Invoking the Templars; or, from Where Friday the 13th Came

Today’s post was inspired by a doctor’s visit when, in the waiting room, one patient abruptly informed another patient that Friday the 13th superstitions were based on the execution of the Templars. He also insisted most people don’t know that.

Hasn’t everyone heard that story? Maybe it’s just a history major urban legend.  I sure thought most people had heard that claim.

The fact is, it’s baloney.

The Knights Templar on Friday the 13th

On Friday, October 13, 1307, hundreds of Templar Knights were arrested by King Philip IV of France, ironically called Philip the Fair (for his appearance, not his behavior). Many of them were executed several weeks later after having been tortured into confessing all sorts of blasphemies, including spitting on the cross and pledging themselves to an entity called Baphomet.

As an aside: The Templars were probably only guilty of being very rich. It just so happened that the broke king got to keep all their money when they were found guilty.

So, problem one: They weren’t executed on Friday the 13th, just arrested.

Relevance in Daily Life

The second problem with this theory is how the superstition formed in the first place. The average person probably didn’t even know what a Templar was, much less that a bunch of them had been arrested and executed. This was something known by monarchs and noblemen, who are a tiny percentage of the population.

Moreover, it only really makes sense that Friday the 13th would be considered bad luck if a lot of people thought the Templars innocent, which I suspect was not the case. (Although I could be wrong on that matter.) That’s a very modern belief concerning the events, forged in a modern culture that balks at people being punished for heresy. However, people were being suspected of heresy all the time in 1307.

Problem two: reasoning behind how the superstition developed in flawed.

Evidence of Origin

I’ve talked before about how we commonly and wrongly presume our holidays have been celebrated the same way for many hundreds of years, when, in fact, practices are commonly only a couple hundred years old, at best. It’s particularly easy to ascribe a belief to ancient people when we find it foolish and backward: in other words, a superstition. After all, we’re supposed to be enlightened and, thus, not fooled by such nonsense.

Problem three: there’s no evidence of connecting Friday the 13th with bad luck until the 19th century, and it might well have not really taken off until the 20th. Moreover, there’s no evidence it was attached to the Templars until the 20th.

Where Did it Come From?

Like make superstitions, we don’t know where it came from. Another theory given is that 13 is an unlucky number in general, if you count Judas, who betrayed Jesus, as the 13th member of the group of Jesus and his 12 disciples, and that he was the last to sit down at the Last Supper. But there is no official numbering for the disciples, and no Biblical seating order.

In the early 20th century, it was believed that witch covens were always made of 13 members. However, there’s nothing to historically support that. Even the woman who suggested it (and I’ve previously spoken of Margaret Murray, so I’m not going to beat a dead horse) could only point to a single supposed historical coven that had thirteen members.

So, why do so many people believe more bad things happen on Friday the 13th than other days? Positive reinforcement. They expect bad things to happen that day, so every time something does, they ascribe it to the superstition. However, they are less aware of how bad things happen every day of our lives, because they aren’t looking for it.

1 Comment

  1. Interesting! In Italy, we have the ‘Friday the 17th’ superstition, which, excluding the Friday part, is not (at least, as I know) Christian in origin. In Latin, ’17’ is ‘XVII’, which can be anagrammed into ‘VIXI’, i.e. ‘I lived’, so ‘I’m dead’!
    The ‘Friday the 13th’ superstition has entered Italy as well, due to cultural osmosis. Here almost anyone connects the number to Jesus and his apostles, but not to Judas.

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