WHILE businessmen and women may consider themselves businesslike, they should be advised that fearing a Friday the 13th, such as this Friday, is just one of numerous superstitions that have haunted businesspeople over the years.
In ancient Western civilization, for example, there was the widespread use of mascots among businessmen, on the grounds that a cricket, a deer's tooth and a bee were favored among the gods and goddesses and would play a part in generating honorable transactions.
Early European businessmen also were great believers in doing business according to the best phase of the moon, usually a new moon. For retailers, it was a good sign if the first customer of the day made a purchase -- unless the customer happened to be an elderly woman. Females were bad omens, but old women were especially dreaded on the theory that because they were near death, so goeth the business they patronized.
Whenever a new business was opened in the old days a horseshoe was put over the door for good luck, or a rabbit's foot was carried in the pocket of the proprietor. The first dollar bill that came into the store was framed; in the gold and silver times, a little saliva was rubbed on the first coin.
Back then, even numbers, as opposed to odd numbers, were believed to portend evil, which is why 99-year leases became the business norm. And it was customary to enter into such leases only on certain days of the month. No deal was a deal unless the parties, after signing on the dotted line, shook hands and belted down a little vino.
Even moving from one business location to another was filled with superstitious dos and don'ts. Don't move on a Saturday, business people in the 1800s admonished; otherwise your new business will fizzle quickly. Leave something behind, which will act as an antidote to bad luck. Don't move to a new location in the same building unless it is on a higher level; going down a floor is like going down the tubes.
As for Friday the 13th, it was the unluckiest day of the year. Its bad luck was also associated with women, in particular Freya, the Norse goddess who was synonymous with witches and after whom Friday is named. It seems that Freya and her coven met on Friday and in numbers of 13, thereby giving rising to an unluckly double whammy.
As a result, early businessmen wouldn't sign a contract on that day and later ones wouldn't send out a letter, or even travel for fear that the skies wouldn't be friendly. Today, many office buildings don't have a 13th floor.
Of course, there is a surefire counteragent for the contemporary executive fearing the bad luck of this fateful day: Stumble into the office. That's a good luck sign, hence the origin of the term "falling into it." Besides, by falling onto the floor, one just might have the opportunity to knock on wood.
Thomas V. DiBacco is a historian at American University.