Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Awash in Conspiracies Real and Fictional

Review: Secrets of the Widow’s Son by David Shugarts

The philosophical foundations of the American Revolution—and in fact, the high ideals of rationalism, science, separation of church and state, the wonders of nature—were reflections of the foundations of Freemasonry. Hunting for the Fundamental Themes, David Shugarts

Dan Brown’s fictional mystery, The Da Vinci Code (DVC), spawned a storm of controversy, examination, and imitation. The tale of a “symbologist” caught in a complex plot of conspiracy, codes, and religious mystery excited readers who had never encountered the concept of a female apostle, or the disturbing idea that Jesus had children, whose descendants might still be found today.

One of the “decoding” books that came out in the wake of DVC‘s storm was Secrets of the Code, edited by Dan Burstein. Burstein's Secrets examined the real history, cryptography and symbology used by Brown in the novel. Burstein wrote the introduction to this book, Secrets of the Widow’s Son, to introduce David Shugarts, as much as his writing.

You see, Shugarts noticed a code in the cover text of DVC that indicated the theme of the next Dan Brown mystery: a string of letters that formed the question, “Is there no help for the Widow’s Son?” Based on this clue, Shugarts made a prediction for the sequel to DVC. It would, he thought, be based on the “conspiracy” of Freemasonry, perhaps including the Mormon/Mason connection, and probably based in Washington, DC. It would certainly involve one or more of the Founding Fathers.

A few weeks later, when Dan Brown made his announcement that a DVC sequel, The Lost Symbol, would be set in DC and focus on Freemasonry, Shugarts’ guess was confirmed.

Secrets of the Widow’s Son is not a spoiler to the novel—since Dan Brown writes fiction, Shugart can hardly predict plot twists and fictional characters. But he can, and does, explain the history and symbology that permeates the founding of the United States, and make clear the intricate connections of the Founders with Freemasonry.

If you read DVC with a perplexed sense of missing half the story, chances are good the clues were historical, religious, or mythological. What Widow’s Son promises is a legend for the map of history Dan Brown has indicated will be used in the sequel to his blockbuster. But even without the lure of The Lost Symbol, this is an important book. In a time when religious symbols in public places come under increasing fire, it is important to understand how many public buildings in our nation’s capital are adorned (or even structured) with religious symbols.

Shugarts goes beyond a simple listing of names and symbols, to tie in the themes of previous Dan Brown novels with the probable theme of The Lost Symbol. As he does so, we learn how many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were Freemasons (9 of the 56 were known Masons), Presidents who have been Masons (starting with George Washington), the Mason’s plea that saved Paul Revere’s life on the night of the “Midnight Ride,” and the masonic connection between Benjamin Franklin and Voltaire.

He also examines other “conspiracies,” including the Illuminati (the real and the mythical orders), the Rosicrucians, fraternities like the Dekes and the Skull and Bones, the Boy Scouts… The Boy Scouts!?! Yes, one of the more surprising notions was the deep connection between scouting organizations and Freemasonry.

I admit here that I haven’t read The Da Vinci Code. I read Holy Blood, Holy Grail long ago. But I enjoyed every page of Secrets of the Widow’s Son. Armed with what I’ve learned, I’m ready for Brown’s sequel.

If I ever decide to read it, that is.