The Lost Symbol : Virgo/the Goddess?

Dan Brown's unforgettable protagonist, Robert Langdon, goes on a twelve-hour adventure through Washington D.C. in The Lost Symbol. The follow-up to The Da Vinci Code is also packed with symbols and secret codes, this time of our nation's capital and the Freemasons who conceived and built it. Before the book came out, Dr. Bob theorized about what the "Lost Symbol" might be, as explained in this except from The United Symbolism of America in the section about symbolism in Washington D.C... 

David Ovason: Astrology and Virgo

We will first examine the exceptionally well-referenced work of David Ovason.  David is a personal friend and has helped me considerably with my own research projects.  I especially admire his exacting investigative technique and his facility with five or six languages giving him the ability to read primary sources in their original forms.  He has spent probably years’ worth of time in the Library of Congress and other archives studying these records to supplement his conclusions.  He is a trained and skilled astrologer and a long-time student of the hermetic mystery schools, and probably the best qualified writer on the market to ascertain these symbols in Washington, DC.  His book The Secret Architecture of Our Nation’s Capital was published by HarperCollins in this country in 2000.

Ovason makes three central points pertinent to our short discussion.  1) Both L’Enfant and Ellicott were probably Freemasons; 2) Someone with astrological knowledge helped select the dates for the official cornerstone laying ceremonies that marked the beginnings of all the important structures in DC; and 3) The right triangle that L’Enfant devised as the centerpiece of his city -- the one connecting the White House, the Capitol, and the Washington Monument -- was deliberately situated to mirror the stellar triangle which encompasses the constellation of Virgo.

America Guided by Wisdom by Benjamin Tanner

First of all, the subtitle of Ovason’s book: The Masons and the Building of Washington, DC.  While the abundance of Masons whose names pop up all over the history of the capital’s development – from its inception right on through the 19th and 20th centuries – is undeniable, Ovason, for one, does not see any secret significance in that fact.  Instead of “a bunch of Masons,” Ovason sees a group of the most highly skilled and qualified people for the many jobs of designing and constructing and surveying necessary to build a city.  That many of them happened to be Freemasons does not to him imply that it was a Masonic undertaking.

"I am not for one moment suggesting that it was ‘the Masons who built Washington, D.C.,’ or that Masons’ Lodges ever had a coordinated, formulated plan to influence the growth of the city in any way… I am claiming merely that Washington, D.C. was designed and built on Christian hermetic principles derived from, or linked with, ancient cosmological ideas.  In exploring this truth, I observe that some of the people involved in the building of the city, besides being architects, planners and artists, happened also to be Masons.  I am reasonably sure that in just about every case these individuals were also committed Christians.  It would be patently absurd (if only because it is so obvious) for me to labor the point that Washington, D.C. was built by Christians.14" (from David Ovason's Secret Architecture, page 355.)

I agree with brother David on this point, and therefore will not dwell on the list of names of important DC contributors who were also Masons.  Lists of verifiable Masons can be found readily enough on the more reputable Masonic websites,15 who are understandably proud of their members who were chosen for jobs of significance based on their accomplishments and merit.  The implication that either L’Enfant or Ellicott were members of the Craft is slightly more important, however, because if it could be proven, it would help strengthen the argument for intentionality in some of the significant angles interpreted in the street layout.  But of course, even if they were not Masons they could have also intended these same deeper symbolic interpretations in their design.  Sacred geometry is not exclusive to the Freemasons, it’s just that Masons tend to be more familiar with and prone to use arcane symbolism than the average person.

  Reverse of the Libertas Americana medal ordered by Benjamin Franklin

Many Masonic historians argue that, since there is no record of either L’Enfant or Ellicott having been initiated, there is no proof that they were Masons.  Ovason is fully convinced, however, that L’Enfant was a Mason, based on a careful assessment of his life and works.  He also reminds us that L’Enfant served as an officer in the Revolutionary War, and many military lodge records were lost for fairly obvious reasons.  His conviction that Ellicott was a Mason is based to some extent on the latter’s presence at the Masonic ceremony when the first boundary stone was laid, though he admits no lodge records have as yet been found to prove Ellicott’s membership, either.

