Masonic Symbols and the LDS Temple
By Sandra Tanner
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[Original architect's drawing of the Nauvoo Temple weather vane.
Notice the compass and square above the angel.]
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[Architect's drawing of the stars for the Nauvoo Temple.]
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[The compass and square as used in Masonry.]
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[One of the original sunstones from the Nauvoo Temple.]
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[Top of Beehive House]
(click to enlarge)[Beehive House with Eagle Gate next to it.]
(click to enlarge)[One of the brass doorknobs in the
Salt Lake Temple displaying the beehive.]
(click to enlarge)[Even after the Mormons came to Utah,
Brigham Young continued to wear his Masonic pin
displaying the compass and square.]
But while both rituals [the LDS Temple and Masonry] teach great truths, the truths they teach are different. Masonry teaches the truth of brotherly love and tolerance by means of the legend of Hiram Abiff the master builder of Solomon's Temple. The endowment teaches of God relationship to mankind and the plan of salvation through the allegory of Adam and Eve.The question then becomes why would Joseph use the Masonic ritual? Joseph Smith served as chaplain of the lodge in Nauvoo (Rising Sun Lodge, U.D.) and as such had occasion to see the remarkable way that the Masonic ritual is used to teach complex ideas by means of ritualist repetition of information. It is useful to note here that Nauvoo was being populated by thousands of people many of whom did not read English well and may have had only a passing familiarity with it. In New York City in the 1840's the biggest newspapers were still published in Dutch for example.So Joseph, faced with the task of teaching a new and somewhat complex set of ideas to a population made up on uneducated farmers and tradesmen turns to the Masonic ritual as the means of instruction. He did so I believe because it was already a ritual which the men of his community was familiar with. They would, therefore, focus on what was being taught, the message, not on how it was being taught, the messenger or the ritual, which they knew already.As the Saints moved west they lost the tie to the Masonic institution and as they did the ritual of the temple came to take on greater and greater importance to them. In effect the very reason that Joseph had chosen the ritual in the first place was lost with the loss of Masonry among the saints. Over the years the brethren have noticed this trend to focus on the ritual at the exclusion of what the ritual is teaching and have, from time to time, simplified the endowment ritual, removing various Masonic portions which had, as the years went by, become meaningless to all but a handful of LDS Freemason who knew of their origins.In the end it is important to remember that no one ever was made a Mason in an LDS Temple and no one has ever received their endowment in a Masonic Lodge.
Many sacred ceremonies existed in the ancient world. Modified over centuries, these rituals existed in some form among ancient Egyptians, Coptic Christians, Israelites, and Masons, and in the Catholic and Protestant liturgies. Common elements include the wearing of special clothing, ritualistic speech, the dramatization of archetypal themes, instruction, and the use of symbolic gestures. One theme common to many--found in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Egyptian pyramid texts, and Coptic prayer circles, for example--is man's journey through life and his quest, following death, to successfully pass the sentinels guarding the entrance to eternal bliss with the gods. Though these ceremonies vary greatly, significant common points raise the possibility of a common remote source.The Egyptian pyramid texts, for example, feature six main themes: (1) emphasis on a primordial written document behind the rites; (2) purification (including anointing, lustration, and clothing); (3) the Creation (resurrection and awakening texts); (4) the garden (including tree and ritual meal motifs); (5) travel (protection, a ferryman, and Osirian texts); and (6) ascension (including victory, coronation, admission to heavenly company, and Horus texts). Like such ancient ceremonies, the LDS temple Endowment presents aspects of these themes in figurative terms. It, too, presents, not a picture of immediate reality, but a model setting forth the pattern of human life on earth and the divine plan of which it is part.Masonic ceremonies are also allegorical, depicting life's states--youth, manhood, and old age--each with its associated burdens and challenges, followed by death and hoped-for immortality. There is no universal agreement concerning when Freemasonry began. Some historians trace the order's origin to Solomon, Enoch, or even Adam. Others argue that while some Masonic symbolism may be ancient, as an institution it began in the Middle Ages or later.Though in this dispensation the LDS Endowment dates from Kirtland and Nauvoo (see Kirtland Temple; Nauvoo Temple), Latter-day Saints believe that temple ordinances are as old as man and that the essentials of the gospel of Jesus Christ, including its necessary ritual and teachings, were first revealed to Adam. These saving principles and ordinances were subsequently revealed to Seth; Noah; Melchizedek; Abraham, and each prophet to whom the priesthood was given, including Peter. Latter-day Saints believe that the ordinances performed in LDS temples today replicate rituals that were part of God's teachings from the beginning.
