Saturday, May 31, 2008

Masonry as Divine Ascension

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.)


Anonymous said...

Interesting perspective. But I believe you have it just backwards. I believe that the original ritual was and is the current endowment of the LDS Church, restored by revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith. Masonry, I believe, was an offshoot from this true order of ritual probably dating back to the time of the Solomon's temple. I do agree that God himself established the ritual with Adam and Eve, but it was the endowment, not the Masonic rite. The similarities exist between the two because of their common source, as do parallels with many religious traditions and practices all around the world. But I believe the LDS endowment is the pure, true form of ascension ritual, and when performed under the authority of the high priesthood in the temple of God, is the only effective means whereby we make covenants with deity and learn what we must do to return to the presence of God.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to tell you guys, but the LDS church is a crock of crap. Nothing more than a con job to fleece the flock of thier money oh yeah, and daughters.

I suppose you believe that you too can become God's and populate planets?

Jeff said...

Ok, so I have managed to attract some ... interesting ... comments here. My intent was to discuss Masonry and it's pattern of divine ascent by making a comparison to what could be considered "commentary" made upon it by early LDS brethren who were also Masons. Anon, your comment is totally out of line because I am not here to push the church's agenda, as you may have noticed I emphasized Adam-God in my post - a doctrine which they believe is heretical today.

Bryce, I appreciate your comment, however, let me point out that it's not an issue of two rituals sharing one common source. It is widely documented that brother Joseph did become a Mason, and his brother Hyrum had been a Mason for a great long while, before introducing the Endowment. It was clearly influenced by Masonic language and structure. I do not think these parts are necessarily what provides the spiritual efficacy which the Endowment at one time held, but rather, those things that were restored through Joseph. I would also suggest that the development of the ritual of Freemasonry was done with divine guidance and revelation. As Masons, we pray for their order to follow that which is in Heaven every time they open a meeting, and while the Church has no problem expressing that the reformers and even the founding fathers of our country were inspired - collectively, in like manner I believe the Masons have been inspired collectively. The problem lies in this: The Church has corrupted their Endowment by removing some of the most ancient parts of the ceremony, while keeping innovations that we can trace the relatively recent appearance of in Freemasonry. As the rituals of Freemasonry developed historically they were expanded, imbued with more light, while those of the Temple did that at first (up until about 1877) after that they began to be whittled away, and if it keeps up, sooner or later, there will be nothing left.

Finally, it frustrates me that of the two or three out of 100 posts I have made here that mention Mormonism, a Mormon or anti-Mormon always seems to hijacks it before I can get any meaningful dialogue out of my Masonic brethren. It grieves me that this is so. I don't mind your response, Bryce, but I want to hear what they have to say from a Masonic point of view; otherwise, I would have posted on one of my religious blogs.

Jeff said...

One thing I forgot to mention. I have done both. I love both. And, having done both, while I see both as being valuable, I recognize from firsthand experience that Masonry has greater spiritual efficacy today, it is more transformative for the individual, builds stronger bonds of friendship and brotherly love, and demonstrates the ideas of ascension and the connection between what we are doing and the ancient mysteries (Temple of Solomon, etc.) more clearly. Bryce I'm not sure if you're a Mason; but if you haven't done both its hard to draw spiritual conclusions. I am not claiming that the Masonic rite existed with Adam, but that Masonry evolved, and consists of a collection of knowledge and teachings from ages past, and some of those teachings are primitive elements that came down from Father Adam in the beginning. No, neither the Endowment nor the Degrees of Freemasonry existed at the time of Adam, Noah, or even Solomon, they were busy doing the real thing. Whereas we are using symbols and allegory to draw as close as we can to the real thing. There are bits and pieces, but the rituals we are discussing today hail primarily from the late 1600's and early 1700's AD.

Anonymous said...

Mormonism 101:

How can anyone with a rational brain believe this crap?

Jeff said...

Anon, nope - as a matter of fact - nobody EVER believed that crap. The cartoon says "Mormons believe that Elohim is their Heavenly Father", and while it may be true that they do today, it is because they severely misunderstand the Hebrew language in which Elohim is a common noun which can refer to spiritual beings, angels, gods, spirits of the dead, etc. However, the cartoon also teaches Adam-God. Those are opposing theories, and not part of the same theology. It's a clever cartoon, cute in some ways, but has NOTHING TO DO WITH MY POST. My post is not about theology. It is about the symbolism of ascension and I would rather talk about it in relation to Kabalistic ideas of ascension or something intelligent instead of this junk. Please go bother the Mormons over at an actual religious blog somewhere. I don't care about "belief" here at all, and neither do my readers, who are Masons, very few of whom are Mormons at all! I'm interested in symbols, metaphors, philosophies, concepts. If you don't have something intelligent to say, please, kindly, go the f*@! away.

Traveling Man said...

