Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Clue #15: The Babington Postscript and Cipher

The 15th Twitter clue, sent at 7:42 a.m. PDT on Tuesday, June 30:

Everything is not as it seems in an early cipher: http://bit.ly/UFX9G

The URL given in the clue is a "short" URL, which connects the viewer with a web page at the National Archives of the United Kingdom -- specifically, one of the pages that describe their "Secrets and Spies" exhibition. That webpage displays a curious, ciphered document (shown above), titled "The Babington postscript and cipher, 1586." If one plays around a little bit with the URL in the browser, one can find a set of documents that tells a fascinating story about a real-life 500-year-old plot that had disastrous consequences for the conspirators involved. Ultimately, you wish to be at this page. Then the mystery is revealed--at least, this stage of the mystery.

Queen Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots

We enter the world of political intrigue surrounding the reign of England's Queen Elizabeth I in the late 16th century. Queen Elizabeth, a Protestant, was on the throne of England; Mary, Queen of Scots, a Catholic, was in Elizabeth's prison. Mary had supporters who were determined to dethrone Elizabeth and make Mary the queen of England. Mary communicated with these supporters through the use of coded letters, smuggled out of prison.

What Mary did not know was that Elizabeth's agents intercepted all the letters going in each direction, decrypted them all, and then sent the letters on their way. All of Mary's letters were falling into Elizabeth's hands.

One of Mary's supporters, Anthony Babington, wrote a long letter to Mary on July 6, 1568 (the anniversary of which was just a week after this clue was posted); the letter described a plot to assassinate Elizabeth. Mary's response on July 17 was intercepted by Elizabeth's agents -- who added a coded postscript to Mary's letter, asking Babington to send the names of the six men who were to accomplish the assassination. Babington, thinking the coded postscript as just another part of Mary's letter, did not realize -- as the clue states -- that all was not as it seemed.

Seven conspirators were executed in an horrific manner on September 20, 1586 (the anniversary of which falls just a few days after the publication date of The Lost Symbol). Mary herself was tried the following month, with her letters produced as evidence of her guilt. Mary was beheaded on February 8, 1587.

Relevance to The Lost Symbol

There are several ways in which this material might work into The Lost Symbol.
First and foremost, it is interesting to note that here we have the first really explicit mention of a code that was broken, leading to the collapse of a conspiracy. In fact, one could read this into Clue #5, concerning the Illuminati, which was suppressed after one of their messengers was intercepted by government agents; the encrypted Illuminati documents were then deciphered, leading to the uncovering of the Illuminati plots to dethrone the monarchies of Europe.

However, there are other Twitter clues that touch on incidents where failed codes led to the downfall of individual spies, conspiracies, or regimes at war. These include clues about Benedict Arnold (Clue #30), Nathan Hale (Clue #32), and the Enigma machine (Clue #46). Thus, we should expect the theme of broken codes to show up in The Lost Symbol.

The late 16th century was the age of Francis Bacon of Clue #7; it is conceivable that Bacon could even have been involved in intelligence work for Elizabeth, decrypting the letters between Mary, Queen of Scots, and the conspirators. (Bacon is known to have held political posts in Elizabeth's government.)

It is also conceivable that the cypher from the Babington plot (show above) itself appears in the novel.

We see in the Babington plot another place where there is a Catholic conspiracy involving a woman named Mary -- a prominent theme with Dan Brown, as readers of The Da Vinci Code can attest. Was Mary, Queen of Scots, more than she is known to be in history?

Finally, one must wonder if it is just coincidence that, in real life, Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded, as was the corpse of William Wirt of Clue #6. Then again, in a Dan Brown novel, is anything really coincidental?

[The image of Babington postscript and cipher was obtained on the website of the National Archives of the United Kingdom. The Babington materials, and the image, are in the public domain, at least in the United States of America.]

(Copyright 2009 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)

Clue #13: Hell's Legionnaire (and The Solomon Key!)

