Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Calling All Masonic Cryptographers: The La Profezia Cypher

In an earlier post, I made the case that the 'Robert Langdon' home page, created by Doubleday as a way to promote the forthcoming publication of The Lost Symbol, presents evidence that this novel is set in the world of Freemasonry. Here, I make a call to Masonic code and cypher enthusiasts around the world to break the code shown on that home page, inscribed on the parchment titled "La Profezia" (pictured; click to enlarge). This cypher looks like half a dozen legitimate Masonic cyphers that have been published by reputable Masonic authors just over the last three years (as I document in my earlier post). In this post, I give some tips for how to crack "La Profezia." This post is a bit of a technical journey into the world of Masonic cryptography. True, I have not a fraction of the cryptographic skill of Arturo de Hoyos or S. Brent Morris. However, perhaps I'll mention something that will make it possible for you to break this code.

The Aiq Bekar Coding Scheme

The cypher shown in "La Profezia" looks to me like a modification of the Aiq Bekar cypher, a kabbalistic code which, I suspect, dates back at least to medieval times. All Aiq Bekar cyphers are based on what is essentially a tic-tac-toe grid. The letters of the alphabet are distributed among the nine sectors of this grid. (In the original Aiq Bekar, three Hebrew letters are placed within each sector.) Then, to code a message, you draw the sector, and place a dot where the letter would appear. In the original Aiq Bekar, the Hebrew letter aleph was placed on the far-right side of the upper-right sector of the tic-tac-toe grid. To represent aleph, you drew that sector of the grid (like a capital English letter L), and placed a dot in the far-right of that sector. (For a clear understanding of how to work the Aiq Bekar cypher--not something you'll get from Googling "Aiq Bekar," I'm sorry to say--see pp. 928-929 of the 2007 book by Arturo de Hoyos, Scottish Rite Ritual Monitor and Guide, available at substantial discount through the "Master Craftsman" program.)

The difference here is that "La Profezia" appears to involve the distribution of only two letters per sector. But this would only allow for 18 letters. What alphabet has 18 letters?

Given that this prophecy is purportedly by Da Vinci, it makes the most sense to look to either Italian or Latin as candidates for the appropriate alphabet. Latin has 23 letters (including three, K, Y, and Z, that are only used to represent letters of Greek origin). Take the Latin alphabet, and drop the letters of Da Vinci's initials, as shown on the parchment itself; This leaves us, very neatly, with 18 letters of the ancient Latin alphabet:

A B C E F G H I K M N O Q R T X Y Z .

Super. But, how to distribute the letters in the modified Aiq Bekar matrix?

Good luck on that one. Different schemes of the somewhat similar "pig pen" or so-called "Freemasons" cypher (see my earlier post) illustrate many different schemes: put the first letter in the upper-left corner--or the upper-right corner, or elsewhere; then move horizontally--or vertically; move from up to down--or down to up. Hey, start somewhere and move in a spiral. Depending on the guiding assumptions one makes, there are many potential grids.

How Many Possible Grids Are There?

Let's get the nightmare out of the way right from the beginning. If we allow for the possibility that some perverse fiend at Doubleday--perhaps a certain best-selling author--placed the letters randomly through the grid, there are 18-factorial, or 6,402,373,705,728,000 possible grids, that is, well over 6 quadrillion possible grids to check. That's about 1 million possible grids for every human being now alive on the Earth today. Good night, Dolores.

