Here we are again, at yet another Friday the 13th. The date comes around at least two or three times every year (actually, just once this year — we’re in luck!) and yet we’re so terrified of it that we’ve created a movie franchise around it. But why does such a meaningless, random day get such a bad rap?
The answer to that question is difficult. The popular theory is that it arose from the fact that there were 13 people who sat around the table during the Last Supper, before Jesus’ crucifixion on a Friday. As Dr. Phil Stevens, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Buffalo, told TIME, “When those two events come together, you are reenacting at least a portion of that terrible event. You are reestablishing two things that were connected to that terrible event.”
But if 13 disciples plus death on a Friday seems like a stretch to you, you’re not alone. Dr. Simon Bronner, distinguished professor of American studies and folklore at Pennsylvania State University, believes that the date is just a convenient marker for people to blame their bad luck on. “There’s a grain of truth to [the Last Supper theory],” he said, “but the problem is that there is not much of a connection to the modern belief. It may be a case of religious folklore that rose to explain a belief. Psychologists treat [the fear of Friday the 13th] as real, but my sense is that…it’s something to blame. I think it was a constructed belief.”
The most important thing, in Bronner’s eyes, is to not make fun of people who refuse to leave their house today. “Sometimes these are frivolous things, but sometimes they are deeply rooted cultural fears,” he says. “You can insult somebody by making fun of it or you can be ignorant yourself. Some people have deep cultural taboos that you cannot change by denying them.”