Albert Pike and the Scottish Rite Ritual


Up to the time Albert Pike received the degrees of the Scottish Rite communicated to him by Dr. Albert G, Mackey in 1853, probably no one had given much attention to the rituals. Indeed, it is doubtful whether the degrees had ever been conferred to any extent or disseminated otherwise than by communication and patent.

That is no libel on the Masons of the early 19th century for only about half of the degrees are ordinarily conferred now a century later. Pike was curious about them from the start, for he took some of the rituals home the year after his first visit to Charleston and, in 1855, we find him the only 32nd Degree Mason with several Inspectors General on a committee to revise the ritual. Evidently, Pike did all of the work He also tells us, what we might suspect - that no one had been able to devise, invent, or indite material of interest, importance, or substance to fill so many degree rituals, with the result that. with one or two exceptions, the discourse was vapid and of no consequence He first copied all the rituals in full in his own handwriting so as to have them in uniform and available shape and this work, a memorandum book of 400 pages, is preserved in the archives of the Supreme Council, Washington, DC. We are fortunate in having Pike's own words preserved in which he expressed with utmost frankness his opinion of what he had to work with and his method of revision. On Sept 13, 1855, he wrote to Dr. Mackey as follows:

"After accumulating a good quantity of material, by reading and copying, I commenced on the Scottish Rite. I found it almost equivalent, as to the degrees I selected, to making something out of nothing I first endeavored to find, in the degree I had under consideration, a leading idea: and then to carry that out and give the degree as high a character as I could. Ragon says, of several of the degrees I have chosen, that no Ritual of them is to be found in France I have re rained all the signs, words, etc., and generally the substantial parts of the obligations.

In the Transactions of the Supreme Council, 1857-66, p. 258, he is quoted as saying in 1857: "They were a heterogeneous and chaotic mass, in of incoherent nonsense and jargon, in of jejuneness: in some of the degrees of absolute nothingness. So much pains had been taken to conceal the meaning of the symbols, that their true meaning was for the most part last, and ignorance or dullness had supplied others, invented by themselves The jargon of some of the degrees was us unintelligible us that of the Alchemists convincing me that their real meaning had been communicated orally and that the rituals were purposely framed to mislead those into whose hands they might unlawfully Fall."

In Transactions, 1870, p. 158, Pike said: "Resorting to another method, I satisfied myself that many of the degrees were purposely constructed to conceal their meaning and the objects of those who used them as the means of union und organization Such, I believed, were the Fifteenth and Sixteenth, of the Knight of the East and princes of Jerusalem, but I could not fathom their meaning or detect the concealed allegory They seemed to teach nothing and almost to be nothing. After I had collected and read a hundred rare volumes upon religious antiquity, symbolism, the mysteries, the doctrines of the Gnostics, and the Hebrew and Alexandrian philosophy, the Blue Degrees and many others of our Rite still remained as impenetrable enigmas to me as at first. The monuments of Egypt with their hieroglyphics gave me no assistance. The fruits of the study and reflection of twelve years are embodied in our degrees. Hundreds of volumes have been explored for the purpose of developing and illustrating them, and the mere labor bestowed on them has been more than many a professional man expends in attaining eminence and amassing a fortune."

In 1878, Transactions, p. 20, he said: "The truth is that the Rite was nothing, and the Rituals almost naught, for the most part a lot of worthless trash, until 1855."

In his pamphlet, "Beauties of Cerneauism, Aug. 25, 1887. Pike said: "I have said that the rituals of the degrees of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, and those of the Rite of Perfection, when I received them, were worthless. I repeat it, excepting the Rose Croix only. They taught a man nothing that he did not know before. They were not impressive in any way. No man of intellect and knowledge could regard them, all literary productions, with any respect. They were trivial, insipid, without originality, contemptible as literary productions, mere collections of flat, dull, common place - in short, they were no better than the rituals of the two or three Degrees which alone Cerneauism now possesses - of it own, at least.

"I found them all at Charleston when I received the Degrees there up to the 32nd. I took most of them home with me the year afterwards, and had the rest sent to me, and copied the whole of them, from beginning to end, in a book now in the archives of the Supreme Council; and I undertook immediately afterwards, the work of revising them, which Charles Laffon had begun, because I thought that they were not worth working, and ought to be revised or the Rite abandoned as worthless. I revised them, finishing the work while only a 32nd, and printing them for the consideration of the Supreme Council, at an expense to myself of $1,200. It is well known that in 1841, the Grand Orient of France had not a complete set of Scottish Rite Rituals; and could in 1840 supply its subordinates with twelve Rituals only, of Degrees above the 18th, each of a single Degree, eight of which related exclusively to the Degree of Kadosh, and three to that of Knight of the Sun. Of course, it and all the world had those of the 18th and some of the Degrees below it."

Pike's later statement of 1887 treating the original rituals as merely vapid and trivial is more nearly accurate than his earlier estimates in which he seemed convinced that they were designed to conceal some deep secrets and symbolism. He had acquired this idea from the Masonic literature of the time, which depicted Masonry al descended from the Ancient Mysteries, and loaded with all sorts of magism, mysticism and ancient philosophies and religions. Fortunately, there is a way in which we can apply our own judgments to the problem for we have here an insight into the Scottish Rite early rituals by a similar medium to that by which we inspect the early rituals of the Blue Lodge - exposures. In 1829, Elder David Bernard, who, following the Morgan affair at Batavia, New York in 1826, dedicated his life to the destruction of Freemasonry and, as a means to that end, published Light on Freemasonry, containing, not only William Morgan's work on the Craft Degrees, but also the purported rituals of many other degrees, and among them all of the degrees of the Rite of Perfection and the Scottish Rite, except two. They consist of a plethora of talk, titles, decorations, hangings, uniforms, jewels, banners, swords, signs, words, knocks, obligations, questions, answers, generally running to considerable length, but, upon analysis, as Pike said, failing to tell a man anything he did not know before. The contents of the modern rituals are practically all the contribution of Albert Pike.

Source: Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia