Visit to the Masonic Temple
Part of a series about My Faith Journey.
On May 6th, 2017 I visited the Masonic temple in downtown Salt Lake City. I learned about the numerous connections between Mormonism and Freemasonry via these podcasts / websites:
Freemasonry emerged in Medieval times. (It does not trace back to Solomon's temple, despite claims / lore to that effect.) The Protestant revolution was in full swing and religious divisions were deep and often violent, but European kings still wanted their castles / cathedrals / churches built. An order of craftsmen was established that was neither Catholic nor Protestant that could work on the stonework for any building, regardless of the religious affinity of the king who commissioned the construction. This order was free to move about and sell their labor, hence "free" + "masons".
In the fledgeling years of the United States, shortly after its war(s) for independence, many remote communities faced a conundrum when disputes arose: The (federal) government was distant and hard to reach. Since there was no state church (but rather, a (vibrant) competition among churches) they couldn't go to to a single, authoritative, religious leader.
Into this picture enters the Freemasons: a well-established, non-governmental, non-religious, guild with a long history of working in a religiously diverse environment. Many people went to the Masons to resolve their disputes, which they did. This, in turn, led to some anti-Mason sentiment, fueled by public perceptions that the Masons had their hands in everyone's business and were acting in some kind of conspiratorial fashion.
Many early members of the Mormon church were also Masons, including several members of the Smith family. Joseph Smith himself was fast-tracked to the position of Master Mason. Seven weeks after attaining this honor, he proceeded to make the Mormon temple ceremony, which was copied almost wholesale from the Masonic temple ceremony (the major difference being that the tale of Hiram Abiff is replaced with Adam & Eve).
Many Masons were (understandably) upset with Joseph Smith stealing the Masonic ceremony and claiming it as his own, especially because JS had taken an oath to keep the various signs / tokens / handshakes / penalties secret, but he instantly disclosed them to the Latter-day Saints. His actions created an enmity between Mormons and Masons that lasted for many decades.
It is worth noting that Joseph Smith used the Masonic distress signal when Carthage jail was raided. To make the signal, you raise both hands above your head and lower them while saying "Oh Lord my God, is there no help for the widow's son?" He was only able to get the first part of the saying out before he got shot. (Some speculate as to whether it was one of his former, fellow, Masons who fired the first shot, resentful that JS would use the Masonic distress call after his estrangement from them.)
External shot of the entrance & front steps.
Main meeting hall.
Detail of the arch above the stage in the main meeting hall. Note the square and compass. I asked a Mason what the letter 'G' stood for. He replied, "Two things: 1) Geometry, and 2) God."
One of the initiatory rooms. Note the similarities to LDS endowment rooms (altar, seats on both sides, curtain, witness chairs).
Egyptian symbolism as a reference to the construction of the great pyramids and the stonework that was involved.