Temple Ceremony / Masonry

LDS temples are integral to Mormon doctrine and host the religion’s most sacred, and secret, ordinances. Only members who have participated in a multi-tier personal interview process with patriarchal leaders are granted recommends to enter. Mormons are instructed that the knowledge, tokens and signs obtained within the temple will provide passage through the veil into heaven.

Numerous early Mormon leaders and Smith family members were Masons, including Brigham Young, Heber Kimball and Joseph’s older brother Hyrum. Joseph Smith also joined the Masons, introducing the LDS temple ceremonies a mere seven weeks after receiving their rituals, secret handshakes, embraces, clothing, tokens and penalties. Smith occupied the intervening weeks by declaring bankruptcy (denied by the court), establishing the secret Council of 50 to rule the world via a theocratic government he would head, marrying Nancy Marinda Hyde while her husband was away on a mission, and propositioning Sidney Rigdon’s teenage daughter (also denied). Immediately upon the completion of those responsibilities, Joseph revealed LDS temple doctrine which incorporated the same Masonic tokens, signs and hand shakes.

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 different, more pure, even chastising 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 and enormously expensive buildings that hardly anyone enters, while actual living children of God suffer outside the doors. Jesus suggested, “Let the dead bury their dead…come follow me.” 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 in 10-17th centuries and possesses no link to Solomon or Christ. “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” (Greg Kerney, LDS author on FAIR and Mason).

Masonry was a mysterious, secret combination in Smith’s time, viewed as a threat to free government. It worked its way into the Book of Mormon, becoming the Gadianton Robber narrative, as Smith wrote of secret oaths, covenants and desires to overthrow a democratic Nephite government (No Man Knows My History, 281).

Joseph Smith Sr. became a Grand Master 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. 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, 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 as he attempted to jump out of the window, “Oh Lord, my God…,” were the Masonic cry of distress.

Some of the things Masonry and Mormonism (specifically the temple) have or had in common are:

  • All Seeing Eye
  • Apron
  • Beehive
  • Square / Compass
  • Emblem of the clasped hands
  • Five points of fellowship
  • Special farments applied to initiates
  • Garment markings
  • Special handshakes
  • The phrase: “Holiness to the Lord”
  • New name given
  • Blood/death oaths of secrecy with morbid 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 taken straight from 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).



Mormonism has long shared an awkward love-hate relationship with its Masonic brotherhood, unsure when to embrace or shun. Prohibited from discussing the temple rituals, many members take it upon faith that ambiguous symbolism and hidden meaning hold sacred value.

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 Anthony Ivins. Despite having served in the First Presidency, thus remaining fully aware of the true Masonic history, 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 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. Early Mormons stood completely naked when participating in the ritual. The ceremony was eventually modified to incorporate the use of a very thin, semi-transparent, open sided poncho that workers referred to as a shield. 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 psychological control aspects surrounding the temple experience are textbook indoctrination.

Members grew increasingly unconformable with the cryptic ritual and intimate touching by strangers, 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, the signs and penalty motions remain. For example, temple patrons are specifically instructed to extend the thumb when performing the ceremony, as the thumb represents the blade with which you cut your throat and belly.



Soon after Joseph Smith’s death in 1844, the Oath of Vengeance was added 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 approximately the early 1930s.



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 certain place. 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 resembling long johns) 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. Though originally worn only in the temple, the role of the special underwear has evolved.

Physical Protection

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.

After exhausting the bullets in the gun he possessed, Joseph attempted to flee through the Carthage jail’s window. As he was struck by bullets, he cried out the Masonic sign of distress, “Oh Lord my God, is there no help for the widows son?” Though Masons within ear shot would be duty bound to help, many remained resentful over his treatment of their secret ceremonies.

“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 touche” (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 an uncomfortable extra layer of fabric day and night. By 1998, the Church was officially discounting the idea that garments offer physical protection, they merely guard against temptation and evil; another example of common sense forcing its way past the Church’s “magical” thinking (Church Handbook of Instruction, Book 1, 69).

Confirmation Bias

On a personal note, I vividly recall an experience which reinforced my belief in the literal protection of garments. While using a drill, the workpiece I was holding slipped, sending the bit straight toward my stomach. The spinning bit tore a hole through my outer shirt but wrapped around my undergarment shirt, stopping the bit and miraculously saving me from harm.

Decades later, ironically as I was becoming skeptical of Mormon authority claims, the drill experience repeated itself in similar fashion. This time, I was not wearing garments, but had donned two layers of thin cotton simply because it was cold outside. To my astonishment, and with my personal LDS confirmation bias dialed down, the drill bit again shredded only the outer layer, rapidly spinning to a stop in the undershirt. I stood in silence for a brief moment, smiling to my amused self in humble understanding.


Q: Why did the Church deny established Masonic links for so many generations?

Q: Are we to view with suspicion LDS temple ordinances delivered just 7 weeks after Joseph received the Masonic ordinances?

Q: Are Smith’s actions during those intervening weeks relevant to the notion of revelation through living prophets? (See Chronology here)

Q: If temple ordinances are eternal and necessary for entry to heaven, why have they changed so often?

Q: Does God require secret handshake, physical touch points and code names to enter heaven?

Q: Why did the Church promote a literal safety/protection aspects of garments for so long?

Q: Why does the Church penalize families who wish to hold a civil marriage ceremony for extended family, then immediately seal in the temple? Does the one year penalty serve any purpose or doctrine beyond authoritarianism?

Q: In reference to the numerous elderly Mormons exhausting their retirement years in temples performing religious ceremonies, how much increased good could stem from helping living people in their communities?