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Albert Pike, Freemasonry & Secret Symbolism

By: Michael R. Warren
Copyright 1997
General Albert Pike was indeed a Traveling Man. Imposing both physically and intellectually, he traveled the wilder parts of America during the first half of the nineteenth century. He was, as well as a scholar, an adventurer, a poet, and a statesman, a soldier, a fur-trapper, a hunter, an explorer, an author and a lawyer. In 1845 he formed and led a calvary unit during the Texas-Mexican hostilities; in 1861 Confederate president Jefferson Davis appointed Pike, because of his experiences with the Indians and his knowledge of their languages, "Commissioner over the Indians" for the Confederate States of America, and in 1862 he led Indian troops against the Union army. After the Civil War, President Andrew Johnson, a Freemason, pardoned Pike for any and all offenses committed while an officer of the Confederate forces. (THE NEW AGE MAGAZINE, April. 1986, vol. XCIV, no. 4.)

Pike did not become a Freemason until he was forty years of age. At the age of seventy he decided to learn Sanskrit; once having mastered that, he proceeded to translate into English the ancient Indian Vedas. As a lawyer he was both outstanding and diligent. He represented several Indian tribes in a suit against the American government. In one litigation, which was protracted over ten years, he traveled to Washington every summer to press his case to congress; finally successful, he won a judgement of over four million dollars--the largest ever won by the Indians against the United States Government.

Perhaps General Pike’s greatest legacy to Freemasonry was his magnum opus, Morals and Dogma, that great compendium of esoteric lore, philosophy, myth and religion. It is, as well as the official source of Masonic exposition of the degrees of the Blue Lodge and the Scottish Rite degrees, the confluence of religion, myth and ritual. If anything in this great volume summarizes the views of Brother Pike it is the statement one finds scattered through the text as a refrain, almost as a litany, that says: "The symbols of the wise become the idols of the ignorant."

In regards to the symbols of the Craft, Pike, who stands as a supreme authority, made a statement which sounds astounding to us. He says in MORALS AND DOGMA that: "The Blue Degrees are but the outer portico of the Temple. Part of the symbols are displayed there to the Initiate, but he is intentionally mislead by false interpretation. It is not intended that he understand them, but it is intended that he shall imagine he understands them. Their true explication is reserved for the Adepts, the Princes of Masonry. The whole body of the Royal or Sacerdotal Art was hidden so the High Degrees, as that it is even yet impossible to solve many of the enigmas which they contain. It is well enough for the many of those called Masons, to imagine that all is contained in the Blue Degrees; and whoso attempts to undeceive them will labor in vain, and without any true reward violate his obligations as an Adept. Masonry is the veritable Sphinx, buried to the head in the sands heaped round it by the ages." (Italics added) (MORALS AND DOGMA. P.819)

Many detractors of Freemasonry use the italicized part of the above quote to suggest that the real meaning of the blue lodge symbols is reserved for the higher degrees. This is absolutely incorrect. Pike means exactly what he says: 1) The symbols of the blue lodge degrees are never gone into in the higher degrees, which have their own symbols. 2) Pike says the true meaning must be found by "...the Adepts, the Princes of Freemasonry." An adept is one who has shown proficiency through study. These are the princes of the craft. Those who continue to study and understand the symbols for themselves, for symbols have more than one meaning. According to your perspective and your education, the symbols reveal their meaning and have no single explication. As an example, you are a brother mason, a husband, an employee or boss, a father, and so on. The definition of what you are depends on someone's relationship to you. The more you study the symbols of Freemasonry, the more relationships you find they have to the various aspects of your existence. This is what brother Pike meant--not that there was a secret cabal of high degree masons who know the true meaning of the symbols.


The use of a dual system of symbolism is not isolated in Masonry; for example, Hebrew scholars of the Bible recognize four levels of symbolism in the Old Testament. Frank C. Higgins, Freemason, and author of numerous books about Freemasonry and ancient symbolism, concluded that "(the) ancient Priesthood believed that the great mass of mankind was too undeveloped to comprehend a philosophy of divinity based upon more or less scientific premises. Therefore, they carefully conserved their special knowledge, imparting it only to chosen initiates, while treating the masses to a spectacular exoteric system." (HERMETIC MASONRY, Frank Higgins) This benign facade, Higgins believed, was maintained since time immemorial; the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Jews and the early Christians all maintained much the same system.

Albert Pike was familiar with the time honored method of supplying one meaning for the laity, the greater population of believers, and another for the priesthood, who knew the reason for certain rites and the true meaning and application of its symbols. He was also aware that there was an almost unbridgeable chasm for most of us due to our lack of awareness of the subtly of ancient writings and our tendency to suppose that the patriarchs were so dull as to merely record events as a modern reporter might, an attitude he laments in Morals and Dogma, wherein he says: "To all this the absurd reading of the established Church, taking literally the figurative, allegorical, and mythical language of a collection of Oriental books of different ages, directly and inevitably led. The same result long after followed the folly of regarding the Hebrew books as if they had been written by the unimaginative, hard, practical intellect of the England of James the First and the bigoted stolidity of Scottish Presbyterianism." (MORALS AND DOGMA. p. 818)

Here, Albert Pike put his finger on the crux of the problem: We have to be extremely careful when we differentiate between the intent of writers of millennia ago and our modern assessments of their writings; were they simply reporting supernatural events with the straight forward approach of a newspaper reporter? or were they creative and inventive, employing an arsenal that included allegory, metaphor, analogy, simile, and so forth, as writers do today?

