Masonic Influence on LDS Temple Worship


I recently read an account of a person’s loss of faith in the Church. Among several challenging issues this person mentioned was learning of the Masonic influence on Mormon temple worship. I had a different experience with learning about that issue, and I’d like to describe it on the off chance the PTB might learn something useful about how best to expose our young people to this sort of thing.

My first exposure to the Masonic origin of certain aspects of our temple ritual came from a fireside in the student ward of the University of Illinois in the early to mid 1980s. It was something I had never heard of before. The person doing the fireside was a really sharp and personable CES guy who was visiting Urbana. And the thing I remember most and that made an impression on me is that he was forthright about it and not overly defensive. (Virtually all mainstream LDS materials that broach this topic are needlessly defensive. Far better to own it in my view.) Yes, there are Masonic influences on our temple worship. But he made the point that this was not some deep dark secret; at the time, over 1,500 of the men in Nauvoo were themselves Masons, so the relationship between the rituals was in no way hidden. He followed that up with a bunch of quotes from early Church leaders supporting that point.

Fast forward a couple of years and I’m now in the Chicago area working. One night I found myself browsing in a Waldenbooks in Randhurst Mall in Arlington Heights. (Hard to believe malls used to have actual bookstores; that was obviously a long time ago.) And I pick up a book: Ronayne’s Handbook of Freemasonry. I start flipping the pages, and lo and behold there were pictures of specific things that I had experienced in the temple.

Instead of being freaked out, I thought basically, “Huh, that guy who talked about Masonic influence in the temple was right.”

The lesson I learned from that is that there’s a virtue to being more forthcoming and less defensive about a lot of Church issues. If that guy had assured us it was all a lie and Freemasonry had no relationship with the temple whatsoever and I had then stumbled upon that book, that certainly would have been a faith challenging event. For me at least giving it to me straight and not trying too hard to hide the ball made it so I was not freaked upon seeing pictures I would have been unprepared to see otherwise.




  1. My father, a CES employee also taught his children ( me and others) about the connection when I was growing up. Thus I was never surprised when I learned about it later. Not that I’ve figured it out. Why did Joseph borrow so much? It leaves me wondering about the revelation process in general. How does it get started? And how much is it influenced by our cultural expectations? Hmmmm .

  2. I think- what came first Masons or Temple worship – oh yes, Temple worship. So did the Mason’s use things that made it down through the years? The Lord knew what was going to be needed for the restoration.

  3. It is obvious to me, but more importantly it has always been obvious in the at-my-mother’s-knee sense, that Joseph Smith was a syncretist and that his choices and interpretations developed over time. Those ideas have served me well. But run counter to a slew of myths that use labels such as “unique” and “new” and “without beginning or end” and “original” and “voice from heaven” and “never changing.”

  4. Excellent points, Kevin. For those interested in the origins of Masonic ritual I think picking up Steven Bullock’s Revolutionary Brotherhood is worthwhile.

  5. For those interested, Michael Homer’s “Joseph’s Temples: The Dynamic Relationship between Freemasonry and Mormonism” provides a thorough and engaging history of this issue, chronicling, among other things, how for years a myth was perpetuated that Joseph joined the masons AFTER he introduced the endowment in Nauvoo and how many still cling to the fiction that the temple ceremonies really haven’t changed all that much from the Nauvoo period.

    Anyone who has read Leviticus knows that there is very little about our temple rituals that resembles those of Old Testament times. But the rituals aren’t what’s important; the covenants are. Joseph simply used masonic rites as a model for our ceremonies, which serve has an effective vehicle for introducing important teachings regarding our relationship to our Father in Heaven and each other.

    The CES instructor you encountered in east central Illinois took B.H. Roberts’ admonition to heart: the failure to openly and directly confront these and similar issues will eventually undermine the faith of the youth. Sadly, many of his colleagues have been slow to grasp this principle.

    (By the way, I was born and raised in Urbana. Great university town. Got to see Dick Butkus play all his college games there.)

  6. Maybe I’m just tired but I can’t decipher the acronym PTB in the first paragraph?

  7. Karla, sorry but Masonry rituals came before our current temple rituals. Old Testament temple riturals were not like current.

  8. You’re not the only acw. I can’t figure it out either. I keep thinking PHB, but that’s a Dilbert thing. Primary something? Pollow The Brethren? IDK

  9. I imagine the creation of the temple ceremonies went something like this.
    JS: Hey. I’d like to have temples.
    God: Good idea. Figure something out.
    JS: There are these Masonic guys who are doing some cool stuff. How about I borrow a bit?
    God: Sure. Why reinvent the wheel, right?
    JS: Can I change it if people don’t like it.
    God: Dude. You have keys. You and those you have passed them to can change it all you want. Just don’t do anything stupid.
    JS: What? Like teach that you and Adam are the the same person?
    God: You have no idea.

  10. Not quite, Karla is right as I understand her. Masons didn’t invent anything new. It was already known and passed down. Man changes things over time , as did the New Testament with the Old. But the origin is from God.

  11. Bro. Jones says:

    Mem and Karla—passed down from what? Masonic ritual has its origins in the early middle ages. The original Jewish temple was not a place where endowments or sealing ordinances took place. (As I’ve pointed out before: even if you believe that Solomon’s temple was used for that, it means you believe that Solomon was sealing himself to pagan wives.)

    There are multiple places in the scriptures that depict God making covenants with his people, but there’s no ancient ritual that provides the basis for Masonry. Not to say that Masonry isn’t interesting or anthropologically significant, but ancient it is not.

