Friday the 13th …

According to Nathaniel Lachenmeyer’s 13: the World’s Most Popular Superstition (London, 2004), which can be found in our Harry Price Library, superstition surrounding ‘Friday the 13th’ is a twentieth-century construct, entering the popular imagination with the success of Thomas W. Lawson’s 1907 novel Friday, the Thirteenth. The superstition that it was unlucky to have 13 people at a table finds expression in several seventeenth- and eighteenth-century works cited by Lachenmeyer, and developed during the nineteenth century into a broader popular conception of 13 as an unlucky number. Reginald Scot’s famous work The Discoverie of Witchcraft, the 1584 first edition of which is also in the Harry Price Library, makes no mention of 13, although it does refer to other, still familiar, popular portents of misfortune, including spilling salt, a cat crossing one’s path, putting a shirt on inside out, or putting a left shoe on the right foot (‘which Augustus Caesar reputed for the woorst lucke that might befall’). All of which Scot dismisses in a marginal note as ‘O vaine follie and foolish vanitie!’.

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