Who Was Albert Pike?
By Worshipful Brother Sean Morony
Published in the 2009 GLSA Southern Division Spring Ball Magazine.
Albert Pike, of “Morals and Dogma” fame, must surely be the most quoted (and misquoted) Masonic writer of all time – but who was he?
During his lifetime Pike was a school teacher, adventurer, newspaper man, attorney, soldier, author and Freemason. He is the only Confederate officer to be honoured with an outdoor statue in Washington DC. Pike was born in Massachusetts in December 1809, where he attended school until the age of 15 when he passed his entrance exams for Harvard University. He completed two academic years study in one calendar year but for financial reasons was unable to complete his final two years, and thus did not graduate. He then embarked on a program of self-education working as a school teacher in order to support himself. (It is interesting to note that in 1859 he declined an honorary Ph D from Harvard University).
At the age of 22 the attraction of the American West caused him to travel westwards, first to Missouri and then to join a hunting and trapping expedition to New Mexico and Texas. During the course of this expedition he lost his horse and covered and travelled some 500 miles (800km) on foot. He eventually arrived in Arkansas, where he married and settled, earning a living as a teacher and contributing articles to the Little Rock Advocate newspaper and becoming a full time member of the newspaper’s staff.
He then, using his wife’s dowry, became a partner of the Little Rock Advocate and eventually the sole owner of the Little Rock Advocate newspaper. It was during this time that he studied law and was admitted to the bar. He sold the Advocate in the same year he was admitted to the bar, 1837.
With the advent of the Mexican-American War Pike joined the cavalry and was commissioned as a troop commander and he fought in the Battle of Buena Vista. He had several differences of opinion with his commander which led to a duel in which neither of the participants was hurt. With the conclusion of the war he returned to his legal practice, Pike moved from Arkansas to New Orleans and continued to practice law and to write on legal matters. He returned to Arkansas in 1857, a few years prior to the American Civil War. He made several contacts with the Native American tribes, at one point negotiating a settlement between the Creeks and other tribes and the federal government.
When the Civil War started, although originally against the succession, he took the side of the Confederacy add he was commissioned as a Brigadier General in 1861 and given a command in the Indian Territory. Again he had a difference of opinion with his superiors, which resulted in him being charged with insubordination. Pike, however, resigned his commission and was not court-marshalled.
Albert Pike’s Masonic career started in 1850 when he joined Western Star Lodge No 2 in Little Rock, Arkansas. His interest in Freemasonry became intense and he immersed himself in it, and took part in everything he could concerning it. Some two years later (1852) he, together with fifteen other Masons, founded the Magnolia Lodge. Pike became its Master the following year. He became active in the Grand Lodge of Arkansas and the Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Arkansas. In 1853 he travelled to Charlestown, South Carolina and joined the Scottish Rite.
Albert Pike was intrigued but unsatisfied by the degrees and rituals as presented by Supreme Council for the Southern jurisdiction. In 1855, he was appointed to a committee charged with the preparation of new degree rituals. Albert Pike was responsible for the rewriting of all the rituals. Six years after becoming a member of the Scottish Rite Pike became the Sovereign Grand Commander of the Supreme Council for the Southern Jurisdiction, a post he held until his death in 1891.
Albert Pike wrote a number of books both on the law and on Freemasonry, the most influential of which, and also the most misquoted, being his renowned Masonic work “Morals and Dogma”, a book which explores philosophy, religion, foreign and ancient cultures in addition to lectures to further explain the rituals of the Scottish Rite.
Pike drew on the fanciful writings of earlier Masonic and mystical authors including Eliphas Levy, whose work was later shown to be heavily flawed. The book Morals and Dogma is difficult to read and is easily misunderstood. It is written in Victorian English and makes use of Hebrew, Greek and Roman mythology, common subjects in that time but virtually unknown today. It is also important to realise that the meaning of words change. Detractors of Freemasonry have used Morals and Dogma to attack Freemasonry using isolated passages from it and leaving out selected words from the quotations, thereby changing their meanings to suit their purposes.
Pike, although an influential writer of Masonic material, particularly in his time, is by no means the “be all and end all” of Masonic philosophy. Indeed, it is not possible for any one person to speak for Freemasonry, or any part of Freemasonry, however many people persist in citing the writings of individual Freemasons to support a particular opinion. The works of Albert Pike must surely be the most misquoted and abused in this respect.