Okay: Now it gets especially creepy.
Perhaps fittingly for the 13th Twitter clue, this was sent out at 8:08 a.m. PDT, Monday June 29th:
Hell's legionnaire can turn iron to gold.
The "turn iron to gold" part would seem to suggest that this tweet refers to alchemy, an esoteric discipline dealing with different types of transformation.
And this would be wrong.
More precisely, this would be misleading -- because this tweet has nothing at all to do with alchemy, a multifaceted discipline that can have very profound spiritual implications.
The thing to focus on in this tweet is the odd phrase, "hell's legionnaire." Who is that? And what would any of this have to do with The Lost Symbol?
"Hell's Legionnaire"
A legionnaire is simply anyone who is a member of a legion, which means a large collection, usually of soldiers. (Organizations like the French Foreign Legion, the American Legion, or the ancient Roman legions, come to mind.)
However, in scripture, one of the most famous uses of the term 'legion' has nothing to do with an army at all -- at least, not a human army. Perhaps you will remember the biblical interchange between Jesus and the man possessed with an unclean spirit in the land of the Gadarenes:
And he [Jesus] asked him [the man with the unclean spirit], What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many. (Matthew 5:9)
This incident is so famous that when William Peter Blatty was thinking of a name for the (excellent) sequel to his blockbuster novel, The Exorcist, he chose this simple title: Legion.
So, when the tweet says "hell's legionnaire," it is referring to a demon: a demon associated with a legion of demons, a demon who has the power to turn iron into gold.
But which demon would that be?
It matters, you know. To the magical mindset of, say, the 16th and 17th centuries, demons were not all-powerful, supernatural beings; demons were, like humans, created beings -- very powerful, to be sure, but not omnipotent. In addition, in that mindset, demons were specialized to some extent, some having powers over one domain, some over another. So, who had power to turn iron into gold?
There is an answer to this question in a medieval manual of ceremonial magic -- a manual of a distinctly demonological variety. It is known as the Goetia, and it has a sub-title with a phrase that is probably known to every reader of this blog:
"The Lesser Key of Solomon the King."
That's right: The Solomon Key shows up after all!
A large part of the Goetia is devoted to detailed descriptions of six dozen demons who can be invoked to fulfill a variety of magical purposes. One of them is described as follows (alluding to the ancient apocryphal legend that the biblical King Solomon "bound" spirits to do work for him):
BERITH. -- The Twenty-eighth Spirit in Order, as Solomon bound them, is named Berith. He is a Mighty, great, and terrible Duke. ... He can turn all metals into Gold. ... He is a Great Liar, and not to be trusted unto. He governeth 26 Legions of Spirits. ... (From p. 40 of The Goetia: The Lesser Key of Solomon the King, translated by S. L. MacGregor Mathers, 2nd ed., corrected 2nd printing, 1997, York Beach, ME: Red Wheel/Weiser.)
So: The demon Berith (whose magical "seal" is shown above) governs 26 legions of demons (and so is "Hell's legionnaire"), and can turn all metals (presumably including iron) into gold -- all as revealed in a centuries-old book that could reasonably be called The Solomon Key.
(One little note of caution: Folks, not that you should need me to tell you this, but I must mention the following so that I can go to sleep with a clear conscience tonight: Do not go out and try to conjure up demons. This message brought to you by the Fellowship of the Right-Hand Path, protecting your karma for 40,000 years.)
Relevance to The Lost Symbol
How might all this work into The Lost Symbol? There are a couple of different ways that I see.
During the years of the Renaissance, as learned scholars across Europe were inventing experimental science in fits and starts, many early scientists were also avid practitioners of alchemy, ritual magic, or both esoteric disciplines. For example, although this is not well-known to the public at large, the scholarly community for years has known that Isaac Newton was a student of alchemy and esoteric spirituality; his writings in this area are more voluminous than his writings on optics and physics. Another scientist with alchemical leanings was our friend from Clue #7, Francis Bacon. Of course, both Bacon and Newton have been rumored for years to be Freemasons (although there is no strong evidence to support that conclusion for either of them).
What is fact, though, is that a number of Freemasons across the centuries (relatively small in any given generation) have had very strong interests in the esoteric. In the late 19th century, one of them, Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, joined with a number of other like-minded Masonic brethren to form a group devoted to the practice of ritual magic: the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, perhaps the most important magical group of the 19th and 20th centuries. He also translated a number of important magical texts -- including the Clavicula Salomonis, or The Key of Solomon the King, as well as the Goetia, or Lesser Key of Solomon, from the latter of which I quote above.
Dan Brown could take this sort of material in any number of directions: secret magical groups dating back to the Renaissance; Found Father-era magical conspiracies; even modern sorcery. It's all good, as far as I'm concerned. I only have one question: if anyone in The Lost Symbol conducts dark, hideous rites of necromancy and sorcery --
-- do they get to use a skull?
(Copyright 2009 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Clue #9: Albrecht Durer

The 9th Twitter clue, posted 2:15 p.m. PDT on Thurs., June 25th:

Albrecht Durer, whose father was a goldsmith,
was trained as a metalworker at a young age.

The clue refers to one of the great artists of the Renaissance in Northern Europe, the German, Albrecht Durer (1471-1528). (We meet him again in Clue #22.) Although Durer is known primarily for his prints made from woodcuts and, especially, his engravings on metal, the tweet mentions his early training as a metalworker. The content reads like a sentence out of an art history text, nothing really provocative.

This, however, is Dan Brown -- a man in whose novels many a famed artist is a member of some centuries-spanning conspiracy. And, as it happens, Durer actually has long been rumored to have been a member of a centuries-spanning secret society. This is because Durer has been rumored for years to have been some sort of a Freemason from the pre-Grand Lodge era.

The basis of this rumor is the fact that some of Durer's pieces contain depictions of objects that have either real or reputed symbolic significance to Freemasons. The most prominent example of this is his piece shown above, Melencolia I, a copper engraving dating from 1514 (background here). (If you are using Microsoft Explorer as your browser, I suggest that you go to the File menu, select "New Window," and on the second window of this post, click on the image above to view a much larger image of the artwork as you read the description that follows.)

Masonic Symbols in Durer's Melencolia I

In this piece, an adult-sized female angel sits in thought, holding, for no obvious reason, a set of compasses such as might be used by a stonemason, carpenter, or architect. (Of course, the Compasses are well-known to be an important symbol in Freemasonry.)