  12. Aussie Mormon says:

    Don, ACW…. PTB= powers that be

  13. Happy Hubby says:

    I do think that “inoculation” (getting some of the troubling history out on the table) will help keep some from feeling betrayed by the church/leaders. But that is very different than the path the LDS church has taken for many decades of trying to ignore (not talk about) many beliefs in an attempt to appeal to as many US Christians as a Christian church.
    But being this forthright on some topics will possibly drive others away. What if Pres Hinckley had answered “Yes, we believe in eternal polygamy for the highest degree in heaven” instead of “we don’t talk/teach about that”? Pres Hinckley was very media savvy.

  14. Kevin Barney says:

    Aussie, thanks for explaining PTB. Yes, it means “powers that be,” and in this context church leaders.

  15. Eric Facer says:

    Mem and Karla—Bro. Jones is correct. Freemasonry has its origins in the late Middle Ages. While Masonic rites clearly incorporate ideas and stories from the Old Testament, there is no chronological connection to the ancient Middle East. Homer’s book addresses this issue in exhaustive detail, drawing upon the latest scholarship in the area.

    As I said before, I do not find any of this troubling. Our temple practices differ from those of the Israelites. Our conception of priesthood authority differs markedly from anything in Biblical or Book of Mormon times. The same is true with respect the organization and operation of our modern church. What we do have in common with our ancient ancestors is a desire to know God and become more like. The superstructure created in each era to accomplish that goal was unique and heavily influenced by the needs and customs of the people at that time. And it also, I believe, benefited from divine inspiration.

  16. Not a Cougar says:

    JLM, I can’t remember the last time I laughed out loud at something on this site (smile quietly to myself? All the time, but laugh out loud? No way).

    Separately, I recall some Church video clip on temples put out maybe 10-15 years ago where someone being interviewed (no idea who he was) mentions that research on what we would consider “temple worship” in early Christianity was just in its infancy but starting to reveal some “interesting correlations” to modern temple worship. Can anyone vouch for the accuracy of that description and/or recommend any good sources on the topic of temples in early Christianity outside of Jewish Christians and the Temple of Zerubbabel/Herod (or at least not solely focused on that)?

  17. When I was getting ready to receive the temple endowment, I was taught that the Lord revealed the covenants that the saints needed to make and left it to the prophet to decide on the best vehicle to convey the seriousness of those covenants, and that the prophet had chosen to adapt parts of the rituals of the masons as that vehicle. All of this was in the context of explaining why certain things would seem unfamiliar and weird. So I never experienced any big revelation that the endowment was similar to the masonic ceremonies. And when I got to BYU and some of my friends and roommates started talking about it like it was shocking, I was just sort of like “well, yeah, the prophet got a lot of the ceremonies from the masons, what’s the big deal?”

    When I got older, I began to see the ceremony more as a looking back to the Kirtland endowment, which, obviously, didn’t have the masonic elements that the Nauvoo endowment would have. (I blogged about that here at BCC. That view fits nicely with what I was taught: that the mechanics of the ceremony (which includes all the masonic stuff) are not the endowment itself, but are a vehicle to convey the endowment, because the Kirtland endowment was given through a different vehicle.

  18. While the Masonic rituals are from the Middle Ages, they clearly tried to incorporate elements from Egyptian mythology and rites (specifically about Osiris and Iris I believe), which themselves have a clear relationship with the Elyeusian mysteries (I think even Plato noted this connection, but I can’t Google find the quote right now).

    It’s completely disengenuous to teach that there was no connection of any kind. I suspect that those making this argument are relying on the fact that we can’t talk about the specifics outside of the temples, but to anybody that has seen those pages or sites it’s really indisputable.

    So I agree with the OP but I think we need to be careful about framing here. If it is taught in terms of “Joseph was creative and pulled in elements from his surroundings,” then that’s a wee bit naturalistic. Rather (and this is what I believe), something along the lines of “God speaks to different people in different ways according to their context and circumstances. Forms of the endowment ceremony are found all over the world and throughout time (Ancient Egyptians, Ancient Greeks, etc.), and symbolic entries into the presence of God, the use of secret words and names for admittance into holy areas, and liturgical re-enactments of sacred stories involving sacred stories of creation, death, and resurrection are all archetypal rituals. Following previous pattern, God used the materials at hand to communicate to Joseph Smith these principles through the structure of masonry.

  19. And here I was trying to work out PTB with the help of the Urban Dictionary: “PTB, is to ‘Pass the Buck’ “.

    JKC, Glad to hear someone actually tried to prepare another for the temple experience. The total of my preparation was repeated instruction (re other churches) that ritual was bad/weird/of the devil. Later involvement with official temple preparation classes was useless in preparing people for the aspects of temple “worship” that some find troublesome.

    I won’t hold my breath that the PTB will notice.

  20. To be clear, the preparation I described above was not in the official temple prep class. It was personal conversations with my priesthood leaders. Honestly, I can’t remember if I even took a temple prep class or not. I might have, but if I did, I don’t remember it.

  21. Happy Hubby, I’m going to pick on you, but hopefully not too disagreeably (that’s an apology in advance). Not to address the “eternal polygamy” point—because I don’t know that there is a right answer and because it would be a threadjack. But regarding inoculation.

    I would argue that Kevin’s main point — that there’s a virtue to being more forthcoming — is correct AND that there really isn’t a counter-argument. The counters that are made (that I hear) take the flavor of preserve-the-faith or protect-the-innocent or don’t-drive-away. However, I would argue that preserving a false image does nobody any good. It’s equivalent to baseball baptisms—just get them wet and then try to hang on? It is a fragile strategy, and perpetuates a false image of what the gospel is about.

