As some of you may know, I don't fit into a particular religious model very well. Some of my beliefs are rooted in Mormonism; early Mormonism to be specific. I want to share part of my view of Masonry as it pertains to my personal religious beliefs, but before I do so, it becomes necessary to explain in brief my take on the connection between Masonry and Mormonism:
Many are familiar with the fact that Joseph Smith borrowed certain elements of Masonic ritual when forming the Mormon Temple ceremonies. This type of borrowing was not a new thing, but had happened both before and after that time, in the formation of such fraternal groups as the Grange, Elks, Woodmen, Foresters, Buffaloes, etc., and even some Masonically sponsored groups like DeMolay. Typically it was individual Masons themselves doing this borrowing, and since they were only borrowing the language, structure, and trappings of the degree work, they did not violate their obligations by revealing any of the secrets which they had been obligated not to reveal. Unlike some of the others, I believe Joseph also had some divine inspiration in what he did which, combined with the faith of his followers, made the result "Celestial" in character. But unfortunately, the Church has, since that time, corrupted their ceremonies in many ways, and diminished the amount of teaching they do pertaining to its symbolism and significance. I therefore believe that, unfortunately, the rituals of today's Freemasonry are more effective than the Mormon Temple rituals from a spiritual, transformative point of view. But if it were still 1877, I might say the opposite.
The "degree" given in the Temple (although they do not use that term in this sense) is called the Endowment, and in the words of Brigham Young:
Let me give you a definition in brief. Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the house of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell.
I believe that this description applies to certain parts of Freemasonry, as well. I see the Degrees as a map of our individual life, death, and ascension back to a very literal "Celestial Lodge Above" which is so often mentioned in our rituals.
The D-G> and PS> of the EA, FC, and MM Degrees are deeply symbolic beyond what is taught in the ritual. And they are reiterated in another, perhaps more ancient form by the three Masters of the Veil in the Royal Arch Degree. I believe they are expressive of the more pure and ancient form of Worship.
The Mormon conception of this ascension includes the idea that man takes on the attributes of, and eventually becomes a God. But the God that he becomes is not like the God described by the popular denominations of the day. Mormonism - historically - tends not to shy away from the anthropomorphism of God, but rather embrace it fully, for it teaches that God was once a mortal man on another world who walked this path before us, and ascended degree by degree to reach His high station in the heavens, finally becoming the Father of the human family upon this earth, whose spirits He, Adam, and his wife Eve had borne out in the celestial world.
Adam and Eve are thus, from my Masonic perspective, easily seen as the first and original Masons. Was Adam not the first to wear an Apron? The first to build an altar with stone? The first to make a covenant or obligation with His God? (Preston and Anderson traced Freemasonry to Adam, while Mackey doesn't acknowledge the meaningfulness of this, see "Freemasonry, History of" in Mackey's Encylopedia of Freemasonry) I believe the fact that we are trying to improve ourselves, and become better men in Masonry by following in the steps of our original Grand Master is enough to say that Masonry originates with Adam.
(See also "Primitive Freemasonry", in Mackey's Encylopedia, where the subject of Antediluvian Masonry is discussed in depth.)
Steps to the Endowment.
7 months ago