Friday The Thirteenth

This date combination is considered an unlucky day by many in Western superstition and it occurs when the 13th day of the month in the Gregorian calendar falls on a Friday. This happens at least once every year, but can occur up to three times in the same year. For example, 2015 had a Friday the thirteenth in February, March, and November; each year from 2017 to 2020 had two Friday the thirteenth’s each; 2016, 2021 and 2022 had just one occurrence of Friday the thirteenth each whilst 2023 and 2024 will have two Friday the thirteenth’s each. In each year they are easy to identify, as Friday the thirteenth occurs in any month that begins on a Sunday. The unluckiness of the number thirteen, also known as ‘Triskaidekaphobia’ originated, according to folklore historian Donald Dossey, with a Norse myth about twelve gods having a dinner party in Valhalla. The trickster god Loki, who was not invited, arrived as the thirteenth guest, and arranged for Höðr to shoot Balder with a mistletoe-tipped arrow. According to Dossey, Balder died and the whole Earth got dark. The whole Earth mourned. It was a bad, unlucky day. This major event in Norse mythology thus caused the number thirteen to be considered unlucky.

‘The Last Supper’ by Leonardo da Vinci.

There are Christian associations to the number, for example the story of Jesus and the last supper in which there were thirteen individuals present in the Upper Room on the thirteenth of Nisan (Maundy Thursday), the night before Jesus’ death on Good Friday. However, whilst there is evidence of both Friday and the number thirteen being considered unlucky, there is no record of the two items being referred to together as especially unlucky before the nineteenth century. It was in France that Friday the thirteenth might have been associated with misfortune as early as the first half of the nineteenth century. A character in the 1834 play ‘Les Finesses des Gribouilles’ states, “I was born on a Friday, December thirteenth, 1813 from which come all of my misfortunes”. An early documented reference in English occurs in a biography of Gioachino Rossini, who died on a Friday thirteenth which states: “Rossini was surrounded to the last by admiring friends; and if it be true that, like so many Italians, he regarded Fridays as an unlucky day and thirteen as an unlucky number, it is remarkable that on Friday thirteenth of November he passed away.” It is also possible that the publication in 1907 of businessman T. W. Lawson’s popular novel ‘Friday, the Thirteenth’ contributed to popularising the superstition. In the novel, an unscrupulous broker takes advantage of the superstition to create a Wall Street panic on a Friday the thirteenth. In fact, similar dates are prevalent in many cultures, although it is unclear whether these similarities are in any way historically connected or only coincidental. For example, in countries where Spanish is the main language, then Tuesday the thirteenth (martes trece) is considered a day of bad luck rather than Friday. The Greeks also consider Tuesday (and especially the thirteenth) an unlucky day. Tuesday is considered dominated by the influence of Ares the god of war, or Mars, the Roman equivalent. The fall of Constantinople to the Fourth Crusade occurred on Tuesday 13 April 1204, and the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans happened on Tuesday 29 May 1453, events that strengthen the superstition about Tuesday. In addition, in Greek the name of the day is ‘Triti’, meaning the third day of the week, adds weight to the superstition since bad luck is said by many to ‘come in threes’.. Tuesday the thirteenth occurs in a month that begins on a Thursday. Some also attribute the origins of fearing Friday the thirteenth to the Code of Hammurabi, one of the world’s oldest legal documents, which may or may not have superstitiously omitted a thirteenth rule from its list. Others claim that the ancient Sumerians, who believed the number twelve to be a ‘perfect’ number, considered the one that followed it decidedly non-perfect.
One of the most popular theories, however, links Friday the thirteenth with the fall of a fearsome group of legendary warriors, the Knights Templar which was founded around 1118 as a monastic military order devoted to the protection of pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land following the Christian capture of Jerusalem during the First Crusade. The Knights Templar quickly became one of the richest and most influential groups of the Middle Ages, thanks to lavish donations from the crowned heads of Europe, eager to curry favour with the fierce Knights. By the turn of the fourteenth century, the Templars had established a system of castles, churches and banks throughout Western Europe. And it was this astonishing wealth that would lead to their downfall. For the Templars, that end began in the early morning hours of Friday, October 13, 1307 when a month earlier, secret documents had been sent by couriers throughout France. The papers included lurid details and whispers of black magic and scandalous sexual rituals. They were sent by King Philip IV of France, an avaricious monarch who in the preceding years had launched attacks on the Lombards (a powerful banking group) and France’s Jews (who he had expelled so he could confiscate their property for his depleted coffers).

A ‘Knight Templar’.

