A work in progress from a friend…
Prelude: He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands: January 2009
He’s got a-you and me sister in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands
Most everyone standing to sing “Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!” in the Washington National Cathedral on January 21, 2009 knew a line or two of the hymn. As the newly inaugurated President and his wife processed down to the front row before the altar to join former President Bill Clinton and his wife, though, a considerable number of people were still tapping their feet and inwardly swaying to the last number — “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” — sung by the Cathedral Children’s Gospel Choir. But the number from the Gospel Choir’s set that echoed throughout the entire Inaugural Prayer Service was “The Wiz Song.” Whether or not they could see in their mind’s eye Diana Ross and Michael Jackson dancing to celebrate the “Brand New Day” brought on by Dorothy’s killing of the Wicked Witch, each and every member of the congregation knew the meaning of the refrain “Everybody Rejoice!”: Everybody rejoice that the nation survived eight years of George W. Bush as President.
The Very Reverend Samuel T. Lloyd III welcomed everyone to “YOUR Cathedral,” reminding those assembled that the Cathedral was built to be “a spiritual home for the nation.” “It is no small thing,” Rev. Lloyd declared, “to welcome to this Cathedral not only our distinguished and gifted new president, but our first African American president.” Looking from President Obama back over his shoulder to the massive limestone Canterbury Pulpit, Rev. Lloyd reminded the congregation that it had been 40 years since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached his last Sunday sermon from that pulpit, before going to Memphis, where he was assassinated. President Obama, having been too young and too far away from Memphis to have shared in that memory, did not wince at this image, but there were many in the Cathedral who did. A handful of those present had attended the prayer service held by the Cathedral for Dr. King the week after his assassination in 1968. Still others recalled with bitter pain the Cathedral service honoring another young King — President John F. Kennedy — brutally murdered on November 23, 1963.
When Disciples of Christ Rev. Sharon Watkins gave the sermon some 35 minutes later, she opened with a story “attributed to Cherokee wisdom.” A grandfather, teaching his grandson about the conduct of life, told a story about two wolves struggling inside each person:
“One wolf is vengefulness, anger, resentment, self-pity, fear . . .
“The other wolf is compassion, faithfulness, hope, truth, love . . .”
The grandson sat, thinking, then asked: “Which wolf wins, Grandfather?”
His grandfather replied, “The one you feed.”
Anonymously invoking the words of Abraham Lincoln about “the better angels of our nature,” Rev. Watkins called on President Obama to hold off the wolf of vengefulness and fear, to stay centered on the sacred and foundational American values of hope, truth, and love.
Again, the unspoken understanding was that the nation had just emerged from a shameful episode when the raging wolf of vengeance had held full sway, not only within the heart of George Bush, but in all America. This handsome young black man standing tall in the Cathedral’s front pew surely would throw the hateful wolf from the temple, and restore the nation’s benevolent essential nature. Hadn’t America, by electing a black man as President, now redeemed itself from its original sin of slavery?
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Oaths and Covenants
This is the source of our confidence — the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.
— President Barack H. Obama, First Inaugural Address, 20 January 2009
The Inaugural Prayer Service came at the end of an unprecedented pageant of Presidential celebration. Barack Obama’s inauguration as the 44th President of the United States on January 20, 2009, along with setting a record for attendance of any event held in the nation’s capitol, was also among the most-observed events in human history; nearly 40 million TV and Web viewers joined the 1 to 2 million assembled on the Capitol Mall to watch the historic occasion. President Obama’s inaugural committee had chosen “A New Birth of Freedom” — the famous phrase from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address — as the inaugural theme, in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. Indeed, the ghost of Abraham Lincoln seemed to be everywhere Barack Obama went as he took his final steps toward the presidency. Three days earlier, the President-elect had begun a whistle stop train tour from Philadelphia to DC, reenacting in a vintage railroad car the final part of Lincoln’s 1861 journey toward his inaugural. In each of his speeches, Obama underscored the “new birth of freedom” theme, using immortal Lincoln phrases such as “the better angels of our nature,” and “a new declaration of independence.”
