Pike, Albert (1809-1891)
Pike, Albert (1809-1891)
Albert Pike, the leading American Masonic scholar of the nineteenth century, was born on December 20, 1809, in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of an alcoholic father and a mother who tried to push him into the ministry. In 1925 he was sent to live with his uncle, who discovered that Pike had a photographic memory and was able to recall large volumes at will. He soon mastered several languages and passed his entrance exams for Harvard. Unable to afford tuition, he taught school at Gloucester. A free spirit, in 1831 he moved to New Mexico and joined several exploration expeditions. He finally settled in Fort Smith, Arkansas, in 1833 and taught school for a year while he studied law. He opened his practice in 1834.
He enjoyed some degree of prestige and in the 1850s became politically active. He organized the Know-Nothing Party (Order of United Americans), a reactionary political movement opposed to foreigners, and came to see the continuance of slavery as better for the country than farmers importing foreign laborers. At the same time he was pro-Indian, and as the representative of several tribes of Native Americans before the government, won some large settlements. At the beginning of the Civil War (1861-65), Pike, then living in New Orleans, Louisiana, was named commissioner of Indian Affairs for the Confederacy. He eventually was named a brigadier general and he organized several regiments from the Arkansas tribes. Unfortunately, some of his soldiers mutilated Union soldiers in a battle in 1862. In the midst of that controversy, he quarreled with his superiors and accused the Confederacy of neglecting its treaty obligation to the tribes. He was arrested for treason, but released as the war effort collapsed. Now hated by both sides, he retreated to the Ozark Mountains.
It is possible that Pike's sojourn into the occult started during his days in hiding. Rumors emerged that he was conjuring the devil and engaging in sexual orgies (charges discussed by Montague Summers in his History of Witchcraft and Demonology ). He had joined the Freemasons in 1850 and began working seriously on reforming what he thought of as worthless rituals. He became accomplished in hermetic, Rosicrucian, and continental Masonic traditions and incorporated extensive esoteric content. His monumental textbook, Morals and Dogma of Freemasonry, appeared in 1872. Since Pike had dumped so much material acquired from his memory, he refused to claim authorship. He could not determine what was his own contribution.
He was never able to recover his prewar prominence in law, and increasingly he lost himself in Freemasonry. In 1873 he moved into the Temple of the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite in Washington, D.C. The council offered him a stipend and he would remain there the rest of his life. He dominated Scottish Rite Masonry for the next two decades. During this time he wrote several additional books on Masonry (and left behind a number of manuscripts still unpublished), but is still remembered for his early text and reformed rituals. He died in Washington on April 2, 1891.
In 1899 the Scottish Rites erected a statue of Pike in Washington. Ninety years later, civil rights activists brought up the old accusation of Pike having written the rituals of the Ku Klux Klan and demanded that it be removed. Lacking clear evidence of their accusations, they were unsuccessful.
Brown, Walter Lee. Albert Pike, 1809-1891. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1997.
Duncan, Robert Lipscomb. Reluctant General: The Life and Times of Albert Pike. N.p., 1961.
[Pike, Albert]. Morals and Dogma of Freemasonry. 1871, 1905. Reprint, Kila, Mont.: Kessinger Publishing, 1992.