Although the bottom of the etching shows the tools of a carpenter (a reference to Jesus, the carpenter's son?), the most prominent finished products appear to be stone, including a sphere in the lower left-hand corner, and a polyhedral prism (the thing shaped like the Superman logo) just above the dog, next to the hammer. The polyhedral prism and the sphere are both portrayed as exquisitely finished pieces of work, smooth pieces of worked and polished stone that call to mind the smooth or polished ashlar that represents, in Masonic symbolism, the individual Mason after he has worked to perfect his character. (I have seen actual stones exemplifying the rough ashlar -- unworked stone -- and the smooth ashlar -- smoothly polished stone -- in every Masonic lodge that I have ever visited.)

But if there is a smooth ashlar, where is the rough? There is no rough ashlar visible in the etching, although there is, in a way, a cowan. The derivation of this peculiarly Masonic word -- used to describe a non-Mason who tries to sneak into a Masonic meeting -- is uncertain. However, it has been related to the Gothic word choin and the Greek word kuon, which each mean the same thing: a dog. Of course, a dog is prominently visible in the etching, perhaps significantly, right between the two polished stones mentioned above.

Above the adult angel's right wing (the viewer's left) is an hourglass, recalling to mind the hourglass mentioned in a lecture accompanying one of the three basic Masonic degrees, or rituals of initiation. This symbolizes the brevity of life, the realization of which should encourage us to use our time well while we have it. (The Masonic scholar Coil states that this symbol came into the Masonic lectures late in the 18th century, but seeing it here raises questions about that dating; the hourglass does seem a timeless symbol of the quickness with which our lives pass.)

Next to the adult angel sits a cherub on what appears to be a somewhat worn mill wheel. Directly above the cherub is a pair of scales, calling to mind Justice, one of the Four Cardinal Virtues, which also occur as symbols in one of the Masonic degree lectures (the others being Temperance, Fortitude, and Prudence).

To the left of the cherub one sees a ladder. Jacob's ladder (see Genesis 28:10-22) is a symbol used in the lecture of the first degree of Freemasonry. A ladder with symbolic significance also appears in the degrees of the Scottish Rite, which are based on 'high degree' rituals, some of which date back at least to the earliest days of Grand Lodge Freemasonry, and perhaps earlier.

Other Masonic Symbolism in Durer's Art

There are other pieces by Durer that show what could be Masonic symbolism. His 1504 title page for Messahalah, De scientia motus orbis (an illustration also known as "Astronomer") shows a man holding a set of compasses; he appears to be measuring distances on a globe, however. His 1506 portrait of an architect shows a man holding a square, such as might normally be used by an architect or a stonemason or a carpenter. Neither of these pieces is really compelling as a Masonic reference; one expects an astronomer to use a set of compasses, and an architect to use a square.

Melencolia I, however, is another matter altogether.

Is 16th Century Durer Plausible as a Mason?

Of course, one of the major objections to considering Durer as some sort of secret Freemason is the fact that he died in 1528, almost two full centuries before the formation of the premier Grand Lodge of England in 1717. The earliest record of Masonic initiation in England occurs in 1641 (the initiation of Robert Moray into a traveling Scottish military lodge), although David Stevenson convincingly has shown that Freemason's lodges were formed in Scotland as early as 1599 (see his books The Origins of Freemasons and The First Freemasons). However, Scotland in 1599 was a long way in both time and space from Germany in 1528. How could Durer plausibly have been a Freemason, or a member of some sort of proto-Masonic group?

Maybe the same way that Bosch was.

The late historian of Freemasonry, John J. Robinson, presents a convincing case for the idea that Durer's contemporary, the Flemish artist Hieronymous Bosch (about 1450-1516) hid Masonic symbolism in at least one of his paintings, The Wayfarer (background here). (See Chapter 11, pp. 118-119 of Robinson's 1993 book, A Pilgrim's Path: Freemasonry and the Religious Right.) In Bosch's painting, Robinson finds references to Masonic initiatory ritual, as well as other Masonic symbols. I find Robinson's argument quite intriguing.

If Bosch, as a Flemish painter in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, somehow had access to Masonic initiatory symbols, then perhaps Durer did as well in the Germany of that period, or during his travels. (His whereabouts during his 4-year Wanderjahre -- quite the 'gap year'! -- are poorly known.) I don't know how it could have happened. However, the enigmatic evidence in Bosch's The Wayfarer and Durer's Melencolia I makes at least a plausible case for these artists being some kind of Masonic initiates.

Durer and The Lost Symbol

It's not hard to see where this could go, as far as The Lost Symbol is concerned. Some artwork of Durer on display in Washington, DC, has some clue for Robert Langdon to follow -- a clue regarding some Masonic conspiracy.

Sounds good to me.

[The image of Durer's Melencolia I, above, was obtained from the Wikimedia Commons through Wikipedia. The artwork and its reproduction are in the public domain.]
(Copyright 2009 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)

Clue #7: Certainties, Doubts, and Francis Bacon

The 7th Twitter clue, posted at 7:05 a.m. PDT on Thurs., June 25th, is a quotation:

"If we begin with certainties, we shall end in doubts; but if we begin with doubts, and are patient in them, we shall end in certainties."
This is a famous passage from the works of Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626, pictured above). Bacon was a jurist and politician, but today is remembered for his philosophical works, particularly his contributions to the philosophy of science.

The choice of Bacon as a reference for the tweet opens some interesting possibilities for The Lost Symbol, as does the choice of this particular quotation itself. To understand those possibilities, we need to consider the relationships between Bacon, the Royal Society, and Freemasonry.

