It's Friday the 13th, the second one we've had in 2012. Believers in superstition feel this occurence to be an unlucky omen. Not only is 2012 the year the Mayan calendar ends, not only is 2012 a leap-year, but Friday the 13th is quite an unlucky number.
I am not superstitious, so I naturally don't place much stock in numbers. Any scholar of the history of man loses their belief in superstition after learning how different beliefs are the world over.
Why is the number 13 considered unlucky? It's not actually 13 that's unlucky, as numerology deals almost exclusively with single digit numbers, however the number 4 is believed to be a bad omen, and since 1+3=4 13 is unlucky. Any combination of numbers that adds to four is usually un-lucky. In America we avoid 13, we often skip the 13th floor in buildings going from 12 to 14. It seems that the 'evil' attracted to the 13th floor is negated simply by avoiding the label. In Japan all values of four are omitted, 4, 13, 22, 31 etc. They don't simply skip these floors, since their evil spirits can count, so they build their structures normally then wall off the floors associated with that number. If the Japanese are right, every 14th floor in America is haunted.
For the 9-5 workers of America Friday the 13th is still a good omen, promising two days of rest at its conclusion.
Sailors had a different view of bad luck, while the average believer in superstition would go to great lengths to avoid bad omens, sailors would keep the symbols of those omens close at hand. It was a common belief that having a tattoo of the number 13, or the grim reaper, would cause bad luck to pass by. Bad luck would believe the bearer of the tattoo to be kin, and thus not trouble his brother. Sailors have a very involved set of superstitions involving tattoos, one of the most common is based on the phrase 'pig below the knee, safety at sea' and is the cause of many pig tattoos on a sailors foot. Another common phrase resulting in a tattoo is 'Cock on the right, never lose a fight'. The pig is tattooed on the left foot, and the rooster on the right of a man who wishes to win fights and not drown.
Of course there are better ways to win fights and avoid drowning, but superstition and the belief in magic seems to be a part of human culture since the neolithic age, and possible even before that.
Modern psychologists have proven that bad luck is truth to the superstitious due to a concept called 'self-fulfilling prophesy'. When you believe something will happen, you act in such a way that causes it. This concept is nothing new, as far back as 1000 C.E. Kings have issued decrees against predicting anything negative against royalty, and many people have been jailed, hung, or burned for publishing negative predictions in their almanacs and horoscopes. Since the Royalty believed in the power of prediction, they naturally feared it.
In America the tradition of the carnival has given us much insight to the palm-readers and crystal-gazers, and with that knowledge we are free to indulge in such things for fun, enjoying the art and fantasy created by the great showmanship without the heavy-hearted belief in them.
Superstition is very real to the superstitious, and much money has been made selling amulets, charms, and spells to ward off bad luck. These trinkets work by the same psychological concept that causes the curses to work, self-fulfilling prophesy. If you believe it will happen, it probably will.
Enjoy this Friday the 13th, and take a moment to remember our collective history filled with magic and fancy without the superstition.