Thursday, July 9, 2009

Clue #37: Deism, the Founding Fathers, and Robert Langdon

The 37th Twitter clue, sent at about 1:15 p.m. PDT, Thurs., July 9th:

The URL in the clue is a hot link to a TwitPic, a detail of Michelangelo's utterly breathtaking work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican, specifically a detail of the face of God in a section dealing with the creation of the Sun and the Moon (shown above).

However, in the TwitPic, the face of God is overlayed with five numbers in Roman numerals. John Stump reported the solution to this code on Dan Brown's Facebook fan page, within a few minutes of the clue's posting. (Congratulations, John Stump!)

The five Roman numerals represent the 4th, 5th, 9th, 19th, and 13th letters of the English alphabet, thus spelling out the word DEISM.

[I quote below, with some modifications, from one of my other blogs, "Freemasonry: Reality, Myth, and Legend," where I recently considered the matter of Deism in a post at some length.]

Theism vs. Deism

There are many ways to conceive of God. One set of ways comes under the heading of Theism, a group of ideas about God that encompasses Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

A theistic notion of God takes the position that God created the universe and is vitally concerned with its affairs, including the affairs of humankind; God watches over us, individually and collectively (part of the meaning of the 'Eye of God' symbol, incidentally). A theistic God communicates the Divine Will to people from time to time, for their benefit -- the process of revelation, which may result in the accumulation of scriptures as records of revelation. A theistic God may work miracles to serve divine purposes. Those who believe in a theistic notion of God are called theists.

A different way to conceive of God is the position of Deism. In the deistic perspective, God created the universe, but does not particularly intervene in the affairs of the universe or humankind. To some extent, humankind may come to know a deistic God through the workings of human reason, but a deistic God does not communicate through revelation; thus, whatever people designate as 'scriptures' are merely human creations and interpretations. A deistic God does not interfere with the workings of natural law, and so does not work miracles. A deistic God gave reason and compassion to all of humankind, but otherwise does not actively intervene in the lives of individuals. Those who believe in a deistic notion of God are called deists.

The Founding Fathers and Deism

Some prominent American founding fathers were deists. Certainly this is so for George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and James Monroe; the case for their being deists is made convincingly by David L. Holmes, in his brief, excellent, and accessible book, The Faiths of the Founding Fathers (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006). (Of course, the French philosopher Voltaire was a noted deist. Voltaire was a major intellectual influence on the Founding Fathers, so much so that I have nominated him as the answer to Clue #29 as the French 'honorary founding father.')

Relevance to The Lost Symbol

It is clear that the U.S. Founding Fathers will play a major role in this novel in some way. As I have mentioned, several of them were deists. Dan Brown likes to bring up different positions on matters of faith, religion, and spirituality; no doubt he will address deism as a potential position, perhaps one agreeable to his hero, Robert Langdon.

One thing I hope Dan Brown does not do is perpetuate the oft-repeated falsehood that Freemasonry is inherently deist. It is not; if anything, Freemasonry is skewed in the direction of theism, a case I make here.

In any case, it will be a welcome experience to see religion addressed seriously in popular literature.
[The image was obtained from Wikimedia Commons via Wikipedia. It is in the public domain, at least in the United States.]

Clue #36: Alexander Hamilton -- and a Hint of Cryptography

The 36th Twitter clue, posted at about 7:00 a.m. PDT, Thurs., July 9th:

Near the buttonwood's accord lies a field of Christ. His marker there would make even Khafra smile.

The solution to the fundamental elements of this clue was announced on Dan Brown's Facebook fan page by Cheryl Lynn Helm, about 30 minutes after the clue was posted. Good for you, Cheryl!

"Buttonwood's accord" is a reference to the Buttonwood Agreement of May 17, 1792, which established the New York Stock & Exchange Board (later known as the New York Stock Exchange, now the NYSE Group). The agreement was signed by 24 stockbrokers under a buttonwood (i.e., sycamore) tree outside 68 Wall Street in lower Manhattan, New York City. Of course, the New York Stock Exchange was and remains fundamental to the development of American-style capitalism.

"Field of Christ" is a reference to a cemetery. U.S. Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton, is buried in the Trinity Churchyard Cemetery, perhaps a 5-minute walk or so from the location of the Buttonwood Agreement. His grave marker (the "marker" of the clue, of course, shown above) is in the form of a pyramid with a flat apex.

Khafra, or Khafre (also known as Khephren) is the Egyptian pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty (2650-2480 BC) who built the second largest of the 3 famous pyramids of Giza. In one of his best-known representations, he is represented as smiling. The author of the clue is remarking on how Khafra would be pleased to see a pyramid on Hamilton's grave.

The Next Level

One thing that has consistently shown up in the Twitter clues about this novel is that many clues are very subtle: the same word is meant to be taken in more than one way, and a seemingly off-the-cuff reference may actually be crucial to the novel. Such is the case here. For we must ask: what put Alexander Hamilton's body under that pyramidal grave marker -- that is, what killed him? And why even bring up Khafra, rather than half a dozen other pharaohs?

Warning: no matter how weird things get in this section of the post, I want you to remember: everything in "The Next Level" actually happened in real life.

Alexander Hamilton (b. 1755 or 1757--d. 1804) is on everyone's list of U.S. Founding Fathers. Like many of them, he was a Freemason. He was the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, and as such ties into the financial theme that runs through this clue. However, it gets murkier than that, and intensely conspiratorial, in real life, very quickly.

Hamilton was mortally wounded by Aaron Burr, in a duel in Weehawken, NJ, just across the river from Manhattan Island. At the time, Burr was serving as the Vice-President of the United States, under Thomas Jefferson in Jefferson's first term as President. Burr came under intense criticism, especially among Northern voters, for killing Hamilton. Burr left the Vice Presidency at the end of his term (Jefferson entering a second term as President with a different VP), and then things really got weird.

Burr moved into what was then the West of the territories of the U.S., and apparently came up with a scheme that, if successful, would have left him as essentially the king of a separate nation, incorporating much of what is now Texas, northern Mexico, and nearby areas. (I should point out that these were the very areas later focused on by the Knights of the Golden Circle, or KGC, whom we met in Clue #34; see this article with its provocative map).

