"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Masons, Mormons and Nauvoo, Illinois

Interesting conversation going on over at The Foundation For Apologetic Information and Research blog about the issues and challenges over the historic restoration by the Mormon Church of Nauvoo, Illinois, and the deliberate attempt to disguise the 1840s Masonic lodge as a "Cultural Hall." The LDS Church has long sought to play down or even ignore the role of Freemasonry in early Mormonism and Joseph Smith's development of their rituals. Apparently, some modern Mormon Masons have contacted the Grand Lodge of Illinois about the project, but others within the Church want no part of it.

An interesting and little known side note. After the 1826 disappearance of William Morgan in Batavia, New York, and the trial and acquittal of Masons believed to have been involved, Morgan's wife Lucinda went on to marry another Freemason, George Harris in 1830. Remember that Morgan had written an exposé of Masonic ritual shortly before he vanished, and it was presumed by the general public that the Masons had killed him for revealing their secrets.

George and Lucinda moved to Terre Haute, Indiana, and took up with the Mormons who came through on their way west to Illinois and Missouri. Joseph Smith later took Lucinda as one of his plural wives, and was initiated, passed and raised in Nauvoo Lodge, which would become the largest and most prosperous lodge in Illinois, for a while. Smith's brother Hyrum was already a Mason, from a lodge in New York, and transferred his membership to Nauvoo Lodge in the 1840s.

Joseph Smith was shot in Nauvoo. Just before the fatal bullet was fired, he threw open an upstairs window and called out to the crowd below, "Oh Lord My God..." That was not the normal way he started his prayers. Could it have been something else?

So what role did Freemasonry play in the ceremonies of the LDS, which shares some of the same symbolism of the fraternity, dresses its candidates much like Freemasonry does, uses handshakes and passwords, and even a style of apron? And how did Joseph Smith seem to know the rituals of the lodge before he was initiated? Could he have perhaps read about it in Lucinda's former husband's famous book?

Read about Lucinda's curious Masonic and Mormon journeys in a 1985 paper by John E, Thompson.


  1. The issue of the relationship between Freemasonry and the Latter-day Saint (LDS) faith is complex. (Disclosure: I am both a temple-attending Latter-day Saint and a regular Freemason.) There are two major approaches to this issue, both of which I find deficient.

    One popular approach is to say that ‘Joseph Smith appropriated Masonic symbolism for the LDS temple ceremonies.’ There are several serious problems with this approach. To someone who is intimately familiar with both the LDS temple ceremonies and the three degrees of Blue Lodge Masonic initiation, it will be immediately apparent that these two bodies of ritual are utterly different in their stated purposes and objectives, their spiritual settings (e.g., the Temple built by Solomon has no part in the LDS ceremonial), the cast of characters in their respective dramas, and the very meanings of these ceremonies to those who take part in them. (In addition, contrary to the blog posting’s statement that LDS ceremonial ‘dresses its candidates much like Freemasonry does,’ there is very little resemblance in the dress of the candidate in LDS versus Masonic ceremonial.)

    On the other hand, I’m not satisfied either with an approach that used to be quite common among Latter-day Saints, which took the tack that ‘the Masonic ceremonies are a distant and distorted but still direct descendant from the temple ceremonies given to Adam, found at the Temple of Solomon, then lost for centuries, and restored through Joseph Smith.’ Masonic ritual has its own complicated parentage—one which does indeed include some input from very old esoteric currents of thought that existed in England in the 17th and 18th centuries—but the notion that Masonic ritual descends more-or-less directly from the Temple of Solomon itself simply does not hold water.

    So, what do I think happened? I believe that Joseph Smith really was inspired to develop ritual and ceremony for the purpose of advancing one’s spiritual progress. (Believing Latter-day Saints will take the position that Smith was inspired by God to restore something ancient; others, of a more Jungian bent, may couch the sources of this inspiration in the terms of depth psychology.) However, as with many other revelatory situations in his life, Smith did not work in a vacuum, and his own background came into play in the way that he interpreted and expressed his revelation. (This is why The Book of Mormon uses some of the language of the King James Bible.) Smith may well have known the rituals of the lodge before he was initiated in 1842; the Anti-Masonic Party, active from 1828 to 1836 (when Smith was in his twenties), had made sure that most literate people in the northeastern United States (where it was strongest) were exposed to Masonic ritual. Thus, Smith was familiar with the concept of handshakes and passwords, concepts which, it is well-known, do present themselves in the LDS temple ceremonial. However, the meaning and impact of handshakes and passwords is utterly different in the LDS temple ceremonial than in Masonic ritual.

    In sum: Smith used the language of ritual and symbolism to express his revelation, a language that was better developed in Freemasonry than in any other institution to which Smith had been exposed. However, to say that Smith stole from Freemasonry is like saying that he stole from the English dictionary when he published The Book of Mormon. Smith used the language of ritual and symbolism to develop a ceremonial that was different in its objectives, substance, and meaning from the Masonic ceremonial.

    Those who wish to learn more about the LDS temple and its ceremonies might find some on-line articles handy (http://www.lds.org/temples/purpose/0,11298,1897-1,00.html). I can also recommend the books, The House of the Lord, by James E. Talmage, and The Holy Temple, by Boyd K. Packer. My own position will be fleshed out in much greater detail in my book on this issue, which I expect to see published early in 2009.

  2. I am also a Mormon Mason. In fact, a Mormon Royal Arch Mason and Cryptic Mason. There are a few of us around. I've read the thread on FAIR. Interesting. I'm willing to discuss the various issues and intricacies of Mormonism and Masonry in great depth with anyone who would like, and I just thought I'd check in here to say hello.


  3. Thanks for sharing this, Chris.... I have access to Terre Haute Lodge #19's minutes from this period... I'll have to scout them out looking for George W. Harris.

    There was another George W. Harris living in Terre Haute at the same time married to a lady named Cindora. A brief biographical sketch can be found here: http://www.geocities.com/vigobios/gt5.htm


  4. Mark, thanks for the insight. Looking forward to your book. It is a little-explored avenue of research.

  5. Alex, as I understand it, George Harris (actually the name of Alice's cousin from Terre Haute as well!) gave up his New York Masonic membership after the disappearance of Morgan and before they moved to Indiana.

  6. Wonderful, thank you for this response, I am a Mormon (previously a Hermetic) and found that the beliefs were parallel, I was wanting to join the Lodge but didn't know if it contradicted the docterines of LDS


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