Friday, May 31, 2013

Order and Progress in the Dérive: Freemasonry and Positivism in the Urban Landscape of Rio de Janeiro

With such a distinguished history, it should come as no surprise that Freemasonry has left its mark on architecture and urban design.  For example, various sources have long ascribed the layout of Washington, D.C. to Masonic influence, and indeed, it has recently come to light that original designer Pierre l'Enfant had in fact obtained at the least the First Degree of the Craft (here).  Sandusky, Ohio, has a Square and Compasses integrated into its original street plan.  One square mile in an area known as "The Lodge" was incorporated as Apopka, Florida, so that its namesake Masonic Lodge became its center (Journey to the Center of the Earth).  But time and growth have obscured these Masonic origins.  

It's been awhile, but I'm finally reporting back from a recent trip to South America. For its large number of Masonically-inspired monuments, I figured Rio de Janeiro must be among the most visible Masonic urban landscapes in the world.  I was partly right.  What I hadn't counted on was the related but independent philosophical school of Positivism. Before considering this point, let's take a look a number of examples of potentially Masonic-influenced elements in Rio; we'll get back to the consideration of Positivism towards the end of this article.

When I kept seeing evocative monuments everywhere I went in Rio, I started keeping my eyes peeled like a child looking for Easter Eggs.  I have never seen so many obelisks in my life.  They are used as architectural elements, posts to delineate parking lots, fountains and as lone free-standing sentinels.  In addition to the obelisks, there are pyramids everywhere:  truncated, inverted, both right-side up and inverted together, in pairs....  Even if it weren't for the Illuminati-themed graffiti I saw around some these monuments, I couldn't merely write it off as confirmation bias.  I wasn't the only one grokking them, they are everywhere. 

Graffiti across the road from the Largo do Boticário
My Portuguese is poop and English info on some of these places is kind of scarce, so I hope readers with any information on these monuments will contact us or comment in order to clarify or expand upon the information we present herein.

This graffiti (right) was among the first things I photographed on my very first day in town.  It was to set the tone for next ten days, where on each excursion I came across either an obelisk or a pyramid.  It seems to mock the viewer, tongue stuck out and flashing heavy metal devil horns.  I'd been forewarned.

This Google Earth view shows the general distribution of obelisks and pyramids in Rio:

Most of these were glimpsed from the back of a motorcycle or through a bus window.  It was only later that I tracked them down to inspect them, making long ambling walks through town, stumbling across even more things by chance.  What follows is an account these dérive(s) through the streets of Rio.

This is the first set of pyramids I saw:


They are a striking pair of modest-sized but almost dangerous-looking pyramids made of granite.  They once served as the gateway into the Passeio Público.  Built 1779-1783, this is the oldest public park in Brazil.  The public park we take for granted is actually quite profound; the use of public space freely available to all is certainly a reflection of democratic ideals, although this one wasn't open to all the public until 1793.  Prior to that it had been reserved for the aristocracy.

The architect was Valentim da Fonseca e Silva (Master Valentim).  He planned it in the French formal tradition, originally a rough hexagon, like France itself; as you can see,  the paths within form first a pentagon, then a square. 

1862 drawing showing the Master Valentim's design of the Passeio Público.  Wikipedia.

The idea of the perfection of nature--order and progress--are implicit in a park, especially the French style.  No coincidence that the first public parks date to the Enlightenment.  When the park was re-designed in 1864 by a Frenchman in the English style--less symmetrical and more "natural"--the pyramids were retained.

The principle Masonic themes implicit in these pyramids lies in the fact they are free-standing markers of ingress.  They can thus be likened to Jachin and Boaz, which are elements of the Temple of Solomon.  This in turn derives from Phoenicia, and back to Egypt itself.  (see I ♥ Phoenicia and Pillars of the Community).
Does anyone know if Valentim was a Freemason?
Here is a rather poor image of a fountain, also designed by Master Valentim, topped by an obelisk with a cross, that sits in the center of the Praça General Osório in Ipanema:

The General lived from 1808-1879 and was a Freemason, according to the Lodge Fraternidade No.3 HIMN (Pelotas).  Perhaps this is the reason the obelisk was chosen.  In any event, its construction actually predates the General's birth, having been designed by Valentim in 1799 (source).