Burr was arrested and put on trial for treason, but was acquitted for lack of evidence. The team for the prosecution included the young William Wirt, whom we met in Clue #6. (You will recall Wirt as the Freemason who later abandoned the Masons, and ran against Jackson for the Presidency on the Anti-Masonic Party ticket; after his death, Wirt's corpse was beheaded, and his skull was stolen right out of his crypt in the Congressional Cemetery.)

(Incidentally, Burr was not a Mason. However, his defense attorney, the young Henry Clay -- distant relative of my wife, Kathleen -- was a very prominent Mason later in his life.)

Which leaves us with Khafra. I find it interesting that the alternate spelling of his name, Khafre, is also the name of a sophisticated block cipher developed 20 years ago. The publication of the cipher was originally blocked by the National Security Agency, but through a variety of mishaps it came to public attention anyway.

So there we have it: Founding Fathers, a fatal duel, a conspiracy to rule a chunk of North America, pyramids galore, and a code scheme so threatening that the NSA wanted to block its publication -- and all in real life. What's not for Dan Brown to love?

Potential Relevance to The Lost Symbol

So where might Brown be going with all this? A couple of things come to mind.

You can't have a good conspiracy without a hefty amount of cash. The clue points in passing at one of the most massive wealth-engines in human history, the New York Stock Exchange, founded in the earliest days of the American Republic -- hey, Washington was still in his first term. Perhaps the conspiracy that Dan Brown depicts in his novel has something to do with the NYSE. (Of course, the Confederate gold mentioned in Clue #34 might work in here, too.)

My guess is that, in the novel, Burr somehow has connections with the KGC, connections that somehow reverberate down to our own day. (Thus, the KGC would be the "bad guy" secret society in the novel. Would the Freemasons be the "good guys"?)

In the world of the novel, Hamilton's flat-topped pyramid may resonate with the unfinished pyramid of the Great Seal of the U.S., discussed in relation to Clue #35.

The Khafre cipher can encrypt small amounts of data very quickly, which, in Dan Brown's universe, could come in mighty handy . . .

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Clue #35: The Great Seal of the U.S.

The 35th Twitter clue, sent at about 2 p.m. (PDT) on Wed. July 8th:

Our favored endeavor in the language of the Tiber.

Of course, the language of the Tiber river area in ancient Rome was Latin. The phrase that is being hinted at in this clue is one of the two most reproduced Latin phrases in the world -- given that they are on the back of every $1 bill currently in circulation in the United States. The phrase is annuit coeptis, and it appears on the reverse side of the Great Seal of the United States (shown above). The phrase translates to "He [that is, God] has favored [our] endeavors"; it may also be translated as "he has approved [our] undertakings." (The front or 'obverse' side of the Great Seal is the side with the eagle on it.)
That is the surface solution to the clue. However, this being a clue about a Dan Brown novel, we need to consider what else this clue brings up. Of course, we also have to consider what this all tells us about The Lost Symbol.
To mention the one phrase, annuit coeptis, is to point a finger at the entire of the reverse side of the Great Seal. Let's take a good look at that, and consider its implications for the novel.
The Interpretation of the Reverse of the Great Seal
The reverse of the Great Seal of the United States has been the subject of more frankly bizarre and even paranoid writing than any other other single object or image that I can think of. This is so, even though the actual interpretation of the objects on the Great Seal is easy to find, in several places; one such place is this excellent article on Wikipedia. Let's go over the elements of the Seal one by one, and consider two different approaches to interpretation: the real life one, and the grossly paranoid one.
For the real life interpretation, I'll be using the explanation given by Charles Thomson, the man who actually designed the Seal at the request of Congress. Thomson was the Secretary of the U.S. Congress, to whom Congress gave all the material submitted by three prior committees who had been asked to submit ideas for the seal. Thompson received these materials on June 13, 1782, and submitted his own ideas a week later. (His full description is available in several places, including the Wikipedia article.) Incidentally, let me say at the outset: Thomson was not a Freemason.

For the grossly paranoid conspiratorial approach, I will use Nicholas Hagger's book, The Secret Founding of America: The Real Story of Freemasons, Puritans and the Battle for the New World (London: Watkins, 2007; paperback, 2009); I am focusing on pp. 136-139 of the hardcover edition. I do not mean to compliment the book, because it is a rat's nest of gullibility, rumor, truly wild fantasy, and nonsense -- but there is a lot of that going around these days, and someone has to respond to it. Hagger claims that the Great Seal of the U.S., both sides, was inspired by the similar seal of the Illuminati -- no example of which has been reported by legitimate historians, of course. (Looking at his footnotes and references, I think Hagger has simply taken other conspiracy writers' word for it. Read about the Illuminati in the posts here for Clues #5 and #33.)

So here goes.

The Pyramid

Thomson brought in the unfinished pyramid with 13 courses of stone, and the Eye atop it, from the designs of the third committee, who in turn had taken the pyramid, apparently, from the design of the $50 note. Thomson wrote that "the pyramid signifies Strength and Duration." Makes sense: the Egyptian pyramids have been there a long time. For a fledgling nation, having a pyramid as a symbol would be like a positive affirmation in our day: "Yes, I will endure."

Hagger states that Ben Franklin came into contact with the Illuminati in Paris, and looked at their symbol as an inspiration of the Great Seal of the U.S. "The Illuminati Seal's reverse side showed a Templar 13-layered, four sided pyramid with its capstone missing. ... The esoteric significance of the pyramid was connected with Atlantis. There was a belief that the university of Atlantis, where all arts and sciences originated, was housed in a pyramid with an observatory at the top where the stars could be studied."

Later, specifically in relation to the American seal, Haggar writes: "The Templar pyramid suggests there is a plan to build a New Atlantis in a New World and that it is America's spiritual destiny to complete its building. The Utopian pyramid is in fact a world government in which all nations are bricks ... a new Tower of Babel where all languages will be heard."

The Eye at the Apex of the Pyramid

Thomson: "The Eye over it [the pyramid] & the Motto allude to the many signal interpositions of providence in favour of the American cause." That is, the eye and motto signify the many times God came to the aid of the Americans in the war. Fair enough: the colonists had a lot of good breaks in their war against England, a far more powerful nation, and they attributed that to God.

Hagger on the Illuminati symbol, taken over for the American Seal: "Above [the pyramid] was a triangle in sun-rays and within it the All-Seeing Eye of Osiris and Sion, which some said represented Weishaupt's spying system." He considers this a symbol of both the Illuminati and Freemasonry.

