Sunday, September 4, 2011

Mormonism and Masonry

The Mormon Expressions podcast recently did a series on Mormonism and Masonry (Episodes 144, 145, 149, and 152) in which someone who calls himself George Miller (I got the impression this was a pseudonym) proposes that Masonry had a much bigger influence on Mormonism than has been previously thought. He is planning on publishing his findings, but unfortunately this will take years. Since most of his ideas can't be found anywhere else, I decided to provide a summary here.


Even though there are numerous men who belong to both the Mormon and the Masonic organizations, only superficial similarities have been discovered thus far because both organizations have changed quite a bit over time. To truly understand Mormonism's dependance on Masonry, one needs to have a thorough knowledge of the state of both traditions during the early 19th century in New England.

During Joseph Smith's time, anti-Masonic sentiment was on the rise. In fact, the Anti-Masonic Party, the first "third" political party in the United States, was founded at this time. The reason for the hostility was something called the Morgan Affair in which a man named William Morgan was kidnapped by Masons near Canandaigua (a city very close to Joseph Smith's hometown) because he threatened to publish an expose on the Masonic Royal Arch degree. There had been previous exposes done on Freemasonry before this, but the Royal Arch degree hadn't yet been revealed to the public. Morgan ended up disappearing and was presumed murdered, which gave rise to the anti-Masonic sentiment of the time. Joseph Smith likely knew William Morgan and went to the same lodge as him. Incidentally, Joseph Smith later made William Morgan's widow one of his polygamous wives.

Masonry was a Smith family tradition. Joseph Smith's father Joseph Sr. and his brother Hyrum were Masons, as well as three of his uncles. Blue Lodge Masonry in particular was on the rise during Joseph Smith Sr.'s time with three new lodges being built within a 25 mile radius of Joseph Smith Jr.'s birthplace.

Universalism was also important to the Smith family. Both Joseph Smith Sr. and his father Asael Smith were Universalists. Hosea Ballou, who has been called the Father of American Universalism, lived just 10 miles away from the Smith family home. The Smith family interest in both Masonry and Universalism were not mutually exclusive. In fact, during Joseph Smith's time, the Masonic lodges contained a disproportionate number of Universalist members. Hosea Ballou even gave orations in Masonic lodges in which he interpreted Masonic rituals in terms of Jesus becoming God.

The Book of Mormon has often been considered anti-Universalist, but it really isn't. Mormonism embraces the central Universalist idea that there is no Hell and everybody goes to Heaven. There are also other similarities. For example, Ballou's Treatise on Atonement talks about the trinity in a way that's similar to the Mormon Temple ceremony.

Antiquities of Freemasonry

In 1823, a Mason named George Oliver wrote a book called The Antiquities of Freemasonry. The reason he wrote the book was because there was a need to rewrite Masonic history when the Ancients and the Moderns (two rival forms of Freemasonry) combined. He was against the idea that the mystery cults in Egypt that revered Osiris and Dionysius practiced true Freemasonry, so he came up with the idea that there was a spurious form of Masonry. True Masonry was founded by God, while spurious Masonry was founded by Satan.

While there's no solid proof that Joseph Smith owned a copy of this book, the New York Masonic lodges which Joseph Smith and his family attended had several copies of it before Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon, so he was very likely familiar with it.

According to Antiquities of Freemasonry, God was a Freemason and He initiated Adam into the priesthood. Masonry was then passed down over the generations to Seth, Enoch, Noah, Shem (also known as Melchizedek), Abraham and down through the Jewish line to Solomon. Then it was passed on through to Christianity. Satan started spurious Masonry which he taught to Cain. This was also passed down the generations to Lamech. Spurious Masonry led to the Deluge, but survived in Noah's son Ham and eventually got passed on to the pharaoh of Egypt who stole the secrets of Masonry, but didn't get it quite right.

