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Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Portend evil – or a cure…

Today – or what is left of it – is Tuesday the 13th and in Spain that is the equivalent of the UK’s Friday the 13th, bringing with it the usual superstition of imminent bad luck.

The Spanish regard Tuesday 13th with particular wariness.

The exact origins of fear towards either day remain unclear but there are several theories.

Tuesdays were seen as being dominated by the influence of Mars, the god of war, as etymologically the Spanish for Tuesday, martes stems from his name. For some, this superstition was strengthened by historical events such as the fall of Constantinople to the Fourth Crusade on Tuesday April 13 1204 and its fall to the Ottomans on Tuesday May 29 1453. Of course, they conveniently forget all the other fateful events that don’t happen on that day and date.

There is a saying that goes ‘en Martes ni te cases ni te embarques ni de tu casa te apartes’, meaning ‘Don’t marry, go on a boat, or leave your house on Tuesday’.

Just as reoccurring patterns have this day of the week unpopular, the same has happened with the number 13. The Oxford Dictionary of Superstitions (1989) lists such concerns as ‘beginning anything on a Friday’ – you’ll not finish it; beginning a journey on that day as it ‘bodes ill luck’; never put Friday laid eggs into a child’s christening cake; never court on that day – ‘or you’ll never meet again’; it is unlucky to start a new job on Friday 13th (few jobs begin on Fridays, however, usually Mondays (phew!); being born on that day (though no ill luck will follow the child if it’s born on God Friday the 13th!)

Here in the Western world we commonly regard the number 13 as an unlucky one. Hotels often omit it from room doors and floor numbers while some airlines do the same with aisle numbers. I’ve certainly been in a hotel without a thirteenth floor!

There were 13 guests invited to dinner in Valhalla and Loki, seen as the Viking god mischief and chaos or as the god of evil and spirit of death (depending on which scholar you read), was its 13th guest. And of course this parallels Jesus Christ’s last supper in which Judas was the 13th guest and was responsible for betraying Christ, enabling his crucifixion – on a Friday.

For some it goes beyond superstition and becomes a real phobia called ‘Trezidavomartiofobia’ (fear of Tuesday the 13th), which leads to an uncontrollable fear that causes the sufferer to attempt to spend the day at home and avoid contact with others. (Any excuse to avoid work, probably!) The English version is Triskaidekaphobia, fear of thirteen.

Superstition stems from folklore and coincidence, harking back in many cases to a time when people lived in closer proximity with nature than now, and believed in an ‘anima mundi’. In those days the sun and moon, fire and water, flora and fauna were accorded religious respect. (It’s always possible that a little more respect for nature would alleviate some of the world’s modern ills…)
Most of us are surprised by coincidences and may even look back at a fortunate chain of events to consider that they were intended, assigned by Fate. Some beliefs are characterised by a direct symbolism: for example, a new-born baby was carried upstairs to signify that he would rise in the world. Jung remarked, ‘Who can doubt that the Flanders poppies are more than local flora?’ To this day, it seems that red and white flowers in hospitals signify blood and bandages.
Linked with superstition is magic – for good or evil. For example, knots tied on a length of string by a witch could be a spell to hinder a birth or cure a sprained wrist! A black cat can portend evil or its blood could cure all manner of diseases. Either way, the poor black cat is the loser, it seems. Sadly, even to this day it seems that black cats are not as popular as cats of other hues – as if ancient superstition still lingered, even subliminally.

The study of superstition and witchcraft is a fascinating subject, and most certainly ideal material for countless story ideas. I used some in my out-of-print novel Death is Another Life – and I hope to return to the subject in the future, touch wood.

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