Saturday, September 19, 2009

Pyramids, Freemasonry, and
The Lost Symbol



[Photo by Nina Aldin Thune.]

In The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown repeatedly brings up pyramid symbolism in connection with Freemasonry. This would seem to be a mistake, because the pyramid is not a Masonic symbol -- right?

Well -- it's not quite so clear cut.

Oh, I can hear the groans from here. Yes, I know: the various authors in our day who connect Freemasonry with pyramids are considered more than a little out on the fringe, especially by the more responsible Masonic historians of the so-called realistic school of Masonic history. It certainly is the case that, in the year 2009, Masonic ritual, symbolism, and mythic stories all have nothing to do with pyramids.

However, what is true of the early 21st century was not true of earlier days of Masonry, centuries ago.

The fact of the matter is that, at least as early as the 14th century, Masonic literature explicitly connected the Fraternity with Egypt, and (no later than the 18th century) even with the pyramids themselves. Controversial offshoots of Freemasonry in the 19th century associated Masonry with Egyptian initiatory practices.

Finally, the literature of the wilder regions of the conspiracy theory community connects Freemasonry with a very famous pyramid, a reproduction of which exists in virtually every home in America, and this connection should also be addressed when discussing pyramids and Freemasonry.

So, let's have at it.

Freemasonry and Egypt in
the Regius Manuscript


The Grand Lodge style of Freemasonry was established in London in 1717, with the founding of the premier Grand Lodge of England. However, Freemasonry existed before that time, in individual lodges scattered across Scotland, England, and Ireland, at the least -- perhaps for centuries. One of the earliest Masonic manuscripts in existence, the Regius (or Halliwell) Manuscript, dates from about 1390, and specifically draws a connection between Masonry and Egypt when describing the mythic history of Masonry -- in verse, no less. Beginning at line 55, the manuscript states:

The Clerk [i.e., cleric] Euclid in this wise founded
This Craft of geometry in Egyptian land,
In Egypt he taught it full wide,
In diverse lands on every side.

(This excerpt is taken from p. 293 of Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia, rev. ed., 1995. The entire poem is available in a modern translation in Christopher Hodapp's excellent book, Freemasons for Dummies, Appendix A.)

So, Masons of over 600 years ago thought that the Greek mathematician Euclid was an ancient member of their fraternity, and taught geometry in Egypt. Being a Mason, of course, Euclid would have been busy building things. I don't think these would have been shopping malls or amusement parks, either. Thus, at least by implication, the Regius Manuscript leaves open the possibility of Freemasons being involved with pyramids.

Freemasonry and Pyramids in
Anderson's Constitutions


The Grand Lodge era of Freemasonry begins in 1717. The most authoritative document we have of that era is James Anderson's The Constitutions of the Free-Masons (original London edition 1723, republished in the United States by Benjamin Franklin himself in 1734). Anderson's Constitutions include a traditional history of Freemasonry, stretching back to Adam, the first man, as described in the Bible. In this traditional history, Anderson mentions the following, referring to biblical events after the Flood of Noah and the confusion of languages at the Tower of Babel (Ben Franklin's edition, pages 10-11, modernizing the text a bit, omitting a footnote):

And, no doubt, the Royal Art [i.e., Freemasonry] was brought down to Egypt by Mitzraim, the second son of Ham [i.e., Ham being Noah's second son], about six years after the Confusion at Babel, and after the Flood 160 years, when he led thither his colony (for "Egypt" is Mitzraim in Hebrew); because we find the River Nile's overflowing of its banks soon caused an improvement in geometry, which consequently brought Masonry to be much in demand. For the ancient noble cities, with the other magnificent edifices of that country, and particularly the famous pyramids, demonstrate the early taste and genius of that ancient kingdom. Nay, one of those ancient Egyptian pyramids is reckoned the first of the Seven Wonders of the World, the account of which, by historians and travellers, is almost incredible.

Anderson, of course, was drawing on other source material concerning the mythic background of Freemasonry -- the legendary and hypothetical "Anderson Manuscript" -- of unknown age, and that is now lost to us. All we can tell for sure is that at least as far back as nearly 300 years ago, and possibly much earlier, Freemasons mentioned Freemasonry and the ancient Egyptian pyramids in the same breath.

(Incidentally, what did Anderson mean when he said that "we find the River Nile's overflowing of its banks soon caused an improvement in geometry"? The annual flood of the Nile washed away landmarks, and the land on both sides of the banks, for many miles, had to be resurveyed -- through the use of geometry, of course.)

Freemasonry and Egypt in
the Forbidden Rite of Memphis


The basic form of Freemasonry is a system of three degrees, or rituals of initiation. However, over the last three centuries or so, several systems of 'high degrees' have emerged, which offer additional sequences of degrees. In Masonic parlance, a system of degrees is called a Rite (as opposed to the common meaning of a "rite" as a specific ceremony). There are several such Rites in existence today.

In the United States, the main such systems are the Scottish Rite (which offers a system of numbered degrees up to the 33rd) and the York Rite (which offers about 10 degrees in a specific but unnumbered sequence). The York and Scottish Rites and a few other invitational organizations are each accepted by the Grand Lodge authorities in almost all of the 52 sovereign Masonic jurisdictions in the United States (comprising one Grand Lodge in each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico).

But there are other Rites in Masonry -- literally forbidden Rites.

(Cue the creepy trumpet or organ music: DAA-DA-Da-dahhhhhhhhh.)

Over the last three centuries, many different systems of degrees have been put forth to Freemasons, some for the sake of propounding some esoteric knowledge, some for the sake of gathering initiation fees from gullible Masons. At present, in the United States, many Rites have been banned by the various Grand Lodges, although several such Rites have continued to exist on the fringes of Freemasonry for centuries. One such is the Rite of Memphis, originally established in Paris in 1814, a system of up to 100 degrees that has undergone many changes of name and administration and many incarnations over the last two centuries. Although condemned by American Grand Lodges, the Rite of Memphis is active in several parts of the United States today. (No, I am not a member.)

Even the name, "Rite of Memphis," shows some affinity for Egypt. Beyond that, the literature of the Rite of Memphis explicitly connects Freemasonry to Egypt and its wisdom. For example, in a lecture for one incarnation of the Rite, known as the "Antient and Primitive Rite," we find the following in the instruction for members between the 27th and 30th degrees, as published in London in 1882:

Q. What relation does Masonry hold to Egypt?

A. Masonry, considered as a secret society with peculiar ceremonies, having for its aim the conservation of knowledge, truth, and their laws, was received and perpetuated in Egypt by the Sages, who concealed attainments from the vulgar by clothing them in ingenious emblems; from the banks of the Nile the system was carried to the Greeks, Romans, and other ancient nations, where it more or less lost its character and primitive [i.e., original] aim. All the old operative constitutions of the Freemasons trace their origin to Egypt .... The wisdom of Egypt became the proverb of all nations. (Collectanea, 2000, vol. 17, part 2, pp. 85-86; published by the Grand College of Rites of the United States of America.)