- baptisms for the dead (v. 32,33,39)
- washings (v. 39)
- anointings (v. 39)
- the keys of the Holy Priesthood (v. 34,95,97)
- memorials of Levitical sacrifices (v. 39)
- solemn assemblies (v. 39)
- oracles, conversations, statues and judgments (v. 39)
- ordinances that have been kept hidden (v. 40-41)
- the fullness of the priesthood (v. 28).
I am working on a comparison of common elements between the Masons, Mormons, Greko-Romans, Egyptians, and Gnostics. How anyone could deny an ancient origin to the Endowment is beyond me. The question is always asked "Why is the Endowment similar to Free Masonry?" The question that is never asked is "What elements are similar, and do those elements have a more ancient source?" What is staggering to me is the consistency with which Joseph removed those things in Masonry that had no ancient origin, and kept only those elements that did! Joseph was amazing. If he was not inspired he was the best guesser ever!
It is a mistake to suggest that Joseph and Sidney received "only the first three of over 30 degrees in Masonry," or that the additional Scottish Rite degrees (the other 30), confer anything above the degree of Master Mason. I will briefly explain. Grand Master Abraham Jonas only had the authority to administer the three degrees of "Ancient Craft Masonry" (Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason). He did not have the authority to confer the 30 degrees of the Scottish Rite.In fact, the Scottish Rite was not established in Illinois until after the martyrdom. (See Alphonse Cerza, A History of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite in Illinois, 1846-1965 [Bloomington, IL: Pantagraph, 1966]).Non-Masons frequently--and incorrectly--assume that the degrees of the Scottish Rite are "higher" than those of the Grand Lodge, but this is incorrect. In other words, a Master Mason is as "high" as a 33d degree. All appendent bodies of Masonry (such as the Scottish Rite, the York Rite, the C.B.C.S., the A.M.D., the Royal Order of Scotland, etc.) are subordinate to the Grand Lodge, and only attempt to explain the teachings of the three Craft degrees.Joseph and Sidney had all the "Masonry" they needed to make them as "high" as any Mason living.
"The Prophet was so busy with Church matters that he never took an active part in lodge work. It seems from the meager records that are extant, that Joseph Smith attended as many meetings on those two days as he did during the rest of his lifetime [about 6 total]. Initiated in haste and hurriedly promoted through three degrees, he learned scarcely nothing about the secret practices and elaborate ritual of the Masons. In the months that followed, he left the lodge work in the hands of others, never attending more than three subsequent meetings and never receiving a higher degree. . . .
"On the third day of the protracted meeting the Grand master was kept busy instructing the lodge, yet Joseph Smith did not attend a single meeting of the fraternity that day. It was not his plan to neglect Church business in order to promote the lodge. The morning of March 17 , he attended a meeting of the high council. . . . Later on that historic day, he organized the Relief Society. From the moment, he never took an active part in Masonry."
On the 6th of August, 1842, with quite a number of his brethren, he [Joseph Smith] crossed the Mississippi river to the town of Montrose, to be present at the installation of the Masonic Lodge of the Rising Sun. A block schoolhouse had been prepared with shade in front, under which was a barrel of ice water, Judge James Adams was the highest Masonic authority in the state of Illinois, and had been sent there to organize this lodge. He [Judge Adams] and Hyrum Smith, being high Masons, went into the house to perform some ceremonies which the others were not entitled to witness. These, including Joseph Smith, remained under the bowery. Joseph, as he was tasting the cold water, warned the brethren not to be too free with it. With the tumbler still in his hand he prophesied that the saints would yet go to the Rocky Mountains; and, said he, this water tastes much like that of the crystal streams that are running from the snow-capped mountains. . . . [The rest of this prophecy is given on the Prophecies of Joseph Smith page].
