Ask the Apologist:
Similarities between Masonic and Mormon temple ritual
Q. I visited an anti-Mormon Web site (http://www.josephlied.com/masonry.html) that has an article about the similarities between Masonic rites and the temple rites. How does one explain these similarities?
A. (by Greg Kearney) The author of the Web site, Mike Norton, attempts to impugn the integrity of both the Latter-day Saints and the Freemasons by attempting to draw false connections between the two and by suggesting a commonality which simply does not exist.
He does so by giving us a “laundry list” of purported similarities, without any mention of how the two groups are in any way related to each other or if they might be related via a third party such as the Bible. It is clear from Mr. Norton’s writings that he is not a Mason and is therefore ill-equipped to discuss similarities between Masonry and LDS temple worship.
Let us begin with the first paragraph of Mr. Norton’s Masonry page:
From his association with the Masons Joseph Smith derived the basic ceremonies and symbols now known as the “Endowment”. It should be noted that the temple “Endowment” was initiated by Joseph Smith shortly after he began his involvement with Free Masonry.
We should establish several facts here. Joseph Smith was a Freemason as was his father and older brother. Masonry was common in New England and upstate New York at the time. Mr. Norton however seems to have come to, what I believe, is a false connection between the ritual of the endowment and the endowment itself. Some aspects of the endowment ritual may well have come from Masonic traditions. That said, the endowment’s teachings, which are the real heart of the endowment are uniquely restorationist in nature.
Further, whole parts of the endowment, what are known as the washing and anointing, predate Joseph’s introduction to Freemasonry’s rituals and have no connection to any of the rituals which Joseph would have known from Freemasonry.
The endowment did not arrive as a whole in the Nauvoo period, but in parts over many years. Indeed, the Rigdonite branch (a splinter group from early Mormonism that followed the leadership of Sidney Rigdon) continues to practice only the portions of the endowment which were given in Kirtland.
Returning to Mr. Norton’s article:
I would like to draw your attention to a few of the more obvious similarities. Please keep in mind as you look over the following list, that the Masonic rituals and symbols pre-date the Mormon Church by several hundred years. It is quite an uncanny coincidence that “God’s Holy Endowment” would have so many similarities to Masonry. Some of the more shocking similarities were removed from the Endowment in 1990. Some of the things Masonry & Mormonism (specifically the temple) have (or had until 1990) in common are:
Many of the Masonic symbols to which Mr. Norton refers pre-date Freemasonry by thousands of years. Masonry, while claiming a root in antiquity, can only be reliably traced to mediaeval stone tradesmen.
Mr. Norton speaks obliquely here. I, however, will be more direct. What Mr. Norton refers to are the penalties (hand actions representing penalties) that were removed from the endowment ritual in 1990. Mr. Norton seems unaware that the endowment ritual has undergone many changes over the years. The ritual is changed to meet the needs of members and to better communicate the endowment to them. Remember, there is a difference between the endowment ritual and the endowment itself. The ritual is not the endowment, but how the endowment is taught–in much the same way that the Catholic Mass is not Holy Communion but how Holy Communion is given to the congregation.
When Joseph was first trying to communicate the truths of the endowment he used a ritual form familiar to the saints of his day. That ritual form was, in some respects, Masonic in nature. As the saints lost their connection to Masonry the symbolic meaning of the penalties and other Masonic elements was lost as well. They became meaningless to all but a few Latter-day Saint Freemasons. So the penalties were removed along with other elements both Masonic and non-Masonic which no longer served the purpose of communicating the truths of the endowment.
On, then, to Mr. Norton’s list of similarities. Many of his similarities come from the Bible used by both Latter-day Saints and the Freemasons. I will add commentary as needed.
- All Seeing Eye
The all seeing eye is indeed used by the Masons but also by many others. It is found on the revers of the Great Seal of the United States for example.
- Anointing with oil
A very old practice found in Christian, Jewish and Islamic traditions. It is not, however,found in the Masonic tradition outside of the setting of a cornerstone with wine, oil and corn.
Both groups use them. The reference comes from the Bible; the symbology is different, however. The LDS use can be traced to Gen. 3:7 “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.” The Masonic usage refers to aprons worn by stone masons in quarries. The aprons themselves differ. The Masonic one is white lamb’s skin; the LDS apron in green representing the fig leaves spoken of in the creation story.
Found in Masonry but also found in the Book of Mormon. It is a nearly universal icon of industry.
- Square and Compass
Found in both the LDS temple and among the Masons. Their symbolic use differs in each, however. The endowment does not use a physical square and compass as the Masons do.
- Emblem of the clasped hands
A very old symbol of brotherly love that can be found on tombstones in New England. Found even on the graves of women who would not have been Masons.
- Solemn Assembly in the Temple
This has no Masonic equivalent unless you consider a Grand Lodge meeting to be a Solemn Assembly (which Masons do not).
- Five points of Fellowship
A Masonic tradition once used in the temple. Removed after 1990 as it had become meaningless to modern saints.
- Special Garments applied to initiates
The temple garments worn by the Latter-day Saints the first time they attend the temple are the same as they use every day. Masons have special clothing, not undergarments, that symbolically show that they come to the lodge without any material possessions including clothing. Masons do not have symbolic clothing worn outside the lodge.
- Garment Markings
Masonic ritualistic clothing have markings which are intended to provide a means of conducting the ritual. They do not carry symbolic meaning within the Masonic traditions.
- Special handshakes
They are different both in form and meaning.
- The phrase: “Holiness to the Lord”
The Masonic as well as the LDS usage of this phase comes from the Bible (Exodus 28:36 “And thou shalt make a plate of pure gold, and grave upon it, like the engravings of a signet, HOLINESS TO THE LORD.”)
- Moon symbol
Mankind have been using the symbols of the heavens long before the establishment of Masons.
- New Name given
Practice is found in scripture (Saul becomes Paul, for example). The Masonic as well as LDS practice comes from the Bible.
- Special Prayer circle
No such practice in Masonry.
- Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood
Not found in Masonry.
- Blood/death oaths of secrecy with morbid gestures and words describing penalties agreed to if secrets are revealed.
Mormons going through the temple post-1990 may not be familiar with these. See the earlier discussion of the penalties.
- Location (possession of) Throne of the “Holy of Holies”
Masons make no claim to possession of such. Neither do Latter-day Saints. Both groups make a reference to in in connection to the Temple of Solomon.
- Star symbols, Sun symbols
See Moon symbols.
- Tabernacles, Temples
In both cases clearly a reference to the Bible usage.
To sum up, Mr. Norton has produced a list but no context for the list. It is clear that Freemasonry and its traditions played a role in the development of the endowment ritual but not the degree that Mr. Norton would like to suggest. Further he also brings up only similarities not the differences between the two. For example the central story in the endowment is the allegory of Adam and Eve. In Masonry it is the story of the master builder of Solomon’s temple Hiram Abiff. Whole vast sections of the Masonic ritual are not and have never been found in the temple endowment.
The simple fact is that no one ever received their endowment in a Masonic lodge and no one has ever been made a Mason in an LDS temple. As a LDS Freemason I find the similarities reassuring rather than disturbing.
[Editor's note: Greg Kearney is an active temple attending Latter-day Saint as well as a life member of Franklin Lodge #123 A.F. & A.M. as well as several lodges of research. He gives Masonic education lectures at lodges on the history and relationship of Freemasonry to the development of the Latter-day Saint temples.]