Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Book Review: The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

                This marks the third Dan Brown book I have read, the previous two being the initial novels in the “Robert Langdon Trilogy”, as it stands now.  These books are: “Angels and Demons” (2000), “The Da Vinci Code” (2003), and now “The Lost Symbol” (2009).
                For those unfamiliar with these bestselling books, or their plot(s), these books focus on the protagonist Robert Langdon, a professor of religious iconology and symbology at Harvard University, who in is called on to interpret ancient symbols to aid in resolving and preventing murders and national crises.  He delves into the secrets of religion and spiritualism discovering the hidden aspects of historic religion.
 Above I put “plot(s)” because after having read the trilogy I find that they all are essentially the same book, with the same elements and modes, the difference is found primarily in the research that Dan Brown focuses, the locations in with the book is places, and the objects in which are interpreted.  I created a list of common elements found in the books.

Angels and Demons
The Da Vinci Code
The Lost Symbol
Murder Investigation

Catholic Conspiracy

Science and Religion
Scavenger Hunt
Evil Sadistic Mastermind who wants to play with them giving them hints instead of just being evil
Symbolic Deaths
Misleads into thinking Robert is dead

Incapacity of Police
Beat the Clock scenario (or more people die)
Brilliant Romantic Interest (which can only be pursued if the system is cracked and the bad guy taken out, but even after this is done they never actually go anywhere)
Crack The Code and Puzzle Scenario
Antagonists to Protagonist Swaps (or vies versa)
Unexpected Twist (relating to family connections)

                Aside from the fact that I feel like I read the same book three times, how was that book?  I enjoyed it the first time, and a little the second time, less so the third time.  There is a lot of action, fair amounts of suspense and wonder, and a pretty decent twist at the end of each book regarding familial connections. He deals with mystical teachings and generally unknown but accurate facts and tidbits. He then draws exiguous implications and possibilities from these singular and isolated facts drawing tentative possible conclusions.  For me the greatest wonder while I was reading his books was not the accuracy of his research but if in his book Dan Brown would accept the mystical claims of the subjects he was researching and which beliefs he would disregard as fallacious. 

My first objection to the book The Lost Symbol is that the book itself takes place in a space of 12 hours and the book itself is 528 pages.  That is almost 50 pages per hour, I have not tested my theory but I believe that it would be impossible to do what they did in 12 hours, with all the traveling that they had to do.

The plot is decent, but it is common for all the books.  Robert is lured to Washing D.C. where he is manipulated by an unknown man for unknown reasons eventually leading to Robert unveiling Masonic secrets and symbolism.  He explores various Masonic symbols and meaning imbedded in Washington D.C. and in US history,  gets his hands on many rare Masonic devices.  He is called upon to crack a century old code else his long time Masonic friend will die.  This night is a scavenger hunt to the death especially, beat the clock or people start dying. 

 As far as the characters go, I feel no real connection or attachment. Robert Langdon, the main character, is Dan Browns vision of himself, or of who he wishes he was; they share the same birthrate and birthplace.  He is omniscient, he knows just about everything about anything, is never wrong in his theories, and commands respect and honour from everyone as there is none that is his equal intellectually.  He cannot die nor can he be lectured too by other people. 

After three books I find myself tiring of this static character that rarely learns and never grows.   To illustrate my feeling towards him, there was a time in this last book where Robert Langdon appears to die, there seems to be no way he can still be alive.  As I read this I said to myself “Dan, if you actually killed Robert Langdon I would applaud you.”, I said this for two reasons, firstly because it would make me respect him as a writer more showing a little bit realism and meaning, the second because I growing annoyance of Robert Langdon.  The other characters are rather forgettable, with no true character development to be found.  Dan seems to try to attach you to the characters by threatening to kill them, which didn’t work for me, but only offered me false hope.