Bacon, Science, and the Royal Society

Bacon made no scientific discoveries. However, contributed to the philosophical foundations of experimental science.

Bacon wrote an incomplete draft for a utopian novel, New Atlantis, published the year after his death. In this novel, his European explorers discovered a sophisticated culture on an uncharted South Pacific island, one of whose inhabitants described an organization that one of their kings had established long before:

It was the erection and institution of an Order or Society which we call Salomon's House; the noblest foundation ... that ever was upon the
earth; and the lanthorn [i.e., light] of this kingdom. It is dedicated to the study of the Works and Creatures of God. ... For we have some parts of his [the biblical Solomon's] works which with you are lost; namely, that Natural History which he wrote, of all plants, from the cedar of Libanus [i.e., Lebanon] to the moss that groweth out of the wall, and of all things that have life and motion. ... [The island people's king established] that House for the finding out of the true nature of all things (whereby God might have the more glory in the workmanship of them, and men the more fruit in the use of them) ....
Essentially, Bacon was describing what we would call today a scientific society, or even a 'think tank' -- institutions that did not exist in his time. Bacon's "Salomon" was Solomon, the biblical king of Israel who was renowned for his wisdom. Bacon's "Salomon's House" is said to be the inspiration for the British Royal Society, founded in 1660, which is perhaps the first scientific society at least in the Western world, and is certainly the oldest scientific society now in existence.
Bacon and Freemasonry

Bacon died in 1626, nearly a century before the establishment of the Grand Lodge style of Freemasonry in London in 1717. We have no record establishing that Bacon was ever a Freemason. However, we do know of men initiated as Freemasons before the establishment of the Grand Lodge, and not too long after Bacon's lifetime, such as Robert Moray in 1641 and Elias Ashmole in 1646; thus, it is at least possible that Bacon was initiated into a pre-Grand Lodge-era lodge of Freemasons. The possibility that Bacon was a Freemason has been speculated about at least since the time of Christopher Friederich Nicolai (1733-1811); read about the dispute here.

Beyond the external historical evidence, however, there is an unmistakable Masonic resonance to be found in some of Bacon's works. For example, the scientific research establishment mentioned in New Atlantis -- "Salomon's House" -- surely perks up the ears of the Freemason who is used to hearing his lodge, during the three basic rituals of initiation, described as one portion or another of Solomon's Temple, or the House of the Lord. The dedication of Bacon's "Salomon's House" to science recalls to the Freemason the well-known Lecture of the Middle Chamber, given during the Second Degree, where study of the various arts and sciences are recommended to the new Fellow Craft Mason.

One could go farther, considering subtle aspects of Bacon's writing. The king of the island people in New Atlantis who established "Salomon's House" in honor of the biblical Solomon was himself named Solamona; today's Mason would find it interesting to have the leader of a group take the name or role of the biblical Solomon. "Salomon's House" is called the "lanthorn" or light of kingdom; the use of the symbolism of light in Freemasonry is well-known, even outside the Fraternity.

Perhaps this is just coincidental. However, the affinity of early English scientists for Freemasonry (see below), and the Masonic-sounding resonances in Bacon's New Atlantis, raise provocative questions regarding the possible Masonic affiliation of Francis Bacon.

Freemasonry and the Royal Society

There have long been rumors that the Royal Society was originally a sort of Masonic project. (Robert Lomas explores this at length in his 2003 book, Freemasonry and the Birth of Modern Science.) It is intriguing to note that the Robert Moray who was initiated a Freemason in 1641 may have been the same Robert Moray who was the first president of the Royal Society in 1660. The Elias Ashmole initiated a Freemason in 1646 was definitely a member of the Royal Society.

There certainly were an unusual number of early members of the Royal Society who were also Grand Masters of the Masonic Grand Lodge of England: 20 in all, as well as 6 Assistant Grand Masters, during the period 1719-1828, including the famous John Theophilus Desaguliers (see pp. 73-74 of Alain Bauer's 2007 book, Isaac Newton's Freemasonry: The Alchemy of Science and Mysticism). I find particularly interesting the proportion of all members of the Royal Society who were Freemasons, and the proportion of all London Freemasons who were members of the Royal Society, as Bauer describes it (p. 73):

In 1723, out of two hundred members of the Royal Society, about forty were also Freemasons, making up a fifth of the total. ... In 1725, forty-seven Fellows [i.e., members of the Royal Society] belonged to the [Masonic] Grand Lodge. (There were sixty-four Lodges with a membership of two hundred Brothers.)
Thus, 20% of the early members of the Royal Society were Freemasons, and about 23% of the early members of the Grand Lodge in London were members of the Royal Society. I find that a very provocative degree of overlap.

The Quotation

The quotation in the tweet is from Bacon's work, On the Dignity and Advancement of Learning (often referred to just as The Advancement of Learning), in Book I, which describes and refutes various objections to learning. Bacon responds to objections to learning that are raised by religious leaders ("divines"), by politicians, and by the mistakes of learned people themselves. He then addresses a number of errors that people can make regarding learning, and it is in this section that we find the quote (on p. 52 of Joseph Devey's edition).

Ultimately, in the tweeted quotation, Bacon is saying that, if we enter a course of investigation (in science or anything else) convinced that we know all there is to know, we shall run into many areas where we know nothing at all, and our progress shall grind to a halt. On the other hand, if we enter our investigations with a scientific, "show me" attitude, we shall know almost nothing at first; however, if we patiently test every bit of data that comes our way, over time we shall build up a great supply of proven knowledge.