A different group derived from the Rite of Memphis, Calvin C. Burt's Egyptian Masonic Rite of Memphis, similarly celebrated the connection between ancient Freemasonry and Egyptian wisdom. This is shown in a handbook published in Chicago in 1867, a portion of which focused in detail on supposed ceremonies of initiation in ancient Egypt, which the author considered Masonic in origin; the author then claimed that his own Rite was founded in France in 1694. (See pp. ix-xiii in Collectanea, 2001, vol. 17, part 3.)

The point here is that traditions on the outskirts or fringes of Freemasonry have connected Masonic initiation with the wisdom of Egypt.

Freemasonry and
the Pyramid
in Your Pocket


Things are so much simpler for the wild-eyed, undisciplined sector of the conspiracy theory community.* There is no need to consult ancient manuscripts, or the handbooks of off-ramp, qwinky forms of Freemasonry: one just needs to look at the paper money in one's wallet or purse, and that settles the matter. In the Anything Goes region of the conspiracy theory community, it is an article of faith that the pyramid shown on the back of the $1 bill, one side of the Grand Seal of the United States, is a Masonic symbol.

The fact of the matter is that this is simply untrue; I state the facts in my comments regarding Clue #35. However, the fact that the conspiracy community believes that the pyramid is a Masonic symbol may simply be enough for Dan Brown.

Conclusion

It is not entirely off-base for Dan Brown to connect Freemasonry with pyramids. In the 21st century, Masonry is not connected with pyramids. However, most of the association between Masonry and pyramids that is portrayed in The Lost Symbol is associated with events supposedly occuring during the days of the American Founding Fathers, roughly the 1770s to the 1790s or so. This was an era only about 60 years separated from the days of Anderson's Constitutions, the original publication of which was still (barely) in living memory. In that era, a connection between Freemasonry and pyramids seemed a bit more plausible.

Of course, it is entirely possible that Dan Brown is merely following the lead of the wilder regions of the conspiracy theory community, in attributing a connection between Freemasonry and pyramids.

I shall have more to say about Freemasonry and its symbolism, as well as the whole issue of pyramids, in my forthcoming book, Discovering The Lost Symbol: The Mind of Dan Brown, the Truth About the Freemasons, and the Idea that We Can Become Gods. (Agents' and publishers' inquiries are welcome. Please contact me through the e-mail portal on my Web Page: see my Blogger profile.)

I remind you that comments are welcome. Feel free to become a Follower of this blog, to forward posts by e-mail, and to subscribe to the RSS feed.

My thanks to an Anonymous commentor on an earlier post, who raised this question.

[The image of the Great Pyramid is Copyright 2005 Nina Aldin Thune. The image was obtained from the Wikimedia Commons through Wikipedia, and appears under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.]

*I recognize that there are rational, responsible, careful conspiracy theory researchers. I admire them greatly. However, I find it necessary to take their wild-eyed relatives to task at every turn.

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

Friday, September 18, 2009

"Dressed As a Master":
Clothing in the First Three Degrees of Freemasonry

The Prologue to Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol takes place during a ceremony, the ritual of the 33rd degree of initiation into the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. We'll go into those matters -- the Scottish Rite, the 33rd degree -- in future posts. What I'll focus on in this post is the fact that the Prologue mentions that the unnamed central character in this Prologue has been through other, earlier initiations -- initiations with distinctive clothing.

As the story mentions:

As was tradition, he had begun this journey adorned in the ritualistic garb of a medieval heretic being led to the gallows .... Tonight, however, like the brethren bearing witness, he was dressed as a master. (Page 3 of the English language edition of The Lost Symbol)

What is he talking about?

The First Three Degrees of Freemasonry

Freemasonry, of course, is a fraternal organization that offers men the opportunity to receive ritual initiations focused on the higher values of life. (My post giving a brief introduction to Freemasonry is here.)

The basic unit of Freemasonry is the Lodge. This is a group of men who meet at regular intervals for Masonic business and ritual. (For example, the Lodge where I became a Mason, Winter Park Lodge #239 Free and Accepted Masons, in Winter Park, Florida, meets on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month, at 7:30 p.m.) This level of Freemasonry is sometimes referred to (for mysterious traditional reasons) as the "Blue Lodge." It is the foundation of all forms of Freemasonry.

The Blue Lodge offers the first three degrees of Freemasonry:

  • The 1st degree, called "Entered Apprentice"

  • The 2nd degree, called "Fellow Craft"

  • The 3rd degree, called "Master Mason"

Some aspects of the initiation process are similar -- not identical -- across the degree rituals, including clothing.

The Candidate's Clothing

We'll have more to say about Masonic initiation in future posts. Today, it's all about the clothing.

The candidate for Masonic initiation appears in ceremonial clothing for the first three degrees. This is what Dan Brown alludes to as "the ritualistic garb of a medieval heretic being led to the gallows."

Brown is taking a page here from the fascinating book by the late John J. Robinson, Born in Blood: The Lost Secrets of Freemasonry (now available in a new paperback edition from M. Evans). Robinson analyzed certain distinctive aspects in Masonic ritual language and practice, and came to the conclusion that Freemasonry had its origins in a society of men on the run: the medieval Knights Templar, who were condemned by the Papacy and subjected to mass arrests as heretics in 1307. The distinctive garb of the candidate in the first three degrees of Masonic initiation, in Robinson's view, would be a tradition to remember the Templars in their time of trial.

Robinson's conclusions are thought-provoking, although currently they are accepted neither by the mass of Masonic historians nor by most academic historians. Not that this would stop Dan Brown.

"Dressed like a master"

When Dan Brown writes that Mal'akh is "dressed like a master" during his ceremonial initiation into the 33rd degree, he means that Mal'akh was dressed the way a Master Mason dresses following his initiation. Masons typically come to lodge meetings formally dressed. Business suits are common; I know of Lodges that require black tie (that is, tuxedos). (Some Lodges are substantially less formal, but formality is a rising trend.)

Of course, a special apron is the badge of a Mason. The Masonic apron is a tradition that carries today's Masons back to the days of the medieval stonemasons. Today's Masonic aprons are done up rather more elaborately than a medieval stonemason's apron, though.

In the photo above, I am the fellow on the left. (Click on the photo for a larger image.) The occasion is my installation, in late December 2007, as the Marshal of the Lodge in Winter Park; for most lodges, like Winter Park, the annual installation of officers is a public event. (The Marshal is the most junior of Lodge officers.) I am here dressed in a tux, with the specific apron of my office. (Winter Park does not require black tie at its functions, but this was the formal installation, and all officers to be installed arrived in black tie.)

