The Princeton Stacks
No jot, iota, or tittle of the temple
is otherwise than uplifting or sanctifying.
Apostle James E. Talmage
The House of the Lord
The conveying of secret handshakes sealed by an oath of
secrecy on penalty of death seemed a ludicrous and chilling culmination to my quest for
divine truth. No pure and holy being could wish such a form of worship, I felt, and
thereafter began to spend one day a week doing research on Mormon history at Princeton
University's Firestone Library.
That the Mormons took seriously the absurdities of the
Temple became evident upon reading an address by Elder Theodore M. Burton, Assistant to
the Twelve Apostles, delivered to the October, 1968 General Conference in the Salt Lake
My dear brothers and sisters, and all who are watching and
listening to these messages: If you were to approach a military installation some dark
night, you would be immediately challenged by a sentry with the question, "Who goes
there?" If you were to answer that challenge with the word "friend," the
sentry would answer, "Advance, friend, and give the password." If you were
neither able to give the password nor to identify yourself, you would be placed in an
embarrassing and dangerous position.
Yet millions of those presently living on the earth are
totally unprepared for death and to enter through the gates of the celestial kingdom. They
know neither the password nor will they be able to identify themselves as a son or a
daughter of God.
Despite Elder Burton's admonition, I could not believe that
heaven was organized as the Mormons asserted. Rather, I asked myself, where on earth did
Joseph Smith acquire these ceremonies?
The Masonic Connection
On the way home from the Washington Temple, a Church member
mentioned that the Mormon Temple ceremony shared some similarities with Masonic rituals.
Masonry, he explained to me, was a corrupted form of the true Temple worship established
by Solomon and reinstated in its original purity by Christ's revelation to Joseph Smith. I
began by looking up "Masonry" in the card catalogue. The Masons, I discovered,
were a secret society bound together by peculiar handshakes sealed by oaths and blood
penalties! Each Masonic "degree" has its own special grip, oath and penalty.
Entered Apprentice. A new Mason is known
as an "Entered Apprentice." The Entered Apprentice's penalty for disclosing his
secret grip is to have "the throat cut across from ear to ear, the tongue torn out by
the roots, and the body buried up to the neck below the high tide line." The initiate
is required to take an oath agreeing to suffer this penalty should he ever convey the
secret handshake to anyone not bound by the same oath.
Fellow Craft. The Entered Apprentice,
having proved true and faithful to the Order, is then qualified to advance and become a
"Fellow Craft." The Fellow Craft learns a special handshake to commemorate his
promotion. He takes an oath of secrecy confirmed with a penalty of having "the left
breast torn open and the heart and lungs ripped out." "This is probably what
that hand motion in the area of the chest represented," I thought.
"So I agreed to have my heart ripped out, did I, if I
ever told anyone about this nonsense?" My feeling of lighthearted spoofing evaporated
when I read the following account of what happened to a disillusioned Mason who told
tales. Reports Samuel G. Anderton (March 15, 1830):
While struggling on the floor, they cut his throat! And
then his left side and breast open, so as to show his heart!! Some, very few Masons
present, seemed by their looks, to express some sympathy and compassion: while the rest,
using the most profane, revengeful language, with their fists clenched, grinned with
"The next day," continues Anderton, a sailor,
"after we got to sea, I threw my apron and masonic papers overboard." Apron?
"God help me!" I said to myself, and read on.
Master Mason. The next level after a
Fellow Craft is to become a "Master Mason." Failure to conceal the secret grips
of a Master Mason calls for "quartering the body and burning the bowels to ash."
"This must be related to the unzipping of the belly," I thought.
Royal Arch Mason. Finally, I read of the
penalty attending the next level of Masonic advancement, that of a "Royal Arch
Mason." Such an exalted individual, should he fall from grace, must submit to be
scalped and his "brains scorched by the sun," a punishment likely to deter all
except the most devoted sun worshipper.
Clearly the Mormons and the Masons were branches of the
same tree. The Mormons slit the throat; so did the Masons. The Masons tore out the heart,
which seemed to correspond with the sign of the second grip of the Aaronic priesthood. The
Masons took an oath of disembowelment, which seemed to parallel the belly sign
administered in the Temple. The Masons wore aprons; the Mormons wore aprons. In addition,
I later observed, Masonic temples looked a lot like the original Mormon temples. Who came
first? No question about that.
The Mormon Church was founded in 1829; the first Mormon
temple was built in 1836, and the first endowments given in the 1840's in Nauvoo,
Illinois. The Masons went back a long way. Mozart was a Mason; George Washington, too.