    On the other hand, there are certainly time and place and manner issues. Information can be introduced in a matter-of-fact mature way, as described by almost everybody here including the OP. Or can be introduced in frightening red letters with a “GOTCHA” label. I would avoid the latter. But I think the really interesting question is when and where to discuss these kinds of things? I advocate making the youth programs—age 12 to the end of secondarily school in current practice—a really rich and complex period of church education, including everything that ever comes up in inoculation discussions. I suspect that youth program timing is controversial.

  22. Joe schmoe says:

    I agree. I learned about this years ago and it’s never bothered me. I always feel bad for those who wrestle with temple stuff- LDS believing that the temple ceremony was manifest out of a vacuum is just as silly as evangelicals believing the Bible was manifest as a bound, closed cannon.
    Christianity regardless of its denomination has commonalities.
    Ritual practices & sacred rites regardless of origin will have ceremonial commonalities.
    I have a feeling that the temple ceremonies were most meaningful to our early kin since they would recognize the language of symbolism where we are far away from familiarity now.

    One snippet of a convo my wife & I had last week:
    Her: “the temple is different when you first go, but that seems expected since it’s not normal church.”
    Me: “ right? No one else does any type of real ritual worship anymore, but think about it- in Jesus’s times, people went to the temple and literally felt connected to god by watching an animal get its throat slit and bleed out”

  23. Bro. Jones says:

    Tiberius–What you said. :)

    Eric Facer: whoops, you’re right. I thought Freemasonry was attested by the 11th or 12th centuries, but looks like I was off! Late middle ages is correct.

  24. Eric Facer says:

    Christian, further to your point, after B.H. Roberts edited “The Comprehensive History of the Church” he was criticized for omitting some of the alleged miracles surrounding the assassination of Joseph Smith, such as the attempted beheading of the prophet and the bolt of lightning that supposedly prevented it. Here is Roberts’ answer to that criticism:

    “Suppose your youth receive their impressions of church history from ‘pictures and stories’ and build their faith upon these alleged miracles [and] shall someday come face to face with the fact that their belief rests on falsehoods, what then will be the result? Will they not say that since these things are myth and our Church has permitted them to be perpetuated… might not the other fundamentals to the actual story of the Church, the things in which it had its origin, might they not all be lies and nothing but lies?

    “[Some say that] because one repudiates the false he stands in danger of weakening, perhaps losing the truth. I have no fear of such results. I find my own heart strengthened in the truth by getting rid of the untruth, the spectacular, the bizarre, as soon as I learn that it is based upon worthless testimony.” (“Defender of the Faith: The B.H. Roberts Story,” by Truman Madsen.)

  25. Dog Spirit says:

    It’s conversations like this that really make me wish we would give up on the whole secret/sacred routine and get real, peer-reviewed scholarship on the temple. My whole life I’ve been surrounded by men slyly winking and hinting at the sacredness and ancientness and connectedness, etc. without providing legitimate evidence that would stand up to outside scrutiny. Unless these things can be discussed openly, we’ll continue to see folklore being passed around to support a literal, fundamentalist understanding that Adam and Eve and all the ancients were making the same covenants and wearing the same ritual clothing as we do. We need open discussion of the covenants, too. Before I went to the temple, I knew about the masonry and dealt with it as some commenters above have indicated: by believing it was the covenants, not the vehicle, that mattered. That understanding crumbled away when I heard the covenants, which my spirit finds less expansive, ennobling, and Christian than the baptismal covenant. I found there a lower, more tribal law than what Christ taught, and have never had the opportunity to discuss it because of our cultural taboos. Inoculation is great, but it’s only half a solution without honesty and openness about all aspects of temple worship.

  26. Good post. I agree the only way to discuss any issues in the church is honestly and openly. In my current calling I interview all members in the stake going to the temple for the first time. During our interview in a respectful and reverent manner I walk them thru the entire temple experience, from the time they present their recommend at the front desk until they walk back out. We read scriptures. We discuss the prophet Joseph’s development of the temple endowment, including Masonic connections (and everyone is different so depending on the person and their situation, some times we barely touch on some points and with others we may get into more detail). We discuss doctrine and symbolism.

    If you take the temple experience from the time you walk in until you walk back out, there is very little we have actually covenanted not to disclose (I never disclose those). In my opinion, the rest, if discussed in the right manner and spirit can be very helpful.

    The temple prep class has some good material but it doesn’t prepare you at all in knowing what to expect. Or even in understanding much of the symbolism. I visit with everyone after and they all have been very grateful for knowing what was going to happen.

    And I’ve had 4 people who have come back to me and said that after our discussion they have come upon the Masonic material/connection in people’s attempts to influence them away from the church. Because we talked about insuch an open way they felt comfortable coming back with more questions and they had a good experience with it.

    Thanks for your post.

  27. To build on Dog Spirit’s comment, I think there would be benefit to not being secretive about the non-token covenants themselves before the ceremony. The temple rightfully emphasizes making the decisions to bind ourselves covenantally “by [our] own free will and choice,” but when when you’re sitting there with family and friends doing the same thing and you literally have a few seconds between when the covenant is presented and when you have to decide whether to accept it–how much free will and choice is involved? To expect anybody to do anything otherwise is to demand a level of independence of spirit that is quite rare (although I have heard of people walking out of the temple ceremonies). By knowing the text of the covenants beforehand people can really decide for themselves whether they are ready and willing to enter into those covenants.

  28. Definitely a Cougar says:

    Not a Cougar:

    Now and then I run into material that falls under the moniker “Temple Studies.” Most of it is an attempt to force parallels between modern LDS temple ordinances and rituals in the ancient world. I struggle with it. Most of it just seems so strained that I can’t get my head around it. What I’ve concluded is that if you look hard enough and are creative enough, you can “discover” parallels between almost anything.