The regular member attending the Lodge would have a less elaborate apron. However, in most essentials, in the photo above I am "dressed like a master," in Dan Brown's phrase.

However, the novel purports to depict, not a Blue Lodge ceremony, but a Scottish Rite ceremony. Thus, I would expect that Mal'akh would be wearing a Scottish Rite cap and "jewel" (that is, a medal), probably the distinctive red cap and jewel of the Knight Commander of the Court of Honor.

So, that is what you should be envisioning Mal'akh wearing in the Prologue: black tie, with a red hat and ceremonial medal. (Head-to-toe tattoos under coverup makeup is entirely optional.)

[The photo above was taken by Ricardo Parente, the webmaster and photographer of Winter Park Lodge #239 F&AM. Thank you, Brother Ricardo, for making me look respectable.]

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mal'akh's Tattoos, Part 2:
The Scottish Rite Double Eagle

In an earlier post, I described the tattoos on the legs of Dan Brown's horrifying villain in The Lost Symbol, Mal'akh. Today, we talk about the 'main event,' as it were: the tattoos on Mal'akh's chest:

[...] his powerful chest was emblazoned with the double-headed phoenix . . . each head in profile with its visible eye formed by one of Mal'akh's nipples. [The Lost Symbol, Chapter 2, pp. 11-12 in the English language edition]


This sounds to me like one of the most famous symbols of what is called "high degree" Masonry: the double-headed eagle on the seal of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry (one version of which is illustrated above).

In an earlier post, I describe the degree structure of Freemasonry, and I explain how the Scottish Rite figures into that. Here, I'll just mention that the Scottish Rite offers a set of ritual initiatory ceremonies ("degrees" of initiation) to men who are already Master Masons, that is, men who have received the three foundational degrees of Freemasonry. (More about that in a future post--probably my next one.)

Internationally famous Masonic scholar, Arturo de Hoyos, describes the double-headed eagle in his excellent reference, The Scottish Rite Ritual Monitor and Guide [2nd edition, 2009, available here]. (Incidentally, Scottish Rite brethren, this is the main text of the "Scottish Rite Master Craftsman" course of study.)

The double-headed eagle is the unique symbol of the Scottish Rite .... The motto of the Thirty-third Degree is Deus meumque jus (God and my right). [de Hoyos, 2009, p. 27]
As de Hoyos explains, the double-headed eagle was a symbol in the later degrees of now-extinct degree systems that were predecessors of the Scottish Rite (which was founded in 1801). The double-headed eagle appears on coats of arms, and so is an element or "device" of heraldry.

As a heraldic device its precise origin is unknown, but it is believed to be a modification of the [single-headed] Roman eagle, [a two-headed modification of] which was later used to suggest the Eastern and Western parts of the Roman Empire. This device was subsequently adopted by the German, Austrian, and Russian Empires. Some writers assert an even greater antiquity, equating it with the Storm Bird of Lagash, an ancient Babylonian symbol. [de Hoyos, 2009, p. 28]

So, there is a political meaning to the double-headed eagle: it represents the union of East and West. However, there is also an esoteric meaning, associated with the transformation of inner opposing tendencies into a unified balance or equilibrium within the individual. This is an aspect of alchemy, and the double-headed eagle is a potent alchemical symbol, which explains part of its appeal for Mal'akh.

The black double-headed eagle was a principal motif in early alchemical literature .... At times it is equated with the philosopher's stone, the goal of the alchemical transformation, and may be understood as a symbol of the Great Work of perfection. [de Hoyos, 2009, p. 29]

Of course, this opens up the entire matter of alchemy and the Great Work. Alchemy is one of the wisdom traditions that are incorporated into the degrees of the Scottish Rite in the Southern Jurisdiction of the USA (the organization that has its headquarters at the House of the Temple in Washington, DC--the site of the Prologue of The Lost Symbol).

Alchemy is a vast subject. At a high level, alchemy has to do with the management and direction of transformation -- a subject that is near and dear to the heart of Mal'akh, as readers of The Lost Symbol observe throughout the novel. There is an aspect of alchemy that is concerned with transformation of outer reality. (This is where the whole turning-lead-into-gold thing comes up.)

There is also an aspect of alchemy that is concerned with transformation of inner reality. The point of alchemy is to bring the opposing tendencies of human nature into balance and under the control of the individual. Through alchemical processes, the individual is to refine human nature, thereby bringing the individual to a new level of human consciousness, and a more perfect state of being.

Mal'akh's tattoo is described as a double-headed phoenix, a mythical bird also associated with inner rebirth. Again, transformation is Mal'akh's thing.

I shall have more to say about alchemy, as well as its relation to Masonic symbolism, in my forthcoming book, Discovering The Lost Symbol: The Mind of Dan Brown, the Truth About the Freemasons, and the Idea that We Can Become Gods. (Agents and publishers inquiries are welcome; I may be reached by e-mail through my Blogger profile.)

Learning More About Alchemy

A fine brief introduction to alchemy is the chapter by Richard Smoley, "Hermes and Alchemy: The Winged God and the Golden Word," pp. 19-30 in an excellent collection of essays edited by Jay Kinney, The Inner West: An Introduction to the Hidden Wisdom of the West (New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2004). The notes to this chapter constitute good suggestions for further study.

The interest of Sir Isaac Newton in alchemy is little-known to the public at large, but Newton wrote more about esoteric subjects like alchemy than he ever wrote about physics or optics. One can read about this in Michael White's biography of Newton, Isaac Newton: The Last Sorcerer (New York: Basic Books, 1997).

Alchemy from the point of view of a modern practitioner is described by Mark Stavish in The Path of Alchemy: Energetic Healing and the World of Natural Magic (Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2006).

In recent years, there has been a revival of interest in the concept that Masonic ritual somehow is connected to alchemy. The most detailed recent treatment of this idea can be found in Timothy Hogan's The Alchemical Keys to Masonic Ritual (2007), which is available through lulu.com, as shown here.

A Small Point of Masonic Etiquette

I removed a comment from one of the posts on this blog recently, because it ventured into the area of Masonic passwords, signs of recognition, and so forth.

The author of the comment has posted before, and seems to be a fine and upstanding individual, quite bright, even scholarly. The source cited was a fine, scholarly work, not anti-Masonic at all.

However, as a Mason, I have made a commitment not to reveal the Masonic passwords or signs of recognition. As I interpret that obligation, that includes not discussing purported passwords or signs of recognition, past or present, in a forum for which I have personal responsibility, such as this blog.

