The Message and the Messenger: Latter-day Saints and Freemasonry

Greg Kearney
August 2005

The Message and the Messenger: Latter-day Saints and Freemasonry

[Editor’s note: This was a graphics rich presentation. This transcript does not include slides from the presentation. Presentation began with movie trailer for “National Treasure” released by Touchstone Pictures (2004).]

If only Masonry were as exciting! (Laughter) And if only we had access to the fabled treasure of the Knights Templar we would not be required to raise six million dollars to preserve the Salt Lake Masonic Temple.

The title of my presentation of is “The Message and the Messenger: Latter-day Saints and Freemasonry” and I want to make a few things clear right off the top here. This topic deals with some of the most sacred ordinances of our faith, that of the Temple endowment. There are some things which I will not talk about both from the endowment and from Freemasonry. I gave my word in the Temple not to reveal certain things outside of the Temple, they are very specific; and I gave certain promises to my Masonic brothers not to reveal certain things from the Masonic ritual either and I abide by those promises.

I wear a Masonic apron, emblem of a Third Degree Master Mason. This apron is a terrible distraction to some people, as I found out in practicing this presentation, and so I get to hide behind the rostrum for the rest of the time but everyone who has ever been made a Master Mason was given one of these white lambskin aprons. It is the emblem of our fraternal organization.

Masonry is the world’s oldest and largest fraternal organization. Masonry is not a religion, it does not present itself as a religion; it fails even the most basic tests of religion in that it offers no means of salvation. Masonry is a men’s only organization with women’s auxiliaries. There is, as I will discuss here later, a very rare form of Masonry found in Revolutionary France that admitted women and I’ll talk about that in relationship to Relief Society.1

The Utopian Vision of Freemasonry

Freemasonry as we know it today can trace its origins only as far back as the medieval stone Masons guilds of the Middle Ages. The first reference found to Freemasonry is in 975 in York, England. But Masonry as we know it today really takes root in the Enlightenment of the early 18th century and it has utopian vision; it has a utopian vision of universal brotherhood.

It is religious but it is not, as I said, a religion. It accepts all religious traditions within it. In little old Casper, Wyoming, where I live I have sat in Lodge with obviously other Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Muslims and that’s just in Casper which is a pretty small place. It widely accepts other religious traditions and it’s believed to be bringing its member to light–an old and established idea within Freemasonry.

Brother Joseph Smith

I had someone ask me the other day, ‘Was Joseph Smith a 33 Degree Mason?’ And the answer is no because the Scottish Rite wasn’t available to Joseph Smith or anybody else in Illinois at the time. Joseph Smith was a Third Degree Master Mason (the same as myself). Both his brother and his father were Masons–and this will become an important fact later on in the story–and he was raised at sight by Grand Master Jonas of the Grand Lodge of Illinois.

Being raised at sight is an extremely rare event in Freemasonry. Generally when one becomes a Mason one works through the Three Degrees of the Blue Lodge of Masonry a degree at a time memorizing some pretty complicated ritualistic elements. In the case of Joseph Smith however, he was raised what is called at sight or upon sight by Grand Master Jonas and it is an exclusive right of the Grand Master to do this. This is a common charge that critics of the Church–and, by the way, the critics of the Church and the critics of Freemasonry are oftentimes one and the same group of people. Ed Decker has decided to diversify essentially, not having satisfaction with just dealing with Mormons. But in fact the Landmark Eight, the ancient landmarks of Freemasonry which every Mason receives in a book called the Monitor specified that the Grand Master has an exclusive right to make Masons at sight or upon sight and it’s reserved for really special occasions. The last modern instance that I recall of a person being made a Mason upon sight was an author named Robertson who wrote a number of books about Masonry.

So, Joseph is made a Mason at sight or upon sight meaning he does not have to work his way through the previous two degrees, he is made a Mason immediately; and he served as Lodge Chaplain (the only office of a Lodge I’ve ever held) and the position of Chaplain as we will see permitted Joseph Smith to observe closely the remarkable power of ritual form as a means of teaching complex ideas.