Master Valentim certainly liked pyramids and obelisks, having also designed the Chafariz da Pirâmide in the Praça XV (1779) (source).

Chafariz de Mestre Valentim or Chafariz da Pirâmide.  Photo by "Piutus".

The story doesn't end with Master Valentim. Here are 8 other related features I'd like to share.

1. Here we see the obelisk used as an architectural adornment,on the building which houses the Sindicato dos corretores de seguros e capitalização do est.  That is to say the syndicate of insurance and capitalization brokers:

2. This obelisk is apparently quite important, capping as it does Avenida Rio Branco (née Avenida Central), which was a massive engineering affair and a great source of pride for Cariocas.  During one clash between President Vargas and rebel gauchos, "the rebels hitched their horses to [it], claiming ownership of Rio's quintessential monument of the bourgeois republic." (Boldface added)  This was in 1930 (Culture Wars in Brazil):


The needle is 11.4 m and overall it's 28 m high.  Like Valentim's pyramids, it is made of locally-extracted granite and executed by one Eduardo de . It was donated to the city by Januzzi & Brothers at the inauguration of the Avenue.  I don't know if either of these brothers were Freemasons.

A sign names President of the Republic Francisco de Paula Rodrigues Alves (a Freemason) and Transportation and Public Minister. Lauro Severiano Muller (also a Freemason) as those who commissioned the Avenue, completed between November 15, 1902 and November 15, 1906 
3. The Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian (1964-1976) is one of the most unusual cathedrals on the planet, an imposing pyramid that evokes some kind of spacecraft:


It was designed by Edgar Fonceca to replace a series of older cathedrals, the last of which had been dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel.  Incidentally, the Chafariz da Pirâmide also replaced a structured dedicated to this apparition of the Virgin.  Perhaps the "pyramid" is thus designed to evoke Mount Carmel?

I don't think this has anything to do with Freemasonry, but it is pretty damn cool, perhaps a tip of the hat to the recurrence of the pyramid in Master Velentim's designs.... 

4. The Monument to Estácio de Sá.  I went into this in some detail in Masonic Republics? so I won't repeat myself here; it should be included in the list, just in case you think I'm overstating my case.  I would add that it seems to refer to the pyramids at the Passeio Público in its sharp verticality.  As I mentioned in my other post, the guide at the monument claims the pyramid was chosen because Sá was a Freemason.  Whether the claim is true or not, it's important that he believes it to be true; it's association with the other pyramids, then, somewhat retroactively gives them a Masonic association as well.

5. Finding information about the following monument has proven difficult, and it took me a few hours of walking around in flip-flops, hungover, to find it.  I don't know the artist or the date.  I think at this point we can safely say there are a lot of pyramids in Rio.  Perhaps I'm reading too much into these things, but, judging by the graffiti pictured below, a work over two meters high on the wall facing the left (as you face it) side of the pyramid, I'm not the only one wondering if Rio is not in some ways the enormous sculpture garden of Freemasons....

The honoree here is Zumbi dos Palmares (1655-1695), a rebel leader of great skill who led the Quilombo dos Palmares, a self-sustaining republic open to escaped slaves, free Africans, Indians, whites.  He resisted the Portuguese effectively for years.  The central settlement eventually succumbed to Portuguese artillery but Zumbi lived to fight on for two more years, until he was betrayed.  When captured he was beheaded on the spot.  Today he is an important figure for Afro-Brazilians.  This monument is placed in what was once a thriving Afro-Brazilian neighborhood until much of it was razed to make way for the massive Avenida Vargas built here.

Who commissioned this statue and who designed it?  Why a pyramid?  Did Freemasonry influence the design? 

