Mormons have been in the news lately. Recent political events have drawn attention to the influence of Mormonism in certain elements of the (mostly neoconservative) Establishment Republican power base. This has been more visible this year than in 2012, in spite of the fact that Mitt Romney, the 2012 candidate, was himself a Mormon and a key part of that influence. One pundit's comments have led to a trending hashtag on Twitter about the "Mormon Mafia", with some hilarious memes resulting.
But why are Mormons so particularly weird as a religion, and a culture? A big part of it is because they're not like a regular Christian church. Their origins, and their beliefs, are quite different, and this has always set them apart. You may already be familiar with some of their origin story, if you're a South Park fan:
But then there's all the weird stuff South Park didn't get into. Like the nitty-gritty on their rituals and practices, some of which you might have heard of, a few of which you probably had no idea about. A big part of what's interesting about them is just where they came from. So let's look at what makes the Mormon Mafia tick.
Joseph Smith Was an Occultist (or an Occult Scam-Artist)
In the early part of the 19th century, there was a miniature occult revival in the west. Not as big as what would come later, but things like the writings of Swedenborg, Franz Mesmer, and the publication of Francis Barrett's "The Magus" caused a stir. That last book was a guide to western magic, largely a re-writing of a bunch of stuff from much older medieval grimoires.
Now it's important to understand that most of this wasn't presented the way the occult often is today: as something opposed to Christianity. Instead, these occultists presented themselves as working within a Christian framework. While mainstream churches would consider what they were doing heresy, a lot of people at that time were very open to these ideas, within the church, and this blossomed in America during the period of religious revival known as the "Second Great Awakening".
Joseph Smith had gotten into this stuff. He apparently got hold of a copy of Barrett's Magus somewhere along the line. We know he had made a talisman of Jupiter, meant to attract wealth, and it wasn't just before he "found religion" or something like that. He kept it until the day he was shot dead by an angry mob. In fact, the talisman was found on his body.
Smith probably inherited his occult leanings from his father. Joseph Smith Sr. was known to be interested in the occult, and when he was struggling as a farmer he tried to make money with a 'dowsing rod', a stick that he claimed could be guided by spirits to find things in the ground. Usually, people used dowsing rods to find water, but Joe Sr. also claimed it could find buried treasures. He would also look into his hat to see mystical visions, something Smith copied in his 'translating' work on the angel Moroni's 'golden plates'. Before founding the Mormon religion, Smith had followed his dad's dowsing-rod footsteps, trying to make money as a "seer", claiming he could use a "seer stone" to find buried treasure. When he was around 21 years old, he was even taken to court for this, on the charge of 'glass looking', or basically running a supernatural scam.
The "Seer-Stone" he used to find buried treasures may even be the same one he later claimed to use to help him 'translate' the magical plates of gold given to him by the angel Moroni. This stone here:
Smith even got kicked out of his wife's Methodist church on the accusation of being a "practicing necromancer"! What they meant by 'necromancer' is a bit different than what we think of that term now (thanks to video games). It didn't have to do with zombies or anything like that, but rather that he claimed to speak with spirits. It would be more like what we call a "medium" today.
Among the early artifacts related to Smith that survive today are several parchments that were copied material from books of magic. This is a copy of one magical talisman from a parchment that belonged either to Joseph Smith or his brother Hyrum Smith (or both):
It had been copied from a 17th century text, "Discourse Concerning Devils and Spirits", and it was a magical seal meant to allow you to summon a vision of an angelic spirit called "Jubanladace". It would be able to give you advice and revelations. It's clear Smith was obsessed with spiritual visions long before he invented Mormonism.
Now, you could argue "well, you just said it might have belonged to his brother! Couldn't all this occult stuff mainly be from the family, and not Smith himself"? The problem is, Smith's whole family were the core of the early membership of the Latter Day Saints Church (or Mormons). Joseph Smith Sr. and Hyrum Smith were both founding members of the church. Joe Sr. was the first "presiding patriarch" of the church, and Hyrum was the Assistant President of the church (and would have been Joseph Smith's successor if he hadn't died at the hands of the same mob that killed his brother). He's still revered in the church today. Joseph and Hyrum even appear on statues together:
Joseph Smith Was Also a Freemason (and so Were Several Founding Mormons)
Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith and Joseph Smith Sr. were all Freemasons. Joe Smith Sr. had been a Freemason since long before Mormonism was invented, having been made a Master Mason at a lodge in New York in 1818. Hyrum Smith had also been initiated as a Mason in New York.
