Friday the 13th, A Day Like Any Other

As I write this piece, millions of people are wringing their hands with worried frustration, they are fearful of the bad luck that will surely befall them over the course of the day.  Today is Friday the 13th, and I need not explain that superstition further, though I shall.

Friday the 13th has long been a day of superstitious forbearance; it is connected to several ancient legends and is the focus of more than one phobia.  Historically speaking the legend that says Friday the 13th is a day of profound bad luck, comes out of medieval Europe around the turn of the fourteenth century.  It is said that as the knights Templar, a monastic military order, charged with protecting Christian Pilgrims along the path from Europe to Jerusalem during the Crusades, came to be a debtor of King

Philip IV of France

in 1307AD, to the potential ruin of the French Empire.  In order to quell the impending disaster of dept collection, Philip arranged the demise of all Knights Templar in France via orders that were to be opened on the morning of October the 13th, a Friday.  The orders accused the Knights of egregious acts of heresy, and demanded that French troops engage and arrest any and all Knights Templar in France, seizing land, and assets in the name of the King and of Pope Clement V.  Following arrest, medieval torture tactics were used to force confessions for their crimes and eventually all of the knights were executed.

To add insult to injury, King Phillip had the Templars buried in a public manner: a large event in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral would have Templar Grand Master Jacques De Molay publicly admit guilt of heresy. Instead, the defeated grandmaster took to his forum and apologized to the people and Templar Knights for his weakness in signing forced confessions. He then rescinded his original confession and testified to the public that he, his men, and all Templar Knights were innocent, despite their forced confessions. An embarrassed King Phillip was enraged by the old man’s actions and had him burned at the stake along with his second-in-command. De Molay’s dying words were to curse King Phillip and Pope Clement V, claiming that by the year’s end they both would meet their demise. Adding to the superstitious legacy of Friday the 13th and to the power of the Templars, both men did die that year.[1]

Of course, the Knights Templar tale isn’t the only reason for Friday the 13thsuperstition; In numerology, the number twelve is considered the number of completeness, as reflected in the twelve months of the year, twelve hours of the clock, twelve tribes of Israel, twelve Apostles of Jesus, twelve gods of Olympus, etc., whereas the number thirteen was considered irregular, transgressing this completeness. There is also a superstition, thought by some to derive from the Last Supper or by others, a Norse myth that having thirteen people seated at a table will result in the death of one of the diners.

A fear of Friday the 13th is known as friggatriskaidekaphobia, wherein a fear of the number 13 is known as triskaidekaphobia, and this fear manifests in many elements of today’s society, from Black Friday – which is associated to stock market crashes since the 1800’s – to the quirky habit of highrise builders in leaving out the 13th floor (though the 13th floor still exists, it’s just called the 14th floor).

As a personal aside, I’ve always found it curious that people will find superstition in the inventions of men.  The Gregorian Calendar is simply a method for marking the passage of time, yet we find ways to vilify and venerate certain elements of that calendar based on old world hokum. From dates containing all the same digit (i.e. January 11, 2011, or 1/11/11), to Friday the 13th, it amazes me how much time is devoted to tracking and monitoring infinitesimal happenings on these special dates and correlating them to bad luck.  Add in the superstitions that arise out of lunar cycles and planetary alignments, and one can find a reason to be weary of virtually any day in the calendar.

Thought there are those who revel in others torment, and many traditions are coming to bear which actually venerate both the number 13 and Friday the 13th, most notably, the motorcycle rally’s that occur across North America every Friday the 13th.

Any way you slice it, superstitions such as these are a pernicious and infectious malady of our culture, they do very little good, and quite a bit of harm under the right conditions, and to my mind it’s time to let them go, to let them be a part of our past, not our present or future.


[1] Nathaniel Lachenmeyer, 13: The Story of the Worlds Most Popular Superstition, Ch.5 (2004)

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