Thursday, March 03, 2011

In Reply

Any author who bothers to respond to a lousy review of one of his books always risks looking like a disgruntled brat, but Deciphering The Lost Symbol has gotten two smackdowns in Masonic magazines in the last month, and I have to take exception to both.

Brother William A. Parks, Jr. in the February 2011 Virginia Masonic Herald (Vol. 104) Web Supplement, apparently found absolutely nothing of value in the book. Parks' review is notable in one respect: it is the first one any of my books has ever received containing the word "hemorrhoid."

I normally don't mind when someone reviews my writing like a pigeon reviews statues, but in his enthusiastically swingeing attack on my perceived errors, I guess he missed the part in the introduction where I clearly said Dan Brown's novel The Lost Symbol was overwhelmingly positive about the fraternity, that Brown used dramatic license for the advancement of the plot, and that my intention was to point to where Brown was both wrong and right about details about Freemasonry. I also clearly speculated at the end that Brown perhaps intentionally did not use accurate Masonic ritual out of respect for the fraternity.

We can joust all day long about whether I went too far in discussing details of Masonic ritual, as it is a matter of opinion, as well as Masonic jurisdiction. I referred to what I believe are the historic sources Brown used for his descriptions of our ceremonies, and not necessarily the current ritual in use in any given jurisdiction. I tried to walk a fine line in order to clarify or rebut what Brown had written, without being too coy on the one hand, and too detailed on the other. As to Parks' offense over the hailing sign, that particular cat was let out of the bag by numerous members of the mainstream press two months after Brown's Da Vinci Code hit the stands. It was a major clue on the book jacket that Brown's next novel would be about Freemasonry, and it would have been intellectually dishonest to ignore the reference.

Brother Parks states that I am wrong in saying that the pyramid does not appear in symbolism of the AAONMS (Now Shriners International). He quotes, "The emblems and jewels [of the Shrine] are the characteristic insignia of the Oriental Nation from which our Order emanates. They are the Crescent, Pyramid... The gold band [of the crescent] should be decorated with a sphinx head on one side, a pyramid with an urn upon the other..."

Perhaps so. However, the official emblem of the Shriners International today is a crescent made up of two Bengal tiger claws, united by a keystone in the center, containing the head of a sphinx. Beneath the crescent hangs what is described generally as the Star of Bethlehem. All of this dangles below a scimitar. There is no pyramid, as can clearly be seen in the logo on the website for Kazim Temple in Brother Parks' home town of Roanoke, VA.

The name of the 6th degree in the Scottish Rite SJ, in both Pike's Morals & Dogma and in the 2006 edition of Rex Hutchens' A Bridge To Light, is "Intimate Secretary." I failed to notice that the new name is now apparently "Confidential Secretary," as it appears in the 2008 Scottish Rite Ritual, Monitor and Guide. Those of us in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction are used to our degree names being changed on us at the drop of a hat, but we are generally told up here that the SJ doesn't normally engage in such antics.

Speaking of the NMJ, Brother Tom Jackson over in the Scottish Rite NMJ Northern Light February/March 2011 issue takes a couple of big swipes at me for being, not necessarily incorrect in certain assertions, but simply being too inexperienced in Freemasonry to write about it. He took much the same dig at me back in 2005 when he reviewed Freemasons For Dummies. Now, Tom and I have spent time together and we get along fine with each other. He was kind enough to invite me to speak at the Pennsylvania Academy of Masonic Knowledge last year. He and I have spoken onstage at several Masonic gatherings, and we simply have different outlooks about the future of the fraternity. But he seems to want every book I write to contain the disclaimer, "Discussions of Masonic practices in this book are true almost everywhere in the United States. Except in the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania."

Brother Jackson does state at one point that the term VITRIOL "has no Masonic significance." Perhaps not in Pennsylvania or other regular U.S. jurisdictions, but in other jurisdictions and Masonic obediences it most certainly does. He wraps up the review by saying, "Great difference between error and simply lacking knowledge." I'm not sure which this is. Either way, while it is not a 'Masonic mantra' as Brown says in his novel, in my experience, I have seen it written on the walls of Chambers of Reflection in two cases outside of the U.S.

Concerning any factual errors in the text, they are all mine and I accept all blame. The book was written to a deadline dictated by the publisher in just four weeks, in a rush to get it quickly on shelves. I was perhaps suicidal to agree to such a schedule, but that's the breaks when dealing with a non-Masonic publisher and an eager marketing department. However, I will see to it that any notable errors are corrected in future editions.

Except that stuff about Pennsylvania.

12 comments:

  1. I have seen VITRIOL in use in lodge CoRs in NYC, PR and DR.

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  2. While certainly not widespread (or even officially sanctioned), it is starting to show up in CofRs across the US, primarily as a result of the Traditional Observance movement.

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  3. I know of at least one New Jersey Lodge that has VITRIOL, as well as the meaning behind it, scrolled on the walls of their Chamber of Reflection.

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  4. Brother Chris you are just too funny dude. I was happy to have met you in Minnesota last Saturday.
    Perhaps Bro. Tom was thinking of Vegitol or Geritol? Veti Meta Vegiman? I've read a couple of your books and you do good work. Nuff said.

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  5. Re: Wor Bro Hodapp's disgruntlement

    Wor Bro Hodapp has labored indefatigably to educate both profanes and Brethren on the intracacies of our gently Craft. He has atrracted favorable attention to our fraternity for which we are all grateful. He has not only enlightened millions about our Fraternity and contributed to its growth and fascination, he has provoked robust and healthy debate among his brothers and the public regarding Freemasonry.

