One’s perspective of any secret society is likely to be at least partly formed by whether or not one is a member of it. The secret society that Dan Brown deals with in The Da Vinci Code is the Priory of Sion which, we are led to believe through the evidence, has operated powerfully and under wraps for centuries. There have also been several secret societies that are suspected of an association with the Priory of Sion.

The Sovereign and Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem

This society was.founded in its present form in only 1804. However, they claim that Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, left a charter legitimizing their society when he was executed in 1314. This charter is generally thought to be genuine, although some historians doubt its authenticity. As the order is largely devoted to charitable works, it is not perceived as a threat.

Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln met its Grand Master several times in 1982 . They were told that a faction had broken away and established itself as a neo-Templar organization in Switzerland and that it was run by Anton Zapelli. This name rang a bell with Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln as they had been told some years before that a person named Zapelli was the real power behind the Priory of Sion. After some investiga­tion they discovered that Zapelli was involved not only in pri­vate banking, but in the establishment of”the role of modern Templars in the reunification of Europe,” which, according to Zapelli, was the original intention of the Templars. What they meant by “Europe” was the countries stretching from the Atlantic and the Mediterranean to the Urals of western Russia. They have almost achieved what they claimed to want in the present European Union, which currently spreads from Ireland in the west to Poland in the east.

P2

P2 (its full name is Raggruppamento Gelli Propaganda Due), founded in 1966, is a Masonic Lodge which was also involved in the fight against communism. In the opinion of the leader of Italy’s Republican Party at the time, P2 became “the center of pollution of national life -secret, perverse, and corrupting.” It brought down the government of pre­mier Arnaldo Forlani. It acted as a conduit for the supply of funds from the Vatican and the CIA to anti-communist organizations in Europe and Latin America. P2 was exposed when “God’s banker,” Roberto Calvi, was found murdered, hanging under London’s Blackfriars Bridge in 1982. Calvi funneled millions ofVatican dollars to the Polish revolution­ary group “Solidarity.” When Calvi’s own private bank was in trouble, he went to the Vatican for help, making vague threats that he would expose the origin of Solidarity’s sup­port. He lived for a further twelve days before his untimely
death -and the disappearance of his briefcase, which the Vatican later bought for about 10 million euros.

Some say that P2 was (and probably still is) controlled by the Mafia. Others that the KGB, CIA or even the Priory of Sion are responsible.

The way in which P2 operated was through the Grand Master, Licio Gelli, convincing potential members that he had huge influence and they believed that Gelli could pave the way for their own personal greater success. This system was self-perpetuating and Gelli’s power increased exponen­tially. He managed to extract official secrets from his mem­bers that he could use both to increase his power and to blackmail others.

In 1981, after the police raided Gelli’s premises, they found the membership lists, which were published in the Italian press. One of the headings was “Opus Dei” and one of the members was listed as Giulio Andreotti, the Christian Democratic politician who was six times Prime Minister of Italy and alleged to be a member of the Priory of Sion. In 1995 he was accused of selling political favors to the Mafia and of complicity in the murder of a journalist in 1979. In 1999 he was acquitted of both charges. This decision was upheld in the appeals court in 2003.
The Sovereign and Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem was also mentioned in the P2 membership list.

Compagnie de Saint-Sacrement

The Compagnie de Saint-Sacrement was founded between 1627 and 1629. Some consider it to be so similar to the Priory of Sion that they were in fact the same organization or that the Priory controlled the Compagnie. It is a rare example of a secret society whose history is well document­ed. The Priory of Sion documents claim that the Priory “dedicated itself to deposing Mazarin,” and refer often to the Compagnie. It was Mazarin, in the seventeenth century, who acted as chief minister of France under Louis XIV. His administration was so unpopular that opposition to him initiated the civil wars that are referred to as “the Fronde.”

