Masonic and Number Symbolism in “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe

CaskAmontilladoIt’s October, so I’ve decided to dedicate this month to reading and writing about works that fall into the genre of horror. I’ve always been fascinated by horror films and stories, not so much the slasher stuff that dominates the genre today, but art that forces us to face our inner darkness and fear. Also, I love horror that is symbolic and addresses more profound social and psychological issues. That said, I figured I’d begin with one of my favorite short horror stories: Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado.

It had been many, many years since I read this. Of course, I remembered the general story: the protagonist, Montresor, lures unsuspecting Fortunato into the catacombs by telling him he purchased some rare wine, then chains him up and bricks him into the wall alive. I had always looked at this as a dark tale of obsession, Montresor obsessed with seeking his revenge on Fortunato for some unstated wrong and Fortunato allowing himself to become trapped as a result of blindly following his obsession, which is wine. But something struck me on this reading that I had not caught before, and that is the symbolism of the number 11 and the association with Freemasonry.

MasonicTrowelThe first clue appears about halfway through the story, when they are in the catacombs:

I broke and reached him a flagon of De Grave. He emptied it at a breath. His eyes flashed with a fierce light. He laughed and threw the bottle upwards with a gesticulation I did not understand.

I looked at him in surprise. He repeated the movement — a grotesque one.

“You do not comprehend?” he said.

“Not I,” I replied.

“Then you are not of the brotherhood.”

“How?”

“You are not of the masons.”

“Yes, yes,” I said “yes! yes.”

“You? Impossible! A mason?”

“A mason,” I replied.

“A sign,” he said.

“It is this,” I answered, producing a trowel from beneath the folds of my roquelaire.

Clearly, Fortunato is a mason, and he thinks his guide into the catacombs is one of a lesser degree, which would explain why he failed to understand the gesture. At this point I began to view the descent into the vault as symbolic of the passage one takes in the masonic rites, going deeper and deeper into the shrouded mysteries. In fact, the paragraph that follows shortly after supports this idea.

“Be it so,” I said, replacing the tool beneath the cloak, and again offering him my arm. He leaned upon it heavily. We continued our route in search of the Amontillado. We passed through a range of low arches, descended, passed on, and descending again, arrived at a deep crypt, in which the foulness of the air caused our flambeaux rather to glow than flame.

It is worth noting that the opening quote in that paragraph is very similar to the occult phrase: “So mote it be.” I strongly suspect that this was intentional and that Poe was cleverly adding more occult references.

The number 11 becomes a key component to the story as Fortunato is being bricked into the wall. Montresor lays 11 tiers of brick to seal Fortunato into the wall.

It was now midnight, and my task was drawing to a close. I had completed the eighth, the ninth, and the tenth tier. I had finished a portion of the last and the eleventh; there remained but a single stone to be fitted and plastered in.

In Freemasonry, there are a total of 33 degrees of initiation, bringing the mason through the 3 stages: Apprentice, Fellow/Intermediate, and Master. So 33 divided by 3 gives us the 11. So as the last brick is put in place in the story, I couldn’t help thinking that it was symbolic of the completion of one of the masonic stages.

There is also another interesting association with the number 11 that may be relevant to the story, which has to do with Christianity. There were originally 12 disciples, but after Judas, there were only The Eleven. I couldn’t help wondering if Fortunato was also a symbol for Judas. After he is sealed into the wall, Montresor hears “only a jingling of the bells.” This conjured an image of the jingling of coins associated with Judas’s betrayal of Christ.

This tale is not only macabre and downright creepy, but there is some deep symbolism woven in. I recommend sitting down tonight and reading this story again. It’s a masterpiece on so many levels. Enjoy, and we will explore more tales from the dark side soon.

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “Masonic and Number Symbolism in “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe

  1. October always makes me look to horror and Gothic, too. In fact, I’m planning a Poe post of my own (great minds, right?). Poe is one of the masters, and I like nothing better this time of year than sitting down with one of his tales. After reading your post, “The Cask of Amontillado” is next up. Thanks for the new perspective!

    • Stuff Jeff Reads

      Thanks for your comment Nancy! Yes, October does bring out the Gothic in all of us. I look forward to reading your posts. Cheers!

  2. Cool new series, looking forward to it. I read this one at university at a literature class but I don’t remember the masonic symbolism being mentioned. It is pretty obvious the wayyou show it, though. Great post!

