Episode 145a: Mormonism and Masonry: Into the Restoration Part 1

59 comments on “Episode 145a: Mormonism and Masonry: Into the Restoration Part 1”

  1. Megan Reply

    Good to see the new bits up.

    George – I know you’ve put an enormous amount of work into this, and your grasp of a wide range of subjects (Mormonism, masonry, early American history, protestant religious history etc) is extremely impressive, but I find myself getting lost in this wealth of detail you’re providing. Have you ever, for your own use or whatever, produced any charts or graphic representations of the relationships between the belief systems? A simple chart showing phrase commonalities (with dates of first use in each system) would be awesome, for example, as would something similar for doctrinal or belief commonalities, ritualistic comparisons…

    I’m particularly interested because in this episode, and I assume in the upcoming one which I am listening to next, you’ve made a tantalizing case for masonic influence FAR beyond just the temple ritual which is where most people who are aware of a connection stop.

    • Anonymous Reply

      Hey Meagan- Thanks for you comment. This morning I listened to this portion of the podcast, and I see exactly what you are saying. ūüôā ¬†There are several main point though that I hoped to convey.

      1. Joseph Smith was raised in a Masonic family in which the family likely discussed religion and Freemasonry in an interlinked way, similar to their Masonic contemporaries like Hosea Ballou and Salem Town. While not mentioned in the podcast (an oversight) Joseph Smith Sr. and Hyrum Smith were also Freemasons, thus taking this conversation right into the Smith family house around the kitchen table.

      2. The Smith’s were interested in magical practices, however, the guiding force behind this was in fact Freemasonry. Current historians have tried to bifurcate Joseph Smith’s magical activities from his religious pursuits; and they are wrong to try to separate these elements. In fact freemasonry, magic and religion are continually tied together and developed throughout Joseph Smith’s ministry.¬†

      3. The Smith families interest and borrowings from the Universalists movement must be looked at through a Masonic lens. Joseph’s Smith’s conception of the godhead and the process of becoming a God are a synthesis of ideas from Universalist doctrine, Freemasonry and Magic.

      Many of the elements I have laid down in the Vermont era are elements that I plan to develop in the final session of the podcast. I wanted these elements to percolate with the listener for a bit, before I finally develop them. One example of this is the Smith family’s interest in Masonic-Magic in the Vermont/New York era. In the Kirtland era this idea reasserts itself when Joseph Smith uses his Magic and Masonic sources to rebuild the Adamic language. As we get into the Nauvoo era, I will build on several of these ideas to give you a clearer picture of what Joseph Smith is doing.

      One other thing happened in this podcast that made this section a little hard to follow is that John was, and I think rightly so, pushing me to discuss the exciting content that came out in the New York era. I actually shortchanged some of the data and analysis in the Vermont era because of John’s haste. In the end I think that John was making the right decision.

      You are indeed correct that most Mormons have thought of the Masonry as only influencing the endowment. IMHO They are completely around in this assessment. The next part of this installment will make that perfectly clear.

      • Megan Reply

        Oh I really liked all three points, and I totally got them, I guess (to contradict myself) in a weird way I wanted more detail – more specific detail. I loved when you talked, for example, about point 2 and how the Smith’s magic use was (at least in part) masonic in form, and you mentioned Lucy’s use of a masonic word – that was so cool! But then I was sitting there wanting to hear a brief outline of the form of masonic magical beliefs directly compared to the form of Smith family/ Early Mormon magical belief.*

        Talk about an ingrate, eh? You give all of this stuff and I whine about wanting more!

        I think you’re right and John had the right idea in getting some focus – it’s often hard, in one’s own field, to limit the info you’re giving because you know how much depth there is, and you know how one influence leads to another and, as an academic, you also have a passion for exactness.

        I am still fascinated though by the thought of a simple visual, maybe taking one or two phrases that are shared by Mormonism and Masonry and are, at least in theory, unique to them and demonstrating how they relate to eachother. Eh, fact is, I do a lot of graphic design so I tend to think visually and visuals help me grasp complex subjects more easily – particularly if a lot of the info is new to me, which is definitely true of the masonic tradition.

        Anyway, I’m sorry if I came off as petty or critical as that was not my intention. I’m glad you’re doing this work and putting the info out!

        *That reminds me – I sort of got the sense that in Masonic tradition a lot of the rituals and the beliefs are metaphoric in nature – that the stories are intended as parables rather than this-truly-happened, while Joseph Smith had a tremendous urge to make all these things that he found so appealing, so fascinating real. So he really wished, for example, that there should be a real temple of Enoch and it should be right here, right beneath his feet, physical and palpable and satisfying. Is that a fair assumption, and then is it also fair to say that Masonic magic beliefs were also metaphoric in nature and not intended to genuinely produce a miraculous or magic result?

