Friday the 13th

I had to have a news feed tell me that it’s Friday the 13th today. Not only that but tonight we’ll also see a full moon.

It’s interesting to see occasionally how ingrained is the notion that the 13 is a bad luck number – how many people believe in it? Being a recent Ukraine expat living in San Francisco, I was fascinated to notice that there is no 13th avenue, and some tall buildings definitively lack the 13th floor. I intuitively always liked both Friday and the number 13, maybe because I have a complicated relationship with conformity, so I dived this morning into a short unscientific research and below are the results with excerpts and references.

In Christianity the number 13 is considered evil because the Judas Iscariot was the 13th disciple who is believed to betray Jesus. Turns out that in Norse mythology also describes an uninvited 13th guest at the feast of gods, treacherous god called Loki, who brought turmoil and chaos into the world making the number 13 an unlucky one. It’s considered unlucky to have 13 people at the dinner table.

According to History.com article about number 13, the number 12 was considered complete in antiquity and carries a notion of being magical and symbolic of perfection and cosmic order. The time is measured in two 12 hour half days; we have 12 months in a year, 12 zodiac signs, 12 Olympians. We have 12 jurors in trials. 12 has 6 divisors (1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 12) and can be broken into groups in many different ways making grouping and divisions very convenient. There are many interesting mathematical properties of that number, as well as references to multiple other 12s in art, science, and nature described Wiki article about number 12.

Therefore the second version of why 13 is bad, claims that coming after such a perfect number 12, the odd, prime 13 was bound to be viewed as at best inconvenient, and worth evil, unknown, uncomforming.

A whole other story is about Friday, which is also believed to be unlucky in Christian tradition since Christ was crucified on Friday, original sin happened on Friday and Cain killed Abel on Friday as well. In medieval times Friday was called a “Hangman’s day” and it was a day when condemned prisoners were usually executed. So weddings were never held on Friday and the ships did not sail on Friday. It’s believed that if you name has 13 letters, you will have “devil’s luck”. (What is that? And, coincidentally, my name does have 13 letters. And I was born on Friday.)

According to article in Daily Mirror, Northern lore described Frigga goddess of love and fertility, banished and called a witch after advent of Christianity. Every Friday she assembled “Witches Sabbath” of 11 witches and a Devil (13 total) to plot evil actions for the next week.

Which brings us to the article in Huffington Post referenced from Yahoo Lifestyle. The author Donna Henes writes this referencing the Northern goddess:

Up until the patriarchal revolution, both Fridays and 13s were held in the very highest esteem. Both the day and the number were associated with the Great Goddesses, and therefore, regarded as the sacred essence of luck and good fortune.

Donna Henes

I cannot resist and will quote the large part of the article here as it lists many instances of both number 13 and Friday being associated with love, fertility, femininity, and sacred traditions.

Thirteen is certainly the most essentially female number — the average number of menstrual cycles in a year. The approximate number, too, of annual cycles of the moon. When Chinese women make offerings of moon cakes, there are sure to be 13 on the platter. Thirteen is the number of blood, fertility, and lunar potency. 13 is the lucky number of the Great Goddess.
Representing as it does, the number of revolutions the moon makes around the earth in a year, 13 was the number of regeneration for pre-Columbian Mexicans. In ancient Israel, 13 was a sanctified number. Thirteen items were decreed necessary for the tabernacle. At 13 years of age, a boy was (and still is) initiated into the adult Jewish community. In Wicca, the pagan goddess tradition of Old Europe, communicants convene in covens of 13 participants. Thirteen was also auspicious for the Egyptians, who believed that life has 13 stages, the last of which is death — the transition to eternal life.
Held holy in honor of Shekinah, the female aspect of God, Friday was observed as the day of Her special celebrations. Jews around the world still begin the observance of the Sabbath at sunset on Friday evenings when they invite in the Sabbath Bride. Friday is the Sabbath in the Islamic world. Friday is sacred to Oshun, the Yoruba orisha of opulent sensuality and overwhelming femininity, and also to Frig, the Norse Goddess of love and sex, of fertility and creativity. Her name became the Anglo-Saxon noun for love, and in the 16th century, frig came to mean “to copulate.”
Friday was associated with the early Mother Creation Goddesses for whom that day was named. In Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian, Icelandic, and Teutonic cultures She was called variously, Freya, Freia, Freyja, Fir, Frea and Frig. Friday is Frig’s Day, Frigedaeg, in Old English, Fredag in Danish, Freitag in Dutch. In Mediterranean lands, She reigned as Venus. In Latin, Friday is the Day of Venus, Dies Veneris; Vendredi in French, Venerdi in Italian and Viernes in Spanish.
Friday the 13th is ultimately the celebration of the lives and loves of Lady Luck. On this, Her doubly-dedicated day, let us consider what fortuitous coincidences constitute our fate. The lucky blend of just the right conditions, chemistries, elements, and energies that comprise our universe. The way it all works. The way we are. That we are at all.

