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.
Dr. Reed Durham, LDS Historian
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. This file summarizes the evidence for Joseph's personal
involvement in both Freemasonry and occultism, and their influence
on the Mormon religion.
Mormonism's Link to Occultism
Both Joseph Smith and his father were involved in
the occult practice known as "money digging." This involved
special rituals and ceremonies which were performed for the purpose
of obtaining buried treasure thought to be guarded by evil spirits.
Accounts of money digging during the late 1700s and early 1800s
are documented in Alan Taylor's article "Treasure Seeking in
the American Northeast, 1780-1830", published in American
Quarterly, 38 [Spring 1986], pp. 6-34. This article specifically
mentions Joseph Smith, Sr., and Jr., on pages 10-12, giving examples
of their money digging activities.
Joseph's Involvement in Occultism. Joseph
Smith, Jr.'s role in the quest for treasure was especially important
since he had a seer stone. Joseph would place this small, special
rock in his hat then pull the hat up to his face to block out all
light. By doing this he claimed he could see supernaturally, and
would help those who were digging by locating the place where the
treasure was buried and observing the spirits that were guarding
it. Joseph Jr., himself admitted to being a money digger, though
he said it was never very profitable for him (History of the
Church, V. 3, p. 29). He and his father's money digging continued
until at least 1826. On March 20th of that year Joseph was arrested,
brought before a judge, and charged with being a "glass-looker"
and a disorderly person. The laws at that time had what was known
as the "Vagrant Act." It defined a disorderly person as
one who pretended to have skill in the areas of palmistry, telling
fortunes or discovering where lost goods might be found. According
to court records Justice Neely determined that Joseph was guilty,
though no penalty was administered, quite possibly because this
was a first offense (Inventing Mormonism, Marquardt and Walters,
SLC: Signature Books, 1994, pp. 74-75).
Occultism and the Start of Mormonism. Shortly
after this Joseph discontinued money digging but kept his seer stone.
It was with the seer stone that he claimed to both find the plates
and later produce the Book of Mormon. This was known by early converts
but has since been replaced with later accounts of an angelic visitor.
This transition was aided by downplaying the fact that Moroni was
a dead Indian warrior, and by referring to him as an angel. Former
BYU professor and historian D. Michael Quinn writes:
During this period from 1827 to 1830, Joseph Smith
abandoned the company of his former money-digging associates,
but continued to use for religious purposes the brown seer stone
he had previously employed in the treasure quest. His most intensive
and productive use of the seer stone was in the translation of
the Book of Mormon. But he also dictated several revelations to
his associates through the stone (Early Mormonism and the Magic
World View, D. Michael Quinn, Signature Books, SLC, 1987,
This fact is supported by LDS author Richard S.
Van Wagoner who found,
This stone, still retained by the First Presidency
of the LDS Church, was the vehicle through which the golden plates
were discovered and the medium through which their interpretation
came (Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess, Signature
Books, SLC, 1994, p. 57).
Thus we see that historians have documented a continuity
between Joseph's early occultic practices and the origins of Mormonism.
This link extends to the development of the LDS Temple ceremony.
Occultic Parallels in the LDS Temple Ceremony.
Historian D. Michael Quinn has done extensive research on rites
and ancient mysteries related to occultism. He states,
By drawing only on authorized descriptions of
the endowment by LDS leaders, I believe it is possible to see
within historical context how the Mormon endowment reflected the
ancient and occult mysteries far closer than Freemasonry (Early
Mormonism and the Magic World View, p. 186).
Quinn then outlines the following ten essential characteristics
common to both occult rituals and the Mormon Temple ceremonies:
- They are revealed by God from the beginning,
but distorted through apostasy.
- They place an emphasis on the worthiness of initiates.
- They include washings and anointings, a new name
- They emphasize vows of non-disclosure.
- There are both "lesser" and "greater"
- They feature presentation of the ritual through
- They contain an oath of chastity requiring strict
purity and virtue of the participants.
- They feature prominent use of the sun, moon and
stars as key symbols.
- The purpose of the ritual is to assist mortals
to attain to godhood.
- They employ titles and offices of prophets, priests
and kings to those in leadership.
After presenting this material Quinn comments,
To be sure Masonic rituals also shared some similarities
with the ancient mysteries, but these were not linked to any concept
of heavenly ascent, which was fundamental to both the occult mysteries
and to the Mormon endowment. Therefore, what similarities may
exist between Freemasonry and Mormonism seem more appropriately
to be regarded as superficial, whereas the ancient occult mysteries
and the Mormon endowment manifest both philosophical and structural
kinship. (Ibid., p. 190).