        • Anonymous Reply

          Megan- I am just glad that people are interested. I like your idea about some sort of graphic, and there are several places that I think this could be done. If you might enjoy being part of such a project then contact me backchannel.

          • bonoboi

            Magic always seemed to contradict Smith’s religiosity to me so the idea that it was intertwined w/ the Masonic “Science” of the times rings truer to me. That being said, what is your general take on Quinn’s book on Mormonism and magic? And bow much does Quinn “get” about the depth of the Masonic ties that you present in these episodes?

            Fascinating job by the way although I’m interested to see the pictures and footnotes in the upcoming publications to believe some of the looser connections you make. Can’t wait to hear the next parts!

          • Anonymous

            Quinn is a great guy and his research is invaluable to Mormon historians. I have carefully combed through his comments on Masonry, and someday a rebuttal will have to be written because he makes many mistakes in this regard. I actually have a paper oultined entitled Early Mormonism and the Masonic World View which reexamines all of the Magical artifacts through a Masonic lens. I am interested why you think that magic contradicts Smith’s religiosity?

          • Fred W. Anson

            I would also like to get your “take” on Lance S. Owen’s watershed article, “Joseph Smith:¬†America’s Hermetic Prophets” and his award winning article, “Joseph Smith and Kabbalah:¬†The Occult Connection”.¬†

            Here’s a link to a portal page for both:¬†http://www.gnosis.org/jskabb1.htm

            If I recall both of these works preceded the publication of Quinn’s work by a year or two.

          • Anonymous

            Hey Fred- I am going to start a new thread to answer this question.

      • Fifth Columnist Reply

        I know John doesn’t like long podcasts, but I wish he wouldn’t push you to move along. I want to hear all the details because this is explaining so much about early Church history. Masonry answers so many perplexing questions that I think it is the KEY to understanding the origins of the Church.

  2. jed Reply

    All I can say is keep these podcasts coming. I cant tell you how disapointed Ive been over the years in the lack of real scholorship in this area, the few books written on mormonism and masonry are not satisfactory. So when is this book going to be published or have you even written one yet? I am very excited to hear how you tie this into the Nauvoo period. I have lived in Nauvoo all my life and have always thought that a good step in informing the membership about the masonic connection would be to restore the “cultural hall” to what it would have actually been called and what it would have looked like inside. Thank you so much for making your knowlege available and by the way the more detail the better.

    • Anonymous Reply

      Hey Jed- I am glad you are enjoying the podcast and thanks for posting on the ME board. As for publication of this material, I will likely submit the work on the Masonic Cipher and the Adamic language for publication very soon. The work in the second part of this presentation is largely outlined and a draft written. I have the pleasure of working with Mike Reed on this project, however, it will be some time before it is published. In the end we will likely assemble this into a book.

      I too would love to see the Masonic Lodge restored in a proper fashion and have the silly “Cultural Hall” sign removed from the building. Growing up we lived in the midwest and we have visited Nauvoo 10+ times. The last time I was there, I got to spend so time in the Masonic Hall. If you look carefully at the original floor you can see the scratch marks of the 100s of men circumambulated around the room, and the indentations in the floor where each man knelt at the alter “of his own freewill and accord” and promised God that he would mind his Masonic obligation to care for the widows and orphans and to run to the aid of any distressed brother.

      • jed Reply

        Yes the “cultural hall” is such an odd thing. I remember when I was a kid I was in a play put on by the missionaries (a christmas carol) and after our last production we had a social in the upper room and this old missionary who was playing Scrooge told me that back in the 1840’s that the marks in the floor were from dances, which has been the story that has been told for 35 years. It was only years later that I discovered that the real theater wasnt going on¬†in the main floor but in the upper room. I find that promise at the alter¬†that you mentioned above to be so beautiful and meaningful that I cant understand anyone wanting to cover it up, it gives such a tremendous insight into the character of those early saints.

        As a side note I have alot of inside info on the restoration of the masonic lodge including photos of the structure prior to the churchs restoration. If any of that would be helpful to you I could make it available.

      • Utah Webmaster Reply

        George, is there any notification process we can be alerted by when it’s done? Or will the grape vine be the only method? Cant wait to purchase the publications?

