Mason/Endowment Comparison

First posted to on December 14, 1994, by Tim Heaton

An associate of mine is a Mason who wishes to remain anonymous. He recently read the three versions of the Mormon endowment ceremony posted to talk.religion.misc (1931, 1984, and 1990 versions) and has offered the following description and comparison.

It is not our attempt here to offer anything offensive to either the Masons or the Mormons, though we realize that any talk of the secret rites will potentially offend some. We have skirted sensitive elements by simply mentioning their correspondence. Since this is written for a Mormon audience, the document focuses on the Masonic ceremony, and the Mormon reader can assess the similarities for him/herself. We hope this brief comparison will be useful. Since both the Mormon and Masonic temple ceremonies have been divulged and are widely published, anyone wishing further information can research both ceremonies on their own.

It is not our purpose here to confirm or deny the prophetic status of Joseph Smith, but only to show similarities. It is accepted by most interested scholars that Joseph Smith used the Masonic ceremonies, which he was thoroughly familiar with, as a partial basis for the Mormon temple endowment. This will become evident in the following comparison.

1. The nature of the ceremonies and the structure of a Masonic lodge

There are three secret Masonic ceremonies, each used for the conferral of one of the three Masonic degrees. Other Masonic ceremonies, such as the installation of officers and Masonic funeral, are open to the public. The Mormon endowment has four tokens (two for the Aaronic Priesthood and two for the Melchizedek Priesthood), the first three of which correspond in several respects to the three Masonic degrees. The fourth one does not correspond to a Masonic degree but has strong parallels to the final portion of the third Masonic ceremony.

What follows is a description of the Masonic lodge and ceremonies. The officers of a lodge are:

    Worshipful Master (WM)            Marshall (M)
    Senior Warden (SW)                Chaplain (C)
    Junior Warden (JW)                Organist (O) [optional]
    Senior Deacon (SD)                Tiler (T)
    Junior Deacon (JD)                Secretary (S)
    Senior Steward (SS)               Treasurer (TR)
    Junior Steward (JS)
Lodges are dedicated to St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist ("the Holy Saints John").

The 3 degrees are conferred within the body of a "just and legally constituted lodge" of Masons of the degree being conferred. The players ("players" is used here because the part may or may not be played by the actual elected officer of the lodge; usually it is not: it is played by someone who is learning the part as part of his advancement "up the line" of officers) required are:

  1. seven or more Entered Apprentices (EA) to open a lodge of EA's (they are the WM, SW, JW, TR, S, SD, JD); the EA ceremony is called "initiation."

  2. five or more Fellowcrafts (FC) to open a lodge of FC's (they are the WM, SW, JW, SD, JD); the FC ceremony is called "passing."

  3. three or more Master Masons (MM) to open a lodge of MM's (they are the WM, SW, JW); the MM ceremony is called "raising."
Here are the duties of the lesser officers:

M - interrogates candidates for EA
C - reads opening/closing prayers and prayers during the degree ceremony itself
S - keeps a written record "of all things proper to be written," collects dues, transmits money to TR
TR - keeps the books and pays out money
T - guards the entrance to an open lodge from "cowens and eavesdroppers"

The SS and JS prepare candidates to receive the degrees. Candidates must be dressed in a certain way to receive each degree. The mode of dress has symbolic meaning within the degree and was important in old times because it allowed the SS and JS to disqualify women right away (parts of the chest are bare). The SS and JS introduce the candidate to receive the degree.

The layout of the lodge room and the stations of the players are as follows (no one sits in the North):


             O/TR/C            WM             S


    North                     ALTAR                        South
                             HB, S, C                        JW



         Jachin       Boaz
              --------                        ----------
              Prep.Room                       Lodge Door
                Door                              T
               SS & JS
Jachin and Boaz are the names of the pillars that frame the entrance to the lodge from the preparation room. These names are the names of the pillars that framed the entrance to the Holy of Holies at King Solomon's Temple. The preparation room is where the candidate is dressed by the SS and JS to receive the degrees.

