Mormonism and Freemasonry

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The relationship between Mormonism and Freemasonry began early in the life of Joseph Smith, founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, as his older brother Hyrum and possibly his father were Freemasons while the family lived near Palmyra, New York. In the late 1820s, the western New York region was swept with anti-Masonic fervor.

Nevertheless, by the 1840s, Smith and several prominent Latter Day Saints had become Freemasons and founded a lodge in Nauvoo, Illinois, in March 1842. Soon after joining Freemasonry, Smith introduced a temple endowment ceremony including a number of symbolic elements that were very similar to those in Freemasonry. Smith remained a Freemason until his death; however, later leaders in the movement have distanced themselves from Freemasonry. In modern times, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), holds no position for or against the compatibility of Masonry with LDS Church doctrine.

Historical connections[edit]

A significant number of leaders in the early Latter Day Saint movement were Masons prior to their involvement in the movement. Notable examples include Heber C. Kimball, John C. Bennett, Hyrum Smith and Joseph Smith, Sr.

In the early 1840s, a Masonic Lodge was formed by Latter Day Saints who were Freemasons. Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum became members of the newly-formed Nauvoo lodge. It appears that John C. Bennett had a particularly strong influence in the spread of Freemasonry among the Mormons, and soon over 1,500 Mormon men in the city of Nauvoo were practicing Masons.[citation needed]

"By 1840, John Cook Bennett, a former active leader in Masonry had arrived in Commerce and rapidly exerted his persuasive leadership in all facets of the Church, including Mormon Masonry. ... Joseph and Sidney [Rigdon] were inducted into formal Masonry ... on the same day ..." being made "Masons on Sight" by the Illinois Grandmaster.("Is There No Help for the Widow's Son?" by Dr. Reed C. Durham, Jr., as printed in "Joseph Smith and Masonry: No Help for the Widow's Son", Martin Pub. Co., Nauvoo, Ill., 1980, p. 17.) (This freed Joseph from having to complete the ritual and memorization necessary to work one's way through the first three degrees.) Making one "A Mason on Sight" is generally reserved as an honor and is a rarity in occurrence.

In 1842 Smith became a Master Mason, inducted by Abraham Jonas.[1]

Tuesday, [March] 15. — I officiated as grand chaplain at the installation of the Nauvoo Lodge of Free Masons, at the Grove near the Temple. Grand Master Jonas, of Columbus, being present, a large number of people assembled on the occasion. The day was exceedingly fine; all things were done in order, and universal satisfaction was manifested. In the evening I received the first degree in Freemasonry in the Nauvoo Lodge, assembled in my general business office.

— Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Vol.4, Ch.32, p.550–1.

Smith was raised to the third degree of master mason "on sight" by Grand Master Jonas of the Grand Lodge of Illinois. This was within Jonas' right of office, but a fairly rare procedure.[2]

Wednesday, March 16. — I was with the Masonic Lodge and rose to the sublime degree.

— Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Vol. 4, Ch.32, p. 552

[The Joseph Smith family] was a Masonic family which lived by and practiced the estimable and admirable tenets of Freemasonry. The father, Joseph Smith, Sr., was a documented member in upstate New York. He was raised to the degree of Master Mason on May 7, 1818 in Ontario Lodge No. 23 of Canandaigua, New York. An older son, Hyrum Smith, was a member of Mount Moriah Lodge No. 112, Palmyra New York.

— Terry Chateau, Freemasonry and the Church of Latter-Day Saints[3][better source needed]

Hyrum Smith was not only Joseph's older brother, but succeeded their father as Presiding Patriarch and Oliver Cowdery as Assistant President of the Church.

Problems arose concerning the special dispensation granted to the Nauvoo Lodge, said problems brought by Bodley Lodge No. 1, and on August 11, 1842, the special dispensation was suspended by the Grand Master until the annual Communication of the Illinois Grand Lodge.[4] "During the short period covering its activities, this Lodge initiated 286 candidates and raised almost as many. John C. Bennett reports an instance in which sixty-three persons were elected on a single ballot."[4] This suspension was later lifted and the Mormon Lodges resumed work although several irregularities in their practice were noted. The irregularities centered on mass balloting (voting on more than one candidate at a time) and not requiring proficiency in each degree before proceeding to the next degree (in many cases, initiates were being passed to the Fellowcraft degree and raised to the Master Mason degree within two days of being initiated as an Entered Apprentice).[4] In 1844, the Mormon Lodges (of which there were five at that time) were ordered to cease work by the Grand Lodge,[5] but they ignored the order and continued to function as clandestine lodges. The Nauvoo lodge continued its activities until April 10, 1845, when Brigham Young advised Lucius Scovil to suspend the work of the Masons in Nauvoo. Only a few additional meetings were held prior to the Latter-day Saints' departure for the Great Basin in 1846.

