Friday the 13th - but worse is to come

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TODAY is Friday the 13th. For the superstitious, that is bad news, but there is worse to come: for the 13th of March and the 13th of November will also fall on a Friday. Three Friday the 13ths in one year is the most that can occur. It last happened in 1987; it will not happen again until 2009.

In Christian tradition, the Friday the 13th superstition is usually linked to the number present at the Last Supper, and the day of the Crucifixion, yet triskaidekaphobia - fear of the number 13 - dates back to pre-Christian times. In fact the Christian association between Friday the 13th and bad luck dates back only to the middle ages when the number 13 was already long established as a bad omen in other cultures. The origins of 13-fear dates back to the Babylonians.

According to the 1894 edition of Brewer's Phrase and Fable, "The Turks so disliked the number that the word is almost expunged from their vocabulary". The French, at the end of the 19th century, would jump from 12 to 14 in street numbers. Even today, as the new Citibank building goes up on Canary Wharf, the numbers painted on the outside of the concrete pillars that will form the lift shaft read 11 ... 12 ... 12+1 ... 14.

From a rational perspective, such superstition is nonsense - though it must have been irritating for any rationalist to note that in the first year of the National Lottery, the numbers least favoured by the draw were 13 and 39.