Joseph Smith himself did not become a Freemason until after the Mormon church was founded. In 1842, the church was still in a period of development, and was based in Nauvoo, Illinois. A number of the founders or high-ranking members of the Church were also Masons, many of which were either members of the Smith family by birth or by marriage. These early Mormon leaders established a Masonic Lodge in Nauvoo. Smith was then made a Mason by the Grand Master of Illinois masons himself. Many Freemasons in Illinois were highly suspicious of Mormon infiltration of Freemasonry, as the Mormons already had a bad reputation for being a 'cult'. The Nauvoo Lodge was investigated, irregularities were found, and Smith was apparently encouraging every male Mormon to become a Mason. Within a couple of years there were 5 Lodges composed almost entirely of Mormons and it was estimated that there were 1500-2000 Mormon Masons; that's between 400-500 Masons per Lodge, which is a crazy number when most Lodges normally have less than 100 members, and you don't usually initiate more than 1-3 Masons per month in a Lodge, tops.
Even back in the 1840s, people were worried about Mormon Mafia takeovers.
While the original "Mormon Lodges" in Illinois mostly closed down after Joseph and Hyrum Smith died (in 1844) and the Mormons left for Utah, Mormons continued to be heavily involved with Freemasonry long after that. Brigham Young, who took over the Church after Smith's death, was also a Mason, and by some estimates about 60% of all eligible men in the early period of the Mormon Church were Masons.
Why does this matter? Well, it wouldn't, except that after becoming a Mason, Joseph Smith created (or claimed to have 'received') a bunch of the ceremonies that the Mormon church still practices to this day, and they're direct rip-offs from Freemasonry!
Freemasons' rituals center on the imagery of the Temple of Solomon. In these ceremonies, Freemasons take oaths, and traditionally these oaths contained penalties for whoever broke them. Freemasons are taught special 'signs', secret handshakes, and pass-words that prove their degree or allow them entry into Lodges in different degrees. In the 19th century, certain masonic rituals involved progressively passing through a series of veils to gain access into the inner sanctum of the temple. They also wear special aprons during their ceremonies. Here's what a typical masonic apron looks like:
Mormons have a Temple too; in fact, the Temple (which is different than a regular church or meeting hall) is one of the central parts of the Mormon Faith. Only Mormons in good standing are allowed entry to the Temple (just like only Masons in good standing are allowed to attend a Lodge). Mormons are only allowed to enter the Temple if they receive their "temple recommend" (where Mormon authorities in good standing vouch for them, just like you need to be vouched for by Masons in good standing to join a Lodge). And when they first enter the Temple they go through a kind of 'initiation' called the Endowment Ceremony.
And what happens in these Endowment ceremonies? First, you have to take oaths; and just like Masonry traditionally had dire penalties associated with breaking those oaths, historical Mormon Endowment rituals had penalties, many of them practically identical to the traditional Masonic penalties. Mormons are then taught secret signs, again most of these are very similar to the signs used in Masonry. They are taught secret handshakes, which Mormons must present at a series of veils that lead them progressively into the center of the Temple, just like the old Masonic rituals. These handshakes also require secret pass-words, just like in Masonry.
And yes, they even wear an apron! Here's a pair of ex-mormons, dressed in "temple garb", with an apron, showing one of the Mormon secret signs, in front of a recreation of one of the temple veils:
Some Mormon writers have later tried to claim that in fact, these 'revelations' Smith had were the "real" secret ceremonies performed by the ancient Israelites (either the ones in Jerusalem or maybe the Israelites who came to America, according to the Book of Mormon). They say that the similar stuff in Masonic ritual was actually a 'degenerated' form of the originals, which Joseph Smith restored. But from an historian's point of view, it seems pretty clear that it's the other way around: Joseph Smith and the other Mormon Masons from the early LDS church ripped off a bunch of the Masonic ritual and symbolism to make up the Mormon religion.
For many years, the Grand Lodge of Utah took the position that the Mormon religion was in fact a kind of "clandestine Masonry". This means that Joseph Smith and the other early Mormon Masons broke their oaths, and that the Mormon rituals were an altered and unauthorized version of Freemasonry. Nowadays, the Mormon church has changed its Endowment ritual considerably; they still have the aprons and signs and pass-words, but got rid of some of the other parts (like the penalties in the oaths). Likewise, the Grand Lodge of Utah changed its position and allowed Mormons to join authorized Masonic Lodges. But there's no question that Masonry was a direct influence on the Mormon religion.
