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by Bro. S. BRENT MORRIS 33° G.C.
PIKE, MACKEY AND THE ANCIENT MYSTERIES
I served as book review editor of the Scottish Rite Journal from 1989 to 1996, I
didn’t receive much correspondence from readers. One thing, however, was
guaranteed always to produce a few letters: criticize Albert Pike or Albert
Mackey. It didn’t matter how much
factual evidence may have been stacked against them, many Masons have all but
deified them and refuse to believe they could have made any mistake. Neither Pike nor Mackey would be comfortable with this
apotheosis; they held strong opinions, but they didn’t think they were
infallible. Many today feel that
only a heretic could challenge anything they wrote.
My comments in “The Letter G” (The Scottish Rite Journal, Aug. 1997)
have produced a similar response.
me begin with a disclaimer: Albert Pike and Albert Mackey were geniuses.
They researched and wrote about Freemasonry at a time when there was
virtually no reliable historical material available.
They did the best they could with what they had, and they did very well
indeed. Their administrative skills alone, especially those of Pike,
expanded the Scottish Rite Southern Jurisdiction and created the organization
that has grown so successfully into our modern fraternity today.
We owe each of them a great debt of gratitude.
also owe them apologies in referring to their theories as “tall tales,”
which was hyperbole on my part. Their historical theories were put forth
sincerely, based on the best available data (and quite a bit of speculation to
fill in the gaps). Pike and Mackey
had little access to European Masonic records, many of which weren’t
discovered until after their deaths. What
confirms Pike, and Mackey as serious students of history was their willingness
to change their ideas, as will be shown later.
me also say that not everything they wrote was right nor have all their
historical theories held up to contemporary research.
For example, Mackey’s list of twenty-five “Landmarks” is a
reasonable attempt to deduce the fundamental principles governing the Craft.
Albert Pike, among many others for over a century, denounced the list in
the strongest possible terms from its first appearance. Nonetheless.
Mackey’s presentation was so persuasive that dozens of Grand Lodges
have adopted his list as the foundation of their jurisprudence.
These adoptions don’t mean Mackey’s “Landmarks” are the
all-inclusive, historically supported list, just that he made a persuasive case.
both Pike and Mackey early in their literary careers fell under the sway of the
historical theory that Freemasonry was descended from the ancient mysteries of
Egypt, Greece, and the Middle East. As
a theory this is plausible. As a
teaching tool in ritual it is excellent. As
a historical fact it fails utterly.
Pike clearly believed Freemasonry was not much older than the 1717 formation of
the premier Grand Lodge in London, but many of its symbols adopted to teach our
lessons were of far greater age. Here
is Pike’s straightforward declaration, written shortly before his death but
after Morals and Dogma, his revisions of the rituals, and most of his voluminous
has no secret knowledge of any kind. There
was, in the ancient initiations, something like the modem spiritualism; but
there is nothing of this or of magic in Freemasonry....
is of greater antiquity than other orders or associations; but it is not so old
as to give it the superiority once supposed; for it is now certain that there
were no Degrees in Masonry two hundred years ago; and that the Master’s Degree
is not more than one hundred and sixty years of age.
those who framed its Degrees adopted the most sacred and significant symbols of
a very remote antiquity used, many centuries before the Temple of King Solomon
was built, to express to those who understood them, while concealing from the
profane, the most recondite and mysterious doctrines in regard to God, the
universe and man....
have, at least, arrived at this conviction after patient study and reflection
during many years.
also spelled out his thoughts on historical versus symbolic truth in his
degrees. In the ritual of the
Knight Kadosh, Pike has the Orator tell the candidate:
do not delude ourselves that the many legends we recite are necessarily true.
But we speak in the language of symbols, and the discerning mind will
understand. Those who do not
understand our symbols were too easily allowed into our sanctuary.
Pike, Mackey came to and published new conclusions about the origins of
Freemasonry after the main corpus of his works were in print. The establishment
of Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076 in 1886 in and the publication of Robert
Freke Gould’s History of Freemasonry in 1885 ushered in the “authentic
school” of Masonic research. Both
Pike and Mackey appear to have been influenced by the new insistence on concrete
historical evidence as the sine qua non of theories about Freemasonry. Mackey’s thoughts on Masonic origins, in his posthumously
published 1906 History of Freemasonry, reflect his new understanding of the
has been a favorite theory with several German, French, and British scholars to
trace the origin of Freemasonry to the Mysteries of Pagans, while others,
repudiating the idea that the modem association should have sprung from them,
still find analogies so remarkable between the two systems as to lead them to
suppose that the Mysteries were an offshoot from the pure Freemasonry of the
my opinion there is not the slightest foundation in historical evidence to
support either theory, although I admit the existence of many analogies between
the two systems, which can, however, be easily explained without admitting any
connection in the way of origin and descent between them.
modem Freemasonry a lineal and uninterrupted successor of the ancient Mysteries,
the succession being transmitted through the Mithraic initiation which existed
in the 5th and 6th centuries; or is the fact of the analogies between the two
systems to be attributed to the coincidence of a natural process of human
thought, common to all minds and showing its development in symbolic form?
myself, I can only arrive at what I think is a logical conclusion; that if both
the Mysteries and Freemasonry have taught the same lessons by the same method of
instruction, this has arisen not from a succession of organizations, each one a
link of a long chain of historical sequences leading directly to another, until
Hiram is simply substituted for Osiris, but rather from those usual and natural
coincidences of human thought which are to be found in every age and among all
and Mackey are to be admired for their early efforts to find the historical
origins of the Craft, and they are to be admired even more for changing (and
rejecting) their original theories as better data became available. Only fools and dead men never change their minds, and neither
Pike nor Mackey were fools. If
there is fault to be found, it is with contemporary readers who have not studied
in detail the history and records of Freemasonry, some of them admittedly
obscure and difficult to access, and who insist on deifying our illustrious
Mackey, and others did not have a monopoly on historical truth, and their
opinions - historical, symbolic, allegorical, and ritual - are not binding on
any Freemason. It is not
“political correctness” to differ with them or to insist that their
conclusions be reexamined in the light of the best historical evidence.
Pike and Mackey reached their conclusions - early and late - in this way,
and they would insist that their successors today apply standards no less
S. Brent Morris, “The Letter ‘G’,” The Scottish Rite Journal, vol. CV,
no. 8, Aug. 1997, pp. 20–23.
S. Brent Morris, “Landmarks and Liabilities,” The Philalethes, vol. XLIV,
no. 3, June 1991.
Albert Pike, Lecture on Masonic Symbolism ([New York?]: Long, Little &
Co.?], ca. 1890), pp. 13–15. Some
of the earliest evidence of a separate third degree comes from Samuel
Pritchard’s 1730 exposé Masonry Dissected.
Albert G. Mackey and William R. Singleton, History of Freemasonry, 6 vols. (New
York and London: Masonic History Co., 1906), vol. 1, p. 185.
1998 The Scottish Rite Research Society