The same situation of confusion applies to the maps.  Barring any new discoveries, it seems likely there will always be contention over which one of these two, Ellicott or L’Enfant, contributed exactly what to the final design.  Ovason tends to favor what is known as Ellicott’s map.  Ellicott himself apparently claimed to have set the precise angle of Pennsylvania Avenue,16 but of course, Washington was also said to have personally picked the site of the president’s house, and the right angle triangle is already clearly indicated on L’Enfant’s map.  Designing the city with so many diagonal streets radiating from “round points” throughout the city making it possible to trace so many triangles all over the city map was L’Enfant’s idea.  Ovason sees this as L’Enfant’s tribute to the triangle as a reminder of, “the tripart man: the thinking, feeling and willing within the human being.”17  Ovason’s contention is that either Washington or Ellicott had, by setting the exact angle of Pennsylvania Avenue, worked into the map of Washington, DC a triangle which reflected a stellar triangle linked with the three first-magnitude stars that enclose most of the constellation Virgo, which we will return to in a moment.

Cartouche from Sheet 17 of Henry Popple's 1733

Another of Ovason’s key points is that someone with astrological knowledge picked the dates for many of the cornerstone laying ceremonies around the city.  Back in those days, astrology was still considered a sister science to astronomy and worthy of study by the best of educated men.18  Having made a life-long study of astrology myself, I appreciate the significance of the correlations Ovason found in the charts he cast for the various beginnings of Washington, DC, but many Masonic historians today have a hard time with these ideas.  Of course, few people today have the necessary intellectual training in astrology and related orientation theory to really appreciate what Ovason’s theory claims.  While some Masonic historians state that astrology is not used officially in the Masonic ceremonies or rituals, that does not rule out the fact that astrology has been used by individual members or lodges, or that much of their symbolism is astrologically based. 


After making every effort to re-establish the precise moment of these rituals by reference to contemporaneous records, Ovason showed that the timing of the cornerstone ceremonials in the foundation rituals appears to have been determined astrologically.  He argues that since these foundations were laid by Masons, then at least one or two Masons must have been involved in this use of horoscopy, if only to effect these historically important orientations.  Realizing a number of key coincidences in the most important charts, Ovason concluded that these events were timed to coordinate a resonance with Virgo.  The fact that original horoscopes for these events have not survived does not imply that the Masons are keeping such data secret, says Ovason.  Many non-official documents relating to the founding of Washington, DC have been lost, but in this case, little need would have been felt to preserve horoscopic records, of little interest to any but specialists.

Here are the similarities in several charts for important foundations in Washington, DC. The coincidence of these patterns in the sign Virgo seemed to Ovason to be beyond the confines of mere chance.  Students of astrology may agree with Ovason that, “the magical thing about the founding of the city, the White House, and the Capitol is that they’re all tied together by this 23 degrees of Virgo.”

• The first boundary stone for the district was laid at 3:30 PM on April 15, 1791.  The planet Jupiter (the planet of beneficence) was in 23 degrees of Virgo. 
• The White House cornerstone was laid at noon on October 13, 1792.  The moon and the Dragon’s Head (the point where the sun’s orbit intersects the moon’s orbit, also thought to be a point of beneficence) were in 23 degrees Virgo.
• The Capitol cornerstone was laid sometime in mid-afternoon -- by George Washington -- on September 18, 1793.  At that time, the Sun was in 24 degrees Virgo, and Mercury and the Dragon’s Head were also in Virgo.
• The foundation stone for the Washington Monument was laid at noon on July 4, 1848.  The Moon and the Dragon’s Head were in Virgo.
• The cornerstone for the Washington Monument – the ceremony for which took place when post-Civil War resumption of construction began – was laid on August 7, 1880 at 10:59 AM.  The Moon, Mars and Uranus were all in Virgo.  The one minute to 11 o’clock may have been a nod to the rising of Spica, the star that represents the sheaf of wheat in the constellation of Virgo.19

