospital in Cape Town also reported no unusual activity.

Johannesburg metro police spokesperson Chief Superintendent Wayne Minnaar and emergency services spokesperson Malcolm Midgley said their staff will not be curled up in bed on Friday, but will be ready for action.

No newlyweds

On the contrary, wedding coordinators may as well stay at home, as there are no couples brave enough to tie the knot on a Friday the 13th.

More than a dozen organisers said they have never had a wedding on that date.

Superstition has it that if you wed on the unlucky day, you will have a life of fighting like “cat and dog”.

Sharon Pandy, wedding coordinator for the Westcliff hotel, said in her 20 years she has never come across a wedding on the day.

Susan Loubser, who has 10 years of coordinating experience, said that in 2002 she had a couple who almost married on Friday the 13th, but chickened out and moved the wedding to the next day.

In 1913, New York pastor Charles Reynolds even offered to marry couples for free, if they dared to challenge the superstitions.

The curses that surround Friday the 13th range from sailors and fishermen being wary of going out to sea to beliefs that hearing any piece of news on the day would add a wrinkle to your face.

An extreme superstitions is that if you have 13 people who sit down to a meal together, all will die within a year.

Strangely, some of the biggest monsters in history have had exactly 13 letters in their names, such as Jack the Ripper, Jeffrey Dahmer, Theodore Bundy and Charles Manson, an online News24 article pointed out.

Throughout history, May 13 has seen Pope John Paul II shot and seriously wounded in Rome in 1981; United States vice-president Richard Nixon attacked in Latin America in 1958; and Winston Churchill promising Parliament “to wage war, by sea, land and air with all our might and strength that God can give” in 1940.

But before you start preparing for Armageddon, Dossey also believes that if you learn to pronounce the word “paraskevidekatriaphobia”, you’ll be instantly cured of your phobia.—Sapa