Part 3: Bodies Of Ritual
Let’s consider the matter of the objectives and overall character of these two bodies of ritual. The Masonic initiatory rituals have several objectives, the most obvious one is to make a man, a mason that is to formally make him a part of the Masonic community through binding oaths known as obligations. In addition, these ceremonies introduce the candidate to values represented through symbols that are meant to inspire his behavior throughout his life. These values and symbols are meant to make a good man better. The Masonic degree work has the character of sacred theater in the sense that is an initiatory drama that is meant to provoke reflection on the part of the candidate. However, the Masonic rituals do not have what theologians call a sacramental character that is Masonic rituals are not proclaimed to be vehicles of supernatural or divine grace. The LDS endowment ceremony also has several objectives. However, these objectives are very different from the objectives of Masonic ritual. One subject objective is to give the candidate the opportunity to make covenants, the fulfillment of which will enable the individual to return to the presence of God and ultimately to partake of all that god the father has. In addition, these rituals endow the participant with divine power to endure the trials and temptations of life. The LDS temple work is also sacred theatre but it does have a sacramental character. Through these rituals, divine power is exercised upon and shared with the participant.
Let us now consider the foundational mythos of the two sets of rituals. The foundational mythos of an initiatory experience is a sacred narrative having roots in some source outside the ritual itself. A narrative that informs the structure and proceedings of the ceremony. The initiatory candidate becomes a participant in the sacred drama itself. The initiatory experiences of many cultures are based in such a foundational mythos. For example, the initiatory rituals of Egypt seemed to have a connection to the ancient narratives involving Isis and Osiris. The Eleusinian mysteries of ancient Greece are associated with the ancient narratives involving Demeter, Persephone, and Hades. A foundational mythos connects a public sacred narrative that candidates already understand from their earlier life with esoteric sacred information that candidates only learn during the initiation itself. The foundational mythos of the Masonic initiatory rituals is the construction of the temple built by Solomon to the glory of the god of Israel. The two pillars of the Solomon ic temple, Boaz, and Jachin are well known as Masonic symbols. During each of the three degrees ceremonies, the lodge room is said to represent one or another specific portion of the Solomon ic temple. An important portion of one of the degree ceremonies depicts mythic events occurring within the temple precincts. I have described the importance of the Solomon ic temple to masonry in an article due to appear soon in the transactions of the American lodge of research writing this. As anyone familiar with the Masonic ritual can testify the mythic temple in its parts and history is crucial to the execution of the craft degrees. An initiating system that lacked a mythology involving the physical structure of the temple and a mythic legend regarding its construction would be unrecognizable as Freemasonry. I would go so far as to designate the ritual use of legends involving the construction and description of the temple built by Solomon as one of Freemasonry x’ ancient landmarks which cannot be changed by members of the fraternity without irreparable damage to the craft. In contrast, the foundational mythos of the LDS endowment ceremony is quite different. Neither Solomon nor the temple he built are mentioned in any way during any of the LDS temple ceremonies. As James II Talmadge explained:
“the temple endowment as administered in modern temples includes a recital of the most prominent events of the creative period that is the creation of the world and life upon it. The condition of our first parents in the garden of Eden their disobedience and consequent expulsion from that blissful abode their condition in the lone and dreary world when doomed to live by labor and sweat the plan of redemption by which the great transgression may be atoned. The period of the great apostasy that is the falling away of the ancient Christian church. The restoration of the gospel with all its ancient powers and privileges, the absolute and indispensable condition of personal purity and devotion to the right in present life and the strict compliance with gospel requirements”.
The procedures used in the Masonic rituals of initiation and the LDS endowment ceremony are also quite different. The Masonic rituals of initiation involve a candidate being conducted about the lodge room in a state of symbolic darkness. By contrast, the LDS endowment ceremony involves the temple patron clothed in simple but dignified. I’d garb being presented with the ritual drama. The Masonic rituals involve the activities of a number of officers such as the worshipful master, the senior and Juden wardens and stewards and so forth. With their stations oriented to the major points of the compass. There is nothing similar to this in the LDS endowment ceremony. There is an efficient who has assistance, but the use of titles hierarchy and the compass directions as seen in Masonic ritual has no parallel in the LDS temple ceremonies. There are certain areas in which the Masonic rituals of initiation and the LDS endowment ceremony have what seemed to be similarities. Any fair discussion of the relationship between the two must take these into account. The Masonic initiations constitute a symbolic journey to light, the LDS endowment involves a symbolic journey to the presence of the divine. However, in my opinion, this similarity does not count for much. Although a comprehensive discussion of initiatory ritual throughout history and across cultures goes beyond the scope of this presentation. It is clear that many initiatory experiences in many cultures involve a symbolic journey to the divine. For example, this is certainly the thrust of the Egyptian initiative experiences which involve the candidate in a symbolic journey to the presence of various gods. In essence, if one is going to convey an initiatory experience in whatever spiritual or religious context that experience will involve some kind of symbolic journey to the divine or to divine light.