In Mormonism, God is a priesthood holder and He initiated Adam into the priesthood which got passed down through the generations. This idea couldn't have come from the Bible because the Bible mentions the priesthood only sparsely. Just like the Antiquities of Freemasonry, Joseph Smith's Book of Moses parallels Cain and Lamech's spurious Masonry with Enoch's true priesthood or speculative Masonry. In fact, everything in the Book of Moses that doesn't come from the Genesis account comes from Antiquities of Freemasonry. For example, both contain a scene in which Adam calls his posterity together that isn't found in the Bible.

Many have considered the Book of Mormon to be anti-Masonic, but it really isn't. The evil "secret combinations" of the Book of Mormon thought to represent Masons, actually represent spurious Masonry, while the priesthood in the Book of Mormon represents true Masonry. After all, Nephi builds the Temple of Solomon.

Joseph Smith tells us in the Book of Mormon (Alma 7:17-18) that Melchizedek's people had gone astray, but he brought them back. This isn't mentioned anywhere in the Bible, but it is mentioned in Antiquities of Freemasonry (p. 148-50, 154, 161-163).

The Book of Mormon also tells us that a pure bloodline is important and stresses the fact that Nephi and his posterity are direct descendants of Joseph. This idea is not found in the Bible, but again is an important one in Antiquities of Freemasonry.

Antiquities of Freemasonry tells us Enoch had an underground temple, a fact which is hinted at in the Masonic Royal Arch degree. The story goes that a group of Masons uncovered a keystone underneath the rubble of the Jewish Temple after it had been destroyed by the Babylonians. They discovered that the keystone was connected to an underground arch. They ended up descending 9 levels and found a gold plate on a pedestal with the true name of God written on it.

According to Mormon tradition, Joseph Smith found Golden Plates containing the Book of Mormon by digging into the Hill Cumorah and he even refers to the plates as the "keystone" of his religion on the title page of the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith then returned the Golden Plates along with some other items to a cave in the Hill Cumorah. Accorinding to the Book of Ether in the Book of Mormon, Moriancumer (perhaps a reference to the Hill Cumorah) is the name of the place where the Jaredites settled for a time. George Miller supposes that Joseph Smith thought the Temple of Enoch was located under the Hill Cumorah.

There was a legend amongst New York Masons at the time that a war would soon break out. The legend goes that a Mason would make the grand hailing sign of distress and be rescued by an Indian. It was a Masonic rumor that the Native Americans possessed a degraded form of Masonry. This parallels the claim made by the Book of Mormon that the Native Americans had a degraded form of the priesthood.

The Book of Abraham

In July 1835, Joseph Smith purchased four mummies (an old female, a young female, a male, and a deformed mummy) and accompanying papyri from a man named Michael Chandler.

The old female's papyrus (Book of the Dead Belonging to Tshemmin), which was written in red and white ink, was translated by Joseph Smith into the Book of Joseph. This papyrus contained a picture of a snake whispering into a woman's ear (which Joseph Smith thought represented Eve) as well as two pillars which Joseph Smith called the "Pillars of Enoch." He claimed this phrase came from the writings of Josephus, but Josephus never uses this term. The "Pillars of Enoch" is a phrase exclusive to Freemasonry.

The male mummy came with an excerpt from the Hor Book of Breathings which Joseph Smith translated into the Book of Abraham. The Book of Abraham is based on the Biblical account, however there is also additional material. Just as with the Book of Moses, all the additional material comes from Antiquities of Freemasonry.

For example, both books tell us about the assassination attempt made on Abraham and the idea that the Egyptians modeled their worship on the religion of the ancients. They both tell us that Abraham was an expert in astronomy (although Joesphus does too). Also, Abraham is described as having great knowledge, but seeking greater knowledge. He was a follower of righteousness, but was going to be a greater follower. These descriptions are both found in Masonic ritual.

