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Strange Days: Friday the 13th

Gregory Williams, Anchor Contributor

    Do you suffer from paraskevidekatriaphobia – fear of Friday the 13? If you do then I suggest you stop reading this right now. Ten days ago was Friday the 13 (September 13) and although it has already passed I find it's never too late to discuss the murky and fascinating history that surrounds this superstitious date.  

    Possibly the earliest reference to Friday the 13th being unlucky is when the ancient Greek poet Hesiod wrote in his Works and Days (primarily a farmer’s almanac), “avoid the thirteenth of the waxing month for beginning to sow.” 

    He never states his reason for this. Some people point to the omission of the 13th law in the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi (1754 B.C.), but further research disproves this theory. In The Canterbury Tales, 14th century writer Geoffrey Chaucer wrote the line, “on a Friday fell all this mischance.”                

    A very plausible explanation for the fear behind the infamous date can be traced back to the bible. Judas Iscariot, Jesus’s betrayer, was the 13th person to arrive at the Last Supper. The next day, which became known as Good Friday, Jesus was crucified. Another biblical root comes from the book of Genesis in which Friday was the day that Eve gave Adam the apple from the Tree of Knowledge and later banished for it.  

    In Norse mythology, Loki was the 13th guest to arrive at a feast given by the sea god Egir in Valhalla. Shortly after his arrival all hell broke loose (refer to the Norse poem Lokasenna or “Loki’s quarrel” for more on that). 

    On Friday, October 13, 1307, King Philip IV of France ordered the arrest of members of the Knights Templar, a 12th century religious military order. He had accused the Templars of heresy, fraud and other crimes but it was really just a scheme to pillage their financial resources. 

    To bring us back a little closer to the present, Thomas Lawson in 1907 published a book called Friday the 13th. It tells the story of a stockbroker who manipulates the stock market and causes a panic. The book sold very well at the time. Anyway, we’re just about out of time so stay safe and be sure to check out next week’s issue about vampires in Rhode Island.