The modern literal attitude--that ancient religious and mythic works were simple factual reports--is not supported by the ancient writings themselves. It is expressly stated in many places that allegory, metaphor, and simile are being employed to a higher end. The tendency of the uneducated to blindly accept religious, mythic and philosophical allegorical writings as stark and literal, was understood by ancient philosophers and writers. At times this tendency was cultivated to keep from the masses the esoteric and true meaning of a work; at other times, in order to prevent the confusion of principles with the principals in a tale, writers had to carefully delineate between the two so as to make confusion impossible.

This is clearly in evidence in the sage writings of Aesop, a close contemporary of Pythagoras, who wrote in the sixth century before the current era. Aesop used anthropomorphication so that the principal characters of his tales would not get confused with the principles or moral of the story. The point of the tale of The Fox and the Grapes is that humans are prone to damn what they can not have--not that a fox with a lust for grapes could miraculously speak,.

This is something we should all bear in mind when reading works like the Bible that contain allegorical segments. Characters, and their actions, can represent principles that have little to do with the exoteric aspect of the tale.

This brings us back to what Pike was saying. There was not a concerted effort to conceal meaning from the lower degrees of the Craft, as certain detractors of Masonry have suggested, but the true meanings of the Craft’s symbols can only be understood after diligent effort and personal experience on the part of the initiate. This will vary from person to person. The difference between mere exposition of the symbols and their use as tools is seen in the metaphor of God as the Supreme Architect of the Universe--one used by the Ancient Hebrews, the Egyptians and us. There is no way one can appreciate the power of this metaphor unless he has actually worked at geometry and marveled at its revelatory power as a reflection of nature. No amount of ritual catechisms nor philosophic exposition can equal the insight provided by the illuminating experience of working with a compass and a straight edge. It was the source of illumination for the ancients--so it should remain for us.

Pike's awareness of the more or less scientific premises behind the religious systems of the ancients also led him to conclude that: "It is not in the books of the Philosophers, but in the religious symbolism of the Ancients, that we must look for the footprints of Science, and rediscover the mysteries of knowledge."(Ibid p.842.)

And where are we to look for the footprints of Masonic symbolism? The same place we look for the footprints of ancient science. Several Masonic scholars point us in the right direction: Albert Pike unequivocally stated that: "All truly dogmatic religions have issued from the Kabalah and return to it (sic) everything . . . is borrowed from the Kabalah; all the Masonic associations owe to it their Secrets and their Symbols." (Italics added) (MORALS AND DOGMA, p.744.)

Kabalah (alternately: cabala), from the Hebrew word Kabel, meaning tradition, is a word one will hear often if he seeks the meaning of the symbols of ancient wisdom. Also called the Tree of life, it is symbolized by ten spheres, each representing one of the numbers, one through ten, and connected by twenty-two paths, each equivalent with a letter of the sacred Hebrew alphabet. The diagram of the Kabalah, which is surrounded by three lights, is often placed against the backdrop of three columns, the outer two of which are identical with the columns on the outer portico of King Solomon's Temple--with which Masons are intimately familiar. The ten spheres are arranged in three sections: two outer columns representing the polarization of all manifestation, and a central pillar, also symbolized by King Solomon, representing the path of knowledge and ascension that leads back to the source of all manifestation.

Another great Masonic scholar, Albert Mackey, a contemporary, and friend of Albert Pike's as well, had this to say about the Kabalah: "(it is)...a system of philosophy which embraces certain mystical interpretations of Scripture, and metaphysical speculations concerning the Deity, man and spiritual beings, revealed through 'symbols and allegories'". (Italics added) (ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FREEMASONRY, Albert G. Mackey, p. 375) Note that the latter part of Mackey's definition of the Kabalah is virtually synonymous with our definition of Freemasonry, which says, "Freemasonry is a beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols." It should also be noted that the rituals and teachings related to the Kabalah were initially only allowed to be transmitted orally, again, paralleling the form of Freemasonry.

The Kabalah teaches the doctrine of Emanation: the belief that the universe came into being through a series of hierarchically descending radiations, which descend from the Creator through intermediate stages to matter. The fact that the Hebrew people sojourned in distant lands so often and labored under so many foreign masters, such as the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans, lends credence to the idea that such esoteric concepts were passed from culture to culture.The Tree Of Life, the symbolic focual point of kabalistic teachings, is mentioned at the begining and at the end of the Bible, and found in many ancient cultures. The Hebrew development of its symbolism is the most comprehensive and has spread into other religious and philosophic systems. The system, which provides for an anthetical series of pairs as the Creative Essence descends from the world of divine ideation into the denser material realms, is considered a template for the study of all phenomena.

The true origin of an expository, symbolic, oral teaching system, such as the Kabalah--or Freemasonry-- is of course almost impossible to pin down. But the teachings of the Kabbalah are purported to be contempoarenous with the earliest parts of the Bible. Its symbolic heritage is rich and has fecundated many other belief systems through history. The Freemason who desires to become a true Prince of the Craft, will be wise to investigate Kabalistic symbolism, diligently, and with an open mind.

So mote it be.

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