Irish Mythology | Friday 13th… Unlucky for Some?

moon

The moon is associated with the divine femine as the feminine cycles were linked to the phases of the moon. In Ireland, Aine was Goddess of love, growth, cattle and light. Her name means “bright” as she lights up the dark

There is a deep-rooted fear in many cultures that Friday 13th is a very unlucky day, yet no one knows where this superstition has come from, or why it is so widespread.

It is certainly true that some pretty rotten things have happened in the past on this day, which have earned it such a terrible reputation. For example, on Friday 13th October 1307, hundreds of Knights Templar were rounded up and put to death in France.

In the Bible, Judas was the thirteenth person present at the Last Supper. Jesus was crucified the very next day, which was a Friday.

In numerology, the number 12 is considered to be a number of ‘completeness’; there are 12 months in  year, 12 hours in a day followed by 12 hours of night, there are 12 signs of the zodiac, etc.

In comparison, the number 13 is seen as irregular, imbalanced.

There is a Norse myth which tells that twelve Gods were dining in the great hall of Valhalla, when the trickster-God Loki turned up uninvited. He proceeded to convince the blind God of Darkness, Hoder, to shoot Baldur the Beautiful, God of Joy with a mistletoe-tipped arrow, thus we have another example indicating why the ancient people may have believed the number 13 to be unlucky.

By contrast, the ancient Egyptians actually believed the number 13 to be very fortunate indeed. They thought that man experienced twelve phases during his mortal life, but the 13th was to ascend to eternal after-life, which was considered a joyous event, even though achieved through death.

In the C19th, a man named William Fowler set up the Thirteen Club, in an effort to disprove the fear of Friday 13th. They met in groups of 13 for dinner, walked under a ladder before sitting down to eat in Room no 13, which was decorated with open umbrellas, ensuring much salt was spilled on the table, which no one bothered to throw over their shoulders. Their first meeting was held on Friday 13th January 1881. Interestingly, there is no record of anything remotely unlucky having ever happened to any of the club’s members.

The moon is associated with the divine femine as the feminine cycles were linked to the phases of the moon. In Ireland, Aine was Goddess of love, growth, cattle and light. Her name means “bright” as she lights up the dark. Although the origins of this superstition cannot now be traced, some say it goes right back into our distant pagan past. Ancient pagan religions were matriarchal; they believed in the Goddess and Mother Earth, and venerated the ability of the female to bring forth life. The year was counted by lunar cycles, unlike today’s Gregorian calender, of which there were thirteen, and also thirteen menstrual cycles in a year.

As the priests of the new religion, Christianity, tried to wrest control from the pagans, they suppressed the power of the female; fertility and the sexual act was seen as unclean. Where childbirth was once seen as joyous and miraculous, the new religion considered the new mother unclean and she was not allowed into the church until she had been ritually purified forty days later.  I’m pretty sure the thirteen menstrual cycles were seen as unclean, as well!

Over time, this dislike of the number 13 may have adopted a more sinister tone, as the pagans associated with it became thought of as evil devil-worshippers.

For the ancient Celts, everything was interconnected, even numbers. All numbers had meanings, or associations, here are just a few:


No2 represented service and commitment, ie the loyalty as shown by Fionn mac Cumhall’s two hounds, Bran and Sceolán.

No3 we know was considered a very sacred number, and seen in such concepts as birth-life-death; mind-body-spirit; beginning-middle-end; sun-moon-earth; thought-word-deed; past-present-future, and of course the Triple Goddess maiden-mother-crone.

No4 was connected with wholeness, as represented by the four seasons; the four winds; the four directions; the four elements, and even the four provinces of Ireland.


To the ancient Celts, trees were very important, and were also associated with particular qualities which could be interpreted to be of good or bad fortune. The oak and the hazel were considered trees of knowledge.

There were nine hazel trees around Nechtan’s Well at the Source of the Boyne. They would blossom and bear fruit at the same time. These fruit, the hazel nuts, would drop into the water where they would be eaten by waiting salmon. If one was to eat the flesh of the Salmon of Knowledge, one would acquire all of his wisdom, but they weren’t easy to catch. The old Druid Finegas tried in vain for many years, only to be cheated out of his reward by the boy-hero Fionn mac Cumhall.