The Date on the Pyramid

Thomson: "The date is that of the Declaration of Independence."

Hagger on the Illuminati seal: "On the bottom layer [of the pyramid] in Latin was a date, 1776, the year Weishaupt founded the Illuminati."

The Top Motto: Annuit Coeptis

As noted above, Thomson said the motto above the pyramid alluded to the help of God in favor of the American cause. The motto was the idea of Thomson, a former Latin teacher; the correct translation from the Latin is clearly along the lines of "he has favored our endeavor."

Hagger on the Illuminati seal: "The 13 letters in Annuit Coeptis ('Announcing the Birth') suggested 13 October 1307, when Templarism was first persecuted, and the 13 degrees of Templar initiation."

The Bottom Motto: Novus Ordo Seclorum

Thomson contributed the bottom motto as well; the correct Latin translation is clearly "A New Order of the Ages." (The word "secular," as in non-religious, does not work in here at all.) Thomson says that "the words under it [that is, the date 1776] signify the beginning of the new American Aera [that is, Era], which commences from that date."

Hagger on the U.S. seal: "The full Latin text on the reverse [that is, of the Great Seal] thus reads: 'Announcing the Birth of a New Secular Order' (or 'New World Order')."

How This All Might Work Into The Lost Symbol

I have gone into detail here to show that there are really two entirely different views of reality that can be applied to the reverse of the Great Seal. In the real life one, it is the symbol of the hopes of a new nation. In the fantasy one, it is the symbol of conspiracy and mind control. Where might Dan Brown be going with this symbol?

What do you think?

One Final Note: The Eye-in-the-Triangle, Freemasonry, and the Illuminati

This would be a good place to address an often-repeated but totally inaccurate set of claims, to the effect that the eye-in-the-triangle motif is a special sign of Freemasonry or the Illuminati.

This idea is certainly prevalent in popular society. For example, the eye-in-the-triangle is depicted as the sign of the Illuminati in the popular movie, "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider." However, the reality is that the real Illuminati, the Bavarian Illuminati founded by Adam Weishaupt in 1776, did not use this symbol. The association between the Illuminati and this symbol is entirely in the imaginations of the more fringe-y parts of the conspiracy theorist community, who cite one another's fantasies as fact and claim to have done real "research."

As far as Freemasonry is concerned, the story is a bit more complicated. Yes, Freemasons have used the symbol of the eye-in-the-triangle for many years; I even give a rare example incorporating the eye-in-the-triangle with the Masonic compasses in the illustration to my post about Freemasonry. However, the symbol did not originate with Freemasonry. One can find it, for example, in Christian artwork, such as Jacopo Carucci's "Supper at Emmaus" (1525). It also occurs in the Papal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome (as noted Masonic author Christopher Hodapp and Alice VonKannon point out in the May 1, 2009 post regarding the Illuminati on their blog, "Conspiracy Theories and Secret Societies for Dummies" -- with a lovely photo, too).

Thus, the most that one can claim about this is that the symbol occurs in Freemasonry, but it did not originate within Freemasonry.

[The image was obtained from the Wikimedia Commons through Wikipedia. As a product of the U.S. Federal government, it is in the public domain.]

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

Clue #34: The Sons of Liberty -- and the Knights of the Golden Circle

The 34th Twitter clue, sent about 12:04 p.m. PDT on Wed. July 8th:
. - Who flew this rebellious banner?
The URL is a hot link to a TwitPic showing a flag with 9 alternating red and white stripes. I'm sure a lot of people thought this was some just the right-hand edge of some kind of Colonial-era flag.
No. It was the whole thing, as a really careful inspection of the TwitPic showed.
In fact, this was the nine-striped flag of the Sons of Liberty, a Revolutionary War-era group (really, an association of local resistance groups given a common name) responsible for such activities as the Boston Tea Party. Their 9-striped flag (shown above) was called the "rebellious stripes flag," echoing the clue.
However, this is not all. (Come on, guys -- this is Dan Brown. The surface answer is almost never enough.) There are two more connections to make with the Sons of Liberty, one of which is just devious, the other of which is downright inflammatory.
First, there is a connection to Freemasonry. For over two centuries, the myth has been that a lodge of Freemasons, St. Andrew's Lodge of Boston, was behind the Boston Tea Party. The actual story is a bit more complicated. (Read the details in S. Brent Morris' excellent The Complete Idiot's Guide to Freemasonry.) Overall, my opinion is that a number of Masonic brethren discussed the upcoming demonstration, perhaps even in lodge, and then participated in it; thus, the Boston Tea Party was a production of Masons (and many others), but was not itself a Masonic activity.
Now for the inflammatory part. The name, "Sons of Liberty," was appropriated over 80 years after the Revolutionary War by another group that is almost certain to appear in The Lost Symbol: the Knights of the Golden Circle.
During the Civil War, some of Lincoln's political opponents also opposed the war itself. Such groups and individuals were derisively labelled Copperheads (for the snake) by Lincoln's supporters. Copperheads wanted an immediate truce to the war; some encouraged resistance to the Union draft, shielded Union Army deserters, and sometimes planned to help Confederate prisoners of war take over their prison camps.
A large Copperhead group, the Knights of the Golden Circle, was actually organized in Cincinnati, Ohio, almost a decade before the war, in 1854. Gaining much sympathy in the South, their agenda was to take over Mexico as a slave-owning state of the Union; they raised armed groups to do so, although their attacks on Mexico were unsuccessful. With the outbreak of the Civil War, they changed agenda to work to help the Confederacy. The Golden Circle reorganized in 1863 as the Order of the Sons of Liberty, just before they officially dissolved as their support in the North evaporated the following year in the face of Union military victories.
But did they really dissolve? Or did they just disappear from sight?
Before the war, the Knights of the Golden Circle were very interested in bringing the territories of what is now in the Southwest into the U.S. as slave states. They had operatives in those territories, part of which was obtained for the U.S. in the Gadsden Purchase (a name we met in Clue #28; perhaps that clue was just left to put the name Gadsden out there).
There have been rumors for years that the Knights of the Golden Circle endured as a totally secret society after the Civil War, and amassed a fortune in gold that they hid--and that is still out there somewhere, held in secrecy to help finance the rise of the Old South again, some day. (A commenter on this blog says he is Warren Getler, co-author of a book investigating these rumors, for which Getler is convinced he's found evidence. Getler is also convinced that Albert Pike of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry was a member of the Knights of the Golden Circle.)
So, here's where this might all go in The Lost Symbol: one piece of the puzzle would involve a conspiracy dating from before the Civil War, as the Knights of the Golden Circle, underground as the Sons of Liberty, have hidden the Confederate gold for a century, with the help of Albert Pike of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. Now, in our era, someone plans to use that gold -- but for some sinister purpose, no doubt . . .
[The image of the flag was obtained from Wikimedia Commons through Wikipedia, and is in the public domain.]
(Copyright 2009 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)

