He gave her a moment. Admittedly, the concept of sex as a pathway to God was mind-boggling at first. Langdon’s Jewish students always looked flabbergasted when he first told them that the early Jewish tradition involved ritualistic sex. In the Temple, no less. Early Jews believed that the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s Temple housed not only God but also His powerful female equal, Shekinah. Men seeking spiritual wholeness came to the Temple to visit priestesses—or hierodules—with whom they made love and experienced the divine through physical union. The Jewish
tetragrammaton YHWH—the sacred name of God—in fact derived from Jehovah, an androgynous physical union between the masculine Jah and the pre-Hebraic name for Eve, Havah.
“For the early Church,” Langdon explained in a soft voice, “mankind’s use of sex to commune directly with God posed a serious threat to the Catholic power base. It left the Church out of the loop, undermining their self-proclaimed status as the sole conduit to God. For obvious reasons, they worked hard to demonize sex and recast it as a disgusting and sinful act. Other major religions did the same.”
Sophie was silent, but Langdon sensed she was starting to understand her grandfather better. Ironically, Langdon had made this same point in a class lecture earlier this semester. “Is it surprising we feel conflicted about sex?” he asked his students. “Our ancient heritage and our very physiologies tell us sex is natural—a cherished route to spiritual fulfillment—and yet modern religion decries it as shameful, teaching us to fear our sexual desire as the hand of the devil.”
Langdon decided not to shock his students with the fact that more than a dozen secret societies around the world—many of them quite influential—still practiced sex rites and kept the ancient traditions alive. Tom Cruise’s character in the film Eyes Wide Shut discovered this the hard way when he sneaked into a private gathering of ultraelite Manhattanites only to find himself witnessing Hieros Gamos. Sadly, the filmmakers had gotten most of the specifics wrong, but the basic gist was there—a secret society communing to celebrate the magic of sexual union.
“Professor Langdon?” A male student in back raised his hand, sounding hopeful. “Are you saying that instead of going to chapel, we should have more sex?”
Langdon chuckled, not about to take the bait. From what he’d heard about Harvard parties, these kids were having more than enough sex. “Gentlemen,” he said, knowing he was on tender ground, “might I offer a suggestion for all of you. Without being so bold as to condone premarital sex, and without being so naive as to think you’re all chaste angels, I will give you this bit of advice about your sex lives.”
All the men in the audience leaned forward, listening intently. “The next time you find yourself with a woman, look in your heart
and see if you cannot approach sex as a mystical, spiritual act. Challenge yourself to find that spark of divinity that man can only achieve through union with the sacred feminine.”
The women smiled knowingly, nodding.
The men exchanged dubious giggles and off-color jokes. Langdon sighed. College men were still boys.
Sophie’s forehead felt cold as she pressed it against the plane’s window and stared blankly into the void, trying to process what Langdon had just told her. She felt a new regret well within her. Ten years. She pictured the stacks of unopened letters her grandfather had sent her. I will tell Robert everything. Without turning from the window, Sophie began to speak. Quietly. Fearfully.
As she began to recount what had happened that night, she felt herself drifting back … alighting in the woods outside her grandfather’s Normandy château … searching the deserted house in confusion … hearing the voices below her … and then finding the hidden door. She inched down the stone staircase, one step at a time, into that basement grotto. She could taste the earthy air. Cool and light. It was March. In the shadows of her hiding place on the staircase, she watched as the strangers swayed and chanted by flickering orange candles.
I’m dreaming, Sophie told herself. This is a dream. What else could this be?
The women and men were staggered, black, white, black, white. The women’s beautiful gossamer gowns billowed as they raised in their right hands golden orbs and called out in unison, “I was with you in the beginning, in the dawn of all that is holy, I bore you from the womb before the start of day.”
The women lowered their orbs, and everyone rocked back and forth as if in a trance. They were revering something in the center of the circle.
What are they looking at?
The voices accelerated now. Louder. Faster.
“The woman whom you behold is love!” The women called, raising their orbs again.
The men responded, “She has her dwelling in eternity!”
The chanting grew steady again. Accelerating. Thundering now.
Faster. The participants stepped inward and knelt.
In that instant, Sophie could finally see what they were all watching.
On a low, ornate altar in the center of the circle lay a man. He was naked, positioned on his back, and wearing a black mask. Sophie instantly recognized his body and the birthmark on his shoulder. She almost cried out. Grand-père! This image alone would have shocked Sophie beyond belief, and yet there was more.