Bacon and The Lost Symbol

What could all this have to do with The Lost Symbol? There are several ways in which all of this might be relevant.

For Dan Brown to bring Bacon into the picture at all is to point a finger in the direction of science, a passion for which Brown exhibits in Angels & Demons. Bacon's utopian scientific society, "Salomon's House," resonates with the notion of Brown's version of the Illuminati in the 1500s as "the world's first scientific think tank," as he calls them in Chapter 9 of Angels & Demons. In that same chapter, Brown describes how the Illuminati fled Italy because of persecution by the Church. It would certainly be plausible, in the Dan Brown universe, for some of the Renaissance-era Illuminati to have fled to England, where they could recruit Francis Bacon in the late 1500s or early 1600s, found the Royal Society in 1660 as the public face of the Illuminati's pro-science agenda, and infitrate Freemasonry before the Grand Lodge era even began in 1717.

Another thing to consider is the tweeted quotation itself. Dan Brown's hero, Robert Langdon, is going to be faced with some mystery to solve. Perhaps the quotation from Bacon is advice to Langdon: when we attempt to solve a mystery, if we think we know everything important to start with ("if we begin with certainties"), then we shall soon be overwhelmed by the things we actually don't know ("we shall end in doubts"). On the other hand, if we admit our profound ignorance ("but if we begin in doubts"), and if we patiently test the data that falls into our hands ("and are patient in them [that is, doubts]"), then we may ultimately find the truth ("we shall end in certainties"). Words to live by.

[The image of a portrait of Francis Bacon by an unknown artist, above, was obtained from Wikimedia Commons through Wikipedia. The portrait and its image are in the public domain.]

(Copyright 2009 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Clue #5: "Illuminati ... Perfectabilists"

The 5th Twitter clue, sent at 1:45 p.m. PDT on Wed., June 24th:

Before they were Illuminati, they were Perfectabilists.
A great number of issues are bound together in this simple tweet--issues of fact, issues of fiction, and a great deal of dispute about which is which.
At present, I am working on a book, The Illuminati: The True History and Strange Afterlife of the Most Feared Secret Society in History. I have found the issues surrounding the Illuminati to be fascinating, as a mixture of real history and the psychology of conspiracy--a mixture that has influenced American national politics for over 200 years, down to our own day. Here, I'll mention just a few things that are most relevant to The Lost Symbol.
The Real History of the Illuminati
The Illuminati really existed; you may also read about them here. The organization was founded in Bavaria by Adam Weishaupt (pictured above, and featured in Clue #33) on May 1, 1776. (What a date! The pagan holiday of Walpurgisnacht, or Mayday, in the year of the American Declaration of Independence!) The group was revolutionary in origin, seeking to overthrow the power of aristocracy and monarchy in favor of a form of government resembling democracy. The group also sought to overthrow the political and social power of the Catholic Church, in favor of instituting reason and logic as principles by which to govern the world and educate humankind.
The tweet is technically correct. The Illuminati were originally known as Perfectabilists, reflecting their belief that people could achieve a sort of perfection through rigorous devotion to reason and logic, rather than through supernatural means (such as the atonement of Christ).
The Illuminati was a truly "secret society," in that it tried to keep its very existence secret. The Illuminati infiltrated dozens of Masonic lodges in central Europe, where they sought to recruit members whom they hoped to lead, through a system of ritual degree ceremonies resembling Masonry, from a position of belief in God to a position of atheism, devoted to the overthrow of monarchy and church. The leadership of the group believed that, to further this endeavor, any means were justified, including political assassination.
To understand the Bavarian Illuminati, it is important to understand the political context of their times. American-style democracy had not been invented, and people throughout central Europe in particular were ruled by absolute monarchs who essentially held power of life and death over the people they governed. Dissent was crushed. In addition, the major church of the period held a significant degree of political power; in religious matters as well as political ones, dissent was not tolerated. The emphasis that the Illuminati placed on freedom of thought and expression was very appealing to some people, including even members of the aristocracy, and German literary figures such as Goethe and Herder; reportedly, the Illuminati reached a membership of about 2,000 during the decade or so of its existence.
The Illuminati were strong on rhetoric, weak on action. They assassinated no one, despite their "ends justify the means" ethics. However, when their aims became known to the governing authorities, they were crushed by the rulers of several countries, beginning in 1784. By the early 1790s, for all practical purposes the Illuminati had ceased to exist.
And it was then, after the group known as the Illuminati died, that it really got to work.
The Strange Afterlife of the Illuminati
The late 18th and early 19th centuries were a time of monumental social change -- which meant, not only positive changes like the rise of democracy, but also social disruption that was experienced as very negative by a number of people. In the mid-18th century, before the Revolutionary War, many American colonists considered themselves loyal to the British crown; after the war, thousands of these people left their homes and businesses and moved, to Canada, England, and elsewhere, leaving behind thousands of relatives and friends who were quite ambivalent about losing their connections. Right after the Revolutionary War, several American states had "established churches" -- that is, churches that had special privileges under state law, perhaps including support by tax dollars; over the course of the ensuing years, this support was withdrawn (given that the Constitution of the United States, which became operative in 1789, provided for a separation of church and state).
Political changes, social changes, religious changes -- a lot of people had problems fully accepting this; for a lot of people, some of this was actually bad. And, when bad things happen, someone must be blamed; at the very least, a scapegoat must be found.
That's where the Illuminati came in.
The Illuminati have been the scapegoat of American politics (and, to some extent, European politics) for the last 200 years. In the early 19th century, clergy across the land, especially in the Northeast, preached about the dangers to society posed by the Illuminati. The horrific excesses of the French Revolution were blamed on the Illuminati. The suppression of American Freemasonry in the first half of the 19th century was, in part, based on fear of the Illuminati. In our day, particularly since the middle of the 20th century, the Illuminati have been blamed for everything from AIDS and the current Great Recession to the flouridation of public drinking water. (Google "Illuminati" and you'll see what I mean.)
At the moment, the Illuminati are mentioned primarily by the more wild-eyed-fringey portions of the conspiracy theory community, but these people have a greater following than you might think. (Consider the popularity in some circles of the writings of Jim Marrs, Texe Marrs, and David Icke.)
And it's all a pile of hooey. The Illuminati died out in the late 18th century. They are kept 'alive' in the minds of ignorant people today because we, as a society, have done such a poor job of teaching critical thinking skills. That, however, is a rant for another venue and time.
The Illuminati in Dan Brown's Fiction
Fans of Dan Brown will remember that fear of the Illuminati plays an important role in Angels and Demons. After touching upon the conflict between Renaissance-era science and religion, Robert Langdon and the scientist Kohler have a conversation, Langdon stating this:

