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  • Lawrence Bailey

Watch your step out there tomorrow




OK, I’m betting that you’ve never heard of the clinical condition ‘paraskevidekatriaphobia’. Nonetheless, it’s possible you’ll experience a mild bout of it tomorrow.


The near-unpronounceable term is intended to describe the anxieties associated with Friday 13th and all its attendant woes.


The infrequent combination of date and day has long been regarded as ominous. Strangely though, there’s not much historical evidence around as to why this should be the case.


Popular myth has it that the number thirteen is imbued with sinister connotations; one of which draws upon the number who attended the Last Supper. Another suggestion is that there were thirteen steps up to the gallows while Friday was the day on which public executions were traditionally held.


None of this is definitive and just to confuse matters, populations in Spain or Greece get equally apprehensive about Tuesday 13th while Italians feel nervous when Friday falls on the 17th.


In India, and regardless of the date, getting a haircut on a Tuesday could entice unfriendly spirits into the open, according to legend.


As it happens, the risk of invoking evil comes up in a lot of superstitions. In Portugal, it's considered a bad move to walk backwards. The belief is that you could be showing Old Nick your direction of travel.


If you prefer a more direct method then Lithuanians think you can summon up a menacing presence just by whistling indoors.


Adjusting mirrors to get infinite reflections may produce a cool effect but Mexican folklore holds that this can offer a doorway to the underworld.


We tend to be a bit more grounded here in Britain; that is until someone places a shoe on the table. Customarily, this presaged the death of a loved one, although nowadays it’s more likely to earn you a telling off for bad manners.


Putting your foot in it, figuratively speaking, can be lucky in France if dog mess is involved. However it has to be the left shoe. No, really.


Of course, every child knows that you have to avoid stepping on pavement cracks. It seems the same advice applies in Sweden in respect of manhole covers – especially if the cover is missing, I guess.


Taking precautions to ward off the Evil Eye isn’t as straightforward as you might first think either.


Western custom insists that throwing a pinch of salt over your left shoulder will protect you from catastrophe. Conversely, it’s thought to be a seriously bad omen in eastern Mediterranean countries when salt is spilled, intentionally or otherwise.


It’s definitely bad karma in Japan to leave your chopsticks sticking out of your food. Apparently they resemble the incense sticks used at funerals. It’s been known for staff in more traditional establishments to break the utensils of thoughtless diners to appease the departed.


A less destructive approach towards fending off misfortune is the practice of knocking or touching wood


Views differ over the origin, with some citing Celtic mysticism while others contend it all stems from the children’s game of “chase” where players can claim refuge by touching wood, such as a door or a tree.


Finally, there’s the ubiquitous black cat possessing multiple attributes that include being a trapped soul, a witch’s familiar, a portent of evil or else a herald of good fortune. Basically, you can take your pick.


By the way, the term "paraskevidekatriaphobia" was invented in the 1990s by American psychotherapist Dr Donald Dossey.


He assured patients who were badly hung up about Friday 13th that if they could say the phrase straight off then they’d be cured. Unfortunately, there’s no record as to whether this actually worked.


Stay lucky.

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