Also, Antiquities of Freemasonry tells us that Abraham was initiated into Freemasonry when he visited Shem (also known as Melchizedek). This is hinted at by Joseph Smith. The name Melchizedek literally means King of Righteousness and he was also the King of Salem (or literally "King of Peace"). Melchizedek was a prophet, priest, and king like Adam, Moses, and others. The phrase "prophet, priest, and king" was a common phrase around Joseph Smith's time, however the Catholics, Church of England, and others only used it in reference to Jesus. Joseph Smith and the Masons were the only ones who used the phrase for other people.

Joseph Smith believed that prophet, priest and king were degrees one could graduate to as evidenced by a speech he gave on July 16th, 1843. In this speech, he gave up the title of prophet and bestowed it upon his brother Hyram, saying that Hyram would become a prophet by birthright. (Both Masons and Mormons of the time stressed the importance of primogeniture.) Willard Richards wrote in reference to this talk that Joseph Smith would be a priest now and a king by and by.

Further Similarities

Much like the different degrees of Freemasonry, Joseph Smith taught there were different levels of the priesthood: Levitical, Melchizedek, and Patriarchal. The similarities don't stop there. Both Mormonism and Masonry contain the ideas of lineal priesthood, the preexistence, and the idea that there is more than one world with people on it.

While writing the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith referred to the priesthood as the Order of Melchizedek. Then in Kirkland, he calls it the Order of the High Priesthood. Then finally in Nauvoo, he calls it the Holy Order of the High Priesthood. This corresponds with the Masonic Order of Melchizedek degree (in which the initiate plays the role of Abraham as he visits Melchizedek) since the name of this degree was changed to the Order of the High Priesthood, then finally to the Holy Order of the High Priesthood.

The structure of the Mormon church in Joseph Smith's time was divided into stakes and wards (or branches), which correspond to grand lodges and lodges in Masonry. The head of a lodge is called the Worshipful Master and he has both a Senior and Junior Warden. This corresponds to Mormonism's Bishop attended by a First and Second Counselor. Mormonism divides its members up into different ranks and callings much like a Masonic lodge.

The phrase "seek and they shall find, and to knock that the door may be opened" is common in Masonic ritual. This phrase is also an important one to Joseph Smith.

In Missouri, Joseph Smith decided to try his hand at his own Masonic organization outside the confines of official Masonry in the form of the Danites who modeled their oaths and covenants on Freemasonry.

Masons were interested in magic and theurgy (the process of becoming a god). Joseph Smith's mother wrote in her diary that the Smith family practiced magic and specifically uses the phrase "Faculty of Abrac" which comes from the Masonic document called the Leland Manuscript. The writings of Henry Cornelius Agrippa (which were reprinted in a book called The Magus) were big with the Smith family, perhaps because Masons of the time considered Agrippa to be the founder of Freemasonry in France.

In his book, Mormonism and the Magic World View, D. Michael Quinn painstakingly details all the evidence that Joseph Smith was an occult practitioner. However, the Smith family descendants referred to Smith's magical dagger, lamens and jupiter talisman as Masonic.

Joseph's Jupiter Talisman (created with instructions from Agrippa's book) was called "Joseph's Masonic Jewel" by Joseph's family. According to Masonic legend, Hiram Abiff (who was said to be the chief architect of King Solomon's Temple) had a "jewel" or medallion on which was carved the Secret Name of God and he died with it on him. Jupiter was one of God's names and Joseph's talisman had many other names for God written upon it. According to Joseph's first wife Emma, he died with the Jupiter medallion on him just like Hiram Abiff.

The rods which Joseph Smith and other early Mormons used for treasure digging are also Masonic in origin. In Antiquities of Freemasonry, Moses's rod was said to be a branch Adam took from the Tree of Life. It was said to be carved to resemble the head of a snake. One of Joseph Smith's canes matches this description (Joseph Smith walked with a limp ever since he was 7 due to a surgery). So even Joseph Smith's interest in magic was derived from Masonry.


