Posted by: Jack Henry | October 19, 2021

Editor’s Corner: Friday the 13th and more, as Halloween nears your door!

As neighborhood Halloween decorations go up, I’ve been wondering what kind of tricks and treats to provide you this year. One of our coworkers, Alan, was kind enough to send this article, Why We Knock on Wood, and the Origins of 7 Other SuperstitionsHere are two of my favorites, but the others are available online. Thank you, Alan!

Spilling Salt

Salt is essential to human life and was once an extremely valuable commodity, so much so that the word “salary” derives from it. The crystalline mineral was used in ancient Jewish, Greek, and Roman sacrifices, and it was the primary means of preserving food before refrigeration came along. Over the years, salt became associated with purity, incorruptibility, and sanctity—good for both staving off rot and evil spirits. It stood to reason, then, that spilling salt was bad for both the budget and soul.

During the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci strengthened the association between spilled salt and misfortune by depicting Judas with a saltcellar knocked over next to him in his painting “The Last Supper.” [KC – See Judas below, spilled salt next to him; red square mine, not Leonardo’s.]

At some point, a belief arose that taking a pinch of salt with the right hand and throwing it over the left shoulder would counteract any bad luck caused by spilling the stuff. The idea comes from an imagined link between the left side and the devil—as well as the idea that Satan just can’t stand salt. [KC – Who knew?]

Friday the 13th

This superstition marries ideas about both Friday and the number 13 to create what is supposedly the unluckiest day of the calendar. The aura of doom around the number 13 may go back to early civilizations who based their numerical systems on the number 12. (That’s how we got 12-month calendars and days divided into 12-hour segments, for one thing.) Because it came right after 12, 13 was seen as a problematic or strange leftover.

Odd as it may seem, the association is reinforced by two stories of ancient dinner parties. In Norse mythology, evil was introduced into the world when the trickster god Loki showed up as the 13th guest at a dinner in Valhalla. Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus, was also the 13th guest to arrive at the Last Supper. That led to a belief, starting around the 17th century, that it was unlucky to have 13 guests at a table. Incidentally (or not), it was also imagined that witches’ covens usually numbered 13.

Friday, meanwhile, was the day Jesus was crucified. By tradition, it was also thought to be the day Eve gave Adam the apple and they were cast out of the Garden of Eden. In Britain, Friday was also Hangman’s Day, when those condemned to die met their fate. Somehow, over the centuries, these ideas combined to give Friday a bad rep…

Yet it was only the Victorians who combined the ideas around Friday and the number 13 to create the idea of Friday the 13th as being uniquely unlucky. Of course, these days the American horror film franchise may have reinforced the idea.

Knock on wood, I wish the best of luck to you on Halloween!

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her

Technical Editor, Advisory

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