Monday, October 5, 2009

The Oaths of Freemasonry:
One of a Series on Maureen Dowd's Review of The Lost Symbol and the Truth About Freemasonry

On Sunday, October 11, 2009, The New York Times Book Review will publish a review by Maureen Dowd of Dan Brown’s latest novel, The Lost Symbol. That review is available on-line here. (The weekday edition of the Times previously published a review of The Lost Symbol by Janet Maslin; that review, which appeared on Monday, September 14, is available here.)

Ms. Dowd’s review contains much inaccurate or misleading information about Freemasonry. This blog post is the first of a series in which I address the inaccuracies about Freemasonry that occur in Ms. Dowd’s review. The rest of the posts in the series may be found here.

Freemasons Do Not Murder Those Who Expose Their Rituals

Ms. Dowd writes of Dan Brown, “During the five years he researched this book, did Brown begin to believe those sensational stories about how, if you expose the secrets of the Masons, they will slit your throat?”

If Masons actually murdered those who exposed their rituals or other secrets, Freemasons would do little else but murder people, and the body count would have reached into the thousands quite some time ago. The ritual secrets of Freemasonry have been exposed many times over the last three centuries. We Masons may think poorly of those who expose our rituals and secrets—yes, we will de-friend them from our Facebook accounts—but we do not murder them or do them other harm.

The Oaths of Freemasonry

Stories like the kind that Ms. Down mentions have their root in an aspect of the oaths involved in becoming a Freemason. As part of the process of initiation, a candidate takes several solemn oaths. For the most part, these oaths involve commitments to moral behavior. In addition, candidates swear not to reveal Masonic secrets, such as signs of recognition, and other ritual details. The candidate swears that he “binds” himself to various bloodcurdling penalties if he breaks these obligations.

Over the years, a lot of people have been put out by the fact that Freemasons bind themselves to these bloodcurdling penalties, However, very few of the people who have commented on these oaths over the centuries have pointed out certain basic truths:

  • Masons are never put under oath or asked to carry out these penalties on anyone. Indeed, because Masons are committed to observing the civil law, it easily could be argued that Masons themselves are actually forbidden by Masonic ethics to inflict these penalties on anyone, Mason or not.

  • Candidates for Freemasonry take their oaths and pronounce their obligations at sacred altars (depicted above) and in the presence of Almighty God, each man using a Volume of the Sacred Law that is sacred to him. (Some men use the Jewish Bible, some a version of the Christian Bible, some the Muslim Quran, and so on.) The obvious conclusion to draw is that the penalties to which Masons bind themselves are penalties that they expect Almighty God shall inflict on them for breaking their word.
The One Possible Time a Murder Might Have Been Committed

In all of history, there is only one instance in which it could credibly be the case that someone who exposed the secrets of Masonry might have been murdered by Masons. This was the famous Morgan incident of 1826, where William Morgan—a non-Mason who pretended to be a Mason, gained admission to lodges, and then published Masonic ritual—is alleged to have been murdered in upstate New York by Masons. This incident has a complicated history, the essentials of which are available here, courtesy of the Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon.

The occurrence of actual murder in the case of William Morgan is questionable. Morgan’s body was never recovered. Some have said that Morgan was paid to go into exile in Canada; some say that they sighted him, towards the end of his life, in the Caribbean. There are those, such as Stephen Dafoe in his recent book, Morgan: The Scandal That Shook Freemasonry, who maintain that Morgan was indeed murdered by Masons; for me, the jury on that case is still out.

If William Morgan was indeed murdered by Masons, this is a horrible thing that should never have occurred, and those who were responsible should have been punished to the fullest extent of the law. However, even if this murder had occurred, its very rarity proves that Masons do not make it a practice to murder, execute, or assassinate those who expose their rituals.


It is time to put to bed the “sensational story” that Ms. Dowd mentions, that “if you expose the secrets of the Masons, they will slit your throat.” This has never been true, as the most basic research by Ms. Dowd would have revealed to her. This is not just a sensational story, but an irresponsible one, even a libelous and prejudicial one, and she should have known better than to spread it around in her book review.

Basic questions about Freemasonry can be addressed to the author through the Freemasonry 101 blog.

Shameless Plugs

I discuss the basics of Freemasonry in my book, Freemasonry: An Introduction, which will shortly be available again through Amazon; interested readers may ask to be notified of this availability through leaving me an e-mail at . I shall have a great deal to say about Freemasonry as it is depicted by The Lost Symbol in two places:
  • one of my two chapters in the forthcoming book edited by Dan Burstein and Arne de Keijzer, Secrets of The Lost Symbol, which you can read about here;
  • my own forthcoming book, Discovering The Lost Symbol: Magic, Masonry, Noetic Science, and the Idea that We Can Become Gods. (Publishers’ and agents’ inquiries are welcome!)