The next day, January 18th, nearly half a million people turned out for the We Are One inaugural concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Following the US Army Band’s performance of Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and The Star-Spangled Banner, actor Denzel Washington sought to unite Lincoln, Obama, and the entire nation with brief remarks punctuated by “three simple words that speak to who we are, and to our future; and they are. . .” Even before the honey-voiced actor could incant them, the massive crowd yelled out: WE! ARE! ONE!!!
Backed by a 125-member women’s choir, Bruce Springsteen kicked off the mega-event with his 2002 song The Rising:
Come on up for the rising,
Come on up, lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the rising
Come on up for the rising tonight
Barack and Michelle Obama — and most of the formally attired official guests with them — stood and swayed as Springsteen’s anthem crescendoed, even more gloriously here under the massive statue Abe’s watchful eye than it had on the night of November 4, 2008, in Chicago’s Grant Park, following Obama’s victorious presidential acceptance speech. Rolling Stone called Springsteen’s song a “national anthem for the 21st century.” Springsteen himself downplayed the linking of the song to the “New Birth of Freedom” that Obama — whom Springsteen had officially endorsed 6 months before the election — seemed to so many to embody: “If someone had told me in 2001 that ‘you’re going to sing this song at the inaugural concert for the first African-American president,’ I’d have said, ‘Huh?’ But eight years go by, and that’s where you find yourself. You’re in there, you’re swimming in the current of history and your music is doing the same thing.”
After dozens of performances by American rock and pop’s biggest stars, Springsteen was back a few hours later, to join nonagenarian Pete Seeger for Woody Guthrie’s folk anthem This Land is Your Land. For the occasion, Pete restored Woody’s most pugnacious lines — “But on the other side, it didn’t say nothing!”; “Nobody living can ever stop me!” — and the crowd happily joined in Pete’s characteristically righteous, but wholly polite, anger. Beyoncé and the entire ensemble then gathered in front of the Lincoln Statue for the concert’s final number — America the Beautiful — but the millions on the Mall went home singing “This land is made for you and me. . .” Woody Guthrie may have written these words, and Springsteen and Seeger had sung them, but Abe had with his deed of freeing the slaves truly enacted this anthem as a living reality for America.
When the moment finally arrived for the former attorney and Senator from Illinois to take the oath of office, another attorney and Congressman from Illinois was once again present. Obama’s left hand rested on the same Bible that had been used by Abraham Lincoln at his first inauguration in 1861. Television, newspapers, and magazines had been running stories about this thrilling fact for weeks, adding to the aura of historicity of this solemn occasion, when for the first time in United States history, an African-American would occupy the office of President.
Obama brought his inaugural address to a close with explicit reference to this stirring juxtaposition of destinies — exulting that “a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served in a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.” Then Obama in his address’s final sentence invoked God, and thus invoked Abraham Lincoln, for no American president ever called upon nor gave thanksgiving for the Lord as fervently and routinely as had Lincoln.
Most of the millions of people watching, although they could not see the Bible, knew it was Lincoln’s Bible, and for any person — especially African-Americans — anywhere upon Earth, who held the image of America as a land of Hope, as Obama’s campaign had explicitly promised, this was truly a shattering world-historical moment. At the sounding from this young, confident, beaming black man’s lips: “I, Barack Hussein Obama . . .” the whole world drew its breath, expectant, relieved, thrilled, if not a little anxious over what might come next.
What came next had actually already happened. Chief Justice John Roberts had quite carefully practiced for the ceremony, and had sent to Obama’s staff a script showing where he planned to pause in the recitation of the oath of office. The memo, it seems, never reached Obama, who interrupted Roberts with “I, Barack” just as Roberts was finishing “do solemnly swear.”