The ash and the rowan were esteemed for their powers of protection. Eating rowan berries were thought to induce longevity, and brought youth and happiness. In old Irish, the rowan was called Fid na nDruad, ‘Tree of the Druids’. Later, Christians adopted the habit of putting branches in their homes on Good Friday to ward off evil.

Fairy Tree on the way up to Loughcrew.

Fairy Tree on the way up to the burial mounds of Loughcrew.

The hawthorn tree was thought to guard the entrance to the fairy realm, and it was thought to be very bad luck to cut one down. Even today, you will often find hawthorns known as ‘fairy’ or ‘rag’ trees at holy wells and other ancient sites, where people leave a small gift, rag or prayer attached to the tree as a votive offering to the ancient gods of that place.

Today’s popular saying ‘Touch wood’ to invoke good luck stems from this ancient Celtic respect of the trees.

Many cultures still consider the rabbit to be a symbol of good luck, and this goes back also to Celtic times. In Ireland, the rabbit was thought to have special powers to thwart those of the Tuatha de Denann, as like them, it lived below ground. Therefore,  carrying a part of a rabbit, such as its foot, on one’s person at all times was considered to ward off fairy evil. Not so lucky for the rabbit, I think.

There are many examples of the hare having connections with the Otherworld in Irish mythology and folklore. Hares are associated with spring, thus with the Goddess of the season, and represented love, fertility and growth. In Europe, that Goddess was Eostre, after whom Easter is named, but in Ireland Brigid is the Goddess of Spring, or Imbolc, which starts on February 1st. February is when the hares start racing through my garden, driving poor old Indi wild!

I came across a story of a huge red-eyed hare which used Loughanleagh as its entry point into the magical realm. Oisin was once said to have hunted a hare, wounding its leg before it disappeared through a doorway into the ground. He followed it through a long passage, eventually emerging in a great hall where he found a beautiful woman bleeding from her leg. Not only does this story show a connection between the Sidhe and the hare, but also indicates a belief in transmigration.

Apparently, in order to ensure victory, Boudicca was said to have carried a hare into battle under her cloak, from where it proceeded to scream like a woman (or perhaps a banshee?) throughout the duration of the conflict.

Eventually, Christian superstition was to work its transformative magic over pagan traditions yet again, for the threatening spring hare was reinvented as the much less fearful Easter Bunny… although the notion of a bunny laying chocolate eggs around the garden seems infinitely more scary to me.

black-cat

When it comes to the black cat, messages are somewhat confused. We all know how highly the ancient Egyptians thought of their moggies, but around the rest of the world, it was a different story. Once, the cat was much admired for its independence, stealth and hunting prowess. In medieval times, this love of cats, particularly black cats, was considered a sign of witchcraft, and the cats were burned alive, along with the women who owned them, or were thought to own them.

The mythical Cait Sidhe is a large black cat said to be the size of a dog. It was thought that witches could transform themselves into a Cait Sidhe eight times, but that on the ninth, they would remain in their cat form. Thus we have the origin of the cat with nine lives, and the fear of black cats and their associated witchy owners.

So this Friday, keep away from witches, black cats, and spring hares; don’t tempt fate by walking under ladders, spilling salt, or opening your umbrella before you leave the house; try carrying a piece of wood around with you instead of a rabbit’s paw, and you might, just might, avoid any bad luck that’s whirling around in the ether.

May the luck o’ the Irish be with you!


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67 Comments on “Irish Mythology | Friday 13th… Unlucky for Some?

  1. Pingback: #Friday13th – Ancient Origins of the Fear Myth. | aliisaacstoryteller

  2. I loved this post Ali and I grew up with very superstitious Irish roots. My Gram taught my Mom and my Mom taught me and my siblings. We never opened up a umbrella in the house, we threw salt over our shoulder, and didn’t wear the colour paddy green in fear of a loved one dying. I honestly don’t know where that superstition came from but it’s one I still follow today. It may sound silly but I do that out of respect for my Gram and Mom and all my Irish family flying with the angels. Thank you for writing this it gives me a lot to ponder about. 😊

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  3. Great post! I love to learn about the origins of superstitions, etc. Your research is amazing and you have a great talent for storytelling. My big takeaway: I think I’m in the transition period between mother and crone. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A tour de force of good lore Ali. You gave me a hankering to try some hazelnut fed Salmon.Our hawthorns flowered beautifully this spring although Sunday’s wind reduced their lustre som’at. I note in the faerie tales it is always the thirteenth Fairy Godmother that fails to get invited to the Ceilidh with disasterous results. Kove from Mine to yours. Tommy. .

