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The Phenomenon of the Da Vinci Code

Dr. Clemens Cavallin

Assistant Professor at the Department of History of Religions, The University of Bergen.



There is no shortage of texts dealing with The Da Vinci Code, and as most of them this particular text was written in a specific situation reflecting a special need for commentary.[1] In the beginning of the spring term of 2005, I was thus contacted by a student at the University of Bergen (located on the west coast of Norway), where I work as an assistant professor in the department of religious studies. He asked me if I could hold a lecture at the students’ union on the Da Vinci Code. This particular student was both intrigued by the book and troubled by the fact that some of his friends and acquaintances took it more seriously than what a thriller usually deserves. I accepted the invitation, as I had been pondering for some time this book’s strange impact on people. Like probably most of you, I had been surprised to find that everywhere I travelled, by train, bus or aeroplane there sat someone next to me reading this book, or I could overhear some conversation describing it as entertaining and that as the proverb goes no smoke without a fire, “there really had to be something true behind it after all.” Also in talking with persons for the first time, this book came spontaneously up as a topic of conversation. It was, therefore, clear to me that I was not dealing merely with a successful book, but rather with an indicator of something more pervasive; the book being therefore a ‘phenomenon’ in the original meaning of the word: something which appears, a manifestation.

Two questions

 There are two pressing questions which one has to deal with when attempting to analyse and examine the Da Vinci Code both as a book and as a phenomenon. The first arises spontaneously for most people when confronted with it, that is: is there really any truth in the central and extraordinary claims propounded within the book? The second and more difficult question is: how are we to understand the success of the book (and probably soon the film)? Why are so many reading it? There are, after all, many books inspired by conspiracy theories on the market, for example the Conspirator’s Hierarchy: The Committee of 300  by John Coleman.

The first of these two questions is easiest to answer: No! Dan Brown’s controversial so called ‘facts’ are according to all expertise and available evidence not true; the book is a jumble of incorrect statements that furthermore mostly are taken from other books; he has inter alia been sued for plagiarism.[2] There is, therefore, no independent research behind the Da Vinci Code and I cannot in this context refrain from quoting from Le Figaro Magazine (23 February 2005) where it is remarked among other things that the French translator of the book had to make certain changes in order to prevent the French readers from burst out laughing, when reading the descriptions of their beloved capital Paris:

Ces assertions laissent pantois quand on sait le nombre de petits arrangements avec l’Histoire que l’écrivain n’hésite pas à s’autoriser dans ses récits. Il suffit simplement de savoir que le traducteur français a dû écrémer le texte original, de peur que nos compatriotes n’éclatent de rire à la lecture de certains passages : le plan de Paris de la version originale de Da Vinci Code, simplifié comme aucun tour-opérateur n’aurait osé le faire, en est un exemple. D’autres bourdes sont passées à travers les mailles du filet de l’éditeur : on apprend ainsi que l’Eglise de France avait fait interdire le film la Dernière Tentation du Christ… Il serait trop long de répertorier ici les nombreuses interprétations trompeuses et autres falsifications dont a pu se rendre responsable l’écrivain * mais fort de constater qu’il existe un système qui consiste à fabriquer du best-seller à la louche, en mélangeant Histoire et fiction, sans respect excessif pour le lecteur.[3]

I shall in a moment continue with the question of truth and falsity going more into details, but first I would like to remark that the second question of this paper, that is, how we should understand the phenomenon, is a harder nut to crack and furthermore a more interesting issue. Because even if I or some other scholar or writer (or a host of scholars-writers) could explain clearly why the statements of the Da Vinci Code are without any real foundation, the phenomenon (the manifestation) would probably not go away, it would merely mutate and take another form. It is, therefore, essential that we put the Da Vinci Code within its larger context: Of what is it a manifestation and what are its structural prerequisites? This is not an easy task to accomplish, as it involves understanding the Zeitgeist of the present era without the advantage of hindsight.

