The evidence of Joseph Smith’s close connection to occultism and Freemasonry, and how this influenced the origin and development of the LDS Church, is not well known outside of scholarly circles.
Masonry’s influence on Joseph Smith, early Mormonism and Mormon temple architecture has been noted by a number of LDS historians. Some of the areas impacted by Masonic lore and ritual include the Book of Mormon, Joseph’s personal life, and the LDS temple ceremony.
John L. Brooke in his book, The Refiner’s Fire: Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844, noted the following in reference to the story of discovery of the gold plates and the narrative structure of the Book of Mormon:
Freemasonry provides a point of entry into this very complex story. As it had been in Vermont, Masonic Fraternity was a dominant feature of the cultural landscape in Joseph Smith’s Ontario County…The dense network of lodges and chapters helps explain the Masonic symbolism that runs through the story of the discovery of the Golden Plates. Most obviously, the story of their discovery on a hilltop echoed the Enoch myth of Royal Arch Freemasonry, in which the prophet Enoch, instructed by a vision, preserved the Masonic mysteries by carving them on a golden plate that he placed in an arched stone vault marked with pillars, to be rediscovered by Solomon. In the years to come the prophet Enoch would play a central role in Smith’s emerging cosmology. Smith’s stories of his discoveries got more elaborate with time, and in June 1829 he promised Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris that they would see not only the plates but other marvelous artifacts: the Urim and Thummim attached to a priestly breastplate, the ‘sword of Laban’ and ‘miraculous directors’. Oliver Cowdery and Lucy Mack Smith later described three or four small pillars holing up the plates. All of these artifacts had Masonic analogues.
…Smith’s sources for these Masonic symbols were close at hand. Most obviously, Oliver Cowdery would have been a source, given that his father and brother were Royal Arch initiates; one Palmyra’s resident remembered Oliver Cowdery as ‘no church member and a Mason’…A comment by Lucy Mack Smith in her manuscript written in the 1840’s, protesting that the family did not abandon all household labor to try ‘to win the faculty of Abrac, drawing magic circles, or sooth-saying’, suggests a familiarity with Masonic manuals: the ‘faculty of Abrac’ was among supposed Masonic mysteries. (Refiner’s Fire,Cambridge University Press, 1994, pp. 157-158) (Quoted from www.irr.org website)
However, it wasn’t until later in life that Joseph’s involvement in Masonry became more personal.
The following is a ‘short list of early Mormon leaders that were Masons along with being Mormons:
Joseph Smith Sr., father of Joseph Smith Jr.
Hyrum Smith, brother of Joseph Smith Jr.
Samuel Smith, brother of Joseph Smith Jr.
William Smith, brother of Joseph Smith Jr.
Brigham Young, second president of the Mormon Church
John Taylor, third president of the Mormon Church
Wilford Woodruff, fourth president of the Mormon Church
Lorenzo Snow, the fifth president of the Mormon Church
Sidney Rigdon, first counselor to Joseph Smith
William Law, second counselor to Joseph Smith
John C. Bennett, assistant to the First Presidency
Heber C. Kimball, first counselor to Brigham Young
Willard Richards, second counselor to Brigham Young
Newell K. Whitney, Presiding Bishop
Orson Pratt, Mormon apostle
Parley P. Pratt, Mormon apostle
Orson Hyde, Mormon apostle
Orrin Porter Rockwell, Joseph Smith’s bodyguard
Lyman Johnson, Mormon apostle
Erastus Snow, Mormon apostle
William Marks, Nauvoo Stake President
William Clayton, Joseph Smith’s secretary/scribe
Plus about 1,300 other Mormon men
(List from www.mrm.org website)
At the end of 1841, a large group of LDS Masons in Nauvoo organized what would become the first four Masonic Lodges in Mormon communities. Joseph Smith applied for admission as soon as the first lodge was formed and was raised to the degree of Master Mason in March 1842.
Less than two months later Joseph administered the endowment for the first time in the upper room of his red brick store, in the same room where he had been initiated into Masonry.
[During the period that Mormons were building the Nauvoo Temple, they also built a Masonic temple, and over 1300 Latter-day Saints became Master Masons before leaving Nauvoo.]
The growth of the Mormons’ lodges was irregularly rapid: by way of comparison consider that in 1840, there were only about two thousand Masons in the entire United States. Concerns about such irregularities led Masonic authorities to renounce ties with the Mormons’ lodges in 1844-1845. Bad feelings between Mormons and Masons lingered for over a century.
A Masonic lodge, that was later founded in Utah, refused to admit Latter-day Saints until 1984.
To comply with this, the LDS Church had counseled its members against belonging to ‘secret societies’ since the beginning of the 20th century. (www.irr.org website)
Another reason Mason lodges refused Mormons to their membership was that Joseph Smith has “stolen” their ceremonies and introduced LDS endowment ceremonies as his “revelation from God”.
Masonry appealed to Joseph Smith for several reasons.