Obama backed up and repeated the entire phrase, but then, shaken by the broken cadence, Roberts made two errors in his rote recitation of the next line. Obama followed the mistaken version; Roberts attempted to correct the wording, but stumbled. Obama then repeated Roberts’ initial incorrect wording.
This all passed in less than 30 seconds, but it seemed much longer, since one could feel — the way one always does when in the presence of some verbal misstep, however slight — a collective holding of the breath among all the power brokers tightly gathered around the two men. Standing next to her mother, Malia, the Obamas’ older daughter, smiled anxiously, darting her head back and forth to see what might happen next.
When Chief Justice Roberts concluded the presidential oath with the phrase explicitly requested by Obama — “so help me God” — he instead pronounced: “so help you God,” and uttered it not as a statement, but as a question. His tone sounded almost disbelieving or even accusatory.
“So help me God,” Obama said, closing his eyes and nodding his head. The crowd erupted in applause as the Chief Justice — the first ever to administer the Presidential oath of office to a President-elect who had voted against his confirmation — congratulated now-President Obama.
The Lost Symbol
Washington National Cathedral, Langdon thought, feeling an unexpected anticipation at being back after all these years. Where better to ask about One True God.
“This Cathedral really has ten stone from Mount Sinai?” Katherine asked, gazing up at the twin bell towers.
Langdon nodded. “Near the main altar. They symbolize the Ten Commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai.”
“And there’s lunar rock?”
A rock from heaven itself. “Yes. One of the stained-glass windows is called the Space Window and has a fragment of moon rock embedded in it.”
— Dan Brown, The Lost Symbol (2009)
As the President and Vice-President, Cabinet members, Congress people, and a train of distinguished and dapper dignitaries filed out the west entrance of the National Cathedral under the shimmering rose window depicting Genesis’s injunction “Let there be light!”, they passed between the two Presidential bays — George Washington on the South and Abraham Lincoln on the North. The three Freemasonic symbols — the Masonic square, compass, and gavel — carved into the Cathedral wall behind the Washington statue were a reminder of the Capital city’s origins as a modern mystery center, a site of political, civic, and spiritual power that bridged from world history’s long series of “Romes” to a Novus Ordo Seclorum — a New Order of the Ages. The “New Birth of Freedom” that was this upstart republic seemed once again to wear a Providential aura worthy of a great temple like the Cathedral.
Just 8 months after the prayer service, Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, which would see an initial print run of 6.5 million copies — the largest in Random House’s publishing history, would bring the Cathedral into view as the home of Rev. Colin Galloway, the Dean of Washington National Cathedral. Though Brown’s Galloway was old and blind, given his enlightened views on the relation between science and religion, Brown clearly had modeled the novel’s character on the Cathedral’s current young and handsome Dean — Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III. In the novel, Dean Galloway is the close friend of fellow Freemason Peter Solomon, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, whose kidnapping sets the tale — and Brown’s dashing “symbologist” hero Robert Langdon — in motion.
Freemasons are as ubiquitous as politicians in Dan Brown’s Washington DC, and are portrayed not just as both the capital city’s and Constitution’s founding architects, but as enlightened contemporary aristocrats, guiding society towards the Good. Brown naturally integrated the Cathedral and Dean Lloyd/Galloway into The Lost Symbol because they so spectacularly embodied high Enlightenment aspirations, set in a genteel and privileged setting — a hallmark of all of Dan Brown’s novels, and expressive of his own prep school upbringing. The Cathedral provides a perfect backdrop for disclosing secret knowledge, Mystery knowledge of the sort that is widely believed to be the exclusive property of Freemasonry. Early on in the novel, while relaxing in a gazebo in the Cathedral’s Bishop’s Garden, Rev. Galloway gets word of an important phone call from fellow Freemason Warren Bellamy, architect of the Capitol Building. When the kidnapped Smithsonian Secretary’s sister Katherine Solomon and Robert Langdon come seeking insights from Dean Galloway, they climb up the grand stairway beneath the West entrance’s gloriously Gothic rose window. There, deep inside the silent medieval sanctuary, far from any prying adversarial eyes, Dean Galloway reveals that the 9-inch-tall polished granite pyramid given to Langdon by Bellamy is in fact a symbolic map.