To go from the sublime to the mundane, we might consider an analogy to the common board game. I might well invent such a game involving the progress of various players represented by tokens following some kind of path around the board. I might specify circumstances under which one or more players might win or lose the game. This is the same basic structure one will find in a variety of board game including monopoly, sorry the game of life, chutes and ladders Candyland even trivial pursuit and Yahtzee but no one could reasonably accuse me of having stolen the ideas behind these games just on the structure I’ve just mentioned. This is just the structure of many board games and being a board game, of course, my game might have a similar structure. Similarly, it is senseless to claim that the LDS ritual steals from Masonic ritual on the basis of both involving a symbolic journey to a divine light. This same logic extends to others so-called similarities as well including the presence in both sets of rituals of things like altars and covenants or obligations. Much has been made of the supposed resemblance of ritual physical gestures made during Masonic rituals with those made during LDS temple ceremonies. Of course, a specific description of these purported resemblances would require me to act in violation of both my Masonic obligations and my LDS temple covenants, neither of which I shall do. However, although this appears to be a disability, in fact, my dual insider status gives me a privileged perspective with which to discuss something that is much more important than the specific details of this or that gesture. I can consider the meaning of these gestures in Masonry verses the LDS temple rituals. Within Freemasonry, several postures and physical gestures are meant to be used as signs of recognition whereby one Mason may know another in the dark as well as in the light. For example, when I arrived from my first visit at a lodge in new york city a lodge officer took me aside and tested my knowledge of each of these gestures as they appear in the first three rituals or degrees of masonry in a formal even catechetical manner. By contrast within the latter-day saint temple ceremony, ceremonial gestures have nothing whatsoever to do with recognition of one latter-day saint by another. These gestures are only to be used within the temple itself as part of temple worship. Never our latter-day seems to use these gestures for identification purposes between one saint and another outside the temple. They are certainly not used for admission to the temple either. On the other hand, the symbolic meaning of the gestures is paramount. As I believe they are symbols of the specific covenants that the temple patron has made. There are those who would say that the very existence of ritual gestures in the LDS temple ceremony raises suspicions of some Masonic origin.
Here again, the example of history says, otherwise one may find ritual postures and gestures illustrated within the art of many religious and spiritual groups across the earth and through the centuries. For example, in Egyptian sacred artwork, one may see what seemed to be ceremonial postures and gestures. Some people have even claimed that some of these seem similar to postures and gestures found in the LDS temple ceremony. As another example, dozens of symbolic gestures or mudras are to be found within the religious traditions of Hinduism Buddhism and Taoism. Here again, some people have claimed that some of these seems similar to gestures in the LDS temple ceremony. Yet it is obviously senseless to claim the joseph smith stole his temporal temple ceremonies from the ancient Egyptians the Hindus the Daoists or Japanese Buddhists. There was little in the way of literature on these transit and traditions available to general readers on the American frontier during the 1830s and 1840s. The fact of the matter is that symbolic postures and gestures are part of the symbolism of spiritual and initiatic traditions throughout human history. Our present western culture being relatively uneducated in matters of serious and esoteric spirituality is relatively unfamiliar with this aspect of spiritual symbolism. But the masons are not unfamiliar with it and neither are the Mormon s. Of course, all of this raises the question of why such things as symbolic postures or gestures should have any spiritual significance at all. This topic really goes beyond the scope of this essay, but perhaps I can be allowed a few words on the subject. One current of philosophy that’s become prominent over the last generation or two is based on the insight that humans are embodied beings. We are not just minds carried about on top of bodies like someone writing and splendor atop an elephant. Rather human experience is deeply rooted in our nature as physical beings. Although this may seem obvious it should be noted that much of the history of western philosophy seems to ignore this fact. Consider the emphasis in the west on platonic ideal forms. For example as embodied beings it only makes sense for human spirituality to be expressed in physical ways, the use of ceremonial body postures and gestures serves to involve the body quite directly in a spiritual endeavor adopting a certain posture or making a certain gesture sends a message to the mind that now we are doing something different, something special, something meaningful. It involves our very bodies in spiritual contemplation. Thus it is that we as embodied beings experience initiation. Of course, there are only so many ways in which the human body may comfortably place itself we should not be surprised then if initiatory systems widely separated in time and space should use similar gestures and postures in their initiative rituals.