Joseph may have seen political and commercial advantages in belonging to a Masonic network. Millions of 19th century Americans joined various fraternal organizations for those very reasons. They joined the Odd Fellows, the Knights of Pythias, the Knights of Labor and the Knights of Columbus, etc.
Furthermore, Joseph saw Masonic rituals and blood-oaths of secrecy useful for committing his followers into loyalty to him and keeping the secrets of Mormonism – especially in the light of polygamy that was an illegal practice , and needed to be kept secret.
He may have also hoped that Masonry would offer protection to him, for because of polygamy and other rejected practices, he feared for his life. His last words at Carthage Jail were “Oh Lord my God…” intending to continue “is there no help for the poor widows son?” which is the Masonic distress call, for Masons have sworn an oath to protect and defend their fellow Mason, “whether right or wrong”.
Masonry also offered Joseph a whole new world of esoteric teachings supposedly connected to biblical figures as well as to Greek and Egyptian mysteries that he was so interested in. Also the Masonic idea of advancing in degrees agreed with Joseph’s ideas of progressing to godhood and learning of mysteries, “knowledge upon knowledge”. (D&C 42:61).
Joseph Smith shifted from his earlier anti-Masonic feelings, when he had denounced all “secret combinations’ (as in the Book of Mormon), but now when he needed secrecy, especially to hide his doctrine of plurality of wives, he found Masonry and its oaths of secrecy as a way to have what he wanted and thus include ideas as already mentioned the plurality of wives, illegal as it was, and uncreated intelligences,men becoming Gods and later that God was an exalted man, once a mortal man, just like he (Joseph) was.
Rites of Masonry were restricted to men only, even though there were auxiliary orders for Masons’ wives and daughters.
By contrast the LDS endowment was administered almost from the beginning also to women. The main reason more than likely was so that they can swear both men and women to secrecy concerning plural marriage that was Joseph’s new doctrine of celestial marriage – and a requirement to attain the highest degree of exaltation.
At the time of Joseph’s and Hyrum’s death, the Times and Seasons, an LDS publication, reported: “…these two innocent men were confined in jail for a supposed crime, deprived from any weapon to defend themselves; had the pledged faith of the State of Illinois by Gov. Ford for their protection, and were then shot to death, while, with uplifted hands they gave such signs of distress as would have commanded the interposition and benevolence of Savages or Pagans. They (Joseph and Hyrum) were both Masons in good standing. Ye brethern of ‘mystic tie’ what think ye! Where is our good Master Joseph and Hyrum?…”(Times and Seasons, Vol. V July 15, 1844.)
The pervasive influence of Freemasonry in Mormon Temples is expressed well by LDS historian Dr. Reed Durham. Dr. Durham, who has served as president of the Mormon History Association, provides a number of interesting parallels between the two. He gives these as evidence for Masonry’s clear influence on Mormonism.
I am convinced that in the study of Masonry lies a pivotal key to further understanding Joseph Smith and the Church…Masonry in the Church had its origin prior to the time Joseph Smith became a Mason…. It commenced in Joseph’s home when his older brother became a Mason. Hyrum received the first three degrees of Masonry in Mount Moriah Lodge No. 112 of Palmyra, New York (1826) about the same time that Joseph was being initiated into the presence of God… Many parallels found between early Mormonism and Masonry of that day are substantial…
I have attempted thus far to demonstrate that Masonic influences upon Joseph in the early Church history, preceding his formal membership in Masonry, were significant. However, these same Masonic influences exerted a more dominant character as reflected in the further expansion of the Church subsequent to the Prophet’s Masonic membership. In fact, I believe there are few significant developments in the Church that occurred after March 15 1842 (date when Joseph became a Master Mason), which did not have some Masonic interdependence… There is absolutely no question in my mind that the Mormon ceremony which came to be known as the Endowment, introduced by Joseph Smith to Mormon Masons, had an immediate inspiration from Masonry…similarities between the two ceremonies are so apparent and overwhelming that some dependent relationship cannot be denied. They are so similar, in fact, that one writer was led to refer to the Endowment as Celestial Masonry.
On June 24th 1843 the cornerstone for a Masonic temple in Nauvoo was laid by Hyrum Smith, who was the Worshipful Master of the lodge of ancient York Masons. Many Mormons joined the Masonic lodge, and King Follett, who gave his name to Joseph Smith’s famous discourse on plurality of gods, was buried with Masonic honors, not long after the Masonic temple was dedicated… Joseph incorporated Masonry…because he wanted and needed loyalty and support of the worldwide fraternity of Masons.
It is also obvious that the Nauvoo Temple architecture was in part, at least, Masonically influenced. Indeed, it appears that there was an intentional attempt to utilize Masonic symbols and motifs.
