Review of Freemasonry

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A Three Part Series on Selected Thoughts and Teachings of Bro. Albert Pike
by Russell R. Boedeker, 32º K.C.C.H.
September 15, 2007

Russell R. Boedeker, 32° K.C.C.H., Portland Valley, Oregon and a member of Beaverton Masonic Lodge #100. Russell is an instructor in the Portland Scottish Rite University and has developed and taught classes from the 1st through 8th and the 31st degree. His Masonic specialty and interest is in the field of esoteric symbolism.
He likes to receive comments about this paper. Contact Russell R. Boedeker.

Albert Pike

Albert Pike on Enigmas and Mysteries


Bro. Albert Pike had much to say about the meaning of symbols in Freemasonry.  He reminds us in his writings that the original symbols of Freemasonry, at least the ones that are truly ancient, came to us from the early mysteries.  He lamented that the original meanings of many of these symbols have been lost to time, and that we have substituted meanings in their place.  The symbols of old from the ancient mysteries were not meant to reveal, but to conceal.  When a new candidate was initiated into the lower levels of the ancient mysteries he was given an explanation of the symbols, but the explanation was erroneous and meant to mislead him; protecting the truth as only the adepts were allowed to know the true meaning of the mysteries.


Bro. Pike taught that the same concealing of the true meaning of the symbols continues in Masonry to this day.  The explanations given in our monitors is at best simplistic, and in many cases just plain wrong.  Explanations meant to conceal the true meaning from the initiate.  However, the true meaning of the symbols may yet be discovered by the initiate through study and reflection.  Below I have provided a paraphrase of Albert Pike’s thoughts on the topic of the mysteries of our symbols:


“It is in its antique symbols and their occult meaning that the true secrets of Freemasonry consist.  But these have no value if we see nothing in the symbols of the blue lodge beyond the imbecile pretences of interpretations of them contained in our monitors.  People have overlooked the truth that the symbols of antiquity were not used to reveal but to conceal.  Each symbol is an enigma to be solved, and not a lesson to be read. 


How can the intelligent Mason fail to see that the blue degrees are but preparatory, to enlist and band together the rank and file Masonic army for purposes undisclosed to them, that they are the lesser mysteries in which the symbols are used to conceal the truth? 


Every man of high intelligence initiated of the lesser mysteries but ignorant of the greater, would still have known that the former were but preparatory, and that there must be some place in which their symbols were explained and their real purposes made known.”


As you contemplate this lesson from Albert Pike we are all reminded that Masonry is a progressive science.  We must never cease our Masonic learning.  From the youngest Entered Apprentice in the northeast corner to the most seasoned Master, there is always more we can learn from what Masonry has to teach us.  No one has ever yet “arrived” at the final truth.  The answers to the mysteries are within the grasp of every Mason who wishes to search for them.



Albert Pike on Religion – The Unity Concept


One of the most levied charges against Albert Pike by his critics; those who either don’t understand or chose not to understand his teachings, is that he claimed Masonry was a religion.  Indeed Albert Pike appears to indicate Masonry is a religion in several passages of Morals & Dogma.  In one portion he states, “Every Masonic lodge is a temple of religion; and its teachings are instruction in religion”.  In others he writes “It [Masonry] is the universal, eternal, immutable religion, such as God planted it in the heart of universal humanity.  No creed has ever been long lived that was not built on this foundation.”


In other portions of Morals & Dogma Pike clearly denies that Masonry is a religion, such as “Masonry is not a religion.  He who makes of it a religious belief, falsifies and denaturalizes it”, and “But it [Masonry] is neither a political party nor a religious sect”.  Perhaps then it is forgivable that some would be confused with what Bro. Pike taught concerning religion.  How can we understand Pike’s teaching regarding religion?  To do so we must enter into the unity concept.


Albert Pike saw the existence of common themes across numerous ancient religions.  Bro. Pike never gave a name to his idea, but the term “unity concept” was coined by Bro. Rex Hutchens, so we will utilized it here.


