DeFlip Side #81: Paraskavedekatriaphobia


Welcome Everyone. I’m Christopher DeFilippis, and this is DeFlip Side.

Okay, to you paraskavedekatriaphobes, hang in there. It’ll all be over in less than a half an hour. Just sit tight under your beds or in your closets or locked cellars or wherever you’ve chosen to ride out the storm and let the soothing sounds of Destinies bring you into a brand new day.

For those of you wondering what I’m talking about, paraskavedekatriaphobia is the needlessly complicated, decidedly radio-unfriendly word that doctors have coined to describe a persistent, abnormal, and unwarranted fear of Friday the 13th.

It might sound funny or trite, but this superstition has surprisingly deep roots, and persists throughout the United States and most of Europe. And the fear is apparently very real for some people, if the numbers are any indication; businesses lose close to a billion dollars every Friday the 13th because anxious and panicky people simply put their lives on hold and wait for the potential bad luck to pass—so says an article in National Geographic, which also claims that paraskavedekatriaphobia afflicts 17 to 21 million people in America alone.

So why are so many people so afraid of Friday the 13th? Well, as it turns out, the origins of the phobia are two-fold, the sum of two distinct fears: triskaidekaphobia, fear of the number thirteen, and some long-standing bad luck associations with Fridays. Once these superstitions collide, you’d best duck and cover until the metaphysical mushroom cloud blows over.

So why thirteen? Well, it’s partly guilt by association. Thirteen gets its bad rap largely due to the number 12, its insufferably perfect kid-brother. Twelve looms large in numerological circles, where it is considered a so-called “complete” number. I don’t know what it means either, but its influence is more wide-ranging than you’d think. How many months are in a year? There are a ton of religious connections, too. Israel had 12 tribes; Jesus 12 apostles; new-agers have 12 signs of the zodiac. There were 12 gods of Olympus who beset Hercules with 12 labors.

So thirteen’s biggest problem is that it’s not twelve. It steps over twelve’s complete little line and suddenly it’s no good, even evil. After all, witches used to dance naked in the woods in groups of 12, summoning their coven’s thirteenth member, Satan. And wasn’t Judas the thirteenth guest at the Last Supper? We all know what a snake he turned out to be. And Jesus wasn’t alone in the dinner-party-gone-bad department.

There’s also a Norse myth about 12 gods dining in Valhalla, when who should show up but the trickster god Loki? Before you can say check please, Loki has tricked Hoder, the blind god of darkness, into shooting and killing Balder the Beautiful, the god of light and joy; with a sprig of mistletoe no less. Balder’s death plunged the Earth into darkness, driving gods and humans into mourning. Yeah, Loki was kind of a jerk that way. No wonder why we still pretend that tall buildings don’t have thirteenth floors.

And troubles associated with the number 13 go beyond the mythical past reaching right into our high-tech present.

Houston, we’ve had a problem….mp3

Swigert: “Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here.”
Duke: “This is Houston. Say again please.”
Lovell: “Houston, we’ve had a problem. “

So went the understatement of the 20th Century voiced by Astronaut Jim Lovell, mission commander aboard the ill-fated Apollo 13. The “problem” that Lovell was referring to was the fact that an oxygen tank blew up while the spacecraft was en-route to the moon, putting the crew in grave danger. Not only that, but Apollo 13’s tank blew on the 13th of April—though it was a Monday, not a Friday.

But it was a Friday—in fact it was 22 years ago today, almost to this minute—that Stony Brook’s Science Fiction Forum caught on fire. At 11:48 p.m., on Friday, June 13th, 1986, while Destinies was airing just as you’re hearing it now, a fire swept through the Forum’s library, destroying all but 800 out of 8,000 books. Oh, the humanity!

So what gives Friday such a bad rap? Well, Friday was a lousy day for Bible stories. Jesus was crucified on a Friday. Eve tempted Adam on a Friday. Cain slew Abel—well, you get the idea. Suffice it to say there was pretty much no such thing as TGIF once we were cast out of the Garden.

But for most of us these days, it isn’t the jawbone of an ass or the mayhem of a trickster god that has kept Friday the 13th alive in our hearts the whole year ’round. That honor can only go to one man.

Chee-Chee-Chee... Ahh-Ahh-Ahh...

Yes, the hockey-mask-wearing, machete-wielding psychopath; the teen-slashing, fornicator-hacking, unstoppable personification of Friday the 13th himself, Mr. Jason Voorhees. From his initial cameo at the tail end of the first Friday the 13th film, Jason has become so synonymous with the day and date that I’m sure you were all wondering when he’d rear his mangled, misshapen head. Hey, he deserves his due.

As far as fictional mass murderers go, I love the guy. He’s my favorite horror movie hero, bar none—an oddly sympathetic character when you get down to it. I even urged my sister to name my nephew Jason when he was born on Friday the 13th. How much cooler could it get than that? Unfortunately, she didn’t see it that way, and named him Christopher instead. Well, you can’t win them all…

I guess I’ll just have to console myself with the happy news that Jason will soon be stalking clueless campers once again in a theater near you. New Line is re-imagining the Friday the 13th series, and the remake will hit theaters on Friday, February 13th of next year.

Though that may not be such a cause for celebration for you paraskavedekatriaphobes out there. But here’s something to make you feel better: if you can make it to the end of the show, without your library burning down, you’re out of the woods for the rest of the year. This is the only Friday the 13th in 2008. But don’t breathe too easily. There will be three of them in 2009.

So what can you do to ward off the bad juju? Well I found these folk-remedies on the Internet: You can stand on your head and eat a piece of gristle. Another sure-fire fix is to climb to the top of a mountain or skyscraper and burn all your socks that have holes in them.

And if those things seem a bit ridiculous, there’s always the tried and true DeFilippis Method where you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, stop acting like such a horse’s ass and get on with your life already! It’s just a silly day like any other. And even if you don’t buy that, face your fear head on. Remember, Jason always got the schmucks who were hiding under the bed and running scared. In the end, we make our own luck.

Hmm. An uplifting moral to the depraved slaughters of Jason Voorhees. Who says this isn’t a good day?