  29. All of the above is well and good. Some very astute and sensible analysis. However, none of that addresses how the church, officially and by not correcting the ruminations of its ancient apostles (meaning over 80 years of age), actively taught that the temple ceremony was from God, through Joseph. This is just one of many lies (faith-promoting, milk before meat, whatever…anything but the truth is lies) I grew up with. My deep sense of betrayal and having been manipulated is not ameliorated by learning (many years ago) that scholars and some of the more “woke” GAs have long known the truth about this particular issue.

    So, let’s give them another 20-30 years and they (the oft-touted “inspired by God” GAs) will finally publicly acknowledge the truth about this, as they have with regard to…(from a comment I posted a couple of years ago:)

    “Can God not make up his mind about evolution, birth control, the length of missions, the age of missionaries, the source of being gay, the respect and acceptance of gays, the treatment of women, the “mark of Cain,” the treatment of the children of gays, and we “patty-cake, taffy pull” Mormons that think we have justifiable complaints about all the baloney we have been fed via the imprimatur of “the Lord’s anointed?”

  30. fbisti,

    actively taught that the temple ceremony was from God, through Joseph.

    I’m pretty sure nobody here’s disagreeing that the temple ceremony came from God, through Joseph (and Brigham, and others who have made changes to it).

    What Kevin (and others) are saying is that Joseph didn’t create the temple ceremony (or, alternatively, God didn’t reveal the temple ceremony to Joseph) out of whole cloth. Rather, he used Masonic symbols and practice to communicate what he was inspired to communicate.

    I mean, I get that some members are deeply uncomfortable with that—I was once teaching a temple prep lesson, and my wife or I mentioned the relationship of Masonry and temple practice, and an older member flipped out. She was furious that we’d mention something so obviously anti-Mormon. But she was wrong, and that was fine.

  31. Ken, thanks for the post! A good reminder. And man, the temple is beautiful. President Russell M. Nelson, Elder Richard G. Scott, the scholars Sam Brown, Jeff Bradshaw, and Terryl and Fiona Givens have all helped me see some of that. The histories that Richard Bushman and, in particular, David Buerger’s history of the temple endowment have helped me better appreciate how the fundamental covenants and story came from God and how much of the form that it took (and some content, perhaps) was related to the 19th century context. I think Terryl Givens discusses in several places the idea that, while Joseph Smith received much by way of “vertical revelation” (directly from heaven), he was also a syncretist (which Christian has mentioned) and emphasized horizontal revelation. He would take truth from wherever he found it and preached the importance of getting truth wherever you could, so you could “come out a pure Mormon.” Which to me, is awesome, because there’s so much that is good and right.

  32. Tiberius and Dog Spirit, lack of transparency about the covenants involved really hurt my temple experience as well. I’d taken a pretty open Temple Prep class, knew about the Masonic connection, and learned just about every Church-sanctioned thing I could before I went. But I could not get a single person to tell me what the actual covenants I was making would be. When they finally came up (especially the gender-specific ones), I felt completely blind-sided. And Tiberius, I actually considered walking out but didn’t think I could do so since my family and childhood ward members were all there with me. And since then, there’s no Church-sanctioned way to study the covenants themselves – you have to go back and do the ceremony again, where you’re once again required to agree to the covenants rather than simply consider them.

    I really don’t understand why it’s set up that way – the baptismal covenant, for example, is discussed and taught at length both before and after you make it. Seems like a much better way to go.

  33. What Sam said.

  34. I’m always disappointed to hear that people didn’t know beforehand what the temple covenants were. That’s evidence of bad temple preparation, which may be the unfortunate default, based on what I’ve seen in my current ward. The church used to put out a little booklet that drew upon Elder Packer’s book The House of the Lord. That is pretty specific about the covenants, and when I’ve taught Temple Prep or Young Women, I always list the covenants one by one. They’re in the book, so there’s no reason they can’t be shared. I’ll add a link to the booklet in a subsequent comment. See pages 34-35.

  35. LDS publication, “Preparing to Enter the Holy Temple,” (2002).

    Click to access 36793_eng.pdf

  36. Wondering: thanks for the link. It’s not too shabby, and while I recognize the covenants being described, it still doesn’t directly describe the covenants of obedience and consecration, which I think are the ones that bother folks.

    On that note: I don’t recall being instructed not to discuss or identify the covenants themselves. Is there any specific prohibition against doing so?

  37. Wondering, the booklet you posted leans on the following quote by Talmage regarding temple covenants:

    “The ordinances of the endowment embody certain obligations on the part of the individual, such as covenant and promise to observe the law of strict virtue and chastity, to be charitable, benevolent, tolerant and pure; to devote both talent and material means to the spread of truth and the uplifting of the race; to maintain devotion to the cause of truth; and to seek in every way to contribute to the great preparation that the earth may be made ready to receive her King—the Lord Jesus Christ.”

    I was quite aware of this rather generous description of the covenants beforehand. But Talmage’s gloss is expressly not what the covenants actually are. It serves to further mislead members about what they’ll actually be promising.

  38. Happy Hubby says:

    Christiankimball – no kid-gloves needed for me. I am a big boy. I tried to say that I was agreeing with the main point and maybe my comment leaned towards starting an enviable thread splintering. I agree with your comment’s second point that how/when something is said can make a difference. Just look at politics (if you can stand to do so).

