If you started your day by tossing your hat on the bed, popping open your umbrella, then heading under a ladder on your way outside to your car, only to find a black cat pacing back and forth in your path, you likely already know that today not only falls on Friday the 13th but also culminates in a full moon.
If you did not begin your day with any actions that trigger commonly held superstitions — or simply don’t believe in such folderol — you may be wondering what all the fuss is about.
The fuss comes in part due to the rare convergence of events. While not unheard of, the entire continental U.S. hasn’t experienced a Friday-the-13th full moon since Oct. 13, 2000, and won’t see another until Aug. 13, 2049, according to the Farmers’ Almanac.
Of course, the Farmers’ Almanac also points out that for Crawford County residents and others in the Eastern time zone, the moon won’t technically become full until 12:33 a.m., which means it will actually be Saturday the 14th. But, at the risk of butchering a well-worn adage, “almost” always counts in horseshoes, hand grenades and hoary old superstitions.
Why do such superstitions persist — or even thrive — in an era of technological advancement almost unimaginable just a generation or two prior?
Chalk it up to human nature, says Lydia Eckstein, a psychology professor at Allegheny College.
“Generally we look for predictability, patterns, and meaning in a world that's often random and unpredictable,” Eckstein explained in an email. “It reduces anxiety to feel like we're in control by wearing our lucky sweater to an exam, or by avoiding a seat in the 13th row on an airplane.”
Superstitions can be meaningful, Eckstein continued, especially when they form the basis for shared cultural rituals. Like powerless placebos that still manage to make sick people feel better, they can also have real and powerful effects.
That some superstitions can have significant ramifications doesn’t change the fact that they are textbook examples of irrational thinking, and they are reinforced by the tendency to confuse correlation with causation, according to Eckstein.
“We associate events that are rare and therefore memorable and think there must be a causal relationship between them,” Eckstein said. “If I fall down the stairs on Friday the 13th, the two rare events — falling and having the 13th fall on a Friday, about which I already have expectations — may stick out to me and I may connect them and conclude that I fell because it was Friday the 13th.”
Add a full moon, which triggers another layer of expectation and awareness for some, into the equation and the stage is set for a smorgasbord of self-fulfilling supernatural expectations.
To further stimulate those who are open to these sorts of influences, the full moon scheduled to begin just after Friday the 13th in the Eastern portion of the nation is also the Harvest Moon — the full moon that occurs closest to the autumnal equinox, which takes place on Sept. 23 this year.
The Harvest Moon grows out of agricultural customs, according to meteorologist Dan Rupp of JET 24/FOX 66.
“Farmers look at that and that’s when they know they can harvest their corn,” Rupp said of the tradition.
This full moon is also a “micromoon,” Rupp pointed out — the diminutive counterpart to the better known “supermoon.”
In contrast to the supermoon, which refers to a full moon that coincides with the point in the moon’s orbit closest to the earth, a micro moon occurs when the moon is at or near apogee, the point in its orbit farthest from the earth. In both cases, the difference in apparent size and brightness is slight but noticeable.
Between the horror-movie associations of the date and the spooky significance of the full moon, Rupp joked, one thing is clear: “It looks like it’s going to be a creepy Friday tomorrow.”
In truth, however, Rupp said those in Crawford County with hopes of seeing the full moon may be out of luck. The forecast calls for cold and wind with thunderstorms likely.
“It’s kind of a bummer,” he said. “I don’t know how much people will be able to see it.”
Thankfully, there’s always 2049.
In Hollywood, such a coincidence of timing might form the basis for a story involving a group of summer camp teens pursued by a relentless masked killer who comes to discover, as the moon rises in the sky, that the seemingly innocent children are actually werewolves.
In reality, there are no werewolves and the conjunction of Friday the 13th with a full moon is probably nothing to worry about — unless you are already worried about it, in which case your worrying could make it something to worry about.
Eckstein offered some advice.
“Remind yourself that mostly,” she said, “it is just an average Friday and you may just be paying more attention to unusual events than on other days because of expectations you have around Friday the 13th.”
Mike Crowley can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.