Truth, fiction and lies

During a conversation this winter a friend of mine said that probably one of the greatest challenges facing contemporary western civilisation is that people are increasingly loosing the will and ability to distinguish between reality and fiction. I was at first puzzled by this statement: Do we not live in an age characterized by an increasingly firm grasp of reality, control over the material world and absence of irresponsible reveries? Do we not see around us accelerating modernisation and rationalisation on a global scale? This seems evidently to be true, but at the same time the fictive worlds, the virtual worlds, are growing in importance. We live in a global culture where books, television, films, the Internet, and computer games occupy a large part of people’s lives. The virtual worlds are for many almost more ‘real’ than the real one; it is even so that the borderline between fiction and reality is becoming blurred, a typical example of this is documentary (real life) soap operas and reality television. In those programs people are living on a stage; thus turning Shakespeare’s notion of the world as a theatre on its head; the theatre has become like the world instead, or maybe we should see it as they have fused to a hybrid.

 All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players:

They have their exits and their entrances

(William Shakespeare, As you like it, act 2 scene 7)

But why does fiction have such a special position in the globalized western culture? A key factor is probably precisely the increasing modernisation and rationalisation, and the related phenomena of theoretical and practical materialism. What formerly were central religious myths and tenacious magical beliefs depicting powerful supernatural beings and events more and more came to be considered as narratives dealing with fictive worlds. The demythologization of the world has deferred the religious instinct to genres where one is allowed, under the cover of fiction, to build up worlds impregnated with the supernatural.[4] This is a perfect compromise because fiction is based upon a feeling of reality at the same time as one knows that the events described actually have not taken place.[5] Bad fiction, on the other hand, does not give such a feeling of being present, an experience that this could really have taken place. In the fiction of our time ordinary escapism and entertainment are thus mixed with more profound needs and longings for something beyond the transitory, perishable and humdrum world. It is in such a cultural discourse the Da Vinci Code emerges. It is clearly a literary work, though written for easy consumption, and placing itself within a genre of religious-occult thrillers (thriller ésotérique)[6] which have as their central plot the cracking of a code. It is hard not to associate with the Indiana Jones movies, which are alluded to already in the beginning of the book (page 10).[7] In the last of the three films, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the Holy Grail was, as in The Da Vinci Code, the central object of the quest.

The book the Da Vinci Code (and soon the movie) depicts fictive persons engaged in a fictive narrative; there must really be a leap of the imagination to believe that Silas a religiously fanatical albino who murders people on the behalf of a Catholic order (which, however, is only the proxy for the teacher, a grail historian) should be a portrait of a real person. We can, therefore, already from the genre rule out the real existence of the persons and their actions. They are in the same way as Sherlock Holmes creations of the imagination of the author, in Sherlock’s case: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This is so even if a street in London is named Baker Street and has a little museum in the form of a 19th century apartment.[8] When one visits it, one is greeted at the door (at least in 1992 when I was there) by a maid saying that “Holmes is unfortunately not at home; he has retired to the countryside and is occupying himself with bee-keeping, but you can come in and have a look at his apartment.”

So, both the characters and the story of the Da Vinci Code are invented by Dan Brown, but a devoted fan of the book could maintain that the facts which are alluded to by the characters in the book are true, that Dan Brown is a kind of prophet or enlightened teacher preaching through the medium of a thriller, that he has clothed his marvellous discovery in the guise of fiction to reach as many as possible. He has without doubt reached a vast multitude of people; had he written the same statements in the form of an academic thesis, it would in the first place most likely not have been approved and secondly quickly forgotten. But a thriller captures people’s imagination.

Let us therefore look more specifically at the ‘facts’ which are presented in the book. I do not have space here, or for that matter any desire, to go through them all. There are at least a dozen books which have done that already (a not so bold guess would be that this amount will increase). One which I can especially recommend is The Da Vinci Hoax written by Carl Olson and Sandra Miesel (published in 2004 by Ignatius, San Francisco), which is written from a Catholic point of view, that is, a voice which takes up the cause of those accused most explicitly by Dan Brown. There are also protestant rejoinders as the attack is not launched merely against the Catholic Church but also against the Bible and its testimony of Christ and early Christianity. One of these is Breaking The Da Vinci Code by Darrell Bock (published in 2004 by Nelson Books), though with a foreword written by a Catholic theologian.