                The writing style is fairly weak; there are several moments in the book where the characters just stop in the middle of a time pressing chase or when there is great urgency and Robert stops and gives a well rehearsed 10 minute monolog to his audience on what everything means, the history behind it, alternative theories, what that means to him, and what he is going to do because of it. This is all done while a crazy axe murderer is running after them screaming at the top of his lungs (not literally).  But the prevalence of monolog (verbal or mental) and lecturing to Roberts inferiors seems to be Dan’s favourite way, if not the only way that he communicates vital information to his readers.  I often found myself feeling as if I were reading an encyclopaedia, references and all.  I have already talked about the similarity in his books, so I will not discuss it further here though it is a writing weakness of him.

                Despite anything the books may lack they are a good source to learn about conspiracy theories, random facts, and symbols.  They all have value if you want to wade through the speculations and poor drama. 

                Although not knowing much about Dan Brown I feel that I do through his books, I know his religious, political, and ethical values.  I know how he feels about Mason, Catholics, and various other religious belief systems.  Through reading his book you see into the man’s heart and honestly I am not that impressed. 

For those of you who have not read any of his work I would recommend reading Angels and Demons, I like this book the best of the three and it is a worthwhile book to read.  For those who have read one of his books, I would recommend you not read another as it will only disappoint you.  For those of you who have read two books, you probably don’t need my recommendation, only the knowledge that there is no writing difference in his third book.  For those of you who have read all three, my condolences and empathy.
The Da Vinci Code was so successful and well rated because at that point Dan was an unknown author, so those that read it were generally being exposed to Dan Browns books for the first time, but once you have read one of his books, you will find low motivation to preserver through another, and even less for a third.  When you do start one of his books though it is rather like someone who puts a bag of peanuts in front of you, you may not even like to eat peanuts but you do anyhow for some reason.  At the end of this last book I was relieved to start a new book.

P.S. This book will be made into a movie in 2012, right before the world ends(probably the subject of Dan Browns next book), so I would recommend only wasting 2 hours and watch it then instead of 20 hours reading it now.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Dollar For Your Thoughts?

At first glance the United States one dollar bill is none too impressive.  Compared to other currencies it is rather colorless, bland, and scentless (unlike the Canadian $100.00 bill which smells like maple syrup) . However, on closer appraisal you will notice that it has several unusual symbols on including an unfinished egyptian pyramid, Latin writing, and masonic symbols. Many of these symbols are shrouded in mystery and is a source of heated debate and speculation. 
I first encountered some of those speculations while I was working for a time in the United States. While I was in a discussion with a man named Chris, he pulled out his wallet from his back pocket and extracted a ratty American one dollar bill.  He took out a pen and started drawing on it (which is, contrary to popular belief, NOT a crime).  Chris was connecting lines and stars, he was circling patterns and showed me symbols and patterns on it that I had never noticed before despite having used the money for over a year.  More recently this incident was again brought to my mind while I was reading Dan Brown's new book The Lost Symbol (2009) (see here for my review of the book). In this book there is a period of time (of many) where Robert Langdon has an extensive thought monologue reviewing the common speculations and discussions around the United States one dollar bill.  Reading I found that Brown again discussed all the topics which Chris had previously told me. This sparked my interest and made me question the validity of the claims. Thus, a paper is born.
         I would like to share with you these symbols. My purpose is not to settle the raging debates about the symbols but rather to introduce and examine them to give some background and context.  I will attempt to examine the common claims and basic history behind this bill, to consolidate some of the vast information from various sources which I have found, and to perhaps share a few original insights of my own.  Perhaps some day when talking points run dry you can yank out a one dollar bill and I hope that this information is sufficiently entertaining to be able to show it off to your friends and educate them in the history and symbols of the one dollar bill.

The Origin of the One Dollar Bill

          The one dollar bill was initiated in 1862 under the presidency of Abraham Lincoln.  The bill displayed the portrait of Salmon P. Chase on it who at the time was serving as the Secretary of the United States Treasury.  This bill also had the seal of the United States Department of the Treasury which has remains there still.  The bill itself was 15% larger than it is now (7.4 x 3.1 inches, or 189 x 79mm, the width being as wide as a DVD case is tall). Since then there have been many alterations to the bill I will only note some of the more important changes that pertain to the modern one dollar bill. 

