Secrets Of ‘The Lost Symbol’


Inside Dan Brown’s latest thriller and the untold tales of our nation’s capital

This report aired on Dateline NBC on Friday, Oct. 15, 2009. The full video will not be online, but you can watch related web-exclusive videos here.

Imagine the scene: a mysterious temple, its entrance guarded by massive stone columns and sphinxes. Inside, strange symbols, ancient inscriptions, and mystical numbers lead to a room shaped like a pyramid, with an eye that points toward the heavens, and in the center of the floor, a massive altar.

Some of the most powerful men in the country gather here to enact an ancient, secret ritual, drinking wine meant to represent blood from a human skull, and all of it happening just a mile from the U.S. Capitol.

It sounds like a work of fiction, and it does come from one, the opening scene of Dan Brown’s best-selling novel, "The Lost Symbol." But Brown makes a remarkable claim: that the ritual is real, part of the history of the secretive brotherhood called the Freemasons.

Matt Lauer: And when they found out that Dan Brown was going to be dealing with Freemasonry in this book, what was their reaction?

Dan Brown: Well, I think they were nervous that I might focus on what some would call the macabre sides of Freemasonry.

Perhaps with good reason. Brown has a history of prying open doors, revealing dark secrets – or at least seeming to. The central premise of his 2003 novel, "The Da Vinci Code," was an earth-shaking secret that Jesus and Mary Magdalene married and had children whose descendants live among us. The book infuriated some Christians. It also sold 80 million copies worldwide, became a blockbuster film, and made Dan Brown a household name.

Now, "The Lost Symbol" brings the same kind of high-profile scrutiny to the Freemasons, the Founding Fathers, and our nation’s Capitol. "The Da Vinci Code" comes to Washington. Will it have the same impact?

Dan Brown: There’s some very potent philosophical material and absolutely astonishing science that on some level I’m hoping will spark just as much debate.

How much debate? Consider this:

Dan Brown: America wasn’t founded a Christian country. It became a Christian country.

Or this:

Dan Brown: The human mind really does have the ability to affect matter.

“The Lost Symbol” raises provocative questions about the beliefs of the man on the dollar bill, about the power of the human mind, about whether people can become gods.

Dan Brown: It doesn’t matter to me if someone agrees or disagrees with what I say. But I’d like them to at least think about it.

The book is a thriller, a headlong chase through some of Washington’s most famous landmarks, and also through puzzles, secret codes, and dark corners of history, starting with the secretive group at the center of "The Lost Symbol": the Freemasons, a worldwide brotherhood that’s centuries old, and still active.

George Washington was a Mason, along with 13 other presidents and numerous Supreme Court Justices. Benjamin Franklin published a book about Freemasonry on his own printing press. Nine signers of the Declaration of Independence were Freemasons, including the man with the biggest signature: John Hancock.

Freemasonry still has millions of members worldwide, and they still conduct rituals like this one performed for our cameras:

Reaper: If curiosity spurred you towards us, go away. Do not proceed. If you are capable of deception, tremble. Because you will be found out.

Freemasons have been accused of everything from murder to devil worship to secretly controlling the U.S. government. Take a dollar bill, turn it over, look at the great seal of the United States on the back. Now draw a star of David. One point will match up with the all-seeing eye: a common Masonic symbol. Now look at the letters at the other points of the star:

M… A… S… O… N.

Coincidence? Video: M-A-S-O-N on the dollar bill

Matt Lauer: Freemasons have been accused of being involved in some rather strange conspiracies. A lot of that the result of the fact that you had powerful men, in this case, meeting behind closed doors and not discussing what they were doing?

Dan Brown: Of course. I mean, any time you have powerful people who aren’t telling you what They’re doing– you’re going to assume the worst.

In Brown’s book, the Freemasons are infiltrated by a man who believes they hold a great secret to mystical power. He’s a larger than life villain named "Mal’akh" whose entire body is covered with tattoos of occult symbols.

Dan Brown: And there is an animal quality about him. He has feather tattoos on his legs. He’s got giant

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