Friday the 13th: What is the origin myth of our calendar horror?

Sometimes I dive into topics and get disappointed. Mention Friday the 13th to any Freemason, and you’re going to hear about Jacques De Molay and the Knights Templar.

The Templars — formally, the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, were founded in 1119 as the military arm of the Catholic Church. They were central to the Crusades, and as they grew in fame, they grew in power. As they grew in power, they became less of a military organization — though they remained elite fighters, at the height of the Templars’ power fewer than 10% of their numbers were part of their forces.

They became protectors of the people, and then protectors of the people’s stuff. They created complex financial systems and eventually grew a little too powerful for the comfort of sovereigns in the area.

As the Muslim world started to overcome the Crusades, the Church and rulers throughout the Christian world started to come down hard on the Templars. In 1305, Pope Clement V took over. He was based in France, and he brought Templar Grand Master Jacques de Molay there to discuss a merger with another organization, the Hospitaliers. The grand master of that organization was delayed by several months and de Molay asked King Philip IV to reverse some older charges against a Templar.

On Friday the 13th of October, 1307, King Philip IV ordered the Templars arrested, de Molay included. The grand master would be executed seven years later.

The boys organization related to Freemasonry is named after de Molay, and there is a rumored link between modern Masons and the Templars.

Many people believe the Friday the 13th raid on the Templars was the beginning of the legend of Friday the 13th as a day of bad luck, but alas, it appears it’s nothing so dramatic.

So how did paraskevidekatriaphobia come about?

It seems fear of the number 13 has been around some 2700 years or more.

Hesiod warned against sowing on the thirteenth of the month.

The 13 guests — with the traitor Judas Iscariot being the 13th — at the Last Supper are thought to be reminiscent of a story in Norse mythology when Loki causes chaos as the 13th guest.

Legend holds that if thirteen people meet in a room, one will be dead within a year.

Chaucer declared Friday to be a day “of misfortune” in The Canterbury Tales.

In his 17th century play A Match at Midnight, William Rowley wrote about “A plague of Friday mornings — the most unfortunate day in the whole week.”

Snopes lists an array of Friday-related ills, from warnings against starting a new job on Friday (even before we had weekends off) and the disposition of children born on Fridays.

But none of these bodes for an unlucky Friday the thirteenth.

Where did it come from? A novel by Thomas Lawson called Friday, the Thirteenth, published in 1907.

That’s right, the mythos of Friday the 13th dates back barely over a century, and it was a work of fiction.

In the novel, Lawson — a stock trader in his own right — invents a trader who intentionally crashes the market on Friday the 13th.

Yep, that’s it. That’s the origin of the Friday the 13th bad luck myth — sort of. I mean, one novel that’s basically been forgotten to time is no basis for a myth of that proportion.

A year later, Sen. Robert Owen of Oklahoma introduced 13 bills on Friday, March 13, 1908. The New York Times declared there was no hope for any of them.

There you have it. One year, a novel about someone intentionally crashing the stock market, and the next year, a senator filing a bunch of bills unlikely to pass.

Suddenly, people are calling the 13th floor the 14th floor, even though it’s clearly the one after the 12th floor, and seven decades later, Jason is slaughtering camp counselors.

So disappointing.

Hey, at least Alfred Hitchcock was born on a Friday the 13th.


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