We have received some precious things through the Prophet on the priesthood that would cause your soul to rejoice. I can not give them to you on paper for they are not to be written. So you must come and get them for your self. We have organized a lodge here of Masons since we obtained a charter. That was in March. Since that there was near two hundred been made masons. Br. Joseph and Sidney [Rigdon] was the first that was received into the lodge. All of the twelve apostles have become members except Orson Pratt. He hangs back. He will wake up soon, there is a similarity of priesthood in Masonry. Bro. Joseph says Masonry was taken from priesthood but has become degenerated. But many things are perfect." (quoted in Kimball, p. 85)
Many have joined the Masonic Institution this seems to have been a Stepping Stone or Preparation for something else, the true Origin of Masonry, this I have also seen and rejoice in it....
(As cited by Andrew F. Ehat, "'They Might Have Known That He Was Not a Fallen Prophet' - The Nauvoo Journal of Joseph Fielding," BYU Studies, Vol. 19, No. 2, Winter 1979, pp. 133-166, citation on p. 145.)
Whether Masonry formed the impetus of revelation concerning the origins of the temple ceremony is open to question, in my view. I know that there is a tendency on the part of some to look for similarities in places where they may not be. For instance, one "high-ranking" Mormon Mason I know is of the opinion that Joseph Smith got the idea of prayer circles from the Most Excellent Master Degree and that the use of a veil came from Royal Arch Masonry. But, not only was Joseph Smith NEVER a Royal Arch Mason and he NEVER actually saw or participated either Chapter Degree, Royal Arch Masonry in America uses four veils, blue, purple, scarlet, and white, and none of these ever existed in the form and usage of Mormon temple veils, so far as I could tell.The "prayer circle" of the Most Excellent Master Degree is nothing like that found in the temple, and is not referred to as the true order of prayer. [He then refers to details of the prayer circle that are profoundly absent in Masonry.] In addition, those who adhere to such a theory of origins are hard pressed to show where Joseph Smith would have adapted such an idea or where Joseph Smith would have had his brother, Hyrum, or his father, betray their obligations as Royal Arch Masons to tell Joseph Smith anything relative to these Degrees. And, if he had been aware of these, why did not he use this information much earlier, such as in Kirtland or Far West? Even if he had went on open exposures of the ritual that were published by his time, such as Morgan, these were not enough of use to him to formulate these portions of the temple ceremony.
Almost immediately upon becoming an Apprentice people in the Lodge began (not all the people, a few actually) telling me that Joseph Smith stole Masonic tradition, etc. As I passed from Apprentice, to Fellowcraft, to Master Mason, I kept expecting to see these great consistencies between Lodge and the Temple. Finally one evening when the fellow who was usually the most annoying approached me . . . and once again started in on me about Joseph and Masonic tradition I told him that there [were] very [few] significant similarities between the two ceremonies and that there really was little to be talking about on the subject, he got angry, basically called me a liar, and walked away. I guess the crux of all this is I am still trying to figure out what important information Joseph stole, or used. There are likenesses - so what?
Professor Brooke also notes that a John Rigdon and a Thomas Rigdon were Masons in 1829, but fails to demonstrate that these Rigdons had any relationship, beyond name, to Sidney. And Brooke indulges in another ante hoc fallacy by claiming that the Mormon temple ceremony could have been influenced at its origin by "the European Lodges of Adoption" (p. 250), despite the fact that "the Rite of Adoption . . . has never been introduced into America." [Albert Mackey, An Encyclopedia of Freemasonry(Chicago: Masonic History Co., 1921), 1:29. Brooke cites Mackey as the source for his information on the Lodge of Adoption (388 n. 45), but, for some reason, fails to inform his readers that this lodge, which supposedly influenced the LDS temple endowment, did not exist in the United States in Joseph's day. Elsewhere Brooke holds that Mormon ritual relationships are with "American Freemasonry" (p. 236).] (A failed attempt was first made in 1855.). . . .Brooke sees significance in the fact that "the first Masonic degree, the Entered Apprentice, included a recitation of the first three verses of the Creation Story in Genesis" (p. 249), which he sees as a "very specific parallel [to] the ritual drama of Creation and the Fall from the Garden of Eden" (p. 249) in the LDS temple ceremony. Yet the significance of this brief citation from Genesis diminishes dramatically when we note that ten pages from Webb's Freemason's Monitor include lengthy quotes from Exodus (pp. 147, 150, 153), 2 Chronicles (p. 145), Psalms (pp. 131-32, 147-48), 2 Thessalonians (p. 140), Haggai (p. 151), Zechariah (p. 152) John (p. 153), Deuteronomy (p. 153), Numbers (p. 154), Hebrews (p. 154), and Amos (p. 154) in relation to Masonic ceremonies. Considering the frequent use of quotations from the Bible in connection with early Masonic ceremonies, why should we presume that Joseph was decisively influenced in the development of the LDS temple creation drama by three verses from Genesis in a Masonic manual, verses which he had already read many times in the Bible? The Masonic rites as a whole have absolutely nothing to do with the preexistence, the creation, or the Garden of Eden.