I realize that non-Masons typically do not know the contents of the Masonic obligations. I bear no ill will to the commentator. However, I do ask everyone who comments on this blog to steer clear of the matter of Masonic passwords and signs of recognition, out of courtesy to your blog author, a Mason. Thank you for your kind observance of this principle.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mal'akh's Tattoos, Part 1: The Pillars, Boaz and Jachin

In Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol, the magnificently creepy villain called Mal'akh is tattooed on almost every inch of his body, except for a spot on the crown of his head. But these are not just any old tattoos. Mal'akh's tattoos incorporate all kinds of esoteric and mystical symbolism -- some of it Masonic in nature. Mal'akh may be a torturer, he may be a criminal sociopath, he may be the human equivalent of a demon -- but he aspires to all sorts of spiritual knowledge, and he reflects his spiritual aspirations in his tattoos.

Two of Mal'akh's tattoos are on his legs. As described in Chapter 2 of The Lost Symbol (page 11 of the English edition):

... his muscular legs were tattooed as carved pillars -- his left leg spiraled and his right leg vertically striated, Boaz and Jachin.


So, what is this about?

For almost three hundred years, it has been public knowledge that two important symbols in Freemasonry are the pillars Boaz and Jachin. Anciently, pillars with these names were part of the Temple built by King Solomon. In the Bible, the construction of the Temple is described in a couple of places, one of which is the First Book of Kings. The 7th chapter, verses 15 through 22, describe the pillars, at the conclusion of which we read:

And he [Hiram, the master builder] set up the pillars in the porch of the temple: and he set up the right pillar, and called the name thereof Jachin: and he set up the left pillar, and called the name thereof Boaz. (1 Kings 7:21)

The name Jachin translates to "God will establish"; Boaz translates to "in strength." Thus, one meaning of the pillars is that they signify that God established the Temple in strength.

There are ancient legends associated with the pillars, some of which have shown up in Masonic symbolism. One legend is that the pillars were topped with globes, one showing the globe of the Earth ("the terrestrial globe") and the other the globe of the heavens as seen from the Earth ("the celestial globe"). You can see these globes atop the pillars in the illustration above (from a 1920's edition of Albert Mackey's History of Freemasonry). Another legend is that there was secret wisdom written on records deposited within the pillars. Yet another legend (shown in Dan Brown's novel) is that one pillar was decorated with carvings horizontally, the other vertically.

What is the significance of the pillars in Masonic symbolism, and why are they of interest to Mal'akh? There is much that could be said about this, only a portion of which I can mention here.

The pillars Boaz and Jachin signify the entrance to the Temple built by Solomon and dedicated to God. Some representation of these pillars is found in most Masonic lodge rooms. Their presence helps to mark the Masonic lodge room as a sort of sacred space, where people take a different perspective on their lives than the everyday point of view. The "journey" of initiation into Freemasonry begins as the initiate symbolically enters the Temple built by Solomon.

The names of the pillars are a reminder to the Mason that, as the outward Temple was established in strength by God, so too the Mason invites God to establish his own life in strength. (Of course, if the Mason invites God to establish his life, he'd better be living the kind of life that God can support.)

As the globes atop the ancient pillars were representations of the heavens and the earth, so too the Mason seeks for knowledge of the natural universe, near and far.

As the ancient pillars were said to be repositories of wisdom, so too the Mason is on a journey in search of wisdom.

These are the values that Mal'akh was dedicating himself to: the search for wisdom. The tragedy of Mal'akh, in part, is that he did not understand that the search for higher wisdom requires kindness and respect for other human beings, in order to be a fully successful search.

I shall have a great deal more to say about Masonic symbolism as it appears in Dan Brown's novel in my forthcoming book, Discovering The Lost Symbol: The Mind of Dan Brown, the Truth About the Freemasons, and the Idea That We Can Become Gods. (Agents' and publishers' inquiries are welcome.)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Secret Behind the Final Secret of The Lost Symbol


[HEAVY DUTY SPOILER ALERT: In this blog post, I reveal the conclusion of The Lost Symbol. If you want the pleasure of experiencing the surprise of the conclusion, then do not read this post until after you have completed reading the novel.]

At the conclusion of The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown gives extended attention to a remarkable set of spiritual concepts. However, the casual reader might not know that there is a real-world group that espouses something very much like these concepts. Thus, in this post, I describe what I think is the unstated backstory to the conclusion of The Lost Symbol.

Early on in The Lost Symbol, Robert Langdon looks up from inside the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building, and sees the 1865 painting by Constantino Brumidi, The Apotheosis of Washington (shown above; click on the image for a larger depiction). The ancient Greek word "apotheosis" has no single-word equivalent in English; it indicates the event of a human being becoming a god. (See the last page of Chapter 20, and all of Chapter 21.)

Throughout the novel, one of the subplots is that the leading female character in the story, Dr. Katherine Solomon, is engaged in research involving a field called noetic science. In the novel, we learn that Dr. Solomon has uncovered a variety of paranormal, even godlike capacities in the human mind -- capacities that can be developed here and now.

Much later, at the conclusion of The Lost Symbol (Chapter 133 and the Epilogue), Robert Langdon is taught some fascinating philosophical, religious, and spiritual concepts by Dr. Solomon. One of these concepts is the idea that the destiny and birthright of human beings is to take on the role of divine Creators. We join these two in discussion in Chapter 133, with Dr. Solomon speaking:

" ... We've been reading the Bible too literally. We learn that God created us in his image, but it's not our physical bodies that resemble God, it's our minds. ... [O]nce we realize that we are truly created in the Creator's image, we will start to understand that we, too, must be
Creators. When we understand this fact, the doors will burst wide open for human potential.

... Langdon gazed up again at the image of The Apotheosis of Washington--the symbolic ascent of man to deity. The created . . . becoming the Creator. (Page 501, American English edition.)

Langdon then reflects on the Hebrew word Elohim:

"Elohim," he repeated. "The Hebrew word for God in the Old Testament! I've always wondered about it."

Katherine gave a knowing smile. "Yes. The word is plural." ...

"God is plural," Katherine whispered, "because the minds of man are plural." (Page 505, American English edition)

In essence, Katherine Solomon is teaching Robert Langdon the ideas that (a) human beings have the potential within them to develop into gods, and (b) such a development would result in a plurality of gods. The "Lost Symbol" of the novel's title reflects the notion of God as a symbol for the highest potential of humankind. (By implication, Dan Brown is teaching the same ideas to his readers.)

Wow. This sure sounds different!

This is certainly going to make for controversy in this, the world outside the book, our world. As there were those who condemned The Da Vinci Code because they considered it heretical, so too there will be those who condemn The Lost Symbol for what they consider heretical teachings.

As it happens, there is a backstory to this concept, the idea of the human being becoming god. This concept is actually a religious doctrine of one of the largest religious organizations in the United States: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (known popularly, if unofficially, as 'the Mormons'; their official website is here). It is not widely known in the general public that this doctrine is central to Latter-day Saint (LDS) belief. It is, however, a doctrine with which I am familiar.