Now more supposed evidence of a connection between Freemasonry and the LDS temple involves the symbolism on the exterior of a temple that is central to the Mormon world the great temple in salt lake city as well as symbolism on the first fully functioning temple the original Nauvoo LDS temple. It has often been claimed that the symbolism of these temples is somehow Masonic and this is simply not true. For example, the beehive is certainly a Masonic symbol and it is abundantly in evidence in the salt lake temple extending even to the doorknobs. However, the beehive occurs as a symbol in the book of Mormon which Joseph Smith translated in 1830 over a decade before he became a freemason. The book of Mormon also tells of the jared It’s an ancient people led by God out of the confusion of the tower of babel to the new world to prepare for their journey they packed supplies including fish birds and bees whose example of industry and cooperation was praised. It should be no surprise that these values cooperation and industry would be emphasized during the pioneer period in Utah when construction on the salt lake temple was begun.
Frankly, these are good values for any era. The sun the moon and the stars are symbols in Freemasonry. The sun and stars are very prominent on the exteriors of both the original Nauvoo and salt lake temples and the moon is displayed in different phases on the salt lake temple. However, the sun moon and stars occur as important symbols in a revelation on the three degrees of glory in thereafter given as a revelation to Joseph Smith in 1832 a full decade before he became a freemason. The revelation mentions that the sun is emblematic of the highest degree of glory, the glory of exultation in the celestial kingdom. The revelation also mentions that the moon is emblematic of the next highest degree of glory the terrestrial kingdom and the stars are emblematic of the lowest degree of glory the telestial kingdom. The temple is largely focused on helping people achieve the celestial kingdom, so of course, it makes sense that the symbols of these degrees of glory be depicted on Mormon temples. Then, of course, there is the famous all-seeing eye. This is certainly a Masonic symbol and it occurs on the salt lake LDS temple. However, this symbol can be seen as a symbol of God in Christian art dating back at least to the Renaissance. I could go on but I’m sure that my point is clear. The symbol seen on the Nauvoo and salt lake temples derived from the latter-day saint scriptures and from other Christian symbolism, all in existence long before Joseph Smith became a freemason. I know this must be terribly disappointing to those who theorized some sort of overarching conspiracy between the Mormon s and the masons to take over the world. I can only suggest that such people pick up the shattered pieces of their illusions and move on. I have proposed a resolution for the nearly two centuries long controversy about the relationship between Masonic ritual and the LDS temple ceremonial. A resolution that runs like this Joseph smith’s Masonic initiation served as something as a catalyst in the process of revelation. Joseph’s prayerful consideration of his Masonic initiatory experience was followed by his receiving a revelation of the LDS temple endowment ceremony… This would be consistent with the pattern seen several times before in joseph’s life. However joseph’s Masonic invitation, an initiation was at most a catalyst. Joseph Smith was not inspired by his Masonic initiation to create the LDS endowment and the LDS temple endowment does not derive in any important way from Masonic ritual. Although I am not the first to propose such a resolution. I believe that I am the first to propose it in this level of detail. This resolution to the controversy has implications for several different communities. These include Freemasonry, the latter day saints and the discipline of religious studies. I discuss each of these in turn. The community of Freemasonry can simply let go of the libelous charge that the latter-day saints or their prophet stole their temple rituals from the Masons. They can simply recognize that the two bodies of ritual have different objectives mythos structure and content. Joseph Smith’s Masonic initiation served as a catalyst for him to receive what he understood as revelation from God for the development of the Mormon temple ceremonies. It does not diminish the importance of Masonic ritual to say that it served only as a catalyst for Joseph Smith to receive the LDS temple ceremonies. If anything it is a testimony to the power of Masonic ritual that this ritual could serve as such a catalyst for any person of any religious affiliation. For their part, the latter day saints could stand to become a lot less touchy about the idea that Joseph Smith’s Nauvoo era Freemasonry really with something of significance.
Thank you for Reading!