Archive for August 13th, 2010

Thank God it’s Friday! –  Jerry Healy (American disc jockey from Akron, Ohio)

Today is Friday the 13th, believed by the superstitious throughout much of the Christian world to be a day of bad luck and ill omen.  The superstition is of relatively recent vintage; it seems to have first arisen in 19th century Italy and did not become common in the United States until after it was popularized by a novel published in 1907.  It appears to be the compound of two earlier superstitions that Friday is an unlucky day and 13 an unlucky number; presumably someone decided that given these beliefs, it was only logical to assume that a day which represented both would be doubly unlucky.  Now, most of you are probably asking, “What the hell does this have to do with whores, you silly bitch?”  Patience, dear readers; all will be explained.

1st century copy of one of Praxiteles’ statues of Aphrodite, later desecrated by Christian vandals (note cruciform gouge); the model of the original is believed to have been Phryne.

Friday is the day which in most pre-Christian European cultures was sacred to the goddess of love and beauty; in Germanic myth she was named Freya, hence Friday = Freya’s Day.  The Ancient Greeks called the day hemera Aphrodites (Aphrodite’s Day) and the Romans dies Veneris (Venus’ Day), the latter being the source of the French vendredi, the Italian venerdi and the Spanish viernes.  In ancient European cultures the day was therefore sacred to devotees of the goddess, including whores, but when Christianity started to displace pagan religions ancient traditions had to be either absorbed or destroyed so the new religion could secure an absolute monopoly on belief.  Popular festivals such as Saturnalia, Samhain and Eastre were given Christian meanings (becoming Christmas, Halloween and Easter) so they could be continued, but the old gods were declared to be demons and those who refused to give up their worship were therefore labeled witches, heathens, devil-worshippers, etc.  Since the Christians already had their sacred day there was no need of another, but it would be absurd to declare all other days evil since there were only seven.  Still, the human mind seeks balance; if one day is especially blessed it seemed reasonable to our ancestors that another should be especially baneful.  And there was no better choice to the misogynistic Christian mind than Friday, the one day associated with a goddess (Monday was more associated with the moon as an astrological influence than with the moon-goddess); and not just any goddess, mind you, but the goddess of sex and patroness of whores and other carnal, unsavory, ungodly things!  As if that weren’t enough Jesus was crucified on a Friday, which certainly sealed the deal; by the end of the Dark Ages Friday was firmly established in the popular mind as a day of ill omen, associated with witches and bad luck.  It is mentioned as such in The Canterbury Tales, and the superstitions of many professions (especially those of sailors) held that it was particularly bad luck to start a project or journey on a Friday.

The idea that 13 is unlucky is of uncertain origin, but likely has to do with the numerological fixation of several ancient cultures (including the Babylonians and Chinese) on the number 12.  This fascination was probably due to the fact that twelve is the lowest number with so many nontrivial (i.e. higher than 1) factors; it can be evenly divided by two, three, four and six, which makes it very versatile for subdivision.  Many ancient number systems are duodecimal (base-12) and there are twelve months in a year, twelve hours in a day or night, twelve signs of the zodiac, twelve items in a dozen, twelve Olympian gods, twelve Tribes of Israel, twelve inches in a foot, twelve pence to the (traditional) shilling, etc.  Given this obsession with 12, it seems only reasonable that the rational Western mind (inheriting the ancient Greek love of order and balance) should consider the prime number 13, which is the orderly twelve with one disorderly extra unit, to be somehow disreputable or irrational.  But so is 11; why did 13 come to be considered unlucky rather than 11?  The answer, I suspect, lies in the moon.