That is because I am a Latter-day Saint.*

It is not my purpose here to go into a lengthy consideration or defense of this doctrine. (I have another blog for discussions of LDS doctrine.) However, for the benefit of the fans of Dan Brown, I shall just sketch out the broad outlines of this doctrine.

The LDS scriptures include not only the Bible but other sacred books as well. In one of these, the following is written concerning those who make sacred covenants with God and keep those covenants throughout their lives. After their deaths in this world, at some undefined time, the following happens:

Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them. (The Doctrine and Covenants, Section 132, Verse 20)
Such individuals are permitted to maintain their family structure throughout the eternities. This is the highest blessing possible, and it is the essence of eternal life, the kind of life that God has. (Some further basic information about the LDS doctrine of exaltation is available here.)

The LDS doctrine of exaltation (as it is known) is certainly different from the concept that Dan Brown portrays in The Lost Symbol. For Dan Brown's characters, the notion that humanity is made in the image of God is figurative ("it's our minds" that resemble God, as Dr. Solomon says); for the LDS, it is both figurative and literal (that is, God has a body in whose image humans are made). In Dan Brown's novel (p. 79 of the American English edition), Robert Langdon also claims that the LDS account of the origin of the Book of Mormon, a distinctive LDS scripture, does not stand up to scientific scrutiny. (I beg to differ, but that discussion is for another time and place.)

However, for all that, it is worthwhile for the Dan Brown fan to realize that there is a body of spiritual doctrine that has remarkable similarities to the concept that Dan Brown portrays in his novel.

We could just stop here. However, surely this question arises: How can we account for these remarkable similarities?

Dan Brown visited Salt Lake City's Temple Square complex (the LDS equivalent of the Vatican in Roman Catholicism) in 2004 and 2006, as reported on local television. During his 2004 visit, as his host noted, Brown was specifically interested in the Masonic-like symbols on the Salt Lake LDS Temple: "He was ... very interested in the symbology on the Mormon temple ... the pentacles and the suns and the moons and the stars and all that. So, I gather his primary interest was to ... see the Mormon embellishment of Masonry as it exists, in his mind ...." (Of course, the LDS Temple is deeply connected with the LDS doctrine of exaltation; the purpose of LDS Temples is discussed here.) In 2006, as reported on TV, Brown was granted access to certain LDS historical archives.

Thus, for whatever reason and in whatever way, Dan Brown has had a certain interest in the Latter-day Saints and their most important and distinctive spiritual practices and doctrines. I think that he saw fit to adapt the LDS doctrine of exaltation for literary purposes in The Lost Symbol.

I will have more to say about the connections between (1) the concepts that Dan Brown puts forth in the conclusion to The Lost Symbol, (2) LDS belief and practice, and (3) Freemasonry in my forthcoming book, Discovering The Lost Symbol: The Mind of Dan Brown and the Truth About the Freemasons. (Agents' and publishers' inquiries are welcome! My e-mail address is on my Blogger profile.)

{*I am an active, temple-attending Latter-day Saint. I am a returned missionary, and have served as a counselor in two bishoprics and as a stake high councillor. After several years teaching recently as the teacher of the Gospel Doctrine class in Sunday School, I now serve as a family history consultant. I have published articles in the two major organs of the independent LDS press, Sunstone and Dialogue, and a brief piece in the Ensign.}

[The image of Brumidi's "The Apotheosis of Washington" is from pictures taken by Raul654 in 2005. It was obtained from Wikimedia Commons and is shown here under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 license.]

Solution to the Puzzle on the Back Cover, Lower Left

I picked up my copy of The Lost Symbol at 12:01 a.m. at the Lincoln Center Barnes and Noble in Manhattan, here in New York City. Now, at a little after 2:00 a.m. Eastern time, I've dealt with a few other matters, and I am looking at something that many of us have been wondering about for months: the back cover, which does indeed have puzzles! This blog entry is the solution to one of them. (If you don't want to know, don't read on!)

[Incidentally, for those of you interested in the technical vocabulary and concepts of cryptography, the type of puzzle that we will be working with is a transposition cipher. This means that the letters of the message are all there in plain sight--but they are in a mixed-up order. How can one put them in the correct order? That is the challenge. I think you are seeing cryptographic history made here in The Lost Symbol; I think that forever afterward, this will be called a "magic square" or "Durer" cipher. Read on to see why.]

The lower left-hand corner of the back cover has a 4 x 4 grid of letters, like so:

Y U O E
M S T D

I I N H
R E K Y

This relates to a similar puzzle in The Lost Symbol that Robert Langdon struggles with. At one point, Langdon realizes that the solution to the puzzle is the magic square in the artwork, Melencolia I, produced during the German Renaissance by Albrecht Durer. (Durer was the subject of Clue #9; a reproduction of Melencolia I, magic square and all, is above.) Durer's magic square is a matrix of numbers:

16 3 2 13
5 10 11 8
9 6 7 12
4 15 14 1

The trick is to put the letters of the first matrix in the order indicated by the numbers of Durer's magic square. The lower right-hand corner of Durer's magic square is 1; this corresponds to the letter "Y" in the letter matrix, so "Y" should go in the first position (where there is already a "Y," no doubt just to confuse us all). But you get the idea. Sort the letters so that they fit into the following matrix of numbers:

1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16

and when you do this, you get the following matrix of letters:

Y O U R
M I N D
I S T H
E K E Y

which leads to the phrase:

"YOUR MIND IS THE KEY."

What a powerful statement! But what might it mean, in the context of this book? I think it means two things.

Certainly all the many challenges that Robert Langdon has to face in his adventures have to be solved through the use of his mind. In this world, where the forces of irrationality and superstition fight for supremacy, where irrational arguments are used to mold global politics, it is important to remember that our minds are the key.

Secondly, the conclusion of the novel, Chapters 133 and the Epilogue (which I will not spoil here), have some interesting things to say regarding the potential of the human mind.

Finally, the phrase "YOUR MIND" is almost certainly the key in a Caesar shift cipher (a transposition cipher) using the Freemason's cipher (a substitution cipher) that is another puzzle on the back cover. But that is another blogpost.

You can read more about Caesar shift ciphers, transposition ciphers, the Freemasons cipher, and substitution ciphers, in one of my forthcoming books. Australian puzzlemaster Denise Sutherland and I are publishing Cracking Codes and Cryptograms for Dummies in October or November (Wiley Publishing). I'll say more about it in this blog later on, but if you enjoy cryptography, codes, and puzzles, you'll like this book.

Now on to that other puzzle on the back cover . . . .

[I dedicate the solution of this puzzle to my wonderful wife, Kathleen Koltko-Rivera, who encouraged me to go out to pick up The Lost Symbol tonight, and accompanied me on a lovely nocturnal walk to do so. I love you, sweetheart. L., M.]

