Saturday, August 19, 2006

A Short Guide to Mormons and Masons

There is no question that I have been interested in the Temple and its meaning and purpose. Almost a full month was devoted to the question of what to get out of the experience and how to get it. Almost always when you talk of the LDS Temple, most likely someone will bring up Freemasonry and the supposed relations between the two. No doubt they are related, as Greg Kearney explains in Masonry and Mormonism -- An interview with Greg Kearney, The Message and the Messenger: Latter-day Saints and Freemasonry, and How Does One Explain Similarities between Masonic and Temple Ritual? where he tackles the associations. He is a Mason and a Mormon in good standing with both.

I asked him a few other questions from what he talked about above, and he was kind enough to provide some short answers. The first question is actually from "nitasmile" at
The Nauvoo Forum in the message Freemasonry and Current mormons where the subject first came to my attention for discussion. The other questions are my own:

Do any of you know of similarities between the shape of the CTR ring/shield and a simalarly shaped ring that Masons wear? Awhile ago, I worked w/a gentleman who wore a ring that had a shield w/a "G" in the middle. I asked him about it and he told me he was a Mason and that the G stood for God.

GK: As far as I know there is no relation between the CTR ring and the rings worn by some Masons which generally have the Masonic square and compasses with the letter G in the center. That motif is masonry's most visable symbol found on logdes and in a host of masonic jewelry and other related items.

Where do you think that the Mason rituals and brotherhood came from, since it didn't come from Solomon's time?

GK: Historians today, and I agree with them, say that Freemasonry
originated with medieval trade stone masons as an early form of trade union. The rituals are likely a form of passion play centered around the story of the building of Solomon's temple as recorded in scripture along with the Hiram Abiff story.

The Temple is "secret" because it is considered too sacred, but why do you think the Masons held and still hold to the secretive nature?

GK: Today, of course, the secretive nature of Freemasonry is simply a
tradition. Every aspect of the ritual and teachings of masonry have
been widely published even by masonic publishers. Originally it did
serve a purpose of protecting "trade secrets" of operative masons by
insuring that those hired to work as such were properly trained in the

How do the Masons use the Scriptures? Do they read them in the lodges, study them, or are they more placed on the alter as symbolic gesture? Do you know of any lodges that also include the Koran or other Holy Books?

GK: We use scripture in all the ways you sight above. My lodge here in Wyoming uses the Koran when raising a brother who is Muslim. Of course, lodges in Islamic nations use the Koran. In Israel the Torah is used. When I was raised, the standard works of the LDS Church were employed. The 21st Landmark of Freemasonry states as follows:

It is a Landmark, that a "Book of the Law" shall constitute an
indispensable part of the furniture of every Lodge. I say advisedly, a Book of the Law, because it is not absolutely required that everywhere the Old and New Testaments shall be used. The "Book of the Law" is that volume which, by the religion of the country, is believed to contain the revealed will of the Grand Architect of the universe. Hence, in all Lodges in Christian countries, the Book of the Law is composed of the Old and New Testaments; in a country where Judaism was
the prevailing faith, the Old Testament alone would be sufficient; and in Mohammedan countries, and among Mohammedan Masons the Koran might be substituted. Masonry does not attempt to interfere with the peculiar religious faith of its disciples, except so far as relates to the belief in the existence of God, and what necessarily results from that belief." The Book of the Law is to the speculative Mason his spiritual Trestleboard; without this he cannot labor; whatever he believes to be the revealed will of the Grand Architect constitutes for him this spiritual Trestleboard, and must ever be before him in his hours of speculative labor, to be the rule and guide of his conduct The Landmark, therefore, requires that a Book of the Law, a religious code of some kind, purporting to be an exemplar of the revealed will of God, shall form in essential part of the furniture of every Lodge.

How can a Latter-day Saint, without actually joining the group, learn more about Masonry?

GK: Any good library will have a host of books on the subject. I would
suggest A Pilgrim's Path: Freemasonry and the Religious Right, A Pilgrim's Path: One Man's Road to the Masonic Temple by Robinson and Duncan's Ritual of Freemasonry by Malcolm C. Duncan as starting points.

(Jettboy note: I added both Robinson books just to be sure of the correct one)

Why do you think that teaching by ritual is so shocking to Latter-day Saints?

GK: Unlike in Joseph Smith's day we no longer live in a world steeped in ritualistic teaching. The Saints of Nauvoo, many of whom were Masons, knew well this form of teaching. We are also not a ritual based faith unlike our Catholic brothers and sisters. So, when we are presented with worship in the ritual form, be it the endowment ritual or the Catholic mass, it seems alien to us.

(Jettboy note: I knew at least one Catholic, and have heard of others, that actually weren't as bothered by the LDS Temple rituals. In fact, I remember going to a Mass on my mission and recognizing minor similarities.)

The "Grips" in both Mormonism and Masonry are rather easy to interpret. The "Signs" are a little harder to interpret. Without giving out anything "secret" about both, how can we better understand the hand gestures? What is there purpose?

GK: In masonry the signs allude to the way the hands are placed on the volume of scripture when your obligations are taken with the various degrees. They are used to show that you were raised in a proper lodge. Originally they served as a means of identifying a fellow mason seeking work.

What you ask as rhetoric, would be nice to be answered. What is the purpose of having penalties? Obviously they aren't usually taken literally.

GK: The penalties, both masonic and LDS, were what you would rather have done to you rather than violate you commitments. They were never intended as a licence to commit murder.

(Jettboy note: i.e. I would say it would probably be something like, "cross my fingers and hope to die. Stick a thousand needles in my eye.")

There were some anti-masonic Mormons at the time of Joseph Smith, what happened to them? How did they generally react to the Temple experience?