    I am with Tiberius and omjs that the more bothersome aspect is how you don’t know what exactly you are going to commit to ahead of time, but golly everyone is excited about it. You are first asked if you don’t want to take on the still unmentioned covenants you can leave. That seems the equivalent of excitedly telling me to sign a piece of paper with all the words above it covered with a sheet. Even after going through the temple, I don’t know why we can’t talk about that part. Currently to me the commitment/devotion requested to the church organization rather than God is more problematic than the lack of it being explicitly disclosed ahead of time. In fact when I am in the temple I change the words in my head to “God”.

    I also very much agree with fbisti that when I went through decades ago, the story was that it was from God and unchanged. I have heard what Sam Brunson mentions, but on this and so many other items that in my lifetime this is approaching being a different religion than I grew up in.
    But with all my issues/concerns/questions/conclusions, I read with envy how much the temple means to others. No matter how hard I tried, no matter how much I fasted, or how often I went, I never came out of the temple feeling anything close to “the spirit” and usually just felt like, “That was weird. I don’t get it.” I don’t say that to diminish anyone else’s experience and I want to respect that.

  39. Speaking at a Stake Conference once, about the temple, I mentioned going through (as proxy) for the fourth or fifth time and being struck with a huge “these covenants are big stuff” and then with an equally huge “but it’s too late for you, pal–that was five sessions ago.” There was a knowing chuckle run through the whole audience.

    What I didn’t mention (over the pulpit) was how angry and deceived that made me feel.

  40. Cody Hatch says:

    I appreciate this post, Kevin, as well as the great discussion here.

    I was wondering what your thoughts are once we add what seems (judging from journals and contemporary understandings) a pretty negative aspect of the early endowment ceremony: its use as a mechanism to teach about polygamy. The secretive nature of the ceremony would have been obvious to all who were also Masons (pretty much all of them), and served as a sifter to see who could be trusted to keep the polygamy secret. Those who successfully kept the secret and embraced polygamy moved on to their 2nd endowment/anointing. Those who participated in the endowment but demurred regarding polygamy, such as William Marks, were marginalized.

    This connection becomes even more apparent as one studies the accounts of the Nauvoo endowments which took place after Joseph’s death, in the temple. I find it pretty disturbing and can see why a lot of Christians view it as a usurpation of Jesus.

  41. My father was a CES employee and I never heard anything about the temple connection to Masonry growing up. He did take me aside and tell me all the covenants I would be making in the temple when I took out my endowment prior to going to the temple, but that was only a day or two before the event. I have felt them same as HH every time I have attended: “that was weird. I don’t get it.”

    Kevin Barney, your approach and comments on issues such as this over the years are much appreciated. IMO this post should be much longer. An in depth side by side comparison of Masonic and LDS symbolism would be appreciated (maybe one already exists on BCC?). I for one find the picture at the top of the post fascinating. The cross over is not just to be found in our temples. It is used in our discourse and rituals on a weekly basis in our chapels as well (raising our arms to the square to sustain callings, etc.)

    Thanks again for this post!

  42. felixfabulous says:

    Great discussion and post. I think this issue encapsulates many of the tensions in the Church today. Joseph taught and others understood that masonry was a corrupt endowment, these rites had been handed down in some form and the masons had them, but Joseph restored the true endowment. This is problematic now in light of all evidence indicating that the masonic ritual came from the middle ages and that ancient temple rites look nothing like what we do in the temple now. That seems to be the same problem with things like the Book of Abraham, they can be understood differently, but we have to grapple with what Joseph said they were.

    Also, the endowment was revealed at a time of great commotion in Nauvoo, there was a secret group practicing polygamy who were largely the group who received the temple endowment. There was also the Council of 50 who were secretive and had their own signs and penalties. There was not the same kind of secrecy around the Kirtland-era ordinances. Why is this secrecy still necessary? Do the Community of Christ folks have a point that if Joseph was caught up in secretive polygamy and having himself anointed King of the World that he may have not been in the best place to receive the crowning ordinance of salvation?

    Joseph taught that the endowment was the secret key mentioned in D&C 129 and the endowment secrets were literally keys to get into heaven. When all of this information is widely available online, this no longer really makes sense.

    I think there are things about the temple that are beautiful. However, I do think it’s very unfair to have the temple be necessary for a mission or a temple wedding and then have people make covenants they didn’t know about beforehand and hold these over people the rest of their lives.
    I also don’t like that these covenants are held up as the most important commitment of our lives, but there is no where to learn or talk about them or the ceremony. It’s forbidden outside the temple and the temple workers are told to direct all questions to the temple presidency. The temple presidency then tells people to pray about their questions and get their own answers. All discussion seems intentionally cut off.

    Also, we are taught in the Church that the ordinances of salvation are available to everyone and that everyone is the same in the temple. What about the Second Anointing? Most members have never heard of it and it seems to be a reserved perk for general authorities and people who dedicate their lives to Church service.

    I would recommend Beurger’s Mysteries of Godliness, it covers so much about the history and changes to the temple.

  43. “But I could not get a single person to tell me what the actual covenants I was making would be. When they finally came up (especially the gender-specific ones), I felt completely blind-sided. And Tiberius, I actually considered walking out but didn’t think I could do so since my family and childhood ward members were all there with me. And since then, there’s no Church-sanctioned way to study the covenants themselves – you have to go back and do the ceremony again, where you’re once again required to agree to the covenants rather than simply consider them.

    I really don’t understand why it’s set up that way – the baptismal covenant, for example, is discussed and taught at length both before and after you make it. Seems like a much better way to go.”

