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, as shown here.


  1. You have to admit, The Lost Symbol is a boring book. This is Dan Brown attempting to appease middle America after offending them with The Da Vinci Code. Now everybody is good, except for people with toe-to-head tatoos. The tedium is relentless. The surprises are predictable. The man has nothing at all to say. What a disappointment.

  2. what was you expecting anonymous? It reminded me of his earlier writings like digital fortress and deception point more than the da vinci code. I enjoyed the book a lot and Im looking forward to the next one. Dan Brown said he wanted to write 12 books with langdon in.

  3. Anonymous: Different people find different things exciting. I myself am thrilled to see things like Freemasonry and noetic science show up in popular entertainment.

    I think it's worth pointing out that Dan Brown is still experimenting as a novelist. This is, after all, only his fifth published novel. I can testify from personal experience that trying to find a good balance to all the elements of a novel is hard work. To some extent, it comes down to personal taste, and the personal taste of a novelist working on _this_ novel may not suit all readers. And that's okay.

    What I'm hearing is that the balance that Dan Brown used in this novel didn't work for you. Fair enough. Perhaps the next time around it will be more to your liking.

    In the meantime, there are other authors who deal with similar themes but who have a different balance of good and evil characters; for example, perhaps you'll find Thomas Greanias more to your liking.

    Good fortune to you as you seek authors you can feel comfortable with.

  4. Anonymous: One other thing. I would not be so sure that Dan Brown was trying to avoid offending people this time around.

    First of all, the simple act of writing well about the Freemasons will be supremely irritating to those who consider Freemasons as evil and nasty. There are some sectors of the Christian and Islamic communities that feel this way. (Fortunatly, there are others that do not.)

    Second, in his final numbered chapter, Dan Brown articulates some concepts that have a strong resonance to a central but very controversial doctrine in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ('the Mormons'): the idea that people could become gods. (See my earlier post on this issue, from Tuesday, September 15.) This is guaranteed to tick off the same people who are irritated about the Masons.

    So, overall, I don't see Dan Brown as trying to duck controversy with this book. (If he was trying for that--well, he failed miserably.)

  5. If Dan Brown didn't stir up contreversy, who would have cared so much about Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code? He would never had seen the amount of sales that he got!

    I was happy that Kryptos was mentioned in the Book!

    What do you suppose his next book could be about? He says he knows what he is writing about but he will not say when he plans to start.

  6. Angels and Demons did not stir up controversy at the time; nobody read it until The Da Vinci Code was published.

    I wonder if Dan Brown's linking of pyramids to the Freemasons in The Lost Symbol bothers anyone. Pyramids are not a masonic symbol, and yet Brown makes them central to his story.

  7. Brett: What will his next book be about? Good question! I would point out three things in reference to this:

    (1) He left a clue on the dust jacket of The Da Vinci Code to the contents of the sequel, which we now have as The Lost Symbol. The clue involved letters on the jacket copy that were a l-i-t-t-l-e bit more bold than the rest of the copy. Maybe he's left a similar clue on the cover of The Lost Symbol -- the jacket of which is chock full of ciphers and symbols, front, back, and sideways. Happy hunting.

    (2) In the past, he's said that he's very interested in Kabbalah. In terms of symbolism, this is a well with no bottom.

    (3) He did make two trips out to Salt Lake City (2004 and 2006), where he showed a great deal of interest in the Latter-day Saint Temple complex. (See my "Secret Behind The Secret of the Conclusion" post on this blog for more detail.)

  8. Anonymous: You make an excellent point. I would note, however, that the situation is more complicated than it appears at first. Yes, in 21st century mainstream or "regular" Freemasonry, the pyramid simply does not figure into the symbolism. However, in an earlier day, things were not so cut and dried.

    Maybe I'll move that topic up to the top of my list for blog posts here. Thank you for the nudge.

  9. Anonymous: I did wind up posting on the issue of pyramids as purported Masonic symbols. The link that that specific post is here: .

    Thank you again for bringing up the issue.

  10. how do you become a mason

  11. I stumbled across this site and wanted to commend you on your decorum. You carry yourself with much tact and respect throughout all of your responses and posts. I've enjoyed reading this blog, thank you.

  12. To a young mind such as myself (13) I think the Lost Symbol was very interesting. I did a little research, and I was wondering, how much of the Lost Symbol is real? I know that a large portion of Dan Brown's novels are only based on truth, but is it really possible to become supernatural? Godlike?

  13. the lost symbol is a awesome book!! its another treat from Dan Brown

  14. In today’s young generation express their feelings, thinking through tattoo

  15. I guess its a American symbol and one of the lost symbol right?



  18. the only thing I really wanna know, are you freemasons worshiping evil? Yes or No,

  19. I enjoyed reading The Lost Symbol the story follows the same story line as the other Dan Brown novels featuring Robert Langdon, the subject of the story may change but the story line is very familiar. Langdon receives an urgent call at a late time of night or early morning and is thrust into a fast paced matter of life and death. In his quest he has to solve clues that lead him from location to location and he has to face his deepest fears stemming from a childhood incident. The characters are well developed and each has his own story line that comes to play at some point or another. The characters that Langdon starts off running from are usually the ones looking for the same answers he is, but their owndifferent motives, and even the villain has his own unexpected twist. The last few chapters seemed more like filler than part of the story, but the book is still worth reading. Dan Brown's blending of actual locations, historical facts and fiction make for some interesting reading.


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