XIX — Grand Pontiff, or
Sublime Scottish Mason

Revised by Albert Pike

Contents List:

Temple Legacy
Government by the Dead
Virtue Its Own Reward
Slow — But Steady!

Return to:


See also:

Degree XIX — Questions
Desire as the Motive Power
Influences A, B, and C


My Brother, the true Mason labours for the benefit of those that are to come after him and for the advancement and improvement of his race. It is a poor ambition which contents itself within the limits of a single life. All men who deserve to live desire to survive their funerals and to live afterwards in the good work that they have done mankind rather than in the marble of men's memories. Most men desire to leave some work behind them that may outlast their own day and brief generation. That is an instinctive impulse, given by God, and often found in the rudest human heart — the surest proof of the soul's immortality and of the fundamental difference between man and the wisest brutes. To plant the trees that after we are dead shall shelter our children is as natural as to love the shade of those our fathers planted. The rudest unlettered husbandman, painfully conscious of his own inferiority, and the poorest widowed mother, giving her life-blood to those who pay only for the work of her needle, will toil and stint themselves to educate their child, that he may take a higher station in the world than they; and of such children are the world's greatest benefactors.

In his influences that survive him, man becomes immortal before the general resurrection. The Spartan mother that, giving her son his shield, said, "With it, or upon it!", afterwards shared the government of Lacedaemon with the legislation of Lycurgus [Possibly legendary Spartan ruler said by Herodotus to have fl. c. 7th. century BCE. — Ed.]: for she too made a law that lived after her and disciplined the Spartan soldiery that afterwards demolished the walls of Athens and aided Alexander to conquer the Orient. The widow that gave Marion [ Francis Marion ("The Swamp Fox"), c. 1732-1795, American Revonulionary General. — Ed.] the fiery arrows to burn her own house that it might no longer shelter the enemies of her infant country, the house where she had lain upon her husband's bosom and where her children had been born, legislated more effectually for her State than Locke [John Locke, 1632-1704, English philosopher — Ed.] or Shaftesbury [Prob. the 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury, 1671-1713, English politician and philosopher. — Ed.], or than many a Legislature has done since that State [S. Carolina. — Ed.] won her freedom.

It was of slight importance to the Kings of Egypt and the Monarchs of Assyria and Phoenicia that the son of a Jewish woman, a foundling, adopted by the daughter of Sesostris Ramses, slew an Egyptian that oppressed a Hebrew slave, and fled into the desert to remain there forty years. But Moses, who might otherwise have become Regent of Lower Egypt and known to us only by a tablet on a tomb or monument, became the deliverer of the Jews, led them forth from Egypt to the frontiers of Palestine, and made for them a law out of which grew the Christian faith: and so has shaped the destinies of the world. He and the old Roman lawyers, with Alfred of England, the Saxon Thanes and Norman Barons, the old judges and chancellors, and the makers of the canons, lost in the mists and shadows of the Past: these are our legislators, and we obey the laws that they enacted.

Napoleon died upon the barren rock of his exile. His bones, borne to France by the son of a King, rest in the Hôpital des Invalides in the great city of the Seine. His thoughts still govern France. He, and not the People, dethroned the Bourbon and drove the last King of the House of Orleans into exile. He, in his coffin, and not the People, voted the crown to the Third Napoleon; and he, and not the Generals of France and England, led their united forces against the grim Northern Despotism.

Mohammed announced to the Arabian idolaters the new creed: There is but one God, and Mohammed, like Moses and Christ, is His apostle. For many years unaided, then with the help of his family and a few friends, then with many disciples, and last of all with an army, he taught and preached the Koran. The religion of the wild Arabian enthusiast, converting the fiery Tribes of the Great Desert, spread over Asia, built up the Saracenic dynasties, conquered Persia and India, the Greek Empire, Northern Africa and Spain, and dashed the surges of its fierce soldiery against the battlements of Northern Christendom. The law of Mohammed still governs a fourth of the human race; Turk and Arab, Moor and Persian, still obey the Prophet and pray with their faces turned towards Mecca; he, and not the living, rules and reigns in the fairest portions of the Orient.