However, the whole point of making an Aiq Bekar grid is not to randomly distribute the letters, but to come up with a distribution scheme that is easy to remember, so that the code person can easily reproduce it. Thus, the likely number of possible grids is far, far smaller than the maximum possible. Here are the parameters involved, roughly speaking:
  • Where does one start? That is, where does one place the letter "A"? There are 18 possible places. However, I suggest that the aspiring codebreaker focus on only 4 of them: (1) the far left position of the upper-left sector, (2) the far right position of the upper-right sector, (3) the far left position of the lower-left sector, and (4) the far right position of the lower-right sector.
  • In what direction do you then move--that is, working from "A," where do you place "B"? There are two main choices here, each followed by four sub-choices. The two main choices are: (I) place the second letter right next to the first letter, in the same sector of the grid, and (II) place the second letter in the next sector of the grid. (Of course, what is "next"? Your call: the sector to the left, right, up, or down of the sector where you placed "A.") Within each of these main choices, the sub-choices are these: (a) move horizontally to the right, (b) move vertically down, (c) move horizontally to the left, and (d) move vertically up.
  • When you get to the end of the row or column, what do you do? That is, when you fill up the first set of positions with A, B, and so on in a straight line, where do you move? Here again, four choices: left, right, up, down.

I estimate that this brings the number of potential grids down to something like 256--a lot, but not impossible to work with, especially for a group of cryptographers working together.

Please note: It is also possible that our fiend is working in a spiral distribution of some sort. This makes for a larger number of grids, but it is still likely hundreds, not millions.

I have not looked at the possiblity that the seemingly ornamental flourishes under Da Vinci's initials may have some significance here.

Good luck, my brethren. Let's crack this one.

Will Dan Brown's Forthcoming Novel The Lost Symbol Feature Freemasonry?

Major news hit the publishing world yesterday, with the Knopf Doubleday Group announcing that it will publish the sequel to the hyper-blockbuster novel, The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown (pictured standing below the codes), on September 15, just a little under five months from now (a typical interval between a publication announcement and actual publication). The sequel is titled The Lost Symbol, not The Solomon Key. Dan Brown's website has been updated to reflect this announcement. This is really going to happen.

Beyond that, however, there is room for disagreement and conjecture aplenty.

I first learned of this announcement through Chris Hodapp's post on his most excellent blog, "Freemasons For Dummies." Later in the day, Chris posted an update, noting that Doubleday had put up a web page purporting to be that of Dan Brown's character, Robert Langdon. Chris noted that this web page seemed to suggest that Brown's novel would not be focused in a Masonic direction.

I can see why good Brother Hodapp would say this. After all, the web page focuses on a parchment (headed "La Profezia," pictured above--entirely fictional, of course). The parchment purportedly was written by Leonardo Da Vinci, supposedly containing a coded message regarding a prophecy of the future. Given that Da Vinci died almost two full centuries before the founding of the premier Grand Lodge of Freemasonry, this would seem to put Masonry out of the picture, as it were.

I think otherwise.

Go and take a good close look at the cypher on this scroll titled "La Profezia," purportedly by Da Vinci in Dan Brown's fictional world.

Doesn't the form of this cypher seem a little, well, . . . familiar?

Not the same as something some (not all) Masonic brethren have seen elsewhere, but familiar. Reminiscent.

I would direct your attention to the publication of different versions of various Masonic cyphers of centuries past, in reliable publications by experienced Masonic authors:

  • Consider the unnamed code (illustrated above in black-and-white) published in the most important Masonic exposure every published in the United States, David K. Bernard's Light on Masonry (5th ed., 1829). This was reprinted in 2008 by what I consider to be the most important Masonic research organization in America today, the Scottish Rite Research Society, in an edition edited by Arturo de Hoyos. (The book was given as a free premium to members of the Society--membership therein being one of the finest bargains in the Masonic world; and you don't even have to be Scottish Rite to join the Society!) See page 138 of the original 5th edition, page 358 of the reprint.

  • To me, the fictional "La Profezia" cypher resembles the very old Kabbalistic cypher known as Aiq Beker, or the 'Kabbalah of the Nine Chambers.' However, the Aiq Beker itself is the basis for a cypher used in 1827 by the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite, described in a letter written by Ill.: J.J.J. Gourgas himself. The Aiq Beker and the Gourgas cypher are described in detail on pp. 928-931 of Arturo de Hoyos's 2007 book, Scottish Rite Ritual Monitor and Guide (available at substantial discount through the"Master Craftsman" program of the Southern Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite).