What evidence is there that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married?

The central thesis in the Da Vinci Code is that Mary Magdalene and Jesus were married and that they had children and that this blood line is the real Grail. This thesis is dependent on two types of evidence: firstly, sources from the first century which can bear witness to the actual marriage; secondly, sources proving that such a bloodline has lived on during the centuries up to our time. A secondary thesis of Brown’s is that Jesus was an ‘ordinary’ man, that is not divine, and that subsequently in the fourth century his divinity was conferred upon him by the Roman emperor Constantine through an ingenious coup. The arguments for these central claims are mainly presented in the middle of the story through the lectures given by the symbologist Robert Langdon and the grail historian Hugh Teabing to the neophyte Sophie Neveau in Teabing’s French castle.

Despite what is claimed in the book, historians and exegetes have not accepted the theses of the Da Vinci Code and we must, therefore, see what concrete evidence Brown refers to. For the first part of his thesis (that is the marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene) he refers to Gnostic texts and for the other part to a secret society by the name of Prieuré de Sion. The first part of Brown’s central thesis is the more important, because if there is no evidence in favour of it or if there is evidence contradicting it, then the second part dealing with the bloodline cannot be true. That is, if there is no root, there cannot be any tree. So let us deal firstly with the root. This is basically a question of texts and their interpretations, predominately gospels (literally ‘good tidings’) describing the life and message of Jesus.

Before that, however, we have to see what Brown claims to be true through the fictive character Hugh Teabing:

Because Constantine upgraded Jesus’ status almost four centuries after Jesus’ death, thousands of documents already existed chronicling His life as a mortal man. To rewrite the history books…Constantine commissioned and financed a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ’s human traits and embellished those gospels that made Him godlike. The earlier gospels were outlawed, gathered up, and burned.”[9]

The problem with these statements is that they lack a firm foundation in the available sources. There are important Christian texts written in the second century that clearly delimit the canonical gospels to precisely the four which are now part of the Bible: that there should be only four gospels is therefore a consensus which was formed at the latest in the second part of the second century thus predating Constantine by more than a century. One example is in the text Adversus Haereses (3. 11. 8) written by Ireneus of Lyons (120/140-200) approximately in AD 175–185.

It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the «pillar and ground» of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh.[10]

We can thus dismiss the claim that the Emperor Constantine was behind a sweeping reduction of the number of gospels. However, Brown goes on to maintain that the Coptic Gnostic texts discovered in Nag Hammadi in 1945 are survivals of those burned gospels. He mentions specifically two texts: the gospel of Mary (Magdalene) and the gospel of Philip, and on page 296 Brown, alias Teabing, calls the Gnostic texts ”The earliest Christian records.” The problem is that scholars date these two texts to respectively the second century and the period from 180 to 350 AD and that Gnosticism instead of emphasizing the material and human emphasizes the spiritual and the divine. The four gospels, on the other hand, are considered as written in the period from 60 to 90 AD. The two gospels referred to by Brown do therefore not give us testimonies older than the canonical gospels, but they give evidence of alternative interpretations of the Christian tradition during the second and third centuries after Christ.

But how do we deal with Brown’s statement that the Gnostic texts describe Jesus solely as a human being devoid of divinity? ”In addition to telling the true Grail story, these documents speak of Christ’s ministry in very human terms”.[11] We can begin by noting that for example the gospel of Philip is not a coherent narrative but a collection of enigmatic statements without a narrative framework. The character of Jesus, therefore, appears much more human in for example the gospel of Matthew; the symbol of this evangelist being by the way a winged human being.  

