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References to Freemasonry in popular culture range from the vitriolic to the innocuous. Far more often they are merely misinformed allusions from which Freemasonry faces a far more insidious threat; that of being marginalized, trivialized, and fictionalized. Most of the references noted on this site are harmless, simply pointing out that Freemasonry has played a role in our society; some are humorous, yet some are disturbing in their associations.
Freemasonry and Henry Miller
In chapter six of Henry Miller’s The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, "Arkansas and the Great Pyramid", the reader finds: 'I glide over these interesting items to dwell at some length on two men, now dead, whom many Americans have possibly never heard of: Brigadier-General Albert Pike, one time Sovereign Grand Commander of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry of the Southern Jurisdiction, U.S.A. and "Coin" (William Hope) Harvey, builder of the Pyramid which was never built at Monte Ne, Arkansas.' [p. 135.] Miller later gives an extended panagyric to Albert Pike.
In dealing with Albert Pike we have a man equally concerned with the aspirations and welfare of humanity at large but of quite a different temperament and outlook. I had never heard of Pike until I got to Kansas City where I was visiting a painter whom I knew in Paris. Among other things my friend was a Mason. He used to talk to me about Freemasonry and other interesting subjects during our evening walks from the Café du Dûme to the rue Froideveaux opposite the cemetery of Montparnasse, where he lived, and where for a period he put me up when I was without food or shelter. He was rather a queer chap in those days, I thought. Many things he talked about then I couldn't make head or tail of. In fact, I used to ridicule him in a sly way bchind his back, which I regretted later and which, to be truthful, I was trying to make amends for by going a thousand miles out of my way to say hello to him in Kansas City. Of course I never said a word about my change of heart. I allowed my actions to speak for themselves. The reward which I unexpectedly received, on parting from him, was the loan of a book which I was terribly eager to read and which I never thought he would part with for an instant, particularly since I knew that he had always regarded me as a rather irresponsible individual. The book, which is entitled The Phoenix, is described as an illustrated review of Occultism and Philosophy. The author is Manly Hall. It is the 1931-32 edition. At any rate, long before I had reached Little Rock, where I was received with great cordiality and hospitality by another high Mason, I had devoured the contents of the book. I had also forgotten, when racing breathlessly through the pages of this awkwardly sized book—more like an atlas in appearance than an occult review—that Albert Pike’s home had been in Little Rock. I had hardly got my bearings when I ran straight into the Consistory and a few hours later I was listening to judge McHaney discourse about the extraordinary accomplishments of this distinguished citizen of the world, Albert Pike. It was fortunate, indeed, that I had not waited to learn about the man from the lips of the guide who conducted me through the Consistory. The mind of this sad individual—a Mason too, I suppose, in his humble way—was cluttered with the bric-à-brac of forlorn statistics which may have interested the Chinese Bishop, whom he seemed inordinately proud to have escorted through the gloomy building, but which left me not only cold but depressed. Particularly the Swedish painting which because it was Swedish had given him the notion that it was more distinguished than the other chromos which adorned the walls. When we came to the auditorium he patiently went from one switchboard to another backstage, throwing on all the degrees and variety of light which were employed on occasion to make the hideous, ginger-bread scenery take on the semblance of poetry and mystery. It was a lugubrious tour, punctuated by dry figures anent the number of people who could be served at one time in the refectory, the number of days and nights required to prepare for an advance from the third degree to the thirty-second degree, and so forth. I liked best of all the wardrobe room where in neatly arranged lockers there was concealed a most astonishing variety of costumes, the most unique among them being that of "the poor man". There was something Asiatic about the more resplendent ones. Something almost Tibetan, were it not for the obtrusive taste of the local fire department. There were the York rites, I gathered, for the Jews and "others" (what others? I wonder), and the Scottish rites which had been inaugurated by Pike. Catching sight of the masks I was immediately intrigued. But when I started to question him he realized at once that I was not a Mason and quickly put them out of sight, as though he had been guilty of an indiscretion. I was wondering vaguely what the devil all this nonsense, this hocus pocus, had to do with the genius of Albert Pike. It was useless to formulate the query aloud for the guide was evidently very much at home in this ridiculous atmosphere of mummery and flummery. He was lying in wait to point out the "millionaires' club room", a little joke of his about the billiard room where the poor members sought distraction for a few brief hours during the endless tedium of their days.
On returning to my cabin that evening I dug up the Manly Hall book and reread his lucid, inspired essay on the great American Freemason. On opening the book my eye fell at once upon this paragraph:
"The Freemasonry of Albert Pike is too vast and grand a thing to be grasped by those who have not spread the pinions of their inspiration and soared upward into the rational sphere. Albert Pike was a real Masonic initiate. He felt the dignity and profundity of the work. He knew the high calling to which master builders are dedicated. Piercing the veil of futurity with his prophetic eyes, he dreamed with Plato and Bacon of a world ruled by wisdom and the return of the golden age."
Hall asserts that what Pike endeavored to make clear to the world is that Freemasonry is not a religion but the religion. "Freemasonry," says Hall, "does not align itself with any individual institution of faith that seemingly exists largely for the purpose of confuting some other cult. Freemasonry serves and nurtures man’s natural impulse to worship and venerate God in the universe and Good in the world. It interferes with the creed of no man for it is above creeds. Calling its members from vain wrangling over jot and tittle, it invites them to unite in harmonious adoration of the universal Creator. It calls men from theory to practice, from vain speculation to the application of those great moral and ethical truths by which the perfection of human nature is wrought."