Monday, September 14, 2009

After the Clues--Comes the Book!
The Future of This Blog

The big event for which so many readers of this blog have waited is about to arrive: the official release of Dan Brown's novel, The Lost Symbol, for purchase by the general public.

As I write these words (7:21 p.m., EDT, Monday 14 Sept. 2009), the world is about 40 minutes away from the release of the book in England. In less than 5 hours, many bookstores on the East Coast of the United States will hold "12:01 a.m." sales events. Indeed, the Prologue and first two chapters of the book have already been released to the public through some news outlets.

With the publication of the book itself, it can be argued that the clues issued by Doubleday about the content of the book become something of a moot point. So, what is to become of this blog, which was established to investigate the clues?

The public release of The Lost Symbol is an occasion to reposition this blog, and redirect its mission. This blog is now focused on illuminating the contents of The Lost Symbol itself.

What do I mean by that controversial word, "illuminate"? For one thing, I will describe the meaning and context of the issues that Dan Brown brings up. For another, I will help the reader discern between the world as described in The Lost Symbol, and the real world.

Consider a few recent examples. Dan Brown's novel addresses a host of subjects, many of them quite controversial. In the Prologue, Dan Brown describes what is supposed to be the ritual of the 33rd Degree of initiation in the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. Of course, this raises the question of what the Scottish Rite is, and what the 33rd Degree is, as well -- subjects that I address in an earlier post. The matter of drinking out of a skull during the ceremony marks this depiction as the portrayal of a ritual, not of the legitimate Scottish Rite, but of a renegade Masonic group -- which I explain in another post.

The review of Dan Brown's novel published in today's New York Times (see the link in another post) indicates that the female lead in The Lost Symbol is involved in the study of a subject called "noetics." This is a real field of study, but one that is little known by the general public, one that is not widely understood even by most professionals or academics in psychology -- and that means I will be describing it in this blog.

Chapter 2 (available in yesterday's British newspaper, The Mail) indicates that the villain in The Lost Symbol calls himself "Mal'akh." This raises questions about the meaning of this name, and its connotations -- and I will address that in this blog.

And on and on it will go. Dan Brown will touch on many arcane areas: the history, symbolism, and philosophy of Freemasonry; little-known incidents of the American Revolutionary War; the significance of the architecture and layout of Washington, DC; Rupert Sheldrake's principle of morphic resonance -- and dozens of other such fascinating items of knowledge, rumor, lore, and legend.

In brief, the public release of The Lost Symbol means that I now have more to blog about than ever before. And that is exactly what I plan to do.

Please feel free to return to this blog frequently as you read The Lost Symbol. You may become an official "follower" of the blog, or subscribe to its RSS feed. You should also feel free to submit questions through the Comments section of each post, which are open to all. I can't promise to answer each question, but I will answer a lot of them -- quite a few, I think, with individual blog posts.

So it is that this blog, originally titled "Key to The Lost Symbol Clues," now takes on a larger mission, reflected in its new title: "Discovering The Lost Symbol." It's one thing to read a book; it is another thing altogether to discover the depths of its meaning. That's what I hope to help you do.

In addition to blogging about many subjects here, I will be addressing much of this at greater length in my forthcoming book, Discovering The Lost Symbol: The Mind of Dan Brown and the Truth About the Freemasons. (Agents and publishers are welcome to inquire! My personal e-mail is found on my Blogger Profile.) I'll tell you more about this book and its availability through this blog.

Here we go. Thanks for joining me on this ride.

[The image above was obtained from Wikimedia Commons, and is in the public domain.]

The Thirty-Third Degree and the Skull Oath

The Prologue to The Lost Symbol (available online) is full of melodramatic touches. The narrator is not named in the Prologue, but in Chapter 2 he is revealed as a villain who calls himself "Mal'ach," the Hebrew word for 'angel' or 'messenger.' In the Prologue, Mal'ach goes through a Masonic ceremony of initiation, which we learn in Chapter 2 is the 33rd degree, the final degree of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry.) And, in the course of the ceremony, Mal'ach is given wine to drink--from a real human skull. In the ceremony, he states takes an oath that says, in part:

"May this wine I now drink become a deadly poison to me ... should I ever knowingly or willfully violate my oath."
Does anything like this really happen in the Thirty-Third Degree ritual? That is, does anyone (a) drink from a real human skull, (b) with an oath that wishes death on themselves?


No.

Although I have only received the 32nd degree of the Scottish Rite, I can tell you with a great deal of confidence that what you read in the Prologue to The Lost Symbol is not an accurate depiction of the 33rd degree.

"But how could Dan Brown do that?" you might ask. After all, in the front of his book, he specifically says that "all rituals ... in this novel are real."


Yes, he does say that--but we need to be careful how we understand that statement. Let me explain.


Over a century ago, a renegade Masonic group did indeed have its candidates drink wine from a human skull. This was the Cerneau group, a renegade form of the Scottish Rite. Albert Pike (head of the legitimate Scottish Rite in the Southern Jurisdiction in the late 19th century) did his very best to discourage the practices of the Cerneau group. However, the Cerneau group was powerful, especially in New York City.



Why do I call them "renegade"? Because the Cerneau Supreme Council was never properly chartered; it was essentially the creation of a group of guys who simply decided to have a Masonic group, and took on the mantle of the Scottish Rite, without bothering to have the actual Scottish Rite authorities give them their permission. This would be like folks in, say, New Milford, Connecticut, deciding to have their own alternative U.S. federal government. I once lived in New Milford; it's a lovely little town. But having some people simply designate it as the seat of the U.S. government does not make it so.

As part of the Cernau ritual of the 33rd degree, a human skeleton was used, as well as a human skull. During the Cernau ritual of the 33rd degree, the candidate for the degree states the following (with material in parentheses indicating actions):

I furthermore solemnly swear that I will hold true allegiance to the Supreme Council of the United States of America, its territories and dependencies. And that I will never acknowledge any body or bodies of men as belonging to the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, claiming to be such, except such as hold allegiance to this Supreme Council, or those who recognize this Council. To all these I do most solemnly swear, calling upon the Most High God to ratify my oath.

And should I knowingly or willfully violate the same, may this wine I now drink, become a deadly poison to me, as the hemlock juice drank by Socrates. (Drinks wine out of skull.) And may these cold arms forever encircle me. Amen. (Skeleton's arms enfold him.)


(This oath, and the illustration above, are found on p. 470 of Volume 2 of John Blanchard's book, Scotch Rite Masonry Illustrated, originally published 1887-1888. A reprint edition of this book is available from Kessinger Publishing.)