It is, furthermore, a central theme within Gnosticism that matter is evil and the soul, the spiritual part of man, is good. This has as one of its consequences that Jesus is often portrayed not as very human, but the opposite, as only human in appearance, that is many Gnostics subscribed to the Christological position called Docetism. For example according to the Acts of John (verse 93), a Gnostic text from the end of the second century, John describes Jesus in the following way:

Another glory also will I tell you, brethren: Sometimes when I would lay hold on him, I met with a material and solid body, and at other times, again, when I felt him, the substance was immaterial and as if it existed not at all…And oftentimes when I walked with him, I desired to see the print of his foot, whether it appeared on the earth; for I saw him as it were lifting himself up from the earth: and I never saw it.[12]

At the same time, there are some Gnostic texts that affirm the incarnation as the Nag Hammadi text The Treatise on the Resurrection, but these texts always emphasize in contradistinction to Dan Brown that Christ was a spiritual being, a saviour from a purely spiritual realm. We can in this context take a look at the characterization given in Adversus Haereses I.6.1:

From Achamoth [the fallen aeon Sophia] he acquired the spiritual, from the Demiurge he put on the psychic Christ, from the oikonomia [the cosmic sphere] he was endowed with a body that had psychic substance, but was so constructed by ineffable art that it was visible, tangible, and capable of suffering.
He received nothing whatever material, they say, for matter is not capable of being saved.

Connected to the Docetist position is the thought that it was not the son of God who suffered and was crucified on the cross but a substitute; thus making the central Christian theme of redemptive suffering without basis: the Gnostic Jesus is, therefore, less human than the traditional Christian Jesus who suffered, died and rose from the dead. This is evidenced for example by the following quotation from the letter to the Christians in Smyrna written by Bishop St Ignatius of Antioch (ca. AD 105–115):

3:1 For I also know and believe, that he exists in the flesh even after the resurrection.

3:2 And when he came unto them who were with Peter he said unto them, Take, handle me, and see that I am not a spirit without a body; and straightway they touched him and believed, being convinced by his flesh and his spirit. On this account also they despised death, and were found superior to death.

3:3 But after his resurrection, he ate and drank with them, as being in the flesh, though spiritually he was united to the Father. [13]

Brown is, therefore, wrong both considering the dating of the Gnostic texts and their view of the humanity of Jesus. There are, furthermore, no Gnostic text which explicitly states that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had children, even though Gnostic texts tend to portray Jesus and the Magdalene as being closely connected.[14] However, also in the canonical gospels Mary Magdalene has a special position and for example in the gospel of John (20: 11–18) she is the first to see the risen Christ and delivers this joyful message to the apostles.

Browns central thesis is thus without foundation in the available sources. He tries, therefore, in an indirect way to make his thesis probable through an imaginative theory about a secret society which is supposed to have guarded the knowledge about (and proofs of) the Magdalene and her offspring. However, if the first part of Brown’s thesis (the marriage) falls, then the second part (the blood line) also falls. We can, therefore, with a calm conscience lay the question of truth behind us and instead deal with Brown’s religious message, and try to explain why it has met with such an enthusiastic reception. Before this important task, however, I think it is necessary to give at least a short sketch of the history behind the Prieuré de Sion which Brown borrowed from the book Holy Blood Holy Grail (by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln published in 1982 by Doubleday) and added some spices of his own as “the worship of the divine feminine”. Behind Prieuré de Sion there is one man: Pierre Plantard (1920-2000) who during the Second World War started two ultranationalist right wing anti-Semitic associations: Renovation Nationale Française and Alpha Galates. His ambition was among other things to reintroduce the monarchy in France, and he supported the Nazi-friendly Vichy regime. He, moreover, served a sentence of four months for illegally starting the second association. After the war in 1956 he established a society by the name Prieuré de Sion which foremost had a local agenda, inter alia working for cheaper housing. The society was discontinued when Plantard went to prison again. It was, nevertheless, revived in 1962, but now with Plantard posing as lawful claimant to the throne of France, this claim being connected with the priest Saunière (1852–1917) in Rennes-le-Château who was supposed to have had parchments with coded messages. These were, however, forged by a companion to Plantard, Philippe de Chérisey, who admitted the forgery in a TV documentary on BBC. The story was, contrary to what one could expect, picked up by a British TV producer named Henry Lincoln, later one of the authors of Holy Blood Holy Grail. In 1993 Plantard went too far when he claimed that Roger Patrice Pelat, who had died in 1989 and was a close friend of President Mitterand, had been a Prieuré de Sion grand master. Unhappily for Plantard Pelat’s name was connected to a financial scandal which was under investigation. Plantard was thus taken in for interrogation and he admitted under oath that everything about Prieuré de Sion was invented. He lived the rest of his life in isolation. It is somewhat tragicomic that the manifesto of a racist right wing extremist with kingly pretensions would be reshaped first by kinship with the Jewish Mary Magdalene, then modernised through feminist goddess worship, and finally smartened up through glorifications of freemasonry which Plantard in 1940 suspected for a Jewish Masonic conspiracy.[15]

