The Chico code

Local occult researcher looks into monks, Masons and secret symbolism along Chico’s streets

Cort Lindahl, pictured here in front of the Bank of America building’s “Stargate to Ishtar,” has been deciphering Chico’s esoteric art and architecture since 2007.

Cort Lindahl, pictured here in front of the Bank of America building’s “Stargate to Ishtar,” has been deciphering Chico’s esoteric art and architecture since 2007.

Photo by Ken Smith

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With its tree-lined streets, mix of modern and historic architecture and plentiful public art, downtown Chico is often described as charming, quaint and welcoming. But local occult researcher Cort Lindahl believes there are also clues to ancient mysteries—passed through the centuries by secret societies, religious orders and even a royal lineage that includes Chico founder John Bidwell—hidden in plain sight throughout the city.

He further claims that several local landmarks, and even the city itself, are part of regional and international arrays of sacred sites that connect Chico with everything from Hearst Castle to The Vatican.

Lindahl’s interest in ancient mysteries dates back to his childhood. As an Air Force brat, he lived for some years in Turkey and visited several medieval- and Crusade-era archeological sites. He studied a wide range of topics that come into play in his current research—history, geography, architecture, art—at Virginia’s Old Dominion University and eventually worked for several years as a field archaeologist. Since 2007, he’s been researching esoteric mysteries of the world full time, making YouTube videos and self-publishing a 400-plus page book (The Sacred Towers of the Axis Mundi) to share his findings and speculate on their meanings.

Lindahl refers to the Senator Theatre tower as “The Staff of Ishtar.”

Photo by Jason Cassidy

Lindahl offered further insight into his theories during a recent interview at Jamba Juice—his revelations of hidden knowledge occasionally interrupted by the whirring of blenders churning out kale and chia-seed smoothies. The ultra-modern juice-bar chain may seem like a strange setting for the conversation, but the building it sits in—originally built in 1931 as a Bank of America—figures prominently into Lindahl’s local theories.

“Chico definitely has an intentional setup in relation to the locations and architecture of certain buildings, including this one.”

Though its exterior has changed a great deal over the years, the arched facades over the dual entrances to the Chico Bank of America building—designed by Henry A. Minton—remain untouched. Lindahl points to several of the reliefs—or raised sculptures—that he believes indicate the building has esoteric origins, in this case a monument dedicated to the Sumerian goddess Ishtar.

Lindahl refers to Chico City Plaza as an “axis mundi,” or one of the “world centers.”

Photo by Jason Cassidy

Why Ishtar? “The Greeks adopted Ishtar into the goddess Athena, who symbolizes knowledge and wisdom,” Lindahl explained, “so a lot of these hidden things will incorporate Athena to indicate to others in the know that the people who built the building were hip to this hidden knowledge.”

The octagonal reliefs are indeed mysterious, and Lindahl uses his impressive knowledge of mythology to identify what is depicted: the Greek god Hermes; Prometheus, the Titan who stole fire from Mount Olympus and gifted it to man; the goddess herself at the apex, beneath a sailing ship. Additionally there is a character dressed in colonial garb carrying a carpenter’s square that Lindahl believes to be Tubal-Cain, a Biblical figure revered by Freemasons. Additionally, there is a large, stylized letter “I” at each corner of the building.

“There’s a tradition in architecture to include symbolism reflective of both the architect and the patron’s values,” Lindahl explained. He added that many architects, particularly before the 1800s, openly acknowledged that their work was meant to symbolize ancient truths or even channel mystic energies. Feng shui is a similar concept that remains popular in design today.

Symbolism also had a practical use, Lindahl said, to preserve real scientific knowledge: “In antiquity, astrology and astronomy and alchemy and chemistry were the same things … there’s a lot of mystical beliefs tied up in early science. You see the same thing with cartography—map-making—and architecture. A lot of mysteries and legends are meant to remember these concepts. A chemical process would be made into a story to pass along.”

John Bidwell—restless 19th century adventurer or descendant of Charlemagne dispatched on a secret mission to California?

Photo courtesy of Meriam Library, CSU Chico

Lindahl also has a lot to say about another local building that features a great deal of symbolism, the Senator Theatre, which was designed by Timothy L. Pflueger (in the same Art Moderne style) and built in 1927. Pflueger, he said, was a prominent member of the Bohemian Club and an offshoot society called The Family, the latter of which was co-founded by William Randolph Hearst.