"But in the 1500s, a group of men in Rome fought back against the church. Some of Italy's most enlightened men -- physicists, mathematicians, astronomers -- began meeting secretly to share their concerns about the church's inaccurate teachings. They feared that the church's monopoly on 'truth' threatened academic enlightenment around the world. They founded the world's first scientific think tank, calling themselves 'the enlightened ones.'"
"The Illuminati."
"Yes," Langdon said. "Europe's most learned minds ... dedicated to the quest for scientific truth."

(See Chapter 9 of Angels and Demons for Dan Brown's account of the Illuminati's backstory.)
So, in Dan Brown's universe, the Illuminati were founded in 16th century Rome, not late 18th century Bavaria (now part of Germany) -- a difference of about 200 years and 480 miles. Brown's Illuminati were primarily scientists, rather than political and literary figures. And, as his novel relates, they were ruthlessly suppressed by the church, rather than by the governments of central Europe. Hey -- literary license covers a lot of ground!
The tweet suggests that the Illuminati make some sort of appearance in The Lost Symbol. My guess is that Brown will portray the Illuminati infiltration of the Masonic lodges as having gone on in the New World, rather than (as actually happened) being confined to continental Europe. Brown's Illuminati would have no problem influencing the Founding Fathers, because Brown's Illuminati were founded over two centuries before the American Declaration of Independence -- rather than just over two months before July 4, 1776, as happened in reality.

[The image above of Adam Weishaupt was obtained from the Wikimedia Commons through Wikipedia. Its source is unknown, but the image is in the public domain.]

(Copyright 2009 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)


Clue #1: "Codes of Ethics"

The first Twitter clue, posted at 6:01 a.m. PDT on Tuesday, June 23rd:

Codes of ethics? T 10 C; 6 P O T SOD; 12 S O T Z
There are two aspects of this encrypted message to consider: the method of encryption, and the content of the message itself.

The Encryption Method: A Masonic Initial Letter Cypher

The key to deciphering this tweet is to know that, for centuries, Freemasons have concealed the content of their ritual initation ceremonies through the use of an initial letter cipher. This simply uses the initial letter of a word to stand for the whole word. Thus, the phrase "square and compasses" would cipher to "s a c." (Some versions of the cipher would put this as "s a cs.")

The use of this cipher presumes that both the sender and the receiver already know what the words in the message are to start off with. Huh? If both sides already know the message, why even cipher it? Actually, this kind of cipher is very useful, as an aid to memory.

The Masonic initiatory rituals are complex and time-consuming; the first degree, for example, typically takes about 90 minutes to conduct--all from memory. As an aid to assist Masons in practicing and memorizing the ceremonies, many Masonic jurisdictions (such as the Grand Lodge of Florida) publish enciphered ritual books, where the rituals of the three degrees are given in an initial letter cipher. The only people who are authorized to receive these books have passed through the initiation rituals themselves, and so they have at least some acquaintance with the ceremony already; they then practice the ritual with experienced members who help them to learn the rituals properly and thoroughly.

Noted Masonic author, Christopher Hodapp (Freemasons for Dummies), deciphered this tweet as follows:
Codes of ethics? The 10 Commandments; 6 points of the Star of David; 12 signs of the Zodiac

The Content of the Message

What is the significance of the message itself--the Ten Commandments, the Star of David, and the Zodiac? There are at least two ways to interpret the message--both of which may be accurate: the geographic interpretation, and the Masonic interpretation.

The Geographic Interpretation

Washington, DC (where, years ago, Brown said the novel would be set) has locations where these items are shown in art, architecture, and elsewhere. The tablets of the Ten Commandments probably show up in multiple pieces of artwork depicting Moses. In addition, the tablets may be 'present' in an artwork even when not visible; for example, their hidden presence is implied in Erastus Salisbury Field's circa-1865 painting "Ark of the Covenant" in the National Gallery of Art.

