Freemasonry and the temple? Why Masonic rituals and the endowment may share some similarities

Joseph Smith’s Masonic Apron. Circa 1842–1844. Abraham Jonas, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Illinois, formally organized a Masonic lodge in Nauvoo, Illinois, on 15 March 1842. Although a number of Latter-day Saints had joined the fraternity previously, Joseph Smith had not. He was initiated into Freemasonry on 15 March and raised a Master Mason the following day. Masons wore aprons to symbolically protect their clothing. Smith's personal apron, shown here, was made of silk backed with muslin.
Photo from Joseph Smith Papers website. Courtesy Community of Christ Library-Archives, Independence, MO. Photograph by Val Brinkerhoff.

Latter-day Saint scholar Jennifer Lane was in college when she first heard a comment about connections between the temple and Freemasonry. While resources like Saints and the Joseph Smith Papers have written of these connections in recent years, Lane was working on a paper on Masonic influence on Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute when she first heard of any such connection between the Church she belonged to, and the fraternal organization know as Freemasonry.

In her book, Let’s Talk about Temples and Ritual, Jennifer Lane provides some background from a Church History essay on the topic before providing additional insight: “Freemasonry is a fraternal organization that grew out of centuries-old European trade guilds. Freemasons (or Masons) meet in lodges, where they ritually reenact a story based on the brief biblical account of a man named Hiram, whom Solomon commissioned to work on the temple in Jerusalem. During the reenactment, Masons advance by degrees, using handgrips, key words, and special clothing.”

Lane goes on to write, “We know that Joseph came to believe that Masonic rituals contained elements of an ancient endowment, just as other churches also had remnants of spiritual truth. We do not have to believe in the antiquity of Masonic rituals, but it helps to know what Joseph believed and experienced to understand the historical context in which the temple endowment was introduced. Trusting that the Lord spoke through Joseph, many ask the question, ‘How much did Joseph’s experience with the Masons shape what and how the Lord revealed for the temple ordinances?’”

She points out that while we may be able to see the contrast between temple rituals and masonic practices, masonic ceremonies “promote self-improvement brotherhood, charity, and fidelity to truth for the purpose of making better men, who in turn make a better society. During temple ordinances, men and women covenant with God to obey His laws for the purpose of gaining exaltation through the Atonement of Jesus Christ,” according to the Church History essay. Lane points out that one very significant difference lies in the stories the rituals are meant to help communicate.

“The Masonic rituals symbolically put participants into a story that gives meaning to their lives and helps them be better people. But this story of the Masons, embodied in their ritual, is a different story than the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Lane explains. “The gospel message that we ritually enact in the endowment is the Father’s plan of redemption and exaltation. We symbolically experience His creating a world for us and then providing us with Christ’s atoning sacrifice as we make and keep covenants. The story of the temple is the invitation to come unto Christ and be perfected in Him.”

On this week’s All In podcast, Lane talked with host Morgan Jones Pearson about this aspect of Church history.

Listen to the interview with Jennifer Lane in the player below or by clicking here. You can also read a full transcript here.

The following excerpt has been edited for clarity.

Morgan Jones Pearson: So Jennifer, some people are caught off guard, when they learned a little bit about Freemasonry, and maybe some of the similarities between the practices of Freemasons and the temple endowment. And this was a part of your book that was so fascinating to me. I love where you shared what Heber Kimball wrote about his participation in the endowment ceremony, and how some aspects of the ordinance reminded him of Masonic ceremonies. [According to Saints, Vol. 1], “In Freemasonry meetings, men acted out an allegorical story about the architect of Solomon's temple, Masons learn gestures and words they pledge to keep secret, all of which symbolizes that they were building a solid foundation and adding light and knowledge to it by degrees.” But then, unlike Masonic rituals, “the endowment was a priesthood ordinance meant for men and women, and it taught sacred truths not contained in masonry.” So I wondered what is most important for someone to know that might be concerned about this aspect of church history?

Jennifer Lane: Thanks, Morgan. To me, this goes back to that passage in second Nephi 31, where it says the Lord gives us light onto the understanding. He speaketh unto men, according to their language unto their understanding. So this ritual language, the symbolic way of communicating was something that was familiar to many early members of the Church. And so there's a sense in which this was a language, a ritual language, that that they could understand. And so one way to think about it is even though there are similarities between some of the some rituals and practices of Masonic ceremonies and the temple, one might think about it like linguistic ceremonies. But just because you speak the same language as someone else doesn't mean that when you speak, you're saying the same thing. You're just using the language to say what you have to say. And the same language can be used to say other things. So the stories that are being told with these symbols are different in the Masonic ceremonies than in the endowment. And I think it's important again, to remember that again different stories can be told even with the same language.

Let's Talk About Temples and Ritual

Throughout history, God's covenant people have always participated in ritual worship to remind themselves of God's love and to enable them to walk a pure, holy, and godly path. One of the ancient practices that the Lord restored through Joseph Smith is the building of temples and administering the accompanying ordinances and covenants. But even though Latter-day Saints understand that ordinances and covenants are necessary for salvation, many—including those who attend the temple regularly—struggle to understand the practice of temple worship. In this book, Dr. Jennifer Lane draws on scripture and the history of ancient and modern temples to share how, in the temple, we can find redemption through Christ. The book also explores the relationship between Freemasonry practices and modern-day temple rituals, the significance of the temple garments, and why the administration of ordinances has changed over time.

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