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The following is an excerpt from the book Secrets of the Widow's Son
by David A. Shugarts
Published by Sterling; September 2005;$17.95US/$25.95CAN; 1-4027-2819-0
Copyright © 2005 David A. Shugarts

Hunting for the Fundamental Themes

A Matrix of Conspiracies

In the movie The Matrix, the main character, Neo, is invited to swallow a red pill to enter the all-pervasive Matrix or a blue pill to return to the "safety" of ignorance. Here is my warning for this adventure: If you read further, you are about to swallow the red pill. Once you do, you will begin to see evidence of a grand conspiracy in everything, throughout history, infecting every element of society. You are either a conspirator or a pawn in the conspiracy; there is no middle ground. If you're at all timid, take the blue pill.

Dan Brown has already revealed one modus operandi in weaving conspiracies as the fabric of his novels. Whatever main conspiracy might be at work, there is always a conspiracy within the conspiracy. The conspirators arrive at the end of the novel and discover that they have been victims of a deeper deception. Carried to the extreme, this could lead to a justifiable paranoia, since nobody in any of Dan Brown's conspiracies can be sure that there isn't someone else pulling the strings. But if there were one group that could be pulling all the strings, it would be the Illuminati.

If you start at the Illuminati, you can work backwards in history to get to the Freemasons, the Rosicrucians, the Knights Templar, the "Priory of Sion" the Holy Grail and the conspiracy of the Catholic Church to suppress it, the Apocrypha, the artwork of Leonardo da Vinci and Caravaggio, the sculpture of Bernini, the architecture of Raphael, the science of Galileo, ciphers and codes, and a cryptex, all of which are familiar from DVC and A&D.

But a lot of people who have read DVC and A&D might not be aware of a much longer possible trail. You could continue with links to our Founding Fathers, to presidencies throughout American history, to the Mormon Church, to the legend of Thomas Beale's treasure, to the Knights of the Golden Circle, to the Ku Klux Klan, and to Jesse James. Although no list will ever be complete -- and how would you know whether it were ever complete? -- it also could include Hitler, the Trilateral Commission, the Federal Reserve, the Wiccans and modern Druids, Skull & Bones, the CIA, British Intel and the KGB, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the International Monetary Fund.

Everything is so interconnected that almost any clue by itself could lead you on a frantic scurry through the tunnels and wormholes of history. Just when you think you've found the best piece of pungent cheese, there is the far-off fragrance of another, luring you further underground.

Let's jump down underground and let the red pill take effect.

The Meaning of "Widow's Son"

How do we interpret the clue on the dust jacket of DVC? There is a simple way to construe "Is there no help for the widow's son?" It is said to be a plea for help from one brother Freemason to another. You say it with your arms raised "to the square." You say, "Oh, Lord, my God, is there no help for the widow's son?"

The plea is a powerful one. Any brother Freemason is compelled to help you. There are many stories in which combatants on opposite sides in battle set aside their weapons in order to answer this plea.

Paul Revere, as a
Freemason, was
spared by the
British on his

Paul Revere was said to have been spared by a British captain who detained him on the night of his fateful ride, because each recognized certain coded phrases that revealed a fellow Freemason.

It is when we try to define a widow's son that things get richer and more intricate.

With plenty of homage paid to other cultures, such as the Egyptians, the central core of Freemasonry arises from the biblical story of the building of the Temple of Solomon.

This story is told in two places in the Bible (I Kings and II Chronicles) and it speaks of a request by Solomon to Hiram, the King of Tyre, for materials and for a very capable individual to serve as the master architect. Hiram, King of Tyre, responds by sending an immensely skilled man, whose name also is Hiram. He is the son of a widow.

Due to a translation mistake, it is said, the architect Hiram becomes known as Hiram Abiff. The Bible says he is remarkably talented, being able to work in gold, silver, bronze, iron, stone, and wood, as well as fabrics.

The Bible says Hiram does his work very well and the finished temple is almost beyond description. As built, it is heavy with gold and riches, but Solomon also brings all of his prodigious treasure of gold and silver to the temple. In the inner chamber, or honest of places, he installs the Ark of the Covenant, containing the sacred tablets that Moses received from God. At the temple's entrance stand two hollow bronze pillars, which Solomon names Jachin and Boaz. The names of these pillars are actually very famous in Freemasonry.

In the Bible story, Solomon dedicates the temple and the tale moves on, leaving Hiram Abiff to exit the stage quietly.

The Freemasons, however, have a different version, highlighting Hiram Abiff and developing him as the archetypical Master Mason.