In the days and weeks that followed that fateful Friday, more than six hundred Templars were arrested, including Grand Master Jacques de Molay, and the Order’s treasurer. But while some of the highest-ranking members were caught up in Philip’s net, so too were hundreds of non-warriors. These were middle-aged men who managed the day-to-day banking and farming activities that kept the organisation humming. The men were charged with a wide array of offences including heresy, devil worship and spitting on the cross, homosexuality, fraud and financial corruption. The Templars were kept in isolation and fed meagre rations that often amounted to just bread and water. Nearly all were brutally tortured in ways I do not wish to detail here. Given the extreme conditions, it is not surprising that within weeks, hundreds of Templars confessed to false charges, including Jacques de Molay. Pope Clement V was horrified. Despite the fact that he had been elected almost solely because of Philip’s influence, he feared crossing the extremely popular Templars. The Knight’s coerced ‘confessions’ however, forced his hands. Philip, who had anticipated Clement’s reaction, made sure the allegations against the Templars included detailed descriptions of their supposed heresy, counting on the gossipy, salacious accounts to carry much weight with the Church. Clement issued a papal bull ordering the Western kings to arrest Templars living in their lands. Few followed the papal request, but the fate of the French Templars had already been sealed. Their lands and money were confiscated and officially dispersed to another religious order, the Hospitallers, although greedy Philip did get his hands on some of the cash he’d coveted. Within weeks of their confessions, many of Templars recanted, and Clement shut down the inquisition trials in early 1308. The Templars lingered in their cells for two years before Philip had more than 50 of the them burned at the stake in 1310. Two years later, Clement formally dissolved the Order, though he did so without saying they had been guilty as charged. In the wake of that dissolution, some Templars again confessed to gain their freedom, whilst others died in captivity. In the spring of 1314, Grand Master Molay and several other Templars were burned at the stake in Paris, bringing an end to their remarkable era, and launching an even longer-lasting theory about the evil possibilities of Friday the thirteenth.

An Alitalia aircraft without the row 17.

However, in Italian popular culture Friday the seventeenth, rather than the thirteenth, is considered a bad luck day. The origin of this belief could be traced in the writing of the number seventeen in Roman numerals, it being XVII. By shuffling the digits of the number one can easily get the word ‘VIXI’, meaning ‘I have lived’, implying death at present, an omen of bad luck. In fact in Italy, thirteen is generally considered a lucky number. Due to the effects of superstition from other countries, some younger Italian people consider Friday the thirteenth unlucky as well, but when the 2000 parody film “Shriek if You Know What I Did Last Friday the Thirteenth’ was released in Italy it had the title “Shriek – Hai impegni per venerdì 17?”, translating to “Shriek – Do You Have Something to Do on Friday the 17th?”). Friday the seventeenth occurs on a month starting on Wednesday. It seems that Friday the thirteenth has a social impact, as according to the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina, an estimated 17 to 21 million people in the United States are affected by a fear of this day, making it the most feared day and date in history. Some people are so paralysed by fear that they avoid their normal routines in doing business, taking flights or even getting out of bed. It has been estimated that between eight hundred and nine hundred million dollars is lost in business on this day, but despite this representatives for both Delta Air Lines and Continental Airlines (the latter now merged into United Airlines) have stated that their airlines do not suffer from any noticeable drop in travel on those Fridays. In Finland, a consortium of both governmental and non-governmental organisations led by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health promote their National Accident Day (‘kansallinen tapaturmapäivä’) to raise awareness about automotive safety, which always falls on a Friday the thirteenth. The event is coordinated by the Finnish Red Cross and has been held since 1995. Back in 1993, a study was made in the South-West Thames region of the UK where its objective was “To examine the relation between health, behaviour, and superstition surrounding Friday the thirteenth in the United Kingdom”. Its design was a retrospective study of paired data comparing driving and shopping patterns and accidents, its subjects were drivers, shoppers, and residents in the region and its main outcome measures were the numbers of vehicles on motorways, the numbers of shoppers in supermarkets and hospital admissions due to accidents. The results they had were that there were consistently and significantly fewer vehicles on the southern section of the M25 on Friday the thirteenth compared with Friday the sixth. The numbers of shoppers were not significantly different on the two days. Admissions due to transport accidents were significantly increased on Friday thirteenth (total 65 v 45). Their conclusions were that Friday the thirteenth is unlucky for some. The risk of hospital admission as a result of a transport accident may be increased by as much as 52% and that staying at home is recommended. However, subsequent studies have disproved any correlation between Friday the thirteenth and the rate of accidents. On 12th June 2008 the Dutch Centre for Insurance Statistics stated to the contrary, that “fewer accidents and reports of fire and theft occur when the thirteenth of the month falls on a Friday than on other Fridays, because people are preventatively more careful or just stay home. Statistically speaking, driving is slightly safer on Friday the thirteenth, at least in the Netherlands in the last two years, as Dutch insurers received reports of an average 7,800 traffic accidents each Friday but the average figure when the thirteenth fell on a Friday was just 7,500.” Each four-hundred year Gregorian solar cycle contains 146,097 days, with 97 leap days or exactly 20,871 weeks. Each cycle contains the same pattern of days of the week and therefore the same pattern of Fridays that are on the thirteenth. Any month that starts on a Sunday contains a Friday the thirteenth and on average, there is a Friday the thirteenth once every 212.35 days. Equally, there can be no more than three Friday the thirteenths in a single calendar year; either in February, March, and November in a common year starting on Thursday (such as 2009, 2015, or 2026), or January, April, and July in a leap year starting on Sunday (such as 1984, 2012, or 2040). We shall see what the day brings, won’t we!

This week…a request please.
The other day I saw a picture on Facebook of a person I had never seen before with the word GOAT above the image. I considered it to be a disparaging comment against that person, but I was corrected as in fact the one sharing the image meant G.O.A.T., or Greatest Of All Time. So please, with all respect, kindly remember that not everyone watches the same sport to the degree that I know many do.

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