Confucius [551-479 BCE. — Ed.] still enacts the law for China, and the thoughts of Peter the Great [1672-1725. — Ed.] govern Russia. Plato [c. 528 — c. 347 BCE. — Ed.] and the other great sages of antiquity still reign as the Kings of Philosophy and have dominion over the human intellect. The great statesmen of the past still preside in the councils of nations. Burke [Edmund Burke, 1729-97, Irish statesman and philosopher. — Ed.] still lingers in the House of Commons, and Webster's [Daniel Webster, 1782-1852, American Senator and Secretary of State. — Ed.] grave accents yet ring in the American Senate.

Washington [George Washington, 1732-1799, first President of the United States. — Ed.] sleeps calmly in his tomb at Mount Vernon, which has become the Mecca, and the Potomac the highway, of the Pilgrims of Freedom. But his influences still live and rule in the hearts of twenty-three millions of people, sway and direct the councils of a great Nation, determine its foreign policy, and sanction or condemn its diplomacy and legislation. He has a truer and more absolute veto than the President: for he exercises his power through the People, who are supreme, and who decide as he directs.

It has been well said that when Tamerlaine [1336-1405, Islamic conqueror. — Ed.] built his pyramid of fifty thousand human skulls and wheeled away with his vast armies from the gates of Damascus to find new conquests and build other pyramids, a little boy was playing in the streets of Mainz, son of a poor artisan, whose apparent importance on the scale of beings was, compared with that of Tamerlaine, as a grain of sand to the giant bulk of the Earth. But Tamerlaine and all his shaggy legions that swept over the East like a hurricane have passed away and become shadows; while the wonderful invention of John Faust [poss. the original "Dr Faustus", d. c. 1540. — Ed.], the boy of Mainz, has exerted a greater influence on men's destinies and overturned more thrones and dynasties than all the victories of all the bloodstained conquerors that from Nimrod [see Gen. 10:8 — Ed.] downward have afflicted God's fair world.

Temple Legacy

Long ages ago, the Temple built by Solomon and our ancient Brethren sank into ruin when the Assyrian armies sacked Jerusalem. The Holy City is a mass of hovels cowering under the dominion of the Crescent, and the Holy Land a desert. The Kings of Egypt and Assyria, who were contemporaries of Solomon, are forgotten and their histories mere fables. The ancient Orient is a shattered wreck bleaching on the shores of Time. The wolf and the jackal howl among the ruins of Thebes and of Tyre, and the sculptured images of the temples and palaces of Babylon are dug from their ruins and carried into strange lands. But the quiet and peaceful Order, of which the son of a poor Phoenician widow was one of the Grand Masters with the Kings of Israel and Tyre, has continued to increase in stature and influence, defying the angry waves of time and the storms of persecution. Age has not weakened its wide foundations nor shattered its columns nor marred the beauty of its harmonious proportions. Where rude barbarians in the time of Solomon peopled inhospitable howling wildernesses in France and Britain, and in that New World not known to Jew or Gentile until the glories of the Orient had faded, that Order has built new Temples and teaches to its million of Initiates those lessons of peace, good-will, and toleration, or reliance on God and confidence in man, which it learned when Hebrew and Giblemite worked side by side on the slopes of Lebanon and the Servant of Jehovah and the Phoenician Worshipper of Bel sat with the humble artisan in Council at Jerusalem.

[Much has happened in the world during the 150 years since Albert Pike penned these opening paragraphs but, though many details have changed, can we not discern the relevance of what he wrote to our own troubled times? — Ed.]

Government by the Dead

It is the Dead that govern. The Living only obey. And if the soul sees, after death, what passes on this Earth and watches over the welfare of those it loves, then must its greatest happiness consist in seeing the current of its beneficent influences widening out from age to age as rivulets widen into rivers, aiding to shape the destinies of individuals, families, States, and the World; and its bitterest punishment consist in seeing its evil influences causing mischief and misery, and cursing and afflicting men long after the frame it dwelt in has become dust and when both name and memory are forgotten.