The message of the Da Vinci Code

In order to understand the message of the Da Vinci Code and its success, we have to pay attention to at least five different points. The first connects to our earlier discussion of fact and fiction, viz. that fiction has acquired a special place due to modernisation and secularisation but also more power through technological innovations. The second point is that the global western culture to a large extent has been de-Christianized with the consequence that many have little knowledge about Christianity, its tenets and history; many being furthermore hostile to traditional Christian faith and open to alternative belief systems and practices. The third point is that we now increasingly live in a global world in which also religious ideas and practices are commodities sold and bought on a global market. Fourthly, we must situate the Da Vinci Code in its proper New Age context and its cultivation of among other things a western esoteric tradition. The fifth point to take into consideration is that there is in the Da Vinci Code an outspoken and central mythological feminist ideology expressed as goddess worship, a combination which seems to appeal to a large public.

The message and success of the Da Vinci Code

1. The place of fiction within late modernity (post modernity)

2. De-Christianization and the openness for other religions and spiritualities

3. The global market: the selling and buying of religious ideas and goods

4. An esoteric New Age message

5. Feminist goddess worship


But how should we deal with these points? If we divide them into two groups, we could say that the first three points consist of basic background factors like modernization, secularisation and the global market where among other things enticing spiritual messages and help-yourself-manuals are marketed and sold. The two remaining points deal more with the actual content of the book, the message itself. The success of the Da Vinci Code could thus be explained as an interaction between the social-cultural-medial context and the specific message (including its package, that is its form). So let us first deal with the context and then with the content.

The postmodern condition: the religious market

I think that its now time to reconnect with the initial reflections on the fuzzy boundary between fact and fiction, between reality and virtual worlds. The special modern fuzziness of that distinction is not only a result of secularisation and de-Christianization pushing religion and magic into the realm of fiction, but we must also understand this phenomenon against the background of what has been called the postmodern condition. That is, together with ‘hard’ modernity (industrialization, science, education, urbanization, rationalization etc.) there emerged in the west after the 16th century an ideology claiming that human reason was enough for proper and extensive knowledge of man and the world. Through reason itself man would achieve a secure foundation for rational thought, for science was considered to stand in clear contrast to religious beliefs which were examples of superstition or habitual thinking in need of rising to the level of critical thought, thus giving up the reliance on authority and tradition. In the postmodern condition, however, this absolute belief in human reason has been eroded and all statements are seen as only relatively true; there is nothing absolutely true, there is only true for me and true for you. In a time where such postmodern relativism (both in its more sophisticated and more simplistic versions) is common, religious faith and scientific knowledge find themselves on the same level, knowledge being only another form of belief; fact and fiction an opposition whose borderline changes from person to person. There is no longer anything which is absolutely a fact and respectively nothing which in an absolute sense is fiction; everything is about perspectives. In the light of such a postmodern attitude the Da Vinci Code is given a new meaning; if one writes a novel and claims that it in its essential points is true, this is something which many persons will take at face value and really believe. If, however, someone rises up to challenge the obviously misguided claims, then the reply is simply that this book is true for me, because it fits the way I see and experience things. An example from the Da Vinci Code of this attitude is the following theory of religion.[16]

