Sunday, October 19, 2008

Albert Pike and Freemasonry - Part 1

This is the first post in a series I plan to do on Albert Pike's views on Freemasonry. The substance of this post was the reply I made to a poster's comments on my post "Why I joined the Scottish Rite."

Based on my reading of Pike and the history of the Scottish Rite (which certainly is not exhaustive, by any means), Albert Pike viewed Masonry as an organic whole, with each modern iteration of it representing to a greater or lesser degree the pure Masonry lost in its own pre-history. Pike believed the AASR captured the essence of true Masonry and that other "rites" did so to a lesser degree, but the sum and substance was hidden in the Blue Degrees.

Pike believed (and it's still reflected in the teachings of the Scottish Rite) that the Blue Degrees with their elaborate symbology and ritual were purposely designed to conceal, not reveal. So, in that sense, when the anti-Masons claim that the "truth" of Freemasonry is hidden from the the holders of the lower degrees, they are correct. Where they are in error is in what they believe is being hidden.

Pike believed, and the Scottish Rite teaches, that the sum total of Masonry can be found in the symbology and ritual of the Blue Degrees. But by design the sum is never taught in the Blue Lodge. Pike believed true Masonry always involved more than the first three degrees as given; these are just the entryway. What Pike lamented is the belief that what is given as given to the Mason in the Blue Degrees represents the truth of Masonry on its face. Pike believed the teachings of the Blue Degrees as given had one end: to prod the Mason to look behind and beneath the surface of those teachings to find the treasure within. And he believed the Higher Degrees of the AASR were the most suitable pathway to that treasure.

I believe the current notion of the Scottish Rite as being an "appendant body" to Masonry would have been foreign to Pike. Keep in mind that while not generally practiced, the Scottish Rite has its own versions of the first three degrees, and is, therefore, a complete system of Masonry unto itself. And I believe that is the way Pike viewed the Scottish Rite. It was, for him, Freemasonry in its most unadulterated form.


The Palmetto Bug said...

Not being in the SR myself, I am probably not fully qualified to comment on this subject. But, of course, when has that stopped me?

As a Johnny-Come-Lately to the appendant bodies (YR, in my case), I have spent the vast majority of my Masonic career focused solely on the three degrees of the symbolic Lodge. I don't think those degrees are meant to conceal information. They just don't make it easy to figure out the information. One has to work at it and think about it since it is, as you have stated, not taught in the "blue" Lodge. The serious Masonic student is expected to seek out and teach himself to a certain extent.

Could it be that the SR and the YR were created to explain the three primary degrees so the Mason doesn't have to figure it out for himself? Just a thought.

Esquire said...

Bug, think about it a minute and you will have to concede that by their very design the three Blue Degrees are meant to conceal. This is an open forum, so we are limited as to how deeply we can delve into the esoterica of the Blue Lodge, but unless one is prepared to take the degrees on their face as teaching literal truth, rather than truth veiled in allegory, then they do in fact conceal. The issue then boils down to what they conceal. And that is where Pike considers some of the interpretations as spurious, if not downright ludicrous.

I don't think Pike viewed the Scottish Rite as "explaining" the Blue Degrees. There are things taught in the Higher Degrees that pull the veil back on the Blue Degrees, but for the most part even these degrees only point the Master Mason down new and different avenues of Masonic learning and enlightenment.

Robert G. Davis said...

Palmetta Bug asked: "Could it be the SR and YR were created to explain the BL degrees?"

The answer is no. The SR and YR were created to extend the story of the Hiram legend to its conclusion and then develop the allegorical structure for the buiding of the second temple. We have to remember the 3° did not come into the English system for at least 8 years after the founding of the Grand Lodge. It was not wholly accepted until the Union of 1813. The third degree was an innovation in Masonry. It was never considered the last and highest degree; but, rather, the first of the higher degrees for the reason that it introduced the mystery play tradition to Masonic ritual. This introduction changed everything. The structure of Freemasonry became much more than just a ritual-based joining ceremony which included a few moral lessons. The teachings of Masonry became a deeply imbedded allegorical system for changing an individual's consciousness--changing the way an individual thinks about life's most important meaning, namely himself and his connection to the metaphysical.

This was the discovery that spread across the continent and ennobled Freemasonry. Freemasonry's teachings came to be seen as a psychological map of evolving consciousness.

When the ritual of the fraternity is understood this way, then the first three degrees only take the seeker to the point that he discovers there is an inner journey to be made; and that inner work cannot begin until after the ruffians within him are overcome.

In the Scottish Rite system of Freemasonry, this takes place in the 10°. That which was lost in the English third degree is discovered in the 13° of the Rite and then interpreted in the 18°.

The key to the mysteries which is given the candidate in the 4° cannot be used until the 32°, where the true secret of life is revealed.

Pike understood all this. He never saw the blue degrees as any more than an introduction to the mysteries of Masonry. And he did not believe the authors of the Preston-Webb ritual form had any clue about the real nature of the allegories. We know those men were told there were allegories, as the subject is mentioned several times in the craft ritual writings; but they had no idea what these were or how to interpret them. This was Pike's biggest complaint with the English and American ritual authors.

It took the higher degrees to unravel the mystery. It is true Pike provided explanations to the first three degrees (one had to since so little was explained in them), but the higher degrees involve a much deeper journey than education. They are not about pointing the Master Mason anywhere but within himself.

When we think of the Scottish Rite, we have to think of it as a system of Masonry that consists of 33 degrees, beginning with the Entered Apprentice.

When we think of the York Rite, we have to think of it as a system of Freemasasonry consisting of 9 degrees, beginning with the Entered Apprentice and ending with the Select Master (or, 10, if one includes the Super Excellent Master degree).

The bottom line is that one cannot fully understand Masonry if he has never advanced beyond the craft lodge level.


Esquire said...

Robert, thanks for a wonderful followup to my post. You actually touched on something I intend to cover in a later post in this series, namely Pike's concept of the Higher Degrees in relation to "Ancient Freemasonry."

Regarding the Blue Degrees, keep in mind Pike spent the latter part of his life deeply in the study of their symbolism which resulted in what could arguably be considered his second Magnum Opus: his book Esoterika. Pike never intended this book to be published and only two manuscript volumes were produced, one of which rests in the archives of the Supreme Council and the other with the Quatuor Coronati Lodge 2076 in London. In 2005 the SGIG authorized the publication of Esoterika and it is now available not only to Scottish Rite Masons, but to all Masons. In my opinion, it should be required reading for all Master Masons in the Blue Lodge.

The Palmetto Bug said...

Y'all have given me some good stuff to think about, though I still don't think what is in the 3 Degrees is meant to conceal the most excellent tenets of the institution.