In the Desert of Set > Sermons > General Paganism > Happy Friday the Thirteenth!


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Happy Friday the Thirteenth!

Friday the Thirteenth

Setians of the LV-426 Tradition are free to celebrate whichever (and as many) holidays as we like, but we do have a liturgical calendar with certain dates that we each consider to be sacred. One of the most important of these festival dates is Friday the Thirteenth. For most of the year, we focus on Set’s role as the Champion of Ra and Smiter of Apep; but when the 13th day of the month falls on a Friday, it’s time to honor Big Red for His more controversial role as the Initiator of Osiris.

Friday comes from the Old Norse Frigedæg or “Day of Frigg,” a Scandinavian goddess who is the Queen of Asgard. It’s also called Veneris in Latin, in honor of the planet Venus. Many cultures associated both this day of the week and this particular planet with one or more goddesses. In ancient Babylon, Venus is the star of Ishtar; there’s even a highland region on the planet that astronomers named “Ishtar Terra” in Her honor. The Babylonians maintained that every seventh night of the lunar cycle (counting from the new moon) was an “unlucky” time for going outside their homes or engaging in certain activities. This concept of a weekly “rest day” was the precursor to the Hebrew Shabbat or Sabbath, which traditionally begins at sunset on Friday in Judaism (before it was switched to Sundays in Christianity). In early modern Europe, fevered Protestant imaginations combined their favorite anti-Semitic, anti-Pagan, and anti-heretical tropes into the idea of “the Witches’ Sabbat,” a nocturnal meeting of witches with “the devil.” If there really were any witches running around in Europe during that time, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they had their Sabbat meetings on Friday nights, since that time of the week is so strongly tied to Venus.

The planet Venus, in all her splendor

Meanwhile, the number 13 is also linked with female power. There are 13 lunar cycles in a year; women can have at least 13 menstrual periods within that same timeframe; the average age of menarche (a woman’s first menstrual cycle) falls somewhere between 12 and 13 years of age; European witches were thought to organize in covens of 13; and Venus forms a giant pentagram each time it makes 13 revolutions around the Sun. So while the concept of Friday the Thirteenth as a “nefarious” date does not appear to have developed until the 19th century, Friday and the number 13 have always been associated with witches, goddesses, and other themes relating to Pagan female empowerment.

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Incidentally, the original Friday the 13th movie (1980) features a female antagonist: Pamela Voorhees (played by Betsy Palmer), whose son Jason went swimming in Crystal Lake and drowned. The summer camp counselors who were supposed to be watching him were off having sex instead, which caused a bereaved Pamela to go on a murdering spree. She behaves as if she thinks Jason’s ghost still haunts Crystal Lake, and she seems to think her crimes will keep him “alive” somehow (like offerings made at an ancestor shrine). And since her psychosis is triggered by teenage “sex without consequences,” Mrs. Voorhees resembles a monster parents once used to scare their children into “behaving appropriately.” She is just the sort of creature the Babylonians might have expected to run into on one of their “rest days,” and she would be in excellent company with other “night hags” like Lilith, Baba Yaga, or Grendel’s mother. While the sequels follow Jason after he rises from the dead to avenge Pamela’s decapitation, one could make the argument that his victims are all “blood sacrifices” that he offers to his mother’s restless spirit. (And in this way, echoes of ancient goddess worship can even resurface in a cheesy 1980s slasher film!)

“Jason

Jason’s ancestor shrine to Mrs. Voorhees

And we can’t really discuss Friday the Thirteenth without mentioning the Knights Templar, a medieval Christian military order that played an important role during the Crusades. These knights acquired so much wealth and political power from their adventures that King Philip IV of France accused them of heresy against the Catholic Church so he could get out of paying them his dues. He accused them of worshiping an idol called “Baphomet,” which was alleged to be a decapitated cat’s head on a stick. The Knights Templar were rounded up, tortured, and burned at the stake on Friday, October 13, 1307, and since then, all kinds of legends have been concocted about them. (The number of secret societies that claim to be “descended” from the Templars in some way is truly ridiculous.) In the 19th century, the occultist Eliphas Levi painted his famous image of the Baphomet as a goat-headed hermaphrodite, which he appears to have based on an alternate form of Osiris as Banebdjed (“the Ram of Mendes”).