  • The "La Profezia" cypher also bears resemblance to some French Masonic cyphers, reprinted and distributed to Scottish Rite officers by Albert Pike in the latter half of the 19th century. (See de Hoyos' Scottish Rite Ritual Monitor and Guide, p. 932.)

  • Two forms of the so-called Pigpen or Freemason's Cypher are given on p. 269 of W. Kirk MacNulty's lavishly illustrated (and really wonderful) book, Freemasonry: Symbols, Secrets, Significance (New York & London: Thames and Hudson, 2006); these have a certain resemblance to the "La Profezia" cypher.

  • Finally, Bro. Hodapp published a version of this sort of Masonic cypher code on p. 206 of his fine myth-busting book, Solomon's Builders: Freemasons, Founding Fathers and the Secrets of Washington, D.C. (Berkeley, CA: Ulysses Press, 2007)

The upshot of all this: the fictional cypher, attributed to Da Vinci, used to promote Dan Brown's new novel, The Lost Symbol, looks a great deal like various Masonic cyphers from a later era than Da Vinci's. Based on this evidence, I will go out on a limb here: I conclude that it is highly likely that The Lost Symbol will prominently feature Freemasonry. Years ago, Dan Brown said that the sequel to The Da Vinci Code would be set in the world of the Masons--a statement still on his website today (click here and search "Masons"). Hey, the "La Profezia" is supposed to be a prophecy, right? Perhaps it prophesies of the rise of Freemasonry, or--more likely, I think--the founding of the United States, a project in which at least the ideals of Freemasonry played an important part.

The very publication date of the novel supports this idea. Early last year, the then-president of the Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group stated that "Dan Brown has a very specific release date for the publication of his new book, and when the book is published, his readers will see why." Note that the publication date of the novel, Sept. 15, is quite close to Constitution Day, Sept. 17, which commemorates the signing of the American Constitution in 1787; many of the values embedded in the Constitution are distinctly Masonic, and highly unusual for the era. Of course, many have pointed out that the publication date is close to the anniversary of the Masonic ceremonies held at the laying of the foundation of the Capitol, Sept. 18, 1793. The long-standing rumor is that the sequel to The Da Vinci Code would involve Masonic conspiracies dating to the founding of the nation. It would be difficult to find a better publication time to resonate with Masonic involvement with the founding of the nation than the vicinity of September 17 and 18. (Dollars to donuts, Langdon peeks in the Capitol's cornerstone.)

There is a point to making this call--"yeah, The Lost Symbol features Freemasonry"--early, well before publication. Even though Freemasonry was only mentioned in passing in The Da Vinci Code, that passing reference seems to have resulted in a substantial spike in interest in the Fraternity (a spike fed further by the motion picture, National Treasure). If The Lost Symbol really does feature Freemasonry very prominently, as I suspect it will, this will drive a substantial increase in interest in Masonry. I would suggest that we prepare for that, a subject to which I expect I shall return in future posts.
What would preparation look like? A few thoughts:
  • Let every Grand Lodge and even every Masonic District--hey, every particular lodge--have someone assigned to answer questions about Freemasonry from media personnel who want to know how accurate The Lost Symbol is in its depiction of Freemasonry. (And pick people who are going to read the book!)
  • Plan Lost Symbol-themed Masonic open houses (on the lodge or District or Grand Lodge level) around the release of the book, trailing that release by a month or so (say, late October). (How's this for a title for an open house: "Finding the Lost Symbol"?)
Let's prepare for Dan Brown's Masonic novel. We've got about six months to do so. I have made the point in another post that part of Freemasonry's challenge in our generation is that it is basically invisible in the larger society anymore. The publication of The Lost Symbol gives us a chance to do something about that, in a highly direct way.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Urgent Need for Masonic Assistance for Mena, Arkansas

I was alerted by Chris Hodapp's blog, Freemasons for Dummies, to the fact that the tornado survivors of Mena, Arkansas are receiving assistance through the Shrine temple in Little Rock. Using the telephone number on Chris's post, I called the Shrine, and spoke to the Scimitar Shrine Potentate, who said that they were in need of non-perishable food items, toiletries, and water. These items may be sent by mail or delivery service directly to this address:

LITTLE ROCK AR 72209-3732

I urge all readers of this blog to send supplies to the Scimitar Shrine, and to inform their lodges of this opportunity for service as well--along with the address!