Langdon smiled. ”Sophie, every faith in the world is based on fabrication. That is the definition of faith–acceptance of that which we imagine to be true, that which we cannot prove…The problems arise when we begin to believe literally in our own metaphors.” [17]

If ‘modernism’ considered all religious narratives with supernatural claims to be examples of fiction, then postmodernism considers all narratives whatsoever to be essentially fictitious. In this way religio-magical narrative which was banished from the sphere of facts and had to share room with Baron von Münchhausen’s tales can return and be taken seriously without doing away with the fictional form, as for example the novel. Within the realm of fiction (books, films and computer games) magic is real, but when the line between fiction and fact breaks down, this feeling of being fictionally real, that is real within a limited mental world, can with ease become a feeling of being really real. If we add to this the power supplied by computer technology to create virtual worlds, the possibility of stepping back from what we experience and seeing it as merely fiction becomes increasingly problematic. This is a theme which for example is explored in the Matrix movies, which also use a fair amount of religio-magical themes.

At the same time as the postmodern scepticism has made everything into fiction, we live in a world where almost everything is sold and bought on a global market, also religious ideas. In Arna, the tiny suburb where I live, there was, for example, large signboards in the local bookshop with the text (here translated from Norwegian) “Do you want to know the truth, buy this book!”. I do not think that the person responsible for the small bookshop was exceedingly concerned whether this was actually true, how a work of fiction could embody the truth, but the main point was that people bought the Da Vinci Code, supposedly with the intention of acquiring for only 30 dollars (books are expensive in Norway!) an entertaining truth. Dan Brown can thus take all the criticism lightly ‘crying all the way to the bank.’ It does not matter whether what he writes is fact or fiction as long as it sells: truth becomes, thereby, essentially the outcome of the cruel Darwinist fight of competing narratives.

Esotericism and occultism

It has been said that the Da Vinci Code is a Harry Potter for adults, which in a fundamental way I think is correct. Harry Potter the books-films-computer games which introduces children to a magic and occult world have also achieved a similar almost mythological success as the Da Vinci Code; something which makes it interesting to see if they form part of a common phenomenon, that is manifestations of something more basic, but I do not have time and space for such a comparative venture in this paper.[18] We can instead begin with something Wouter Hanegraaff wrote in his article “New Age Religion and Secularization”, viz. that it is a basic New Age way of thinking that in the western cultural tradition there is alongside the rationalistic scientific and the dogmatic Christian currents a third esoteric tradition which has been persecuted by the other two:

This third current is referred to by various terms, such as ”esotericism” or ”gnosis”. In the former instance, the idea is that an inner core of true spirituality lies hidden behind the outer surface of all religious traditions, and that the knowledge of it has been kept alive by secret traditions throughout the ages.[19]

This is a perfect description of the ideology informing the Da Vinci Code: an esoteric knowledge which stands in opposition to traditional Christianity, but also science in a way, has been preserved and handed down to posterity by a secret and persecuted society of initiates. If one embraces such a view of history, where does one look if one wants to find traces of these secret societies? The natural way is to begin with movements which have been defined as heretical and persecuted by Christian churches (above all the Catholic Church): in the second century the Gnostics, in the middle ages for example the Cathars and Templars, in the 18th century Freemasons etc. The basic thought is that all these form part of a secret tradition with an ancient pedigree (the old pagan traditions) which now at the turn of the tide has become manifest. This is a perfect way to create an ancient lineage for something which in its essential features actually is invented right here and now. Hanegraaff therefore continues:

While New Agers tend to be especially fascinated by the gnostic currents in early Christianity, the historical roots of the New Age movement actually have a more recent origin.[20]

This fascination is as we have seen also a characteristic of the Da Vinci Code. It is, therefore, necessary to see it as part of a special western esoteric tradition. The Da Vinci Code, however, does not only insist that there is a special esoteric tradition going back to Jesus himself, but for Brown this is intimately connected to an active neopaganistic agenda. That is, with the victory of traditional (orthodox) Christianity precious pagan religious traditions were destroyed, which were characterized by the cult of the divine feminine and ritual sex (hieros gamos). One of the central scenes in the book, therefore, describes how the high priest (grand master) of the secret society Prieuré de Sion acts as the male part in such a ritual.

