It’s here again – Friday the 13th. On this day millions of people around the world will suffer from friggatriskaidekaphobia, the fear of Friday the 13th.
But what exactly is this fear? Why is this day above all others believed to be fraught with peril and doom? Some historians believe it could actually be the combination of two superstitions – that Friday is an unlucky day and 13 is an unlucky number.
But again, why?
Friday has long been considered to be an unlucky day because it’s the day that Jesus was crucified. And/or it could also trace back to October 13, 1307 when King Philip IV of France arrested hundreds of the Knights Templar, a religious and military order formed in the 12th century and tasked with defending the Holy Land. He imprisoned them on charges of various illegal behaviors and many were later executed. The number 13 has been considered unlucky ever since biblical times when the 13th guest at the Last Supper betrayed Jesus.
On this feared Friday, superstitions abound. Believers try to curtail certain endeavors, such as starting out on a journey, getting married, moving to a new house or starting a new job. Then there are those “everyday” superstitions which, on this day, are considered magnified in bad luck, such as walking under a ladder, spilling salt or breaking a mirror.
Superstitions aren’t limited to inanimate objects. Perhaps more than any other animal, there are numerous superstitions about cats. Some have to do with weather, such as if a cat scratches behind its ear, it’s going to rain, if a cat runs around wildly, the wind is going to blow, or if a cat sits with his back to a fire, a storm or frost will occur. Others are a cat’s sneeze brings luck to all who hear it (Italian myth), if a cat washes its face in the parlor (like who has a parlor these days?), then company can be expected, or it’s bad luck to cross a stream carrying a cat (French superstition). That one’s not so hard to understand. And, there’s the Celtic belief that kittens born in May are badly behaved and troublesome, because in Celtic mythology the month of May was a time of ill-omen.
Black cats are specifically targeted superstition-wise. A black cat given as a wedding present in the English Midlands is thought to bring good luck to the bride, a strange black cat which shows up at your home signifies prosperity, a black cat in the audience means success for a play. Anyone finding a white hair on an all-black cat and plucking it out without being scratched will find great wealth and good luck in love, and stroking a black cat’s tail will cure a stye in your eye.
And then there’s the most common superstition having to do with black cats – if one crosses in front of someone it’s an omen of bad luck. Or is it? It depends on where you are. In Germany, a black cat crossing a person’s path from right to left is a bad omen, but from left to right it means good luck. It’s also considered a good omen if a black cat crosses a person’s path in the United Kingdom.
Why are black cats feared and revered? It’s not exactly clear, but some believe it can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians. They were the first to worship cats and anyone who dared kill a cat was punished. Fast forward to the Middle Ages, however, and then the black cat was linked to witches and Satan. Going further still, when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, they brought with them their faith in the Bible and were deeply suspicious of anything related to Satan. They viewed a black cat as a witch’s familiar and anyone caught with a black cat would be severely punished or killed. In Western history, black cats have often been considered evil, and specifically suspected of being a witch’s familiar or shape-shifting witch.
Quite frankly, black cats get a bum rap, be it Friday the 13th or not. They are discriminated against and are more likely to be abused than other cat breeds because they are believed to be bad and evil. Centuries of bad PR and misunderstandings have led to this belief that they are no good. It’s up to those of us who know the truth – that black cats are special and deserve to be loved – to spread the word.
By the way, there’s an Irish proverb that says “Beware of people who dislike cats.” Truer words were never spoken.
Mimi Bosarge has always wanted to be a writer. Writing is in her blood as her grandfather was the author of several non-fiction books and even won a Pulitzer Prize for his editorial writings on the civil rights movement in the 1960s. She’s written short stories, wining or placing in a few local contests. She was also a freelance newspaper correspondent for her local newspaper, The Mississippi Press, which ironically is the same newspaper (though the name had changed) of which her grandfather was editor-in-chief. She also wrote for a year and half for another local newspaper until it ceased publication. She also writes the monthly newsletter for her office.
Although she grew up in Texas and considers herself a Texan, it’s Mississippi that she currently calls home. She has a severe case of wanderlust and would jet off overseas or take a road trip with her daughter in a heartbeat. She has a passion for reading, cross-stitching and collecting recipes and has recently become slightly obsessed with freezer cooking and preparing make-ahead meals. When she’s not working she spends her time at her daughter’s soccer games (watching her fav player, #13), and can often be found scribbling notes for story ideas on the sidelines.
Mimi lives in Pascagoula, Mississippi with her teenage daughter Madeline and two black rescued cats. She works as a paralegal at a downtown law firm by day and writes at night. She is currently working on her novel for the Trouble the Black Cat Detective series.