Originally, the legend involved Noah and his three sons, but it evolved into the legend of Hiram and his murder, somewhere in the beginnings of modern Freemasonry, probably between 1724 and 1726. If you want a genuine mystery of history, try to find out where the Hiram legend originated.

Long before Solomon's time, it was said that Enoch had dug down and built a series of nine stacked, vaulted chambers, the bottom one hewn in bedrock. Each chamber connected to the one above through an opening in the top, until reaching the uppermost chamber, which was capped by a special stone door with a golden ring. Eons later, the Temple of Solomon was built on top of the whole affair.

According to the Masonic legend, Hiram, King of Tyre; King Solomon; and Hiram Abiff were all considered Master Masons and, together, the three guarded secret knowledge. Hiram Abiff hid secrets in one or both of the hollow pillars of the temple. (The pillars Boaz and Jachin are described in DVC at Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland, and the idea of secrets hidden in a hollow pillar comes up also, in the village church in Rennes-le-Chāteau, France.)

As the tale goes, some lower-level "ruffian" workers envied the secrets and they conspired to obtain them. They waylaid Hiram Abiff and tried to beat it out of him. He did not yield, crying out, "Oh, Lord, my God, is there no help for the widow's son?" He died, whereupon they left his body and fled.

Righteous stonemasons went looking for the missing Hiram and found his rotting body. They wanted to look under the body to see if Hiram had left any clue to the secret knowledge. In order to lift the corpse, they had to use a special five-point clasp (since the flesh was falling off the bone).

The Hiramic legend is one of the central themes of Masonic initiation. The candidate must symbolically "die" and be "reborn" or "raised." This is done with a five-point grip, in an echo of the raising of Hiram. (Since we are sensitized by reading DVC and A&D, we can see religious parallels. There are literal biblical cases of resurrection, as in Jesus or Lazarus. There are also symbolic rebirths or renewals that can be traced back to many earlier religions.)

Another widow's son legend from a different era has Mormon founder Joseph Smith trying to make Hiram's plea just before being murdered by a mob in 1844. Smith, who was a staunch Freemason, got as far as "Oh Lord, my God" when he was shot and fell from an upper-story window.

Jumping whole continents and centuries, the Parsifal legend, which traces back to earlier tales of Gawain and the Holy Grail, makes Parsifal out as a "widow's son."

The apprentice,
with a gash in
his head, at
Rosslyn Chapel.

Jumping again, to Scotland and the famous Rosslyn Chapel (already dealt with in DVC), there is an echo of the Hiramic legend. It's impossible to visit Rosslyn Chapel without being told the tale of an apprentice who carves an elegant column, igniting the jealousy of the master mason, who smites and kills him. The apprentice's image, with a gash in his head, is one of the carvings in the chapel. Not far away is -- they say -- the image of his mother, a widow.

In DVC, Robert Langdon explains the legend of the apprentice and the master mason's pillars to Sophie while standing in Rosslyn Chapel, wrapping this tightly together with the ubiquitous Masonic pillars, Boaz and Jachin, found in every Freemason lodge in emulation of the Temple of Solomon. This comes at the very end of DVC, and within a few pages, Dan Brown will also reveal that Sophie, the lead female character, is related to the people who built Rosslyn Chapel. The family name is Saint-Clair, or Sinclair (see Appendix B, The Sinclair Family).

I find it a bit astonishing that Dan Brown gives a relatively detailed description of "two pillars" in Rosslyn Chapel, when a visitor will find there are actually three pillars -- the apprentice's and master's pillars are separated by a third one. Brown also neglects to tell us that the apprentice is a widow's son, even though the Rosslyn legend about it is extremely well known.

Some might stop pursuing allusions and allegories at this point, but this is exactly the kind of stepping-off point for an author like Dan Brown. That's because "widow's son" might go beyond the strict definition of the son of a woman whose husband is dead. It also could be loosely construed as "man without a father" or "man without a natural father."

If you could manipulate the mythology (as Dan Brown often does), you could make a very big jump and say that Jesus was such a person, being born of a virgin mother and having no human father.

But, as scholars in religion and history will quickly point out, there are many myths going back three thousand years before Christ (or more) that center on a son born without a father. Sons of virgins include the Persian god Nethras, the Egyptian Horns, Buddha, and Krishna, not to mention many pharaohs and Alexander the Great. One of the ways to confirm the mystical and godlike properties of a great figure was to make out that his birth was supernatural.

