Friday, October 31, 2008

Albert Pike and Freemasonry - Part 7

Number 7, and the final article, in a series on Albert Pike's views of Freemasonry.

The goal of this final article in my series on Pike's views on Freemasonry will be to digest the main points of the preceding six articles. Again, let me state clearly that my reading of Pike is certainly not exhaustive and the substance of this series only reflects the conclusions I've drawn from what I've read of Pike's writings.

First off, 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 Scottish Rite captured the essence of true (or pure) Masonry and that other "rites" did so to a lesser degree. Indeed, I'm quite certain that the modern notion of the Scottish Rite as an "appendant body" to Freemasonry would have been a totally alien concept to Pike. For him, the Scottish Rite was Freemasonry, and in its most pristine form.

Be that as it may, Pike believed the substance of Masonry was hidden in the Blue Degrees (and remember, the Scottish Rite includes the first three degrees--the Blue Degrees--and has its own rituals for them). For him, the sum total of Masonry can be found in the symbology and ritual of these first three degrees. But by design the sum is never taught in the Blue Lodge. True Masonry always involves more than the Blue Degrees; they are just the entryway into the Craft.

Pike believed that the Preston-Webb tradition, and its commentators, offered spurious and erroneous interpretations of the symbols and rituals of the Blue Degrees. "Masonry, tortured out of shape by these interpreters, no longer has a Secret and Holy Doctrine, is no longer Sanctum Regnum or Holy Empire." But it is important to note that it was only the meaningless and trivial interpretations of the Blue Degrees that Pike lamented, not the Degrees themselves or the Blue Lodge which conferred them. Pike had the utmost regard for the Blue Lodge and spent the latter part of his life laboring to explicate the true meaning of the symbols and rituals of the Blue Degrees. The result was his monumental book, Esoterika: Symbolism of the Blue Degrees of Freemasonry.

As for the origins of Freemasonry, Pike was a realist. He rejected early in his Masonic education most, if not all, of the fanciful theories of the ancient origins of the Craft. Pike firmly believed that Freemasonry was the legitimate heir to the Ancient Mysteries, the Hermetic and Alchemical philosophies, the Jewish Kabbalah, and the Essene teachings, as well as pre-heretical Gnosticism. The issue then becomes, how did Freemasonry become the repository for this amalgam of ancient teachings? There is ample evidence in Pike's writings that he never completely abandoned the Templar theory of the origins of Freemasonry, since the Knights Templar could account for how these schools of thought were brought to Europe from the Middle Eastern cauldron that brewed them.

Given Pike's understanding of what Freemasonry is, it's easy to see why he would eschew simplistic answers to the question "What is Freemasonry?" Let us close out this series with Pike's own words:
The true definition of the Freemasonry of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite is this: it is an advance toward the Light; a constant endeavor, in all its Degrees to elevate the Divine that is in Man, the Spiritual portion of his compound nature, his Reason and his Moral Sense, above, and make it dominant over, and master of, the human, earthly, and material portion of his nature, his passions, and his sensual appetites.

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