Clue #33: Adam Weishaupt, reputed honorary Founding Father

We now delve deep into the aluminum-hat sector of the Land of Conspiracy Theory.
The 33rd Twitter clue, sent at about 7:30 a.m. PDT, Wed. July 8th:
Ehrenhalber gruendervater?
[Note: I cannot represent in Blogger the u-umlaut -- the "u with two dots over it" in gruendervater, and so, per the usual practice, added the first "e."]
This is German for "honorary founding father?"; however, in contrast to Clue #29, which was about someone who is acknowledged by legitimate historians as an 'honorary founding father' (the French philosopher Voltaire), this Twitter clue involves someone who is only claimed as an 'honorary founding father' by the most fringe-y of conspiracy researchers.
You see, there is no German intellectual who provided philosophical inspiration to the American Founding Fathers, no parallel to Voltaire. (Military leaders of any nation, like the German von Steuben, do not count for the status of "founding father"; among American Founding Fathers, only Washington was military.) However, for over two centuries, it has been rumored that there was a German -- actually, a Bavarian -- who acted as the secret force behind the American Revolution: Adam Weishaupt, founder of the Bavarian Illuminati, upon whom I focused in my consideration of Clue #5.
A lot of people were actually less than happy with the American Revolution. A lot of Loyalists (people who supported the English crown) were put out by being forced to leave the former colonies for their political position. A lot of clergy of "established" churches (churches formerly supported by the government) were troubled by the withdrawal of support, which they took to be an attempt to undermine religion generally. Overall, many people in the new United States -- echoing even greater numbers of people in Europe, still under the power of Crown and Church -- were troubled by the direction that the new Republic was taking, in denying aristocrats and clergy their former privileged position in government.
Thus arose the rumor that the inspiration of the new Republic was actually the Illuminati, the anticlerical, antiroyalist secret society, also founded in 1776 (although in Bavaria) by Weishaupt (pictured above). Although the Illuminati were suppressed beginning in 1784, and essentially extinct by 1793, it was in their afterlife that the Illuminati really got going.
In the 1790s and thereafter, American clergy preached sermons from their pulpits against the supposed influence of the Illuminati in the United States. Books originally published in Europe alleging the ongoing Illuminist conspiracy, such as John Robison's Proofs of a Conspiracy (1797), were widely read in the United States and fanned the flames of what amounted to hysteria. The first novel by the first American to make his living as a novelist, Charles Brockden Brown's Wieland (and his unfinished Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist) involved the role of an Illuminati agent in America impersonating the voice of God to convince a man to murder his wife and children. Thomas Jefferson himself had to answer charges that he was an Illuminatus.
It gets better. The 1970s-era Illuminatus! trilogy of novels, by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson (two editors at Playboy), put forth the rumor that Adam Weishaupt left Europe, came to the United States, murdered George Washington and actually took Washington's place as first President of the U.S. Now, looking at the portrait of Weishaupt above, you can see how this rumor began. However, incredibly enough, there are those who believe today that this actually happened!
No, it gets even better. Current on-the-fringe proponents of conspiracy theories -- people like Jim Marrs, Texe Marrs, and David Icke -- say that the modern world is under the secret control of the Illuminati even today. For Jim Marrs, the Illuminati are political powers; for Texe Marrs, they are Satanists; for David Icke, they are reptile-like space aliens. (No, I am not making this up.)
How will the Illuminati and Weishaupt figure into The Lost Symbol? Good question. In the Dan Brown universe, the Illuminati were a society of scientists founded in the 1500s in Rome; in reality, they were a society of anticlerical, antiroyalist conspirators founded in 1776 in Bavaria. Perhaps Brown will include Weishaupt and the Bavarian Illuminati as a later incarnation of his scientific society; after all, in Angels & Demons, Robert Langdon said the Illuminati had taken a "darker" turn. It looks as if Brown will be resurrecting the old rumors about the Illuminati being involved in the founding of the American republic. However, this being Dan Brown, you can be sure that he will add twists and turns and unforeseen developments galore.
Incidentally, it is a nice touch by the clue authors to make this the 33rd Twitter clue. Of course, the number "33" (in a triangle, yet!) figures into the newly released cover of The Lost Symbol (see the post on Clue #31). The ruling body of the Scottish Rite is described as the Supreme Council, 33rd degree. And, of course, in the fringe of the conspiracy theory community, Scottish Rite 33rd degree Freemasons supposedly rule the world.
Copyright 2009 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Bonus "Clue 31 1/2": Facebook Post: The Six-Pointed Star

Posted, not on Twitter, but on Facebook, at 10:00 a.m. (EDT) on Tues., July 7th:

Dan Brown's publisher invites you to solve this:
43.027239, -85.634995
44.309355, -105.493126
30.335547, -97.711716
43.027239, -85.634995
47.960962, -97.021637
33.706063, -111.939697
33.819089, -84.355774
47.460962, -97.021637

To the best of my knowledge, it was one of this blog's followers, "Bad News," who originally came up with the interpretation that these were paired geographical coordinates of latitude and longitude (in decimal format), each pair of coordinates thus defining a point.

You will note that the first and fourth pairs (or points) are identical; this suggests to me that the reader is meant to draw a line from the first point to the second, from the second to the third, and from the third to the fourth (which is the same as the first point). In the same way, the fact that the fifth and eight pairs of coordinates are identical suggests to me that the reader is meant to draw a line from the fifth point to the sixth, from the sixth to the seventh, and from the seventh to the eighth (same as the fifth).

Connecting up the points in this fashion creates two intersecting triangles on the map of the United States, illustrated above. The first, downward-pointing triangle connects Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Gillette, Wyoming, and Austin, Texas. The second, upward-pointing triangle connects Grand Forks, North Dakota to Phoenix, Arizona and Atlanta, Georgia. The resulting shape, of course, looks like the largest Star of David or Seal of Solomon in the world.