    Amen. I have never heard responses that for me satisfactorily answer why specific information about covenants is prohibited before entering and why it is forever prohibited to discuss specifics outside temple walls. I felt pressured to not only agree to things I didn’t have adequate time to consider or discuss when I first went, but also to spend every temple experience thereafter trying to force my heart to accept gendered and other messages that repulsed me. I was nearly successful–almost losing all confidence in my ability to spiritually discern or to believe in a God that valued women as much as men. The message I gathered about the process was, “This is the only way to get closer to God. If the language is uncomfortable, your intent must not be properly aligned with God’s will–aka, there’s something wrong with YOU not the language. If you keep coming and abandon your pride, you’ll finally ‘get it.'” Unfortunately, my take away (apart from eternal female subjugation) from both the endowment and marriage ceremony language is, “The more ‘righteous’ (or unquestioningly obedient) you prove yourself to be, the more power you will have over others–and that power will make you happy.” I know that isn’t our intent, and that many don’t draw the same conclusions I do, but the point remains that the language matters.

    In addition to open discussion about all the ceremonies, I would like to see prospective covenant makes encouraged (even required?) to observe the ceremonies several times before participating in them.

    I know I keep wearing my pain on my sleeve in my comments, but I don’t know what else to do–I don’t know what to do with the fact that I am deeply committed to my Mormon family and community, but often don’t feel like formal participation in certain practices (including those considered most sacred) actually help me feel closer to God or live more like Christ. How do those of you with major reservations do it?

  44. Kevin Barney says:

    Mike M., bless you for the way you are approaching temple preparation in your stake. What you describe is essentially my vision for what true temple preparation ought to be, and in general it’s just not happening. See this prior blog post of mine:

    Cody Hatch, yes, it seems that some of the appeal of the Masonic framework in Nauvoo was that the ritual taught one how to keep a secret, and this was seen as useful in the effort to promulgate polygamy. Not something most of us really want to think about today, I imagine.

  45. Kevin, Handbook 1 states the following: “Members who enter a temple should be worthy and should understand the purposes and eternal significance of temples. They should also understand the solemn and sacred responsibilities they assume as they participate in temple ordinances and make covenants.”

    I can’t help anyone understand the above without discussing the covenants/blessing they will make/receive. We talk about them all (in a reverent manner, in an interview), including the differences in language for some of the covenants for men/women.

    For those that may be worried about that, next time you are in the temple, listen carefully to what it is exactly that you promise never to disclose or divulge. It is not the covenants you are making. Some have anxiety because in the past (not as much now as in the “old days”) the brethren have said we shouldn’t discuss anything. But you have not made that covenant. And I do think it is generally good advice not to go over the temple details (and just keep it general, like what is in the temple prep book) with someone who has no desire to go or with someone who is negative toward the temple. But with someone who wants to go and who needs to understand, I don’t know why we would not let them know what covenants they will be making.

    I was 100% not prepared for my first temple experience. I could not concentrate at all. I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea what any of the clothing was supposed to symbolize. I had no idea about anything, and I took temple prep. I couldn’t even try to feel anything because I was so confused and just wondering “what is going on here?”. And I was a multi-generational Mormon. I want to help others have a better experience.

  46. Happy Hubby says:

    Sorry if this comment is a bit of a tangent, but it ties into the “why do have have so much secrecy around almost all of the temple?” I learned quite a while ago that I learn (read “memorize”) things MUCH better when read them on paper. Even after going regularly I kept getting just one or two words twisted. I asked on my way out of the temple one day if I could go in the study room with a printed version, but was told I could do that only if I were a temple worker. So what did I do? I went to google and typed in just a few of the words and BAM, there it was. The next time I went to the temple I was able to repeat with no issues. So why keep it such a secret?

  47. Wondering, I had both the Packer book and the “Preparing to Enter the Holy Temple” booklet. Neither contain the actual text of the covenants, unless I missed it. They definitely don’t mention that men and women make separate covenants, or that the female ordinances all include language placing them subordinate to a husband. I had to find that out right at the same time I had to agree to them. (As a side note, it made me absolutely terrified for what my wedding ceremony would look like, though it turns out that wasn’t really founded.)

    Also, Happy Hubby, it is weird that they give you a chance to leave before they actually tell you what you’re going to do, isn’t it? I think even then I asked, “Well, what are the covenants, exactly?” and they still didn’t tell me (I asked everyone I could think of before I went, but nobody ever knows what they’re allowed to tell you).

    CJ, my experience was very similar to yours. I just stopped going, because I didn’t like that the only way to ponder things objectionable to me was if I simultaneously agreed to them. It feels coercive to me. Maybe if I could go a few times and just watch, it would be different.

  48. Thank you, CJ! I am firmly with you. Even as a husband and male (and more now that I am the father of daughters), the covenants have troubled me on gender lines as well as on the full commitment to the Church, which I think the Church even acknowledges to be an imperfect, man-made construct, albeit one guided by God.

    I have been struggling with finding God and faith for nearly 20 years, since I first felt the need to truly know towards the end of my mission. I have never felt like I was having the same relationship everyone else was in the Church with God. The temple didn’t make me feel close to God — it made my distance more apparent and disheartening. The experiences I have going to church on Sundays have made me cynical and dismissive. I have found relief only in the past few months after a horrible family tragedy brought me low enough to give myself permission to look outside the sanitized Church history and explanations and seek God on my own terms. While I still go to Church on Sunday (I am not yet prepared to leave until I am confident since I have a wife and children who do not seem to feel this disconnect as much as I do at Church).

    As part of my exploration, I have found connection and hope through the writings of Christian mystics, like John of the Cross (Dark Night of the Soul), through a discussion of alternative ways of reading and understanding the Old Testament (James Kruger’s How to Read the Bible), the role of doubt (Peter Enns, The Sin of Certainty, and Patrick Mason, Planted). I have also begun trying to see the real history of this Church that has been a part of my entire life, but one I have not truly understood or seen. A lot of this studying takes place in my “Religion 119” Class, which is the name of the empty classroom in the church building where I go to read and study on my own terms during 3rd hour (okay, sometimes 2nd and 3rd).

