The Foreword to Turning The Solomon Key
Written by Katherine Neville
“It was a dark and stormy night...” That may sound like the traditional opening of a thriller novel--but it is also a very accurate description of the meteorological setting on the night when Karl Pribram and I first met Robert Lomas. Ensconced in a comfy booth at the restaurant of the Hotel Kirkwall in Orkney, and undaunted by the pounding rain and wild waves crashing against the sea wall just outside, we passed four hours over dinner in scintillating conversation, along with our companions-- old friend Andrej Detela, a fascinating Slovenian physicist, and Robert’s erstwhile co-author of his early books, Christopher Knight.
All five of us had been invited to speak at the Orkney Science Festival by our equally fascinating host, festival director Howie Firth (who graciously swept in from the deluge long enough to pay for our elaborate three-course meal!) Professor Firth’s great strength and mission is to bring together, for one week each year, the widest possible potpourri of scientists and craftspersons to present their recent discoveries in both ancient and futuristic sciences.
In our lectures, Karl Pribram--with his more than sixty years of research into the workings of the brain--was able to cover both ends of the time spectrum. As a crafter of novels, I had volunteered to speak about the ancient legends of these North Sea isles, tales that were mined by my fiction-writing predecessors like Sir Walter Scott: pirates, Norsemen, Egyptians, Druids. And of course, Prince Henry Sinclair, the “First Earl of Orkney,” whose grandson William would one day construct the famous Roslin Chapel, which has once more, recently, inspired so much fiction and furor.
Over our lengthy meal that night, we quickly learned that we had much in common: for instance, Andrej and Robert had both written books about the great scientist and inventor, Nikola Tesla--who also appears as a pivotal character in my novel, The Magic Circle. I had read the two books Robert and Chris had published to-date—The Hiram Key and The Second Messiah--and found that these overlapped greatly with my own researches into ancient esoteric practices. And Robert--both as a Freemason and a scientist--was deeply interested in Karl’s decades of research on memory and consciousness, and how these research findings might help us understand the ancient roots of initiatory rituals of which, today, Robert believed we could still perhaps see as vestiges in Masonic ceremonies. (Some years later, Robert would develop this idea into the seminal spark of his book, Turning the Hiram Key.)
In Orkney, we were still lingering over our desserts, dialogues and digestifs, until it was nearly midnight: the storm outside had dissipated, all other diners had departed, and the waiters were becoming palpably restless over our extended stay.
“Well,” announced Robert at last, “I think we had better get on. The place we're headed might not let us in, if we arrive with such a large group after midnight.”
Andrej wondered what place could possibly still be open, so late at night on such a tiny island: in Ljubljana, he pointed out, everything closes by ten p.m.
Robert explained: “It may be one of the oldest extant Lodges in the world, not far from here, containing what some believe is the oldest Lodge artifact...”
No one needed to ask what sort of “Lodge” he was referring to. I was excited at the prospect of seeing something few had ever seen--and I was privately thanking heaven that Karl had had the tact not to point out that our little group included a Female--someone who would likely not have been permitted to go on a private midnight tour of the “inner sanctum” of any American Masonic lodge.
So this merry band of scientists set out in the midnight hour through a dense funnel of fog. We scaled the narrow cobbled streets of Kirkwall--to a place whose location I am still forbidden to reveal--three knocks on a secret door, trooping up a flight of thirty-three steps to a hidden room...and I found myself, quite by accident, to be one of the few people ever permitted (and perhaps one of the last--since it is now locked away in a vault!) to lay eyes upon the rare and ancient Kirkwall Scroll.
This midnight visit would be destined, as the screenwriter said, to be “the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Robert Lomas describes the event in his 2005 book, Turning the Hiram Key, where he discusses (and shows pictures of!) the mysterious Kirkwall Scroll, and speculates upon its age and significance.
Shortly after receiving my presentation copy of Turning the Hiram Key--but before I had the chance to read it--a matter of some urgency arose. I had agreed, along with thirty other invited authors, to contribute to the first anthology of Thriller stories, launching the new British-American organization, International Thriller Writers.