The Compagnie is well-known in France. However it was so secretive that even its members were unaware of who ran it and initiates were led to believe that it was devoted to char­itable work. Its influence radiated from the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice in Paris, which is where the character of Silas tries to find the “keystone” in The Da Vinci Code. In fact Jean­Jacques Olier, the founder of Saint-Sulpice, was closely asso­ciated with the Compagnie. Other well-known families who were connected with the Fronde and the Priory of Sion were also associated with it. At the center of the activities of the Compagnie was what is referred to as “the Secret,” the identity ofwhich nobody is aware. It is now thought that its activities involved espionage, particularly in royal circles and other institutions such as the legal profession, the police, and the government. Although its raison d’etre was supposed­ly to oppose heresy, it was accused of heresy itself by Catholic authorities.
King Louis XIV ordered the Compagnie to disband in 1660, but his wishes were successfully ignored for five years until 1665. All its documents were collected and deposited in an unknown place, suspected to be Saint-Sulpice. The Compagnie seemed merely to go underground, however, and it was said to survive into the twentieth century. In 1667, the French playwright and staunch royalist, Moliere, staged a play called Le Tartuffe which had clear and damaging references to the Compagnie. The Compagnie showed its continuing influ­ence by getting the play banned for two years.
The Origins of Tarot
The origins of the “Game of Tarot” are obscure, but it was likely to have been introduced into France to amuse the jaded and manically depressed Charles VI who reigned from 1380 to 14 2 2. It also appeared in Italy at about the same time. The tarot was used in France as an amusement until relatively recently. Some cards, dating from the fourteenth and fifteenth cen­turies, which show figures similar to those found on present day tarot cards, have survived. A simple card game which included theological “Virtues and Vices” was played in Italy. The author ofthe tarot as we now know it was likely to be one of the Hebrew cabbalists who wanted to present ancient Eastern wisdom into Europe and modernized the symbols accordingly. He was no doubt aware of the power ofusing the medium of a pastime to get his message across effectively. A similar recent example is ·the pack of cards published by the American military with the images of wanted Iraqis. Dan Brown’s assertion in The DaVinci Code that the tarot describes the story of “the Lost Bride and her subjugation by the evil church” is perhaps far-fetched but not impossible.
Contrary to what Brown says, as Tracy Twyman and Boyd Rice state in their book Vessel of God, it is a proven, though lit­tle known fact that the Minor Arcana derives from the mod­ern card pack and not the other way around.
There is no evidence that it was used for fortune telling until the end of the sixteenth or beginning of the seven­teenth centuries. Significantly, neither Paracelsus nor
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Boissard mention the tarot in their treatises on divination in the sixteenth century. The first mention of the tarot’s use in this way was in a book published in Frankfurt in the early seventeenth century. It was not used widely for divination until the eighteenth century and was first employed by Gypsies. From the eighteenth century, tarot’s association with the esoteric was established by different writers and we have inherited these ideas.
However, the symbolism of some of the cards in the Major Arcana dates back to at least the second century AD. Egyptian culture had had a strong influence on Greek culture and the concept of divine unity, of which the Sun was an important component, endured. The knowledge behind their beliefs was conveyed in symbols of which only initiates knew the key. The external rituals of their religion served simply as a physical manifestation of these beliefs.
Such symbols may be associated with the tarot in which the Major Arcana (22 cards) can be interpreted as spiritu­al matters and trends in the questioner’s life, while the Minor Arcana ( 5 6 cards) reflects business and career mat­ters. The use of such symbolism is seen in Chinese charac­ters and even western heraldry.
The tarot could therefore be said to be a book written in symbols that emanate from the ideas of ancient Egypt, Asia Minor and the Science of the Universe as it was perceived in the second century. However, as Twyman and Rice point out, many scholars also speculate that playing cards were brought and adapted to Europe by the Knights Templar and that the descendants ofTemplars had a decisive role in the formation of the tarot.
Dan Brown writes that swords correspond to spades in pres­ent-day playing cards, hearts to cups, clubs to scepters ( or wands) and diamonds to pentacles. However it is generally accepted that clubs correspond to pentacles and diamonds to wands. The modern tarot pack is based upon the Venetian
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or Piedmontese tarot. Each card has its own meaning: wands are associated with business matters, cups with love, swords with conflict and pentacles with money and materi­al comfort. The cards are laid out in front of the questioner by the fortune-teller and a few cards are selected by either the fortune-teller or the questioner in what is known as a “spread.” The meaning of the card is dependent on whether or not it is upside down, its position in the spread and the cards that precede and follow it.
History of the Vatican Observatory and Castel Gandolfo
The Vatican Observatory
The Vatican Observatory is reputed to be one of the oldest astronomical institutions in the world. It can first be traced to Pope Gregory XIII setting up a committee to look into the scientific implications of reforming the calendar in 1 5 8 2. Since that time the Papacy has expressed interest in astronomical matters and founded three early observato­ries -the Observatory of the Roman College ( 1 7 7 4 ­1878), the Observatory of the Capitol (1827 -1870), and the Specula Vaticana { 1 7 8 9 -1 8 2 1) in the Tower of the Winds which is situated inside the Vatican. In the nine­teenth century, the well-known Jesuit Father Angelo Secchi broke new ground by classifying the stars according to their spectra. In answer to an accusation of the Catholic Church ignoring the advance of science, the Specula Vaticana was re-founded in 1891 by Pope Leo XIII and located on a hillside behind the dome at St. Peter’s Basilica. The intention was to map out the whole sky, but it was moved to Castel Gandolfo in 1936 (see below.) Participants in the Observatory’s activities were made by the various religious orders, including the Augustinians and Jesuits. One of the most notable was Johann Georg Hagen, a Jesuit priest and astronomer who discovered and studied dark clouds of tenuous, interstellar matter some­times known as Hagen’s clouds. In 1906 Pope Pius X appointed him director of the Vatican Observatory. In 1981, because of the continuing encroachment of light affecting observations, the Observatory was moved again,
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this time as the Vatican Observatory Research Group (VORG) in Tucson, Arizona. The Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope is now situated at Mount Graham,
Arizona.
Castel Gandolfo
The village and castle of Castel Gandolfo is situated in the Roma provincia in the Lazio (Latium) regioneI, in central Italy. It is on the shores of Lake Albano, about 35 kilometers south­east of Rome, and has been a summer residence of the Popes since the construction of the Apolostolic, or Papal, Palace.
Its name originates from the castle which belonged to the ducal Gandalfi family of the twelfth century. Construction of the Palace was begun by Pope Urban VIII who reigned as Pope from 1623 -1644. It is officially part of the Vatican State and the former Villa Barberini was built on the ruins of a villa of the Roman Emperor Domitian. It housed the Vatican Observatory from 1936 when it was realized that the lights of Rome were preventing the furthest stars from being observed at the Observatory in Vatican City. Two new telescopes and an astrophysical laboratory were installed. The Castle library has about 22,000 books including rare antique books by Copernicus, Galileo and Sir Isaac Newton. The village was used in the 1960 Olympic Games for the rowing events and the area has a reputation for peaches, wine and fish from the lake.
The Gnostic Gospels
The word Gnostic comes from the Greek gnosis meaning “knowledge,” especially esoteric knowledge. Gnosticism is a system of religious dualism; that is the belief that the co­equal powers of good and evil ruled the universe.’ Some also believed in “Abraxas,” who was believed to be omnipo­tent and both good and evil.
‘ Some Gnostics believed that the material world, ruled by the God who creat­ed it, “Rex Mundi'” (King of the World) is evil, whereas the spiritual world, which was created by the God who rules it, was considered to be good.