“Banebdjed

The Egyptian Banebdjed (left) and Eliphas Levi’s Baphomet (right)

The Knights Templar also feature in all kinds of horror films, and perhaps the best example for Friday the Thirteenth viewing would be Amando de Ossorio’s Tombs of the Blind Dead series. These movies take King Philip IV’s accusations against the Templars literally, presenting us with an entirely fictionalized version of the order. In this series of events, the Templars are a cult of devil worshippers who were hanged in medieval times for their blasphemy. But despite being dead, they rise from their tombs each night to gorge on the blood of the living. They’re blind due to having all their eyes pecked out by birds, but this has only enhanced their hearing, which is sensitive enough to pick up their victims’ heartbeats. Some of the most intense sequences in these films are those in which the knights hunt their prey. Even though their faces are decayed and obscured by their hooded robes, you can see the wheels spinning in their heads as they work to locate and trap their victims, and it’s actually pretty terrifying. These reanimated corpses have a great deal more intelligence to them than, say, the zombies in George Romero’s Living Dead films.

“Tombs

The Knights Templar (according to Amando de Ossorio)

The British horror novelist Clive Barker created a unique version of Baphomet for his 1988 novella, Cabal (which he then adapted into his 1990 film, Nightbreed). In the book, Baphomet is a god who created a semi-mythical city called Midian, which exists beneath a rural cemetery somewhere above the U.S.-Canadian border. He is worshiped as a messiah by the Nightbreed, a tribe of nocturnal shapeshifters who have been wrongfully persecuted throughout history. Baphomet’s backstory is never explained in much detail, but Barker describes him as an immortal who was physically dismembered long ago, who was somehow stitched back together, and who now acts as the lawmaker and judge for Midian. His blood also has regenerative powers and is even used by the Nightbreed in a ceremonial baptism. If Barker was unaware of Banebdjed as the inspiration for Eliphas Levi’s version of Baphomet, he sure could have fooled me, for he seems to have deliberately modeled his own version of this figure on the same Pagan god.

“Baphomet

Clive Barker’s vision of Baphomet

So Friday the Thirteenth has all these associations with female power, dismemberment, and people coming back from the dead. This makes it a perfect date for celebrating almost any Pagan fertility deity, and the one it makes me think of the most is Osiris. For when Set slays Osiris in Egyptian mythology, He chops him into 14 pieces, 13 of which are then buried throughout the world (before they are re-assembled and restored to life by Isis), while Set keeps the final piece—Osiris’ phallus—for Himself. (Dennis Wheatley refers to this mythical artifact as “the Talisman of Set” in his 1934 novel, The Devil Rides Out.) There were also 13 people at the Last Supper of Christ, which was soon followed by his crucifixion (on a Friday, no less). In both tales, the dying-and-rising god can’t rise from the dead until he is killed first (with Judas Iscariot fulfilling the Setian role in the Christian narrative). The god must be sacrificed before he can rise again and offer new life to the world, and in this context, the number 13 represents initiation: the (often painful) ending of one phase of existence, followed by the glorious emergence of a new and better life.

Set gets a lot of negative press for His role in the Osirian drama, and some Setians react to this bad PR by emphasizing His role as the Champion of Ra instead. While I commend this and think it is a good reaction, we must be careful not to ignore Set’s relationship with Osiris entirely. In LV-426, we don’t view the two gods as “enemies”; we think of them as being like a gardener and a rosebush, respectively. It’s Set’s job to “prune” Osiris so the latter can produce fresh “blooms,” which keeps the universe alive and healthy. If Set were not there to keep Osiris regenerating himself, there would be no past and no future; there would only be a static present in which nothing new can thrive. So while the experience of being “pruned” by life’s hard knocks certainly isn’t pleasant for anyone, Setians in LV-426 believe it’s important to honor Set for His role in this process, and Friday the Thirteenth is our preferred time for doing so.

In LV-426, a Sabbat ritual is traditionally held every Friday night. (We chose Friday night for rituals because of its Venusian connections, described above.) So when the 13th day of the month falls on a Friday, it becomes what we think of as a “Super Sabbat.” We follow the same procedure more or less—we sit in a darkened room with candles, invoke Set, take turns praying to Him conversationally, then open the floor and shoot the shit ‘till dawn. But on Friday the Thirteenth, we focus our prayers on negative things that are happening, and we ask Set for guidance in maximizing any positive effects these tribulations might yield. For example, I lost my job just before Friday the Thirteenth in October 2014, and I spent that evening in Set’s presence, reflecting on how I might turn this setback into a new opportunity for myself. I eventually found an even better job a few months down the road, but it all had to start with me looking for the positive in the negative, and that’s what Friday the Thirteenth is all about.