My story, The Tuesday Club, takes place on the very first day that Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson met in Paris on the French diplomatic mission and something mysterious is about to take place. I knew that Ben Franklin--a Freemason who’d been Worshipful Master of the French Loge des Neuf Soeurs--had received his honorary doctorate from St Andrews in Scotland, a place believed to have been a bastion of pre-English masonry.
Early Scottish masonry is a subject few have written of and is therefore hard to research--even now its very existence is hotly contested by “western” masons here in America. I was aware of this, for I had recently attended a series of lectures on Washington, DC Masonic history organized by the Capital’s lodges, which included an all-day bus tour of Masonic sites here in Washington, and a visit to Alexandria Virginia Lodge #22 (“The Lighthouse”), of which George Washington himself had been first Worshipful Master. Furthermore, these lectures and tours in modern-day Washington--many set amid bus fumes and air conditioning noises--were somehow lacking the immediate, evocative sense of history that we had experienced in our midnight Kirkwall sojourn.
I realized that I knew someone who had more recently written the definitive book on early Scottish Freemasonry: Freemasonry and the Birth of Modern Science. It was packed with little known facts in the background of Christopher Wren, Robert Boyle, and the creation of the Royal Society. The publication of that book had made my friend Robert Lomas the best-selling Masonic author of all time.
I knew that the research in Robert’s earlier books had often influenced my fellow novelists: my friend Steve Berry has acknowledged The Second Messiah for a pivotal idea involving the Shroud of Turin in his novel, The Templar Legacy--a book which, as of this writing, has spent many months on the bestseller lists. And Dan Brown has gone on record stating that he was inspired by secrets of Roslin Chapel revealed in The Hiram Key, in his research for The Da Vinci Code. (Indeed, in British esoteric circles, the joke is that “symbologist” Dr Robert Langdon is actually Freemason Dr Robert Lomas in disguise!) So I hoped that Robert would pull some little known Masonic trivia from his sleeve for my story, regarding Ben Franklin’s secret role in early Scottish Masonry. But when I phoned Robert in England to query him, I was in for a big surprise.
“My new project,” Robert told me, “is to unveil the true Masonic meaning hidden within Washington, D.C.--as seen through the eyes of its Founding Freemason Father: George Washington.”
Nothing could have made me happier. Everyone already knows the Masonic sagas of George Washington laying the cornerstone of the Capitol building wearing his Masonic apron designed by Lafayette’s wife. And Robert and I had often discussed the esoteric aspects of the layout of our nation’s capital, the square of the altar, the four North-East-South-West directions of the Masonic initiation, and so forth. But few people recall that George Washington was not only our first president and a famous general: he was also a master surveyor. Indeed, before inheriting his property at Mt Vernon, he had made his living by surveying the Ohio River Valley. As a surveyor, he needed a grasp of the relationship between geography and astronomy: the earth and its relation to the movements of stars and planets.
I was in for an even BIGGER surprise when I read the first draft of Robert’s manuscript. The book itself is nothing short of an initiation into the mind of a trained surveyor who was also our most famous Freemason: George Washington.
If you were a person with such skills, knowledge and authority--and you were in the position to create a pristine city that would be the headquarters of a new civilization, a “Great Experiment,” as our Founding Fathers termed it--where would you begin?
From the moment Robert Lomas--a scientist himself--reveals to us that George Washington had clipped the pages of his almanacs, tracking the helical (pre-dawn) risings of the Masonic icon--the Bright Morning Star--and had PASTED THESE ALMANAC PAGES INTO HIS DIARY FOR FOURTEEN YEARS--we are hooked by the intimate insight into the mind that was guided by that morning star.
I had made my own journey up the thirty-three steps and into the hidden room in Kirkwall. I leave the voyage of discovery hidden within this book to you!
You may like to visit Katherine's website at www.katherineneville.com