Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/12/2006 (3553 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In this, the 11th chapter of a special two-week series, Carolin meets a sphinx.
IT took us just a few minutes to reach the roof, by way of a catacomb-like hallway with a low ceiling. "There's the little pyramid that first caught my eye up here,"
Frank Albo said, giving me the guided tour.
"Right over there," he said,
pointing, "is where I had to lean out to get the measurements of the Ark. The work crew was right up there at the base of the dome."
Then he stopped in front of one of two massive stone creatures. "And here," he said, "are the sphinxes."
The scale of the carvings amazed me. I supposed most people entering the legislature didn't even notice the two of them up over the pediment. But up close, they're huge.
Frank is about 5-10, and when he stood between the lion's paws, he didn't come up to eye level with the creature's human face.
On its massive chest, under its nose and between its leonine paws, was a flat block of limestone with what looked like Egyptian hieroglyphs carved into it.
Frank traced the symbols, his finger ever so slightly shaking with excitement. The top was a simple circle. Below it was a shallow horizontal rectangle with nine balls on top of it. It looked like a chess board viewed from eye level, except that there would be just eight, not nine, men visible on the chess board. Third and last was a scarab beetle.
"These things are on the bloody roof," Frank said. "Tell me, why would anyone bother with all this detail on their chests? No one could ever see it from the ground."
"What does it mean?" I asked.
"To occultists, hieroglyphics is the tongue of magic, " Frank explained, "a kind of mystical Morse code which could awaken the gods.
"I took a sketch of this to one of my Toronto profs, an Egyptologist, who became very excited when he saw it.
"It turns out the circle at the top represents the sun god Re.
"The game board in the middle is pronounced 'men,' and it means 'everlasting.'
"And the beetle, pronounced 'kheper,' means 'the manifestation of.'
"A modern Egyptologist would read this 'men kheper Re,' meaning 'the everlasting manifestation of the sun god Re.'
"My prof told me I should know this one: The three symbols carved within the oval are the throne name of one of the pharaohs, and he was right -- I should have known it. It was Thutmosis III. The name means 'born of the god Thoth.' "
Frank paused, and I suspect he was surprised for a second or two that my eyes didn't light up in recognition of the name. Instead, I just repeated, "Thutmosis III?"
"One of the more famous pharaohs," Frank said. "He ruled from 1504 to 1452 BCE. He's celebrated for being a prolific temple builder, and the greatest military strategist of ancient Egypt. But I think what's most significant about him is that some Masons and a very unique Rosicrucian Order trace their origin to a Mystery School he supposedly founded in 1489 BCE. Its elite members apparently performed secret rituals and claimed to possess occult knowledge.
"The hieroglyphs outside the oval say 'the good god who gives life.' So essentially the whole thing says: 'The everlasting manifestation of the sun god Re, the good god who gives life."
"The prof asked me what temple I got the inscription from," Frank said.
He turned to me and raised an eyebrow.
"I told him the Manitoba Legislative Building."
I looked away, out over the city, toward the downtown towers, and tried to make sense of what I'd seen. It seemed like the kind of inscription you'd find in the Valley of the Kings, not in the heart of Winnipeg.
"So you think Frank Worthington Simon was paying tribute to the roots of Freemasonry by setting up these sphinxes with the pharaoh's name on them?" I asked.
Frank flashed me a full-dimpled grin. "Not exactly," he said, coyly.
"You're right about Freemasonry being at the roots, but only at the roots.
"Perhaps some of the astute Master Masons in Roblin's government would have picked up on the theme of the 'blazing star' in the pool, or maybe the relationship between the Holy of Holies and the lieutenant-governor's suite. But I seriously doubt any of them would have acknowledged, or condoned, any occult dabblings with mystical numbers and hieroglyphs in their provincial capitol.
"Simon was an arrogant man and didn't take criticism lightly, especially from men he likely considered Prairie hicks.