The brothers of the Scimitar Shrine are to be commended for their service to the citizens of Mena. It's not everyone who would be answering the phone at their fraternal organization's building at 6:15 on a Saturday night, collecting supplies for the needy, telling me that they'll be there for the next hour or two if I wished to come by and drop off supplies. (They forgave me for not dropping in tonight, once I explained that I was calling from New York City.) Another star in each of your crowns, brethren, and more power to you.

(Thanks to the online newspaper, the Daily Contributor, for their photo.)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Shriner Hospital Potential Closings Hit the News

A story, reported April 1 on Chris Hodapp's "Freemasons for Dummies" blog, has now hit the national news. The Associated Press reports today that the Shrine may have to close 6 of its hospitals, one-quarter of its hospitals nationwide, due to various causes associated with the current economic crisis (such as declining endowments due to the stock market fall, and declining donations).

All of this is very sad news. My personal hope is that the recent rally in the stock market over the last couple of weeks will help bring up the hospital endowments, and that the economy changes--and quickly enough--to bring in more donations. The Shriner Hospitals are an important way in which the Shrine and its members give service to the general public.

Having said this, I find it interesting to consider the AP press release in terms of what it says, and does not say, regarding Freemasonry in general. Two things in particular stand out.

First, the AP press release says nothing whatsoever regarding the relationship of Freemasonry to the Shrine. For those members of the general public who follow this blog, it is important to note that, for a man to become a Shriner, he must already be a Master Mason in a local lodge of Freemasons. Every hospital supported by Shriners is supported by Freemasons.

In our era, so much conspiratorial nonsense is written about Freemasonry. Some people actually think we worship the devil; others, that we are engaged in plots with the Illuminati to rule the world; one prominent author states that we are lackeys for reptilian aliens from space. It would do some good to have a good word put in for Freemasonry now and again. I hope it would not be thought amiss if I (though not a Shriner myself) suggest that the Shrine ought to make it a point to emphasize to the press that every Shriner is a Freemason. At the risk of mentioning the obvious: No more Masons, no more Shriners.

Second, the AP press release gives no hint of the interest of younger men in Freemasonry and the Shrine; rather, it implies that the membership is static. A source associated with an academic research center on philanthropy is quoted as saying that the drop in donations reflects "a generational shift," presumably away from involvement in fraternal organizations.

This suggests to me that the entire Fraternity needs to do more to get out the news that Freemasonry continues to attract new members. Yes, as I document in a recent post, we do face a significant membership problem. However, at the same time, anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that, in recent years, a significant number of younger men have entered the fraternitity. The point is not recruitment; rather, it is to let people know that Freemasonry still exists. As I have mentioned in another previous post, Freemasonry is largely invisible in our society. Men cannot petition a fraternity that they think is extinct.

(Thanks to the "Public Art in LA" site for this image of the Shriners' famous "Editorial Without Words.")

Friday, April 3, 2009

Pt. 2: Masonry's Invisibility, and the Unfilled Hunger for Light. (Series: Building Freemasonry in the 21st Century)

(For the previous post to this series thus far, see link at the end of this post.)

As I promised I would at the end of Part 1, today I will consider the root causes of the membership problems in the Blue Lodge. I see these as being three-fold:

  1. The general public simply does not know about Freemasonry anymore. This contributes to the low entry rates noted in Part 1.

  2. In many local lodges, the membership is left without understanding either the meaning or application of Masonic symbolism. This leaves some members of these lodges disappointed; some of these members may simply fall away from Masonry. This contributes to the high exit rates noted in Part 1.