  • 1869 - Seven years after the introduction of the one dollar bill, the portrait of Salmon P. Chase was changed to that of George Washington.
  • 1929 - Fifty years later the bill in 1929 was reduced to it's current size of 6.1 by 2.6 Inches(or 156 x 66.3 mm). 
  • 1935 - Six years later the Bill introduced the phrase "In God We Trust" to the reverse of the bill. This phrase would eventually become the official national motto in 1956.
  • 1963 - Twenty-eight years later the bill was released as an official Federal Reserve Note which bore it's insignia. 
  • 1969 - Six years later the words of the treasury seal were changed from Latin to English

The Dollar Throughout the Years.
Top:  Obverse (front) Bottom: Reverse (back)
From Left to Right: 1862, 1886, 1928, 1963

The Current One Dollar Bill 

The Current One Dollar Bill

          The Obverse (Front)

The picture below documents all the topics discussed in this paper.  Please refer to it as you view the corresponding alphabetized topics below. 

Click picture to enlarge

Bay Leaves: See signatures...
Bill Series Letter and Federal District Reserve Number: These ars how they identify where the bill was printed, they must corresponds as seen below.
Reserve Bank
New York
St. Louis
Kansas City
San Francisco

Federal District Reserve Number: See Bill Series Letter and Federal District Reserve Number
George Washington: He was the first President of the United States, and also was originally commissioned to design the one dollar bill. Some find it Interesting and pertinent that he was a Mason, and links the other possible Masonic elements to this fact. It is also said that he is responsible for the purported Masonic influence in the one dollar bill.
Insignia or Seal of the Department of the Treasurer: A seal originally designed in 1780 for the department of the treasurer which has been slowly adapted to its present form.  The seals primary feature is a coat on arms which includes in it a chevron with thirteen stars, representing the original thirteen colonies.  Some claim that the chevron is actually a square,  one of the most fundamental symbols of masonry, and that the 13 stars are a reference to the 13 degrees in York Freemasons.  Others yet would argue that both interpretations are correct. Above the chevron is a scale which is almost always a representation justice, which is claimed by some to be a masonic symbol.  The key below the chevron if often interpreted as a  symbol of authority, which has also been claimed to be a masonic symbol.  The coat of arms is encompassed and encircled with the words “The Department of the Treasury 1789”.  1789 was the year in which the department of the treasury was established.

Insignia or Seal of The Federal Reserve: This identified the bank it was printing in, the letter corresponds with the bill series number.

Owl / Spider / Web / Web Design: Many conspiracy theorists claim that there is an owl hiding in the one dollar bill on the upper left side of the upper right 1. This is claimed by one as symbolizing “the Bohemian Society which meets in California on the last two weeks of July every year. Every president attends this and it is Ku Klux Klan like with red and black robes and an open fire.” The symbol of an Owl is indeed a symbol of the Canaanite God Moloch, and several other deemed “false gods” many of which are still connected with religion and ceremonies today.  However, these arguments and evidenced that there owl worshipers are not very convincing as it is also true of almost any animal.
Left:  Magnification of the "owl"     Right: Owl worshipers

Furthermore, if you examine the webbing on the one dollar bill you can observe two notches in the web design.  If these notches are overlaid onto the "owl" they appear exactly similar.  This suggests that the "owl" is merely the continuation of the webbing effect found at the bottom of the bill.  However, this leaves the question: why would there be a pattern at that particular spot?
Overlay of Web Design on the "owl"

Plate Serial Number: This number appears both on the obverse and the reverse of the bill. It identifies the plate from which the note was printed.
Printing Position: The one dollar bill is printed on sheets of 32, this number and references in what position in the sheet this particular bill was, the number referring to the quadrant and the letter to the position as seen below.