Similarities in symbolism and ritual in the LDS Church[edit]

LDS Church temple worship shares an extensive commonality of symbols, signs, vocabulary and clothing with Freemasonry, including robes, aprons, handshakes, ritualistic raising of the arms, etc.[6] The interpretation of many of these symbols has been adapted to the Mormon narrative from their original meanings in Freemasonry. For example, whereas Masons exchange secret handshakes to identify fellow Freemasons, Mormonism teaches that these handshakes must be given to sentinel angels so that Mormons may be admitted into the highest kingdom of heaven.[citation needed] LDS temple garments also bear the Masonic symbols of the Square and Compass, although the LDS Church has imbued these symbols with religious meaning that exceeds the meaning of the symbols as intended by Freemasonry. Additionally, the square and compass symbol exists in other ancient traditions far older than Masonry such as the Chinese legend Fuxi and Nuwa.

Portions of the temple ritual resembled Masonic rites that Joseph had observed when a Nauvoo lodge was organized in March 1842 and that he may have heard about from Hyrum, a Mason from New York days. The Nauvoo endowment was first bestowed just six weeks after Joseph's induction. The similarities were marked enough for Heber Kimball to quote Joseph saying that Freemasonry "was taken from the priesthood but has become degen[e]rated. but many things are perfect."

— Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling

Brigham Young is quoted as describing the origin of the temple rituals in a fashion that directly relates to the story of Hiram Abiff from Masonic folklore. Although Young changed some of the key masonic aspects about Abiff to fit better with LDS Church's view of the temple, the story is the same:

It is true that Solomon built a temple for the purpose of giving endowments, but from what we can learn of the history of that time they have very few if any endowments and one of the high priests [Hiram Abiff] was murdered by wicked and corrupt men, who had already begun to apostatize, because he would not reveal those things appertaining to the priesthood that was forbidden him to reveal until he came to the proper place.

— "Discourses of Brigham Young", compiled by John A. Widtsoe, Deseret Book, 1977

Although disputed by some scholars today, The Encyclopedia of Freemasonry states that their craft originated with Adam and Eve, was passed down over time, and bears remarkable resemblance to ancient Jewish temple customs.

Preparation of the Candidate: Great  care was taken of the personal condition of  every Israelite who entered the Temple for  Divine worship. The Talmudic treatise entitled Baracoth, which contains instructions  as to the ritual worship among the Jews,  lays down the following rules for the prepara-  tion of all who visit the Temple: "No man  shall go into the Temple with his staff, nor  with shoes on his feet, nor with his outer  garment, nor with money tied up in his  purse." There are certain ceremonial usages  m Freemasonry which furnish what may he  called at least very remarkable coincidences  with this old Jewish custom.

Some also suggest that Freemasonry is a descendant of Mithraism due to their similar rituals and general nature, while Mithraism in turn was derived from Zoroastrianism.

When Smith was in Carthage Jail in 1844, after he fired his last round in a small pepper-box pistol, he ran to the window and held up his arms in what may have been a Masonic call of distress, hoping Masons in the contingent would honor this call and not fire on him. It is recorded that he ran towards the open window with uplifted hands, and proclaimed, "Oh Lord my God."[7] Most people see this as only a plea to God for aid, although others suspect otherwise.[8][9]

Modern official LDS Church policy[edit]

From 1925 to 1984, the Grand Lodge of Utah prohibited members of the LDS Church from joining, but no other Grand Lodge followed this ban and Latter-day Saints were free to join Lodges outside Utah. In 1984, the Grand Lodge of Utah officially dropped its anti-Mormon position and allowed Latter-day Saints to join. Today there is no formal obstacle in Utah or in any other grand lodge preventing Latter-day Saints from becoming Freemasons (except for those grand lodges that employ the Swedish Rite system, which requires a Christian Trinitarian belief of its members).

The presidency of the LDS Church has not made an official statement as to whether Freemasonry is compatible with church membership. However, Don LeFevre, a past spokesman for the church has said the church "strongly advises its members not to affiliate with organizations that are secret, oath-bound, or would cause them to lose interest in church activities."[10] A more tolerant statement is found in a book written by members of the church Encyclopedia of Mormonism, stating, "The philosophy and major tenets of Freemasonry are not fundamentally incompatible with the teaching, theology, and doctrines of the Latter-day Saints. Both emphasize morality, sacrifice, consecration, and service, and both condemn selfishness, sin, and greed. Furthermore, the aim of Masonic ritual is to instruct-to make truth available so that man can follow it."

On December 18, 2019 the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints created a YouTube video entitled Joseph Smith and Masonry. In the video it states that "the policy [of whether it is acceptable for members of the Church to become Freemasons] is simple, members of the Church...are not prohibited from becoming Freemasons. Nor are Masons prohibited from becoming members of the Church. Latter-day Saints believe that good can be found in many places."