    Currently, my personal study has been focusing on the temple ceremony, its development and relationship to Masonry. I have just started this investigation, but what I have found so far has been deeply troubling. Just downloading and reading William Morgans, “Illustrations of Masonry” has shaken me deeply. That may be reflective of my prior lack of intellectual inquiry or exposure, but I have spent most of my adult life (including even now) in student wards around prestigious non-Utah based educational institutions. While I can currently preserve my membership by saying, ok, this is limited to the ritualistic aspects (although ones I once viewed as essential to pass into heaven) and Joseph Smith brought in the new ideas and changes to covenants that are the most important parts. However, further reading is now showing that some of these doctrines may have also come from Masonry (see System of Speculative Masonry by Salem Town), or other writers and thinkers of the time.

    I am truly struggling with this and feel that these next few months may be the key moments of my life in the Church. The Church has not been a source of happiness and joy for me. It has caused me self-doubt, confusion and uncertainty about my relationship with God and I have hurt not feeling close to him. So, for me, there isn’t a communal or social aspect to stay in the Church that can necessarily overcome the feelings of being deceived.

    I am humble enough to be confident that I won’t find a smoking gun that shows that Mormonism was made up and isn’t true. But, at the same time I feel there is an avalanche of information out there (from origins of the Book of Mormon, to the timing of the writing of Abraham, to the origin of the temple ceremony, to the changes in the doctrine on tithing coinciding with certain needs/debts of the church, to the priesthood ban, to the current policy on gays and their children). If I didn’t have a family, I would not remain active in the Church while I work through these questions – and doubt I would work as hard to honestly address them. Unfortunately, I have significant fears that my doubts and sincere desire to find God and be a better person through my own path of self-awareness and spiritual discovery will cause me to lose my eternal blessings. So that nice Mormon policy and doctrine tying my salvation, growth and eternal relationship with my family with covenants I promised to make before being told what they were causes me untold guilt and fear — even if it may be completely false.

  49. Mike M, do you summarize the covenants and blessings from memory? Or did you pull the text of them from an online source? I don’t know of any church resources that have them written out (unless you’re a temple worker).

  50. Omjs, memory. But only after going multiple times with the explicit goal to remember each covenant.

  51. This is a fascinating discussion,I’m grateful to see it .My memory of my own experience with the Boyd K Packer book ,which I was given to me by a kind ,concerned bishop after he saw me distressed ,angry and struggling mightily with my first experience of the endowment ,was of flinging it violently across the room after reading a few pages .strangely ,I recall ,I received my first comfort and intimations of God having something to do with the endowment whilst reading Soren Kierkegaard’s “fear and trembling “,a little ,early Christian treatise on baptism ritual in the early church ( Saint Cyril of Jerusalems’ mystogogical catechesis ).and coming across ,in my Art studies ,early Christian depictions of ” Orant prayers ” and people in white with marked clothing and scenes depicting Melchizedek at altars and in front of veiled sanctuaries bearing similar marks .there was something going on there in early Christian worship( reading GK Chesterton and CSLewis was also helpful to me ,but I’m sure that is a particular personal quirk )
    Which is not present now ,except in bits and fragments of ritual ,found in catholic ,orthodox and Coptic liturgy .protestant traditions have pretty well obliterated and denied the purpose and meaning of most of these traditions if they cannot be not found in the accepted biblical canon ( I noticed one commenter saying they are not found in the rituals of the Israelite Temple ,I think perhaps Josiah’s “purge ,”the exile in Babylon and the control of subsequent texts by certain traditions in Israelite religion may have a little to do with that ,but who knows ?).Needless to say I’m sure all of this would come under the heading of what one poster has critically called ” temple studies “,strained parallelism and syncretism which is ultimately,for some ,poorly founded ,self deluding and unconvincing.I think it is obvious that 19th century masonry had a profound influence on the nauvoo temple .when I consider it myself I would encourage people to look at the series of rituals as one ceremony ,baptism ,washing anointing ,ritual clothing ,making solemn promises and ritually entering God’s presence ( it looks decidedly less Masonic when taken as a whole ,and a lot more ancient as an initiation and sanctification ritual ).the parallels with many ancient ,similar and widely spread sanctification rituals are as obvious ,surely ,as the Masonic ones .The connections to early Christian art and ritual (if you include extra biblical sources ,mosaics ,sarcophagi reliefs ,Nag Hamadi texts ,Odes of Solomon ,some notes and references in the Antenicene Fathers ,et al
    In what the critical post named ” temple studies “) are not always ( though sometimes )for me,weak or strained .the evidence for these rituals is strong ,many aspects of them now inexplicable or mysterious (and ,they are so often called ‘mysteries ‘in early Christian texts ).I suppose what I am trying to suggest is a little more open mindedness regarding ritual parallels which support claims of antiquity ,let’s try not not strain for connections ,or make weak special pleading arguments,but surely grant a place for interesting and even convincing evidence ,that something genuinely Christian ,and old was going on in these sanctification rituals .One more personal note .I dont enjoy the endowment ritual much ,probably ,unlike others who have a profound ,even visceral reaction to what seem unequal ,arbitrary or anachronistic oaths ,my discomfort is perhaps a little shallow and aesthetic.It all just seems a little underwhelming and banal ,I’m certain ,in my arrogance ,that put together by folk, other than Victorian lower middle class American and English men ,it might have looked and felt different ,and much more to my personal taste.I feel perhaps on a more serious note ,that some of the structure of promise making ,even language has the same difficulty .the overall shape of the thing .ritual bath ,anointing ,re clothing ,oaths ,creation drama ,becoming part of the drama as priest and priestess at the altar of sacrifice,then to enter ,through stronger and firmer connections to Christ ,Gods presence in ritual embrace ,all seems right to me ,and remarkable as a product of these same 19th century men and women .Finally I agree with all the comments that call for a more open treatment of the temple ritual
    ,I especially agree about some more clarity and openness with regard to the covenant making .When I talk to people about this ,I sometimes talk of the parallels to taking vows of poverty,chastity and obedience required when becoming a catholic ” “religious “,a nun or a monk ,in one of the serious orders ,.I think people ought to know what they will swear ,and that they can decline to make the promise at that particularl time .as a bishop ,and as a father I made that as clear as I could to first time temple attendees (most recently ,my own daughter ).