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    • Haha Thomas, you are observant indeed! Our hawthorns aren’t a patch on last year, but then we’ve had very little sun so far this year. Even the gorse, my favourite, was not as fiery and prevalent in the landscape as it usually is. Hows the leg?

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  5. The phobia surrounding the number 13 is purely western in origin and belief. It is not so in eastern cultures. In India, both 13 and Friday the 13th are considered lucky. My eldest son was born on Friday 13th April 1984, he has grown on to lead a successful life thus far, and I may say touchwood. Probably all the negativity around 13, that is a compound of auspicious numbers 1 and 3, is biblical. Regardless of the number and colour of the cat, Ali, may your life be full of fortune manifesting as rabbits or hares.

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  6. Nice article Ali Issac. Friday the 13th is regarded as the unlucky day in most of the culture. In my country, there is no specific date as such, but the dark moon light is associated with evil.

    I like your website name too -storyteller has a nice ring to it.

    🙂

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    • Thanks Nitin! I can totally see why the dark of the moon would be associated with evil. Darkness hides a lot of things, doesn’t it? But in the ancient Celtic and irish ways, darkness was the beginning of the day, not the end; the darkness of winter was the start of the new year, and from the darkness of the womb, and the earth, came life. I don’t think they saw it as associated with evil, but with good. So that’s how I try to think of it, although when I am alone on a very dark night, its impossible not feel a little frisson of fear!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. wonderful yet again and so informative. I didn’t know the origin of many of those superstitions but I do like the Egyptian belief in the 13th phase as well of course as any trip down the rabbit hole! By the way #13 is very lucky to the Chinese because the words one and three also translate in both Mandarin and Cantonese as “assured growth.”

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  8. Thank you Ali for another interesting story. You may have seen the strange superstitions some people believe in at this website (or are you the Irish American Mom who wrote it?) and the very strange name given to those who are afraid of Friday the 13th –
    http://www.irishcentral.com/roots/four-leaf-clover-and-other-irish-superstitions-on-st-patricks-day-118164419-237791901.html
    It looks like i’m done for because when I open the front door there’s often a magpie looking at me for a morsel of food!
    I’m very pleased that one Irish superstition is that you will get bad luck if you wreck an ancient monument in your country.
    It’s a pity a similar thing can’t be sent to Africa where anyone involved in illegal poaching will die quickly from a very horrible death.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Colin, no that article on Irish Central wasn’t mine. Yes, I’d love to see an end to poaching in Africa too. I’d also like to see an end to wealthy tourists paying money to shoot a lion or some other magnificent wild creature answer then posing with the dead animal, as if it’s something to be proud of. Why don’t they give that money instead to causes to help those communities? Why do they feel good about killing?

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  9. I tend to find if a black cat crosses your path, it’s usually because it’s going somewhere. I have always been very aware digging deeper is necessary with most things like this, particularly because of the attempts by the early Christian church, to suppress the old pagan beliefs. The belief in the unlucky 13 has always made me laugh, and usually use it when I do a Lotto, or need to choose a random number, and usually been more of a good luck number for me. Here in France, again the reasons for 13 being unlucky are many, and vague, but again behind the surface, there are many histories, and legends that mention it as a number of good luck. Hoping that Friday the 13th is really good luck, as special drawings of the French Loto, and Euromillions, we’ve bunged a few Euro on! Bon weekend biloutes. Bon weekend from northern France.

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  10. Thanks Ali. Now I know why I like numbers, must be my roots in Christianity, Ireland, whatever. I do like the numbers that you mentioned of 3’s & 4’s which is similar to the American Indians over here with their Gods of Wind, Sun, Fire, etc. I like the basics of life and appreciation for the earth and not the brainwashing that has come from Christianity over powering women. It’s disgusting and much like we are seeing in Africa and other areas even today in 2016. Can we not learn from history? Burying the black cat alive with the witch woman, so barbaric. Maybe this is why we women are usually more quiet. We’ve had to bite our tongue.

