Question: Where did 19th-Century Latter-day Saints believe that Freemasonry came from?

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Question: Where did 19th-Century Latter-day Saints believe that Freemasonry came from?

It was a common 19th century belief of both Mormons and Masons that Masonry had it origins in the Temple of Solomon

The Saints of Joseph Smith's era accepted the then-common belief that Masonry ultimately sprang from Solomon's temple. Thus, Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball understood Masonry to be a corrupted form of a pristine ancient temple rite. [1] One author later wrote that masonry as an "institution dates its origins many centuries back, it is only a perverted Priesthood stolen from the Temples of the Most High." [2]

It was a common 19th century belief of both Latter-day Saints and Masons that Freemasonry had it origins in the Temple of Solomon. Some modern Masons continue to hold to this idea, or believe Masonry is (at least in part) derived from other ancient sources. Although this is a minority view that has been forcefully challenged, it was the view held by the early Latter-day Saints and apparently the prophet Joseph Smith himself.

Early Latter-day Saints' views of Freemasonry

Joseph Fielding wrote during the Nauvoo period:

Many have joined the Masonic institution. This seems to have been a stepping stone or preparation for something else, the true origin of Masonry. This I have also seen and rejoice in it.... I have evidence enough that Joseph is not fallen. I have seen him after giving, as I before said, the origin of Masonry. [3]

Heber C. Kimball wrote of the endowment:

We have received some precious things through the Prophet on the Priesthood which would cause your soul to rejoice. I cannot give them to you on paper for they are not to be written so you must come and get them for yourself...There is a similarity of Priesthood in Masonry. Brother Joseph says Masonry was taken from Priesthood but has become degenerated. But many things are perfect. [4]

Thus, to Joseph's contemporaries, there was much more to the LDS temple endowment than just warmed-over Freemasonry. None of Joseph's friends complained that he had simply adapted Masonic ritual for his own purposes. Rather, they were aware of the common ritual elements, but understood that Joseph had restored something that was both ancient and divinely inspired.

Early Church leaders believed that Freemasonry was an "apostate" form of the Endowment

  • Willard Richards (16 March 1842): “Masonry had its origin in the Priesthood. A hint to the wise is sufficient.” [5]
  • Heber C. Kimball (17 June 1842): “There is a similarity of priesthood in Masonry. Brother Joseph [Smith] says Masonry was taken from priesthood.” [6]
  • Benjamin F. Johnson (1843): Joseph Smith “told me Freemasonry, as at present, was the apostate endowments, as sectarian religion was the apostate religion.” [7]
  • Joseph Fielding (December 1843): The LDS temple ordinances are “the true origin of Masonry.” [8]
  • Saints in Salt Lake City (1849–50): “Masonry was originally of the church, and one of its favored institutions, to advance the members in their spiritual functions. It had become perverted from its designs.” [9]
  • Heber C. Kimball (9 November 1858): “The Masonry of today is received from the apostasy. . . . They have now and then a thing that is correct, but we have the real thing.” [10]
  • Church Authorities (1842–1873): “The Mormon leaders have always asserted that Free-Masonry was a . . . degenerate representation of the order of the true priesthood.” [11]


Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, "Freemasonry and the Origins of Modern Temple Ordinances"

Jeffrey M. Bradshaw,  Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, (June 5, 2015)
Joseph Smith taught that the origins of modern temple ordinances go back beyond the foundation of the world.1 Even for believers, the claim that rites known anciently have been restored through revelation raises complex questions because we know that revelation almost never occurs in a vacuum. Rather, it comes most often through reflection on the impressions of immediate experience, confirmed and elaborated through subsequent study and prayer.2 Because Joseph Smith became a Mason not long before he began to introduce others to the Nauvoo endowment, some suppose that Masonry must have been the starting point for his inspiration on temple matters. The real story, however, is not so simple. Though the introduction of Freemasonry in Nauvoo helped prepare the Saints for the endowment — both familiarizing them with elements they would later encounter in the Nauvoo temple and providing a blessing to them in its own right — an analysis of the historical record provides evidence that significant components of priesthood and temple doctrines, authority, and ordinances were revealed to the Prophet during the course of his early ministry, long before he got to Nauvoo. Further, many aspects of Latter-day Saint temple worship are well attested in the Bible and elsewhere in antiquity. In the minds of early Mormons, what seems to have distinguished authentic temple worship from the many scattered remnants that could be found elsewhere was the divine authority of the priesthood through which these ordinances had been restored and could now be administered in their fulness. Coupled with the restoration of the ordinances themselves is the rich flow of modern revelation that clothes them with glorious meanings. Of course, temple ordinances — like all divine communication — must be adapted to different times, cultures, and practical circumstances. Happily, since the time of Joseph Smith, necessary alterations of the ordinances have been directed by the same authority that first restored them in our day.

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Notes

  1. See Footnote 30, Matthew B. Brown, "Of Your Own Selves Shall Men Arise, Review of The Mysteries of Godliness: A History of Mormon Temple Worship by David John Buerger," FARMS Review of Books 10/1 (1998): 97–131. off-site
  2. H. Belnap, "A Mysterious Preacher," The Instructor 21 no. ? (15 March 1886), 91.; cited in Matthew B. Brown, "Of Your Own Selves Shall Men Arise, Review of The Mysteries of Godliness: A History of Mormon Temple Worship by David John Buerger," FARMS Review of Books 10/1 (1998): 97–131. off-site
  3. Andrew F. Ehat, "'They Might Have Known That He Was Not a Fallen Prophet'—The Nauvoo Journal of Joseph Fielding," BYU Studies 19 no. 2 (1979): 145, 147. Spelling and punctuation standardized.
  4. Heber C. Kimball to Parley P. Pratt, 17 June 1842, Parley P. Pratt Papers, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah, spelling and punctuation standardized.
  5. Letter, 7–25 March 1842, Willard Richards to Levi Richards, published in Joseph Grant Stevenson, ed., Richards Family History (Provo, UT: Stevenson’s Genealogical Center, 1991), 3:90.
  6. Stanley B. Kimball, Heber C. Kimball: Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1981), 85.
  7. Benjamin F. Johnson, My Life’s Review (Heber City, UT: Archive Publishers, 2001), 113.
  8. Brigham Young University Studies, vol. 19, no. 2, Winter 1979, 145; hereafter cited as BYUS.
  9. John W. Gunnison, The Mormons, or Latter-day Saints, in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake (Philadelphia: Lippincott and Company, 1856), 59.
  10. BYUS, vol. 15, no. 4, Summer 1975, 458.
  11. Thomas B. H. Stenhouse, The Rocky Mountain Saints (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1873), 698.