Wow. Where do we go with this? There are at least two interpretations for this clue, one Masonic, and one technological. (Of course, with Dan Brown, these may both be correct.)

The Masonic Interpretation

It is worth pointing out that this shape recalls Clue #1, part of the solution of which is the phrase, "6 points of the Star of David" -- a shape shown here on a continental scale. In that clue, the phrase was encoded in an initial-letter cipher, a traditional Masonic code in use in the real world for almost three centuries.

Thus, perhaps the six points of the Star of David shown here are meant to have some sort of significance in the context of Freemasonry. Of course, all of these cities have at least one Masonic lodge in it, but that is nothing distinctive; almost every American city of any size has at least one Masonic lodge in it.

As it happens, The Lost Symbol clues indicate that the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry has a special place in the novel. The Scottish Rite offers an additional set of degrees beyond the three degrees of initiation in basic Freemasonry. Scottish Rite facilities are far fewer in number than the lodges of basic Freemasonry, although each of these meeting places ("valleys" in Scottish Rite vocabulary) has a much larger number of members than the typical lodge. We see the seal of the Supreme Council, 33rd Degree, of the Scottish Rite shown in the seal in the center of the cover of The Lost Symbol (Clue #31). In addition, some important symbolism of the Scottish Rite rituals of initiation are evident in some of the Twitter clues, such as the "Christogram" clue (Clue #18).

So, what might the Scottish Rite have to do with these six points of the map? As it happens, 4 of the points (Grand Rapids, Austin, Atlanta, and Phoenix) lie within a 15-minute drive of a Scottish Rite meeting place. A fifth point (Grand Forks) lies within a 45-minute drive. Only one point (Gillette, WY) lies a great distance from a Scottish Rite facility.

It also is noteworthy that 5 of the 6 points are in the territory of the Southern Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite. (Only Grand Rapids, MI, is in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction.) This is important because of a quirk in the Dan Brown universe.

Dan Brown uses a great deal of research and background sources to create the world of his novels. For example, in writing The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown created his world on the basis of ideas reported as fact in a work of alternative history: Holy Blood, Holy Grail (by Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln). In writing The Lost Symbol, some Brown-watchers believe that Dan Brown is leaning on at least two other works of alternative or speculative history:
  • David Ovason, The Secret Architecture of Our Nation's Capital: The Masons and the Building of Washington, DC (New York: HarperCollins, 2000).
  • Warren Getler and Bob Brewer, Shadow of the sentinel: One man's quest to find the hidden treasure of the confederacy (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003; the 2005 paperback is titled Rebel Gold).

Each of these books makes claims about a man named Albert Pike, who led the Scottish Rite in the Southern Jurisdiction for many years in the 19th century. In particular, the Getler and Brewer book claims that Albert Pike was secretly in league with the Knights of the Golden Circle (Clue #34) a group that supported the Confederacy during the Civil War. According to Getler and Brewer, Pike helped conceal billions of dollars in Confederate gold for use in a future Civil War.

Getler and Brewer write that they build their case on evidence that is circumstantial. I do not think that this is true. In my estimate, their case does not ascend to the level of the circumstantial. Rather, as I see it, their case is essentially built on speculation, even fantasy. They present not a shred of actual evidence to support their case regarding Pike and his allegiances.

However, this might not matter to Dan Brown. Thus, what we may see in The Lost Symbol is a backstory like the following: During the 19th century, there was a conspiracy where Albert Pike helped the Knights of the Golden Circle to hide billions of dollars in Confederate gold at facilities of the Scottish Rite, especially of the Southern Jurisdiction, facilities that were widely scattered about the United States. In the current day, these billions are now about to be put at the disposal of some contemporary Conspiracy, no doubt for nefarious purposes.

The Technological Interpretation

Flashing forward to Clue #97, we find a reference to a classified hypersonic reconnaissance aircraft, the Aurora, described as a "Black Triangle." On our map above, we have two black triangles. How might these be connected?

The Aurora is estimated at being capable of speeds between Mach 5 and Mach 6 (roughly 3,300 to 4000 mph). If one is going to test fly a hypersonic aircraft like this, one must fly it over immense distances. Each of the triangles on the map above could be traversed in roughly an hour by the Aurora, flying at top speed; this would be a good period of time for a test flight.

Thus, it may be that the map is meant to show the flight paths of two test flights for the Aurora aircraft. In The Lost Symbol, the Aurora might be involved in high-tech surveillance -- or, perhaps in something that was more materially destructive. (How could you shoot down a hypersonic bomber that could outrun any missile sent against it?)

High stakes -- that's what I think will find in The Lost Symbol: the highest of stakes.

[The image of the United States with the intersecting triangles was created by the blog author, working with a public domain image of the map of the U.S. located by Kathleen Koltko-Rivera.]

Clue #31: The Cover of The Lost Symbol -- and the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry

The cat is really out of the bag now.

This morning, Doubleday released the cover art for Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol (shown above, in the higher-resolution version featured on the website of NBC's "The Today Show").

Of course, having the cover feature the Capitol building (see Clue #8) confirms that Washington, DC is the setting of the novel. There are also alchemical symbols galore on the cover (three sets, in fact -- in the alchemically significant colors of black, red, and white), confirming that alchemy will be featured in the novel (see my comments on Clue #17 and #18). However, the really big news here involves the central element of the cover, the blood red wax seal, significantly (and sinisterly) set just above the Capitol building. On "The Today Show" website, the seal is described as follows:

The jacket also prominently features a wax seal, inside of which is a double-headed Phoenix, the No. 33, and the Latin phrase, "Ordo ae Chao," which translates to "Order from Chaos." These elements are tied to secret societies throughout history.

The producers and staff of "The Today Show" are to be thanked for doing such a good job of making out the elements of the seal. However, there are a couple of crucial corrections that I would like to make:

First, that is a double-headed eagle, not a phoenix. Second, the Latin is Ordo Ab Chao. Third, and most important, these elements in combination -- the double-headed eagle, the number "33" within a triangle, and the motto Ordo Ab Chao -- are associated with only one 'secret' society: The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry -- which includes what is perhaps the largest single Masonic organization in the world today. (And, yes: I am glad to be a member myself.)