G is a very large letter 'G' hanging on the wall above the station of the WM. It is the symbol of the Great Architect of the Universe. HB, S, C are the 3 "Great Lights" -- the Holy Bible, Square and Compass. The HB is open (any random page unless the candidate requests a specific place). The S and C sit on top of the HB. The positions of the S and C on top of the HB varies depending on the degree on which the lodge is "laboring."

An "open lodge" does not necessarily have to be held inside a lodge room. A lodge may be opened in any place:

  1. that is "well-tiled;" AND
  2. where the required number of Masons of the appropriate degree are assembled with the 3 Great Lights.
The JD's duties are:
"To carry messages from the Senior Warden in the West to the Junior Warden in the South, and elsewhere about the Lodge as directed; attend to all alarms at the door and see the Lodge is duly tiled."
The SD's duties are:
"To carry orders from the Worshipful Master in the East to the Senior Warden in the West, and elsewhere about the Lodge as required; attend to all alarms at the door of the preparation room, receive and conduct candidates, introduce and accommodate visiting brethren."
After the SS and JS present the candidate to the SD and the SD takes charge of the candidate, the SS and JS walk move to their stations to the right and left of the JW and stay there throughout the degree.

The duties of the WM, SW and JW are important to the instruction of the candidate and cannot be revealed specifically.

Special clothing is worn by the participants in both the Masonic ceremonies and the Mormon endowment. The black suit and top hat worn by Lucifer in the 1931 ceremony resemble the outfit of the WM. Participants in both ceremonies wear embroidered aprons. In Masonry the aprons are always white. Players in the degree ceremonies have blue designs embroidered on their aprons according to their part (WM, SW, etc.). The brethren in the audience wear plain white aprons. The 1984 and 1990 endowment transcripts exhibit many fewer Masonic features than the 1931 transcript.

The general structure of the all the degrees is as follows:

  1. The Lodge is opened on the degree to be performed or opened on a higher degree and then "called down" to the degree to be performed.

  2. The SS and JS are dispatched to escort the candidate to the preparation room assist him in dressing properly.

    If this is an initiation, the Marshall will be dispatched from the Lodge to interrogate the candidate. The Marshall will re-enter the Lodge and report the results of his interrogation before the SS and JS are dispatched and the Lodge is called to rest.

  3. When the candidate is properly dressed (includes being blindfolded), he knocks 3 times on the preparation room door. Upon hearing "the alarm" the WM gavels the lodge "to labor" and the SD is dispatched to the preparation room door to investigate. The SD reports the results of his investigation back to the WM and the WM dispatches the SD back to the door of the preparation room to receive the candidate from the SS and JS.

    The candidate is received:

    EA: "upon the points of a sharp instrument [points of a closed compass] piercing his naked left breast."

    FC: "upon the angle of the square applied to his naked right breast."

    MM: "upon the points of the extended compass applied to his breast."

  4. The SD conducts the candidate on 1, 2 or 3 clockwise trips around the ALTAR while the Chaplain reads a prayer.

  5. The candidate is conducted to the JW, SW and WM who repeat the interrogation of the candidate given by the SD at the door of the preparation room.

  6. The candidate is conducted to the SW who teaches him to advance by 1, 2 or 3 regular steps.

  7. The candidate is taken to the ALTAR and placed "in due form" to take the obligation of the degree.

  8. The WM administers the obligation on the HB, S, and C. Each obligation has a different penalty. These are the same penalties found in the 1931 endowment transcript with the following correspondence:

    EA - First Token of Aaronic Priesthood
    FC - Second Token of Aaronic Priesthood
    MM - First Token of Melchizedek Priesthood

    These penalties are altered in the 1984 transcript to remove the gory phrases. They are completely removed in the 1990 transcript.

    After the obligation is administered, the blindfold is taken off the candidate.

  9. The WM gives instruction at the alter regarding the due guard, sign, grip and token of the degree. The due guards and signs of the 3 degrees are essentially the same as the signs described in the 1984 endowment transcript with the following correspondence:

    EA - First Token of Aaronic Priesthood
    FC - Second Token of Aaronic Priesthood
    MM - First Token of Melchizedek Priesthood

    The grips are essentially the same and have the same correspondence, but the tokens are very different.