Straddling her grandfather was a naked woman wearing a white mask, her luxuriant silver hair flowing out behind it. Her body was plump, far from perfect, and she was gyrating in rhythm to the chanting—making love to Sophie’s grandfather.
Sophie wanted to turn and run, but she couldn’t. The stone walls of the grotto imprisoned her as the chanting rose to a fever pitch. The circle of participants seemed almost to be singing now, the noise rising in crescendo to a frenzy. With a sudden roar, the entire room seemed to erupt in climax. Sophie could not breathe. She suddenly realized she was quietly sobbing. She turned and staggered silently up the stairs, out of the house, and drove trembling back to Paris.
The chartered turboprop was just passing over the twinkling lights of Monaco when Aringarosa hung up on Fache for the second time. He reached for the airsickness bag again but felt too drained even to be sick.
Just let it be over!
Fache’s newest update seemed unfathomable, and yet almost nothing tonight made sense anymore. What is going on? Everything had spiraled wildly out of control. What have I gotten Silas into? What have I gotten myself into!
On shaky legs, Aringarosa walked to the cockpit. “I need to change destinations.”
The pilot glanced over his shoulder and laughed. “You’re joking, right?”
“No. I have to get to London immediately.” “Father, this is a charter flight, not a taxi.”
“I will pay you extra, of course. How much? London is only one hour farther north and requires almost no change of direction, so—”
“It’s not a question of money, Father, there are other issues.” “Ten thousand euro. Right now.”
The pilot turned, his eyes wide with shock. “How much? What kind of priest carries that kind of cash?”
Aringarosa walked back to his black briefcase, opened it, and removed one of the bearer bonds. He handed it to the pilot.
“What is this?” the pilot demanded.
“A ten-thousand-euro bearer bond drawn on the Vatican Bank.” The pilot looked dubious.
“It’s the same as cash.”
“Only cash is cash,” the pilot said, handing the bond back.
Aringarosa felt weak as he steadied himself against the cockpit door. “This is a matter of life or death. You must help me. I need to get to London.”
The pilot eyed the bishop’s gold ring. “Real diamonds?”
Aringarosa looked at the ring. “I could not possibly part with this.” The pilot shrugged, turning and focusing back out the windshield. Aringarosa felt a deepening sadness. He looked at the ring.
Everything it represented was about to be lost to the bishop anyway. After a long moment, he slid the ring from his finger and placed it gently on the instrument panel.
Aringarosa slunk out of the cockpit and sat back down. Fifteen seconds later, he could feel the pilot banking a few more degrees to the north.
Even so, Aringarosa’s moment of glory was in shambles.
It had all begun as a holy cause. A brilliantly crafted scheme. Now, like a house of cards, it was collapsing in on itself … and the end was nowhere in sight.
Langdon could see Sophie was still shaken from recounting her experience of Hieros Gamos. For his part, Langdon was amazed to have heard it. Not only had Sophie witnessed the full-blown ritual, but her own grandfather had been the celebrant … the Grand Master of the Priory of Sion. It was heady company. Da Vinci, Botticelli, Isaac Newton, Victor Hugo, Jean Cocteau … Jacques Saunière.
“I don’t know what else I can tell you,” Langdon said softly.
Sophie’s eyes were a deep green now, tearful. “He raised me like his own daughter.”
Langdon now recognized the emotion that had been growing in her eyes as they spoke. It was remorse. Distant and deep. Sophie Neveu had shunned her grandfather and was now seeing him in an entirely different light.
Outside, the dawn was coming fast, its crimson aura gathering off the starboard. The earth was still black beneath them.
“Victuals, my dears?” Teabing rejoined them with a flourish, presenting several cans of Coke and a box of old crackers. He apologized profusely for the limited fare as he doled out the goods. “Our friend the monk isn’t talking yet,” he chimed, “but give him time.” He bit into a cracker and eyed the poem. “So, my lovely, any headway?” He looked at Sophie. “What is your grandfather trying to tell us here? Where the devil is this headstone? This headstone praised by Templars.”
Sophie shook her head and remained silent.
While Teabing again dug into the verse, Langdon popped a Coke and turned to the window, his thoughts awash with images of secret rituals and unbroken codes. A headstone praised by Templars is the key. He took a long sip from the can. A headstone praised by Templars. The cola was warm.
The dissolving veil of night seemed to evaporate quickly, and as Langdon watched the transformation, he saw a shimmering ocean
stretch out beneath them. The English Channel. It wouldn’t be long now.