The Twenty-First Landmark of Freemasonry

I think that this bore more relevance to Joseph than perhaps any other element of our fraternity. It is a Landmark, that a “Book of the Law” shall constitute an indispensable part of the furniture of every Lodge. 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–which is a ‘Masonism’ for God.

With the Twenty-First Landmark we have the first institution that probably Joseph Smith ever found, outside of the Church itself, which was willing to grant the Book of Mormon the same place in the pantheon of holy books.

When I was made a Mason in my hometown in Maine, they had the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price and the Holy Bible on the altar of the Lodge to reference the fact that I was a Latter-day Saint. My small town in Maine has only Congregationalists, Methodists and Mormons living in it and as a result the Lodge actually keeps a set of Mormon scriptures around for that purpose. But this must’ve warranted an incredible reference to Joseph to see here was an organization that would accept the Book of Mormon on par with the other books of holy writ.

By the way the word furniture here, you’ll find that we use a lot–in Masonry–we use a lot of really antique language and the word furniture here does not mean chairs and tables it means accoutrements necessary to establish a Masonic Lodge.

Most Worshipful Grand Master Abraham Jonas

He’s an interesting character. He is the first Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Illinois. The Grand Lodge of Illinois was initially established in 1805 but closed up shop during the anti-Masonic excitement of the 1820s and 1830s and it did not reestablish itself until 1839. He is the first Grand Master of that Lodge, he’s the first Jewish Grand Master in America. He is a friend to the Mormons and he is politically ambitious with a capital ‘A’–he is really ambitious politically and it’s been asserted, with a certain degree of accuracy, that probably his friendship with Joseph Smith and the Mormons was at least partly driven by his political ambitions to become governor of Illinois, and he is also one of the founders of the Republican Party (for you Republicans out there).

What is interesting to note about Abraham Jonas is that he probably knew from personal experience the sting of religious persecution being a Jew in the western frontier of the United States and that, I think, led to his interest in establishing the Lodges in Nauvoo and the surrounding Mormon communities.

Jonas underestimates something that- he does not understand an essential quality of the early 19th century Latter-day Saint experience and that is the communal nature of the Latter-day Saints. They do everything together as a group and that would be the case with Masonry and would lead eventually to some serious problems with the other surrounding non-LDS Lodges.

Rising Sun Lodge

If you go to Nauvoo they call this the ‘community hall’ and I always just snicker at it because if Joseph Smith and Brigham Young and the other Church leaders of the day were to come back to life and to ask where, you know, and somebody said, ‘Oh they’re down at the community hall’ those brothers would have no idea what they were talking about. This is the Masonic Lodge of Nauvoo.

The Latter-day Saints take to Masonry in 1842 with a zeal which today we would find admirable but which in 1842 was troubling to Masons in the surrounding communities. And within a few short months they have made hundreds, we call it ‘making Masons’ that’s what the reference is, they have made hundreds of men Masons and towards the end of their time in Nauvoo nearly all the adult men of the community are members of one of four Lodges established by the Latter-day Saints.

This was to cause some trouble because in the 19th century there was a great deal of concern about making Masons en masse. Most men had been through the ports of the major American cities where there were signs up that said, ‘Masons made for $10’ and that they would, you know, just tell you all the secrets and they were essentially clandestine lodges and there was a great deal of concern that this is what was going on in Nauvoo.

Grand Master Jonas repeatedly calls in the records of the Mormon Lodges and finds them to be in perfect order and that they’re not doing this. We have to remember there were less than a hundred Masons in Illinois at the time that this is going on and the Mormons are tripling and quadrupling the total membership of the Grand Lodge in a span of only a relatively short period of time.

We’re looking at the Lodge room; another one of my complaints is that the restoration of the Lodge room does not include the Lodge, as Joseph would have known it, we’re looking west in the Lodge room here the Senior Warden of the Lodge would have been seated on a small platform between the two doors. The Junior Warden would be on the right hand side (which you can’t see because of the way the picture was taken).

Now we are looking east, the Worshipful Master–Hyrum Smith for most of those years–would have been seated on a platform three steps high–this gets important. Three steps high in the center. There would have been a letter ‘G’ right above the front of the center window. Joseph would’ve sat to his immediate right as the Chaplain of the Lodge. As an officer of the Lodge, Joseph would have been expected to be at each of the meetings of the Lodge so the assertion that Joseph only attended three Masonic meetings seems somewhat specious. He was probably at least at 25 according to the records of the Rising Sun Lodge.