Another Friday the Thirteenth tradition we enjoy is our ceremonial watermelon dinner. Watermelon is reported to be one of Set’s favorite foods, and since it’s a fruit, it’s also sacred to Osiris. So we get a watermelon from the store, recite some prayers over it, then re-enact the dismemberment of Osiris by chopping the watermelon into bits. As we each eat the watermelon, we also partake of Osiris’ regenerative powers so we can heal and grow back stronger from whatever trials we are currently facing in life. One year, we hosted this dinner at one of our local cemeteries, and we respectfully shared our offerings of watermelon with the ancestors who were buried there. This was done to honor all those souls who suffered long and hard in the past to give us the world we are now here to enjoy.

“An

A “Dinner with the Dead” we hosted in honor of Osiris for Friday the 13th, August 2010.

The number of days in February and March are such that if Friday the Thirteenth ever falls in the former, it will also fall in the latter (unless we’re in a leap year). Having two consecutive Friday the Thirteenths in the same month like this only happens 3 times every 28 years, and it never happens at any other time of year. Furthermore, radical initiatory events always seem to happen to one or more of us in the LV-426 Tradition whenever this convergence occurs. (The 2009 convergence happened just before I met the woman who would become my wife, and the 2015 convergence immediately preceded her mother’s transition to Duat.) For these and other reasons, this occasion is considered highly sacred in LV-426 and is observed as a month-long festival that we call Miew Khem or “the Month of the Black Cat.”

Aside from hockey masks (thanks to Jason Voorhees), black cats are one of the first things people associate with Friday the Thirteenth. Everyone knows the old superstition about how you’ll get “seven years’ bad luck” if a black cat crosses your path. But what most people don’t realize is that cats are actually very lucky creatures to have around, and that black cats are especially lucky. Remember, cats were worshiped in ancient Egypt; they were protected by law from injury and death, and families mourned, mummified, and buried their beloved felines as if they were human beings. Cats were also thought to have a special connection to the spirit world, and were especially cherished for driving away evil spirits. From this perspective, a black cat is twice as lucky as usual, for it not only has all the standard demon-repelling bells and whistles; it also carries the promise of hope, fertility, and regeneration wherever it goes.

“Bishop

My youngest child, Bishop

In the Middle Ages, Europeans began to hate cats for their independence, willfulness, and stealth. Black cats in particular were thought to be demons or witches’ familiars, and thousands of the poor little critters were tortured, drowned, or burned alive out of superstitious dread. The joke was on the humans, though, because with all those cats dead, there was no one left to kill off the rats that were carrying the Black Death all over Europe. So remember this the next time you see a black cat crossing your path, and not just on Friday the Thirteenth. There are still people who try to harm black cats on this date; some animal shelters will even suspend or limit adoptions to prevent the little guys from being tortured by any sociopaths. Assholes like that deserve to be cooked in the electric chair, and if they think black cats are “bad luck,” just wait ‘till they see what’s waiting for them in the Egyptian version of hell.

“Bast

“Aww! Who’s a good little smiter of demons?”

The lesson of Friday the Thirteenth is that all things must change and be transformed, without exception. Nothing will ever remain the same, which is a painful thing for most people. Even when things are really bad for us, we prefer to stick with “the devil you know” instead of taking any risks to find something better. This is an entirely natural disposition that even most Setians tend to exhibit. But life has a way of forcing change and transformation on us despite all of our best efforts to conserve and keep things the same. In the end, this is actually good for us because it provides us with opportunities to grow and reach for new horizons. On Friday the Thirteenth, I thank Set for challenging me whenever He thinks I need to be challenged, regardless of how unpleasant the experience might be at the time. I also thank Osiris for giving his life to keep the world alive, and I keep my eyes peeled for any black cats in my neighborhood who might need some help. There are all kinds of ways you can mark this holy occasion, and if you choose to celebrate in your own way, I wish you and all your loved ones a blessed Friday the Thirteenth.

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