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Friday the 13th — The Darkest Day of the Year

by and on September 10, 2013 2:10 PM
What's in that day and number combination that rattles our self-confidence or, at the very least, makes us ponder the possibility that the commonplace might become horrific?
Why has Friday the 13th been viewed traditionally with such apprehension?

Friday gets its name either from Frig (Frigga), Odin's consort and goddess of heaven, or from another Scandinavian deity, Frey(e), associated with fertility and love.  But it isn't necessarily from its pagan associations that Friday derives its negative aspect in our culture.

According to folklore, many disastrous events took place on Friday: Eve tempted Adam and caused the loss of Paradise; the Great Flood began, destroying most of the human race; confusion broke out on the Tower of Babel, creating the ongoing havoc of international misunderstanding.

But the reason why Friday's association with bad luck has persisted is due to a historical events of great importance to the Christian society of Europe: the crucifixion of Christ, traditionally held to have occurred on that day of the week.

Friday, therefore, became symbolic of death, the worst possible bad luck. Consequently, sailors are superstitious about setting out on a voyage or launching a ship on a Friday. Indeed, an Italian proverb has it that one should not marry, give birth or begin a new venture on a Friday.

The negative associations of the number 13, the abnormal fear of which is so common that it is known as triskaidekaphobia, are also varied.  For example, few hotels, condominiums or office buildings dare to indicate a thirteenth floor, choosing instead to skip from 12 to 14 on the elevator listings; in some cases, the number 13 does not even appear on rooms or office suites.

In numerology, particularly as used in mystical systems, 13 is one more than 12, the number of completeness (there are 12 signs of the Zodiac, 12 months of the year, 12 numbers on the clock, 12 Tribes of Israel, 12 days of Christmas, 12 Apostles chosen by Christ, for example).

Therefore, 13 is said to go beyond proper limits. Thus in necromancy, the "science" of affecting human events through contact with the dead, 13 is the number which represents what Christianity viewed as the transgression of dealing with the esoteric world beyond the grave.

Eventually, 13 became the number applied to a coven of witches, as well as to worshipers of Satan. The Church and public opinion held that witches performed unholy rituals in groups of thirteen, thus seeking to mock Christ and his twelve disciples.

But it is primarily because the 13th member of the group with Christ at the Last Supper was Judas, who betrayed his Master, that the number has an ongoing association with evil and bad luck.

There is yet another terrible event associated with the superstition. It was on a Friday the 13th, in October 1307, that the Order of the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, founded in 1118 and known as the Knights Templar, were decimated under the order of King Philip IV (so-called the Fair) of France with the complicity of Pope Clement V (note the the irony of his name and the sobriquet of the king). 

Seeking to uncover the vast wealth reputed to be held by the Templars, the king had Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the Order, and numerous of its prominent knights arrested in Paris, severely tortured and burned at the stake. Other arrests followed throughout France with similar results.

Yet, despite  suffering that prompted "confessions" to the anti-Christian charges brought against them, no one disclosed the location of the "treasure." It is no wonder that Friday the 13th, already associated with terrible events, was again brought to the fore with the malicious attacks on the Knights Templar.

Consequently, if Friday is the unluckiest day of the week and 13 the unluckiest number, then Friday the 13th is the worst Friday of all. The combination of day of the week and date has its own impossibly-long designation: paraskevidekatriaphobia. One might avoid black cats, walking under a ladder, stepping on sidewalk cracks, knocking over the salt, seating 13 at a table, opening an umbrella indoors, putting a hat on the bed, or breaking a mirror, but how can one avoid a whole day, especially when it is the blackest day of the year?

This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

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