6. This hourglass configuration of pyramids is the Peace Monument, dedicated to the city of Rio by the Bahá'í Faith after the Earth Summit in 1992.

The Bahá'í Faith is a monotheistic religion religion emphasizing the spiritual unity of all humankind.  Three core principles establish a basis for Bahá'í teachings and doctrine: the unity of God, that there is only one God who is the source of all creation; the unity of religion, that all major religions have the same spiritual source and come from the same God; and the unity of humankind, that all humans have been created equal, and that diversity of race and culture are seen as worthy of appreciation and acceptance.

This sounds a lot to me like the spiritual principles of Freemasonry Indeed, Bahá'í has come under attack in Iran for, among other reason, having direct ties to the Craft. 

As Freemasonry was a secretive society originating from the West, many in Iran connected the movement with the introduction of foreign ideas into the country in order to undermine Iranian values.  Claims were made that many of the earliest Freemason lodges, such as Malkom Khan's faramush-khanih, which were founded in 1858, were linked to European lodges.  However, Freemasonry was brought to Iran by Iranians who had seen the movement in other parts of the world.


The teachings of the Baha'i Faith expressly forbid membership in secret societies. Shoghi Effendi, the guardian of the Bahá'í Faith, asked all Bahá'ís to remove their memberships from all secret societies, including the Freemasons, so that they can serve the teachings of the Bahá'í Faith without compromising their independence.


The Peace Monument, "a five-meter high concrete and ceramic monument was designed by, and built under the supervision of, the renowned Brazilian artist and sculptor, Siron Franco....His design combines two pyramids, one inverted on top of the other, creating an hourglass shape intended to symbolize the fact that time is running out for humanity unless it unites in a new spirit of global cooperation."

During the inauguration ceremony, a line of children dressed in the costumes of many countries passed from hand to hand the soil of 42 nations for deposit into the monument, which is hollow.

Many of the soil samples have been taken from sacred or historic sites. Soil from Iceland, for example, was taken from that country's most sacred and historic spot...

Etched in four languages on the four sides of the upper pyramid are words written by Bahá'u'lláh more than a century ago: "The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens." The quotation is displayed in English, Portuguese, Chinese and Terena, an indigenous language of Brazil. On the lower half of the structure the words "world peace" have been engraved in more than 35 languages. A glass strip at the monument's midpoint displays multi-colored soils taken from the contributing nations.

This is the kind of sentiment that gives so many people nightmares.  An impending One World Government or New World Order is the bugbear of any number of political and religious persuasions.  Any group with an overtly ecumenical message such as Freemasonry, Scouting (Rio incidentally not only has a monument to Scouting but to its founder Lord Robert Baden-Powell) or Unitarians are often lumped together and charged with having a hand in bringing about this New World Order, often believed to have been foretold in the Book of Revelations and directed by the hand of Lucifer himself.  That Masonic luminaries such as Albert Pike spoke glowingly about the Morning Star, or Venus, aka Lucifer, doesn't help.  That the obverse of the US one dollar bill features an unfinished pyramid of thirteen layers with a banner which reads Novus Ordo Seclorum ("New Order of the Ages"), also adds fuel to the fire.

The charges leveled against Freemasonry do in fact have some merit, if you believe in the exclusivity of your brand of faith.  The Craft does espouse ecumenicism and the Brotherhood of Man.  Personally, I don't think any of these groups are "all in on it together", but they are clearly working towards many of the same goals; it is interesting that they chose the pyramid in a city with its fair share of them already, many of which, as we have seen, have Masonic connections.

Which is also something which can be said about the obelisks of Rio, including our next mysterious fellow...

7. The Praça do Expedicinario:

This seems to be an administrative area, with a variety of police and military museums and facilities, hence the Plaza of the Expeditionary.  It is currently very run down and under renovation, or at least barricaded.  The obelisk itself is covered with graffiti.