The moon’s synodic period, that is the time it takes for it to change from one phase back to exactly the same phase again, is 29.53 days, but this cannot be determined without advanced techniques of calculation; most ancients would’ve estimated it at either 28 or 29 days (which, incidentally, is why the week is seven days long; it’s roughly the time it takes the moon to change one phase, a quarter of its cycle).  365 days in a year divided by 28 or 29 comes a lot closer to 13 than it does to 12; expressed another way, the majority of calendar years enjoy 13 full moons, not 12.  This fact must have irritated the ancient mathematicians immensely, because they chose to round the month up to 30 days and then add a few extra days here and there rather than let the regular, masculine year be divided into 13 untidy, feminine months.  I say “feminine” months because in many ancient cultures the moon was viewed as feminine; beside her glaringly obvious association with the menstrual cycle she is changeable, soft and mysterious, unlike the steady, harsh and dependably regular masculine sun.  This celestial “bad girl” even refuses to stay in what men would consider her “proper place”, the night; she sometimes rises before dark, at other times refuses to rise until almost morning, and at the time of the new moon makes no appearance in the night sky whatsoever, instead following the sun about in a most unseemly fashion.  Is it any wonder, then, that the female-dominated witchcraft religion practiced its rites under the moon (away from prying Christian eyes) and used the mystic, feminine 13 (the number of the moon) as the traditional number of witches in a coven?  Unruly, uppity, whorish 13 scandalized the male numerologists in a way timid, docile little 11 never could, and so was doomed to go from merely irrational to thoroughly shunned.

There is another, not-completely-separate tradition associating the number thirteen with misfortune; in Norse mythology, Balder was the favorite of the gods but his untimely death had been prophesied.  His mother, Frigga, therefore extracted an oath against harming Balder from all things in the nine worlds, but skipped mistletoe because it was so small and soft.  Loki, the god of mischief, envied Balder’s popularity and so vowed to cause his death; he used a trick to learn of the overlooked plant and made a magical spear from it, then disguised himself to crash a banquet at which there were already 12 guests.  After dinner the gods made a game of hurling weapons at the now-invulnerable Balder, but his blind brother Hodr was unable to participate; Loki disguised his voice and gave Hodr the spear, offering to help him aim it so he could join the game.  Hodr of course presumed the spear would bounce off like every other weapon, and so was tricked into murdering his own brother.  From this myth grew the Norse belief that it was unlucky to have 13 guests at dinner; perhaps the specific number was even related to the unwelcome 13th lunar guest at the sun’s table.  But whatever its origin, the superstition dovetailed perfectly with the Christian tradition of the unlucky 13th guest at the Last Supper (12 apostles plus Jesus), and when the “13 at dinner” tradition combined with the general discomfort about the number 13, a full-blown superstition was born.

And a powerful superstition it is; triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number 13) is such a common phenomenon that many buildings in Western nations even lack a 13th floor.  The fear of Friday the 13th specifically is called either “friggatriskaidekaphobia” or “paraskevidekatriaphobia”, and is widespread enough to have a interesting effect on the accident rate; ironically, insurance statistics show that fewer accidents of all kinds (including traffic accidents) happen on Friday the 13th than on other days, probably because those who fear the day either stay home or are more cautious when they go out.

Given the origin of beliefs about Friday the 13th, however, even the superstitious whore has nothing to worry about, as I explained to Paula when she once expressed concern about working on the day.  Since Friday is the day sacred to our patron goddess, and 13 the most feminine of numbers, Friday the 13th should be good luck for whores even if it really were bad luck for Christian men.  Now, I’m not really superstitious; I don’t believe that a day can bring either good luck or bad.  But considering that the reasons for fear of this day are so closely related to the reasons our profession is maligned and suppressed, perhaps whores and those who support our rights should make every Friday the Thirteenth a day to speak out in favor of full decriminalization and an end to the institutionalized persecution of prostitutes.  I therefore ask my readers to start a new tradition today; speak out for us to at least one person who will listen, or if you’re not comfortable doing that openly at least make an anonymous post on some other website in defense of us, or containing a link to this column.  Let’s start getting the word out that whores are no different from other women, and that “a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body” is more than just a euphemism for abortion.

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