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
Pierrakos, John C. Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
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