Pike believed that all the world’s religious beliefs could be traced to a common source, a common people, deep in ancient history.  This region Pike believed was populated by the ancient Indo-Aryan and Irano-Aryan race in North India and Persia.  Pike believed he could trace the changes in languages from the modern European back to Sanskrit, which showed how these early people migrated through the known world, carrying their original concept of Deity with them.  “To both the Indo-Aryan and Irano-Aryan races, light and intellect were spoken of as one…The Sanskrit verb, vid, ‘to see’,...meant also ‘to shine’.   Thought many of the specific connections with the origins of languages and peoples as understood during the 18th and 19th century have now been shown to be simplistic at best, and in some cases in total error, the concept of an original unity of religion within Pike’s teachings are difficult to deny.


What is this unity concept?  It is simply the idea that in the remote past a common people had the idea of God as a single Devine being who ruled over all.  As Pike wrote, “There is always a Sovereign Power…to whom belongs the maintenance of the order of the universe.  Among the thousand gods of India, the doctrine of Devine Unity is never lost sight of.”, and “For ever, in all nations, ascending to the remotest antiquity to which the light of history…reach…we find, seated above all the gods…a still higher Deity, silent, undefined, incomprehensible, the Supreme, one God from whom all the rest flow…by Him are created.”  


Now we begin to see more clearly.  Pike was using two definitions of religion.  One is the unity definition that describes the original, primitive, concept of God.  When Pike states Masonry is a religion, it is in the sense of the original primitive meaning of a belief in that single Creative Deity who is above all gods.  This is apparent in many areas of Masonry, such as requiring adherents to have a belief in God and to practice simple morality.  When he states Masonry is not a religion it is in the sense of a specific set of beliefs and dogmas surrounding a particular doctrine.  This is apparent in the fact that Masonry teaches no creeds, has no priesthood, offers no sacraments, offers no redeemer, teaches no dogma, and is tolerant of all religions practiced by it’s members.


While you are not required to share in Pike’s unity belief, an understanding of it is essential to answer critics when you are challenged on Masonry’s stand on religion.  You can say the answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no’, and then proceed to explain why.


Albert Pike on Egypt


Ancient Egypt has long been considered a land of wonder.  This great civilization thrived from about the 3rd to the 1st millennia B.C. until falling to Alexander the Great in 332 B.C.  During its heyday Egypt developed great engineering skills in stone working, a complex written language in the form of hieroglyphics, and a sophisticated religion containing a pantheon of deities. 


Because of Egypt’s mysteries some early Masonic writers assigned Masonry’s beginnings to that of Egypt.    The first reference I could find in Masonic literature to that of Egypt is from the Cooke Manuscript[i] where we read, “During the time that the children of Israel dwelt in Egypt they learned the craft of Masonry.”  The manuscript further implied that from Egypt Masonry was spread thought out the world as it states, “And from thence this worthy science was brought into France and into many other regions. “ 


To understand Pike’s view of Egypt one must understand the context of the 19th century during which time Bro. Pike and wrote Morals & Dogma.  During this time period the western world was fascinated with all things Egyptian.  Starting in 1798, Napoleon had led French troops down the Nile with a battalion of scientists, cartographers, and artists in tow. Even though the British defeated the French handily, Napoleon’s scholars brought a treasure trove of images and accounts of Egypt back to Paris. The kingdom of the Pharaohs, shrouded in mystery, captured the western imagination.  So fascinated were westerners with Egypt that Europeans even had mummies delivered to them from Egypt to be the stars of “mummy unwrapping” parties. These parties became grand social events. Amulets from the wrappings of the mummies were sometimes given as favors to the guests, and the unwrapped mummy would be displayed in the house, perhaps in the study of its owner.


It is little wonder that during this time that Freemasonry would also be fascinated with Egypt.  The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania has multiple lodge rooms, each decorated in a particular theme.  My favorite is Egyptian Hall, where the members sit in what appears to be an authentic Egyptian temple.  In this environment Albert Pike could not have helped but to have been influenced by the newly rediscovered world that was Egypt.


