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Masonic Connections in Oliver Cowdery’s Family (Part 1 of 7)

Clair Barrus has been studying Mormon history since before Al Gore invented the internet!

Clair:  Well, to show my ancientness, I was actually online in 1984, on the internet, when only engineering firms and universities were on the internet.

GT:  Was this like Prodigy or AOL or something else?

Clair:  It was before. I remember when AOL and Prodigy came online. This was pre-anything. You had to be working at an engineering firm, and some universities had access.

GT:  So like the ARPANET?

Clair:  Oh, yeah, it was the ARPANET. Yeah, it was pre-internet. It was the ARPANET.

GT:  Wow, you’re very experienced.

Clair:  Yeah, I’ve been around for a while. (Chuckling)

I was surprised to learn that it isn’t just Joseph Smith who has connections to masonry and magic.  It turns out that Oliver Cowdery has a family history with magic and masonry.  Clair Barrus will tell us more.

Clair:  Let me start with Oliver Cowdery and his father William Cowdery. I think there’s some interesting early Masonic influences that may have come through Oliver Cowdery. Oliver Cowdery’s father was actually involved very early on in a group called, the New Israelites. When you think of New Israelites, compare that with Latter-day Saints.  New and Latter are related, and Saints and Israelites are related. So, you have an interesting relationship just in the naming there. The New Israelites were a very interesting group of people up in Vermont that William Cowdery was involved with. They used rods a lot. They were rodsmen, and they would use rods to get revelations through. Then they created a religious movement and they had a dietary code/restrictions, just has an interesting parallel to the Word of Wisdom. They wanted to build a new Jerusalem. They actually would use their divining rods to gather underground gold and had vast heaps of gold and they were going to use that gold to pave the streets of their new Jerusalem.  They got a revelation. Nathaniel Wood, who was the leader, got a revelation that they should build a temple. Now this is interesting because think about it. What temple builders are there in American religious history? The Mormons or the Latter-day Saints and the New Israelites and the Masons. The Masons are symbolic temple builders.  The interior of every Masonic Lodge is a temple. That was it before Joseph Smith, so I think this is an interesting, unique parallel.  If anyone knows of another temple builder before Joseph Smith, I would love to know, please let me know.

Check out our conversation….

Historian Clair Barrus tells about the masonic connections in Oliver Cowdery’s family.

Don’t miss our previous conversation about Masonry and Mormonism with historian Cheryl Bruno!

405: Mormon-Mason Similarities/Differences (Bruno)

404: Joseph Smith’s Masonic Connections (Bruno)

403: Masonry from King Solomon to Kirtland (Bruno)

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Mormon-Mason Similarities/Differences (Part 3 of 3)

Many people know that there are similarities between Mormon temple ceremonies and Masonic ceremonies.  What are the similarities and differences?  Cheryl Bruno will answer these questions.

GT:  I just had a conversation with somebody, and he says, “Do you know why they made these changes in 1990?”   I know there was some big differences there. It sounds like there are different beliefs in that.  My response was, “Well, it was due to The Godmakers,[1] and that the church has tried to kind of sever some of the Masonic elements to make it more different.  Is that is that a fair characterization?

Cheryl:  I have a little different view and I am a believing Mormon, so that’s where I’m coming from. But I feel that the changes that they make in the temple ceremony make them more meaningful for people today.  Symbolism is really important to me and sometimes I think it’s a real shame that some of those symbols are lost, but when it no longer means the same thing to people that are going through the temple, it needs to be removed. One of these [symbols] is women veiling their faces.  That used to have a very different meaning to women than it does today. Today, it’s very oppressive. So it needs to be taken out of the ceremony, because it’s seen by women now as being oppressive. That’s not what the symbol was meant to convey, so it’s appropriate to change things so that the ritual now conveys something that it’s meant to convey. Because society has changed, and because people change, we need to also keep up with that in our [ceremonies].

GT:  That’s interesting that you mentioned that. Tell me if this is a true statement. I believe in Joseph Smith’s day, in order to be a Mason, you had to be a man, you could not be a woman. So I’ve heard that when Joseph introduced the endowment ceremony, and he allowed women to participate, that that made a lot of Masons angry because women weren’t supposed to be part of this. Is that true?

Cheryl:  No, and I wonder where that comes from, because I’ve tried to track down where that idea is coming from. First of all, there were women Masons in Joseph Smith’s time.

GT:  Oh, really?

Cheryl:  There were and we believe that some of the women in Nauvoo actually were part of, maybe the Heroines of Jericho. There’s a little bit of evidence there, which will be in my book, but I don’t think it had a lot to do with anything. But the Grand Lodge of Illinois had a lot of different problems with things that Joseph Smith was doing or that Masons were doing in Nauvoo. They come out with it quite clearly. “We’re having a problem with this or we’re having a problem with that,” and never was it ever said contemporaneously, that they had a problem with women being brought into ritual.

[1] The Godmakers was a movie put together by former Mormon Ed Decker that tried to make temple endowment ceremonies look strange.  It was very popular among evangelicals and anti-Mormons in the late 1980s. Jerald Tanner, a critic of Mormonism, was equally critical of the movie as an exaggeration of Mormon temple ceremonies.

Check out our conversation….

What are the Masonic-Mormon similarities and differences with LDS temple ceremonies?
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Joseph Smith’s Masonic Connections (Part 2 of 3)

When did Joseph Smith learn about masonry?  Was it in Nauvoo or Kirtland?  And when did he become a mason?  Historian Cheryl Bruno will tell us more about Joseph’s Masonic connections and his involvement with Masonry.

Cheryl:  Some people believe that Joseph may have been a Mason earlier than Nauvoo, but I don’t believe that. I believe that he knew quite a bit about Masonry. It was in his family. His brother-in-laws, his uncles, his father and his brother were Masons. With the Morgan affair, there were many books written, exposes written about it, so I’m sure that he knew a lot about it. In fact, there used to be traveling companies that would go around and give shows, showing what the Masonic ritual looked like. So he could have attended those and seen the actual ritual being played out. But I do not believe he was a Mason before Nauvoo.

GT:  Okay, so it was really the Nauvoo period when he got into that.

Cheryl:  Right.

GT:  So as I understand it, I believe that he was–I don’t know the right language, but he was like commissioned as a Mason on sight or something?  Can you tell us about that?

Cheryl:  This is another thing I sort of don’t agree with the common wisdom.  They believe that he was made a Mason at sight.  Abraham Jonas was the Grand Master in Illinois. He had the ability to just make someone a Mason, instead of the person learning about Masonry and learning all the ritual and then becoming [a Mason.] It usually took quite a period of time between the Entered Apprentice and the Fellow Craft and the Master Mason. They could just make you Master Mason right away. But I don’t believe that that particular thing happened, that he was made a Mason on sight, because there were certain things that had to happen.  You had to open up a certain kind of a lodge in order for that to happen. Those things were not done exactly the way they needed to be done. I also write about that in the book.  But it is true that he was made a Mason, a Fellow Craft and then a Master Mason, quickly within the period of two days, an Apprentice and a Fellow Craft and a Master Mason very quickly.

We will also talk about the Morgan Affair and how that started the anti-Masonic movement in the United States, as well as the involvement in masonry by Joseph’s family.  Check out our conversation….

How did Joseph Smith become acquainted with masonry?

Don’t miss our previous conversation with Cheryl!

Masonry from Solomon to Kirtland (Part 1 of 3)