Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Fun Begins: Bookazine Claims Masons are Occult, and Implies Satanism

With the release of Dan Brown's novel, The Lost Symbol, scheduled to occur in less than one week as I write these words, more and more material is appearing about the Fraternity, material widely varying in quality. One publication that will likely have a wide readership has some particularly vile and misleading material about Masonry. This post is meant to alert you to the material, and to the truth behind the fantasy that is in print.

Last night, while searching for some material at the Union Square branch of Barnes and Noble bookstore in New York City, I came upon what some booksellers call a "bookazine": something published in the format of a magazine, and sold on the magazine racks, but that is not actually a regularly published magazine. This publication was titled Unlocking Mysteries With Solomon's Key: Understand the Secrets of Ancient Symbols and Their Meaning. (I regret that I cannot locate an illustration of the cover online.) A header identifies the publication as "A Companion Guide to 'The Lost Symbol' (Dan Brown's New Novel)."

The publication appears to have been designed some months ago, before the final title of Dan Brown's novel was released. (The former working title of Brown's novel was The Solomon Key, and this may be why the bookazine has 28 of its 144 pages devoted to Solomon and figures associated with him in legend, such as the Queen of Sheba.) There is also no hint in the publication of any of the clues that Doubleday has been issuing since late June about the content of the novel.

Oddly, although the bookazine recognizes that Freemasonry is a major focus of The Lost Symbol, almost all it has to say about the Fraternity is in the first 3.5 pages. In addition, what it has to say is often inaccurate. One particular howler is the following:

But there is little doubt that occultism has a place in the society. In his book The Lost Keys to Freemasonry, Manly P. Hall notes, "When a mason learns the key to the warrior on the block is the proper application of the dynamo of living power, he has learned the mystery of his craft. The seething energies of Lucifer are in his hands and before he may step upward, he must prove his ability to properly apply energy."

Hall should have known: As a 33-degree Scottish Rite Mason ..., he was privy to all of the society's secrets. (p. 5)

To borrow a phrase used by comedian Wayne Brady, "That's wrong on so many levels." For the sake of those brethren who find themselves having to address these issues to those who are not members of the Fraternity, I would point out the following:

  • Far from being some master of Freemasonry, "privy to all of the society's secrets," Hall was not even a Mason when he wrote the words quoted above.

  • Hall was making a point about the Fellow Craft degree in the quote above. In context, his "Lucifer" comment does not imply any reverence given to the Devil.

  • Hall's status as a 33rd-degree Freemason, relatively late in his life, does not give him special status as an authority on Freemasonry.

I address each of these points below.

Manly P. Hall's Relationship to Freemasonry

Manly P. Hall was born in 1901 and died in 1990. Hall published The Lost Keys of Freemasonry in 1923, at about the age of 22. However, he did not become a Freemason until over 30 years later, in 1954 (at about 53 years of age). He was not made a 33rd degree Freemason in the Scottish Rite until nearly 20 years after that, in 1973 (at about the age of 72). (All of this is stated clearly in the "Publisher's Note: Manly P. Hall and Freemasonry" in the edition of The Lost Keys of Freemasonry published by Tarcher/Penguin in 2006.)

Thus, Manly P. Hall did not even know Freemasonry from the inside when he wrote The Lost Keys of Freemasonry, as a very young man. Hall had interesting things to say about Freemasonry, but they were things he said as an outsider to the Fraternity.

Hall's "Lucifer" Comment

Hall's statement as quoted in the bookazine occurs in Chapter 4, "The Fellow Craft," of his book (pp. 50-51 of the Penguin/Tarcher 2006 edition). In his book, Hall discusses the three degrees of Craft Masonry in terms of allegorical life-lessons that each degree has to teach the candidate. He discusses these lessons by using the teaching device of a mental representation of the Temple built by Solomon--a representation that has little to do with the actual Temple as described in the Bible. Hall describes the life-lesson of the Fellow Craft degree as involving mastery of emotion:

Life manifests not only through action on the physical plane, but through human emotion and sentiment. This is the type of energy taken up by the student when he starts his labors in the Fellow Craft. ...