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  11. I have a childhood memory of cutting a bouquet of hawthorn for my mum because the blossom was so pretty. We had a huge hedge of down one side of the garden. She was very uneasy about it. I was only little and she didn’t want to appear ungrateful but she said I shouldn’t have cut the hawthorn and it was terrible bad luck to bring it into the house. I wondered whether the church hadn’t cashed in on the magical connotations of the blackthorn and made it ‘holy’ in a Christian sense. My mum wasn’t one for the pagan myths. Yet we always had mistletoe at Christmas despite the priest telling us it was un-Christian. We are so mixed up, aren’t we?

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  12. A very interesting and informative post. I can’t very well avoid the black cat living in out house. We have had her since she was a kitten. Mostly she is pretty laid back now, but in her younger days she could hiss and split you hand if you weren’t careful. Sometimes I wondered if she was evil. 😀

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    • Naw, probably just feral! I had a cat growing up named Sammy, we found him on our doorstep and his eyes weren’t even open. Even with all our love and care, Sammy grew up to be a biting and scratching terror who would be adorable and purring on occasion just to throw us off. 🙂 We could never change the fact that he was wild first, domestic cat second… or was that third? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Fascinating article, Ali. I still believe there is something mysterious and magical about hares. I don’t think of Friday 13th as unlucky – more as a potentially life-changing day. Reading about the Thirteen Club I was nodding in agreement about the venue, and walking under a ladder, etc – but stiffened in disbeleif at the foolishness of spilling salt and not throwing it over a shoulder!!! It’s weird how some superstitions can’t or won’t be shaken off.

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  14. The witches on a broom came from witches making and using a “flying ointment” from 3 herbs (I’d have to look it up which herbs) to use in their meditations. When they used them, they got a flying sensation. There weren’t any airplanes around at the time, hence flying on a broom. Brooms were used to ritually cleanse their sacred space.

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  15. Pingback: Irish Mythology | Saint Patrick | aliisaacstoryteller

  16. Lovely post, Ali! I also didn’t know the origins of the nine lives to a cat. I’m sure the patriarchy found independent women really scary! 🙂 Funnily enough, as it happens I am certain that two out of every three people I meet this Friday will be a witch, awesome people if you ask me. 🙂 I think they’ll leave their cats at home, though, black or otherwise. Personally I love the number 13 and black cats, and defy all that nonsense about uncleanliness at every turn. i don’t like umbrellas though, I’ll be staying away from them.

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    • Lol! You have a phobia about umbrellas??? That’s a new one! I guess I would have bedn roasted had I lived in medieval times as I have always had a black cat. I love them too! So answer me this, as you know so many witches… what is the origin of the flying on broomstick thing? 😀

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      • Oh, lol in return. Not a phobia, Ali, just don’t like them. I navigate a lot by sound, and umbrellas deflect sound around my head so I can get horribly lost five feet from my front door if I’m walking around under them. I’d rather get wet. 🙂

        Someone in my druid group sent out a cool link regarding origins of witches brooms. But I can’t find it and have to run and finish packing. Something about strange oils that help a person haluscinate which are less dangerous through skin contact rather than ingested. Probably that’s all you want to know. 🙂 Authors of the article admitted this is still conjecture, as in not definitively proven, though widely believed to be one of the more probable explainations.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks for that… intriguing! I had no idea an umbrella could do that! In which case I’d have to agree with you, rather get wet than lost!
          Just want to say have a great day tomorrow! Enjoy your speech, sounds like a wonderful opportunity, and I have a feeling you will rock!

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  17. I never knew the origin of the cat’s 9 lives before…. or that 13 was once a beloved number… or pretty much half the stuff you’ve said here, Ali. You’re dangerously close to making me learn something. I really hope it doesn’t hurt 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Thank you so much Ali for putting this together. It was a fabulous, informative read. I had to laugh though about rabbits being good luck, though as they are a serious pest in Australia which has caused terrible environmental damage. That said, I’ve never sent the Easter Bunny packing. xx Rowena

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