GK: As far as can be ascertained; nothing. Perhaps the best known anti-mason in Nauvoo was Lucinda Morgan, Widow of James Morgan who's death sparked the anti masonic movement in the opening decades of the 19th century. She would become a plural wife of Joseph Smith. There is no record of what her impressions were of the temple endowment.

Can you expand on the idea of the "endowment" and the "Ritual" as seperate and related?

GK: The central idea of my thesis is that the ritual is used to teach the endowment. The ritual is the presentation of the endowment. It is not the endowment itself. The ritual has and will change to meet modern needs. The endowment, however, teaches eternal ideas and commitments.

You answered the question for yourself personally, but I would like to know generally speaking why you think a Mormon would want to become a Mason?

GK: I think there is a tendency for a Mormon to center their entire lives around the Church and other church members. They are never developing any kind of association with the wider community. This is to some degree understandable; we do not wish to be put into social situations which involve activities not in keeping with our standards.

Freemasonry does not force us to make such a choice. I have been able to make association with men I might never have otherwise done so in a institution which respects and supports my standards.


Tigersue said...

I'm glad you posted that. I'm not sure I would have thought of the questions myself. It was so informative to have you post this. Thanks

Jettboy said...

Your welcome. It was very much informative to me as well. Having an opportunity to ask these questions was a chance I couldn't pass up. Learning more about Masonry has been a slight interest, but the little I do know hasn't inspired me to go beyond some basics.

Anonymous said...


I was raised a good Irish Catholic boy and converted to the Church at age 19. For me, the difficult transition was to an informal, noisy, and, what seemed to me, very irreverent Sacrament Meeting compared to the structure and beauty of the mass. When I finally got the chance to attend the Temple, I found it very comforting and rejoiced in its ritual structure. It still is the best part of being a Latter-day Saint.

Jeff said...

I'm a Mormon Mason as well. If anyone has any further questions I'd be happy to respond. Every once in a while I've blogged on a cross-over topic between the two, as well.

Jettboy said...

I say, jeff, you have some interesting information on your site. I especially liked your discussion about the relationship between the Law of Moses and modern Temples. At the same time, I think you go beyond what I consider comfortable when talking about the Temple.

Jeff said...


I believe in being relatively open and having nothing underhanded, to those who are seeking information. We are expected to live up to certain covenants and keep certain things secret. We make those promises. The rest is open to personal discretion. (Unless you went through during the brief period in 1990 when an unprecedented blanket secrecy clause was in place.) I choose to try to help people understand better, and I have gotten at least a couple sincere thank you messages from people who were struggling in one way or another but found something useful in what I said that helped them realize the connection between the Temple and the Mosaic Tabernacle, etc.

It is unfortunate today with only a couple Temples offering live acted Endowment sessions, that even the Endowed Brethren and Sisters in the Church are not able to become as familiar and acquainted with the ritual as was the case in days gone past.

As a Mason, I am quite accustomed to practicing ritual, reciting it or bouncing it back and forth with one of my Brethren. I can visualize what it was like in the early days to prepare to act a part in the Temple, and it is indeed a joyous thing to rehearse ritual with a friend or Brother (at least I find it to be such).

For those who feel "uncomfortable" with the Temple, and with discussing its meaning and its exoteric symbolism (the parts you do not covenant to keep secret), I would recommend exploring your feelings and exploring the symbolism more deeply yourself. Maybe there is an aspect particularly that you are uncomfortable with, that if identified, could help you open up to a greater spirituality in your beliefs.

The Internet today is spoiling the Endowment in advance, anyway, for any investigator of the Church who is curious about it -- and is even easy enough to stumble across on accident, if searching the subjects an investigator might be inquiring into, and we as active Latter-day Saints should probably begin preparing ourselves to give positive answers and know how to react to a question or accusation about the Temple, or its history, if we want to appear as something other than embarassed, or ignorant to those investigating our faith.

One thing I especially point out, is that we personally covenanted not to reveal certain items. It is a matter of personal integrity. These items could be known to a stranger who has been reading online, and such a stranger could even approach us and question us directly on one of them, either personally, or in front of other people. I've had it happen. Do we know how to react? It is important to respect covenants even here, (and I treat my Masonry the same way): I cannot discuss certain subjects because I have covenanted or taken an obligation not to do so. So I won't even play guessing games, since I don't want to narrow the field or play 20 questions because that's honestly as bad as telling someone outright a piece of estoeric knowledge.

Don't deny it... Because you don't want to lie about it, and you don't want to narrow it down. Don't affirm it either, because that is revealing it: Just don't allow yourself to play that game.

As you can see, I'm strict where it counts, but I believe teaching can help to perfect the saints, maintain people's activity in the Church by answering pressing questions that they are perhaps embarassed to come before anyone else with, and to reassure investigators who have been disallusioned by anti-Mormon materials.

Hope I didn't ramble on too much here.

In summary: Confront what troubles you inside, and above all else, uphold your covenants.

Thanks for the good comments, btw.

Anonymous said...

I particularly appreciate the last posting. It can be difficult for people when approached by non-members and asked to discuss the endowment. You put it quite well.

Anonymous said...

Internet Mormons talk about Mormonism and Masonry ad nauseum. But I learned more, in a thoughtful, usable form, from your blog entry than everything else I've ever read on the subject. You've even given me some new ways to think about the temple. Wonderful entry, and I hope you don't mind my saying so, so long after you wrote it.

Dustin Davis said...

I've often wondered about free masonry. I think it would be fun to join, but like with most other things finding the time is the main issue. It always seems to take away from family time.

Unknown said...

Ever come across a CTR ring with mason markings or a Masonic ring with CTR added on the sides? I started the journey of masonry and look forward to getting a MM ring, but don't want to give up my CTR ring either.