Well, I am not a Mormon, nor have I done much in the way of research into the LDS Church, (please forgive me if this is the wrong way to refer to the organization). I worked with two folks who were Mormon, and asked, and received the Book of Mormon to read because I wanted to understand where they were coming from. I also made it a point to ask what their customs were regarding holidays, so I didn't commit a faux pas.

I found them to be wonderful, tolerant people. Subsequently, two Mormon missionaries knocked on my door and asked to speak with me. (No, my friends did not send them. They were from a different congregation.) I knew enough to address them as "Elder" and offered them food and drink, because as a Celt, that's what I do.

I did not find their attempt at conversion disagreeable, and when I articulated that I had read the Book of Mormon, and could not bring myself to share their faith, they thanked me for their hospitality and left.

Why do I relate this? Because there is no good reason to "trash" another faith unless they are making your life miserable. No Mormon has ever been anything but kind, gracious, and eager to explain their beliefs without being "pushy". Lotta mainstream faiths could learn a lot from that strategy!

Here you have a Mason trying to build his spiritual temple and be brave enough to share that process with you, and you have to insult him.

Erm. Not good.

Masonry is about tolerance. If you can't bring yourself to *be* tolerant. Be quiet please. Some of us want to listen and learn.

Jeff, I haven't blogrolled you yet, but I will. You're a Mason with guts.

Illigetimtii Non Corobundum Est.

(Bad Latin and bad spelling but I've worked the last 12 hours straight.)

Be Well,

Traveling Man

Anonymous said...

First off, if you are going to write a post with some Mormonism in it, be prepared for Mormon comments. :)

Secondly, I am well aware that Hyrum, Joseph, Brigham, and many early LDS leaders were Masons, and participated in Masons rituals. Joseph may have even been influenced by them. But I do not believe that Joseph instituted the endowment as a borrowing from the Masons. I believe that he received it as revelation from God, perhaps in answer to prayer about the nature of Masonry, and that it was a restoration of the true order of ancient divine ritual. As some early Church leaders said, the endowment was a true order of Masonry.

Certainly the Masonic ritual was developed with divine guidance and revelation, that is because it originally evolved from the temple environment. The original rites were given by God to those who practiced them in the temple of Solomon.

I do not believe the Church has corrupted the endowment. I believe it is the other way around. I believe it is the Masonic rite that is a corrupted form of the temple ritual, handed down through time, gradually departing from the divine symbolism it once had. The endowment restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith brought back the symbolism that had been lost, the gospel, Godly covenants, the atonement, and Jesus Christ, who is at the center of it all. The endowment continues to evolve because of continual revelation to living prophets and apostles. It is precisely the mind and will of the Lord for his temples on earth today.

I'm not a Mason, but I am aware of what the Masons do, and while it may help build bonds of brotherhood, I do not believe it draws one closer to God. The temple of God has been, and will always be, the sole medium whereby man may learn and partake in those ordinances which will enable him to return to the presence of God.

Yes, I believe Adam and Eve practiced elements of the endowment, as did all the prophets through the ages, as is shown throughout the Bible. The endowment isn't a creation of men on this earth, or of history. It is as old as time itself.

Jeff said...


A couple of things I'd like you to think about, because I believe you aren't evaluating the whole picture in depth. First of all, you probably already recognize that your statement is in itself contradictory to some degree, for you say that it is the "true order of ancient divine ritual" but also that "continues to evolve" and "is precisely the mind and will of the Lord for his temples on earth today." Well, which is it? Ancient or modern? Yes, both. And the modern part isn't just translating it into a language we can understand, but involves significant changes to the core content of the ceremony itself.

Now, also, you say of Masonry that "it originally evolved from the temple environment. The original rites were given by God to those who practiced them in the temple of Solomon." But I challenge you, to study Masonic development in the 1600s and 1700s. You will find out that it did not degenerate, but rather that it started as a simple and relatively plain ceremony, that slowly gained features and ideas over time. Before the 1600s, the Masonic ritual, if it existed in any organized form, was ultimately simple, and very "operative" in nature. After the membership boom and the combined creative genius of the early brethren, by 1720 or so the rituals are fully formed with language and ceremonial elements (that did not previously exist) which have now been adopted into the Endowment as well.

Masonry went through a building UP phase, not a breaking down. And if you will do some research on this time period you will find this to be so.

Now I'm going to be very specific, but I won't explain further, and if you don't know what I mean, I apologize.

There are two types of signs in Masonry and in pre-1990 Endowment. One of them is called a Due-Guard (Masonry) or simply a Sign (LDS), and the other type is called a Penal Sign (Masonry) or a Penalty (LDS). I cannot go into details, but I will say that the signs themselves are substantially different from one another to the point that those who are members of both do not find themselves 'infringing' between the two. The fact is, that if you search out Masonic history you will find that the Penal Sign (Penalty) is the ancient sign, and that the Due Guards are a recent innovation. In Mormonism, both were adopted into the Endowment, but in 1990 the Penalties were removed. This means that Mormonism has kept a recent Masonic innovation while throwing out the actually Ancient part of covenant-making.