Serial Number and Letter: This number and letter are placed as identification for this particular bill in that particular bank. The reason they placed a letter in the serial number is to extend the number of possible printings.
Series and Year: This indicated that last modifications that were done to the bill, not the year of print, letters are used for multiple changes in one calendar year.
Signature of the Secretary of the treasury, Signature of the Treasurer of the United States, and Bay Leaves: All self explanatory by name.
Web Design: See Owl / Spider / Web/ Web Design

The Reverse (Back) 

The United States National Motto: In1956 the United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower approved a joint resolution of the 84th congress declaring "In God we trust" the national motto of the United States.  However, it origins in American history go much further back. Most Americans are only familiar with the first verse of Francis Scott Key's 1814 poem The Star Spangled Banner, but the fourth verse includes: And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
Beads: There are 13 beads leading some to believe that it is a reference to Masons and occultism; conversely it could also represent the 13 original colonies. Some would argue both are correct.
Plate Number: This number appears both on the obverse and the reverse of the bill, it identifies the plate from which the note was printed.

The Great Seal of the United States of America

Because of the complexity and depth of this last symbol on the reverse it will be treated on its own. The two pictures below constitute the Great Seal of the United States of America. On July 4, 1776, there was a committee set to create a seal, consisted of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams. Through time the seal has evolved to what we know it as today.  The seal it two sided, the observe side being the side with the eagle while the reverse being the side with the pyramid.


Arrows: A symbol of war held in the left talon of the eagle, which is held in juxtaposition and in correlation with the olive branch which is a symbol of peace in the eagle’s right talon. Proverbially I think of the symbolism of the right and the left hands, the right being to bless, to favour, and the left to forbid or deny. Or even the right hand being the hand of choice, and the left being a means that we use when using the right is not practical to possible. The eagles head is pointed to his right possibly symbolizing his favouritism towards the olive branch.
There are 13 arrows held in the eagles talons, symbolizing once again the 13 colonies bound together, or again occult symbolism.
Coat of Arms: This is the Coat of Arms of the United States of America, it has two notable differences in relation to the flag of the United States of America. Firstly it does not have any stars in the blue portion, and secondly the outermost strips are white not blue. It has 13 stripes, once again referring to the 13 original colonies or the Masonic occultist number, or both. It is seen and both being held by the eagle and protecting the eagle.

