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Akst: Lay low today, and try to relax

I am so the right person to write this column. Check your calendar.

I see you realize today is Friday the 13th (one of three this year; each occurs 13 weeks apart).

The reason I should write about Friday the 13th is that “Akst” is an alias. My real last name is Voorhees.

That’s right: I’m Jason Voorhees of all the “Friday the 13th” movies. Got the mask to prove it. I’ve lost count of the sequels. I’ve made so much in royalties that I only write this column for fun.

I’ll share a trade secret. Here’s how to make the freaky/scary noise you hear just before I strike. In your scariest whisper, say, “Kee hee hee, hah hah hah.”

OK, that was fun, but even in lighter columns, I try to say something useful.

Your fear of today is known as paraskevidekatriaphobia. Many people are miserable today, some so much they don’t get up or leave their houses.

Donald Dossey, therapist and founder of the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, N.C., is a well-known researcher of this phobia.

The phobia institute once estimated the economy loses hundreds of millions of dollars each Friday the 13th (people unwilling to travel, shop, etc.), although that estimate has not been verified.

Anyway, Dossey, also a folklorist, told National Geographic in 2004 that the fear of Friday the 13th is rooted in ancient, separate, bad-luck associations with the number 13 and the day Friday. The two ultimately combined to make one really unlucky day.

Thirteen hasn’t caught a break from the get-go.

Fear of 13 traces back to a Norse myth about 12 gods having a dinner party at Valhalla. A 13th god crashed the party, and all heck broke loose.

Ever notice how often history goes awry because of a dinner party?

There is also a biblical reference to 13. Judas, the apostle who betrayed Jesus, was the 13th guest to the Last Supper. Also, in ancient Rome, witches reportedly gathered in groups of 12. The 13th was believed to be the devil.

Some say 13 is bad simply because it comes after 12 (darn that number line). Numerologists consider 12 a “complete” number: there are 12 months in a year, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 gods of Olympus, 12 labors of Hercules, 12 tribes of Israel and 12 Apostles of Jesus. Exceeding 12 is just wrong.

One upside: For pagans, 13 is a lucky number. It corresponds with the number of full moons in a year.

As for Friday, it’s well known among Christians as the day Jesus was crucified. Some biblical scholars believe Eve tempted Adam with the forbidden fruit on Friday, and that Cain slew Abel on Friday the 13th.

Why are we convinced bad things will happen today? Thomas Gilovich of Cornell University told that our brains are almost too good at making associations.

“If anything bad happens to you on Friday the 13th, the two will be forever associated in your mind, and all those uneventful days in which the 13th fell on a Friday will be ignored,” he said.

Sufferers, I can’t give psychological advice. Most of the material I’ve read suggests trying (very hard) to look for positive things that might happen today. Just realize that your fear is based on really old stories. Try to relax.

• Jason Akst teaches journalism and public relations at Northern Illinois University. You can reach him at

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