Another development in the Nauvoo Church, which has not been so obviously considered as Masonically inspired, was the establishment of the Female Relief Society. This organization was the Prophet’s intentional attempt to expand Masonry to include the women of the Church. That the Relief Society was organized in the Masonic Lodge room, and only one day after Masonry was given to the men, was not happenstance… included in the actual vocabulary of Joseph Smith’s counsel and instructions to the sisters were such words as: ancient orders, examinations, degrees, candidates, secrets, lodges, rules, signs, tokens, order of the priesthood, and keys; all indicating that the Society’s orientations possessed Masonic overtones.
(Dr. Durham continues): I suggest that enough evidence presently exists to declare that the entire institution of the political kingdom of God, including the Council of Fifty, the living constitution, the proposedflag of the kingdom, and anointing and coronation of the king, had its genesis in connection with Masonic thoughts and ceremonies… it appears that the Prophet first embraced Masonry, and then in the process, he modified, expanded, or glorified it…The Prophet believed that his mission was to restore all truth and then to unify and weld it all together into one. This truth was referred to as ‘the Mysteries’ and these Mysteries were inseparably connected with the Priesthood…Can anyone deny that there was a Masonic influence on Joseph Smith and the Church, either before or after his personal Masonic membership? Evidence demands comments…If we, as Mormon historians, respond to these questions and myriads like them relative to Masonry in an ostrich-like fashion, with our
heads buried in the traditional sand, then I submit: there never will be ‘any help for the widow’s son’. (Taken from Changing World of Mormonism, Jerald and Sandra Tanner, 1981, pp. 546-547.)
The temple endowment contains elements that are undeniably derived from Masonic ritual, including tokens, names, signs, grips and penalties for revealing the secret rites.
As already mentioned, Joseph Smith was accepted into the Nauvoo Lodge of Freemasons on 15th of March, 1842. A short time later he called seven of his leading men together and instructed them ‘in the principles and order of the Priesthood, attending to washings, anointing, endowments and communication of keys’ which Joseph said instituted the ancient order of things for the first time in these last days. Soon afterwards, Masonic rituals began to appear as part of Mormon Temple ceremonies.
The men were striped naked, washed, anointed, and then as in the Masonic ceremony, dressed in a special ‘garment’.
The …Masonic square and compass were cut into the garment on the breast and a slash was made across the knee…deep enough to penetrate the flesh.
There was also a slash in the garments across the abdomen, symbolic of disemboweling that would be the fate of anyone who revealed the sacred secrets.
After swearing to an oath of secrecy the initiate was dressed in white robes and permitted to witness a long allegorical drama depicting the creation of the earth and the fall of Adam…
Joseph Smith designed temple garments which were to be worn under regular clothing, and Mormons continue to believe that the garments have the power to guard the wearer from bodily harm.
The Nauvoo style garment, worn by both sexes (c 1842-1975) was a long-john type underwear, made of one piece. The garment was to reach to the ankles and sleeves to the wrists.
( Fundamentalist Mormons, FLDS, still wear this type of garment.)
On the right breast was a square, on the left a compass, in the center a small hole (the navel mark), another one on the right knee (the knee mark).
The first garments were made of unbleached muslin and bound with turkey red thread (later changed to white thread) and without collars that were later added.
The fact that garments have been abbreviated is very interesting, for the early Mormon leaders taught that they could not ever be changed! President Joseph F. Smith declared:
The Lord has given unto us garments of the holy priesthood, and you know what that means. And yet there are those of us who mutilate them, in order that we may follow foolish, vain and (permit me to say) indecent practices of the world. In order that such people may imitate the fashions, they will not hesitate to mutilate what which should be held by them the most sacred of all things in the world, next to their own virtue, next to their own purity of life. They should hold these things that God has given unto them sacred, unchanged, unaltered from the very pattern in which God gave them. Let us have the moral courage to stand against the opinions of fashion, and especially where fashion compels us to break a covenant and so commit a grievous sin.(The Improvement Era, vol. 9:813, as quoted in Temples of the Most High, p. 276.)
In 1918 The First Presidency of the Church sent a message to the bishops saying:
FIRST: The garments worn by those who receive endowments must be white, and of approved pattern; they must not be altered or mutilated, and are to be worn as intended, down to the wrist and ankles, and around the neck. Please inform all to whom you issue recommends that these requirements are imperative… The Saints should know that the pattern of endowment garments was revealed from heaven, and that the blessings promised in connection with wearing them will not be realized if any unauthorized change is made in their form, or in manner of wearing them. (Messages of the First Presidency, by J.R. Clark, 1971, vol. 5, p. 110.)
Although the Mormon leaders vigorously maintained that the ‘garments’ must be ‘worn as intended, down to wrists and ankles, and around the neck’ and that they could not be altered from ‘the very pattern in which God gave them’, women’s fashions caused the arms and legs to be shortened and the neck line to be lowered. Until 1975, however, the Mormon leaders still required that members of the Church wear the ‘old style’ garments when they were taking part in the temple ritual. After the temple ceremony was over, members of the Church would replace these garments, which came down to the wrists and ankles, with the abbreviated type. The hand shakes, called tokens in the LDS Temple are the same as those of Freemasonry.