The Star of David is the shape of the thirteen stars above the eagle on the obverse of the Great Seal of the United States (look on the right side of the back of the $1 bill); this fact is pointed out by Christopher Hodapp in his book Solomon's Builders (p. 203), where he also mentions other esoteric and even conspiratorial theories regarding the Star of David, including the notion that a Star of David is built into the streets of DC, east of the Capitol (p. 205).

The Zodiac appears many times in or on official buildings in DC, including the Library of Congress (as noted in detail in David Ovason's The Secret Architecture of Our Nation's Capital).

From this point of view, the point of the message is to provide clues regarding significant places in Washington, DC--places where Dan Brown's hero, Robert Langdon, might search for clues to uncover some mystery, much as he did in Brown's earlier Langdon novels, The Da Vinci Code (2003), and especially Angels and Demons (2000), where Langdon followed a string of clues across Rome.

However, the phrase "Codes of ethics?" suggests another, deeper interpretation. Freemasonry has long been described (however inadequately) as "a system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols." Issues of ethics are central to Masonic ritual. Are there possible connections between the contents of the message and Freemasonry? There are indeed.

The Masonic Interpretation

The original Ten Commandments, naturally, are found in the Bible, an open copy of which must be exhibited on the altar whenever a Masonic lodge is conducting business or ritual (as seen in the photo accompanying this newspaper article about a public lodge ceremony where new lodge officers were installed). Although a bit of a stretch, the "jewel" or ceremonial emblem worn by the lodge chaplain may resemble the tablets of the Ten Commandments. Of course, groups and individuals often publish "the ten commandments" of this or that; famous 19th century Masonic leader, Albert Pike, published a set of "ten commandments" for Masonry in his work, Morals and Dogma (1871, pp. 17-18)--published for the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry in the Southern Jurisdiction, which has its headquarters at the magnificent House of the Temple in Washington, DC.

The Star of David (also known as the Seal of Solomon) has frequently been associated with Freemasonry by appearing in its ritual, jewels, and literature (see image above, described below). The symbol appears in the ritual initiation ceremonies of the 12, 14th, and 27th degrees within the Scottish Rite in the Southern Jurisdiction. This symbol is an element of several different Masonic "jewels" for different offices in different organizations and jurisdictions; for example, it is prominent in Thomas Harper's Royal Arch Jewel, and in a jewel for the office of Commander-in-Chief for the Consistory of the Scottish Rite. Robert Macoy's 1853 Masonic Manual (see the last few pages of this online edition) show this symbol as a prominent part of a Royal Arch Jewel in England, and of the jewel worn by the Grand Superintendant of the Royal Arch in that country. I recently saw this symbol on the jewel of an Assistant Grand Orator in the Grand Lodge of New York.

The Zodiac is mentioned in Freemasonry little if at all. However, the Zodiac is mentioned prominently in certain Kabbalistic literature, which has been studied for centuries by more esoterically inclined Freemasons.

Overall, then, the content of the message may both point geographically to certain artworks and landmarks in Washington, DC, and may point symbolically to rituals and individuals associated with Freemasonry.

[The image was obtained from the website of the Masonic Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon. The image was used in 1876 as the titlepage illustration of the report of their annual Grand Communication.]

(Copyright 2009 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)

Before We Begin: Who Are the Freemasons?

Much of Dan Brown's novel, as shown by his publisher's Twitter clues, involves Freemasonry. So, a few words about Freemasonry will help make sense of everything else.

Here is my own definition of Masonry: Freemasonry is a fraternity that uses ceremonies of initiation to teach symbolic lessons about philosophy, morality, and character. Now let's unpack that definition, phrase by phrase.

"Freemasonry is a fraternity ...": Freemasonry is a fraternal organization that has been in existence for centuries. Members meet in lodges, which can be found in all major cities and hundreds of towns in the United States, as well as in many major cities internationally throughout the free world. (For example, Masonic Hall in New York City is home to dozens of lodges.) Masonry is open to adult men of good character who believe in a Supreme Being. It is built around the ideas of the development of character, personal growth, responsibility, duty, service to God and humanity, and fellowship. Freemasonry is not a religion, but it is spiritual in nature.

"Freemasonry ... uses ceremonies of initiation ...": In brief, wherever initiatory ceremonies are found, initiation is a ritual activity through which men are imparted certain teachings confidentially, are made part of a group, and become people who are in some way different from who they were before initiation. A Masonic initiation ceremony is called a "degree"; there are three of them in basic Freemasonry, and dozens more are offered by 'high degree' organizations.

Through the initiatory experiences of Freemasonry, a man learns certain philosophical and ethical truths in a dramatic fashion. He obtains membership within the international fraternity of Masonry. The new Mason learns certain signs by which he can identify himself as a Mason to other brothers whom he meets in his travels, even when these travels take him around the world. In addition, the new Mason places himself under obligation to keep these signs of recognition secure, and to live according to certain high ideals.

In many cultures, around the world and throughout history, initiatory experiences have been a part of life for adult men of good character. Unfortunately, in the modern industrialized world, opportunities for real initation are few. By contrast, Masonry's ceremonies of initation have a history measured in centuries.