Eagle: The eagle was adopted as the national animal of the United States America in 1782. The bald eagle was chosen because of its majestic beauty, great strength, long life, and because it's native to North America.
Some claim that this bird is not an eagle but a Phoenix (see also Eye), and that even the position he is in shows a hexagram by connecting the Olive Branch, the arrows and the top most star, and then connecting his wings, and his center tail feather.
The Hexagram is a symbol used by many religions (including Christians) for a symbol of communion with God, and various positive meanings, however there are those who feel that this symbol is more sinister is design and placement on the one dollar bill.
The Hexagram is a common and loved symbol of the Masons, it is often used in decoration and was thought to be in the temple of Solomon, which as the Masons claim their roots in Solomon’s temple ritual is an important fact to the. As it was explained by one of their own:
"The interlacing triangles or deltas symbolize the union of the two principles or forces, the active and passive, male and female, pervading the universe... The two triangles, one white and the other black, interlacing, typify the mingling of apparent opposites in nature, darkness and light, error and truth, ignorance and wisdom, evil and good, throughout human life."
—33rd Degree Freemasons Albert G. Mackey and Charles T. McClenachan quoted from Codex Magica by Texe Marrs[9]
There are those who claim that the masons used a perverse version of the Star of David with negative evil connotations
“Uniting the Water Triangle with the Fire Triangle, the Hexagram is formed. It forms a six pointed star also known as the Seal of Solomon. This symbol is a counterfeit Star of David, the national symbol of Israel. The difference between the Star of David and the occult seal is the triangles which make up the occult seal interlock and the two triangles of the Star of David lie flat against each other."
There are also those that claim this symbols is of the occult and of Magic.
"The first mention of the star was in Amos 5:26 regarding the trek from Egypt to Canaan. Then in 922 B.C., when Solomon married the daughter of Pharoah and went into magic and witchcraft and built an altar to Ashtoroth and Moloch. The book traces the six pointed star from Egypt to Solomon, to Arab Magic and Witchcraft, to Druid use. The book traces the star through Freemasonry usage to Mayer Amschel Bauer, who, in the 17th century, changed his name to depict the red six-pointed star (or shield) which he had hung on his door in Germany, and thus began the family of "Red Shield" or Rothschild. The research carried on through this family, to their court of arms, to Cabala, to Astrology, to Hitler and his putting a yellow six-pointed star on all Jews during the holocaust, to the Zionist symbol, and finally to the flag of the State of Israel and beyond."
Because this symbol is comprised of a six within a six within a six (6 points, 6 triangles, 6 sides of the hexagon in the middle) the research also included a look at the 666 prophecies in the Book of Daniel etc., regarding the "willful King" (anti-Christ) and the "mark of the beast”."
Eye: Some claim that this bird is a Phoenix and that this is an occult reference.
Manly P. Hall states:
"European mysticism was not dead at the time the United States of America was founded. The hand of the mysteries controlled in the establishment of the new government for the signature of the mysteries may still be seen on the Great Seal of the United States of America. Careful analysis of the seal discloses a mass of occult and Masonic symbols chief among them, the so-called American Eagle. ... the American eagle upon the Great Seal is but a conventionalized phoenix...Not only were many of the founders of the United States government Masons, but they received aid from a secret and august body existing in Europe which helped them to establish this country for A PECULIAR AND PARTICULAR PURPOSE known only to the initiated few."
(Manly P. Hall, The Secret Teachings of All Ages, pp. XC and XCI)
Another source:
“The first Great Seal designs always clearly illustrated the eagle as a Phoenix. In fact all Phoenix's are drawn as slightly modified eagles. In the Occult the Phoenix in it's single or double headed versions is sometimes used as a reference to Satan.”
It was also stated:
“The eagle replaced the Phoenix in 1841 as the national bird. The Phoenix has been a Brotherhood symbol since ancient Egypt. The Phoenix was adopted by the Founding Fathers (Freemasons) for use on the reverse of the first official seal of the United States after a design proposed by Charles Thompson, Secretary of the Continental Congress.”
Several Claim that the eye of this eagle is really a phoenix eye and does not resemble an eagles.
Stars: 13 stars which form a hexagram (Star of David or Jewish Star). Once again 13 is likely referring to the 13 original colonies but some also see it as an occult symbol.

Latin: In the Eagles beak he is holding a banner that reads “E pluribus unum” meanin in latin “Out of many, one” a motto requested by Pierre Eugene du Simitiere and found in 1776 on the Seal of the United States. It is a reference to the formation of the United States; out of many colonies comes one nation.
There are 13 letters in “E pluribus unum”, once again symbolizing either the 13 colonies or occult worship or both.
Olive Branch: (see also Arrows) In addition to what has been said about the arrows and the Olive branch, the origin of this symbol is particularly meaningful as it come from the bible when Noah created an ark to save all life on earth from a global flood, he loaded animals in his ark and after many days he sent out a dove to see if there was land, the dove came back with an olive branch, it has (along with the dove) become a symbol of hope, peace and glad tidings. On the seal of the United States of America we have a bird bearing an olive branch, meaning hope, peace, glad tidings, new beginnings and favour from God.
There are 13 olive leaves on the branch and also 13 olives on it, once again symbolizing either the 13 colonies or occult worship or both.
Tail feathers: There are 9 tail feathers which could symbolize the 9 degrees of the York (or American) Masons.
Wings: On each wing of the eagle it has 33 feathers, which could symbolize with the ancient Scottish Masonic rite, (as a 33rd degree mason).


