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:
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.
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?
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.”
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.
Pike on Religion – The Unity Concept
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Pike on Egypt
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.
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
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. “
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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].
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].
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].”
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).
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.
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.
& Dogma”, by Albert Pike (page numbers shown are from Morals & Dogma)
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
of Wisdom”, by Rex R. Hutchens
to Morals & Dogma”, By Rex R. Hutchens
Quest for Immortality – Treasures of Ancient Egypt”, by Erik Hornung and
Betsy M. Bryan
Matthew Cooke Manuscript, c.1450, Translated by Bro. George William Speth
For a complete understanding of this story, see Morals & Dogma p. 375-380
Lectures on Masonic Symbolism”, Albert Pike, p. 26
The Builders, Joseph Fort Newton, 1914
Esoterika, Albert Pike, p. 153