“Caressing” the pyramid, Galloway tells Langdon: “This map, like the Ancient Mysteries themselves, has many layers of meaning. Its true secret remains veiled from you.” Galloway goes on to explain that the miniature Masonic pyramid is a modern version of the famed stone that released Excalibur into the hands of King Arthur, full of transformational magic. When the “Professor” Langdon protests against such crazy talk, Dean Galloway reassures the hopeful candidate for initiation by invoking the lesson of history, that human knowledge is always being superseded.
In one short chapter, Dan Brown mixes Albert Einstein, fractured Hermetic aphorisms, Psalm 82, and the CIA to seamlessly advance the most heretical — and most commonplace among his readership — of notions, that human beings are destined to become gods, replete with magical power. As he had done in The Da Vinci Code, Brown cleverly placed this recognition within his female protagonist, Katherine Solomon, who affirmed Dean Galloway’s — and Einstein’s — secret knowledge that the religion of the future would be a cosmic religion transcending a personal God, thus avoiding Christian dogma and theology.
Evidence that the promise of secret, magical knowledge holds contemporary Americans in total thralldom can be found everywhere. It is the bedrock premise of all contemporary “conspiracy theories,” whether right, left, or center, as surely as it is the looming leitmotif of all successful teen fantasy literature, from Harry Potter to Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson novels. That this adolescent fantasy has become the mainstay of adult literature, whether Dan Brown pseudo-esoteric tales or the X-Files, suggests either the further infantilization of American culture — which has always had the hallmark of adolescence about it — or that there really is some secret knowledge as yet to be discovered, that would unlock all the mysteries — scientific, religious, and even political — of the contemporary world.
“When you broke the seal on that box,” Dean Galloway tells Katherine Solomon, “you set in motion a series of events from which there will be no return. There are forces at work tonight that you do not yet comprehend. There is no turning back.” When Langdon respectfully objects that he can’t see how a stone pyramid could set anything in motion at all, the blind Cathedral Dean stares right through him: “Of course you can’t, Professor. You do not yet have eyes to see.”
I contend that we already have eyes to see the true mysteries that lie hidden in plain sight at both the Cathedral and throughout the landscape of Washington DC, and that, rather than promising ecumenical, secular, scientific mysteries with their secret roots in progressive, benevolent 18th century Freemasonry, these are black mysteries, spectacularly expressive of the Satanic “Principalities & Powers” spoken of so prophetically by St. Paul — with St. Peter, the patron saint and namesake of the Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, the true name of the National Cathedral.
* * *
That such silly palaver as Dan Brown dishes out actually passes in American pop culture for esotericism is symptomatic enough of a fallen mystery tradition, but the real “lesson of history” is that once a spiritual tradition loses its esoteric center, it does not just become prosaic and dull; it is inevitably invaded by dark spirits, hell bent on co-opting whatever remains, vampirizing the devotional intent of the faithful. Christ came into incarnation not because the ancient Mysteries — the Roman Empire, along with being a highly multicultural society, was also a multi-Mystery society, where intermingled African, Middle Eastern, Asian, and Northern European Mysteries — had become merely rote ritual supportive of the status quo; He came because Sadducees and Herodians and other black magical sects were actively working with the demonic world to detour humanity from its divinely planned path of evolution.
In our wholly secular contemporary world, it may seem outrageous to claim America, its capital city and Cathedral as centers of black magical spiritual power, or of any spiritual power at all. Washington is an altogether obvious, exoteric place, where on every block one encounters hordes of freshly minted, carefully coiffured young aspirants to political power. They all look more Mormon than Goth, and indeed, there are more than a few Mormons (and Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, and Jews) among them. They carry briefcases and Blackberries, not inverted pentagrams and candles.