The term “Abraxas” was used by the Basilideans who were a second century Gnostic sect. The magical word “Abracadabra” derives from this name. Their belief was that Jesus Christ had come from Abraxas and lived as a phantom on Earth. They attached special significance to the name Abraxas as it contains all seven of the Greek letters that add up to 3 65, the number of days in three out of four years. As an extension of this, Abraxas was believed to rule over 365 gods who each possessed a virtue, meaning that each day of the year was assigned a specific virtue.
The Gnostic Gospels ultimately feel under the category of what is referred to as the New Testament Apocrypha. The term “Apocrypha” originally meant that the writings were secret and they were accepted only by some Christians and minori­ty heretical groups. From the fourth century onwards it came to refer to books that were not read publicly in church. Eventually their status in the eyes of the church diminished to the extent that they were said to be forgeries.
The Gnostic Gospels are written in the names of, or about, the apostles, but were not by them. They were written during the second century AD, before the list of accepted books of New Testament was drawn up. Originally there were many different gospels, but in 3 6 7 AD, Bishop Athanasius ofAlexandria select­ed some of the writings and these texts were then agreed and approved at the Council of Hippo in 393 AD. The list was cut down further later on and finally it was only the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John which were approved.
These wntmgs were gradually excluded from Christian reading, both public and private. Most have survived only as fragments but some have been found in Greek and Coptic papyrus from Egypt. They reflect popular beliefs of the day about Christ, his followers and Christian traditions. The cler­gy believed that what was written about Christ in these books was false and so did not give their permission for them to be read.
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