"... ceremonies ... [that] teach symbolic lessons about philosophy, morality, and character": Within the initatory experiences of Freemasonry, a man is exposed to many symbols that offer insight into several important issues: how men should live; towards what ends they should direct their efforts; the way in which people should relate to one another; their relationship to God.

This is Freemasonry. It conveys initiatory experiences to today's man, giving him a context in which to reflect upon his roles and his life in today's society.

To Learn More About Freemasonry

In a few months, readers should be able to purchase my book, Discovering The Lost Symbol, which describes Freemasonry in detail; also, a new edition of my book Freemasonry: An Introduction should be available soon. In the meantime, the following books are a good place to start in learning about Freemasonry (very roughly in the order in which someone determined to read them all should read them):

  • W. Kirk MacNulty (2006) Freemasonry: Symbols, Secrets, Significance (New York: Thames & Hudson).

  • Christopher Hodapp (2005) Freemasons for Dummies (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley).

  • S. Brent Morris (2006) The Complete Idiot's Guide to Freemasonry (New York: Alpha / Penguin).

  • W. Kirk MacNulty (1991) Freemasonry: A Journey Through Ritual and Symbol (New York: Thames & Hudson).

Now--on to the clues!


[The image above is a somewhat unusual depiction of a central symbol in Freemasonry, showing a square and a quadrant, within which is an eye in a triangle, denoting that the Eye of the Divine Being is always upon us. The image was obtained from the website of the Masonic Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon, which maintains one of the best websites in the world for information regarding Masonic history and other subjects related to Freemasonry, including anti-Masonry.]


(Copyright 2009 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)

(Portions of this post are modified from the first edition of Freemasonry: An Introduction, copyright 2007 by Mark E. Koltko-Rivera.)

Welcome to the "Key to The Lost Symbol Clues" Blog

Dan Brown's forthcoming novel, The Lost Symbol, the long-awaited sequel to The Da Vinci Code, will be published on September 15, 2009, with a first printing of 5 million copies -- the largest first print run in the history of Random House. As part of the marketing campaign created by Brown's publishers, beginning on June 23rd, a series of clues to the content of the novel is being sent out on Twitter. (These clues are collected on the novel's Twitter page.)

The "Key to The Lost Symbol Clues" blog takes each of the novel's Twitter 'tweets' and comments on them. I post solutions to the coded messages, describe the significance of the historical clues, and so forth. For many clues, I take the blog reader to "The Next Level," showing the material associated with the clue that might escape attention on a casual viewing. Finally, I show what each clue tells us about what direction The Lost Symbol might take.

Who I Am

I am Mark Koltko-Rivera, and I write a number of blogs regarding my areas of interest, including the fraternal society known as Freemasonry.

Yes, I am a Freemason. Because people occasionally claim Masonic membership falsely, please let me take a few moments to establish my Masonic credentials.
(Having returned recently to New York City, I am grateful for the hospitality shown to me as a visitor by St. John's Lodge No. 1, Ancient York Masons, F&AM -- the folks who care for the Bible on which George Washington took his oath as first President of the United States -- and by the Valley of New York, Scottish Rite, Northern Jurisdiction.) I have published articles on the origins of Freemasonry and on the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry.

This is all relevant to Brown's novel because The Lost Symbol is set within the world of Freemasonry, as Brown years ago said it would be -- and as shown by the clues!

[Additional note: As the U.S. cover unveiled on July 7 demonstrates, The Lost Symbol is not only set within the world of Freemasonry, it is specifically set within the world of the Scottish Rite in the Southern Jurisdiction--an organization of which I am a member, and in whose research journal and major magazine I have published.]

Finally, I have a doctorate in psychology (NYU, 2000), and have been received recognition from the Division of Psychology of Religion in the American Psychological Association for my work in that area. Of course, a background in religion, especially esoteric religion, always comes in handy when it comes to considering Dan Brown's novels.

Why I Am Writing This

I am writing this blog for a couple of reasons. First, I have the background to explain the significance of a lot of the arcane history hinted at in the Twitter clues (and Dan Brown certainly is one for arcane history). Second, this is a way to promote my own book, Discovering The Lost Symbol, which will be the only book exploring the issues raised in Brown's novel, written by someone who is both a Freemason and a specialist in the psychology of religion. (Publication details will be forthcoming.)

Reboot ('Version 2.0') of This Blog on August 6

After a couple of weeks filing posts on this blog regarding the Lost Symbol clues, on July 13 I removed all the posts. I did this because it came to my attention that, essentially, I was doing other writers' research for them. However, at this point, I think I have more to gain by building this platform for my work than I have to lose by sharing it.

In order to protect my own contributions for future publication, I will not comment on every clue on this blog. Rather, every day or two, I will comment on a clue that is particularly intriguing, from among the clues that have been posted in the preceding 24 to 48 hours. In addition, I have reposted some of my previous responses to some especially interesting clues.

I am glad to be returning to this blog. I very much enjoyed the back-and-forth of the comments, and the opportunity to be part of the public community commenting on the Twitter clues.

The Rules

Anyone is welcome to comment on this blog. However, civility rules: I tolerate no vulgarity, and no personal attacks, especially on others who have commented on a post.

With those guidelines in mind -- have at it. Enjoy. Dan Brown has quite a ride in store for us, judging by the Twitter clues.