Eye of Providence: The eye of providence can be seen most anciently in Egyptian mythology and the Eye of Horus but it also appears in Buddhism and Christianity, most representing the eye of God. Furthermore the eye in a triangle was used by Christians as a symbol for Gods eye, along with the Triangle representing the trinity.
Most importantly in the discussions circulating about this symbol is the Masonic meaning of it. In masonry it is referred to as the All Seeing Eye; it has much the same meaning as the above, and was adopted in the standard iconography of the Freemasons in 1797.
Many claim that this is another evidence of the influence of the Masons in the founding of the country. Rebuttals often point to the fact that out of the four original creators of the seal only on was a Mason (George Washington) and his proposed seal was not accepted and did not contain Masonic elements.
Latin 1: The Latin words "Annuit Coeptis," meaning "He (God) favours our undertaking". God in this diagram being represented by the eye of Providence, or the all Seeing Eye (see Eye of Providence) and the undertaking representing the unfinished pyramid (see Unfinished Pyramid). There are also 13 letter in “Annuit Coeptis”.
Latin 2: The Latin words "Novus Ordo Seclorum" meaning "New Order of the Ages," which is a reference to the new American era.
Roman Numerals: This is the Roman Numerals for the number 1776, the year that the United States of America got its independence from Britain.
Unfinished Pyramid: The unfinished Pyramid is symbolizing and unfinished work, referencing possibly to the United States, or to all of society, that we are always a work in progress. There are 13 levels of this pyramid.
Some claim that the pyramid is an ancient Masonic symbol whereas some claim it is not nor has been.
The apparent union of the Eye of Providence and the Unfinished Pyramid may indicate that completion is found only through God. That he is the missing peace. This harmonizes with the Motto “in God we trust”.
The Seal: This portion of the Seal in general has been analyzed as whole and some have noted that if you draw the outline of the pyramid and then mirror the triangle shape, flip it upside down it makes a perfect hexagram with the portions and margins which, furthermore if you look at the letters they point to they are ``M,N,_ and A,S,O`` which can be rearranged to make the word Mason. (for more on the possible symbolism of the Hexagram see the above “The Eagle”)

People have thus used this to “prove” that the Masons, particularly George Washington integrated Masonry into the United States symbols and Government. For many, regardless of the accuracy of this assertion, this is a feared thought as they link it with Satan worship. Many people also believe this is just a coincidence found by people scraping for find a government conspiracy.

Concluding Notes

The Number 13: There are ten instances we have examined where the number 13 is significant: 13 stars in Seal of the Department of The Treasurer, 13 beads, 13 arrows in the eagles talon, 13 olive leaves, 13 olives, 13 stars above the eagle, 13 stripes on the eagles coat of arms, 13 steps up the pyramid, 13 letters in “E pluribus unum”, and in “Annuit Coeptis”.
The number 13 was obviously an important number, generally it is believed that it is to reference the 13 original colonies but often it is claimed to represent a favouritism of the number by the Illuminate. Furthermore throughout history 13 is significant and is counted unlucky. Tradition states that Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, was the 13th to sit at the table. In Mesoamerican divination, 13 is the number of important cycles of fortune/misfortune. 13 is the age that a Pagan or Wiccan usually starts to learn Witchcraft. The number of Norse gods (there were 12) at a banquet that was crashed by the evil god Loki (making 13) who killed Baldr with an arrow/spear made out of mistletoe using Hodr, thus marking the beginning of Ragnarok. Traditionally, there are 13 witches in a Wiccan coven. The number 13 is associated with bad luck in some countries. Friday the 13th has been considered an unlucky day since the 1800s, as a combination between an unlucky day, Friday, and the number 13. Another theory as to why the date and number 13 is considered unlucky is that, on the day of Friday the 13th after the final Crusade the pope had sent out men to capture and burn alive the last 13 Templar knights in order to put an end to the Crusades. There are many builders even today who do not build 13th floors in high rises, they go directly from 12 to 14 totally skipping the 13th floor.
All in all the number 13 has it rough and there are many possible theories people could have to explain the number but the prevailing alternative theory is that of the Knights Templar seen above immortalized in Dan Browns bestseller “The De Vinci Code”.
Fun Facts
-The average life of a dollar bill is 18 months
-97% of all paper money contains traces of cocaine
-48 percent, of the notes printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing are $1 notes
-Money isn't made out of paper; it's actually made out of linen


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