Friday the Thirteenth – Unlucky for Some


Image of the Sabbat Goat (Baphoment) by the theoretical magician Eliphas Levi

Image of the Sabbat Goat (Baphoment) by the theoretical magician Eliphas Levi

Saturday the 14th and I successfully avoided the jinx of Friday the 13th again! I didn’t want to post anything until the witching hour had passed, just in case. As it turned out, Friday 13th was quite a pleasant day… but then, I am not one of the Knights Templar.

On Friday 13th October 1307, scores of Knights Templar were arrested all over France. It is popularly supposed this gave rise to the superstition of Friday the 13th as unlucky. However the first mention of the Knights Templar being the source of the superstition is only in a 1959 historical novel ‘The Iron King’ by Maurice Druon. Friday 13th was considered a day of ill omen long before that.

Some historians believe the superstition has a medieval origin; linked to Christ’s passion and death:
– The Last Supper of Jesus and his 12 Apostles. Thirteen round a table is still considered unlucky.
– The crucifixion was on a Friday.

Others say that while Friday and the number 13 were both traditionally considered unlucky; there is no evidence linking them together until the 1800s.

The Friday 13th operation against the Knights Templar was a month in the planning. King Philip of France secretly issued orders to his bailiffs in early September for the simultaneous arrest of all Knights Templar at dawn on the fateful day and arranged for them to be tried by the Holy Inquisition.

To be fair, the word holy is a tad inappropriate when applied to the implacable torturers and probable sadists of the Inquisition – a group of fanatical priests given papal authority to keep the faithful in line… And boy did they keep the faithful in line.

That said the arrests took place without the Pope’s knowledge or approval. Nevertheless, the Pope swiftly fell into line with Philip’s fell plan. By the end of November, Pope Clement issued a papal decree instructing all the monarchs of England, Spain Germany, Italy and Cyprus to arrest the Templars and confiscate their property in the name of the Church.

The Templars faced a list of 29 charges including black magic, sodomy, heresy and blasphemy – all pretty safe bets to guarantee conviction. It was claimed they worshipped a severed head, and an idol called Baphomet with cries of Yallah.

Baphomet is believed to be a corruption of the name Mohammed and in that light Yallah needs no explanation. Historians think the charges were trumped up and designed to play on the Inquisition’s fears and prejudices against Islam; their traditional enemy.

The knights were duly put to torture and confessed to any and every accusation. Consequently many were burned at the stake. Contemporary church documents show many confessions contradicting each other. Even today no clear picture of the truth emerges.

Philip of France continued to threaten and pressure the pope until the Templar Order was dissolved. Under torture, the grandmaster Jacques de Molay, an old man, had confessed to all charges; no doubt bought off with a sentence commuted to life imprisonment. When he recanted his confession seven years later, he was promptly convicted of being a relapsed heretic and burned at the stake.

There are volumes written about the Knights Templar, so here a few just a few odd facts.

The Knights Templar was formed by a band of eight knights to protect Christian pilgrims on the road to Jerusalem from bandits. Eight fighting men might not seem much, but knights were the heavy artillery of their day; professional soldiers trained in warfare and organisation. In an age without standing armies; the ranks and file of the soldiers were generally farmers called up to do military service for a lord.

According to ‘Holy Blood and Holy Grail’ – the book Dan Brown used for ‘The Da Vinci Code’ – the Knights Templar were holding the Papacy and Christian Europe to ransom. They had found in Jerusalem, ancient documents tracing the genealogy of Jesus and his heirs: heirs who were the rightful rulers of Christendom. They were destroyed because of this terrible secret.

The truth is both simpler and more complex.

Although the Knights Templar was a monastic order sworn to poverty, the order was very rich, due to their operations in international banking. Popes and kings relied on their loans, while envying their wealth. The Templars were not subject to any laws but their own. They were considered a threat to individual monarchs and the Catholic Church, but remained too powerful to offend. Increasingly they were victims of a whispering campaign accusing them of a lack of morality, military ineffectiveness and heretical views.

After the fall of Jerusalem and loss of the eastern Mediterranean to Islam, the Templars no longer had a role. They began to express a wish for their own country, in emulation of the Teutonic Knights – who had successfully carved out a state in pagan Prussia, and the Knights Hospitaller who ran Rhodes. The idea panicked European sovereigns who feared losing territory, while gaining such a neighbour.

The Templars continue to live on in popular imagination, especially after the success of ‘The Da Vinci Code’. Some believe they went underground, secretly surviving for centuries only to emerge as the founders of Freemasonry.

While it is certainly true the Templars held a deep fascination for the Masons, there is no historical evidence linking them. In 1751 Baron Karl Gotthelf von Hund und Altengrotkau claimed to have received a ritual from two unknown superiors of the reconstituted Templar Order in Paris. However he failed to produce any evidence to support his claims.

In England Edward II refused to believe the French accusations and the Templars fared better. Most Templars were never arrested and their leaders were only briefly persecuted. After the Order was dissolved, the bulk of their property was given to the Knights of St John and many former Templars joined them.

‘The Da Vinci Code’ says Rosslyn Chapel was built by Templars; citing Masonic and Templar symbols in the stonework, and direct links between Scottish Freemasonry and the Templars. The claim for Rosslyn Chapel centres on secret information encoded in 213 carved cubes. However many of these were refashioned around 100 years ago after the original designs were lost to erosion.

There is also the story of a fabulous treasure on Oak Island in Nova Scotia, located in what is called the Money Pit. Accounts vary, but the treasure either belonged to the pirate Captain Kidd, or was the Knights Templar’s secret hoard, smuggled into England, and then Scotland, before being taken to the new world.

The story forms part of a larger theory which makes the American Founding Fathers both Freemasons and heirs to the Knights Templar. Various pieces of evidence are put forward to support this including the pyramid topped by the all-seeing-eye that features on the dollar bill. The Disney film ‘National Treasure’ was based on a variation of this legend.

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