Tag Archives: freemasonry

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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Decoding an Arcane Manuscript

Manuscript

Illustration from original article published by Wired magazine.

I read a fascinating article in Wired magazine about how a group of people deciphered an arcane manuscript written by a secret society in the mid-1700’s. (Click here to read the article online.) They determined that the manuscript, referred to as the Copiale cipher, was written by members of a group called the Great Enlightened Society of Oculists.

According to the article, “the Oculists fixated on both the anatomy and symbolism of the eye. They focused on sight as a metaphor for knowledge. And they performed surgery on the eye.” While the eye is a recurring symbol in mysticism (for example, the eye atop a pyramid in Masonic imagery, or the eye of Horus), this group seems to have gone a step further and focused primarily on the eye.

The article continues by describing the historical significance of this accomplishment: “…decoding the Copiale was a significant achievement. Traditionally, historians have just ignored documents like this, because they don’t have the tools to make sense of them.” Secret societies, since they were in danger of death because of what they were studying, went to great lengths to hide their ideas and rituals. Because cyphers like this use symbols in place of letters and words, historians are unable to even determine the language in which these were originally written. Without a sense of the language, how would one even begin to start on figuring out a code?

Personally, I find articles like this very interesting. Just knowing that there is hidden knowledge out there, locked away in secret texts that have yet to be decoded, is the stuff of an Umberto Eco book. If you find this interesting too, definitely read the article in its entirety. It goes into a lot of detail and I’m sure you’ll find it inspiring.

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