This is the ritual that Dan Brown is showing in the Prologue to The Lost Symbol. Thus, Dan Brown took a ritual from a 19th century renegade Masonic group, an alternative "Scottish Rite," and portrayed it as the ritual of the legitimate Scottish Rite of the Southern Jurisdiction in the 21st century. It's a colorful ritual, to be sure. As Dan Brown claims, it is even a "real" ritual--just not the real ritual of the group that he shows in the book. What you see in the Prologue is not an accurate reflection of the Masonic group who is supposed to be conveying this degree.


Use of the Skull in Masonic Symbolism

The skull is a potent and obvious symbol of human mortality. As such, it appears in a number of Masonic degrees, in some way or another. The intent in these degrees is neither to threaten the candidate (as is the case in the ceremony shown in the Prologue), nor to celebrate death, nor to mock it. The intent, rather, is to be a forceful reminder to the candidate for initiation that life is short, that one's relatively brief life must be used well, and that one should focus on the important things in life, rather than the superficial. This is a respectful and appropriate use of a symbol of mortality.

Conclusion

I'll have much more to say about Masonic ritual, legitimate and otherwise, in my forthcoming book, Discovering The Lost Symbol: The Mind of Dan Brown and the Truth About the Freemasons (agents' and publishers' inquiries invited).

A New Name for This Blog

With the release of the Prologue, Chapter 1, and Chapter 2 of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol in the media, and with the publication of the novel itself imminent, it seems wise at this moment to shift the emphasis of this blog from a consideration of the clues issued by Doubleday to a consideration of the novel itself. Thus, I have renamed the blog, "Discovering The Lost Symbol: The Blog." I specifically add the last two words of subtitle to distinguish this from my forthcoming book, Discovering The Lost Symbol: The Mind of Dan Brown and the Truth About the Freemasons. (Agents' and publishers' inquiries are welcome.)

I anticipate keeping up this blog for at least a few months, as I address the many issues in the book that call out for illumination and clarification. Stay tuned.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The New York Times Book Review of The Lost Symbol -- Online Now!

Janet Maslin, one of the book reviewers for the daily (Monday through Saturday) edition of The New York Times, has just posted her review of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol. Although her review will appear on page C1 (the first page of the Arts section) of tomorrow's (Monday's) print edition, you can read the article online on the website of the Times, here.

Maslin's piece is not the very first book review published in the world; that particular honor belongs to May Grethe Lerum in the Norwegian paper VG, as I mentioned in an earlier post. However, Maslin's review has many pleasures to enjoy -- not the least of which is that Maslin, who has several books to her credit, is a writer's writer, and a dream to read.

Enjoy.

And, if this entices you to read the print edition of The New York Times -- one of the finest newspapers on the planet -- well, that would be just fine, too.

The Prologue of The Lost Symbol and the Thirty-Third Degree

Today (Sunday, Sept. 13, 2009), Parade Magazine (an insert in many American newspapers, such as the New York Post) published the Prologue to Dan Brown's forthcoming novel, The Lost Symbol. The Prologue is also online, here, along with Chapter 1. (This publication occurs with Brown's blessing. The magazine also carries an interview with Brown--always a rare occurence.)

Readers of the Prologue must be stunned. The Prologue describes a ceremony of initiation into the Third Degree of Freemasonry, full of dramatic imagery. However, even Masonic readers must be stunned, because there are some interesting differences between the ceremony described in the Prologue and the ceremony with which most of us Freemasons are familiar.

In addition, the Prologue describes the ceremony as taking place at the Temple Room (pictured above) of the House of the Temple, the headquarters of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry in the Southern Jurisdiction of the United States, an impressive site in Washington, DC. (Hey, folks, if you get to DC, take the free tour! Until then, you can take an online virtual tour.)

What degree is Dan Brown trying to show here? The two basic choices are the Third Degree, and the Thirty-Third Degree. Let's consider each possibility.

What Kind of Third Degree Is This?

Some of the language of the Prologue suggests that this is supposed to be the Third or Master Mason degree, the last of the three foundational degrees of basic Freemasonry.

  • The unnamed narrator of the Prologue (whom we learn in Chapter 2 is the villain Mal'akh) specifically mentions that he his journey "had begun at the first degree." The symbolic journey of the Mason begins at the first degree, and, in a sense, ends at the third. Other degrees are elaborations on that journey, or new journeys altogether.
  • The narrator talks about special ritual clothing, suggestive of the first three degrees of Masonry, and then says "Tonight, however, like the brethren bearing witness, he was dressed as a master." This suggest the third degree, again, although the candidate does not dress as a Master Mason until after taking the ritual oath of the Third Degree.
Overall, this does seem a bit odd. Beyond that, since when does one receive the Third Degree in the Scottish Rite House of the Temple? And what is up with the whole business of drinking from a skull?

I must admit that at first I was confused about this issue. I thought that perhaps the Prologue was referring to a form of the First Degree that is administered under the somewhat different format of the Scottish Rite, very rarely, although it can be observed in New Orleans. It was only after Chapter 2 was released through the British paper The Mail that I understood that what I was seeing here was a version of the Thirty-Third degree. (I cannot supply a link to The Mail at present.)

So let's go into the Thirty-Third degree.

The Thirty-Third Degree of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry

Let me state at the outset that I address the whole drink-from-a-skull thing in a separate post. Here, I'm just dealing with the issue: What is the 33rd degree? To do that, I need to discuss the degree structure of Freemasonry--which involves correcting some widely held inaccuracies about Freemasonry.

The Degree Structure of Freemasonry

Freemasonry is built around ceremonies of initiation, ceremonies known in Masonry as "degrees." There are three foundational degrees in Freemasonry, the First Degree (Entered Apprentice), the Second Degree (Fellow Craft), and the Third Degree (Master Mason). One is never more a Mason than when one is a Master Mason, a brother of the Third Degree.

There are a variety of Masonic organizations that offer further collections of degrees to enhance the Masonic experience. Some of these offer but one or two additional degrees. The York Rite offers ten. The Scottish Rite offers 29 additional degrees to the Master Mason, the Fourth through the Thirty-Second Degree. I am proud to say that I am both a York Rite Freemason (holding the degree of Knight Templar) and a Scottish Rite Freemason, of the Southern Jurisdiction (holding the 32nd degree). (There is also a Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite in the U.S., with different rituals. Washington, DC, where The Lost Symbol is set, is in the territory of the Southern Jurisdiction, so I'll focus a bit more on the Southern Jurisdiction.) We'll get to the Thirty-Third Degree in a minute.

The important thing to understand here is that Freemasonry is not like a thermometer, running from the First to the Thirty-Third Degree. Rather, it is like a wagon wheel, with the basic or Blue Lodge and its first three degrees as the all-important hub, and other Masonic organizations--like the Scottish Rite--as spokes offering different experiences.

The Thirty-Third Degree and the Scottish Rite

Masons who have shown a great deal of devotion to Freemasonry in general, and the Scottish Rite in particular, over the course of many years, may be invited to receive the 33rd and final degree of the Scottish Rite. It is important to understand what this is, and what it is not.