Langdon willed the light of day to bring with it a second kind of illumination, but the lighter it became outside, the further he felt from the truth. He heard the rhythms of iambic pentameter and chanting, Hieros Gamos and sacred rites, resonating with the rumble of the jet.
A headstone praised by Templars.
The plane was over land again when a flash of enlightenment struck him. Langdon set down his empty can of Coke hard. “You won’t believe this,” he said, turning to the others. “The Templar headstone—I figured it out.”
Teabing’s eyes turned to saucers. “You know where the headstone is?”
Langdon smiled. “Not where it is. What it is.” Sophie leaned in to hear.
“I think the headstone references a literal stone head,” Langdon explained, savoring the familiar excitement of academic breakthrough. “Not a grave marker.”
“A stone head?” Teabing demanded. Sophie looked equally confused.
“Leigh,” Langdon said, turning, “during the Inquisition, the Church accused the Knights Templar of all kinds of heresies, right?”
“Correct. They fabricated all kinds of charges. Sodomy, urination on the cross, devil worship, quite a list.”
“And on that list was the worship of false idols, right? Specifically, the Church accused the Templars of secretly performing rituals in which they prayed to a carved stone head … the pagan god—”
“Baphomet!” Teabing blurted. “My heavens, Robert, you’re right!
A headstone praised by Templars!”
Langdon quickly explained to Sophie that Baphomet was a pagan fertility god associated with the creative force of reproduction. Baphomet’s head was represented as that of a ram or goat, a common symbol of procreation and fecundity. The Templars honored Baphomet by encircling a stone replica of his head and chanting prayers.
“Baphomet,” Teabing tittered. “The ceremony honored the creative magic of sexual union, but Pope Clement convinced everyone that Baphomet’s head was in fact that of the devil. The Pope used the head of Baphomet as the linchpin in his case against the Templars.”
Langdon concurred. The modern belief in a horned devil known as Satan could be traced back to Baphomet and the Church’s attempts to recast the horned fertility god as a symbol of evil. The Church had obviously succeeded, although not entirely. Traditional American Thanksgiving tables still bore pagan, horned fertility symbols. The cornucopia or “horn of plenty” was a tribute to Baphomet’s fertility and dated back to Zeus being suckled by a goat whose horn broke off and magically filled with fruit. Baphomet also appeared in group photographs when some joker raised two fingers behind a friend’s head in the V-symbol of horns; certainly few of the pranksters realized their mocking gesture was in fact advertising their victim’s robust sperm count.
“Yes, yes,” Teabing was saying excitedly. “Baphomet must be what the poem is referring to. A headstone praised by Templars.”
“Okay,” Sophie said, “but if Baphomet is the headstone praised by Templars, then we have a new dilemma.” She pointed to the dials on the cryptex. “Baphomet has eight letters. We only have room for five.”
Teabing grinned broadly. “My dear, this is where the Atbash Cipher comes into play.”
Langdon was impressed. Teabing had just finished writing out the entire twenty-two-letter Hebrew alphabet—alef-beit—from memory. Granted, he’d used Roman equivalents rather than Hebrew characters, but even so, he was now reading through them with flawless pronunciation.
A B G D H V Z Ch T Y K L M N S O P Tz Q R Sh Th
“Alef, Beit, Gimel, Dalet, Hei, Vav, Zayin, Chet, Tet, Yud, Kaf, Lamed, Mem, Nun, Samech, Ayin, Pei, Tzadik, Kuf, Reish, Shin, and Tav.” Teabing dramatically mopped his brow and plowed on. “In formal Hebrew spelling, the vowel sounds are not written. Therefore, when we write the word Baphomet using the Hebrew alphabet, it will lose its three vowels in translation, leaving us—”
“Five letters,” Sophie blurted.
Teabing nodded and began writing again. “Okay, here is the proper spelling of Baphomet in Hebrew letters. I’ll sketch in the missing vowels for clarity’s sake.
B a P V o M e Th
“Remember, of course,” he added, “that Hebrew is normally written in the opposite direction, but we can just as easily use Atbash this way. Next, all we have to do is create our substitution scheme by rewriting the entire alphabet in reverse order opposite the original alphabet.”
“There’s an easier way,” Sophie said, taking the pen from Teabing. “It works for all reflectional substitution ciphers, including the Atbash. A little trick I learned at the Royal Holloway.” Sophie wrote the first half of the alphabet from left to right, and then, beneath it, wrote the second half, right to left. “Cryptanalysts call it the fold- over. Half as complicated. Twice as clean.”