  52. omjs “Maybe if I could go a few times and just watch, it would be different.” But when you go for a deceased person, you are not simultaneously making those covenants. You are making them only as agent for a deceased principal (who also has post facto authority to reject the covenants made on his/her behalf). Feel free to consider yourself an observer.

    As to the live endowment and lack of preparation and the assertion that “everything in the temple points us to Jesus Christ”, one lawyer suggested to me considering concepts of fraudulent inducement, duress, and contract of adhesion. I wish it were not so, but sometimes they do seem to apply. There may be healthier ways to respond by giving up all-or-none thinking, and interpreting (mentally revising?) the 19th century wording of the covenants so that it becomes true that they point one to Christ. I have sometimes found a great deal of value in Peter’s approach of looking “at the series of rituals as one ceremony ,baptism ,washing anointing ,ritual clothing ,making solemn promises and ritually entering God’s presence…” and sealing. But I remain somewhat envious of those who find the temple experience bringing them closer to God. For me it does not, except when I am left alone in the celestial room. Even them, my clearly recognizable encounters with the divine have always been outside the temple and had nothing discernible to do with it. There are other reasons to continue to participate.

    In a pinch, I am reminded of a Presbyterian minister who in introducing the communal reading of the Nicene Creed on Trinity Sunday said he didn’t understand it and didn’t believe it, but invited all to join in reciting its poetic language as a historical part of the Christian tradition of which they have chosen to be a current part.

    I have also heard it suggested as helpful to consider the sealings as being sealed to the family of God — let the specific human family relationships turn out to be as they may in the eternities. That approach may be part of trusting in God rather than in one’s own (or some Church leaders’) understanding.

    This comment strays widely from the Masonic focus of the OP, but should any care to respond, I remain interested in reactions to these ideas.

  53. Eric, I feel like I have entered a wide new world since laying to the rest the need to support (or destroy) the church as an institution. I feel free to retain all that I understand to be beautiful and godly about my life-long relationship with the Mormon community and teachings and unchained to that which I personally find contaminated. The dissection process is excruciatingly painful at times–I can relate to what you express about being afraid of losing your eternal blessings (family)–I sometimes wonder if I can really rid myself of such ingrained fear, but–if it’s any reassurance, I have experienced a natural dwindling of fear (at a more rapid pace than I expected) as I have carried on in my quest to seek truth from all sources and to only keep the seemingly pure.

    Like you expressed, it isn’t as simple as deciding whether or not you like being Mormon anymore when you have a family–my spouse and children are still (and may always be) happily on board, so it make sense to me to refuse setting foot on the boat–however spiritually precarious I believe such a voyage to be. I am working on a way to conceptualize my position–such as being a human\mermaid that can jump ship, explore, rejuvenate, and then return to the ship to receive and serve as much as I am able. I want to support my family members in their spiritual journeys, just as I hope they will support mine; I want to avoid pressuring them into accepting or even exploring things they are uncomfortable with, because it is precisely that sort of pressure to pledge allegiance to another’s interpretation of spirituality that I so desperately want to escape.
    Thanks for sharing the literature you have found uplifting and\or informative during this time of upheaval. I am really enjoying A Course in Miracles–a Christian (yet quite different) approach to love, forgiveness, and hope that I find rather radical yet refreshing.

    JR, I like your example of the Presbyterian minister, because uniting in something (anything, almost) as a community of faith seems powerfully important. I just don’t know how to best experience\support that when I don’t find the prescribed ways to unite in Mormonism to be uplifting–such as temple worship. I am finding ways to creatively participate in the block meetings, but there seem to be very few options for creativity in the temple. I would be happy to go sit by my spouse (which isn’t even allowed except when doing sealings) and support his way of being spiritually fed if I didn’t have to participate, but there currently isn’t a way to do that. Here’s a tangent, but I find it terribly strange that the genders (and especially couples!) are separated during the endowment.

  54. Oops, “…so it doesn’t** make sense to me to refuse setting foot on the boat…”

  55. JR, I understand that reasoning, but it also feels weird to agree to something I’m not sure of on behalf of someone else. I know there’s a loophole where they don’t have to accept if they don’t want to, but it still feels odd. And either way I’m both nodding and saying the word “Yes,” which to me doesn’t seem like the best way to step outside of something and really consider it. It feels a bit manipulative. But I’ll think on that.

  56. WJW says:
    To Stephen H.
    Re. the revelation process: Jeremiah 23 has a warning from God to the Israelites that their prophets sometimes mistake their own ideas for revelations from God. It ends: “I did not speak, yet they prophesied.” Question: How many revelations have this problem?

  57. Tiberius, yes that is was my understanding about it and the Egyptians.

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