The Bohemian Club has been targeted by mainstream critics for facilitating meetings between the world’s wealthiest and most powerful men—including several U.S. presidents—at its annual camping retreats to Bohemian Grove, a wooded property outside of Santa Rosa. Conspiracy theorists connect the club to the Freemasons, the Illuminati and other groups and are particularly wary of the Cremation of Care, a ceremony in which members and guests to the grove wear hooded robes and chant around a giant statue of an owl. They also reputedly swill a lot of liquor and watch live performances by the likes of Jimmy Buffet, prompting others to chalk the spookier practices up to college fraternity-style hijinks.

Lindahl believes the Senator is dedicated to the same goddess as the BofA building. In fact, he refers to the tower on the theater as “The Staff of Ishtar” and believes it was intentionally placed in relation with another local site of great mystical importance—the Chico City Plaza. And that’s where things get really weird.

The plaza is central to Lindahl’s theories regarding geomancy (the art of divination via interpreting patterns, such as the arrangement of buildings or sites), are based on the intentional placement of landmarks at certain coordinates. He believes sacred buildings and archeological sites around the world, known as axis mundi, contain angles that point to one another over hundreds, even thousands, of miles. He believes Bidwell was aware of this and perhaps even sent to the area as a pioneer to claim land by some shadowy cabal.

Lindahl points out that Chico lies on the Mason-Dixon Line, just above 39 degrees north latitude. Other sites along the line that he believes are important are Mount Ararat, where many Christians believe Noah’s Ark landed, and the city of Indianapolis, which he said shares a similar esoterically informed layout to Chico, Washington, D.C., and several other cities.

Viewed from above, the plaza resembles a diamond with the points set just slightly off of the cardinal directions, and another set of lines bisecting each like a giant compass, which Lindahl said it basically is. He also notes that the city was originally planned as an 8-by-8 square like a chessboard. In his book and videos, he expounds on how the chess and diamond motifs are considered sacred to certain schools of thought and how they recur throughout the city’s history.

Lindahl believes the Chico City Plaza is full of features with occult meaning, including these pylons (referencing Freemasonry’s Pillars of Boaz and Jachin) and the art piece “Fred and Ginger” (a shrine to the horned owl of Athena).

Photo by Jason Cassidy

Another local site Lindahl is very interested in and believes is inexorably linked to Chico is the wine-producing Cistercian Abbey of New Clairvaux. Lindahl noted the property’s relationship to luminaries from the past like Peter Lassen and Leland Stanford. When Lassen traveled west from Missouri, he carried California’s first Masonic charter, and the first meeting of Freemasons in California was on land now occupied by the monastery. Lassen intended to build the first Masonic lodge there, too, but his envisioned community of Benton City never came to fruition. The lodge was instead built (and still stands) in Shasta, west of present-day Redding.

If you draw a line on a map extending from the northwest line in the City Plaza, that “ley line” (a term for alignments of purported spiritual or mystical significance) goes directly through the front yard of the Bidwell Mansion and straight to the Chapter House at New Clairveux, which is currently being built with stones from an 800-year-old Spanish monastery moved to California by Hearst. Lindahl also points out that the BofA building, as well the old Masonic lodge (where the Blue Room Theatre now resides), runs adjacent to that ley line.

But the Chapter House is a recent construction, and what on Earth do Masons have to do with Cistercian monks? Skeptics might also question the fact that mythology was a common motif in Art Deco architecture and that other aspects of Lindahl’s work sometimes require large leaps in logic to connect the appropriate dots.

Lindahl’s accounts of how angles in Chico point to sites with more angles pointing elsewhere can be a bit dizzying, as he rattles off sites like Scotland’s Roslin Castle, the Temple Mount, Rhode Island’s Newport Tower, Oak Island in Nova Scotia and dozens more of interest to treasure hunters, historians, conspiracy theorists and mystics.

Chico is filled with strange symbols, including these pentagram basement vents at Madison Bear Garden.

Photo by Jason Cassidy

His ultimate theory is that these secret connections are not entirely the realm of any single group, but instead that various groups serve a higher authority—an ancient bloodline whose designs and goals are accomplished generation by generation, sometimes over hundreds of years. He believes the basic goal of geomancy isn’t to channel mystic forces, but for these ancient families to lay claim to property, sometimes even before it was discovered in the New World. Lindahl believes Bidwell to be part of that ancestry, even positing that the Bidwell bloodline extends directly back to King Charlemagne.

“They’re legally defining property they feel they own by comparing it to a fixed point,” Lindahl explained. “The traditions began from those claiming property at a time when all these spiritual overtones were attached to its properties, and continue today.”