In Masonry, it is said that the language spoken by Adam is the Universal Language. Antiquities of Freemasonry claims that Enoch made the Adamic written language.

Joseph Smith was interested in the Adamic language as evidenced by some of his writings. The 1832 Kirkland Revelation Book contains a few Adamic words God revealed to Joseph Smith. His revelation titled A Sample of Pure Language wasn't included in the Doctrine and Covenants for some reason, but we do have a sample of the Adamic written language from a letter Joseph Smith's scribe W. W. Phelps wrote to his wife. Joseph Smith would sometimes refer to glossolalia, or speaking in tongues, as the Adamic language.

Masonic legend has it that Enoch's gold plate was written in the Masonic Royal Arch Cipher. Agrippa's book contains a cipher that looks exactly like the Royal Arch Cipher except it's all assigned Hebrew letters. Joseph Smith created his Adamic language by combining the Royal Arch cipher with Agrippa's cipher. Further, he combines symbols together like Agrippa did to make further meanings.

Antiquities of Freemasonry states that pharaoh stole the Adamic writing system but changed it. The Adamic language was phonetic and symbolic, while the Egyptian language was only symbolic. This means the pure Adamic writing system would be a reformed version of Egyptian. Joseph Smith tells us the Book of Mormon was written in reformed Egyptian. A document called the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language explains how Joseph Smith translated it.

The Endowment

Joseph Smith originally created the Relief Society (an organization for female Mormons) with the intention of making it into a Masonic lodge. However, after his first wife Emma found out about his polygamous marriages, she took over the Relief Society in order to use it against him.

Female Masonry is unheard of today, however after the Morgan Affair, female degrees were initiated in the "burned over" district of New York where Joseph Smith was from. One was called the True Kindred degree and was based on the Biblical Book of Ruth. Another was called the Heroines of Jericho degree and was based on the Biblical story of Rahab, the prostitute who helped the Israelites destroy her hometown of Jericho. This degree included something that looks like the Five Points of Fellowship (which was removed from the Mormon temple ceremony in 1990). We know this was practiced amongst the Mormons because Zena Diantha Huntington Jacobs Smith Young, one of Joseph Smith's plural wives and later a plural wife of Brigham Young, wrote in her diary in June 1844 that "now I understand the Kindred Degree of Masonry."

Masonry was a big part of Mormon life during the Nauvoo period. There were 3 lodges in Nauvoo itself with 2 others nearby. In fact, there were more Masons in Nauvoo than all the rest of Illinois combined within one year of its founding. (You can still visit the Nauvoo lodge to this day, although modern Mormons embarrassed by their Masonic origins refer to it as a "Cultural Hall" and claim it was used for dances.) This is because Joseph Smith wanted every Mormon to go through all the Masonic degrees. He saw Masonry as a stepping stone to the endowment ceremony of the Mormon temple. In fact the symbols used in the endowment such as the secret handshakes only make sense to a Mason.

Joseph Smith intended the endowment ceremony to be an appendant body to the Blue Lodge degrees of Masonry which required Mormon membership (just as the Knight Templar degrees require one to be a Christian). The endowment (or Josephs's Rite) uses the same signs and tokens. It's a recapitulation of what came before. He makes the implicit Christian interpretations of the Blue Lodge and Royal Arch degrees explicit in the Mormon endowment ceremony. It's representative of when one becomes a prophet, priest, and king or heir like Christ in Heaven. Hosea Ballou thought the same thing. What Joseph Smith did with the endowment wasn't far off from how the typical Christian Mason of the time interpreted the Royal Arch degree.

Salem Town, a Royal Arch Mason, interpreted the Masonic rituals of passing through the veil, receiving a new name, being annointed, and placed upon a throne, as Christian allegory. So it was common to associate Masonry with Christianity. However, after the Morgan Affair, preachers distanced Christianity from Freemasonry.