The neopagan agenda is, moreover, given a Satanist touch when it is described how symbols such as the pentacle and the horned Baphomet — which in popular culture (but also by active Satanists as for example the Order of Nine Angles) are connected to Satanism or devil worship — in reality are demonised pagan symbols for divinities, as the pentacle for Venus. In that way, Satanism, which essentially is an inverted Christianity, is connected to pagan fertility cults and esoteric organisations as freemasonry. The result is a web of meanings covering the whole field of western occult traditions. Not all these meanings are equally explored in the book but through allusions and more elaborate discourses an esoteric occult atmosphere is built up. I have, therefore, compiled a little index of esoteric, occult and neo-pagan words and themes: from the Age of Aquarius to Wicca and Yin and Yang; it does not aim to be exhaustive, but shows in one way how Brown connects to certain themes.

Age of Aquarius p. 290, 431,

the Darker Arts, p. 50

Astrology p. 20, 290, 329, 467,

Baphomet p. 343

Demon p. 60

Devil p. 8, 61, 336, 343, 424,

Devil worship p. 39, 173, 342,

Egyptian god Amon p. 129

Egyptian goddess Isis p. 94, 130, 245, 335,

Egyptian magic spells p. 329,

Egyptian obelisk p. 113

End of days p. 290, 431, 437–438, 478

Goddess (of fertility, feminine divinity, deities, sacred feminine, lost goddess) p. 97, 98, 103, 122, 129, 133, 135, 258, 259, 273, 277, 337, 420, 451, 467, 479

Goddess of astronomy p. 428

Goddess cult, worship (feminine-worshipping religions) p. 25, 99, 133, 134, 275, 315

Goddess iconology p. 122

Gnosis p. 335

Harry Potter p. 178

Hermaphrodite p. 129

Hieros gamos (ritual sex) p. 153, 333–341, 343, 381,

Illuminati p. 9

Kabbala p. 105, 330

Freemasonry, p. 221, 223, 282, 419, 467, 482

Mother Earth-revering religions p. 102, 135

Magic p. 102, 103, 105

Nirvana p. 335

Pagan iconography s. 84, 252,

Pagan temple p. 113

Paganism (matriarchal) 122, 133, 259

Pentacle (pentagonal symmetry) p. 39, 98, 103, 219, 420, 431, its meaning changed by the early Catholic Church p. 41

Secret sects (society) p. 9, 121, 171, 329, 333, 336

Secret knowledge p. 221

Secret ritual p. 223, 342

Sun worship p. 251, 252

Tarot cards p. 98, 420

Wicca p. 25, 329

Witches p. 134,

Yin yang p. 329


Why is the Da Vinci Code so popular? This was one of the two question posed in the beginning of this paper. The tentative answer is that first we have to understand its success against a background of increasing modernization and demythologization that have pushed religious discourses to the realm of fiction, at the same time as technology has increased the power of fiction. The book the Da Vinci Code will soon become a film and why not also a computer game. We, furthermore, have to consider the de-Christianization of the western world, which has led to Christian ideas and institutions having little influence in society, but also to a decrease in knowledge of Christianity, its beliefs and history. Furthermore, many do not feel any loyalty toward the Christian heritage, but on the contrary make a point of turning against it. We must, moreover, take the postmodern condition seriously, i.e. that the borderline between fact and fiction has become fuzzy and arbitrary, that there is widespread scepticism toward the power and self-sufficiency of human reason. Religious and magical ideas which were confined to the sphere of fiction, the golden but unreal world of myths, are once again taken ‘seriously’. However not as in a traditional society where religion plays a central role, but as the foundation of religion was first taken away and then the fundament of reason and thereby science, religious ideas enter an ideological market where beliefs and rituals are marketed and sold: what ideas happen to be the leading ones is governed by the present demand. The Da Vinci Code, therefore, represents a great sales success for a particular type of religious worldview. This last point is important in order to understand the success of the book, because we must not only focus on the background, the structural conditions, but we must also look at the content. If one reads the novel carefully and in the light of the contemporary religious landscape then it is clear that it belongs to a tradition which by scholars has been called western esotericism, with its 19th century form occultism and its more recent manifestation: New Age. The message of the Da Vinci Code is, therefore, a rejection of traditional Christian faith, a will to neo-paganism, a mythological feminism in the form of goddess worship: the cult of the great goddess, a focus on sexual rituals with a Satanist touch, and finally a promise of esoteric knowledge, a gnosis which makes it possible to see the hidden connections, the spiritual meanings.

