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by Bro. S. BRENT MORRIS 33° G.C.


When 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.[1]


Let 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.


I 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.


Let 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.[2] 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.


Similarly, 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.


Albert 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 works.


[Freemasonry] 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....

It 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.

But 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....

I have, at least, arrived at this conviction after patient study and reflection during many years.[3]


Pike 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:


We 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.


Like 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 ancient mysteries.


It 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 Patriarchs.

In 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.

Is 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?

For 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 peoples.[4]


Pike 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 predecessors.

Pike, 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 rigorous.





1. S. Brent Morris, “The Letter ‘G’,” The Scottish Rite Journal, vol. CV, no. 8, Aug. 1997, pp. 20–23.

2. S. Brent Morris, “Landmarks and Liabilities,” The Philalethes, vol. XLIV, no. 3, June 1991.

3. 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.

4. Albert G. Mackey and William R. Singleton, History of Freemasonry, 6 vols. (New York and London: Masonic History Co., 1906), vol. 1, p. 185.

“The Plumbline,” vol. 6, no. 3, pp. 1, 7
1998 The Scottish Rite Research Society