Neither Brooke's nor any other environmentalist explanation has ever attempted to account for the vast number of striking differences between Mormon ideas and symbolism and those of the Masons. For example, Webb's Freemason's Monitor - a source Brooke claims influenced Joseph (pp. 157, 365 n. 26) . . . mentions many ideas and symbols that have absolutely no parallel in Mormonism. Where in Mormonism will we find the symbolic significance of the Royal Arch (pp. 201-2); Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian architectural styles (pp. 57-59); the five senses (pp. 60-65); the Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences (pp. 67-69); a sword pointing to a naked heart (p. 79); the anchor (p. 79); the forty-seventh problem of Euclid (pp. 79-80); the hour-glass (p. 80); scythe (pp. 80-81); chisel and mallet (p. 85); lodge, Grand Master, and Deputy Grand Master (p. 92); the Junior Warden (p. 107); Orders of Knighthood (p. 165); Knights of the Red Cross (p. 166); Knights Templar and Knights of Malta (pp. 179-95); the Knights of Calatrava (p. 196); and the Knights of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary (p. 196)? If Joseph really borrowed his ideas from Masonry, why are the similarities limited to only a few items, many of which have known parallels to more ancient mysteries? [In general, see Truman G. Madsen, ed., The Temple in Antiquity: Ancient Records and Modern Perspectives (Provo: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1984); Hugh W. Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment ((Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1975); idem., Temple and Cosmos: Beyond This Ignorant Present (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and F.A.R.M.S., 1992); Donald W. Parry, ed., Temples of the Ancient World: Ritual and Symbolism (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and F.A.R.M.S., 1994).
What, then, is the significance of the alleged similarities between Masonry and LDS doctrine and the temple endowment? In reality, the fact that early Latter-day Saints might have borrowed and transformed a few symbols from the Masons, even were it conceded, would no more explain Mormon origins or the temple endowment than the fact that early Christians borrowed the crux ansata from the pagan Egyptian ankh explains the origins of early Christianity. . . . On the contrary, there is a large body of work which indicates that the closest analogues are to the rituals and esoteric doctrines of early Christianity and Judaism in the eastern Mediterranean in the first two or three centuries before and after Christ. [See, for instance, besides the items mentioned in footnote 95, Keith E. Norman, "Deification: The Content of Athanasian Soteriology" (Ph.D. diss., Duke University, 1980); idem., "Divinization: The Forgotten Teaching of Early Christianity," Sunstone 1 (Winter 1975): 14-19. Numerous other parallels are covered in cursory fashion, with considerable bibliography, in Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks, Offenders for a Word: How Anti-Mormons Play Word Games to Attack the Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Aspen Books, 1992).]
When the Prophet Joseph declared that Elijah delivered to him the keys of the salvation of the living and the dead he asserted a wonderful truth. Was Elijah possessed of the same knowledge and intelligence he had while he dwelt upon the earth? It has been asserted by some that the Prophet Joseph Smith obtained from masonry some or most all of the ceremonies had by us in our temples. Recently I have had an opportunity to investigate most thoroughly the history and connection of the membership of the Church with masonry, when certain lodges were organized in the city of Nauvoo and other places; and I satisfied myself, and without giving you the detailed evidence, I assert to you that the evidence given by masons themselves proves conclusively that Joseph Smith never knew the first thing of masonry until years after he had received the visit of Elijah, and had delivered to men the keys of the holy priesthood, and the ceremonies and ordinances had by us in these sacred temples, and had given the endowments to men long before he knew the first thing pertaining to the ordinances and the ceremonies of masonry. What is masonry? Why, a fragment of the old truth coming down perhaps from Solomon's temple of ancient days, and but a fragment, as Christianity is but a fragment of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was only to be had and enjoyed by those who hold the holy priesthood. The prophet Elijah revealed these truths; he possessed them anciently and he gave them in their perfectness, and simplicity and purity to the Prophet Joseph Smith.