And here is, for those of you who went on the tour yesterday you will recognize this, here is- this is a work that I did (I’d like to thank Nauvoo restoration, I finally sprung a floor plan of the third floor of the Lodge hall from them for this speech) this is the layout of the Lodge as Joseph likely would have known it. This is taken from 1842 Illinois ritual books and so we’re really, really close to probably what the Lodge looked like.

All Lodges are laid out the same and they have been for centuries and so this is typical, as anybody who went on the tour would know, this is a typical layout that they’ve found throughout Masonry throughout the world. This is the room that he would’ve known and as you can see he sits to the right of the Worshipful Master, which was his brother Hyrum Smith.

We only know a few of the Lodge officers. We know that Hyrum served as the Worshipful Master; so did John C. Bennett for a spell. Joseph seems to never to have held any other office other than Chaplain. And, my wife points out, that these men all seemed to play roles like they were cast for. The Tyler was Porter Rockwell; the Tyler of the Lodge is a man who sits outside the door and keeps out all cowans and eavesdroppers with a drawn sword. (Laughter) And I can tell you if you met up with Porter Rockwell with a drawn sword you’d probably not want to force the issue any further!

So here we have Joseph Smith sitting in Lodge as Chaplain. Now Chaplain is an interesting office because you only have to say two prayers and they’re written out for you. I served as Chaplain and I can still remember the prayers, I won’t give them here although they’re not considered a part of the secret part of the ritual. But what that office permitted him to do was to watch and see how a ritual can teach very, very complex ideas to conversants who are of limited educational attainment.

In my Lodge back home, most of the men in my hometown are farmers, they raise dairy cows and a lot of them, boy if they got through high school, you know, just barely. It was only through the grace of the teachers and the fact that the principal didn’t want them back there–they were entitled to do that. But, in 19th century America this was even more so. Many, many men did not have the opportunity to learn to read and write, at least not well. This was an opportunity given to women because they were in the home. We have stories of Emma saying, ‘Except when he was writing about religion Joseph was barely able to hold his own.’

We also have a town that is filling up with converts and they’re coming from places in the world where they don’t necessarily read and write and speak English. They’re coming from Scandinavia and they’re particularly coming from Wales. I went downtown and bought this book, this Book of Mormon–the second translation of the Book of Mormon was in Welsh. Welsh is really different from English and I would surmise that Welsh was as commonly heard on the streets of Nauvoo as was English in those years.

So, Joseph is presented with a real problem. He is receiving through revelation lots of new information critical to the salvation of the Saints and he has to find a way to present it to them in a way that they will know and recognize, learn what they need to know, and he’s sitting in Lodge and he’s watching men do a very complex ritual and learning by rote memory–by going over and over again you learn it. And I can sit here right now, and I will, do a little portion of the ritual.

What happens when the opening of the Lodge happens is the Worshipful Master will stand up, he’ll rap his ravel two times and he’ll say, ‘The Members and the Officers of the Lodge will take their respective stations to prepare for the opening of the Lodge.’ And then he says, ‘Brother Junior Deacon,’ the man down on the chair, ‘What is the first as well as the last first great care of Masons when assembled?’ And the Junior Deacon will stand up and he’ll say, ‘To see that the lodge is duly tyled.’ And the Master will say, ‘Perform that duty and inform the Tyler that I am about to open this Lodge of Master Masons upon the Third Degree of Masonry.’ The Junior Deacon will turn around and knock three times on the door. The Tyler will answer three times back, the door will open, he’ll repeat the whole business to the Tyler, the Tyler will close the door, they’ll knock it three times, they’ll knock three times. The Junior Deacon will turn around and he’ll say, ‘We are so tyled.’

See how easy it is to remember? And that’s just a business meeting. The whole thing is this give and change of questions and answers. They ask the Senior Warden if all who are assembled are Master Masons? He is so satisfied, and so on.

Joseph’s office in the Lodge as Chaplain permitted him to watch all that and not really have to take part except for a couple of times at the beginning and end of the Lodge when he gives the prayers.