Mormonism and Masonry
Masonry's influence on Mormonism and Joseph Smith
has been noted by a number of 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.
Masonic Themes Related to the Book of Mormon.
John L. Brooke in his book The Refiner's Fire: The Making
of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844, noted the following in reference
to the story of the 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 in a stone vault 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 holding 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 resident remembered Oliver Cowdery as 'no church member
and a Mason.' . . . A comment by Lucy Mack Smith in her manuscript
written in the 1840s, 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 the supposed Masonic
mysteries (Refiner's Fire, Cambridge University Press,
1994, pp. 157-158).
However, it wasn't until later in life that Joseph's
involvement became more personal.
Joseph's Personal Involvement in Freemasonry.
Mormon Apostle John A. Widtsoe stated:
Many of the Saints were Masons, such as Joseph's
brother Hyrum, Heber C. Kimball, Elijah Fordham, Newel K. Whitney,
James Adams, and John C. Bennett. . . . With the acquiescence
of the Prophet, members of the Church already Masons petitioned
the Grand Master of Illinois for permission to set up a lodge
in Nauvoo. . . . it was March 15, 1842, before authority was given
to set up a lodge in Nauvoo and to induct new members. Joseph
Smith became a member (Evidences and Reconciliations, 1
volume, pp. 357-358).
Joseph Smith admitted to being a Mason in his History
of the Church, volume 4, page 551. Under the date of March 15,
1842 it reads: "In the evening I received the first degree
in Free Masonry in the Nauvoo Lodge, assembled in my general business
office." The record for the next day reads, "I was with
the Masonic Lodge and rose to the sublime degree" (page 552).
How did Joseph's Masonic membership affect the development
of the Mormon Church? The most significant area appears to be in
the development of the Mormon temple ceremonies. As noted above,
Joseph became a Mason on March 15, 1842 and "rose to the sublime
degree" the following day. Less than two months later, on May
4, 1842, Joseph introduced the temple endowment ceremony (History
of the Church, Vol. 5, pp. 1-2).
Masonry and Mormon Temple Ceremonies. 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, at about the same time that Joseph was being initiated into
the presence of God . . The many parallels found between early
Mormonism and the 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 that there are few significant
developments in the Church, that occurred after March 15 1842,
which did not have some Masonic interdependence. Let me comment
on a few of these developments. 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. This is not to suggest
that no other source of inspiration could have been involved,
but the 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.
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
orientation possessed Masonic overtones.
. . . . 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 proposed flag of the kingdom, and the 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, amplified,
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 Masonic influence on Joseph Smith and the
Church, either before or after his personal Masonic membership?
The evidence demands comments. . .
There are many questions which still demand the
answers. . . . 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' (Mormon
Miscellaneous, October 1975, pp. 11-16, as cited in Changing
World of Mormonism, Jerald and Sandra Tanner, 1981, pp. 546-547).
These statements demonstrate that much of the religious
ritual within Mormonism finds its origin in both occultism and Freemasonry.
It is not surprising that there is an overlap between occultism
and Freemasonry within Mormonism since Masonry itself draws from
occult lore and ritual. What becomes obvious is that Joseph neglected
the Bible's clear prohibition regarding occult involvement. This
is found in Deuteronomy 18:9-12 which states in part,
. . . thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations
of those nations. There shalt not be found among you any one that
. . . useth divination, or is an observer of times, or an enchanter,
or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits
[demons], or a wizard, or a necromancer [one who communicates
with the dead]. For all that do these things are an abomination
unto the LORD.
Joel B. Groat
Institute for Religious Research
The following resources contain a more extensive
treatment of Joseph Smith's magical and occultic worldview:
John L. Brooke, The
Refiner's Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844,
Cambridge University Press, NY, 1994, 421 pages. This non-Mormon
author is an associate professor in the Department of History at
D. Michael Quinn, Early
Mormonism and the Magic World View, Signature Books, SLC,
1987, 315 pages. This work is comprehensive and thoroughly documented.
The author is a former BYU professor and one of the most respected
historians of Mormonism.
Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Mormonism, Magic and
Masonry, Utah Lighthouse Ministry, SLC, 1983, 97 pages. This
former Mormon husband and wife research/publishing team are well-known
for their carefully documented critiques of Mormonism.