[The image is a stylized depiction of a Masonic altar. It is available on the website of the Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon.]

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


  1. Mark, in Morgan I show that the paid to go into Canada story is a myth created by Rob Morris. Although it is my contention that morgan was murdered by Masons, it was a handful of Masons and not the craft at large who were responsible. The first prosecutor of the Morgan abductors was a Mason. My book uses primary sources and follows the trials closely. Anyone who reads the book will see that whether Masons murdered Morgan or not, they clearly stood in the way of the investigation.

  2. Hello, Stephen: Yes, I am aware of your evidence. I recommend your book highly, and have provided a link to it in my post.

    However, I have always been intrigued by the notion that Morgan wound up in the Caribbean. The misbehavior of those who put forth as Morgan's body someone else's--a corpse that even his widow said was not his--also figures into my estimate that Morgan may not have been murdered at all. The story of Morgan's supposed murder fit certain political agenda of the day, agenda that taint the case made by the prosecution and the subsequent anti-Masonic movement. But that is by the by.

    The main thrust of my post here is to counter the notion that Masons make it a point to murder those who reveal their secrets--a story that is believed and spread by all too many people today.

    Thank you for contributing your remarks to this discussion. I look forward to your future comments on my response to Ms. Dowd.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Very nice response Mark, it is always a pleasure to read your writing.

    Now for a sticky question many are aware of that I know has very little to do with you or most Freemasons. Could you please talk frankly about the P2 lodge in Italy and the associated murder of Roberto Calvi, aka God's banker, supposedly in a way that pointed to Freemasonry. It caused quite a stir in Europe a few years back and is still a topic of discussion.

    Google Search for P2+Calvi+Vatican

    Many find it odd and distressing that this Italian lodge was heavily peopled by Vatican members, as they openly speak badly about other Freemasons. From my perspective, this says more about the Vatican than it does about American Freemasons. What are your thoughts on this very bizarre scenario?

    Once again, thank you for being available and open about many other topics. I know this is not a pleasant subject for most.

    By the way, sorry I had to delete the first reply attempt...

  5. Seven Star Hand: Yes, the P2 Lodge thing comes up much like a bad penny: all the time. Than you for bringing this up.

    As it happens, the "Anti-Masonry Points of View" website has a good description of the history behind the P2 affair, and I recommend that any interested parties look at this account:

    One principle to learn here is that not every so-called 'Masonic lodge' is really a 'regular' or recognized lodge. There is nothing to prevent anyone from setting up something and calling it a Masonic lodge. In the case of P2, the discovery of its corruption led the legitimate Grand Orient of Italy (basically, the Grand Lodge of Italy) to disincorporate the P2 Lodge, and expel its Master from the Fraternity. However, the Master continued to operate the P2 Lodge, as a renegade or 'clandestine' Lodge.

    Incidentally, anyone is welcome to raise any question they'd like about Freemasonry at another blog of mine, "Freemasonry 101" ( The page to submit questions on for this week is found at . That's a great place to submit questions that have nothing at all to do with Dan Brown or Maureen Dowd. Come one, come all.

  6. I feel that Ms Dowd's comment is capable of more than one interpretation. Personally, I read it that she was sceptical of the "sensational stories", but I can see how others might reach a different conclusion.

    I also felt that apart from his deliberate and lurid sensationalism of the more dramatic moments of some Masonic ceremonials, Dan Brown's approach to Freemasonry was rather bland. Frankly I was expecting more controversy.

    In contrast, a book like "The Lion and the Covenant", also full of scholarly research, does challenge with a genuinely dramatic claim. Any thoughts on that?

  7. Ooops! A bit of an apology here, Mark! I judged the Dowd comment from the quotation alone. Now I've read the full review. Yes, a bit snarky to say the least. This is journalism in the least complimentary sense. Dowd is right about one thing though - as a writer Dan Brown leaves much to be desired. I wince at many of his sentences. But it sells well, which is a feat only a few authors can claim. Moreover his book will greatly stimulate interest in the Craft.

  8. During the November 30th showing of Discovering The Lost Symbol I was noticing the segment about how the Church had made a deal with an individual or possibly it was with a group where as science would study the psychical world and the church would keep its interests centered on the soul. Possibly setting the ground work for todays scientific mode.......My question is do you recall this and would you have more details pertaining to the issue?

  9. This is one of the part of lost symbol? Somebody say that this is a evil symbol and I know its not.


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