In Greek mythology, a "hero" is born from the coupling of a human and a god. Sometimes gods just spring from other gods. But, extended all the way, the real issue is how gods came into existence, or which came first, the chicken or the egg? Religions going back to Sumeria and Babylon, as well as the Egyptians, the Romans, and the Greeks, all have versions of "self-creating" gods, and many religions specifically have legends about virgin birth.

So if Dan Brown really wants to be inventive about a "widow's son," we may see various tales of virgin birth. Or -- this is a long shot -- perhaps human cloning. If The Solomon Key ends up weaving its plot through modern-day Washington, D.C., Brown may pursue this theme. In vitro fertilization and cloning were themes in A&D.

The Meaning of "Solomon Key"

Let's assume that the announced title for Dan Brown's next book will remain The Solomon Key. If you apply the principle of Occam's razor (the simplest solution is the best), you can just take Solomon Key to mean the keys to the Temple of Solomon. Could it be that easy?

No keys were actually necessary to enter the temple, but if you accept the Masonic legend, there was the nine-vaulted treasure safe beneath the actual temple. The description of the stone door guarding the entrance seemed to make it simple but somehow inscrutable. We will arrive at my little theory of how it opens, but we need to develop some other points first.

Also, it is necessary to see both Solomon and Key from several different perspectives.

Solomon, for instance, does not get a lot of character-development space in the Bible. The famous tale of his wisdom, of the baby he was prepared to cut in half, plus verses giving rich and detailed descriptions of his house and temple are about all we get. (I'm disregarding a bunch of Solomon-related items, such as the sexually charged love poem, The Song of Solomon, or the apocryphal book of aphorisms called the Wisdom of Solomon. These do not pertain to his own deeds. The Bible mentions a missing book called the Acts of Solomon, which probably would have told all.)

But there are plenty of other interesting old Solomon stories -- they're just not in the Bible. Quite a number of lively tales of Solomon are included in Islamic books such as the Koran.

In Muslim stories, Solomon is a kind of wizard or magus. He has the ability to summon spirits (djinns or angels) and also to converse with animals -- so he's the original Doctor Doolittle. In addition, he is said to have had many wives and to have had sex with seventy women in a single night. The numbers seventy, seventy-one, or seventy-two have significance in lots of Hebrew and Muslim contexts.

A kind of amalgamated story that drifted down from Arabic writers expands the concept of Solomon the magus. It is said that he was given a special signet ring from heaven, made of iron and brass, on which was engraved "the Most Great Name of God." It is a tradition of the occult that to control a spirit, one needs to name it. Conversely, it is a fundamental tenet of Judaism that certain names of God must never be uttered.

Seal of Solomon, or Star of David, unites the "blade" and "chalice."

It was also said that Solomon received four jewels from four different angels, and had them set into a ring, so that he could control the four classical elements: earth, air, fire, water. In addition to being the central building blocks of all cosmology from Aristotle to the alchemists, these four elemental forces are the themes that Dan Brown uses in the four murders of cardinals in A&D. Mere coincidence?

What was the seal on the signet ring? Most likely, it was a six-pointed star formed by two equilateral triangles. This was given the name "Solomon's Seal" by Arabic writers, but was known as the "Star of David" or "Shield of David" when observed by Hebrews.

Sometimes in the occult tradition, this famous six-pointed star is used to invoke or ward off spirits. It's also used by Freemasons.

But when Western occult writers began to express essentially the same idea and symbology, they turned to their old familiar five-pointed star, the pentacle. Western occult tradition calls this the "Druid's foot " It's also used by Freemasons.

The ancient pentagram is sometimes called the "Druid's foot."

The people of the Middle Ages often equated the practice of medicine with the practice of witchcraft, and there were plenty of ways in which "white witchcraft" could be used for good, while "black witchcraft" could be used for evil. Over the years from about 1200 through 1500, quite a number of books of magic were written, known as grimoires.

Jupiter Pentacle from Clavicula Salomonis, with symbols also found on Joseph Smith's amulet.

One of the most influential was called Clavicula Salomonis or The Key of Solomon the King. Additionally, there was a grimoire called  Ars Goetia (The Howling Art, a euphemism  for magic), part of a longer book, Lemegeton Clavicula Satomonis or The Lesser Key of Solomon. If you are a real lover of language, note that in A&D, before killing the scientist Leonardo Vetra, the Hassassin demands "La chiave . . . the password." But the correct translation of the Italian la chiave is actually "the key."

The Lesser Key describes how Solomon locks up seventy-two demons in a bronze vessel and gets them to work for him. The book even provides a list of the names of the demons, some Semitic, some pre-Christian -- i.e., pagan -- and some invented. Solomon's  vessel is kept locked by a symbol:

You guessed it, the Key of Solomon.