We know not who among the Dead control our destinies. The universal human race is linked and bound together by those influences which in the truest sense do make men's fates. Humanity is the unit, of which one man is but a fraction. What other men in the Past have done, said, thought, makes the great iron network of circumstance that environs and controls us all. We take our faith on trust. We think and believe as the old Lords of Thought command us; and Reason is powerless before Authority.

We would make or annul a particular contract: but the Thoughts of the dead judges of England, living when their ashes have been cold for centuries, stand between us and that which we would do, and utterly forbid it. We would settle our estate in a particular way: but the prohibition of the English Parliament, its uttered Thought when the first or second Edward reigned, comes echoing down the long avenues of time and tells us we shall not exercise the power of disposition as we wish. We would gain a particular advantage of another: and the Thought of the old Roman lawyer who died before Justinian, or that of Rome's great orator Cicero, annihilates the act or makes the intention ineffectual. This act, Moses forbids; that, Alfred [Alfred the Great, 849-899, Anglo-Saxon King of Wessex. — Ed.]. We would sell our land: but certain marks on a perishable paper tell us that our father or remote ancestor ordered otherwise: and the arm of the dead, emerging from the grave, with peremptory gesture prohibits the alienation. About to sin or to err, the Thought or wish of our mother, told us when we were children by words that died upon the air in the utterance and many a long year were forgotten, flashes on our memory and holds us back with a power that is resistless.

Thus we obey the dead: and thus shall the living, when we are dead, for weal or woe obey us. The Thoughts of the Past are the laws of the Present and Future. That which we say and do, if its effects last not beyond our lives, is unimportant. That which shall live when we are dead as part of the great body of law enacted by the dead is the only act worth doing, the only Thought worth speaking. The desire to do something that shall benefit the world when neither praise nor obloquy will reach us where we sleep soundly in the grave is the noblest ambition entertained by man.

It is the ambition of a true and genuine Mason. Knowing the slow processes by which the Deity brings about great results, he does not expect to reap as well as sow in a single lifetime. It is the inflexible fate and noblest destiny (with rare exceptions) of the great and the good to work and let others reap the harvest of their labours. He who does good only to be repaid in kind or in thanks and gratitude or in reputation and the world's praise, is like to him who loans his money that he may, after certain months, receive the principal back with interest. To be repaid for eminent services with slander, obloquy, or ridicule, or at best with stupid indifference or cold ingratitude, as it is common, so it is no misfortune except to those who lack the wit to see or sense to appreciate or the nobility of soul to thank and reward with eulogy the benefactor of his kind. His influences live, and the great Future will obey, whether it recognise or disown the lawgiver.

Miltiades [c. 550-489 BCE, Athenian General and politician. — Ed.], was fortunate that he was exiled and Aristides [c. 550-c. 467 BCE, Athenian General and politician. — Ed.] that he was ostracised because men wearied of hearing him called "The Just". Not Jesus was unfortunate, but those only who repaid him for the inestimable gift he offered them and for a life passed in toiling for their good by nailing him upon the cross as though he had been a slave or malefactor. The persecutor dies and rots, and Posterity utters his name with execration: but his victim's memory he has unintentionally made glorious and immortal.

Virtue Its Own Reward

If not for slander and persecution, the Mason who would benefit his race must look for apathy and cold indifference in those whose good he seeks, in those who ought to seek the good of others. Except when the sluggish depths of the Human Mind are broken up and tossed as with a storm, when at the appointed time a great Reformer comes and a new Faith springs up and grows with supernatural energy, the progress of Truth is slower than the growth of oaks; and he who plants need not expect to gather. Jesus, at his death, had twelve disciples, and one betrayed and one deserted and denied him. It is enough for us to know that the fruit will come in its due season. When, or who shall gather it, does not in the least concern us to know. It is our business to plant the seed. It is God's right to give the fruit to whom He pleases; and if not to us, then is our action so much more noble.