Dan Brown has put, as the seal on his cover, a version of the seal of what is called, in a style typical of the early 19th century, "The Supreme Council (Mother Council of the World) of the Inspectors General Knights Commander of the House of the Temple of Solomon of the Thirty-third and last degree of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry of the Southern Jurisdiction of the United States of America."

The Mother Council, from which all other Scottish Rite Supreme Councils around the world are descended, was established on May 31, 1801, in Charleston, South Carolina. Its current headquarters are in Washington, DC, in the magnificent House of the Temple. (Don't be surprised if the House of the Temple shows up in the novel. How could Dan Brown resist? It has two giant stone sphinxes in front, for heaven's sake -- you just don't pass that kind of thing up!)

The seal of the Scottish Rite in the Southern Jurisdiction (SJ) shows these basic elements: the double-headed eagle, the "33" in a triangle, a crown (also seen on the seal shown on the cover of Dan Brown's novel), and a scroll with a motto, either Deus Meumque Jus ("God and My Right") or Ordo Ab Chao, or sometimes both, as shown here. A slightly different version of the seal of the 33rd degree may also be seen in the rightmost medallion on this page on the website of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite (the United States being unique in the world in having two sovereign jurisdictions of the Scottish Rite).

The point of all of this: Dan Brown's novel is not only going to be set within the world of Freemasonry (as, long ago, Brown said it would be): it will be set within the world of the Scottish Rite, a system of initiatory rituals that is drenched in the symbolism of esoteric spiritual traditions drawn from across history, including kabbalah, the Knights Templar, alchemy, Rosicrucianism, and more.

This is symbologist heaven. No wonder Dan Brown sent Robert Langdon there.

You heard it here first.


(12:24 p.m. EDT, Wed. 8 July:) The black symbols, the hardest to see, may include figures of code distributed by 19th century Scottish Rite leader Albert Pike. The red symbols in the circle appear to be astrological symbols. The white symbols, clearest to see, appear to be alchemical symbols. More updates as we roll along.

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

Monday, July 6, 2009

Clue #22: Albrecht Durer, Part 2

The 22nd Twitter clue, sent at 8:50 a.m. PDT, Thurs., July 2nd:
His subjects are the first couple, horned ungulate, blessed Jerome.
Here we meet again the renowned German Renaissance artist, Albrecht Durer, featured in Clue #9 (life detailed here and here; reproductions of many pieces of art available at the latter site, and here). Among Durer's most famous artworks are his representations of Adam and Eve (the first human couple mentioned in the Bible; see his engraving of 1504 and painting of 1507), his engraving of a rhino (an "ungulate," or hoofed beast, with a horn), and his engraving of St. Jerome in his study (all shown above).
Why bring up Durer again? In my description of Clue #9, I focused on Masonic symbolism in Durer's work. However, there are other reasons for Durer to figure into The Lost Symbol, especially given the religious climate in which he lived. Durer harbored significant sympathies in favor of reforming the Catholic church, although he remained Catholic himself -- much like Michelangelo. Perhaps Dan Brown plans to portray Durer as a member of the Spirituali, the secret society for Catholic reform, of which Michelangelo was a member (Clue #19).
But why mention these particular pieces of art? The artworks themselves are certainly masterpieces. One might guess that, in the novel, they are specific pieces that will be at some sort of Durer exhibition or collection in or near Washington, DC. (Of course, many copies of a given print are struck off, so it is easy for a printmaker like Durer to have original prints on display or in collections all over the world.) In terms of the specific pieces, though, a few things come to mind.
Adam and Eve
The topic of Adam and Eve, of course, brings up the topic of human reproduction. As I have speculated with regard to Clue #11, conflict concerning reproductive technologies and their religious implications is a topic that might come up in the novel. This would be natural for Dan Brown, whose works combine centuries-old conspiracy with cutting-edge high-tech science. For example, in Angels & Demons, a significant plot device involves the creation of antimatter; perhaps The Lost Symbol involves a high-tech topic like human cloning.
Another issue that comes to mind is the idea of Adam and Eve as a married couple. In traditional belief, Adam and Eve were married by God in the Garden of Eden. (See, in the Jewish Tanakh or the Christian Bible's Old Testament, the passage Genesis 1:28.) Symbolically, however, marriage of male and female has sigificance in esoteric studies and alchemy (see C. G. Jung, Collected Works, vol. 13, "Alchemical Studies," and vol. 14, "Mysterium Coniunctionis"). Thus, Durer's Adam and Eve print and painting may touch upon alchemical themes that we have met in Clue #18 and shall meet again in Clue #25 (the Rosy Cross).
Durer made his 1515 woodcut of a rhinoceros without ever having seen one; he read a description and saw a quick sketch of one that had just been delivered to Lisbon. Nonetheless, and despite its scientific inaccuracies, this woodcut still appeared in the occasional German science textbook, into the 20th century. It's a stretch, but perhaps in The Lost Symbol the matter of Durer's Rhinoceros touches upon issues of observation and science; these are topics that come up prominently in the Twitter clue involving Francis Bacon (Clue #7).
Of its own, the rhino is a symbol associated with virility, strength, and invulnerability in combat. However, in earlier centuries in Europe, the rhinoceros was sometimes confused with the mythical unicorn, a creature replete with esoteric symbolism.
St. Jerome
Durer's woodcut of St. Jerome is universally acknowledged as one of his masterpieces. St. Jerome, of course, is particularly known for his translation of the Bible into Latin, which formed the basis for the Vulgate Bible that was declared the official Bible of the Catholic Church at the Council of Trent (1545-1563, a generation after Durer's death).
Jerome is a figure of the 4th century; interestingly, he is known as "Blessed Jerome" to the Eastern Orthodox Church, rather than the Catholic Church. One of his teachers was Apollinaris of Laodicea, noted opponent of the ancient Arian beliefs that we met in Clue #17; in turn, Apollinaris was condemned as a heretic in ancient Christianity for Docetism, the belief that Christ only appeared to be human. Here we have fertile ground for Dan Brown: conflicting beliefs about the nature of Jesus Christ.
The Council of Trent, a millenium after Jerome, overlapped with the lives of some people and groups mentioned in the Twitter clues. These include Francis Bacon (Clue #7), Michelangelo and the Spirituali (Clue #19), and the early Illuminati as they exist in Dan Brown's universe (Clue #5).
Dan Brown has focused before on an important Catholic Church council: the ancient Council of Nicea, which figures prominently in The Da Vinci Code. It would not be surprising for him to do so again, in focusing on the Council of Trent.
The concerns of the Council of Trent have resonances to some themes that have come up in the Twitter clues. The Council addressed a number of Protestant criticisms, and issued a number of reform decrees, the need for which had been claimed by the Spirituali (Clue #19). The Council helped define the Church's position on Original Sin, which is relevant to the doctrine of the immaculate conception of Mary, mother of Jesus (Clue #11).
Then there is the print itself. In the print, we see one of the most famous of the symbols of 'high degree' Freemasonry: a human skull, which in Masonry is a reminder of mortality, much like the hourglass that we see both here and in Durer's Melancolia I, described in my interpretation of Clue #9.
Thus, in Durer's works named in the Twitter clue, on the surface alone we have a reference to an artist whose works are sure to be featured in The Lost Symbol. Scratch the surface, and we have references to other people, groups, ideas, and themes that are likely to appear in the novel, as well.
Shameless Plug
In my forthcoming book, Discovering The Lost Symbol, I shall address the artistic and religious themes and figures that Dan Brown's novel focuses upon.
[The black-and-white images above are all from the website of ArtTattler. The color image of the "Adam and Eve" painting was obtained from Wikimedia Commons through Wikipedia. All of the original artwork is in the public domain; images thereof are also all in the public domain, at least in the United States, per Bridgeman vs. Corel.]
(Copyright 2009 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Clue #18: The Christogram "INRI"