  3. Anti-Masonry misdirects sincere seekers away from Freemasonry. Ultimately, this may contribute to both low entry rates and high exit rates.

I consider the first two of these issues below.

The Invisibility of Freemasonry

Freemasonry has made an appearance twice during the 20 seasons of The Simpsons (as I describe in another post), and has been mentioned, almost in passing, in Dan Brown's hugely popular novel, The Da Vinci Code. Of course, Freemasonry was mentioned extensively in the motion picture National Treasure (and briefly in its sequel). However, aside from these noteworthy exceptions, Freemasonry is all but invisible in popular culture and general society. As the Masonic Information Center (MIC) put it, the public's perception of Freemasonry can be summarized by three terms: confused (as in, 'is Freemasonry a religion?'), mistaken ('is it a devil-worshipping religion? Is it just for older gentlemen?'), and oblivious. Concerning this last point, as the MIC stated, "people are not even aware Masonry still exists" (It's About Time!, p. 9).

The Unfilled Hunger for the Meaning of Masonic Symbolism

Many lodges do a very creditable job of instructing their brethren in the details of performing our initiatory rituals. However, all too many lodges need help to guide their brethren in investigating the meaning of Masonic symbolism, and in the application of that symbolism to their daily lives. (Consider, for example, the commemorative plate shown above, which displays several Masonic symbols. Has your lodge discussed the meaning and application of any of these, lately--outside of the degree work?) There is a great hunger, perhaps especially among newer brethren, for this kind of Masonic education; without it, brethren are more likely to slip away into inactivity, or even leave the Fraternity. Consider the following:

  • We Initiate, Pass, and Raise brothers in ceremonies of high drama and mystery. Then, when these brethren finally are able to attend Stated Communications as Master Masons, in many local lodges they find that these are typically business meetings, with no discussion of the meaning of the complicated symbolism with which these brothers have been entrusted, and about which they thought they would learn more.

  • At present, in many local lodges, the focus in Masonic Education is almost solely on the memorization and performance of the ritual, not on the investigation of the meaning or application of its symbolism. This must be unsatisfying to our new brethren. Certainly this much was suggested at the 2007 Grand Oration in Florida: "We must strive to stimulate the new Mason and instill in him a thirst for continued knowledge and quest for enlightenment. Without that stimulation many new members can easily become disenchanted and lose interest, resulting in demits and NPDs" (Hudson, 2007, p. 273).

The current mini-spike in Masonic membership, which many have noted anecdotally around the country, apparently is driven by new initiates seeking just the type of esoteric wisdom that Freemasonry has. As Brother G. Cliff Porter, a relatively new Mason in his mid-thirties, stated in the March-April 2007 issue of The Scottish Rite Journal:

The young man approaching the Craft today does so to supplement and add to what his church and family have already given him. A certain tugging at his soul speaks to him to seek a deeper meaning in life, in family, and in God. He researches and desires an initiation into the esoteric and ancient quest for Truth. He requests a petition with these hopes in mind. Why shouldn't he? The eloquent writings of Masonic scholars ... have hinted at the existence of such knowledge, and Masonic writings abound with hints of this very thing. ... We as Master Masons should return Masonry from a primarily social institution to one that studies ancient symbolism and the truths so revealed. (Emphasis added.)

In sum, there is a hunger among the brethren--now, largely going unfed--for a thoughtful consideration of the more esoteric aspects of Masonic symbolism. The more this hunger is left unfed, the more it inclines brethren interested in this material to drift away from Freemasonry.

In Part 3: The challenge of Anti-Masonry; and, an overall approach to meeting the membership challenge.


Hudson, Phillip A. (2007). Grand oration. In Proceedings of the One Hundred and Seventy-Eighth Annual Communication of the M:. W:. Grand Lodge F. & A.M. of Florida, Held at Orlando, Florida, May 28, 29, and 30, 2007 (pp. 272-275). n.p.: The Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Florida.

Previous Post in This Series:

"Part 1: The Membership Challenge"