    • Stuff Jeff Reads

      Thanks for your comment. Yeah, I had never heard it mentioned before and I had never noticed it until this time. Sometimes we miss the things that are most obvious.

  3. Jus'Say'n

    Goethe’s Faust tell’s the tale
    Bett’r than ALL oth’r’s
    He explain’s it so well!!!

    The Crossroads and Oz
    Near all the same
    Lay out the Map
    To Fortune and Fame

    Fellow Travelers!
    The “Yellow Brick Road”
    It’s been “In your Face”
    Since days of old!!!

  4. After Judas’ betrayal, Jesus had 11 Apostles.. He had hundreds of disciples.

    I had not read The Cask of Amontillado until just recently, but just the first time through could agree about the occult symbolism pointing toward the Masonry or the FreeMasonry, possibly luciferian or satanist from the description of the family coat of arms
    “A huge human foot d’or, in a field azure; the foot crunches a serpent rampant whose fangs are imbedded in the heel.”

    Followed by the motto: “Nemo me impune lacessit.”
    translates to “No one attacks me with impunity.” or
    “You will not harm me with impunity”

    The foot crushing the head of the serpent, as the serpent strikes at the heel is symbolic directly to God’s promise in the Book of Genesis as Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden.
    God cursing the serpent, who was satan.
    “Cursed are you above all livestock
    and all wild animals!
    You will crawl on your belly
    and you will eat dust
    all the days of your life.
    And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring[a] and hers;
    he will crush[b] your head,
    and you will strike his heel.”

    The seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman, Jesus is the foretold seed of the woman, as He was born of immaculate conception between a woman and the Holy Spirit, with the absence of the seed of a man to be conceived. To pay the debt of the world’s sin he was the destined crusher of the serpent.

    So from the family motto plus coat of arms, Poe is indirectly associating himself, possibly even his bloodline/family with the serpent. Kind of changes the story perspective a bit. Poe was a sick puppy.. I wonder REALLY how sick though..? Peace and God bless.

  5. Michael

    My exploration leads me Here. Poe’s association to F.M. and Gnosticism; as entwined with ‘The Purloined Letter’; the theme characters, Minister D and Dupin implicated as brothers; the taking of knowledge, deceit, blackmail, obtaining power over exploiting weakness of others, the relation of the myth of Atreus and Thyestes; and the webbing of Mary Magdalene as Sophia, Wisdom and the True Companion of Christ… as “she hides here in plain sight”. Freemasonry’s “Be It So”; The Occults, “So Mote It Be”; and the Gnostic, All That Is”; share a common theme. Mary Magdalene and Christ came together for the purpose of Remembering. Remembering ourselves as ourself, which is the extension of thought recognizing thought; and coming to Realization. Secret society has attempted to “keep” this knowledge from the un-initiated to obviously gain power over others. “Others” being the mis-conception that we as individuals are separate from one another. Christ and MM are paired in Unity with the One-all. The Catholic Church, the Fathers of The Church know there is evidence that could bring them the “seeming” loss of power and destruction of the Empire or Kingdom of This World. I suspect Poe’s works to be much deeper that literary horror stories. He himself was very well initiated into Secret Society and integrated cryptic techniques to communicate with others of the same.
    As a reply to Matthew’s comment, the seed of the serpent along with the seed of Adam, separately, led to conception of Eve resulting in the birth of two sons. Two fathers, one mother, one womb at the same time (known as heteropaternal superfecundation) the sons Abel and Cain; and the similarity to the premise of the purloined letter and Poe’s quote “if such a sinister design isn’t worthy of Ateus, it is worthy of Thyestes”. It should also be remembered that the word, “sinister” is symbolic to anything that is to the left and is implied to be the feminine.
    There are theories that man toils and works the ground as a result of God’s condemnation of Adam’s seed, his sperm, being de-sanctified and wasted by his arousal and ejaculation at the happenstance in the Garden, his DNA lost, only to find the ground.
    Any-way.. we find ourselves in these pursuits coming by different paths; each seeking truth.
    As I said, I just happened to find “here” and felt inclined to add comment.
    Peace comes with Unity and acceptance and respecting all truth. I seek mine within and respect all others.

  6. Daria

    I just found your website. It was interesting. I think you might have something when it comes to the Masonic references. I’m not sure about the jester, though. That archetype could mean several things.

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