Saturday, February 14, 2009

More Friday the 13th on Valentine's Day

Emily asked about the history behind Friday the 13th. It's really rather fascinating.

Is Friday the 13th the unluckiest day of all, or a day that got a bad rap? As a historical writer, I'm always curious about how things came about, or what in history sparked certain events. I decided to do a little research. I must admit I was surprised by what I found. I've never seen this day as such a bad omen, one that forced me to do anything different than I had before. But what I discovered gave me something to think about.

Here are a few superstitions/tidbits from history:
Many cities do not have a 13th Street or a 13th Avenue.
Many buildings don't have a 13th floor.
If you have 13 letters in your name, you will have the devil's luck (Jack the Ripper, Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, Theodore Bundy and Albert De Salvo all have 13 letters in their names).
There are 13 witches in a coven.
Ships that set sail on a Friday will have bad luck -- as in the tale of H.M.S. Friday.

One hundred years ago, the British government sought to quell once and for all the widespread superstition among seamen that setting sail on Fridays was unlucky. A special ship was commissioned, named "H.M.S. Friday." They laid her keel on a Friday, launched her on a Friday, selected her crew on a Friday and hired a man named Jim Friday to be her captain. To top it off, H.M.S. Friday embarked on her maiden voyage on a Friday, and was never seen or heard from again.

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, and various obscenities. None of these charges was ever proven, even in France. 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.

The sixth day of the week and the number 13 both have foreboding reputations said to date from ancient times. It's a widespread superstition that even has a name: paraskevidekatriaphobia, the morbid, irrational fear of Friday the 13th.Though no one can say for sure when and why human beings first associated the number 13 with misfortune, the belief is assumed to be quite old, and there exist any number of theories. It has been proposed, that fears surrounding the number 13 are as ancient as the act of counting. Primitive man had only his 10 fingers and two feet to represent units, this explanation goes, so he could count no higher than 12. What lay beyond that --13-- was a mystery.However, not all ancient civilizations dreaded the number 13. The Chinese regarded the number as lucky, as did the Egyptians in the time of the pharaohs.On the other hand, one of the earliest concrete taboos associated with the number 13 is said to have originated in the East with the Hindus, who believed that it is always unlucky for 13 people to gather in one place. Let's take a look at a couple of famous "dinner gatherings" with 13 guests.

In Viking history, twelve gods were invited to a banquet at Valhalla. Loki, the Evil One, god of mischief, had been left off the guest list but crashed the party, bringing the total number of attendees to 13. True to character, Loki raised hell by inciting Hod, the blind god of winter, to attack Balder the Good, who was a favorite of the gods. Hod took a spear of mistletoe offered by Loki and obediently hurled it at Balder, killing him instantly. The Norse concluded from this story that 13 people at a dinner party is just plain bad luck.

In Christian history, the Bible tells us there were exactly 13 present at the Last Supper. One of the disciples betrayed Jesus Christ, setting the stage for the Crucifixion, which took place on a Friday. But it doesn't stop there. Some say Friday's bad reputation goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. It was on a Friday, supposedly, that Eve tempted Adam with the forbidden fruit. Adam bit, and they were both ejected from Paradise. Tradition also holds that the Great Flood began on a Friday; God tongue-tied the builders of the Tower of Babel on a Friday; the Temple of Solomon was destroyed on a Friday.

And outside the dinner party scene, in pagan Rome, Friday was execution day (later Hangman's Day in Britain), but in other pre-Christian cultures it was the sabbath, a day of worship, so those who indulged in secular or self-interested activities on that day could not expect to receive blessings from the gods.

In the Middle Ages, Friday was known as the "Witches' Sabbath."And while there are any number of intriguing connections between events, practices and beliefs attributed to ancient cultures and the superstitious fear of Fridays and the number 13, there is no real evidence to mark Friday the 13th as the unluckiest day of all.

For me, my impressions of Friday the 13th come mostly from a series of American slasher films featuring none other than Jason Voorhees in his infamous white mask. That icon-ified image would give anyone the creeps, and the impetus to be wary, on Friday the 13th.

So what do you think? Lucky? Unlucky? You decide . . .


EmilyBryan February 16, 2009 at 7:15 AM  

Thanks, Gerri! I knew you'd have the straight skinny!

Cindy Holby February 16, 2009 at 8:26 AM  

Wow, that was fascinating. Plus it set all kinds of things astir in my imagination.

Cindy Holby

Gerri Russell

Joy Nash

Bonnie Vanak

Emily Bryan

C.L. Wilson

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