According to this blog (in Portuguese), this plaza is considered the birthplace of Rio, as it was the site of the first European occupation of the area, Morro Castle.  The first "town hall" was located here, as was the governor's mansion, warehouses, a Jesuit church and the city's first cathedral, dedicated to Saint Sebastian.  The remains of Estácio de , the soldier who founded the city, were also interred here.

The obelisk is a monument to the Baron of Rio Branco.  A little back story.  The Baron's father was José Maria da Silva Paranhos, the Viscount of Rio Branco (1819-1880).  The elder Paranhos was the Grande Master of  Grande Oriente do Brasil  in 1872 when the Bishop of Olinda expelled all Freemasons from lay brotherhoods.  The Viscount had been a Freemason since at least 1840.  Up until then, Brazilian Masonry did not appear to have the same adversarial relationship with the Church as the Continental Orients, but for various reasons, things came to a head and provoked a political crisis.

According to Wikipedia:

The government came down on the side of the Freemasons and against the church, ordering Dom Vital to rescind the interdict, which he refused. This refusal led to the bishops being tried before the Supreme Court of Justice of the Empire where in 1874 they were convicted and sentenced to four years of hard labor which was commuted to imprisonment without hard labour. Rio Branco explained in a letter written in August 1873 that he believed the government "could not compromise in the affair" since "it involved principles essential to the social order and to national sovereignty". These actions aligned with his own views, but his convictions were bolstered by the Emperor's identical conclusions. Pedro II regarded Rio Branco as his favorite politician and a second-in-command on whom he could rely. The Emperor played a decisive role by unequivocally backing the government's actions in moving against the bishops. The lack of independence shown by Rio Branco in relation to Pedro II was strongly criticized by historian Roderick J. Barman, who believed that the Prime Minister only enforced policies that did not displease the Emperor or which had his full support. The trial and imprisonment of the two bishops was very unpopular....

Pedro seems to have been an enlightened and simple man who resented the imperial burden which had been placed upon him.  When slavery was abolished, he received the news while on his sickbed, teary eyed and exclaiming "Great people! Great people!"  Although Republicanism never flourished during his reign, Positivism became widespread among junior officers in the military.  When they eventually staged a coup d'état, he apparently seemed unconcerned and did nothing to squash it and quietly accepted exile to Europe.  After his death he was widely praised as an exemplar of Republican ideas.  One curious conflict that occurred during his reign was a uprising against the imposition of the metric system, called "Smash the Kilos" (1874), which many suspected of being condoned by priests....

Today it might be hard to imagine what a ruckus the metric system caused, but one must imagine that it in fact was an extension of Enlightenment and thus Republican ideals being extended into the very fabric not only of daily life and commerce, but in a human being's perception of the world.  Even today, ultra-conservative Catholics yearning for the days before Vatican II condemn the metric system as a technocratic affront to god and the natural, as opposed to rational, order.  One example is Michael A. Hoffman, certainly a fringe figure, whose Secret Societies and Psychological Warfare dedicates quite a bit of ink to railing against the metric system:

The contrast between the reign of number and the world of poetic serendipity, is analogous with the contrast between metric and traditional measure. Traditional measure (pounds, pecks, gallons, bushels, leagues, fathoms, furlongs etc.) represents measurement on a human scale, containing the quantities of serendipity and poetry, which constitute mankind’s defense against the empire of the machine. Modern measure, on the other hand, polices our world with the lifeless rigidity of the metric system, first imposed in 1795 by Freemasons.

Could Freemasonry be reflected in the use of obelisks?  Rio Branco's son, the Baron, is honored by an obelisk and he, like his father, was a prominent statesman and Freemason.  Recall if you will our first obelisk, which now sits at one end of the Avenida Rio Branco, just where it crosses Rua Master Valentim.

Perhaps we're not the only one to link the Rio Branco obelisk to the pyramids and Freemasonry.  The final graffito we will present today is scrawled on the sidewalk just before the Praça do Expedicinario....

