Friday the 13th; a mere mention of the day causes fear and trepidation in some people. It’s long been considered a ‘bad luck’ day, but few people are aware of the history behind why so many people fear it. Some of those are simply afraid of the number thirteen, even though there are two schools of thought among numerologists on whether the number thirteen is actually unlucky. Those who fear the number are said to be suffering from Triskaidekaphobia (three-and-ten-fear), while people who fear Friday the 13th specifically are said to have Paraskavedekatriaphobia. Regardless of which side of the debate you fall, the lore is interesting enough to follow.
There are several theories which originate from the Christian church on why Friday the 13th was unlucky. Many consider them pure superstition while others believe them as pure fact; again there are two distinct sides of the debate.
Biblical scholars have made claims that the mythical first human, a woman named Eve, tempted another mythical human named Adam on a Friday, and because of that fateful transgression, they were cast out of the Garden of Eden. This is likely the least believable source since the concept of Friday, or any other named day or week or even year, didn’t exist until the Roman Emperor Julius Caesar proposed it in the year 46 BC. Additionally, in the biblical fable of Cain and Able, one brother murdered the other; supposedly on a Friday the 13th. This theory falls flat for the same reasons as the Garden of Eden one; time wasn’t measured in days and weeks in the time period they were purported to have existed.
Two other reasons are attributed to Christianity. One can be found from the Last Supper, when the twelve disciples of a prophet named Jesus dined together for the last time. One of the group of thirteen, a man named Judas Iscariot, was purported to have betrayed his master; turning over information to the Romans that led to his execution by crucifixion. The second part of this theory was that Jesus was crucified on a Friday the 13th, which would have been possible, but improbable.
There is an old Norse story of a great dinner party in Valhalla where twelve of the Gods including Odin himself were engaged in festivities. When without warning, a thirteenth uninvited God made a grand entrance. He was none other than Loki the Trickster. Loki somehow convinced Hoder (Höðr) who was the son of Odin and Frigg and also totally blind, to kill his twin brother Baldr, the God of light, joy, purity, and the summer sun.
Baldr was invulnerable to all things in the world except mistletoe. Loki helped guide Hoder to shoot a mistletoe arrow, which mortally wounded his twin. Hoder was later slain by the giant Rindr, who was conceived by Odin and Frigg just for that specific task. Because Loki was the 13th guest, the Norse people considered the 13th a bad and unlucky day for all, regardless of whether it was on a Friday or not.
The Knights Templar
The most likely theory goes back to the year 1307, when Philip IV of France had the legions of soldiers known as the Knights Templar arrested and disbanded. It was supposedly on a Friday the 13th in October that over 600 Knights along with many other men-at-arms were taken into custody.
The Knights Templar were a monastic military order founded in 1118 and chartered with the protection of pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land after the First Crusade. After the capture of Jerusalem, thousands of people sought salvation by taking the dangerous journey. European royalty, seeking both protection for their people and favor funded the Knights Templar who quickly became one of the richest and most influential groups in the known world. By the turn of the 14th century, the Knights Templar had established a diverse system of castles, churches and even banks.
The French King was uncomfortable with the level of power the Templars had amassed, so he sent secret documents all throughout Europe which accused the Knights of all sorts of improprieties. These included black magic, lurid sexual rituals, homosexuality, devil worship, heresy, fraud, financial corruption, and desecrating holy objects. Once in custody, the men were tortured beyond imagination until they “confessed” and many were later executed by being burnt at the stake. Of course, the church and King Philip confiscated their lands and finances in the process, which seems like it was the plan all along.
Just as a comparison on how different societies viewed the number thirteen as it related to their calendars, we can use the Aztec civilization. The Aztecs considered the number thirteen sacred. Each week in the Aztec calendar had thirteen days and the number stood for completion. The Aztec complete year was 260 days; 20 thirteen day periods. Each 13 day period was called a Trecena. The 13th Trenca was ruled by the Goddess Tlazolteotl. She was the Goddess of sin and a patroness of adulterers, who could forgive sins; particularly those of a sexual nature.
In 1907, a writer named Thomas Lawson wrote a novel entitled Friday the 13th which wasn’t a horror story, but a novel about a stock broker attempting to crash the market. Many people associated the date with bad luck or an evil day due to the book. The writer himself was a very superstitious man and a highly controversial stock trader from Boston who amassed a fortune doing dubious transactions. There is also a little known fact about Mr. Lawson that adds to the story. He was fortunate enough to have the only seven masted schooner ship ever built, named after him. That very same schooner was wrecked off the Isles of Sicily in 1907 in the early morning hours of the 14th of December, which in Boston time was still on Friday the 13th.
Friday the 13th Today
The popular horror movie series, Friday the 13th, which has 12 episodes at the time of this article, attached gruesome murder and terror to the date. It also helped launch a decade of “slasher” movies nationwide. Although it was pure cinematic blood and gore, it had a lasting impact on a generation.
Today there is a legitimate and genuine phobia of the date to the point that many people refuse to do financial transactions on the day, many people will not hold dinner parties with thirteen guests and many hotels don’t have a thirteenth floor. Visits to mental health clinics rise on that day and history has recorded a lengthy list of tragic events which coincidentally occurred on a Friday the 13th. In 1940, Buckingham Palace was bombed on a fateful Friday, a cyclone in Bangladesh in 1970 left over 300,000 dead, Tupac Shakur died on Friday the 13th, and the Costa Concordia luxury liner crashed into a reef in 2012. These are just a few of the events.
Regardless of which side of the debate you stand, the entire concept and how its evolved to have a life of its own is remarkable. If your the type who fears the day, then watch your calendars; to have a Friday the 13th in a month, it must start with a Sunday.