more on the 13th

October 12, 2006 at 10:09 pm

[B][SIZE=2][COLOR=red]The Unluckiest Day of All[/COLOR][/SIZE][/B]

[COLOR=red]The astute reader will have observed that while we have thus far insinuated any number of intriguing connections between events, practices and beliefs attributed to ancient cultures and the superstitious fear of Fridays and the number 13, we have yet to happen upon an explanation of how, why or when these separate strands of folklore converged — if that is indeed what happened — to mark Friday the 13th as the unluckiest day of all. [/COLOR]
[COLOR=red]There’s a very simple reason for that — nobody really knows, though various explanations have been proposed. [/COLOR]
[COLOR=red][B]The Knights Templar[/B] [/COLOR]
[COLOR=red]One theory, recently offered up as historical fact in the novel [I]The Da Vinci Code[/I], holds that it came about not as the result of a convergence, but a catastrophe, a single historical event that happened nearly 700 years ago. The catastrophe was the decimation of the [/COLOR][URL=””%5D%5BCOLOR=red%5DKnights Templar[/COLOR][/URL][COLOR=red], the legendary order of “warrior monks” formed during the Christian Crusades to combat Islam. Renowned as a fighting force for 200 years, by the 1300s the order had grown so pervasive and powerful it was perceived as a political threat by kings and popes alike and brought down by a church-state conspiracy, as recounted by Katharine Kurtz in [I]Tales of the Knights Templar[/I] (Warner Books: 1995): [/COLOR][LIST][I][COLOR=red]”On October 13, 1307, a day so infamous that Friday the 13th would become a synonym for ill fortune, officers of King Philip IV of France carried out mass arrests in a well-coordinated dawn raid that left several thousand Templars — knights, sergeants, priests, and serving brethren — in chains, charged with heresy, blasphemy, various obscenities, and homosexual practices. None of these charges was ever proven, even in France — and the Order was found innocent elsewhere — but in the seven years following the arrests, hundreds of Templars suffered excruciating tortures intended to force ‘confessions,’ and more than a hundred died under torture or were executed by burning at the stake.”[/COLOR][/I][/LIST]
[COLOR=red][B]A Thoroughly Modern Phenomenon[/B] [/COLOR]
[COLOR=red]There are drawbacks to the “day so infamous” thesis, not the least of which is that it attributes enormous cultural significance to a relatively obscure historical event. Even more problematic, for this or any other theory positing premodern origins for Friday the 13th superstitions, is the fact that no one has been able to document the existence of such beliefs prior to the 19th century. If people who lived before the late 1800s perceived Friday the 13th as a day of special misfortune, no evidence has been found to prove it. As a result, some scholars are now convinced the stigma is a thoroughly modern phenomenon exacerbated by 20th-century media hype. [/COLOR][COLOR=red]Going back a hundred years, Friday the 13th doesn’t even merit a mention in E. Cobham Brewer’s voluminous 1898 edition of the [I]Dictionary of Phrase and Fable[/I], though one does find entries for “[/COLOR][URL=””%5D%5BCOLOR=red%5DFriday, an Unlucky Day[/COLOR][/URL][COLOR=red]” and “[/COLOR][URL=””%5D%5BCOLOR=red%5DThirteen Unlucky[/COLOR][/URL][COLOR=red].” When the date of ill fate finally does make an appearance in later editions of the text, it is without extravagant claims as to the superstition’s historicity or longevity. The very brevity of the entry is instructive: “A particularly unlucky Friday. See [I]Thirteen[/I]” — implying that the extra dollop of misfortune attributed to Friday the 13th can be accounted for in terms of an accrual, so to speak, of bad omens: [/COLOR]
[INDENT][COLOR=red]Unlucky Friday + Unlucky 13 = Unluckier Friday. [/COLOR][/INDENT][COLOR=red]If that’s the case, we are guilty of perpetuating a misnomer by labeling Friday the 13th “the unluckiest day of all,” a designation perhaps better reserved for, say, a Friday the 13th on which one breaks a mirror, walks under a ladder, spills the salt, and spies a black cat crossing one’s path — a day, if there ever was one, best spent in the safety of one’s own home with doors locked, shutters closed and fingers crossed[/COLOR]