  3. Anonymous Reply

    Hey Fred- You asked about my take on Lance Owens work. First of all let me answer that question from a personal angle. I personally deeply grateful for Lance’s work. Because of his paper, I became personally interested in Kabbalah, and if you look on my bookshelf you will find the first four volumes of Pritzker’s Edition of the The Zohar, the Sepher Yetzirah, and the Sepher Rezial Hemelach as well as many other assorted Kabbalistic texts all of which I have injected and absorbed over the years. I would even go so far as classifying myself as a Kabbalistic Mystic Masonic Mason. (How’s that for too many M’s)

    My view of Lance’s work is characterized by the usual scholarly response, there are many places where Lance is spot on, other places where his work is “half baked” but a little more time on the fire would yield a delicious cobbler and other places where he is dead wrong. His review of Kabbalah, Rosicrucianism, Alchemy and to lesser degree Magic are admirable and he provides a very good overview of the subject pulling together the various threads that would interest Mormons. As such I think his two papers, written BTW after Quinn’s work, deserve the awards they receive, especially for breaking some new ground.

    However, Lance is confronted with the same problem that many researchers are faced with, how do you connect these threads directly to Joseph Smith. It is here that Lance does some good work, but at the same time that he makes some of his most serious missteps, especially when he deals with Freemasonry.

    One of the conceptual pieces that Lance Owens lays, which has been largely been ignored, is the difference he places on high vs. low magic. It is here that Mormon historians should have taken Lance’s warning seriously. Is Joseph Smith in effect a low magician who treated his magic in the New York days in the vein of a folk magic, or is he instead to be treated as a high magician in the Kabbalistic tradition. Lance argues for the high road and suggests that Lumen Walters as Smith’s high magic tutor. Lumen is of course a controversial character in Mormon history circles, and while there needs to be some care in interpreting Lumen’s knowledge and role (or lack thereof) in Joseph Smith’s tutelage, I think the evidence is strong enough to put an 80% confidence that he was well educated in magic and was Joseph Smith’s tutor.

    Owens largely leaves Smith’s influence in the hands of Lumen Walters, and it is here that Owens, and to a lesser extent Quinn, fail to emphasize one of strongest Magic and Kabbalistic influences on the Smith family.¬†

    Passed down amongst the Smith family heirlooms are a magical dagger, several magical parchments and the jupiter talisman. How did the Smith’s manufacture this magical paraphernalia? The answer is pretty clear, the construction was dictated and spelled out by instructions provided by Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa. Quinn has noted the Agrippa’s work De Occulta Philosophia (DOP) was likely available and circulating in the the environment. What has been largely missed, however, is that ~80% of Francis Barrett’s book The Magus, which was used to construct the Jupiter talisman, is plagiarized from Agrippa’s work.

    What I found in my Masonic research is that Agrippa believed by both Masons and Anti-Masons alike to have been the progenitor of Freemasonry in France. Joseph Smith’s Masonic contemporary Albert Gallatin Mackey spoke highly of Agrippa and suggested that all Masons should read Agrippa work, and more importantly New York Masons in Joseph Smith’s time period likely viewed Argippa in positive terms. This actually solves on of the mysteries that Quinn tries to sweep under the rug. The Smith family descendants all referred to the dagger, lamens and jupiter talisman as Masonic. In light of this above knowledge, I think that Smith family is passing down family tradition, not making “unwarranted” claims as Quinn has concluded. In fact the available evidence I think clearly shows that the Smith’s looked at their magic as Masonic for this very reason.

    But what does this have to do with Kabbalah. What I think Lance largely, though not completely, missed the boat on, is that Agrippa’s work is primarily a KABBALISTIC TEXT. More importantly as academic scholar Christopher I. Lehrich has pointed out in his thorough treatment of Agrippa, this Christian Kabbalist’s work is somewhat uniquely a semiotic form of magic. Lehrich summarizes Agrippa’s magic in the following terms.

    “In DOP, the consummation of all ritual magic is to effect transparent communication between God and the magus. Ideally, the magus becomes a nexus between God and the World. Linguistically, we might say that God writes His message upon the magus, and the magus translates that message into the World.” (210)

    In studying Agrippa’s Kabbalistic work, I have come to believe that it was through Agrippa writing that Joseph Smith largely formulated his methodology for gaining revelation. The methodology also, I believe, has direct relevance, to Joseph Smith’s modus operandi in translating the Book of Mormon.

    In failing to dig deeply into Joseph Smith’s magical texts, I think Lance Owens largely overlooked Joseph Smith’s most influential Kabbalistic tutor – Henry Agrippa.

    Owens draws potential influence from Ephrata on Joseph Smith. While do need to do more research on Ephrata, I must say that I think there are unresolved problems here. For one Owens suggests that the Ephrata community mixed Freemasonry into their religious stew. I have personally explored this avenue of research, and found that this is likely false. One of the main early historians of Ephrata was a Masonic Grand Historian who injected Masonic vernacular into his retelling of the story of Ephrata. One such occurrence led Quinn to a huge misstep in his EMMWV which seriously  jeopardizes  much of his critiques of the connection between the endowment and Masonry.