  • The 33rd degree is the highest degree of the Scottish Rite alone. It is not "the highest degree of Freemasonry." That status is actually held by the Third Degree, the Master Mason degree. The Scottish Rite is one "appendant organization" among many that are available to Master Masons. Each of these has its own "highest degree" that is only the 'highest' with respect to that group. For example, I am also a member of the York Rite, and I hold the highest degree within this group, the Knight Templar degree. But this is only the highest degree for the group known as the Commandery within the York Rite Masons; there are even subgroups within the York Rite for which other degrees are the "highest."
  • The 33rd degree is a real ritual initiation. However, it is reserved for a small number of Scottish Rite Masons who have shown real devotion to their Masonic work over the course of many years.
  • A very small group of 33rd degree Masons -- thirty-three of them, to be precise -- comprise the Supreme Council, or governing body of Scottish Rite Freemasonry. They rule the Rite, but they do not rule the world. Nor do they run conspiracies from the House of the Temple to try to run the world.

The ceremony shown in the Prologue of The Lost Symbol is supposed to be an initiation ceremony for the Thirty-Third Degree of Scottish Rite Freemasonry. However, there are several inaccuracies here.

For one, the 33rd degree is rarely, if ever, conferred upon a single individual, or in the House of the Temple! The House of the Temple is used to govern the Rite; the Temple Room is where the Supreme Council meets. The 33rd Degree is conferred upon a large number of candidates at one time, drawn from all across the Southern Jurisdiction, usually at a separate facility that is used for ritual initiations, the Scottish Rite Temple in Washington, DC. In fact, there will be such an initiation on Tuesday, October 6, 2009--something publicly announced in the pages of the Scottish Rite Journal, the largest-circulation Masonic magazine in the United States (see page 3 of the September-October 2009 issue). The publicly available online announcement is here.

There are other inaccuracies. My basic point is two-fold:

  1. Freemasonry in general, and the Scottish Rite in particular, are not really what one would call a secret society. Secret societies typically deny their very existence. By contrast, the initiation into the 33rd and final degree of Scottish Rite Masonry is a matter of public record. The list of individuals made into 33rd Degree Masons is publicly available from the Scottish Rite.
  2. There is a technical word for what Dan Brown is writing: fiction. Don't expect to come away from The Lost Symbol with a technically correct understanding of Freemasonry. Enjoy the ride, and if you do happen to learn something, be grateful.

In my blog post on Freemasonry, I give a number of resources regarding places where one might find reliable information about Freemasonry. Enjoy.

The New York Post Interviews Mark Koltko-Rivera About Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol

Yesterday, I had the great pleasure of being interviewed by telephone by Ms. Annie Karni of the New York Post (a major newspaper in New York City founded in the early 19th century by Alexander Hamilton, an American Founding Father and the subject of Clue #36). The article recounting the interview appears on page 3 of today's (Sunday, September 13) edition of the Post. The online version of the article (somewhat edited from the print version) appears here.

Much of the article involves my predictions regarding the kinds of conspiracies and other elements that I think will appear in Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol. Those who have read this blog over the last two months will recognize my references to many of the Doubleday clues that I have discussed in the blog.

Enjoy!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Yes, I Really Think May Grethe Lerum's Got An Advance Copy of The Lost Symbol

In a post to this blog yesterday, I reported that a fan of this blog had contacted me to say that a book review of The Lost Symbol had been published in Norway in advance of the novel's publication. (You can read the post, with a link to the book review, in English and Norwegian, here.)

I can now say that the fan who informed me of this was the author of the book review, May Grethe Lerum (pictured). There has been a great deal of discussion in the comment section of my earlier post regarding the legitimacy of Ms. Lerum's claim. I can say the following:
  • Ms. Lerum has supplied me with scans of the title page and copyright page of the book. (The scans are for my eyes only and I am forbidden to share them. Don't ask.) Either she is an accomplished forger (or knows one), which I doubt, or she really has the book.
  • Ms. Lerum has posted her scan of the copyright page on her blog, which is available here.
  • Ms. Lerum repeatedly expressed to me her concern that she did not wish to ruin the reading public's pleasure regarding the book. I believe that this explains why she was so vague in her review, and why she was so sparing in her details of the book's contents.
  • I have no explanations for many other items: the discrepancy noted in the comments to the previous blog post regarding the train station; why the image is reversed above; why Ms. Lerum has creepy looking mice on her blog.
  • On balance, I'd say she has the book. This would imply that her review (for which, see my previous post) is accurate in its synopsis of the novel.


Friday, September 11, 2009

Exclusive! Dan Brown's Novel, Reviewed in Norway!


You heard it here first.

Okay, so Amazon has its copies of The Lost Symbol behind double-locked fences in a warehouse. Okay, so, allegedly, Doubleday's teams of translators are placed in windowless rooms without Internet access. There's one thing they forgot about:

The book reviewers.

May Grethe Lerum has published a review of The Lost Symbol in VG, Norway's largest newspaper. You can read it in the original Norwegian here. The Google translation into English -- available here -- is not perfect, but it is at least largely intelligible, and good for endless fun; I love the way that it translates the review as saying that The Lost Symbol is "a luminous bastard of a suspense story." (I hope someone says that about one of my novels some day.)

Lerum's review is respectful, in that it does not give away major plot points. We do, however, learn the following:
  • The novel revolves around Robert Landon's attempt to save his beloved mentor, Peter Solomon. (So that's where "The Solomon Key" comes in.)

  • As in The Da Vinci Code, there is an important truth that mankind must learn, and a sicko pain-loving enemy, "with a hidden past and ... many faces" who must be dealt with.

  • Freemasonry is prominently featured in the novel, and it looks as if the Masons are the good guys.

  • In the Dan Brown universe, Freemasonry includes such luminaries as Albert Einstein and Albrecht Durer.

  • Famous physicists from history make appearances, including Isaac Newton, Erwin Schrodinger, and Neils Bohr.

  • The reviewer hints at a religious outlook in the novel to the effect that no religion has a monopoly on the truth.

So, there's enough here to really whet one's appetite for the book, and yet not so much that it will spoil the experience of reading it.


Many thanks to the informant who notified me about this review.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Announcing a Video Series on Youtube: Dan Brown and 'The Lost Symbol', Part 1: What Is This Series About?

video Tonight I uploaded the first of a series of videos to YouTube regarding my take on the Doubleday clues and what they say about the content of The Lost Symbol. Enjoy. The first video itself is above; I also give links to the videos in the series here:

Part 1: What Is This Series About?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Beliefnet article, "New Dan Brown Novel Means Extra Scrutiny for Masons"


I was recently quoted in a Beliefnet article, "New Dan Brown Novel Means Extra Scrutiny for Masons." You may read the article here.