On the second step of the temple stands a soldier dressed in shining armor, but his sword is sheathed and a book is in his hand. He is symbolic of strength .... Through each one of us course the fiery rays of human emotion, a great seething cauldron of power behind each expression of human energy. ... [T]he emotional powers cannot be held in check, but break through the walls of restraint and pour fourth as fiery expressions of dynamic energy. This great principle of emotion we know as the second murderer of Hiram [Abiff]. ...

... How long will it take King Hiram of Tyre, the warrior on the second step, ... to teach mankind the lessons of self-mastery? ...

The day has come when Fellow Craftsmen must know and apply their knowledge. The lost key to their grade is the mastery of emotion, which places the energy of the universe at their disposal. ... When the Mason learns that the key to the warrior on the block [that is, King Hiram] is the proper application of the dynamo of living power, he has learned the mystery of his Craft. The seething energies of Lucifer are in his hands and before he may step onward and upward, he must prove his ability to properly apply energy. (pp. 49-51, italics in original)

Hall's point, then, was that the power of emotion can be very destructive. For Hall, part of the point of the Fellow Craft degree is for the candidate to learn how to apply power to control emotion; this is, for Hall, the "mystery," or central lesson, of the stage of life symbolized by the Fellow Craft degree. Otherwise, out of control emotions--which he poetically refers to as "the seething energies of Lucifer"--impede the candidate's progress. (Hall is making an interesting point, although his is a very personal interpretation of the Fellow Craft degree.)

The publishers of the bookazine clearly did not understand Hall's point. They appear to have just seen the words "mystery" and "Lucifer" and come to the conclusion that "occultism has a place" in Freemasonry. (Of course, the publishers do not bother to define 'occultism,' either. They could learn a thing or two from Jay Kinney, who, in his new book The Masonic Myth, titles Chapter 10 with two questions: "Is Masonry Occult? And is occult even a useful word?")

Some would argue that we must have pity on the publishers, who appear not to have the strongest command of English. For example, the publishers state that the film The Da Vinci Code "became the second highest growing film of the year" (p. 15), when they clearly meant that it was the second-highest grossing film of the year.

However, my position is that if the publishers have the nerve to make vague but nasty sounding accusations about Freemasonry, they had better know what they are talking about. They clearly do not.

Hall and the Thirty-Third Degree

People have the idea that Freemasonry runs like a thermometer, from the First Degree through the Thirty-Third Degree, and that someone like Manly P. Hall, being a 33rd-degree Mason, must therefore be someone with a comprehensive understanding of all of Freemasonry. The reality of the situation is far different.

The better model with which to understand Freemasonry is the model of the wagon wheel, not the thermometer. The three foundational degrees of Freemasonry are the hub of the wheel. From that hub there are a number of appendant organizations, many of which offer degrees of their own, such as the Scottish Rite, the York Rite, and many York Rite invitational organizations, such as the Royal Order of Scotland, the Allied Masonic Degrees, and so forth. The 33rd degree is a degree within the Scottish Rite; it holds no more authority over Freemasonry than the highest degree in any of the other appendant organizations.


Manly P. Hall's reflections on Freemasonry, while thought-provoking, were published many years before he became a Mason. The passage quoted above, rather than being evidence of devil-worship in Masonry, is actually an argument that the young Fellow Craft Mason must learn to control emotion rather than let its destructive energies get out of hand. Not only was Hall not made a 33rd-degree Mason until half a century after he published his comment, the status of 33rd-degree Mason does not mean that one has a comprehensive understanding of "all of the society's secrets," as the publishers of the bookazine claim.

Should we be asked about this sort of thing by non-Masons, perhaps, by making the occasion a teaching moment, we can turn the occasion into an opportunity to spread more light about our Fraternity.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks! That's the best explanation I've heard yet about that oft-repeated quote. (Now if we can just get everyone to stop quoting Leo Taxil's hoax as fact.)


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