    After the candidate is given the due guard, sign, grip and token of each degree, an interrogation is spoken (that the candidate must later memorize) that is essentially a mode of recognition among Masons of that degree. This exchange involves the WM as the interrogator and the SW as the person interrogated. During the course of the exchange, the interrogator will ask the "interrogatee" to describe the grip and give the token of that degree.

    These interrogations are basically the same as the interrogations before the veil for the tokens of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods. The Masonic versions are much more elaborate, however.

  10. The SD conducts the candidate to the JW and SW for an examination regarding the due guard and sign of the degree. The SW instructs the candidate how his apron is to be worn. If this is an initiation, the apron is presented at this time.

  11. The WM examines the JW and SW as to the correctness of "the work." The JW and SW report the work is correct and the WM orders the SD to conduct the candidate back to the preparation room.

  12. The SD and candidate leave the lodge and the WM gavels the lodge to rest.
After the candidate dresses, he is returned to the lodge by the SD and introduced as a "newly-obligated brother" and given a lecture for that degree.

If the candidate is being initiated or passed, the candidate is given a lecture for the degree. If the candidate is being raised, the candidate takes part in a morality play prior to receiving the lecture. This morality play (described below) bears strong parallels to the fourth Mormon "degree."

The lecture of the EA degree addresses the "Form, Supports, Covering, Furniture, Ornaments, Lights and Jewels of a Lodge; how it is situated and to whom dedicated."

The lecture of the FC degree addresses the difference between operative and speculative Masonry; the symbolism of the two pillars at the preparation room entrance to the lodge; the 5 Orders of Architecture; the 7 Liberal Arts; and the nature of Geometry.

The lecture of the MM degree "illustrates certain hieroglypical emblems well calculated to increase knowledge and promote virtue. In it, also, many particulars relative to the building of King Solomon's Temple are noticed."

After the lecture the candidate is given "a charge" by one of the brothers in attendance. If the candidate is being raised, the charge is given in 2 parts by 2 different brothers. The charge admonishes the candidate to remember the lessons he has been taught and apply the learning to his everyday life. The candidate is also reminded of his obligation and the penalty.

After the charge is given, the candidate is seated amongst the brethren, the lodge is regularly closed, and refreshments are served. Alcohol is forbidden inside a Masonic Temple.

2. More on "raising"

The second section of the raising ceremony involves the candidate as a participant. Upon returning to the lodge after taking the obligation and being given the due guard and sign, grip and word of the 3rd degree, the candidate (still in the charge of the SD) is greeted by the WM and others. The JW greets the candidate last and gives the candidate his jewel. The WM gavels the lodge to labor and the JW gives his seat in the South to the candidate.

The WM calls the candidate to the East. The candidate is told that before he can receive all the secrets of a Master Mason that he must travel. The travels may be over rough and rugged roads and the candidate's life may be threatened. The candidate is reminded in whom he puts his trust [God], is blindfolded again, caused to kneel in the East and is admonished to pray silently. As soon as the candidate says "Amen," the SD takes charge of the candidate. Remember that the candidate is blindfolded and is wearing the jewel of the JW.

Here is some background:

"That promise [the promise God made to David, King of Israel, that out of his loins should come a man who would construct the Temple] was verified in the person and character of Solomon, his son, who ascended the throne, and, after David was gathered to his fathers, wielded the sceptre over Israel at a time when (as the great Jewish historian, Josephus, informs us) peace and tranquility pervaded the world, and all eyes seemed to be directed toward Jerusalem, as if to witness the splendid display of the wisdom of Solomon."

"About this time King Solomon received a congratulatory letter from Hiram, King of Tyre, desiring to participate, in a small degree at least, in the rich honors which then seemed to be clustering around his throne. In his reciprocations with Hiram of Tyre, King Solomon desired him to furnish a man well-skilled in the arts and sciences, and his attention was directed to Hiram Abif, a widow's son of the tribe of Naphthali. . . ."

At this point in the ceremony, the candidate IS Hiram Abif. The rest of the ceremony uses all the players and the candidate to illustrate the murder of the Grand Master Hiram Abif (GMHA), the loss of the "ancient master's word," the raising of the Grand Master Hiram Abif's body from the shallow grave dug by his murderers and establishment of the "substitute for the ancient master's word." Here is the story:

One day at high twilight [noon], when the Temple was nearing completion, GMHA entered the Holy of Holies to offer his devotion to God and ask for the inspiration to draw designs upon his trestleboard.