"Did Joseph Smith," I asked, "have any knowledge of the Masons?"
Joseph Smith and Masonry
The details of the Masonic rituals were first published in
1826 by a disaffected Mason named William Morgan. At the time his book was in press,
Morgan was kidnapped and murdered. His death prompted a tremendous outcry against secret
societies that became an important strand in New York politics.
Morgan lived in western New York, only a few miles from the
residence of the Smith family. Joseph's older brother, Hyrum, was a Mason at the time of
Morgan's abduction and murder and may have been familiar with the members of the lodges
that carried out the deed. In 1842, Joseph Smith established a Masonic lodge in Nauvoo and
on the first night of his participation in the Order received the unprecedented honor of
being raised from Entered Apprentice directly through Fellow Craft to Master Mason,
experiencing the whole panoply of oaths and gruesome penalties. Less than two months later
he initiated his followers into the "newly revealed" Mormon temple mysteries.
The Smith brothers did not need to learn about Masonry from
anyone else. They knew the oaths and penalties at first hand, for they were Masons
The Original Endowment
In the original endowment ceremony Joseph Smith employed
unchanged the gruesome Masonic language to describe the penalties. The phrase: "I
would rather suffer my life to be taken" is a twentieth century alteration and
softening of the original Mormon endowment oaths. Professor Walter Wolfe, formerly of the
Brigham Young College faculty at Logan, Utah, testified before the U.S. Senate Committee
on Privileges and Elections on February 7, 1906, relating a verbatim and
gesture-by-gesture account of the endowment ceremony of that time. Instead of saying
"I would rather suffer my life to be taken . . ." while drawing the finger
across the throat, the Mormons of 1906 said: "I agree that my throat may be cut from
ear to ear, and my tongue torn out by the roots." I can only imagine what I would
have done, had the leader thrown these words at us in the endowment room. Undoubtedly I
would have fled or been led away in a state of catatonic paralysis long before I could
have embraced Elohim at the "veil."
My guess is that as the Church expanded its missionary
efforts after World War I and began to attract a steady flow of convert members from urban
America, the periodic uproar in the endowment rooms caused by the administering of these
oaths to people who had no family roots in the Church was sufficient to inspire a
revelation from Elohim that led to the abandonment of the offending language.
That strange sign in the chest area, testified Professor
Wolfe, "is made by extending the right hand across the left breast, directly over the
heart; then drawing it rapidly from left to right, with the elbow at the square; then
dropping the hand by the side." The original oath that accompanied this sign was more
than sufficient to explain its import. The penalty for violating the secrecy of the second
grip of the Aaronic priesthood, records Professor Wolfe, is "that our breasts may be
torn out and given to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field." Surely such
a penalty was reasonable for violating an oath taken before God. If a mere Fellow Craft
could abide such a penalty, why not a Latter-Day Saint?
The sign that I remembered only as a gesture somewhat like
unzipping the belly is described in detail by Professor Wolfe: "In this, the left
hand is placed palm upright, directly in front of the body, there being a right angle
formed at the elbow; the right hand, palm down, is placed under the elbow of the left;
then drawn sharply across the bowels, and both hands are dropped at the side." The
significance of this gesture, the hardest of all to learn (we were rehearsed several times
as a group before the actual formal oath-taking), became clear upon reading the original
penalty. Should the secret of the third grip be revealed, "you agree that your body
may be cut asunder and all your bowels gush out." Now there's a man's oath, a far cry
from the namby-pamby "I would rather suffer my life to be taken . . ." of modern
Mormonism: a Christian takeoff on Masonry
Mormonism is a marriage of revival Christianity and Masonic
ritual, a blood cult with a Christian face. Elohim's embrace through the curtain on the
"five points of fellowship" is straight out of Masonry as are the
"V's" and "L's" cut into the "veil" and sewn into the
garments. The "L" is the Masonic tri-square and the "V" the compass.
No doubt remained that Joseph Smith had stolen the Mormon Temple rituals from the Masons
and worked them into a playlet about Adam and Eve.
Sitting on a chair in C-level of the Princeton stacks, I
leaned back and took it all in. To find out about the Mormons, I had to find out about the
Masons. To uncover one truth, I had to probe into an even more disturbing reality. The
Mormons, a tightly-knit civilization within a civilization, are mostly considered to be in
a world of their own. The Masons, however, are perhaps the largest fraternal order in the
western world. Hundreds of thousands, indeed millions, of successful business and
professional men are Masons, including former President Gerald Ford. What kind of a world
is this, I wondered, in which the most intimate of fraternal and even religious
associations are sealed by secret obligations of murder?