Dan Brown is thus one of many New Age prophets on a global spiritual market who has clothed his message in an engaging and entertaining form (esoteric thriller) in order to reach as many people as possible. His book is in that sense not merely an isolated work, a unique (phenomenal) literary product, but foremost a phenomenon, a manifestation of something which we probably will see more of in the near future: that is, a strong critique of traditional Christianity, foremost the Catholic Church and its hierarchy, combined with an esoteric occult message. I do not mean only Da Vinci Code epigones, they have already come, but the same message and agenda presented and acted out in many different ways and with the help of the whole spectrum of (mass) media.  

[1]  I would like to express my gratitude to Willem von Erpecom for proof-reading this text. However, all remaining linguistic deficiencies remain the responsibility of the author.

[2]  By the authors of Holy Blood Holy Grail (see for example www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2004/10/03/wvinci03.xml&sSheet=/news/2004/10/03/ixnewstop.html [2005-03-24] and http://arthistory.about.com/b/a/116985.htm [2005-03-24].

[3]  Published the 23 of February and accessed at  www.lefigaro.fr/magazine

[4]  An interesting theme within works of fiction is the exhortation directed to one of the characters within the narrative to believe in the fiction, to use his or her imagination, as an allegory (or substitute) for religious belief. See for example the Peter Pan movies Hook (1991) and Finding Neverland (2004).

[5]  In this context, it could be rewarding to look at the notion of sub-creator as it was discussed by Tolkien and Lewis and their differences in relation to allegory, which in the case of Tolkien led to the creation of a fictive world tending toward mythological pseudo-history. See for example http://www.aiias.edu/ict/vol_14/014cc_147-163.pdf  [2005-03-24]  and http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1607  [2005-03-24].

[6]  http://www.lefigaro.fr/magazine/20050225.MAG0021.html [2005-02-28]

[7]  In the following text all Da Vinci Code page references is to Brown, Dan 2004 The Da Vinci Code. Doubleday, New York.

[9]  Brown 2004: 254.

[10]  www.newadvent.org/fathers/  0103311.htm [2005-03-12].

[11]  Brown 2004: 254.

[14] See for example the Gospel of Philip § 32 and § 55.

[15]  http://priory-of-sion.com/psp/id84.html  [2005-03-12].

[16] This is actually a theory formulated already in the 19th century by the German scholar Max Müller (the degeneration of language) and which became out of fashion already before the beginning of the 20th century.

[17]  Brown 2004: 369.

[18]  This was, however, expressed in Le Figaro Magazine 2005-02-23 ” Le succès de l’Alchimiste de Paulo Coelho, celui de Da Vinci Code de Dan Brown, l’engouement autour du Seigneur des Anneaux ou de la série des Matrix au cinéma, la fascination, y compris chez les adultes, pour Harry Potter… Voilà autant de signes dans lesquels il faut lire plus qu’un simple besoin d’évasion ou de recherche d’un bien-être nous poussant dans l’antichambre des psychologues.” See also Ostling, Michael 2003 “Harry Potter and the Disenchantment of the World” Journal of Contemporary Religion Vol. 18, Number 1: 3–23.

[19] Hanegraaff, Wouter 2000 ”New Age Religion and Secularization” Numen Vol. 47: 292.

[20] Hanegraaf 2000: 293.