And I think that’s an important fact because I believe–and I want to make this clear just as Br. [Darius] Gray said, I speak for myself, I do not speak in an official capacity (as we all say on FAIR) I don’t speak for the Church and I don’t speak for FAIR. I speak only for myself. These are my beliefs, these should not be construed in any way as official statements of the Church.

Masonic Brothers of Nauvoo

As I said nearly all the brethren were, by the time of the exodus of the Saints from Nauvoo, had been made Masons: Sidney Rigdon, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young. We’ll get to Brigham Young a little bit later in the slide presentation but you’ll notice he’s wearing a little stickpin in his clothing. It’s a Masonic square and compasses. John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, Willard Richards, Heber C. Kimball and the ultimate Tyler for any Lodge, Porter Rockwell. I just had to put him in there!

John C. Bennett

John C. Bennett is interesting because he’s one of the villains of Mormon history. He writes the most controversial anti-Mormon book of his time, History of the Saints. He was initiated in Ohio. He was also serving as Chaplain of the Lodge and he was very incremental in getting Jonas and Joseph Smith together.

The interesting thing about John C. Bennett is you would think if anybody was going to make hay about the temple ritual and Masonry, this would be the guy. And although he does mention that there are similarities in his History of the Saints that is not where he spends most of his time. He’s more interested in polygamy it seems like in History of the Saints. And so that’s interesting because what it does is it tells us that apparently even the most vociferous critic of the Church at the time did not particularly find these similarities alarming.

Critics of the Church like to use Masonry as a hook to reel in the unsuspecting Latter-day Saint. Most Latter-day Saints today have no association with Freemasonry, and I’ll explain why here in a bit, so critics will use this and they will say, ‘Oh see, I can show you the similarities between your temple ritual and Freemasonry and Freemasonry predates your temple ritual by a thousand years. Therefore, Joseph Smith stole it all.’ And the member is left completely confused because he doesn’t really know anything about Masonry and he’s allowing the critic to drive the conversation because he’s allowing them to tell him everything he needs to know about Masonry rather than knowing it himself.

Masonry relies on an idea, which I call the geometry of the sacred. Many, many old ideas are carried on in Masonry; they predate Masonry. This is another thing that the critics don’t ever tell you. They say, ‘Look Mormon Temples are laid out on an east-west axis and so is the Masonic Lodge.’ What they fail to point out is that laying out church buildings and sacred buildings on an east-west axis is a common practice. Most New England churches are laid out on east-west axes, many in Europe. Almost all gravestones in New England and Europe face east. They face east, as we say in the Lodge, as the sun rises in the east to open and govern the day–the idea of facing east towards the resurrection, towards the rising sun.

What do we get from Freemasonry?

Points in Circles

Joseph Smith was surrounded by a world completely engulfed either directly through his father and his brothers or indirectly in Masonry. We get a lot from Masonry. If you ever take out (as the movie showed) if you ever wondered about this take out the back of the one dollar bill and take a look because you’re going to be seeing a lot of Masonic symbols on there. The early framers of the Constitution, many of them were Masons. The world is filled up with all sorts of these sorts of signs and symbols which trace their origin to the Freemasons–as I said, the back of the dollar bill.

The idea of giving someone “the third degree”, you’re going to give him “the third degree”, ooh it sounds bad and scary! But giving someone the third degree comes from the Masonic tradition of a Third Degree Master Mason.

Another sign, in Masonry we have signs and tokens and they are substantively similar to what would transpire in the temple ritual. The difference is that they mean different things. Whereas the temple ritual teaches us about our relationship to deity the Masonic Lodge is teaching us about our relationship to our fellowmen.

But we do have some, and in fact you’ve all seen one one time; what do we do when we go to court and we give testimony? What does the bailiff bring out for our use? Brings out a Bible. And what does he ask you to do? Put your hand on the Bible and raise your other hand to the square. You know why you do this? You do this because in England, years and years and years back in the Middle Ages, in order to give testimony in court you had to be a couple of things. You had to be a man, and you had to be Freeborn–in other words, you could not be tied to indentured service as an apprentice to a master. So, you couldn’t be as we call in Masonry, an Entered Apprentice because you would be an apprentice and you would be subservient to another. You had to be a Fellowcraft Mason or a Fellowcraft; so you literally are giving the sign of the Fellowcraft Degree in court in order to prove that you are Freeborn and able to give testimony.