We will start with Pike’s understanding of Egypt of having essentially a monotheistic religion with its source from the original concept of god as given to man.   Pike states “Athom, or Athom-Re, was the chief of the oldest supreme god of upper Egypt…the same as the OM or AUM of the Hindus…The being that was, and is, and is to come, the great god, the great omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent one, the greatest in the universe, the Lord”.  Pike understood the teachings of Egypt to be traceable back to the origins of the original truth, to the teachings of the Asian Aryans (p. 373).   From this Pike had a basis of using Egypt as a source for original Masonic thought.


Modern scholarship would now make obsolete these views of Pike.  Africa, rather than Asia, appears to be the source of much of ancient Egypt’s religious concepts.  Regarding Pikes view of Egypt as having essentially a monotheistic believe system he has some basis.  Certainly there were times during which ancient Egypt explicitly practiced monotheism, such as during the reign of Akhenaten.  While Egypt did have a pantheon of gods, there are some Egyptian historians who agree with Bro. Pike.  One author of Egyptian religion, E.A. Wallis Budge, writes that the god Ra was the one god of Egyptian Monotheism, of which all other gods and goddesses were aspects, manifestations, phases, or forms of the god.  Certainly Ra (or Re) was well known as “the one who generated himself”, and was regarded as the creator of all living things.    Perhaps Pike was ahead of his time in this potential understanding of Egyptian religion.


The second area of Pike’s understanding we will explore is that of the Egyptian mysteries.  Pike understood from the Grecian writers that Egypt utilized the mysteries for initiation into their secrets.  “The candidates went through a ceremony representing this, in all the mysteries everywhere…the mysteries of Osiris, Isis and Horus, seem to have been the model of all other ceremonies of initiation subsequently established among the different peoples of the world” (p. 377).  Unfortunately for Pike, his Grecian sources misunderstood the purposes of the Egyptian ceremonies.  The Egyptian ceremonies where in reality funeral rites, there is no record of any living person having ever gone through them.   The Greek historian Herodotus (5th century B.C.) who claimed to have been initiated into the Egyptian mysteries was possibly attempting to impress his readers of his knowledge.  The Egyptian mysteries were dramatic rituals that were used to provide the dead with a path for eternal life, not a path for the living to receive understanding.


The final and most important area for Pike was that of the symbolism of the legend of Osiris and Isis, to which Pike believed was the basis for the story of Hiram and the legend of the third degree.   This legend, which we will briefly explore, is as follows:  Osiris, ancient King of Egypt, was the sun and Isis, his wife and sister, the moon.  Typhon, his jealous brother, plots to kill Osiris and take the throne and his wife.  Typhon traps Osiris in a chest and throws it into the Nile, drowning Osiris.  Isis searches and finds the body, but it is stolen by Typhon who cuts it into 14 pieces and throws them into the Nile.  Isis searches again but finds only one part, which she fashions, a substitute.  By a mystical union Isis and Osiris have a son, Horus, who defeats Typohn in battle and then assumes his father’s earthly kingdom.  Osiris is raised and given sovereignty over the underworld[ii]. 


Pike not only finds the legend of Isis and Osiris to be both a parallel and source for the Hiramic legend, he also finds in this myth the symbolic meaning of the Master Mason symbol of the weeping virgin when he writes, “Blue masonry, ignorant of its import, still retains among its emblems one of a woman weeping over a broken column, holding in her hand a branch of acacia…while Time we are told stands behind her combing out the ringlets of her hair…this representation of Isis, weeping at Byblos, over the column torn from the palace of the king, that contained the body of Osiris, while Horus, the god of time, pours ambrosia on her hair (p.379).”  Here Pike is a bit inconsistent, for in another work he writes that the image of Time combing the ringlets of a woman’s hair, “…is not a symbol of any thing moral, philosophical, or spiritual”[iii].


To further cement in Pike’s mind the source of Egypt in the legend of the 3rd degree, he shows a hieroglyphic picture of a lion raising Osiris by the Lion’s grip (p. 80), claiming this as the source of the Lion’s Grip in the 3rd degree.  I am sure Pike had in mind a portion of the Egyptian Pyramid Text that describes the raising of Osiris as we read, “Thereupon the faithful son (Horus) went in solemn procession to the grave of his father (Osiris), opened it, and called upon Osiris to rise: "Stand up! Thou shalt not end, thou shalt not perish!" But death was deaf. Here the Pyramid Texts recite the mortuary ritual, with its hymns and chants; but in vain. At length Osiris awakes, weary and feeble, and by the aid of the strong grip of the lion-god he gains control of his body, and is lifted from death to life. Thereafter, by virtue of his victory over death, Osiris becomes Lord of the Land of Death, his scepter an Ank Cross, his throne a Square[iv].”