Searching For the Perfect Fit

Now, the trouble with trying to outguess Dan Brown is, even though we have found a key with a perfect fit, we have to examine a number of alternative ideas just in case he drags a weird thought out of left field. Because he always does! Freud said that our dreams are "over-determined," meaning they are brought about by numerous contributing factors, and Brown's plots and symbols are over-determined, too, creating an alloy of many different bits and pieces of his research into history -- even when real history suggests they don't fit.

So let us take up other meanings of key besides a key that operates a lock.

One meaning worth considering is the key like the legend on a map. Part of the Masonic tradition of hiding things in plain sight was a system of giving coded messages in drawings and engravings, then providing a little symbolic "key" that could be used to decode the message.

In work on codes and ciphers, it is common to have a coded message that might be intercepted, but be difficult or impossible to crack unless you have the decoding key. Today's computer security schemes often rely on "public/private key encryption" which one of the keys to a message is made public, but is useless without the private key provided by the sender.

There is no way we can completely dismiss a meaning like this for key since Dan Brown is so enamored of codes in all his novels, and has written specifically about encryption schemes in several of them.

In myths and magic, sometimes a single spoken word is a key, as in "Abracadabra."

Another meaning of key is architectural, as in keystone, the stone that makes a vaulted arch possible. Dan Brown included a small discussion of the keystone in DVC. The keystone has a long practical tradition and it has deep meanings for Freemasons.

A very special meaning can be extracted from the device known as a Lewis Key. I believe that this could well have been one of the secrets that genuine stonemasons held dear. It's a long shot, but it could give a method for opening that special stone door on that treasure vault under the Temple of Solomon.

Finally, there is a philosophic meaning of key. An idea like "Knowledge is the key to enlightenment" would be a prime example. Many philosophies, and many religions, have this as their tacit promise.

A Closer Look
Lewis Key

Stonemasons for more than two thousand years have lifted very large stones by hoisting them. Humongous stones, such as those used in the Great Pyramids of Egypt, were probably rollered, skidded, or levered into place, but stones weighing up to several tons can be simply picked up on wooden cranes or tripods, using slings and the mechanical advantage of a block and tackle.

Most of the Lewis Key assembly is hidden in the stone, but it easily hoists a heavy block.

When a stone is hoisted on a sling and set in place, the sling gets trapped underneath. So, long ago, clever stonemasons came up with a device that fits into a hole cut in the top of the stone. It allows easy lifting, and the stone can be swung perfectly and dropped into position, with mortar spread and ready, meaning a significant increase in the speed of construction. In ancient times, knowledge of engineering trade secrets like this were what helped turn masons into secret society members, looked on as magicians of a kind.

In more modern times, a device of this type is called a Lewis, Lewisson, or Lewis Key. It has several parts to it, including two wedge- shaped pieces, a parallel-sided spacer, and a clevis with a pin. In today's usage, the device pictured is known as a Box Lewis, probably because the hole that it fits is box-shaped.

When it is installed in the stone, the Lewis doesn't belie its function -- it looks as though the stone is merely suspended from a ring. Therefore, it can be used right in front of uninitiated nonmasons. This was a typical practice of Freemasons. For instance, the very famous picture of George Washington publicly laying the cornerstone of the Capitol Building in 1793 shows a tripod with the stone suspended by a Lewis Key.

If you look carefully at the Lewis, you can also see the shape of a keystone, inverted. This practical symbolism would be evident to stonemasons throughout history.

A 1754 effigy, built of Masonic tools, with Lewis Keys for "hands."

There is plenty of evidence that Lewis devices were used by stonemasons as early as Roman times, since the holes are found in the tops of the stones from that era. One retired British engineer, as a graduate student in archeology, discovered a fabulous coincidence when he studied the Lewis holes in a bridge built by the Romans near Tyne, in northern England, and a harbor structure not far away, built in 1750, about fifteen hundred years later. It turned out that a model Lewis Key built to fit one of the structures, fit the other perfectly!

At least one authoritative Freemasonry reference book says the Freemasons contributed the term Lewis to the English language. Lewis has another special meaning in Freemasonry: son of a Freemason.

In a Freemason lodge room, a common fixture is a small replica of a tripod, hoisting tackle and stone block, called an ashlar, suspended on a Lewis Key.

Could it be that a Lewis Key is the secret device that allows the stone door to be opened in the vaulted treasure cellar under the Temple of Solomon?

Copyright © 2005 David A. Shugarts