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CHAPTER 28

Inside the Salle des Etats, Langdon stared in astonishment at the six words glowing on the Plexiglas. The text seemed to hover in space, casting a jagged shadow across Mona Lisa’s mysterious smile.

«The Priory,» Langdon whispered. «This proves your grandfather was a member!» Sophie looked at him in confusion. «You understand this?» «It’s flawless,» Langdon said, nodding as his thoughts churned. «It’s a proclamation of one of the Priory’s most fundamental philosophies!»

Sophie looked baffled in the glow of the message scrawled across the Mona Lisa’s face.

SO DARK THE CON OF MAN

«Sophie,» Langdon said,» the Priory’s tradition of perpetuating goddess worship is based on a belief that powerful men in the early Christian church ‘conned’ the world by propagating lies that devalued the female and tipped the scales in favor of the masculine.» Sophie remained silent, staring at the words.» The Priory believes that Constantine and his male successors successfully converted the world from matriarchal paganism to patriarchal Christianity by waging a campaign of propaganda that demonized the sacred feminine, obliterating the goddess from modern religion forever.»

Sophie’s expression remained uncertain. «My grandfather sent me to this spot to find this. He must be trying to tell me more than that.»

Langdon understood her meaning. She thinks this is another code.Whether a hidden meaning existed here or not, Langdon could not immediately say. His mind was still grappling with the bold clarity of Saunière’s outward message.

So dark the con of man, he thought. So dark indeed.

Nobody could deny the enormous good the modern Church did in today’s troubled world, and yet the Church had a deceitful and violent history. Their brutal crusade to» reeducate» the pagan and feminine-worshipping religions spanned three centuries, employing methods as inspired as they were horrific.

The Catholic Inquisition published the book that arguably could be called the most blood-soaked publication in human history. Malleus Maleficarum – or The Witches’ Hammer – indoctrinated the world to» the dangers of freethinking women» and instructed the clergy how to locate, torture, and destroy them. Those deemed» witches» by the Church included all female scholars, priestesses, gypsies, mystics, nature lovers, herb gatherers, and any women» suspiciously attuned to the natural world.» Midwives also were killed for their heretical practice of using medical knowledge to ease the pain of childbirth – a suffering, the Church claimed, that was God’s rightful punishment for Eve’s partaking of the Apple of Knowledge, thus giving birth to the idea of Original Sin. During three hundred years of witch hunts, the Church burned at the stake an astounding five million women.

The propaganda and bloodshed had worked. Today’s world was living proof. Women, once celebrated as an essential half of spiritual enlightenment, had been banished from the temples of the world. There were no female Orthodox rabbis, Catholic priests, nor Islamic clerics. The once hallowed act of Hieros Gamos – the natural sexual union between man and woman through which each became spiritually whole – had been recast as a shameful act. Holy men who had once required sexual union with their female counterparts to commune with God now feared their natural sexual urges as the work of the devil, collaborating with his favorite accomplice… woman.

Not even the feminine association with the left-hand side could escape the Church’s defamation. In France and Italy, the words for» left» – gauche and sinistra – came to have deeply negative overtones, while their right-hand counterparts rang of righteousness, dexterity, and correctness. To this day, radical thought was considered left wing, irrational thought was left brain, and anything evil, sinister.

The days of the goddess were over. The pendulum had swung. Mother Earth had become a man’s world, and the gods of destruction and war were taking their toll. The male ego had spent two millennia running unchecked by its female counterpart. The Priory of Sion believed that it was this obliteration of the sacred feminine in modern life that had caused what the Hopi Native Americans called koyanisquatsi – «life out of balance» – an unstable situation marked by testosterone-fueled wars, a plethora of misogynistic societies, and a growing disrespect for Mother Earth.

«Robert!» Sophie said, her whisper yanking him back. «Someone’s coming!» He heard the approaching footsteps out in the hallway.» Over here!» Sophie extinguished the black light and seemed to evaporate before Langdon’s eyes.

For an instant he felt totally blind. Over where! As his vision cleared he saw Sophie’s silhouette racing toward the center of the room and ducking out of sight behind the octagonal viewing bench. He was about to dash after her when a booming voice stopped him cold.

« Arrêtez! » a man commanded from the doorway.

The Louvre security agent advanced through the entrance to the Salle des Etats, his pistol outstretched, taking deadly aim at Langdon’s chest.

Langdon felt his arms raise instinctively for the ceiling.

«Couchez-vous!» the guard commanded. «Lie down!»

Langdon was face first on the floor in a matter of seconds. The guard hurried over and kicked his legs apart, spreading Langdon out.

« Mauvaise idée , Monsieur Langdon , »he said, pressing the gun hard into Langdon’s back.» Mauvaise idée.»

Face down on the parquet floor with his arms and legs spread wide, Langdon found little humor in the irony of his position. The Vitruvian Man, he thought. Face down.

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