The 18th Twitter clue, sent at 7:04 a.m. PDT, Wed. July 1st:
The clue is a hot link that leads to an article on the online edition of the New World Encyclopedia, titled "Christogram." According to this article, "A Christogram is a combination of letters (a monogram) that forms an abbreviation for the name of Jesus Christ. ... [T]he most popular Christograms are IHS, INRI, and the Chi-Rho."
As the article goes on to explain, these three Christograms stand for, respectively, (1) the initials for the phrase In Hoc Signo (Latin for "in this sign," that is, the sign of the cross), or the first three Greek capital letters of the name "Jesus"; (2) Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum (Latin for "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews," the inscription set above Jesus as he hung on the cross at the crucifixion; see, in the New Testament, John 19:19-20); and, (3) the first two letters in the Greek word Christos, "Christ."
This is the surface meaning, then: A Christogram shall appear in The Lost Symbol. However, this being a Dan Brown novel, surface meanings often are not enough. And, with one Christogram in particular, there are other meanings to consider.
An Alchemical Reading of INRI
Many medieval students of the esoteric, such as the alchemists, were essentially Christian in outlook and used Christian terminology. They sometimes gave alchemical meanings to Christian symbolism. (This was perhaps especially so with those who studied the documents of the legendary Rosicrucian fellowship, about whom we shall have more to say in regard to Clue #25.) The alchemists gave a different meaning to INRI: Igne Natura Renovatur Integra, Latin for "through fire nature is reborn whole," as noted here; alternatively, "all nature will be [or is] renewed by fire," as noted here.
Medieval alchemy is not the only esoteric discipline that has used an alternative interpretation for INRI. In modern times, the same is done by some branches of Freemasonry.
Masonic Readings of INRI
A 'higher degree' Masonic organization, the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry in the Southern Jurisdiction, has a total of 33 degrees of initiation, largely developed by Albert Pike in the latter part of the 19th century, working from earlier ritual sources. In turn, these rituals draw on a variety of sources for inspiration, including alchemy and the Rosicrucian fellowship. The 18th degree, titled "Knight of the Rose Croix" (i.e., 'Knight of the Rose Cross'), is particularly noteworthy for its references to alchemy and Rosicrucianism. (Note that the Twitter clue under consideration is the 18th tweet in the series!)
It is public knowledge that, in the 18th degree, "we learn the Masonic meaning of the initials INRI" (Rex R. Hutchens, A Bridge to Light: A Study in Masonic Ritual & Philosophy, 3rd edition, 2006, p. 137). Albert Pike's Lecture for this degree includes the following:
The True Word is an abbreviation of the Latin inscription said by John in his Gospel to have been placed above Jesus when He was crucified -- to wit: Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudeorum, meaning, "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews."

Others interpret these initials by the phrase Igne Natura Renovatur Integra, meaning, "All of Nature is Renovated by Fire," by which the sages of antiquity connected it with the greatest secret of nature, that of universal regeneration. (Source: Arturo de Hoyos, Scottish Rite Ritual Monitor & Guide, 2nd ed., 2009, p. 419)
The Masonic scholar, Leon Zeldis, wrote about alchemy, Rosicrucianism, and interpretations of INRI in relation to the 18th degree. He noted in one of his papers that, in various rituals of the 18th degree as these were conducted in different times and places, there have been at least a dozen esoteric interpretations of INRI.
One of the important messages of the 18th degree involves the idea that Nature witnesses the existence of God. From Pike's Lecture:
We apply reason to the Book of Nature and find a great truth written in letters of light: there is a living God. The great law that governs the universe is harmony; the will of the Almighty God, always acting as the expression of His infinite love. (de Hoyos, p. 419)
Ultimately, the message of the 18th degree involves the importance of love for and service to humankind. From Pike's Lecture:
The Knights Rose Croix practice charity, in all its senses, and we derive the strength to labor in the cause of humanity from faith and hope. (de Hoyos, p. 421)
These lessons and others are illustrated symbolically in the ceremonial "jewel" of the 18th degree, a French version of which is shown above.
Other Approaches
Other approaches to this tweet are possible. For example, the entire phrase, In hoc signo vinces, Latin for "in this sign you shall conquer," appears on a seal upon a written letter, at a certain place in the narrative in one of the central Rosicrucian documents (see Benedict J. Williamson's 2002 book, The Rosicrucian Manuscripts, p. 138). In addition, some have claimed that the streets of Washington, DC, form in one place a Chi-Rho.
Potential Relevance to The Lost Symbol
At this point, I'm sticking to the idea that this Twitter clue somehow references INRI as an alchemical phrase that also plays a role in the 18th degree of Scottish Rite Freemasonry (the surface of which we have barely scratched). How could this work into The Lost Symbol?
We know that Dan Brown likes to use graphic images of words in his stories. (Think of how the ambigrams for "Illuminati," "Earth," and so on were used in Angels & Demons, and how an anagram like "how dark the con of man" was used in The Da Vinci Code.) Perhaps "INRI" shows up written in some important place as a clue. (Or even branded or carved onto someone's body -- Dan Brown has a way with his victims!) Then the alchemical interpretation (connecting up with the work of Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton) might be crucial to the proper understanding of the clue. Because the degrees of the Scottish Rite have their roots in rituals dating to the 18th century, there is plenty of opportunity to link up conspiracies dating from the time of the Founding Fathers to our own day.
I note that the Masonic lessons of the 18th degree, regarding Nature as an evidence for the existence of God, might be of some use to Dan Brown. The idea of Science as a way to read the Book of Nature as written by God is a theme one finds expressed by many early men of science, in many lands, including many of the scientists whom Brown places within his version of the Illuminati.
I should also say that INRI has another, symbolic importance here. The posting of the INRI sign is a crucial event in Christian history, in its own way. After all, it is what one believes about the truth of that message (was Jesus really the king of the Jews?), and what one believes happened after the message was posted (was Jesus really resurrected from the dead?), that really defines one's stance towards Christianity. It will be interesting to see how Dan Brown deals with this idea.
I must say, though: if someone really is referencing the 18th degree of the Scottish Rite by putting a clue in the 18th Twitter clue--well, these folks are a lot more subtle than I'd thought they'd be.
Shameless Plug
In my book, Discovering The Lost Symbol, I shall exhaustively explain the Masonic symbolism that occurs in Brown's novel.
[The image of the 18th degree jewel was obtained from Wikimedia Commons through Wikipedia; it was created by user Cro-maat at the French Wikipedia site. Its use here is authorized under the GNU Free Documentation License.]
(Copyright 2009 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)

