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The Lost Symbol: Truth or Fiction?

Part of the Freemasons For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Dan Brown's book, The Lost Symbol, invites much curiosity — and speculation — about a brotherhood of secrets and symbols. So, what's the truth behind the storytelling? Here are a few facts revealed:

  • Did the Masons build Washington DC?

    The Freemasons of Virginia and Maryland conducted ritual ceremonies for the first foundation marker stone of Washington D.C., as well as the cornerstones for the President's Mansion (the White House) and the Congress House (the Capitol building).

    George Washington was a Freemason, and consulted with non-Masons Pierre L'Enfant and Andrew Ellicott, who designed the street plan of the city. And Masons really did lay the cornerstone of the Washington Monument, along with contributing a series of commemorative stones that appear inside of the obelisk.

  • Have most U.S. Presidents been Freemasons?

    Only 14 of them (the first was George Washington, and the most recent was Gerald Ford).

  • Do 33rd degree Scottish Rite Masons drink out of a skull?

    Dan Brown cribbed the ceremony in the first pages of The Lost Symbol from an anti-Masonic exposé written in the 1870s to embarrass the Masons. It's NOT accurate.

  • Is the "Chamber of Reflection" real?

    Yes, although Dan Brown took some liberties with it. Some Masonic lodges and appendant groups place initiates into a Chamber of Reflection to meditate on their past life and future mortality before certain degree ceremonies, but it is not a uniform practice. It is far more prevalent outside of the U.S. However, Masons do not have private rooms like this in their homes or businesses (like the basement of the U.S. Capitol building).

  • Do Masons accept members from all religions?

    The first requirement for membership in the Masons (along with being for men only) is the belief in a Supreme Being," but a man's religion is considered his own business.

  • Is the House of the Temple a real place?

    Yes, it is the headquarters of the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite Southern Jurisdiction in Washington D.C. Just as Brown said, it is located at 1733 16th Street NW, and it can be toured by the public. And it is pretty much as described in The Lost Symbol, except that human sacrifices do not take place in it. The George Washington Masonic Memorial is also a very real place in Alexandria, right across from the King Street Metro stop.

  • Are pyramids a Masonic symbol?

    No, this is fiction created by Dan Brown. Pyramids do not appear in regular Masonic ritual or symbolism, and the Masons did not put the "unfinished pyramid and the all-seeing eye" on the back of the U.S. dollar bill. These are myths.

  • Do Masons really have a universal distress signal?

    Yes, it is a combination of words and hand signals.

  • Do Masons have a secret cipher code?

    Yes, although it's no secret now that Brown told everybody about it. Just for the record, there are variations of it that he didn't reveal.

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