Virgo bas-relief from the Library of Congres building

Freemasons have very publicly performed countless ceremonies like these all over the country at the foundations of buildings, bridges, monuments and even churches.  Some Masonic historians today will downplay the esoteric symbolism in their cornerstone laying ceremonies, saying the corn stands for nourishment, the oil stands for joy, and the wine for refreshment.  Ovason describes the spiritual background of the cornerstone ceremonials, tracing their origins as far back as ancient Egypt temple-building.  He concludes that these ceremonies are concerned with establishing a resonance between heaven and earth.  Ancient builders of cities, churches and cathedrals usually strove to establish orientations with a particular fixed star, in the belief that the cosmic powers invested in that star would empower and spiritually charge the building.  In the ancient world, such rituals were designed to permit spiritual agencies to operate seminally on the material plane, something we don’t think much about today.  As Ovason puts it, “A city which is laid out in such a way that it is in harmony with the heavens is a city in perpetual prayer.  It is a city built on the recognition that every human activity is in need of the sanctification of the spiritual world, of which the symbol is the light of the living stars.”21


Not only is there a link between Virgo and the capital through the timing of the charts and the alignment of Pennsylvania Avenue with the stellar triangle, there are also countless artistic references to Virgo throughout the city.  Calling DC a city of the stars, Ovason has catalogued over 1,000 zodiacal and planetary symbols in the paintings, statuary and facades all over Washington, DC.  There are at least 23 zodiacs in important buildings, with one building alone having over 21 individual zodiacs inside it.  Other major American cities contain only a few public zodiacs, or sometimes none.  Many of the references to Virgo were added during the City Beautiful movement at the beginning of the 20th century, when the Virgo symbolism was continued in several architectural details and zodiacs.  Ovason doubts that anyone involved in the McMillan Plan realized that they were revealing the ancient mysteries inherent in the original building of Washington, DC, but at least someone was familiar with esoteric symbolism.  “[T]his program of arcane symbolism, which is perhaps the finest in the Western world, was not one visualized by L’Enfant or Ellicott.  It was, however, made possible by the basic structures which these two great men provided at the heart of the city.”22

  Samuel Harris, “Emblem of the United States of America"

It is Ovason’s view that what he describes as the annual solar mystery of Washington, DC is best experienced between the 10th and the 12th of August.  To view the mystery of this sunset and its stellar aftermath, one must stand at the top of the second tier of steps leading up to the West Front of the Capitol building.  The best position is that to the north, from where you can gaze directly down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the White House.  At that time of the year, the Sun will set directly over the horizon, contiguously with the extended line of Pennsylvania Avenue.  After sunset, and as the sky darkens, three stars begin to glow in the skies above the White House.  The stars, which are Spica, Arcturus, and Regulus, pick out in the darkening night sky a large right-angled triangle: the apex, marked by Regulus, hovers above the White House.  The triangular pattern of this group of stars is reflected exactly in the shape of the Federal Triangle, of which Pennsylvania Avenue is the hypotenuse.  The Federal Triangle is a residue of the original map-making, whereby the plan of the three major public buildings, the White House, Capitol and Washington Monument, was intended to reflect the plan in the skies.  Neither the White House nor the Monument were built where the original designers intended, however, which is why Ovason now refers the stellar triangle to the Federal Triangle, rather than to the three major public buildings.  Ovason, who was the first to reveal this solar-stellar orientation, claims that this magic of light links the design of Washington, DC with the ancient mysteries, wherein it was taught that every building on earth, from city to temple, should be designed to reflect meaningfully the hidden activities of the spiritual world.

America Plumed and Negro Boy