To sow, that others may reap; to work and plant for those that are to occupy the earth when we are dead; to project our influences far into the future and live beyond our time; to rule as the Kings of Thought over men who are yet unborn; to bless with the glorious gifts of Truth and Light and Liberty those who will neither know the name of the giver nor care in what grave his unregarded ashes repose, is the true office of a Mason and the proudest destiny of a man.

All the great and beneficent operations of Nature are produced by slow and often imperceptible degrees. Only the work of destruction and devastation is violent and rapid. The volcano and the earthquake, the tornado and the avalanche, leap suddenly into full life and fearful energy, and smite with an unexpected blow. Vesuvius buried Pompeii and Herculaneum in a night; and Lisbon fell prostrate before God in a breath, when the earth rocked and shuddered. The Alpine village vanishes and is erased at one bound of the avalanche; and the ancient forests fall like grass before the mower when the mad tornado is hurled upon them. Grim pestilence slays its thousands in a day, and a storm in a night strews the sand with shattered navies.

Slow — But Steady!

The gourd of the Prophet Jonah grew up, and was withered, in a night. [Jonah 4:6-11 Ed.] But many years ago, before the Norman Conqueror stamped his mailed foot on the neck of prostrate Saxon England [at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. — Ed.], some wandering barbarian, of a continent then unknown to the world, in mere idleness, with hand or foot, covered an acorn with a little earth and passed on regardless on his journey to the dim Past. He died and was forgotten; but the acorn lay there still, the mighty force within it acting in the darkness. A tender shoot stole gently up and, fed by the light and air and frequent dews, put forth its little leaves, and lived because the elk or buffalo chanced not to place his foot upon it and crush it. The years marched onward, and the shoot became a sapling, and its green leaves came and went with Spring and Autumn. And still the years came and passed away again, and William the Norman Bastard parcelled England out among his Barons, and still the sapling grew, and the dews fed its leaves, and the birds built their nests among its small limbs for many generations. And still the years came and went, and the Indian hunter slept in the shade of the sapling, and Richard Lion-Heart fought at Acre and Ascalon, and John's bold Barons wrested from him the Great Charter ['Magna Carta' of English liberties granted by King John in 1215 under threat of civil war and reissued with alterations in 1216, 1217, and 1225. — Ed.]; and lo! the sapling had become a tree; and still it grew, and thrust its great arms wider abroad, and lifted its head still higher towards the Heavens, strong-rooted and defiant of the storms that roared and eddied through its branches. And when Columbus ploughed with his keels the Western Ocean [1492 — Ed.], and Cortez and Pizarro bathed the cross in the blood of many thousand Mexican and Peruvian hearts [c. 1530-1550. — Ed.]; and when the Puritan, the Huguenot, the Cavalier and the follower of Penn [William Penn, 1644-1718, English Quaker and colonialist, founder of Pennsylvania. — Ed.] sought a refuge and a resting-place beyond the ocean, the Great Oak still stood, firm-rooted, vigorous, stately, haughtily domineering over all the forest, heedless of all the centuries that had hurried past since the wild Indian planted the little acorn in the forest — a stout and hale old tree, with wide circumference shading many a rood of ground, and fit to furnish timbers for a ship to carry the thunders of the Great Republic's guns around the world. And yet, if one had sat and watched it every instant, from the moment when the feeble shoot first pushed its way to the light until the eagles built among its branches, he would never have seen the tree or sapling grow.

Many long centuries ago, before the Chaldean shepherds watched the stars or Khufu built the Pyramids, one could have sailed where now a thousand islands gem the surface of the Indian Ocean, and the deep sea lead would nowhere have found any bottom. But below these waves were myriads upon myriads, beyond the power of arithmetic to number, of little minute existences, each a perfect living creature, made by the Almighty Creator and fashioned by Him for the work it had to do. There they toiled beneath the waters, each doing its allotted work and wholly ignorant of the result which God intended. They lived and died, incalculable in numbers and almost infinite in the succession of their generations, each adding his mite to the gigantic work that went on there under God's direction. Thus has He chosen to create great continents and islands; and still the coral insects live and work, as when they made the rocks that underlie the valley of the Ohio.

