My black cat just walked under a ladder and broke my mirror.
My black cat just walked under a ladder and broke my mirror.

This is going to come as a surprise to many, but the history of Friday the 13th has nothing to do with a guy in a hockey mask. The number 13 has been unlucky long before that. Ever since Loki showed up as an uninvited guest and killed Holdar during a meeting of the 12 other Norse gods, the number’s taken a beating. Oh, sure, a lot of theological numerologists site the fact that Jesus and his disciples numbered 13 and that is the reason for it being unlucky. These people are, of course, idiots. When Jesus and disciples numbered 13 nothing but good things happened. Loaves and Fishes? 13 dudes. Sermon on the Mount? 13 dudes. Lazarus? 13 dudes. See the pattern? The betrayal at the Garden of Gethsemane? Oh wait! They numbered 12 then. So, shouldn’t 12 be the unlucky number for Christians?

Despite logic and facts, Friday the 13th continues to get a bad rap.

FOX News NY has listed all of the bad things that happened on Friday the 13th to reinforce the superstition because, you know, nothing bad has ever happened on any other day.

July 1951: The Great Flood killed 24 people, destroyed more than 2 million acres of land in Kansas and caused $760 million in damage.

March 1964: The “Good Friday” earthquake wasn’t actually so good. It remains the largest earthquake in North American history, killing 131 people near Prince William Sound.

July 1987: An F4 tornado ripped through Edmonton, Alberta, killing 27 people and injuring at least 300.

March 1992: An earthquake killed nearly 2,000 people and left 50,000 homeless in Turkey.

Fame and (Mis)Fortune (

These people weren’t so lucky on Friday the 13th:

Tupac Shakur was shot and killed in Las Vegas on a Friday the 13th.

Al Capone was sentenced to prison on a Friday the 13th.

Benny Goodman, the King of Swing, died on a Friday the 13th.

Hubert Humphrey, the 38th Vice President of the United States, died on a Friday the 13th.

As Claire Suddath – a writer worth knowing – notes, the number 13 has been unlucky longer than most people realize.

The number 13 has been unlucky for centuries. Some historians peg the superstition to the 13 people who attended the Last Supper (neither Jesus nor Judas came out of that one O.K.), but ancient Babylon’s Code of Hammurabi omits the number 13 in its list of laws, so the superstition dates back to at least 1700 BC.

She also notes that rational people think all of the fears concerning Friday the 13th are mere balderdash.

Thirteen is so unlucky, in fact, that in 1881 an organization called the Thirteen Club attempted to improve the number’s reputation. At the first meeting, the members (all 13 of them) walked under ladders to enter a room covered with spilled salt. The club lasted for many years and grew to more than 400 members, including five U.S. Presidents: Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt.

So why pick out Friday the 13th and not Tuesday the 13th to be unlucky?

For the answer we need to step back in time. In 1307, King Phillip IV (see “ruthless jerk” in any dictionary) decided he needed the money of the Pauperes commilitones Christi Templique Solomonici a/k/a The Knights Templar, and had no reasonable way to get it. So, being a devious S.O.B., he decided to charge them all with heresy. Nowadays you’ll get a nasty Facebook post for that crime but, back then, you could be burned at the stake. A nasty, and painful, way to die.

Just FYI, when this happened almost no one noticed, but as time went on it became the basis for the superstition.

Christopher Hodapp and Alice Von Kannon took a look at the whole history and provided us a detailed look at the last days of the Knights Templar.

The end began at dawn on Friday, October 13, 1307. The sealed order to Phillip’s bailiffs had gone out a full month before. It was accompanied by a personal letter from the king, filled with lofty prose about how heart-rending it was to be compelled to do his duty, while detailing frightening accusations against the Templars. The letter would have had an eye-popping effect on the king’s men, and their secrecy was undoubtedly assured. The sealed arrest order was not to be opened until the appointed day.

At this time, France was the most populous nation of Europe, even including Russia. And it was no tiny country either; France took up more than 40,000 square miles, an enormous area to cover from the back of a horse. Yet Phillip IV managed to carry off a stunning piece of work. Hundreds of the king’s men simultaneously opened letters all over the country ordering them to converge on every Templar castle, commandery, preceptory, farm, vineyard, or mill.

It was shockingly effective, instantly chopping off the head of the Order. Phillip obviously had a hit list of the most important knights to nab. Accounts differ wildly, but the most respected ones agree that 625 members of the Order were arrested in the first wave. These included the Grand Master; the Visitor-General; the Preceptors of Normandy, Cyprus, and Aquitaine; and the Templars’ Royal Treasurer.

The arrested Templars, whose average age was 41, were put into isolation and immediately subjected to the gruesome tactics of medieval “interrogation” on the very first day of their arrest. The technique of the strapaddo was common. It involved binding the victim’s wrists behind his back, passing the rope over a high beam, pulling him off of the ground, and suddenly dropping him, snapping his arms and dislocating his shoulders. Stretching the victim on the rack was another favored method. Perhaps the most horrible was coating the victim’s feet in lard or oil, and then slowly roasting them over a flame. Subjected to these agonies, the overwhelming majority of the knights confessed to every charge that was put to them.

The confessions

Phillip’s goal was to arrest all the Templars, subject them to torture immediately, and exact confessions from them on the very first day. He knew that the pope would be livid over his actions, and that Church officials would be wary of agreeing to the kinds of interrogations Phillip had in mind, so time was of the essence. He wanted to hand Clement V a stack of confessions so damning that the pope would lose his stomach for siding with the Order.

The pope reacted just as Phillip had planned. His outrage over the arrests turned to dread and resignation as the “evidence” was presented to him. Phillip leaned on Clement to issue papal arrest warrants all across Europe, which were largely ignored or skirted by other monarchs. Very few show trials went on outside of France, and there were no cases (outside of the tortured knights in France) of Templars who admitted to the charges of heresy.

In an outburst of courage and remorse, most of the arrested Templars subsequently recanted their confessions and proclaimed to Church officials that their statements were made under the pain of torture and threat of death. To intimidate the remaining Templars, Phillip ordered 54 of the knights to be burned at the stake in 1310, for the sin of recanting their confessions.

In 1312, Clement finally decided to end the situation at a council in Vienna. Just to make certain the decision went the way he intended, Phillip stationed his army on the outskirts of the city. The pliant pope officially dissolved the Order, without formally condemning it. All Templar possessions apart from the cash were handed over to the Knights Hospitaller, and many Templars who freely confessed were set free and assigned to other Orders. Those who did not confess were sent to the stake. Phillip, ever the cheap gangster, soothed his loss of the Templars’ tangible assets by strong-arming a yearly fee from the Hospitallers to defray his costs of prosecuting the Templars.

Ah yes, how dare they die while I’m killing them? King Phillip asked himself this very question and came up with an answer. Did I mention he was a jerk? Yeah, I’m pretty sure I did.

Simply put, Friday the 13th is no more unlucky than any other day. Look at it this way, buses run over people every day of the week, they don’t need a special occasion.

Listen to Bill McCormick on WBIG AM 1280, every Thursday morning around 9:10!

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