Friday, July 3, 2009

Clue #17: Diamond and Newton's Research

The 17th Twitter clue, sent at 1:11 p.m. PDT on Tuesday, June 30th:

How could a precious stone burn 20 years of Isaac's research?

This refers to the most famous Isaac since the ancient patriarch mentioned in the Bible: Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727), one of the most important scientists of all time. The story goes that Newton's dog, Diamond (the "precious stone" of the tweet), upset a candle that set manuscripts amounting to twenty years of Newton's research aflame (depicted above).

At this level, the tweet is simply a clue that Isaac Newton will make some appearance in The Lost Symbol, much as he did in The Da Vinci Code, although perhaps at greater length. However, this is only the surface level of the clue. The clue begs the question:

Just what research was destroyed in this fire?
For Newton was a man of many, many interests, the depths of some of which only became known in the 20th century with the rediscovery of some of Newton's previously neglected papers. As it happens, Newton privately conducted researches into esoteric spirituality (such as the precise dimensions of the Temple built by Solomon), and apocalyptic religion (such as the biblical prophecies of Daniel and John). He wrote theological works, never published under his name, in which he explained that the Christian church had gone astray at the Council of Nicea (which will certainly remind Dan Brown fans of The Da Vinci Code).

Newton himself held highly unorthodox ideas about religion, and was a closet Arian (a believer, not in the Trinity, but in God the Father as the actual creator of Christ). Arianism was condemned as heresy by Catholic and Anglican alike in Newton's day, and if his Arian beliefs had been known publicly, Newton could have been in serious trouble with the law. (In passing, I should note that I would not be surprised if Dan Brown turns out to have a soft spot in his heart for Arianism in his fiction, as Arianism provides just the sort of Jesus who could have a child with Mary Magdalene, as Brown alleges in The Da Vinci Code. There are other unconventional Christian beliefs that would accomplish this, too -- some with intriguing ties to Freemasonry, I might add -- but Arianism will do.) [Incidentally: the Arian faith has nothing to do with the Aryan racial theories of the European fascists of the 20th century.]

In particular, though, Newton was fascinated by alchemy, to which he devoted over a quarter-century of his life. Newton's involvement in alchemy was so deep and intense that one of his biographers, Michael White, titled his 1997 book Isaac Newton: The Last Sorcerer.

That there was a fire in Newton's laboratory, some biographers and historians doubt. No one can doubt, though, that Newton's health declined beginning in the autumn of 1692, culminating in some sort of "breakdown" in the summer of 1693, when he acted strangely and out of character, insulted former associates, was plagued with insomnia lasting five days at a time, and so forth. Some called him mad. Some attributed this to the effects of a fire that destroyed his manuscripts; to this way of thinking, what Newton lost in the fire was so important to him that it affected his mental and emotional stability.

Was it scientific research destroyed in the fire? One of Newton's 19th century biographers, fellow Fellow (!) of the Royal Society David Brewster, said that the loss of materials like this could never have had such an effect on Newton:

The loss of a few experimental records could never have disturbed the equilibrium of a mind like his. If they were the records of discoveries, the discoveries, themselves indestructible, would have been afterwards given to the world. If they were merely the details of experimental results, a little time could have easily reproduced them. (David Brewster, 1855, Memoirs of the life, writings, and discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton, vol. 2, p. 133. Available through Googlebooks here.)

Brewster makes this argument to undercut the idea that there had been a fire. However, what if there were a fire -- but it consumed, not the results of conventional scientific experiments and discoveries, but materials that really could not be reproduced easily, or without great trouble or risk?

Like the records of mystical visions? Or alchemical experiments, involving not a few hours of work as in Newton's optical experiments, but months or even years of careful distillation? Or meticulous calculations involving the dimensions of Solomon's Temple, or the Apocalypse of the last days, calculations twenty years in the making? Or 'heretical' Arian writings that Newton had composed secretly over the course of decades? Or the results of researches into ceremonial magic? Or Rosicrucian symbolism? (Experiments in optics, say, are easy to reproduce in a few hours. Historical, linguistic, or mathematical research -- that's another story altogether. Add in alchemical research, and it's entirely another story.)

Yes, there are quite a lot of things that Newton could have been working on, that, if destroyed, could not easily have been replaced -- arcane heresies of science and religion prominent among them. No wonder Dan Brown's publisher is dropping hints about Isaac Newton.

(My thanks go out to "UDbmas," a reader of this blog, whose comment on my post, "Sorry for the Brief Hiatus," directed me to Brewster's biography of Newton.)

[The image was obtained from Wikimedia Commons via Wikipedia. The original engraving was created by Morel in Paris in 1874. The original and its image are in the public domain, per Bridgeman vs. Corel.]

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