LDS temples play an integral part in the Mormon experience, hosting the religion’s most sacred rituals and ordinances. Only members who have participated in a multi-tier personal interview process with patriarchal leaders are granted permission to enter. Therein, Mormons are instructed that the knowledge, tokens, and signs obtained within the temple will provide passage through the veil into the Kingdom of Heaven.
In the early years of the Church, numerous Mormon leaders and members of the Smith family were Freemasons, including Brigham Young, Heber Kimball and Joseph’s older brother Hyrum. Joseph Smith also joined the Freemasons, introducing the LDS temple ceremonies a mere seven weeks after receiving their rituals, secret hand grips, embraces, clothing, tokens, and penalties. The Church has no records or journal entries of revelations regarding temple ceremonies or covenants. For generations, the Church vigorously denied Masonry’s influence while declaring its own ceremonies to be a different, more purifying experience. The Church even went so far as to chastise historians who accurately documented the striking similarities.
Given that the majority of temple ordinances are for the dead, some question why the Church spends billions of dollars on spacious buildings for only the exclusive few. Jesus suggested, “Let the dead bury their dead…come follow me.” Church historian Leonard Arrington said, “I have not yet come to feel the necessity of frequent attendance at the temple. I think I get as much inspiration watching birds, or looking at the mountains and the wilderness, as participating in the rituals there.” (Leonard Arrington: Writing of Mormon History, 132).
Masonic author Mervin Hogan observed, “It must be readily acknowledged that Mormonism and Freemasonry are so intimately and inextricably interwoven and interrelated that the two can never be dissociated.”
Freemasonry formed somewhere between the 10th and 17th centuries in England and, contrary to what one may claim, possesses no link to the Biblical temple of Solomon or temple builder Hiram Abiff that its ceremonies center on. LDS author Greg Kerney writes,“Unfortunately there is no historical evidence to support a continuous functioning line from Solomon’s temple to present. We know what went on in Solomon’s temple; it’s the ritualistic slaughter of animals. Masonry, while claiming a root in antiquity, can only be reliably traced to medieval stone tradesmen” (LDS author on FAIR and Mason). Even Kerney’s inclusion of medieval tradesman is generous, as the earliest Lodges were primarily composed of aristocratic intellectuals.
During Joseph Smith’s upbringing, Masonry was regarded as a mysterious organization full of secret combinations and viewed as a threat to free government. Scholars note that it may have worked its way into the Book of Mormon, becoming the Gadianton Robber narrative with their secret oaths, covenants, and desires to overthrow a democratic Nephite government (No Man Knows My History, 281).
Joseph Smith Sr. became a Grand Master Mason in 1818. Hyrum Smith affiliated with Masonry in 1825 before running afoul of the brotherhood by not paying his debts, as evidenced by brother Joseph’s 1830 letter of warning to “..beware of the freemasons…who care more for his body than the debt…heard were in Manchester, got a warrant.” (Smith to Colesville Saints, Dec 2, 1830) Joseph again wrote Hyrum in March 1831, warning that creditors were again pursuing Smith Sr. for unpaid debts, “Come to Fayette, bring father, do not go through Buffalo for they lie in wait for you” (Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith).
Oliver Cowdery’s father, at least three of his brothers, and his cousin were Masons. Heber C. Kimball, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow and Newell Whitney remained Masons for life.
Joseph Smith was expedited into Masonry on March 15, 1842, and remained a member for life. Because of his father’s rank as Grand Master, he was raised to the rank of first degree Mason within one day. Smith recorded, “I officiated as grand chaplain at the installation of the Nauvoo Lodge of Free Masons. . . . In the evening I received the first degree in Freemasonry in the Nauvoo Lodge.” (History of the Church, Deseret Book, 1978, Vol.4, Ch. 32, p. 550) Smith also recorded, “I was with the Masonic Lodge and rose to the sublime degree” (History of the Church, vol 4, ch 32, 552).
On May 4-5, 1842, mere weeks after obtaining the Masonic rituals, Smith introduced the LDS endowment ceremony to close friends, including Masonry’s nearly identical tokens, signs, penalties, prayer circle, new name ritual, apron, etc. Richard Bushman suggests “He had a green thumb for growing ideas from tiny seeds” (Rough Stone Rolling, 436, 449).
Mormonism’s bond with masonry ebbed and flowed with the political landscape, but by October 1842, Nauvoo’s 253 member lodge outnumbered the 227 Masons in all other Illinois lodges combined. Nauvoo Masons held a fundraising play on April 24, 1844 to pay Smith’s mounting legal bills. Brigham Young and other LDS Church leaders participated in lead roles. Years later, Heber C. Kimball quipped, “We have the true Masonry…they have now and then a thing that is correct, but we have the real thing.” (Salt Lake City, Nov 9, 1858) Smith’s last words when he was murdered in Carthage Jail came as he attempted to jump out of the window, “Oh Lord, my God…,” were the likely the first words of the Masonic cry of distress: “Oh Lord, my God, is there no help for the widow’s son?”
Some of the similarities between Masonry and Mormonism (specifically in the temple) include the following:
- All Seeing Eye
- Square / Compass
- Emblem of the clasped hands
- Five points of fellowship
- Special garments applied to initiates
- Garment markings
- Special hand grips
- The phrase: “Holiness to the Lord”
- A new name given
- Blood/death oaths of secrecy with gestures and words describing specific penalties agreed to if secrets are revealed. Mormons going through the temple post-1990 may not be familiar with these.
