Friday, June 26, 2009

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.)


  1. Ha, I beat him to it. :-)

  2. Congrats, Jennifer! Women rule!!!

  3. Could these codes taken cumulatively point to the concept of "sacred geometry"--the numbers 10 (or doubled pentagon), 6 (or doubled triangle), and 1--which was employed in some late Renaissance Eurpoean and Colonial American architecture? How, if at all, does this relate to F&AM practices?

  4. *CORRECTED* (I am not the best typist...)
    Could these codes taken cumulatively point to the concept of "sacred geometry"--the numbers 10 (or doubled pentagon), 6 (or doubled triangle), *and 12*--which was employed in some late Renaissance Eurpoean and Colonial American architecture? How, if at all, does this relate to F&AM practices?

  5. Jennifer: Congratulations! Good for you. The whole Twitter tweet thing is meant to engage people in dialogue, and that's just a good thing all around. Keep at it.

    Anonymous: Interesting! I'll need to look at the Colonial American architecture angle and so forth. As far as the practices of Free and Accepted Masonry are concerned, there are so many resonances to the numbers (especially in the high degrees of Masonry) that it would be hard to put them in a post. However, the intriguing thing is that, although the Ten Commandments, Star of David, and 12 signs of the Zodiac are not explicitly mentioned in Masonry, there is certainly a Masonic resonance to the specific wording of a phrase, "6 points of the Star of David"--we'll see what future tweets point to.

    Thank you both (all?) for contributing to the dialogue on this blog.

  6. What is the exactly meaning for that symbol?


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