12 February 2015

Should I Play The Lottery On Friday 13th?

Friday the 13th - Not As Unlucky As You Might Think

It’s Friday the 13th, a date synonymous with bad luck and misfortune. Try as we might to shrug it off, it’s exactly the type of superstition that’s so deeply ingrained in us from childhood, I imagine that even Richard Dawkins would sooner walk around, than under, a ladder on this portentous date.

Friday the 13th - Not As Unlucky As You Might Think

Now we all “know” that Friday the 13th is unlucky, that is to say we know that it’s meant to be. But none of us truly know where the superstition came from. Like many such beliefs there’s no one source we can point to as its origin and instead it seems to be the product of many different beliefs and superstitions dating back to pagan antiquity that travelled, evolved and coalesced over centuries into the superstition we have today.

As pattern-seeking creatures we look to find meaning behind everything. Our world today appears confusing, tumultuous and full of hidden and unexpected dangers, but it pales in comparison to the world of ancient man. When we hear thunder we don’t cower in fear because Zeus is angry with us, we know it’s just electrical discharge in our atmosphere.

Yet upheaval and misfortune persists, and with that the need for meaning. For many it’s far more comforting to know that there’s a specific day on the calendar where misfortune is far more likely to occur – a day you can plan for – than to accept that tragedy or catastrophe can occur on any date, at any time.

One of the most common stories to crop up online whenever Friday the 13th comes along is the story of the HMS Friday. The ship was built, named and launched by the British navy to convince sailors – a traditionally superstitious bunch – that sailing on Fridays isn’t bad luck. As the story goes the ship was launched on Friday the 13th and was never seen or heard from again.

There’s only one teensy problem with this story – it never happened. Nobody really knows where the story originated, and yet, despite being refuted as a hoax, it still crops up on a regular basis because, let’s face it, it’s more fun to believe it. 

Why Is Friday The 13th Unlucky?

Superstitions spread because, as social creatures, we’re genetically pre-programmed to do so. Being able to mimic the behaviour patterns of our peers, in particular members of our family group, is a core survival instinct. Superstitions and similar ritualistic behaviour patterns all start this way, before spreading virally, from community to community, much like a Mexican wave.  

The ancients struggled with the unknown and desperately sought to understand it. In doing so they helped to set the foundation of science as we know it, but before we had astronomy and mathematics, we had astrology and numerology. 

For the ancients the fate of man, the heavens above and the realm of mathematics were inextricably linked. Language, alphabet, numbers and the cosmos – all were one and the same.   

In many cases the number 12 signified a sense of wholeness, which is why it appeared so often in mythology – 12 signs of the Zodiac, 12 months in the year, 12 tribes of Israel, 12 Olympian gods, 12 Labours of Hercules – while thirteen was more than just an odd number, it was an unlucky one also.

Zoroastrianism, a monotheistic Persian religion whose origins date back to ancient times, is a perfect example of a religion whose followers feared the number 13.

As contemporary religions such as Christianity spread they were often retro-fitted in order to join up with the legends of old. The story of the Last Supper is an ideal example as it fits a Norse legend about another ill-fated gathering of the gods in Valhalla, twelve gods in total, plus Loki the wicked trickster god who gate-crashed the feast with tragic consequences. As a result of Loki's trickery the god of light was killed and the world turned dark and, as such, the number 13 became maligned in Norse culture. 

The story has interesting parallels to that of the Last Supper, a theme early missionaries capitalised upon. Indeed one popular theory as to why Friday the 13th is considered a symbol of bad luck is because, just like the Norse story, there were 13 people present at the Last Supper. Like Loki, Judas played the part of the deceiver before Christ’s eventual crucifixion – on Friday.

Yet there are still instances within the church where the number 13 has positive connotations. Lost something? Then pray to Saint Anthony, the patron saint of lost objects and missing people whose feast occurs on the 13th of June.

In Judaism, meanwhile, thirteen is the age where a boy is considered ready to become a man, following his Bar Mitzvah ceremony.

Indeed for every culture you find that considers something unlucky – such as the number 13 or black cats – you’ll find plenty more that don’t.

Do you find the number four unlucky? Well the Chinese do because the word for four sounds very similar to the word for death. If you visit China you may well find many buildings that don’t have a forth floor, or in some cases, don’t even have floors or rooms with the number four in them. It’s often the same for product numbers, serial numbers and public transport.

The Japanese, meanwhile, have lots of unlucky numbers, most notably the number nine. As the world’s ultimate culture vultures the Japanese love nothing more than to import the peculiarities of others and claim them as their own. Therefore the Chinese 4 and the West’s 13 have also been co-opted and added to Japan’s unlucky numbers pile.

Lucky Or Unlucky

If you look for instances of 13 throughout history you’ll find them everywhere. Most are neither lucky or unlucky, just ambiguous.

There were originally thirteen colonies in the United States, and the first US flag had 13 stars. The 13th amendment to the constitution, meanwhile, formed the legal framework for the abolition of slavery. For the slaves who were freed thirteen was certainly a lucky number. For wealthy landowners and other anti-abolitionists in the southern states, however, thirteen became synonymous with their massive change in fortune and, as such, a North/South divide persists to this day.

Two major disasters associated with the number thirteen were also triumphs of human resilience. So much so the events would later be retold as major motion pictures.

Apollo 13 may have been a disaster from a mission standpoint, but as far as NASA is concerned it may well have been their finest hour. The survival movie Alive, meanwhile, was based on real events that occurred following a plane crash in 1972. The plane crashed high up in the Andes on Friday the 13th. And while the ordeals the survivors were forced to contend with tested the very limits of human endurance, their survival can be celebrated as a triumph of the human spirit.

Lottery Luck

Now obviously the subject of luck and lucky numbers is a popular topic here. In fact, in a previous article we asked whether or not 13 can be considered an unlucky lottery number.

Following a study of popular numbers across multiple lotteries it was revealed that the number 13 was, in fact, one of the more commonly drawn numbers – far luckier than people might think!

In the end it’s a matter of perspective; for every specific instance or event that fits a specific pattern, you’ll encounter another that contradicts it, but if you’re too focussed on the pattern, it may not register in your mind as an event at all. So if all you expect to see on Friday the 13th is doom and gloom then that's exactly what you'll see, as any psychologist will tell you. Conversely if you perceive something as being "lucky" then you'll ignore all the instances where it isn't. 

Is seven lucky? Not for the seven syndicate members who pulled out of an original group of twenty factory workers last month. The remaining Lincolnshire-based syndicate members went on to share win a £1 million playing EuroMillions. “We certainly are the lucky 13”, they told the press.

And how about Friday the 13th itself? Is it really that unlucky? Not for Nigel Willetts, the Welshman who also won £1 million playing the lottery on Friday the 13th last June. In December 2013 a young American lady won $66 million US with a ticket she bought on Friday 13th.

2012, another date associated with catastrophe, also saw winners whose tickets were purchased on Friday the 13th. A British mother who fretted about bills won £1.6 million in April while a recently divorced father of two living in the rough and tumble oil town of Fort McMurray won $21.8 million Canadian.

So, unless you’re a precocious teen at a lakeside summer camp, you probably don't have anything to worry about on Friday the 13th and instead have everything to play for in this Friday’s massive EuroMillions draw – who knows, you could be the next lucky Friday the 13th millionaire!

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