The foolproof diagnostic for detecting fallen mystery centers is the stories they tell — and the ones they omit telling. Rev. Watkins’ “Cherokee” parable actually has its roots in a book published by Rev. Billy Graham in 1978, The Holy Spirit: Activating God’s Power in Your Life, where the tale was about an Eskimo fisherman with a pair of dogs, one black, one white. The story morphed through retelling in a 1997 collection of essays about life after death, and then a couple of movies where it was first “Apache” and then merely “Native American,” before emerging into the New Age mainstream, where Rev. Watkins caught wind of it to then lay it before the new President as an unthreateningly ecumenical invitation to the Good. It may seem mean-spirited to out this saccharine story as phony, and to suggest that its telling is symptomatic of a Satanic strain in the Cathedral’s theology. Surely it is no such thing. But the acute absence of the Gospels at the Inaugural Prayer Service, especially at its didactic and rhetorical heart — the sermon — shows a real retreat from the Gospels as seminal sacred texts that counted as common coin. Oprah, Marianne Williamson, James Redfield, and Deepak Chopra are now the prophets and priests, and their style of sentimentality more often than not wins the day over Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Dean Lloyd’s words are the ones that truly take one’s breath away, for in looking back toward the Canterbury Pulpit and invoking Martin Luther King’s memory, he must have been unaware that it was this capital city’s “machinery” that killed Dr. King, as surely as it killed Jack and Bobby Kennedy. The operators of that machinery came often to this Cathedral — especially to state functions like Presidential funerals and inaugural prayer services, where they rubbed elbows and exchanged pleasantries with high ecclesiastical authority. The good Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III was unaware of this because of a pervasive conspiracy among the mainstream media to silence the results of the January 1999 civil trial that exonerated James Earl Ray and implicated high officials of the National Security State in Dr. King’s murder. For over half a century, the Cathedral had played host to the very individuals who both initiated and then covered up these high crimes of the State. One can go the Cathedral website today, and access the archive of live webcasts and scan through photo galleries of the prayer inaugurals and other services, all neatly laid out as part and parcel of the Cathedral’s proud history. It is often literally a rogue’s gallery.
To be able to make such a troubling allusion as Dean Lloyd did at President Obama’s prayer service can be seen as acute evidence of the corruption of the body politic. That Dean Lloyd made that naïve allusion to Dr. King’s murder is alarming because it shows that our leaders draw parables from ersatz histories, oblivious to the criminal collaborators in their midst, if not themselves willing collaborators. When the high authorities of a temple are no longer initiates — true initiates, capable of communication with benevolent spiritual beings — they are susceptible to malevolent powers and beings, and so too are their congregations. Some day perhaps, watching President Obama’s Inaugural Prayer Service will seem a bit like it does to us today to watch Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will. We shudder in horror to see all those good German citizens thrill to every word and gesture of Der Führer, for even if it only unconsciously, we can see plainly that the Nuremberg rallies were spectacular rites of modern black magic.
* * *
Many of the guests at President Obama’s Inaugural Prayer Service craned their heads skyward as they entered the Cathedral, hoping for a glimpse of the great Gothic edifice’s most famous feature — the Darth Vader gargoyle on the North Tower. Running as it did not long after the debut of The Empire Strikes Back, it was no surprise that the winning entry for National Geographic World Magazine’s schoolchildren contest for a new Cathedral gargoyle should be the evil visage of Anakin Skywalker, the Jedi Knight who had turned toward the Dark Side. Three decades after the sculpture was set in place, it remains a fitting symbol of the Cathedral, and of the Empire that erected it. Darth Vader’s tragedy is America’s tragedy, a high and sublime aspiration toward the Good, mysteriously bent in the direction of Evil. Built ultimately more upon symbols and stories than upon stone, the Cathedral and the Republic-become-Empire are as fallen and corrupted as the villain Vader, and it is high time that Jedi Knights everywhere recovered the true story and the true symbol, at this time when we do indeed hold the whole World in our hands.