Levels as Teaching Tools: Brethren arise and look to the East

In Masonry as in, and this is kind of the first reference we see to it in the Latter-day Saint environment, we have the idea of levels. As I said the Worshipful Master stands on a level three steps above the floor of the Lodge. The Senior Warden stands two steps and the Junior Warden, one. You can see it here in the slide where we’re looking east towards the seat of the Master, there’s the altar of the Lodge and the “Book of the Law” on the altar.

Similar kinds of things, elements–and this is even before Joseph is a Freemason–we can see in the Kirtland Temple where we have levels, we have the president of the quorums sitting one level on top of another. This is a very useful idea to teach the idea of the Order of the Priesthood, or in the case of the Lodge, the Order of the Primary Officers of the Lodge.

However, it’s interesting that in Freemasonry when we open and close Lodges we always- the Master and all the Officers step down off those platforms and stand on the level floor along with all the members; because, all Masons meet and part on the level–on the same level. The Master has no greater authority than any of the individual members. He is elected by the way every year so it’s an early form of democracy.

Squares and Compasses

This is the traditional Masonic Square and Compass. The letter ‘G’ stands for God and sometimes for geometry. Masons like geometry; it’s one of the Liberal Arts that we’re real fond of as you can imagine. The Square and Compass, it’s an old symbol, but it’s primarily a Masonic one and it deals with the tri-square, the square that you would use to check your work to make sure that it is square, and the compasses which you use to lay out your work.

One thing that Masonry does is it takes all these old tools and gives them new meanings. We give them- essentially there’s the idea of operative Masonry and speculative Masonry and speculative Masonry has meanings for the tools. By the way, the meanings for the tools are the same in both Masonry and the Temple.

And here is a picture from the Spring City Endowment House of 1878 in which the Saints carved the square and compasses on the front of the building. The Nauvoo Temple had them; here it is on- for some reason the Saints inverted the use of them; having the points of the compasses pointing upwards. This the original weathervane of the Nauvoo Temple and you can see the square and compass just above the angel.

These are two examples of uses in headstones and these are really- one of those is really unique. We have a headstone with exactly the same wording from New England as one found in Manti, Utah. Now I have to give credit where credit is due. I got the picture of James Allred’s gravestone from the now extinct webpages of the Truly Living Church of Jesus Christ of the Last Days down in Manti. They made a great deal about the fact that the square was pointing the other way on this and I’m not sure why other than maybe the carver got confused. But you have exactly the same wording, “In affectionate remembrance of.”

This first stone is interesting because we have the square and compasses on a stone of a woman which is really, really unusual. Her husband is mentioned down here as being a Mason which is probably why and she probably outlived her husband which is how she ended up having her name first on the headstone. But we have the square and compasses and you can see the same sort of motif in Patriarch Allred’s grave here as well so, use of the square and compasses as a decorative motif is not unheard of in early LDS culture.

The All Seeing Eye

This is an old, old symbol; we find this all over the world and we find it in cathedrals in Europe and it’s used by Masons. Part of this is, what I’m saying is that in my article2 for FAIR I wrote you know there are lots of sources for this stuff and the Masons aren’t the ones who use it and the All Seeing Eye is an example.

Here is the traditional Masonic All Seeing Eye, the All Seeing Eye in the Unfinished Pyramid on our currency and the All Seeing Eye from the Salt Lake Temple.

A great deal is made of these things by our critics except that they fail to point out that nowhere in the ritual do we use the All Seeing Eye. You know, these are architectural motifs; they would have been familiar to the Saints who carved them into the temples.


Masons, like Latter-day Saints, have grips. We use grips but grips are, again, very old. Here is a reference from Galatians 2:9, to “the right hands of fellowship” and a Roman coin of the period showing the same. Here is the grip shown on the front of the Salt Lake Temple. Again, if it was that deep of a secret do you suppose they’d be carving them on the front of a public building? Grips shown on a gravestone from Provo; and grips on a token of Irish American friendship from 1866.