It was said of Pike that he was a giant in body, in brain, in heart and in soul. He ran the whole gamut of earthly honors. Throughout the thirty-two years of his office, as Sovereign Grand Commander, he was visited and consulted by important persons from all over the world. "Who knows," says one of his admirers, "but that Albert Pike was a reincarnation of Plato, walking these nineteenth century streets of ours?" He was called Albertus Magnus, the Homer of America, the Master Builder, the Real Master of the Veils, the Oracle of Freemasonry, and the Zoroaster of modern Asia. He was a Greek and Latin scholar who taught himself many languages and a great number of dialects, among them the Sanskrit, Hebrew, Old Samaritan, Chaldean, Persian, and American Indian. Sanskrit he taught himself after he was seventy years of age. "His unpublished manuscripts in the library of the Supreme Council represent," says Manly Hall, "the most important known collection of research work into Craft symbolism."
I should like to quote Pike’s own lofty words, the better to summarize his character and vision. They are from the essay on "Masonic Symbolism".
"But those who framed its Degrees adopted the most sacred and significant symbols of a very remote antiquity, used many centuries before the Temple of the King Solomon was built, to express to those who understood them, while concealing from the profane, the most recondite and mysterious doctrines in regard to God, the universe and man. And those who framed the Degrees and adopted these symbols, used them as expressions of the same sacred and holy doctrine, and interpreted them quite otherwise than they are now interpreted in our Lodges. I have, at least, arrived at this conviction after patient study and reflection during many years. I entertain no doubt, and am ready to give the reasons for my faith, that the principal symbols of Freemasonry, all that are really ancient, concur to teach the fundamental principles of a great and wide spread religious philosophy, and hieroglyphically express certain profound ideas as to the existence, manifestations and action of the Deity, the harmony of the Universe, the Creative Word and Divine Wisdom, and the unity of the divine and human, spiritual, intellectual and material, in man and nature, that have re-appeared in all religions, and have been expounded by great schools of philosophy in all the ages. The ancient symbols of Freemasonry teach, I think, the profound religious truths and doctrines that in reality ARE Freemasonry. I am so far from being one of those who think that it teaches no religious creed or doctrine, as that I firmly believe that it consists in the religious philosophy that it teaches; and that he only is a true Freemason who correctly interprets for himself the Symbols."
As Manly Hall points out, "Pike herein commits himself in no uncertain manner to the fundamental premise of metaphysics and occultism: namely, that under the outer symbols and dogmas of religion there exists an esoteric key to the secrets of Nature and the purpose of human existence."
As I read on I came at last to the message (and the answer to my unvoiced query in the Consistory) which Pike left to the Brethren of the Craft. It is a message which should appeal to artists, particularly the artist in words who, though he seldom realizes it, is closer to the initiates than the chosen representatives of Cod.
"So religions decay into idle forms and the mummery of meaningless words. The Symbols remain, like the sea shells washed up from the depths, motionless and dead upon the sandy beaches of the ocean; and the Symbols are as voiceless and lifeless as the shells. Shall it always be so with Masonry, likewise? Or shall its ancient Symbols, inherited by it from the primitive faiths and most ancient initiations, be rescued from the enthralment of commonplace and trivial misinterpretation, be restored to their ancient high estate and again become the Holy Oracles of philosophical and religious Truth, their revelation of Divine Wisdom to our thoughtful ancestors; and thus make true and real the immense superiority of Freemasonry over all the modern and ephemeral associations that ape its forms and caricature its Symbolism?"
It seems almost incredible that in such a remote place as the Ozarks, in a century given over to crass materialism, there should have emerged a figure such as Albert Pike, self-educated, self-made, who combined in one magnificent, radiant personality the eminent qualities of poet, jurist, military leader, scholar, sage, Cabalist, Hermetist and grand old man of Masonry. In the photos of him one sees a resemblance to Whitman, that other great patriarchal figure of the 19th century. In both there were traces of strong sensuality. Pike, it is said, was a gourmand. "Six feet two inches tall, he had the proportions of a Hercules and the grace of an Apollo. A face and head massive and leonine, recalling in every feature some sculptor’s dream of a Grecian god." So one contemporary writes of him. Another describes him thus: "His broad expansive forehead, his serene countenance, and his powerful frame awoke thoughts in me of some being of a far-off time. The conventional dress of an American citizen did not seem suited to such a splendid personality. The costume of an ancient Greek would have been more in keeping with such a face and figure-such a habit as Plato wore when he discoursed upon divine philosophy to his students among the groves of the Academy at Athens, beneath the brilliant sun of Greece."
Remarkable that from a region looked upon by other Americans (unjustly, it is true) as being peopled with primitive, backward souls, there should step forth this truly royal figure of a man who could discourse with wisdom and grace on the teachings of Pythagoras, Plato, Hermes Trismegistus, Paracelsus, Confucius, Zoroaster, Eliphas Levi, Nicolas Flamel, Raymond Lulle and such like.
Extraordinary that in a milieu seemingly hostile to the study and pursuit of the arcane, this man, in Morals and Dogma, should have been able to summarize in a paragraph what eminent scholars elsewhere have failed to do in thick tomes. "One is filled with admiration," he writes, "on penetrating into the Sanctuary of the Kabalah, at seeing a doctrine so logical, so simple, and at the same time so absolute. The necessary union of ideas and signs, the consecration of the most fundamental realities by the primitive characters; the Trinity of Words, Letters and Numbers; a philosophy simple as the alphabet, profound and infinite as the Word; theorems more complete and luminous than those of Pythagoras; a theology summed up by counting on one’s fingers; an Infinite which can be held in the hollow of an infant’s hand; ten ciphers and twenty-two letters, a triangle, a square, and a circle-these are all the elements of Kabalah. These are the elementary principles of the written Word, reflection of that spoken Word that created the world!"

Henry Miller, The Air-Conditioned Nightmare. (Volume One). New York : New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1970. Copyright 1945. pb 292 p. ISBN : 0-8112-0106-6. pp. 143-50.


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