    Most important to me, however, is Lance Owens treatment of Freemasonry. Here Owens makes numerous missteps. For one Lance Owens focuses on the higher European degrees of Freemasonry. While these degrees were easily available to Joseph Smith in Light on Masonry, I think he is probably incorrect in taking this tact. In fact Joseph Smith seems predominantly influenced by York Rite Masonry, Royal Arch ritual in particular. However, FARMS critique Owens on this point is also misleading and misguided. Additionally, Owens seems to unquestionably accept the connection between Freemasonry and the traditions of Alchemy, Kabbalah and Rosicrucianism. For this misstep Owens should be gently reprimanded. While there are legitimate connections, one has to seriously and carefully consider which of those connections Joseph Smith are actually conveyed into Masonry in America during the early 1800s, and which connections would have likely been apprehended by Joseph Smith.

    I also think that Owen’s treatment of Bennett, while better than most, is seriously problematic. Some of this I will discuss in the Nauvoo era of the podcast. To put it bluntly, there is no evidence for Owen’s belief that Bennett was schooled in clandestine Masonic practices; and the linking of Bennett as one of the big pushes for polygamy is to me entirely misguided.

    Finally, others have critiqued Owens’ discussion of Alexander Neibaur. I personally think that many of these critiques have been overly acerbic and have largely tried to sidestep Owens’ argument. That being said, I think in the end that Owens’ has focused on the minor instead of the major influence on Joseph Smith conception of the Godhead and deification. In fact Joseph Smith’s source for these doctrines is likely not Kabbalistic, but instead it arrises the Universalist/Masonic reading that the Smith family was exposed to in Vermont. Of the two forces, the Masonic (not the Universalist) reading is the predominant one in shaping Joseph Smith’s ideas on deification.

    So you asked for my thoughts, well, there a few of them.

    • Hermes Reply

      George Miller, all I can say at this point is, “Thank you very much.” ¬†I really like where you are going with all of this info.

      • Fred W. Anson Reply

        Wow! ¬†I don’t know what to say except, “Thank you!” ¬†That’s probably the most in depth and objective analysis of Owen’s work that I’ve ever seen.¬†

        Let me digest it.  I may have a question or two later.

    • JB Reply

      Fascinating, George, and thank you so much for all your wonderful hard work!  I was wondering if you could comment further, based on the research you have done, on what impact you see the Ephrata community as perhaps having had on the Latter Day Saint movement?

      • Anonymous Reply

        Wow, I am worried about answering this and stepping too far out of my circle of scholarly expertise. IOW take what I am about to say with a grain of salt. The literature suggests several different elements which come from the Ephrata community including a mystical bent, the priesthood offices of PP&K, and alchemical view of theomorphic alchemical changes and baptism for the dead. The PP&K idea definitely did not come from Ephrata. The mystical bent may have been influenced by Ephrata, but links to Freemasonry and what Joseph Smith viewed as Masonic Magic. I have carefully traced Joseph Smith’s development of the theomorphic doctrine through Joseph Smith’s reading of Masonic/Universalist literature and the link is much stronger there than to Ephrata. That leaves solely the idea of Baptism for the Dead. So all in all I think Ephrata is at most a minor influence.

        • JB Reply

          Thank you very much, George!¬† I actually live in Ephrata, so I’ve been interested for a while in sorting through the literature on what influences the Ephrata community may and may not have had on the Latter-day Saints (or, on the other hand, what general elements of hermetic thought Ephrata and the Latter-day Saints may have shared, with their respective variations).¬† I think you’re correct that much of what has sometimes been claimed as having precedent in Ephrata (esp. claims to the Melchizedek Priesthood) is more likely derived from other sources, particularly the Royal Arch degree, though I am currently inclined to say that Ephrata is the most likely source for the LDS practice of baptism for the dead and that Ephrata also attests well to several ideas that it and the Latter-day Saints both got independently from the general hermetic and/or Masonic milieu.

  4. RobF Reply

    Great podcast. ¬†Can you provide more details on how this has helped you “understand¬†Joseph Smith’s revelatory process and “how” he both saw visions and translated”?

    • Anonymous Reply

      Given the several requests, I will try and work this into an upcoming podcast. Given the size constraints of this format, it is difficult to present such material here.

  5. Course Correction Reply

    “If things don‚Äôt make sense, I have the freedom to ignore them. If they do make sense, they are mine to enjoy.”