    However, Wor Bro Hodapp errs again about the pyramid, which he denies is a Masonic symbol. The Shrine ritual describes the jewel as having "a pyramid with an urn" on the other, or obverse side. He shows the front side, which does not have a pyramid and says, "See? No pyramid!" Wow. There are some really nice Shrine jewels around that have the pyramid on them and they are highly valued.
    Nor does he mention that Dan Brown, who has a wicked sense of humor, made up a Latin phrase containing a word that does indeed mean "hemorrhoid" -- but the word had no reference to Brother Hodapp.
    [Speaking of Dan Brown's humor, who wouldn't love to see his chain-smoking CIA Director portrayed on the silver screen?]
    Bro Hodapp apologizes for one error then ignores the rest contained in the review. Finally, and quite bravely, he says he was on deadline and in a rush and it was "suicidal" to accept the assignment. But there is no explanation for quoting from a private email to rip the White Hats. Given that many AASR Jurisdictions confer the white hat only on members of their Supreme Councils, it was a gratuitous and unnecessary swipe.

    Overall an evasive, unresponsive reaction that really amounts to his own mea culpa. Funny how his response ends with an apology.

    Nevertheless, a courageous, good-natured, and humorous response to the review.

    Bottom line is that Masonry needs some sort of fact-checking committee, not a censoring board by any means, to assist our author brethren in avoiding factual error and breezily dismissing the high honor of the 33rd Degree.

    William A. Parks, Jr., KCCH
    DEO, 23rd Masonic District of VA
    Past Master, Lodge of Perfection
    Valley of Roanoke AASR
    Ceremonial Cast Potenrate, Kazim
    Temple

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  6. Bro Hodapp,
    Remember, they talked about Jesus Christ also. So my brother you are in good company. As momma would say, if everyone agreed with you, this would be a very boring place.
    Remember we are the light, but the darkness comprehended it not.

    Warren Grant

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  7. Bro. Parks,
    Whether some Shrine jewels hide a pyramid on the back or not, you managed to miss the much larger point of the passage, which is that pyramids do not appear in the ritual or symbolism of symbolic Craft Masonry, at least not in US/Anglo derived Freemasonry. Three-dimensional pyramids do occasionally appear in some (irregular) Grand Orient of France-derived lodges, but the book was written from a "regular, recognized" point of view.

    BTW, I have always been taught that the Shrine is not a "Masonic" body, which means that any Shrine symbols are not technically "Masonic." Mileage may certainly vary in your jurisdiction.

    The email I quoted was, at the time, an unpublished paper that was subsequently printed in the Journal of the Masonic Society (Autumn 2009, Issue 9), "What's Wrong With The Lost Symbol?" by Rex Hutchens. I was not leaking a private email, but I didn't have the final publication information at the time the book was written.

    Finally, I assure you that the last thing Freemasonry needs is some all-seeing, fact-checking committee whose biggest concern about the fraternity is whether our 33rds are respected enough. That would be enough to give all of us omnifici.

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  8. I can personally testify that Bro. Jackson is well aware that the Masonic universe extends well beyond the Pennsylvania borders. I have personally encountered him in the state of Virginia on two occasions. It could be, however, that he is convinced nothing of Masonic significance occurs outside the boundaries of the Keystone State. A quick Google search of “VITRIOL Masonic” yielded 221,000 results. “Great difference between error and simply lacking in knowledge” indeed.

    As for Bro. Parks’ review (diatribe would be a more accurate term), it appears that he’s been unable to grasp the concept of the book. “The Lost Symbol” was neither intended to be a Masonic monitor nor a history. I presume most readers were aware that they were reading a work of fiction and are accustomed to fiction writers employing literary license. Bro. Hodapp’s mission was to separate fact from fiction, myth from reality, and to demystify aspects of the Masonic fraternity for the uninitiated as well as less informed Freemasons. For my money, he was wildly successful.

    The suggestion that Bro. Hodapp exposed previously undisclosed Masonic ritual or signs is laughable. An internet search or a trip to the local library will quickly reveal any Masonic secret the curious profane wishes to know. I might add that with regard to the obligation not to write, print, paint, etc. that Bro. Parks has committed the very offense that he accuses Bro. Hodapp of.

    Among the myriad other accusations is that Bro. Hodapp is an ingrate who lacks appreciation for the great service Dan Brown did the fraternity by writing about it in such glowing terms. Yet the first words I recall Bro. Hodapp uttering about “The Lost Symbol” were written on this very blog when he described the book as “a five hundred page loveletter to Freemasonry”. I’ll also argue as to who is really nit-picking and obsessive when Bro. Parks takes such great offense to a minor error resulting from an AASR degree being renamed or Albert Pike being mistakenly referred to as Sovereign Commander instead of Sovereign Grand Commander.

    Bro. Hodapp has expressed his regret for whatever errors the book contains and has pledged to correct them in any subsequent printings. He offers an apology that Bro. Parks mocks in surprisingly un-brotherly fashion. Bro. Hodapp has noted that he was under a lot of pressure from his publisher to crank the book out in only a few short weeks. It was inevitable that there would be mistakes made regardless of who was writing the book with a deadline like that hanging over their head. I am personally aware of the lengths, in terms of both time and expense, that Bro. Hodapp typically goes to when researching a book. I can guarantee that under normal circumstances most of those errors would have been avoided.

    Bro. Hodapp would be the first to admit that he is not above criticism and that poor reviews are part of the game. Bro. Parks’ poorly contrived attempt at a book review comes off much more as an intemperate screed than insightful analysis.

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  9. It is just like man's vanity and impertinence to call an animal dumb because it is dumb to his dull perceptions.
    -- Mark Twain

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  10. Also, I'm not a shriner, but I just have to ask; what is a "Ceremonial Cast Potenrate?

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  11. "What is a "Ceremonial Cast Potenrate?"

    The irresistible rejoinder has got to be, "About a buck and a half an hour."

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  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

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