Joseph Smith Also Made Up a Bunch of Weird Stuff All On His Own
There's a bunch of stuff in Mormonism that doesn't seem to be directly borrowed from anywhere else. Stuff like "hot drinks" (like tea and coffee) being forbidden, along with the more more typically-religious prohibitions on alcohol, tobacco, sex outside marriage, or masturbation. Note that the "hot drinks" ban is not about caffeine; Mormons can drink coke or pepsi.
And then there's the Mormon "magic underwear":
This secret underwear is not actually worn by all Mormons. That's because they are "Temple garments". Only Mormons who have gone through the Endowment ritual get the dubious honor of going around in religious long-johns. They are meant to give you "spiritual protection" from "temptation and evil", and you must wear them all day and night, except in brief occasions where it would not be suitable to do so (like if you're swimming). Even these garments do give a nod to Freemasonry: stitched into the magic underwear are a Square, Level and Compass, all well-known Masonic symbols.
Then there's the really crazy stuff, at least from the point of view of mainstream Christians. Like how God actually lives (with a really big family, Jesus isn't his only kid) on the planet Kolob. With his wife. Yes, there's a "Mrs. God" that Mormons never talk about with outsiders. She's called the "Heavenly Mother".
Smith didn't get that from the Masons. But it is, in a way, part of an Occult system. Mormons are actually practicing Sex Magic
Mormons Do the Most Boring Sex Magic Ever
All mainstream Christian churches value "family". But for Mormons, family is central in a very special way. It is SUPER important that good Mormons get married and have lots of kids. Because it's a central part of the magic at the core of the Mormon system.
Catholics technically think it's better if you can be unmarried and celibate all your life, though they recognize most people can't. Most protestants think marriage and family is good, but it is something of this world. It is "till death do you part".
But for Mormons, marriage isn't till death: it's forever. They don't get married in this world, they get "Sealed", for all eternity.
For Mormons, when you die, you don't go to heaven; you go to off to become rulers of your own planet, like God is the ruler of the planet Kolob.
But for that to happen, you have to have a family. It's not just you that goes, its you, your Sealed wife (or originally, wives), and children who go, with the father of the family ruling as Patriarch and father-god.
Mormons believe that Jesus was married, and had kids; partly so that Joseph Smith could claim to be his physical descendant, but mostly because being "sealed for eternity" is a fundamental part of the spiritual system: the Mormon family is a magical reflection of the family of Jesus (ruling over Earth) and the family of Heavenly Father (god) and Heavenly Mother on the planet Kolob.
This is a classic variant of occult sexual alchemy: the idea that the union of the forces of male and female can grant a spiritual immortality and reflects the divine union of Male and Female divinity. It's just a lot more whitebread and family-friendly than what you see in Taoist Alchemy or Indian Tantra or the stuff Aleister Crowley wrote about. Instead of their sex-magic being all about taboo and bacchanalia, Mormon 'sexual magic' is all about babies and family game nights and singalongs and modest dresses. And magic underwear.
This is why Mormons have such trouble with the whole LGBT question. It's not just about 'sin' like it might be for some Baptists. It's because it directly ruins the whole 'divine formula'. It's why they're so stuck on traditional gender roles, where 12 year old boys can be "priests" and 19 year old boys can be "elders" but women of any age can't ever be either.
- these kids are all probably "priests"
At least Mormons have progressed in social issues where they can. Remember, Mormons didn't allow black men to be given 'priesthood' rites (remember: this doesn't mean being a priest like in some other church, it's an ordination that every white 12 year old male Mormon gets), or get to do any of the temple practices (including temple marriage/sealing, and all the secret-handshake stuff we talked about here) until 1978. Only then did they decide that darker-skinned people got to have their own planets too.
Mind you, before we get too crazy about how crazy Mormonism is, remember that most religions have occult roots if you scratch under the surface. It's just that Mormonism is still pretty new as far as religions go, so the Mormon Mafia's craziness is still a lot more obvious. It's part of why they want to take over the Republican Establishment: they've spent the last few decades desperately trying to buy their way into the mainstream, trying to get Americans to feel like their religious craziness is no weirder than everyone else's.