I'm the first to admit that I'm a skeptic and more than a little cynical when it comes to books purporting to unveil secrets, hidden things, and mysteries. Not only is my personal library well stocked with promising titles, but as a member of more Masonic organizations than I can count I've learned that the word "secret" in a book's title is a near guarantee that the contents are ho-hum, and the sources out-of-date. Happily, this book is like a breath of fresh air. When it uses the word "secret" in its title it actually delivers--and does so in a big way. Make no mistake: this book is no catchpenny riding on Dan Brown's coattails; don't expect scandalous revelations of the "Illuminati" in Rome or Washington, D.C., nor lurid tales of depravity among the rich and famous (well, maybe a few). Rather, authors Klimczuk and Warner take the reader on an intriguing and fascinating tour of real places in the world which often have a surprising, bizarre, secretive, and even mysterious history to them.
The authors skillfully walk a careful line between debunking and titillating, and in so doing demonstrate the difference between sense and nonsense. Written in an engaging and entertaining style they explore many sites which have attracted the attention of less responsible authors. They dispel credulous notions foisted upon the gullible and uninformed, and replace them with truths which are compelling and satisfying. They reveal, for example, that at Rosslyn Chapel, Scotland, authentic medieval scholars see stylized representations of wheat, strawberries or lilies, rather than the alleged carvings of "corn" (maize) touted in The Hiram Key. In treating Rennes-le-Château they cut away at the mystery of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, and reveal the truth about Saunière's wealth--he was a crook. But Secret Places, Hidden Sanctuaries is not an exposé in the popular sense of the term. Rather, it introduces the reader to some very interesting nouns--people, places and things--which s/he may have never known existed, or may have encountered in rumor or fiction.
The book's (coincidental?) thirteen chapters investigate a myriad of shrines, holy sites, unholy sites, citadels, secret government installations, curious islands, totems, secret bankers, secret societies, and private clubs. The plans behind Himmler's "Nazi Camelot" (Wewelsburg, in Westphalia, Germany) are laid bare, as is the U.S. government's emergency home-away-from-home at "Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center" in Bluemont, Virginia (a scant hour from my home). Other secret locations, such as Area 51 and Menwith Hill (America's super-secure "listening post" in Yorkshire, England, for SIGINT satellites) are among the big fish caught in the net.
But I confess a peculiar interest in the "secret" societies and clubs. One of the most peculiar was Walt Disney's exclusive (and non-Masonic) "Club 33," a kind of high-powered getaway. Although this book is good, it's not perfect. In discussing Freemasonry, for example, the authors assert that "Hiram Abiff [sic] is absent from the Swedish Rite, which is based on other figures and other legends." Well, yes and no. Adoniram or Adoram--he's called both in the Swedish Rite's lecture of the Third Degree--is merely a different name for Hiram Abif, an artifact inherited from using the text of Abbé Pérau (Gabriel-Louis-Calabre), L' Ordre des Francs-maçons Trahi (1745), in the creation of its rituals. Change the names and the stories are virtually identical. But this is minor and forgivable. However, the statement that a system of high-degree Freemasonry known as "The Scottish Rite (Rit Ecossais) ... originated with Catholic, royalist, Jacobite Scottish Exiles in France" is just wrong. The authors need to read Lobingier's The Supreme Council, 33° (1931), Harris's and Carters's History of the Supreme Council 33° (1964), or Fox's Lodge of the Double-Headed Eagle(1997). A good deal of the Scottish Rite's ancestry was in France, but the system was created in Charleston, South Carolina, and boasted several Jews among its founders. Scottish Rite Grand Commander Albert Pike (1809-91) is called "a different kind of occultist" and a "prolific esotericist." Surely, Pike was interested in esoteric symbolism, but his book Esoterika: The Symbolism of the Blue Degrees of Freemasonry (1888) dismissed the "pretended knowledge" of the Theosophists. He even called Balsamo (Cagliostro) and Blavatsky "charlatan[s]." The authors cast such a wide net that we should forgive them for pulling in a few worthless fish.
Moving on, I enjoyed their chapter "Islands of Mystery." From the real "forbidden island" Montecristo to Easter Island to Iona and others, there's enough to educate an intrigue. The reader who seeks totems will find not only a host of crown jewels, but the sword of Charlemagne, the lance of Longinus (a.k.a. the "Spear of Destiny"), and my favorite: Oliver Cromwell's head! On that high point I'll conclude this review by giving a little advice to potential readers: if any of these topics is of interest, then this book is for you. I enjoyed it, and believe you will too.
Arturo de Hoyos, 33°, Grand Cross, KYCH
Grand Archivist and Grand Historian
Supreme Council, 33°, S.J.
Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry