Friday, November 13, 2009

Happy Friday the 13th!

Amazingly, folklorists say Friday the 13th is probably the most widespread superstition in America. I don’t know about you, but I was surprised by that fact. There's even a name for the phobia attached to it: paraskevidekatriaphobia. Here’s a bit of the history I found behind the stigma of Friday the 13th.

Superstitions about the Number 13

Like many human beliefs, the fear of Friday the 13th (known as paraskevidekatriaphobia) isn't exactly grounded in scientific logic. But the really strange thing is that most of the people who believe the day is unlucky offer no explanation at all, logical or illogical. As with most superstitions, people fear Friday the 13th for its own sake, without any need for background information.

The superstition does have deep, compelling roots, however, and the origins help explain why the belief is so widespread today.

Many people consider Friday unlucky because that's the day of Jesus' Crucifixion, but historians believe the superstition goes much farther back and has something to do with the sacrifices offered to the goddess Frigg (goddess of marriage and fertility) or Freya (goddess of sex and fertility) or both, in Norse mythology.

Frigg/Freya's emblem was the fish, which was associated with the worship of love and was offered by the Scandinavians to their goddess on the sixth day of the week, Friday. But the worship of love on Fridays, according to Popular Superstitions, developed into "a series of filthy and indecent rites and practices."

According to Emery, Friday was considered lucky, especially as a day to get married, because of its associations with love. In other pagan cultures, Friday was the sabbath, a day of worship. Once Christianity entered the scene, Freya-whose sacred animal was a cat--was recast in folklore as a witch. In the Middle Ages, Friday was known as the "Witches' Sabbath."

Later, early Christians began attributing just about everything terrible to Friday: Eve offering Adam the apple in the Garden of Eden; Abel's murder by his brother, Cain; St. Stephen's stoning; the Massacre of the Innocents by Herod; the flight of the children of Israel through the Red Sea; the Great Flood; the destruction of the Temple of Solomon; and the Confusion of Tongues at the Tower of Babel.

The Knights Templar

One theory, recently offered up as historical fact in the novel The Da Vinci Code, 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 Knights Templar, 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 Tales of the Knights Templar (Warner Books, 1995):

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.

Beware. Shiver with fear. Hide under the covers. Friday the 13th is a day that has been treated with apprehension for centuries. Hope yours is a good one!

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Anonymous said...

Most people I know either know that it is Friday the 13th and don't care, or look forward to the day as a good luck charm (mostly because people I know are generally contrary by nature). I don't actually know anybody who is genuinely superstitious of the day. It was however interesting to read some of the history as it is amazing how things change and are preserved over time.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I've never feared Friday the 13th. Almost forgot that was today, too!

Is the fish emblem thing why some people won' eat fish on Friday as well?

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

Very interesting, Nancy. I'm superstitious, sort of. Don't like for a black cat to cross my path or to walk under a ladder. But Friday the 13th has never bothered me. I try to think of it as lucky 13.


N A Sharpe said...

Hi everyone - thanks for stopping by. Hope your Friday the 13th was a good one! I'm not really superstitious about it either...unless, of course the day goes badly - then you can write it off as being Friday the 13th ;)


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