"My research kept prodding me in this direction. And The Smoking Man gave me enough clues to begin looking beyond the usual three-degree system of Freemasonry and more closely at the occultism that was spreading throughout Europe at the time.
"But it was after I knew what the sphinx was saying that I focused on the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn."
"Hermetic?" I said. "As in pertaining to Hermes? And what's this Golden Dawn?"
"Hermes is right," said Frank. "And as for Golden Dawn -- it's a reference to a 'golden dawning' age of enlightenment brought about through the study of occult arts."
The late-afternoon sun was unrelenting, and we moved around into the shade of the sphinx. Way down and to the north, I could see kids splashing in the cool mist of the fountains at Memorial Park.
"Anyway, here's what I know," Frank said. "The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was founded in London in 1888 by three Freemasons. Its ceremonies incorporated Egyptian revivalism, Christian Kabbalah, Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry, but the primary focus was ritual magic. It was the most influential magical order to emerge from the late 19th-century occult revival.
"Most of its members came from the comfortable middle class, but unlike Freemasonry, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn welcomed women.
"Its hierarchical structure was divided into 10 degrees, based on an ascent through the Sephiroth of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. As initiates progressed, they became increasingly adept in the Hebrew alphabet, alchemy, tarot, astrology and other forms of divination. The main motive of passing through the degrees was to develop the personality through the higher self, and achieve godlike status by identifying with universal energies and archetypes.
"Godlike status? Seriously?" I said.
"Absolutely serious," Frank said.
"Members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn supposedly did this through writing exams and participating in theatrical rituals -- which took place in specially designed temples named after Egyptian gods."
"One of those temples, the Amen-Ra Temple, opened in Edinburgh in 1893."
"Edinburgh?" I interrupted. "In 1893? And didn't you tell me that... "
"That Frank Worthington Simon was in Edinburgh then?
"Indeed he was, and one of the city's leading citizens, too. So if an exclusive intellectual circle opened in Edinburgh in 1893, Frank Worthington Simon would have known about it and perhaps even sought out membership.
"Does the name of the lodge remind you of something?" he asked.
"Hmmm, Amen-Ra ... you mean, the hieroglyph on the sphinx's chest?" I ventured.
"Coincidence?" asked Frank. "Maybe.
"Kalfou gave a lecture at U of W about the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. He focused on two of its most notorious members. One was Aleister Crowley, sometimes called the 'wickedest man in the world.' He was an occultist, a Freemason, a mountain climber, a painter, a sexual revolutionary and a drug addict."
"What earned him the tag 'wickedest man in the world?'" I asked.
"That's what the newspapers called him," Frank said. "He was an occult rock star and loved to shock people. His face appeared on the cover of The Beatles Sergeant Peppers album. He would say things like, 'I serve my great master, Satan' but he was not a Satanist. He identified himself with the number 666, and I mean the 666 of the Book of Revelation, not the protective version.
"Maybe he wasn't any wickeder than the next heroin-using, bisexual occultist, but he was the most brazen about it, and that was enough to get you labelled 100 years ago.
"The other member Kalfou lectured about was William Butler Yeats, the great Irish poet. He won the Nobel Prize in 1923."
"So Simon was a Golden Dawn member, too?" I asked.
"I wish I knew for sure," Frank said. "Of all the mysteries in that building, he's the hardest puzzle to crack."
We walked back to the stairway in silence, and back down into the dim light of the building. I mulled over what Frank had told me, and he didn't say another word until we got to the rotunda again. But when he did, his words came tripping out.
"Simon would have certainly been aware of Hermeticism, and perhaps was introduced to one of the many Hermetic orders that were flourishing while he was studying in Paris.
"Georges Gardet, who sculpted the bison and the Golden Boy, was a Beaux-Arts student, too."
Frank opened the door to the Legislative Chamber and gestured dramatically to the great arching mural that overlooks the assembly, behind and above the Speaker's chair. "And so was the man who painted that mural," he said. "Augustus Tack."
I studied the mural for a moment and gasped.
"Frank," I said, "Just look at the sides of that painting."