Unbeknownst to GMHA, the 15 Fellowcrafts working in the temple, fearing that they might not receive the secrets of a Master Mason, have conspired to extort those secrets from GMHA. On his way out of the Holy of Holies, GMHA is confronted by one of the Fellowcrafts, Ja (an abbreviation that cannot be explained) who demands from GMHA the secrets of a MM or Ja will take his life. GMHA tries to reason with Ja, explaining that he should wait until the Temple is complete, and, if Ja is found worthy, Ja will receive those secrets lawfully. Ja is not buying. Ja then tries to kill GMHA. GMHA escapes out the West gate of the Temple.

GMHA is confronted by another of the Fellowcrafts, Jo, who makes the same demands. GMHA refuses and escapes out the East gate of the Temple.

GMHA is confronted by a third Fellowcraft, Jm, who makes the same demands. GMHA refuses and Jm strikes GMHA on the head with a mason's mallet and kills him. Ja, Jo and Jm have killed GMHA and have not received the secrets of a Master Mason. They hide GMHA's body in the rubble of the Temple and meet again at low twilight dusk to figure out how to dispose of the body and cover up their crime. (Ja, Jo and Jm are termed "the 3 ruffians" in most accounts of this story.)

Ja, Jo and Jm meet and take the body west of the Temple to the top of hill near Mt. Moriah where Jm has dug a grave. They bury the body and mark the grave with an acacia tree. They make their escape to the sea. At the sea, they meet a seafaring/wayfaring man and try to book passage to Ethiopia, but, since Ja, Jo and Jm do not have King Solomon's pass, the seafaring/wayfaring man denies them passage and they go back into the wilderness.

Back at the Temple, there is much commotion. King Solomon (the WM) gavels the lodge to order and asks Hiram of Tyre (the SW) what the cause of the commotion is. Hiram of Tyre states the GMHA has been missing since yesterday at high twilight. King Solomon (KS), fearing the worst, tells Hiram of Tyre (HT) to search the Temple and have the roll of the workmen called. GMHA cannot be found. The roll is called and HT discovers that there are three workmen missing -- Ja, Jo and Jm (brothers and men of Tyre).

The remaining 12 Fellowcrafts repent and appear before KS in white gloves to confess their conspiracy. They tell KS that they fear that the Ja, Jo and Jm may have carried out the conspiracy. KS sends the 12 Fellowcrafts out in all directions from the Temple to search for GMHA (3 North, 3 South, 3 East and 3 West). The story now focuses on the 3 Fellowcrafts who travel West from the Temple.

The 3 Fellowcrafts (this group includes the SD) who travel West toward Jappa (a seaport town) run into the seafaring/wayfaring man. They inquire about Ja, Jo and Jm. The seafaring/wayfaring man tells them that they tried to book passage to Ethiopia but were denied. The Fellowcrafts return to the Temple to report to KS.

The report is made and KS sends the 12 Fellowcrafts out again to bring back either GMHA or Ja, Jo and Jm. KS is suspicious that the 12 may be covering up their own guilt.

The same 3 Fellowcrafts travel West once again. After several days of fruitless search, they decide to give up and return to the Temple and offer themselves up to KS to suffer the consequences of their conspiracy. They decide to spread out on the way back in case they might have overlooked something. One of the group (the SD) stops at a rock to rest. He muses on his impatience and wishes he'd not been tempted by the others. He is tired, and so he uses a nearby acacia tree to help him up from the rock.

The acacia tree gives way. The Fellowcraft hails his brethren to investigate. They have discovered GMHA's grave. Nearby, they hear Ja, Jo and Jm bemoaning their fate. The 3 Fellowcrafts seize Ja, Jo and Jm and take them before KS. KS judges Ja, Jo and Jm guilty of GMHA's murder and sentences them to death. The 12 Fellowcrafts carry out the sentence. KS sends the 3 Fellowcrafts back to the gravesite to search for the body of GMHA. They cannot find it but they find the jewel of GMHA. They return it to KS at the Temple.