History of the Sacred Underwear
Setting these disturbing contemplations aside, I completed
my examination of the day's events at the Temple by dredging out some information on the
history of the religious underwear I was now obligated to wear. Originally, I discovered,
the garment, embroidered with square and compass, was long-sleeved and extended to the
ankles. Joseph Smith introduced it "by revelation" at the same time he began the
temple ceremonial. Fitting around the neck like a T-shirt, it compelled women to wear
high-necked long-sleeved dresses that extended to the ankles. Not everyone liked this,
prompting a speech by Joseph F. Smith, a son of Joseph Smith's brother Hyrum, who became
prophet of the Church in 1901.
The Lord has given us garments of the Holy Priesthood, and
you know what that means. And yet there are those of us who mutilate them, in order that
we may follow the foolish, vain and (permit me to say) indecent practices of the world. In
order that such people will imitate the fashions, they will not hesitate to mutilate that
which should be held by them the most sacred of all things in the world, next to their own
virtue, next to their own purity of life. They should hold these things that God has given
unto them sacred unchanged and unaltered from the very pattern which God gave them. Let us
have the moral courage to stand against the opinions of fashion, and especially when
fashion compels us to break a covenant and so commit a grievous sin.
Improvement Era, 9:813-14.
Nonetheless, when the endowment oaths were modified from
their primitive starkness to what they are today, the garments also were abbreviated. The
bulky item that extended from neck to ankle gave way to a short-sleeved style that ended
just below the knee. Originally all in one piece, today's cotton armor comes in a
one-piece and a two-piece fashion. Many old-timers blanched at what they considered
"mutilation" of a sacred article of clothing revealed personally to Joseph Smith
by Jesus Christ. Mystic powers of protection are ascribed to the garments. According to
one popular story, a man emerged alive from a blazing auto wreck because the flames had
been unable to burn any flesh protected by the garments. Some say that Joseph Smith was
shot and killed in Carthage jail in 1844 because he was not wearing his garments that day.
In the nineteenth century the knee mark was cut into the
garment with a knife during the endowment. The cut occasionally slashed the flesh of the
endowee, prompting an eventual outcry from the scarred participants that halted the
No Mormon can attend the Temple (Temple recommends are
subject to yearly renewal) unless he faithfully wears his garments "continually"
- waking and sleeping. Heber C. Kimball, second only to Brigham Young in the early days in
Utah, said in his Celestial Room discourses that for safety's sake he never completely
took off one garment before putting on a fresh one, but would put one leg into the new
garment while the old one still dangled around his other leg. New endowees are instructed
not to show the garments to a non-initiate lest they be held up to ridicule. One Mormon
housewife explained that when she hung them on the line to dry, she put a row of sheets on
either side to conceal them from view. Worn-out garments are to be burned or cut up with
scissors. Faithful Mormons are buried in their garments and the Temple robes as well. An
exposť of the endowment ceremony that appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune many years before
Professor Wolfe's description to the U.S. Senate, contains the following explanation:
Before I go further I must tell how they believe the
entrance into heaven is to be gained on the morning of the resurrection. Peter will call
up the men and the women . . . . If the marks on the garments are found to correspond with
those on the veil (the dead are buried in the whole paraphernalia), if you can give the
grips and tokens, and your new name, and you are dressed properly in your robes, why,
then, one has a sure permit to heaven, and will pass by the angels . . . to a more exalted
glory . . . .
The Veteran's Administration today has three standard
insignia that may be engraved upon tombstones of departed veterans: the cross, the star of
David, and the angel Moroni (a Book of Mormon character). Perhaps the Mormon
representatives in Congress can request that the graves of the Founding Fathers, who died
before the blessed garments were restored to earth, be opened and Temple garments laid
upon the bones, that the authors of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution
not be found to lack "wedding garments" and be excluded from the celestial feast
on the Day of Resurrection.
And, doubtlessly, some day soon, if it has not already
occurred, their descendants and all the rest of those who ever lived will be baptized and
endowed by proxy in a Mormon temple - that the followers of Joseph Smith may be the
saviors of mankind and the rapidly expanding galaxy of Mormon temples may resound with the
"tink-tinks" of celestial hammers opening the portals of heaven to all mankind.