I will not comment on the specifics of these gestures from the point of view of either institution. But this is one example, among many, of how Masonry built up, and how Mormonism took the part that was added, and in this case, rejected the part that was original.

Now I propose different answers here, and this is directed to you Bryce, because this type of belief is not something that Masons are expected to hold: Perhaps this type of sign (or due guards) did exist in Solomon's Temple. For the record, I believe they did. But they were lost before Freemasonry itself was founded. The relatively modern Masonry of the 1700s has recovered their use, not by studying history but by, in my opinion, divine inspiration. Joseph Smith took what had already been restored, in this case, and ran with it. Sure, further details were restored to him, but the basic idea was already in place. The problem is, Joseph claims to have restored something ancient, and he said, in essence, that "when the ordinances change you have a change in the priesthood." The church, having abandoned the use of penalties, has discarded not only part of covenant making, but something that Joseph instituted as a restoration of a divine order of ancient priesthood. We aren't talking about leadership or guidance here, or a direction for God's people. This isn't the type of stuff that should change over time, but the very keys of the priesthood themselves. If Joseph restored them, then why have we thrown some of them back out? As a matter of fact, only three of the tokens (secret handshakes) and two of the signs (due guards) remain the same as when Joseph instituted them, without even considering the dropping of all the penalties. Regardless of what any of that means, we, as Mormons, are dealing with a very transient and fluid ritual today. It does not reflect ancient things by and large (although some parts of it still do!), as many of the most ancient parts have recently been removed. The Church apparently did not use revelation to remove these things, because many Saints recall the survey that went around in 1989 before the changes were instituted, and it was obviously a result of the answers given on this survey that caused the changes to be enacted. (Of course it could have been God's will that they conduct the survey.) In like manner, a survey went around in, I think it was 2002 (but I don't recall exactly), which I myself took part in, which probably directly preceded the changes made to Initiatory in 2005, although this wasn't as explicit or as significant, so the connection may not be as apparent.

I don't mean to try to challenge your faith, my brother, but I do want to help soften your edge by assisting you see some wider perspective here. Your opinions and beliefs are your own, and they are fine, but I want you to study out the facts and the history so that you can demonstrate a deeper, working knowledge of the material of which you are speaking, and thus be more impressive in your comments, and come across in a way that makes people more willing to listen to what you have to say.

Mormons, at large, take their ritual as a matter of Faith, and do not question (and often never even consider) the evolution that it has gone through. Masons, on the other hand, are often inclined towards historical study of the ritual itself. We have older rituals or portions of rituals published in even such widely read volumes as the Scottish Rite Research Society's annual publication, Heredom, and we are generally more well acquainted with the history and development of our ritual than the average Mormon is with their ritual. (This is a generalization, there are people on both sides who show opposite characteristics, of course.) We are sometimes even aware of who made changes, when, and why. We are aware of standardization efforts, such as the Baltimore convention in 1843, and on top of this, because of Grand Lodge Sovereignty, we have multiple editions of the ritual actively being worked around the world, and by study of those we can deduce the lineage and history of the ritual as it traveled around the world and, in this specific case, eventually landed in the back yard of Joseph Smith in the 1840's. This is not to mention the many exposees which have been written of our work, often including a date and very specific details as to how they were obtained (however questionable the accuracy may be at times.) Sorry for being longwinded, but I'm trying to say, we have a huge historical wealth of information, and you're summing it up by saying that "it originally evolved from the temple environment" ... "given by God to those who practiced them in the temple of Solomon" and was "handed down through time, gradually departing from the divine symbolism it once had." is speaking of it as a pre-history, whereas we have a very tangible, actual history to look at, which has not been considered in the summary you have given it, based on assumptions and some well intentioned faith.

May you find something worthwhile in your search. Thank you for putting up with my lengthy comment!

Anonymous said...

Are you really that looney, or are you that brainwashed? Elohiem is bullshit and Joseph Smith was a con man and a thief who died like a con man and a thief. Brogham Young was a child rapist and the LDS is nothing more than a money making cult. Wake up!

Anonymous said...

Well, I guess we disagree then. Thanks for your explanation though.

And Anon, no, and no.

Bored in Vernal said...

Jeff, thank you for this post and helpful comments. I am another Mormon who is interested in the historical development of the endowment. I was taken by your statement that "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." Would you care to elaborate on the type of teaching which was done concerning symbolism? Did this take place during the endowment ceremony itself? What evidence do we have that nineteenth-century Mormons were more aware of the meaning behind the symbols than Latter-day Saints today?

James Morgan - Puritan Financial Advisor said...

A couple of things I'd like you to think about, because I believe you aren't evaluating the whole picture in depth.

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