To Pike there was no doubt of the relationship between the sun, moon and master of the lodge to that of Osiris, Isis and Thoth (called by the Greeks Hermes) and the relationship this has to that of Alchemy[v].   Osiris, the sun, Pike claimed was the all Seeing Eye in our lodges (p. 477).  The only problem is, Osiris is not, nor ever was, the sun god of Egypt, that role was played by the god Ra (or Re).  Pike utilized the teachings of ancient sources, chiefly as told by Plutarch, who had misunderstood the Egyptian deity hierarchy.  We now understand that Osiris is connected with the moon, and not the sun.  We should not fault Pike to much, for the understanding of hieroglyphics and that of Egyptology in general was still in its infancy during Pike’s time, the Rosetta stone itself only recently having been deciphered.    We should further remember that Bro. Pike wrote to primarily a Masonic audience.  His writings were not subject to peer review nor read by other scientists.  This allowed errors of understanding on Pike’s part to be left uncorrected.  Certainly this corrected understanding puts many of Pike’s comparisons and Alchemical descriptions of Osiris and Isis in a very tenuous position to say the least (to those who familiar with Alchemy you will understand the importance of the relationship between the sun and the moon that Pike was incorrectly referring to regarding Osiris and Isis).


It is puzzling to this author why Pike would assign the legend of Osiris and Isis to the founding of the legend of the 3rd degree.  While one can certainly make comparisons between Osiris and Isis to that of the legend of the 3rd degree (I have done so myself), it seems a bit incredulous that Pike would assign them as the founding source of the Hiramic legend.  Neither the story of Hiram Abif nor the legend is found in any early Masonic writings.   The name Hiram Abif does appear in the Dowland manuscript of 1550, but only as one name among many and given no special significance.  The first mention of the Hiramic Legend, including the murder, the discovery and the raising does not appear until 1730, in Samuel Prichard's “Masonry Dissected”.  It seems to stretch one’s imagination that the teachings of Egypt were in dormancy within Masonry for thousands of years before re-appearing in 1730. 


Even though modern scholarship has shed new light on ancient Egypt that refutes some of Bro. Pike’s teachings, by understanding Pike’s view of Egypt as a funneling source of the one basic truth of God from India into the Greco-Roman world, you will have a better appreciation for Pike’s teachings and his explanations of the origins and meanings of Masonic symbols.  Certainly given the rich history and mysteries of ancient Egypt, perhaps like Pike we can also symbolically (although probably not historically), consider Egypt to be a founding source for much of Masonic thought.



Key References Used


“Morals & Dogma”, by Albert Pike (page numbers shown are from Morals & Dogma)

“Lecture on Masonic Symbolism and A Second Lecture on Symbolism: The Omkara and Other Ineffable Words”, by Albert Pike, Translated and Annotated by Rex R. Hutchens

“Pillars of Wisdom”, by Rex R. Hutchens

“Glossary to Morals & Dogma”, By Rex R. Hutchens

“The Quest for Immortality – Treasures of Ancient Egypt”, by Erik Hornung and Betsy M. Bryan


[i] Matthew Cooke Manuscript, c.1450, Translated by Bro. George William Speth

[ii] For a complete understanding of this story, see Morals & Dogma p. 375-380

[iii] Lectures on Masonic Symbolism”, Albert Pike, p. 26

[iv] The Builders, Joseph Fort Newton, 1914

[v] Esoterika, Albert Pike, p. 153

ancient accepted scottish rite MORALS and DOGMA
of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry , prepared for the Supreme Council of the Thirty Third Degree for the Southern Jurisdiction of the United States: Charleston, 1871.

by Bro. Albert PIKE 33°

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