No Help for the Widow’s Son

I spoke to Br. Reed C. Durham who gave the speech3 in 1974 that got everybody so excited (and invited him here but he was unable to attend).

The Death of Joseph Smith I use this picture not because it’s historically accurate, because it is somewhat ridiculous actually; it’s a Currier & Ives print. But it’s interesting that we have a man in tails and a top hat, symbols usually of a Grand Master, attempting to arrest the ruffian who was about to take a knife to Joseph who was laying on the ground here, this of course is absolute fiction and nothing like this happened but it’s an interesting portrayal.

Joseph was killed and as he fell from the window he gave what’s called the Grand Hailing Sign of Distress and its name, which is “Oh Lord, my God, is there no help for the widow’s son?”

Joseph was- of course it didn’t work. You’re supposed to give to and give aid to a fellow Mason who gives this and they didn’t do it. Masonry, like any other human endeavor has its good moments and its bad moments and this is one of our not very good ones. Latter-day Saints are no better, we killed people at Mountain Meadows for not a very good reason other than they just happened to be passing through. But no, we are made up of men, we’re not immortals. We don’t- it doesn’t endow us with some sort of special power to be better than any other man.

The murder was not, as some have suggested, a Masonic plot. It was plotted in public meetings in Warsaw, Illinois. It’s interesting, as a Latter-day Saint Freemason I get it from all sides. The Ed Deckers of the world are doubly convinced that I’m going to hell because I’m both a Mormon and a Mason and my fellow Latter-day Saints, some of them are convinced that I’ve taken up with the Gadianton Robbers, and the Bishop should take my Temple recommend away and I will address that here in a bit. But, it was not a Masonic plot, as have some Latter-day Saints have suggested in the past.

Masons were involved and that’s quite true and the Warsaw Lodge invites indicted men to join after the murder; there were men under indictment for murder of Joseph Smith and they invite them to join. Grand Master Jonas doesn’t like this and it breaks two principles. First of all, when you join a Lodge you’re supposed to be a man of reputation in your community–you’re not supposed to be a drunkard, you’re not supposed to beat your wife, all those kinds of things–and in fact in kind of a- imagine having a temple recommend interview and instead of the Bishop sitting you down and asking you the ten questions they send a committee of investigation out to all your neighbors to ask you. You know, should we give this guy a temple recommend? That’s what Masons do. They set up committees and the committees go and talk to your neighbors and talk to your co-workers and talk to your boss to find out if you’re a respectable citizen or not. So the Warsaw Lodge violates that principle by having indicted men.

The other thing that they break is, you will never be invited to join a Masonic Lodge. You ask to join. So inviting men to join is a violation of one of the Landmarks (I can’t remember which one) there are some Masons in the crowd who probably can remember. And so after a spell, eventually with all these kind of irregularities going on, Grand Master Jonas pulls the charter of the Warsaw Lodge–it’s the only event surrounding the death of Joseph Smith in which any kind of action was taken against those.

Freemasonry in Utah: The Landmarks Ignored

I suspect we may have some Masons from the Grand Lodge of Utah here and I don’t mean any offence but there were some actions done in this state in the past that really did ignore the Landmarks of Freemasonry rather severely.

Here is Brigham Young and you can it see better in this slide, he’s got his Masonic stickpin in. The Latter-day Saints drift away from Masonry almost as quickly as they gravitated towards it in Illinois. They arrive in Utah and the first few years as we all know they were kept up with just staying alive but they made two attempts to establish a Lodge in Utah. The first they attempted to get- they needed a charter from an existing Grand Lodge. Brigham Young quite wisely figured that no American Lodge was going to give him a charter and so he chartered Mexico, a Grand Lodge in Mexico and he chartered the Grand Lodge of England. The Grand Lodge in Mexico turned him down and we have the Grand Lodge of England claims to have never received the petition which is not all that uncommon, ships went to the bottom of the sea regularly in that time.

And so, Masonry came to Utah not through the Saints but through non-members and it became essentially a social institution for non-Latter-day Saints in the state and they started to erect all sorts of barricades to keeping Mormons out of the Fraternal Institution of Freemasons. This is the only jurisdiction in North America; there is no national office for Freemasons, every state has its own Grand Lodge. Those Grand Lodges are totally independent of each other and can do anything they want.

