Beware, it’s Friday the 13th | TahoeDailyTribune.com
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Beware, it’s Friday the 13th

Lisa Marsh

Watch out for ladders today, black cats and be especially careful with mirrors. Friday the 13th is upon us.

“It seems to be my lucky day, I like Friday the 13th,” said Mark Crowe, owner of the Crowe’s Nest, a local magic and novelty shop.

Although few may feel trepidation, the 13th is still recognized as somewhat of a holiday for superstition. These symbols for good or bad omens are part of a world mythology, originating so long ago that the reasons are sometimes obscure.



Thirteen knots

The bad rap for the number 13 has been around since Roman times. It is said that there are 13 knots in a hangman’s noose, 13 steps up to the gallows and 13 feet that the guillotine blade falls. Judas is believed to be the 13th apostle and there were 13 in attendance at the Last Supper.



Of course, during medieval times everyone knew there were 13 witches in a coven, and they usually gathered on Fridays.

“We do have a 13th floor, and a lot of people request it,” John Packer, spokesperson for Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, said. “A lot of people consider 13 a lucky number, they think they’re defying the odds and having fun with it.”

Friday is named after the Norse goddess Freya, who was a powerful goddess of love and war. Her strength may have been a bane to growing patriarchal rule, so her day was named unholy.

From ancient Rome through the Middle Ages, Friday was the day for executions. Jesus is believed to have died on Friday and Judgment Day will fall on a Friday in Christian belief.

Mixed with the folklore of 13, the unlucky combination developed into a day of dread. The Middle Ages also fostered more superstitions that we still follow today.

Ladders and Black Cats

The infamous ladder was propped against the gallows, and walking under it has long been a source for bad luck. After the executed had been dead for a while, the body was handed down under the ladder. For one of the living to follow the path of the dead tempts fate. There were two ways to avert the consequences. You could cross your fingers and keep them crossed until you see a dog, or spit three times through the rungs. No doubt this was to avert evil spirits.

Cats have always been associated with magic and fortune. In the Middle Ages, they were seen as witches’ familiars, carrying out spells for their masters. If a black cat is walking toward you, it is bringing good fortune. But if it walks away, it takes your fortune with it.

“I’m going to buy a bunch of stuffed black cats and throw them in front of everyone,” Crowe said. “Then I’ll tell them, ‘oops, you’re out of luck now.'”

The mirror superstition is one of the oldest and originated with the thought that a reflection was another aspect of the self. If we damage the mirror, we somehow damage our souls also. Seven years was typically believed to be how long it took for the body to regenerate.

There are two ways to avert the curse after breaking a mirror. Wash the pieces in a south-flowing river, or bury them in the ground to neutralize the bad luck. Whatever you do, remove it from the house and don’t look into the broken pieces.

Around the turn of the century, mirrors were covered during thunderstorms because they were thought to attract lightning. They were covered at night in the bedrooms so that the soul would not become trapped inside. (It is important that the soul stay in bed with you.) In homes of the recently deceased, the mirrors must remain covered or the soul of the departed may decide to take the soul of one of the living along for company. Taking a vacation to the underworld may not be a good way to spend a day.

“I’ve probably got about 70,000 years bad luck by now,” said Ray Escovedo, owner of Lake Tahoe Glass. “When I break a mirror, I say an extra prayer at night, sleep with one eye open, cinch down my seat belt, am nicer to my wife and children and send someone else on the next mirror job.”

Today may not be a day of ill fortune, but for some it may garner more caution than usual. According to Annette Davis of South Lake Tahoe Florist and Nursery, a delivery driver there has some strong apprehensions when faced with the number 13 on this day. Last month’s Friday the 13th gave him a good scare.

“The invoice ended in 13, the phone number ended in 13, the house number was 13-something and he freaked,” she said. “He didn’t want to do it.”

For the Triskadekaphobic (one with fear of the number 13), today may be a good day to stay in bed. For the person who scoffs at superstition, the day may go off without a hitch. But for safety’s sake, why not carry a pinch of salt in your pocket?

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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