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.]