- Location (possession of) Throne of the “Holy of Holies”
- Star, Sun, Moon symbols
- Tabernacles, Temples
Mormon temple ceremonies have changed significantly over the years, but anyone who has experienced the LDS temple endowment will recognize the Masonic rituals. All the signs and tokens are essentially shared with Masonry or only slightly embellished. Mormon temple ceremonies are so similar that one historian called the endowment Celestial Masonry (Leonard Arrington, Writing of Mormon History, 257).
- Mormon Expression: Mormonism and Masonry
- Scottish Mason Lodge History
- Development of Temple Endowment
- See Duncan’s Masonic Ritual and Monitor of 1866
- Signology.org – Masonic Signs
DENIALS OF MASONIC ORIGINS
Mormonism has long shared an awkward relationship with Freemasonry, unsure when to embrace or shun shun it completely. Prohibited from discussing the temple rituals, many members take it upon faith that ambiguous symbolism and hidden meanings stem from sacred and ancient origins.
The LDS Church has generally adopted the position that its temple rituals remain uninfluenced by Masonry. Efforts to propagate such thinking include the 1934 publication of Relationship of Mormonism and Masonry by general authority Anthony Ivins. The introduction of his book admonishes members to “refrain from identifying themselves with any secret, oath-bound society,” as such affiliation “tends to draw people away from the performance of Church duties.”
The Church’s sensitivity to its Masonic roots eased little over the decades. In 1974, Reed Durham, President of Mormon History Association and Director of Institute at University of Utah, delivered a speech on Masonry at their annual gathering. The Church reacted strongly, forcing him to write an apology before demoting him, effectively ending his career (Writing of Mormon History, 259). The Church today suggests that Masonic events and ideas served as a mere catalyst for further revelation.
A penal oath, commonly referred to as a blood oath, was a known Masonic ritual requiring members to swear to surrender their lives rather than reveal the secret tokens and signs given them. Ceremony participants covenanted, “I will never reveal the [token]… Rather than do so, I would suffer my life to be taken.” The sworn obligation to secrecy and psychologically controlling aspects surrounding the temple experience are textbook indoctrination.
Members grew increasingly unconformable with the cryptic ritual, resulting in declining temple attendance, so the Church conducted a survey in 1988 to gauge member sentiment. The penal oath and explicitly performed penalties – pantomiming slitting of the throat, disemboweling oneself and ripping out the heart – were removed from LDS ceremony in 1990. Though no longer clearly identified in LDS ceremony today, remnants of the signs and penalty motions remain. At one point in the ceremony, temple patrons are instructed during a hand gesture to extend the thumb, which represents the blade with which you cut the throat and belly.
- LDS Temple Blood Oath
- Mormon temple endowment ceremony transcript
- 1988 Temple Survey
- LDS Temple Penalties
OATH OF VENGEANCE
Soon after Joseph Smith’s death in 1844, Brigham Young added an Oath of Vengeance to the LDS temple ceremony. “You and each of you do covenant and promise that you will pray and never cease to pray to Almighty God to avenge the blood of the prophets upon this nation, and that you will teach the same to your children and to your children’s children unto the third and fourth generation.” The sacred practice was not eliminated until the early 1930s.
- MormonThink: Oath of Vengeance
SECRET NEW NAME
During the temple endowment ceremony, each member receives a new name which they are instructed to always remember, keep sacred and never reveal, except at a specific place inside the temple. Since January 1, 1965, each male and female who goes through the temple on any given day receives the exact same new name for each sex, regardless of which temple they attend across the globe.
These “secret” names are provided to the temple workers daily during a special prayer meeting. Every temple has a set of placards containing the male and female names, in addition to a number representing the day of the month. The new name each temple patron receives depends only on their gender, whether the ordinance is live or proxy, and the day of the month. An exception occurs if the name of the day coincides with the person’s actual first name, in which case he/she receives the replacement name of Adam/Eve respectively. For endowments given in languages other than English, new names are translated to their nearest equivalent in that language.
Garments (specially designed underwear initially resembling long johns, and now t-shirts and boxer briefs) are to be worn at all times, day and night, to serve as a constant reminder of the covenants made within LDS temples. Members are provided specific instruction regarding how to care for the underwear, when it may be removed, and that they should not alter it in any way.
Early temple endowment practices had much more to do with polygamy than eternal families, and William Law’s public accusations brought the contentious issue to a head. Before coming out of hiding and surrendering to authorities, Smith instructed those who accompanied him to remove their garments. (Heber Kimball journal, Dec 21, 1845) Joseph, Hyrum and John Taylor removed their garments, while Willard Richards retained his. As the mob rushed into the small cell, Willard hid behind the heavy door and thus avoided harm. Folklore spread about how Smith’s death resulted from his not wearing garments.
Historian D. Michael Quinn writes, “In Mormon folklore the temple garment sometimes functions as a classic amulet that has power in itself. To some Mormons, the garment has power to protect only what it touches” (Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, 276). Testimonies of physical protection powers occurred prior to Smith’s death, but accelerated dramatically thereafter. The Church has also promoted the physical protection aspect of garments. Bill Marriott declared in a 60 Minutes interview that his underwear protected him from certain harm, while Mike Wallace displays his professionalism during the exchange.
Paul H. Dunn also claimed that garments protected him in battle. As many of his sports/war stories were revealed to be fabrications, it became a turning point away from LDS literal protection claims.
Today, Mormons are offered ambiguous notions of spiritual protection and covenant reminders by wearing their temple garments day and night. By 1998, the Church was officially discounting the idea that garments offer physical protection, but that they merely guard against temptation and evil. (Church Handbook of Instruction, Book 1, 69).