Thus God has chosen to create. Where now is firm land once chafed and thundered the great primeval ocean. For ages upon ages the minute shields of infinite myriads of infusoria and the stony stems of encrinites sank into its depths, and there, under the vast pressure of its waters, hardened into limestone. Raised slowly from the Profound by His hand, its quarries underlie the soil of all the continents, hundreds of feet in thickness; and we, of these remains of the countless dead, build tombs and palaces as the Egyptians, whom we call ancient, built their pyramids.

On all the broad lakes and oceans the Great Sun looks earnestly and lovingly, and the invisible vapours rise ever up to meet him. No eye but God's behold them as they rise. There, in the upper atmosphere, they are condensed to mist and gather into clouds and float and swim around in the ambient air. They sail with its currents and hover over the ocean and roll in huge masses round the stony shoulders of the great mountains. Condensed still more by change of temperature, they drop upon the thirsty earth in gentle showers, or pour upon it in heavy rains, or storm against its bosom at the angry Equinoctial. The shower, the rain and the storm pass away, the clouds vanish, and the bright stars again shine clearly upon the glad earth. The raindrops sink into the ground and gather in subterranean reservoirs, and run in subterranean channels, and bubble up in springs and fountains; and from the mountainsides and heads of valleys the silver threads of water begin their long journey to the ocean. Uniting, they widen into brooks and rivulets, then into streams and rivers; and at last, a Nile, a Ganges, an Amazon or a Mississippi rolls between its banks, mighty, majestic, and irresistible, creating vast alluvial valleys to be the granaries of the world, ploughed by the thousand keels of commerce and serving as great highways and as the impassable boundaries of rival nations; ever returning to the ocean the drops that rose from it in vapour, and descended in rain and snow and hail upon the level plains and lofty mountains; and causing him to recoil for many a mile before the headlong rush of their great tide.

So it is with the aggregate of Human endeavour. As the invisible particles of vapour combine and coalesce to form the mists and clouds that fall in rain on thirsty continents and bless the great green forests and wide grassy prairies, the waving meadows and the fields by which men live; as the infinite myriads of drops that the glad earth drinks are gathered into springs and rivulets and rivers, to aid in levelling the mountains and elevating the plains, and to feed the large lakes and restless oceans; so all Human Thought and Speech and Action, all that is done and said and thought and suffered upon the earth, combines together, and flows onward in one broad irresistible current towards those great results to which they are determined by the will of God.

We build slowly and destroy swiftly. Our ancient Brethren who built the Temples at Jerusalem with many myriad blows felled, hewed, and squared the cedars, and quarried the stones, and carved the intricate ornaments, which were to be the Temples. Stone after stone, by the combined effort and long toil of Apprentice, Fellow-Craft and Master, the walls arose; slowly the roof was framed and fashioned; and many years elapsed before, at length, the Houses stood finished, all fit and ready for the Worship of God, gorgeous in the sunny splendours of the atmosphere of Palestine. So they were built. A single motion of the arm of a rude barbarous Assyrian spearman, or drunken Roman, or Gothic legionary of Titus [39-81 CE, Roman General Emperor (79-81 CE), commander of the force that conquered and destroyed Jerusalem in 70 CE, — Ed.] moved by a senseless impulse of the brutal will, flung in the blazing brand; and, with no further human agency, a few short hours sufficed to consume and melt the Temple to a smoking mass of black unsightly ruin.


Be patient, therefore, my Brother, and wait!

The issues are with God: To do
Of right belongs to us.

Therefore faint not, my Brother, nor be weary in well doing. Be not discouraged at men's apathy, nor disgusted with their follies, nor tired of their indifference. Care not for returns and results; but see only what there is to do, and do it, leaving the results to God. Soldier of the Cross! Sworn Knight of Justice, Truth, and Toleration! Good Knight and True! Be patient and work!