triskaidekaphobia: irrational fear of the number 13

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Halloween is a fortnight’s ghostly memory away, but the superstitious still have today, Friday the 13th, to dread.

But why does this auspicious day hold relevance?

Surely, if the Bogeyman exists, he can’t be content to play during Halloween alone.

Is there fact behind the bad luck occurrences or is it all just coincidence and circumstance?

As with many things in Western culture, 13 originally got its unlucky reputation from Norse mythology — not by a guy in a hockey mask in a horror movie.

As the 13th uninvited guest to Valhalla, the hall of the gods, Loki — the Norse god of mischief — convinced the blind god Hoder to shoot a poisoned arrow at Balder, god of goodness and joy. When the hemlock-tipped arrow pierced Balder, the entire world was thrown into darkness.

From this darkness springs our own paranoia of 13’s ill omen.

In the Bible, the betrayer Judas was the 13th guest to the Last Supper, and it is strongly believed by Christians that Jesus Christ was crucified on a Friday.

Thus, Friday the 13th is a double-edged sword of bad.

In the Gregorian calendar, Friday the 13th occurs at least once, but at most three times, a year. Any month's 13th day will fall on a Friday if the month starts on a Sunday.

The next one will fall in August 2010.

The number 13 is also considered unlucky because it is thought that, when witches gather, the 13th among them is the devil.

The number is so abundantly steeped in myth that many hotels don’t even have 13th floors.

Triskaidekaphobes — people who fear the number 13 — are most terrified on Friday the 13th.

(This isn't so in all cultures. In some countries, Tuesday the 13th is considered unlucky.)

According to the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, N.C., an estimated 17 to 21 million people in the United States are affected by a fear of this day.

Many people fear it so intensely that they miss work, which adds up to an estimated $800 to $900 million dollars lost to businesses every year.

(Your “sick” employee today might not have swine flu.)

Is all the paranoia about this date unfounded? History reveals some episodes of bad luck on Friday the 13th:

• Hurricane Charley made landfall in south Florida on Friday, Aug. 13, 2004.

• The "Friday the 13th Storm" struck Buffalo, New York on Friday, Oct. 13, 2006.

• Twenty-two Spanish Galleons departed from Cuba destined for Spain on Friday, July 13, 1733. Encountering a hurricane shortly after departure, only four ships survived.

• On Friday, Oct. 13, 1066, King Harold II of England decided to go to battle rather than allow his troops a day of rest. The English lost and King Harold was killed.

• A debatable bit of history holds that King Philip of England ordered the religious order The Knights Templar arrested on Friday, Oct. 13, 1307, after their wealth and power challenged his rule.

The future holds an ominous date with destiny on Friday, April 13, 2029. That's when astronomers predict that the asteroid 2004 MN4 will come close to Earth on its swing through the solar system.

There are brave few who still venture out into the world despite its darkness and ill fortune on this day.

Those who believe that Friday the 13th has no bearing on their luck, and everything is based on arguable circumstance, can venture their plucky souls to a haunted house beside the old Martin’s cleaners in downtown Galax this Friday and Saturday.

For $5, from 6 p.m. to midnight, prepare to test your luck.