The grips, passwords, and penalties of the Mormon endowment ceremony are taken word for word from Masonry, although the keywords are different. Salem Town said the apprentice and fellow-craft degrees were symbolic of Adam's expulsion from Eden. The three Blue Lodge and four Royal Arch degrees were interpreted by Masons as creation scenes in 1825. When opening a lodge (which is symbolic for the universe itself) the Worshipful Master (Elohim) talks to the Senior Warden (Jehovah) who talks to the Junior Warden (Michael) who then tells everybody and then they all return and report. These all correspond to endowment scenes.

Calling and election are part of the Royal Arch degree. The fourth degree of Masonry is interpreted as receiving your own Urim and Thummim as well as a new name. Masonry's goal, according to Antiquities of Free Masonry, is to weld together the chain of brothers throughout time. In Joseph Smith's time, Royal Arch Masons as well as Mormons wore white aprons on which they sewed green leaves during their ceremonies.

The Mormon operation at the veil is a Masonic catechism - there's one almost exactly like it in the Royal Arch ritual. In Joseph Smith's original ritual, multiple veils were passed through symbolizing the advancing from degree to degree as one moves through the rooms of the temple, just as in the Royal Arch ritual. Joseph Smith's idea of three degrees of glory was also taken from Masonic ritual.

There were three different designs for the Nauvoo Temple. The Masonic symbols appear on the final draft, after Joseph Smith becomes a Mason. The sunstone, moonstone, and five pointed star on the temple are definite Masonic symbols. The weathervane on top of the temple is an angel flying over a Masonic square and compass and wearing the robes of a Royal Arch Mason.

The bronze doorknobs and beehive of the Salt Lake City Temple are directly modeled on Masonic symbols. In describing them, Brigham Young almost quotes a Masonic ceremony word for word. On either side of the doors in the Mormon Temple, there are little alcoves which used to contain statues of Joseph and Hyram Smith just like the statues of the patron saints of Masonry, John the Baptist and John the Revelator, found in Masonic buildings. Brigham Young used to refer to the Mormon endowment ceremony as Celestial Masonry. In fact, the original plans of the Salt Lake Temple contained even more Masonic symbols, particularly a square and compass around all the windows.


According to John Taylor, who was in prison with Joseph Smith when he was murdered, Joseph Smith gave the Masonic grand hailing sign of distress right before he died, which isn't a surprise, since Joseph Smith had a history of using the grand hailing sign of distress when he was in trouble. A year earlier, when Joseph Smith had been jailed, he made this same sign and some Masons helped him out legally to get him out of jail. He even eludes to the grand hailing sign of distress in Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language. Joseph Smith's last words before he died, "Oh Lord, my God" was the beginning of the hailing sign (Oh Lord, my God, is there no help for the widow's son?). While modern Mormons balk at this, no Mormon of the time disputed that Joseph Smith was giving the grand hailing sign of distress as he died.

During the Utah period, Mormons were barred from becoming Freemasons because they broke the law by practicing polygamy. Brigham Young and others from the original generation of Mormons knew the Mormon church was based upon Masonry. The Utah state flag contains the Masonic beehive symbol and Utah's currency in the early days contained the Masonic All Seeing Eye. You can still see Masonic symbols in Utah cemeteries to this day. The Daughters of the Utah Pioneer Museum in Salt Lake City contains numerous Masonic artifacts which belonged to early Mormons.

However, the next generation of Mormons who were barred from participating in Masonry lost touch with their roots, and Masonry has been slowly disappearing from Mormon culture ever since. In 1900, it became Mormon church policy to prohibit Mormons from being Masons. Recently in the 1980s, the Utah Masonic lodge started to allow Mormon members once again and Mormon policy changed to allow Mormons to be Masons. The two organizations are now on good terms, although they've diverged from each other quite a bit and hence no longer have as much in common as they once did.

1 comment:

Sethington said...

Wow! Great article. I have been doing a bunch of research on this exact topic and have to concur with all of these points.