8. The last monument we'll take a look at is the Monumento aos Mortos da Segunda Guerra Mundial, dedicated to the war dead of the Second World War, especially those of the Brazil Expeditionary Force.  Interesting coincidence.  Also interesting is the plethora of pyramid forms that sit above a chapel holding their remains.  Just like the mausoleums to Artigas in Montevideo and de Sá, the underground crypts receive light from the surface.  The difference is that there isn't just one single pyramid in this composition, but several.  The monument was designed by Mark Netto Konder and Helio Ribas Marinh and completed in 1960. 

The first thing one notices from a distance is the pair of pillars, supporting a flat table-like slab of concrete.  To me, these two pillars recall Jachin and Boaz.  In fact, there are quite a few uses of free standing pillars in nearby architecture:  the Camara Municipal of Rio de Janeiro, on Avenida Rio Branco, the Memorial Municipal Getúlio Vargas (also underground), a pair of whimsical pillars on the Praça Italia and many more I cannot recall.

I decided not to elaborate upon these examples of pillars (unless they were obelisks, which is another matter) but I mention Jachin and Boaz here because of the metalwork which connects the two pillars.  Counting the squares, we find that there are 32 apertures.  I was sort of surprised but in some way wasn't at all, because as you can see in the next picture, the eternal flame honoring the unknown Brazilian soldier is.... inverted pyramid.

A look over to the other side of the above ground part of the monument, one sees another table-like slab sheltering three figures, representing the three branches of the Brazilian armed forces.  Be that as it may, already primed by the number 32, I could not help but recall the basic three degrees of Freemasonry, or even the Three Ruffians.  That said, I realize that this is more my own poetic invention than anything else.  This entire portion of the monument is supported by what appears to be an inverted pyramid.  What you cannot see so well in this photo is that this pyramid also incorporates a right side-up pyramid into its design, forming an out-of-proportion and three-dimensional visual corollary to the Masonic Square and Compasses.

A variation on this design can be found in the crypt, where the same pyramid/inverted pyramid design is used to support the above ground part of the monument.  I would imagine this to be a structural necessity to reinforce the load-bearing smaller tip of the inverted pyramid.  As a design choice a pyramid is logical as the Egyptian pyramids are probably the most famous tombs in the world and were already ancient in Jesus' day.  A funeral monument is supposed to preserve the memory of the dead.  Why not choose a design that has proven its functional and psychological staying power?

Everything is a pyramid on this monument.  Even the steel that carries the dedication inscription is a perfectly small pyramid of the tetrahedron variety.

Finally, in the small court which allow light into the underground crypt, there are 8 triangular plaques.  Sadly, I neglected to note what these plaques specifically honor.

Phew!  What a "tour" de force of examples I found!  Now, let's get back to Positivism, as I promised in the intro.  I think there's a lot more to be said about the role of Freemasonry in Brazil's history, as well as its influence on Positivism.  Positivism had a big impact in Brazil, especially among the military, and it would be hard to study one without studying the other.  I'm not much of a philosopher, or I'd have a go at it; however, there already seems to be quite a bit on the subject available so I'd suggest pursuing it further online.  Still, a few words on the topic are in order.

Positivist themes have existed in Western thought since antiquity, but here we are concerned by the Positivism articulated by August Comte (1798-1857).   His Positivism "states that the only authentic knowledge is that which allows positive verification and assumes that there is valid knowledge only in scientific knowledge."

But science and reason were not enough, some kind of religious framework was required.  Comte formalized his Positivist system in the Religion of Humanity based on his belief that "there should also be a religion that would have power by virtue of moral force alone."  He even went as far as to propose a new calendar, as in the French Revolution, where the months were named after great thinkers.  Each day also had its own patron thinker, just as in the Catholic calendar each day has its saint.

His was a complete system of liturgy, sacraments and clergy; Humanity was venerated as the Nouveau Grand-Être Suprême (New Supreme Great Being), which evolved into a trinitarian system with the addition of  the Grand Fétish (the Earth) and the Grand Milieu (Cosmic Space).