Since 1984, there have been many LDS Masons in Utah and other Grand Lodges who serve and have served in various leadership positions, including Grand Masters, other Grand Officers, and Worshipful Masters. Outside of Utah, there have been many LDS Masons continuously since the early days of the Church.

Recent explorations of the issue[edit]

  • In 2003 Phillip Freiberg presented a short research paper on the topic at Brigham Young University and Utah Wasatch Lodge No.1
  • Clyde R. Forsberg published Equal Rites: The Book of Mormon, Masonry, Gender, and American Culture in 2004 through Columbia University Press.[11]
  • Greg Kearney, an endowed Mormon who is also a Freemason, gave a presentation of the issue of Mormonism and Freemasonry at the 2005 conference of the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research.[2]
  • In 2009 Matthew B. Brown published Exploring the Connection Between Mormons and Masons.[12]
  • A forthcoming book called Method Infinite: Freemasonry and the Mormon Restoration has been anticipated for some years.[11][13][14][15][16][17]
  • In 2014, the Joseph Smith Foundation produced the documentary Statesmen & Symbols: Prelude to the Restoration exploring Joseph Smith's involvement in Freemasonry. The DVD also details connections with Masonic symbols among the Chinese, Hopewell Indians, Early Christians, American Founding Fathers and the Egyptians.
  • In 2014, Michael W. Homer published Joseph's Temples: The Dynamic Relationship Between Freemasonry and Mormonism, a condensation of the last 40 years of scholarship on the issue.[16]
  • In 2015, Jeffrey M. Bradshaw published a 78-page article entitled "Freemasonry and the Origins of Modern Temple Ordinances," in which he discusses how Freemasonry in Nauvoo helped prepare the Saints for the temple endowment — both familiarizing them with elements they would later encounter in the Nauvoo temple and providing a blessing to them in its own right. He also discusses evidence that the most significant features of modern LDS temple-related doctrines and practices were already known to Joseph Smith by 1836, and provides a summary of resemblances between modern temple work and ancient ritual practices that pre-date Masonry.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Smith, Joseph. "Journal, December 1841–December 1842, Page 91". Retrieved 2018-09-21.
  2. ^ a b Kearney, Greg (2005), "The Message and the Messenger: Latter-day Saints and Freemasonry", 2005 FAIR Conference, Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research
  3. ^ Chateau, Terry (2001). "Freemasonry and the Church of Latter-Day Saints". Retrieved 2018-09-21.
  4. ^ a b c Goodwin (1920).
  5. ^ Brodie (1971, p. 367).
  6. ^ Goodwin (1920, pp. 54–59).
  7. ^ Times and Seasons, vol. 5 no. 13 [July 15, 1844], p. 585.
  8. ^ Durham, Reed C. (April 20, 1974), Is There No Help For The Widow's Son?, Mormon History Association convention, Nauvoo, Illinois; Unauthorized transcription by Melvin B. Hogan, as found at[unreliable source?]
    Another version of Hogan's transcription as found at[unreliable source?]
  9. ^ "Question: Were Joseph Smith's final words, "O Lord, my God!" a cry for help or mercy from Freemasons in the mob at the Carthage jail?". Fair Mormon. Retrieved 2 May 2017.
  10. ^ Scarlet, Peter (17 February 1992). "Masons Use Service, Respect to Build Friendships". The Salt Lake Tribune. p. D1.
  11. ^ a b Literski, Nicholas S. (2005), "Mormonism, Masonry, and Mischief: Clyde Forsberg's Equal Rites", FARMS Review, 17 (1): 1–10, retrieved 2009-12-31.
  12. ^ Literski, Nick (October 29, 2009). "Book Review: Exploring the Connection Between Mormons and Masons". Mormon Matters. Retrieved 2009-12-31.
  13. ^ Literski, Nicholas S. "An Introduction to Mormonism and Freemasonry". The Signature Books Library. Signature Books. Retrieved 2009-12-31.
  14. ^ Stack, Peggy Fletcher (September 10, 2009) [2006]. "Mormon-Mason ties: What's fact, what's fiction". The Salt Lake Tribune. Archived from the original on December 11, 2014. Retrieved 2014-12-08.
  15. ^ "Forthcoming". Greg Kofford Books. Archived from the original on 2010-06-07. Retrieved 2009-12-31.[failed verification]
  16. ^ a b Benjamin Park (September 24, 2014). "Book Review: Michael Homer, Joseph's Temples: The Dynamic Relationship Between Freemasonry and Mormonism". Juvenile Instructor. Retrieved 2014-12-08.
  17. ^ See comment from Joe Steve Swick III on October 31, 2014 at "236: Encountering Other Traditions, Part 1: Freemasonry". Mormon Matters. June 19, 2014. Retrieved 2014-12-08.
  18. ^ Bradshaw, Jeffrey M. (2015). "Freemasonry and the Origins of Modern Temple Ordinances". Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture. 15.


Further reading[edit]