Donna Henes

Consider also, that witchcraft was almost exclusively associated with women and majority of accused witches in the history were women.

Fertility and creativity are inexorably connected and both Friday and 13 and carry the association with art. This whole thought line brought me back, to one of my favourite books called “Drawing on the Right Side of your Brain” by Betty Edwards that I have read extensively and use as a guide in my classes.

Fertility and creativity are inexorably connected and both Friday and 13 and carry the association with art. This whole thought line brought me back, to one of my favourite books called “Drawing on the Right Side of your Brain” by Betty Edwards that I have read extensively and use as a guide in my classes.

She pioneered a “folk” version of Right brain – Left brain theory as it applies to learning how to draw. She reference neuroscience research that describes two different cognitive modes of information processing. First is logical, sequential (and mainly located in left hemisphere, Edwards call it L-mode). The second is parallel processing of global perceptual data (and usually located in right hemisphere of the brain, called R-mode).

Turns out that L-mode is perfectly suited for logical tasks, math problem solving, language processing. However, this symbolic thought process is very poorly suited for drawing. Since our brain unbeknownst for us does a lot of processing of the raw visual data, it interferes with direct perception of real world that is essential for drawing from life. To do that, to see like an artist, we need to silence our dominant logical hemisphere and allow our perceptual R-mode to take charge.

In reference to what Donna Henes writes, Edwards explores the language cues that people always had a notion that our brain has two different ways of thinking and assign different qualities to each one. And clearly there is a bias towards L-mode.

The following examples frequently talk about “handedness”. Keep in mind, that our brain connections are crossed and our left hemisphere controls right side of the body, and vice versa. Therefore when we refer to the “right hand” we refer to the “left hemisphere”.

The cultural associations and language constructs amazingly mirror each other in both languages that I know: English and Russian. Consider that the “right hand” (left hemisphere) is associated with good, moral, correct. The left hand (right hemisphere) is linked with feelings of out of control, immoral. Left handed people were considered unfit, children were forced to convert.

Following are the cultural and language examples Edwards lists in her book. The latin word for left is sinister came to mean dangerous, evil. The word for right is dexter, root of dexterity and came to be associated with mastery. In both Russian and English right means also correct, good. In English left comes from Anglo-Saxon lyft that implies moral and physical weakness. The Anglo-Saxon word for right, reht means “straight” or “just”, and word “correct” is derived from it. In Russian “идти налево” (“go to the left”) means immoral behaviour.

“Left-handed” has synonyms such as “clumsy”, “insincere”, “malicious”. On the other hand (hm..) “right-handed” is synonymous with “correct”, “indispensable” and “reliable”.

The place of honor at the dinner is on the host’s right hand side. And the groom stands on the right and bride on the left in the marriage ceremony underscoring ingrained notion of our patriarchal society that woman is somehow morally flawed and weak.

Coming back to Friday the 13, both of the symbols carrying the associations with fertility, love, night, moon, witchcraft, creativity. Seems like the perfect day. Maybe I’ll paint something mystical today.

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