Islam has five pillars, Positivism has three:
  • altruism
  • order
  • progress
As I stated earlier, Positivism became quite popular among the military in Brazil during the reign of Pedro II.   In Brazil, this was formalized when philosophers Miguel Lemos and Raimundo Teixeira Mendes founded the Positivist Church of Brazil in 1881.  They were joined by Benjamin Constant.  Constant was a military officer and a Freemason, a leading figure in the 1889 coup d'état which ended the reign of Pedro II.  The 1891 constitution named him the "the founder of the Republic".

In 1897 the Positivist Church became the "Temple of Humanity".  The Temple exists to this day.

The Temple of Humanity is another legacy of the French Revolution.  In 1792 the most radical elements of the Revolution formalized revolutionary anti-clericalism in the Cult of Reason, an atheistic system to designed replace Christianity.  "The Cult of Reason was explicitly humanocentric. Its goal was the perfection of mankind through the attainment of Truth and Liberty, and its guiding principle to this goal was the exercise of the human faculty of Reason."

In 1794, Maximillien de Robespierre supplanted the Cult of Reason with the Cult of the Supreme Being.  As its name suggests, it was not atheistic--and it was the atheism of the Cult of Reason which most disturbed Robespierre.  In his Cult, "reason is only a means to an end, and the singular end is virtue ... The primary principles of the Cult of the Supreme Being were a belief in the existence of a god and the immortality of the human soul."

These principles sum up the principle spiritual tenets of Freemasonry.  It was one of the last straws, however, for Robespierre, and his cult pretty much disappeared after his execution in 1794.  It was later officially banned by Napoleon.

But in a sense, the Cult of the Supreme Being did not entirely disappear.   It lives on in the Temple of Humanity, churches of which exist.  Brazil still has, after France, quite a few Positivist churches, one of which is in Rio de Janeiro; it is oriented, like a mosque towards Mecca or a Cathedral towards Rome, towards Paris.

Positivism's influence in Brazil is demonstrated on its flag.  The first flag was proposed by Rui Barboas, a Freemason, but it was rejected by provisional president Deodoro da Fonseca, military officer and Freemason.  Teixeira Mendes suggested the celestial globe and the Positivist motto.  His ideas were presented to Fonseca, who promptly accepted them. The flag was designed by a group formed by Mendes, Miguel Lemos, Manuel Pereira Reis and Décio Villares.  It was officially adopted on November 19, 1889.  None of these men were Freemasons, but they were all Positivists, except Reis.

27-star version of the flag adoped in 1889. Wikipedia.

The monuments we've studied here, however, are the visible sign of invisible currents; either flotsam or roadsigns depending on whom you think remains in power.  I think it's important to bear in mind that while I'm focusing on Masonic symbolism, quite a few of these monuments aren't linked to the craft in any other way save for their form.  The obelisk is not only a Masonic marker; St. Peter's Square boasts a genuine Egyptian obelisk and the Vatican is certainly the last place to go looking for Freemasons.

Brazil is pretty wild in its architecture, and if you go looking for pyramids in say, São Paulo and Brasilia, you'll find more than one example.  Likewise obelisks.  I know because I came across quite a few examples in those cities while looking into those in Rio.  I limited myself to Rio because there are so many to deal with already, but also because I actually saw these things with my own eyes.  This relates to my desire to process the things I've seen in my travels, to order my thoughts, and to give meaning to my experience.  Order and Progress, wot?

Please, if I've made any omissions or errors, don't hesitate to comment or contact me.  Rio's a big place, and I'm sure more is out there.  Let me repeat: I'm sure of it.  There's an enormous streetlamp in the form of an obelisk in a compass rose on yellow streets in the Praça Espanha in Ipanema, but I didn't actually see it. You can Google it though, and report back.

Happy hunting, and we can't wait to hear what you find.

Thanks to the Gid, who, as in times past, helped untangle the mess I made when I wrote myself into knots.  Gid also suggested breaking this post up into several "micro-posts" -- a suggestion I vetoed.  If this post is too long and unwieldy, then, the fault is all mine.  Likewise the content.

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