This Grand Lodge in Utah creates barriers to Latter-day Saints becoming Freemasons and this is in 1867 so this is fairly late, Brigham Young is still having a problem with this and he says:

There is another class of individuals to whom I will briefly refer. Shall we call them Christians? They were Christians originally. We cannot be admitted into their social societies, into their places of gathering at certain times and on certain occasions, because they are afraid of polygamy. I will give you their title that you may all know whom I am talking about it–I refer to the Freemasons. They have refused our brethren membership in their lodge, because they were polygamists. Who was the founder of Freemasonry? They can go back as far as Solomon, and there they stop. There is the king who established this high and holy order. Now was he a polygamist, or was he not? If he did believe in monogamy he did not practise it a great deal, for he had seven hundred wives, and that is more than I have; and he had three hundred concubines, of which I have none that I know of.4

So even as late at 1867 there was still- there were many, many men who had been made Masons in Illinois and who- one of the ancient Landmarks, every Mason has a right to visit a Lodge. I can remember being in school here when I did not have the right to visit Lodges in Utah because I was a Latter-day Saint.

The legacy is that Utah, at least in the current numbers I was able to find, is the second smallest Masonic jurisdiction in North America. Only Prince Edward Island, Canada, is smaller and there are only 200,000 people out there! (Laughter)

There was a strong denunciation issued on this policy by a California Grand Lodge and it’s still on their website, the California Grand Lodge, I think it’s probably about time they took it off because in 1984 the Grand Lodge of Utah changed its policies and permitted Latter-day Saint members to join. By that time, the damage had probably already been done. There was little if any, you know, it wasn’t like they were going to see a massive petition of Latter-day Saints to join the Lodge at that time.

Let me get to the crux of my issue here. Everybody wants to know, ‘Okay Greg, did the temple ritual come from Freemasonry?’ And I’m going to answer that with a qualified yes. (Everybody inhale!) I draw a bright line between the temple endowment and the temple ritual.

The endowment is revealed doctrine necessary for the salvation of the Saints. It teaches us God’s relationship to man; our duties and our responsibilities. The endowment has never changed and if you think about it, what the endowment is are commitments to the law of sacrifice, to the law of consecration, to the law of chastity. These things are fixed and these things can be found throughout every dispensation of time. That is the endowment.

It’s revelatory in nature and content, it’s a restorationist view of religion, it offers universal salvation–Latter-day Saints are Universalists as I always say which always makes everybody shudder.

So we have the endowment and then we have the messenger: the ritual. How the endowment is taught and this is where I believe Masonry played a part. Joseph Smith sat in Lodge, he watched as humble farmers–most of whom he knew probably couldn’t read and write well–learned complicated, difficult ritual and he said in his mind, ‘Ah! This is how I’ll do it. This is how I’ll teach the endowment to the Saints.’ Why? Because they already knew the ritual. They wouldn’t pay attention to the ritual; they’d pay attention to the message because they already knew the ritual. And so, there is that kind of genesis, that ritualistic form, that asking of questions back and forth that we get. All of that comes as Joseph Smith tries to communicate these truths.

Now the temple endowment did not spring forth one day in Nauvoo fully functioning. The temple endowment came over a long period of time and in Kirtland we got what we call the washings and anointings. They have no equivalent in Freemasonry. Freemasonry does not do washings and anointings or anything even remotely like them. This is the other part that critics of the Church never bring up, they never bring up the differences, they always bring up the similarities because the differences don’t serve their purposes.

So we’ve got whole sections of the endowment that have no Masonic origins or similarities and that was the early ritual as found in Kirtland. By the way the Rigdonite branch of the Church still practices that.

As I said, (inaudible) they meet on the level. The Temple is a great equalizer; it makes everyone dress the same, it makes everybody kind of look the same. You’re all equal in the Temple. You can get out of the Temple and go and get into your fancy new car, or drive a humble VW bug, you know, in the world there are all sorts of things that we use to kind of carve people up into levels. We use race, we use money, we use all kinds of things. In the Temple, as in the Masonic Temple, the idea is that we meet upon the level. It was, as I said, a ritual familiar to the Saints. They already knew it, they knew what the ritual was, they were able to pay attention to these really critical things that had been revealed of Joseph and that he could teach them.