    What a great line. Isn’t it strange that we fight our intelligence and common sense¬†to try to believe what someone else finds true?

  6. Alan Reply

    Tierza, well done!  #5 absolutely kills me, and it applies to the whole B of M.  

  7. simplysarah Reply

    Yes x 5. I stopped reading the Book of Mormon almost immediately after returning from my mission, but it took me 2 years to put my finger on the reason. I eventually realized it was because I could no longer believe in the stark distinction between wicked/righteous, and I was put off by how the “righteous” prophets (like Nephi) talked about themselves and the non-believers.¬†

  8. james hafen Reply

    Amen to #2.  These are the sorta folks Рpreachy, self-absorbed, self-righteous jerks, that still exist in the church today and without doubt with the same sense of grand purpose.

  9. Efef42 Reply

    Maybe it is not in the top five, but it is at least #6 reason that Nephi is the least favorite prophet – 2nd Nephi!

  10. Elder Vader Reply

    Tierza.  Wow. 

    I’m one of those disaffected Mormons who actually harbors a soft spot for the Book of Mormon.¬† This post sliced me wide open.¬† Wow.¬†

    In a cruel twist of irony, I almost want to re-read the entire Book of Mormon just to find more stuff like this. 

    I think I’ve read the BOM so many times with a deferential, uncritical eye that I just missed all of this tripe.¬†

  11. Fred W. Anson Reply

    The “plain text of the Bible” doesn’t bother me at all.¬† I just want to know, if that plain text¬†really does¬†say, as you indicate, that God both has the power to cause the souls of the unsaved to cease to exist, and also¬†has chosen not¬†to cause them to cease to exist, then¬†why in the world¬†should any rational person believe that the Bible¬†really does¬†describe the good God that controls the universe?

    The only answer that I can think of the question you’ve posed…

    “Why in the world¬†should any rational person believe that the Bible¬†really does¬†describe the good God that controls the universe?” … is this one: ¬†Since the Bible is consistent in it’s description of sheol/hell the only reason that a rational person wouldn’t take the plain text of the Bible at it’s word is that they don’t like what it says.

  12. Fred W. Anson Reply

    Kevin Sim
    (up to the top due to indenting problem)
    “Fred, why does whether the character (referred to as the Rich Man) in the story Jesus allegedly told, objected to his fate, or rather was resigned to it, or even was content with it, haveanything to do with the question of whether an alleged deity would cause more good by allowing such a person to suffer unbearable agony forever, than by causing that person to cease to exist after a finite amount of time?

    Furthermore, why does who sent such a person, whether it be God or the person himself, have anything to do do with the question of whether an alleged deity would cause more good by allowing such a person to suffer unbearable agony forever, than by causing that person to cease to exist after a finite amount of time?

    Kevin, you’re clearly working from a presupposition that it’s BETTER to be annihilated than dwell in eternal hell. And you’re working from the presupposition that a good God would annihilate someone rather than allow them to suffer a fate like an eternal hell.

    Apparently, the Rich Man in the story disagrees with you. And if the Biblical text is any indicator, apparently, so does God.

    Kevin, I don’t know why they disagree with you, I just know what the Bible says. I’m neither the Rich Man or God. So why don’t (I ask tongue in cheek) you ask them? In other words, the Rich Man and God have a full body of evidence that’s we’re currently lacking so why are you asking me – ask them!

    Or, even easier, you might consider questioning your presuppositions instead.
    (personally I recommend this one Kevin)

    However, what I do know from the Bible is that God doesn’t send anyone to hell – we choose to go there just like I chose to go to “funds deprivation hell” by going 81-miles an hour in 65-mile an hour zone. The CHP didn’t send me there, I sent me there. The CHP is just and so is God.

    What I do know Kevin – and several other people have already said this to you in several ways – is that I don’t worry too much about the Rich Man’s fate because it’s not my fate. And even though the one Christian doctrine I wish I could ignore or make vanish is the Bible’s teachings on hell, I can’t. I don’t like and I don’t understand it but Christ affirmed it, the Apostles affirmed it, and Moses and the Prophets taught it.

    And they also affirmed that by accepting God’s free gift in Jesus Christ I wouldn’t given eternal life not death:

    “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.”
    (Romans 6:23 New Living Translation)

    What I do know is that I worship a God Who has shown me an abundance of grace and mercy that I don’t deserve throughout my entire life. And even though I have had to endure more “private hells” than I would like thus far in my life, I also know that I’m a better man because of them. Further, my life experience tells me that God is just – even though many times in the midst of those “private hells” I wasn’t so sure.

    And that’s the God I worship – a God who is both loving AND just.

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