KS, HT and the 12 Fellowcrafts go to the gravesite to retrieve the body and bring it back to the Temple for a fitting burial. Along the way a hymn is sung, reminiscent of a hymn sung by the congregation in the 1931 temple endowment. When KS sees the body and knows that Hiram Abif is dead, he cries, while lowering his hands from above his head three times: "Oh Lord! My God! Oh Lord! My God! Oh Lord! My God! Is there no help for the widow's son?" KS tells HT to try to raise it from the grave with the grip of an EA. The body is badly decomposed and cannot be raised because the skin slips from the flesh. KS tells HT to try to raise the body with the grip of an FC. The flesh cleaves from the bone and the body cannot be raised. KS and HT are now in a quandary about what to do. HT suggests they pray.

During the prayer, the WM (KS) and SW (HT) kneel on their right knees with the left forming the angle of a square. The WM is at the feet of the body facing South and the SW is at the head facing North. Six brothers kneel the same way and face each other, three on each side of the body. The following prayer is then offered by the WM (one of the best parts of the ceremony in my colleague's opinion):

"Thou, Oh God! knowest our downsitting and our uprising, and understandest our thoughts afar off. Shield and defend us from the evil intentions of our enemies, and support us under the trials and afflictions which we are destined to endure while travelling through this veil of tears. Man that is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble. He cometh forth like a flower and is cut down; he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not. Seeing that his days are determined, the number of his months is with Thee; Thou has ointed his bounds that he cannot pass; turn from him that he may rest till he shall accomplish his days. For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease. But a man dieth and wasteth away; yea, a man giveth up the ghost and where is he? As the waters fall from the sea and the flood decayeth and drieth up, so man lieth down, and riseth not till the heavens be no more. Yet, Oh Lord! have compassion on the children of Thy creation; administer them comfort in time of trouble; and save them with an everlasting salvation. Amen."
The SW removes the candidates blindfold at this point.

The prayer does the trick and KS is inspired to invoke the strength of the lion of the tribe of Judah. KS, with HT's assistance, raises GMHA's body with the "strong grip of the lion's paw" and "on the five points of fellowship." KS has declared the ancient master's word to be lost but the first words "spoken or uttered after the body is thus raised, shall be the substitute for the lost master's word until future ages may discover the right."

The WM raises the candidate off the floor to the five points of fellowship ("foot to foot, knee to knee, breast to breast, hand to back, and mouth to ear") and speaks the substitute for the lost master's word into the candidate's ear.

The candidate is admonished never to speak the word except in the manner in which it was given or for instruction. The five points of fellowship are explained. The candidate then goes to a chair and the historical lecture described earlier is given.

3. Parallels to the Mormon endowment

Six parallels can be seen here between the raising of Hiram Abif's body and the Second Token of the Melchizedek Priesthood: 1) both are associated with a plea to God, 2) both have the same sign, 3) both involve an especially strong grip, 4) both are done "on the five points of fellowship" (though this has been removed in the 1990 transcript), 5) both involve the whispering of secret words that have some parallels (the meaning of the secret word in the Masonic ceremony corresponds with the second phrase of the much longer token of the endowment), and 6) both lack the penalty associated with the three preceding degrees.

It may be significant that the secret words spoken in the Masonic ceremony were "the substitute for the lost master's word until future ages may discover the right." If Joseph Smith believed he was restoring a corrupted ceremony, he may have seen this as an opportunity to restore the proper words and thus added the more elaborate fourth degree. It is curious, though, that while the Masonic story of Hiram Abif has parallels with the resurrection of Christ, the Second Token of the Melchizedek Priesthood has more parallels with the crucifixion.

In conclusion, the Mormon endowment parallels the Masonic ceremonies in many respects and uses a large number of Masonic symbols and elements. There are also many differences, including the very purpose of the ceremonies. Masons deliberately skirt religious issues while religion and salvation are the heart of the Mormon endowment. Lastly, the Masonic elements in the Mormon endowment were much more pronounced at its inception, and many have been deleted as the ceremony has undergone periodic revisions.