Examiner.com - Society & Culture
The Lost Symbol, Mormonism and Masonry
September 21, 2009
Rumors and clues on the dust jacket of The Da Vinci Code led some to believe that elements of the church's relationship with Freemasonry would be emphasized in "The Solomon Key," the working title for Dan Brown's latest block buster book. The title was later changed to "The Lost Symbol."
Dan Brown's 2004 visit to Salt Lake and interest in Masonic symbols on the Salt Lake Temple elevated curiosity and speculation about his plans to discuss Mormonism's curious relationship with Freemasonry. "He was, of course, very interested in the symbology on the Mormon temple...he was interested in the pentacles and the suns and the moons and the stars and all that. So, I gather his primary interest was to sort of see the Mormon embellishment of masonry as it exists, in his mind, of course..."[Aaron Wilhelm, tour guide]
An in depth discussion of Mormonism and Masonry was a cause of concern, as the history of Mormonism and Masonry is unique.
Joseph Smith and Masonry
A national anti-Masonic movement took off when William Morgan published secret masonic rituals in 1826. Morgan was abducted in Canandiagua, NY, less than 10 miles from Joseph Smith's home. Rumors that a missing Morgan had been murdered by masons in retaliation for the expose' further fanned the excitment.
Four years later, the publication of he Book of Mormon raised criticism that the book was an anti-Masonic work. "Secret Combinations," a term used to describe masons was used in the Book of Mormon, and the oath-bound "Gadianton Robbers" of the Book of Mormon were thought to be a parallel to 19th century freemasons.
William Morgan's widow Lucinda Morgan later joined the Latter Day Saints, and the church's historian believed she entered into a polygamous marriage with church prophet Joseph Smith in 1839, but some historians doubt she entered a plural marriage with Joseph Smith.
In the fall of 1841, official permission was granted to open a masonic lodge in Nauvoo, Illinois, then the current gathering place of the Mormons.
Joseph Smith was initiated as a first degree mason on Mar 15, 1842 and the next day became a master mason.
Two weeks later on Mar 30th, he organized the Mormon women's organization "The Relief Society" using masonic terminology. He told the women they "should grow up by degrees," they should be "sufficiently skill'd in Masonry as to keep a secret," and they should be "good masons."
On May 4th, Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum introduced the Mormon endowment ceremony to nine men. The next day, Joseph and Hyrum received their endowments by these men.
According to Brigham Young, the endowment is a sacred ritual where Mormons receive ordinances "to enable [them] to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the holy Priesthood."
On June 17th, apostle Heber C. Kimball wrote fellow apostle Parley P. Pratt "We have organized a Lodge here of Masons since we obtained a Charter. That was in March. Since that thare was near two hundred been made masons. Br. Joseph and Sidny was the first that was Received into the Lodg ... Thare is a similarity of preas Hood [priesthood] in Masonry. Bro. Joseph Ses Masonry was taken from preasthood but has become degenerated. But menny things are perfect."
On Oct 2nd, the Nauvoo Lodge was suspended for abuse of its charter, however 19th century Mormons continued Joseph Smith's masonic tradition.
"Is There No Help for the Widow's Son"
One of the clues about The Lost Symbol on the dust jacket of the Da Vinci Code contained the phrase "Is there no help for the widow's son." Some feel this was a masonic distress call being uttered by Joseph Smith as he was shot and killed in 1844.
Brigham Young recalled "Joseph & Hyrum Smith were Master Masons and they were put to death by masons or through there instigation and he gave the sign of distress & he was shot by masons while in the act."
Tensions between Mormons and masons continued after the Latter Day Saints migrated to Utah. Brigham Young continued "There are other Masons sent to this territory for the same purpose to Establish a lodge here & try to get an influence with some here to lay a plan to try to murder me & the leaders of the Church But they will not accomplish it."
In 1900, the last surviving Nauvoo Mormon Freemason, and Church President Lorenzo Snow authorized a statement opposing secret societies including freemasons. Utah's Masonic fraternity prohibited Mormons from joining masonic lodges beginning in 1925.
The president of the Mormon History Association, Reed Durham Jr. gave a presidential address in 1974 entitled "Is There No Help for the Widow's Son" detailing his research into the Mormon / Masonic relationship that had been largely forgotten. Durham's speech was not well received by some and he discontinued speaking or researching the topic.
By 1984, tensions between Mormons and Utah masons had eased and Utah Masons began allowing Mormons into their fraternity.
The sacred nature of the Mormon temple endowment makes open discussion of it a concern for members of the LDS church. Speculation that Dan Brown's book might provide an in depth analysis of Mormonism, Freemasonry and temple worship made church members uncomfortable. News of his 2004 visit to Utah added to the speculation.
However Dan Brown's "The Lost Symbol" only mentions Joseph Smith twice, (and indirectly refers to the temple endowment) once in reference to baptism for the dead, and other about the translation method of the Book of Mormon. What potentially could have provided difficulty for the church having to explain details of its temple ceremony to a widespread international audience turned out to to be a non-issue.
Clair is a systems engineer by day and a husband and father by night. The rest of the time he enjoys hiking, skiing, and a little Mormon history. He also manages these sites: Mormon Church History (a tour through Mormon history); Today in Church History (a few items that occurred on this day in...