The irony was, as Masonry faded away from the Church, the ritual in many cases, the Temple ritual became overwhelmingly important and doing it just exactly right and- but many people will ask, ‘But Greg, why would you want to go and do these old Masonic rituals and do the Temple?’ And I point this out and I say the endowment is one thing and the ritual is another. The ritual has changed twice in my lifetime and I’m not that old and I’ve spoken to older members who can remember all kinds of things in the ritual that aren’t there anymore and for instance, we used to have the Five Points of Fellowship–this is a direct Masonic thing. The Five Points of Fellowship is found in the Masonic ritual and when you’re raised a Mason they refer to it. As time has gone by, we don’t live in a world seeped in ritual the way the 19th century Saints were.

And as the Saints have lost that tie to Masonry those things which once meant something and which were important have gradually lost their meaning and so the ritual has changed. I mean I can, you know, I mean I sat in the Temple endowment and watched things and said, yeah that makes sense to me. I know where that came from and why Joseph would have done that and chosen that and did this; but most of the Saints were just totally, you know, ‘Why are we doing these actions that refer to penalties? Why would we even want such a thing?’ So the Temple ritual changes, it changes to meet modern needs of modern Saints. It changes to better teach the endowment. The endowment doesn’t change, the ritual changes. And therein lies the crux of my thesis, when people ask, that’s what I say.

One last slide and then I’m going to take questions. The Nauvoo Lodge #769, in West Portsmouth, Ohio. I have no idea how this Lodge got its name! (Laughter) I wrote to the Master of the Lodge and I never got an answer back so it remains a mystery. I suspect it may be a reference to Nauvoo as the place beautiful.

Q: Wouldn’t it be more correct to say that Masonry came out of the endowment?

KEARNEY: It would be if you believed that Freemasonry has a continuous historical line from King Solomon’s Temple to the current. Unfortunately, there is no historical evidence to support a continuous functioning line from Solomon’s Temple to the present. We know what went on in Solomon’s Temple; it’s the ritualistic slaughter of animals.

Q: Why would the average guy want to join Masonry?

KEARNEY: Well, you know I’m not going to answer for anybody else but I’ll tell you why I did. I have these little books, these are the ritual books of Freemasonry from Maine. This is mine, it was given to me when I was made a Mason. This is my father’s. This is my grandfather’s; this is my great-grandfather’s. My uncle has five more of these at home older than these. In the case of the Kearneys we’ve been Masons for more than a thousand years.

And by the way it’s one of the great untouched resources of genealogical records but as I say, why would someone ever become a Mason? That’s a decision that somebody would have to make themselves. It brings me in contact with men I would never be in contact with any other way.


1 In Dr. Durham’s 1974 presentation to the Mormon History Association he suggested that Joseph Smith’s inspiration for the Relief Society might have been found in Masonry as well.

The reference is to Adoptive Masonry, a rare form of masonry originating in France at the time of the French Revolution. Adoptive Masonry admitted both men and women and had a unique ritual which, like the temple endowment, centered around the creation story.

I find it unlikely that Joseph Smith would have used Adoptive Masonry as a source for the Relief Society or the endowment as it was likely unknown to him. Adoptive Masonry was never established in America and knowledge of its existence is rare among masons even today. Adoptive Masonry seems to have disappeared even in France by the time of the reestablishment of the French monarchy. Nothing in the formation or function of the Relief Society would suggest a Masonic connection. Indeed the Relief Society would seem to be more a reflection of the existing priesthood quorums.

2 Greg Kearney, “How Does One Explain Similarities between Masonic and Temple Ritual?” August 31, 2004. < > (accessed on 24 March 2006)

3 Dr. Reed C. Durham, Jr., “Is There No Help for the Widow’s Son?” unpublished presidential address presented at the Mormon History Association, April 20, 1974.

4 “Discourse by President Brigham Young” delivered in the Tabernacle, Great Salt Lake City, February 10, 1867. Journal of Discourses, 11: 328.

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