Joseph Smith - The Occult Connection
Whatever one concludes about the varied hints of scattered early associations with Hermeticism, Joseph Smith had well-documented connections with one of the tradition's major legacies, Masonry. Smith's associations with the Masonic tradition are thoroughly documented. It is possible that Joseph's interpretation of Masonry as a legacy of ancient priesthood was based in his own understanding of a history extending back hundreds of years, a history entwined with the Hermetic mythos and with Kabbalah, alchemy, and Rosicrucianism.
The Alliance of Occult Legacy and Masonry was Well Understood by Esoterically-Inclined Masons
The Kabbalah's influence on the occult traditions of the nineteenth century - specificly Masonry requires repeated emphasis. Noted historian of occultism Arthur Edward Waite suggested in his 1923 encyclopedia of Freemasonry that much of the great and incomprehensible heart of Masonry came from Kabbalah. He finds such important Masonic symbols as the Lost Word, the Temple of Solomon, the pillars Jachin and Boaz, all derived from the lore of Kabbalah.
The organizer of Scottish Rite Freemasonry in America, Albert Pike, manifested a similar sentiment and indexed over seventy entries to the subject of Kabbalah in his classic nineteenth-century study, Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. Much of this Kabbalistic influence upon Masonry may have come from Rosicrucianism, infused as it was with alchemical and Kabbalistic symbolism. But some additional influence might be attributed to esoteric sources like the Frankist movement.
Frankist Followers of Jacob Frank, Successors to the Kabbalistically inclined Sabbatean Heresy
Had become active in Central European Masonic organizations in the late eighteenth century. Given the wide diffusion of a Christianized and Rosicrucian version of Kabbalah into Masonry, Joseph Smith probably heard something about the tradition during the course of his almost twenty-year association with Masons and Freemasonry. Between the mid-eighteenth and the beginnings of the nineteenth century a multitude of occult orders rose from Masonry.
Each of these tended to develop its own interrelated system of symbolic ceremonies for conveying distinct esoteric visions. The different rites also often claimed variant "authentic" Masonic origins: in ancient Egyptian mysteries; in the lineages of the medieval Knights Templar; in Kabbalistic transmissions; and in Hermetic-alchemical-Rosicrucian traditions. John C. Bennett, one of the more enigmatic figures in Mormon history, was the indisputable impetus to Masonry's introduction in Nauvoo.
Bennett Appeared in Nauvoo and was Baptized into the Mormon Church in the Summer of 1840
Within less than a year he became mayor of Nauvoo, chancellor of the University of Nauvoo, major general of the Nauvoo Legion, Assistant President of the Mormon church, and an intimate friend and counselor to Joseph Smith. Bennett's interests, including religion, medicine, the military, and Masonry, suggest a person inclined towards investigating the more esoteric aspects of Masonry.
Given the relation between Bennett and Smith, Bennett probably had communicated some Masonic ideas to Smith before petitions were made for the formation of a Nauvoo Masonic Lodge in mid-1841. That the temple endowment ceremony developed by Smith in May 1842 was influenced by Masonry cannot escape notice. But beyond the temple endowment, several other components were developing in Joseph's vision during this period that sounded an even stranger resonance with ideas from esoteric Masonic quarters.
Two stand out: organization of an "Order of Illuminati" or political Kingdom of God, and introduction of "Spiritual Wifery." Bennett claimed that in a revelation dated 7 April 1841--the day before he was made Assistant President of the church--Joseph Smith personally commissioned him to establish an "Order of the Illuminati" in Nauvoo. Though the organization was not then specifically called by this name, a revelation received by Joseph on 7 April 1842 commanded formation of "The Kingdom of God and His Laws with the keys and powers thereof and judgment in the hands of his servants."
The Organization of the Council of Fifty, Took Form in March 1844
Joseph was soon thereafter ordained King of the Kingdom, a ritual of coronation also performed for each of the next two presidents of the church, Brigham Young and John Taylor. Whether Bennett got the idea for an order of Illuminati from Smith, or Smith from Bennett, is open to argument. After Smith's death, Bennett sought out the charismatic claimant to Smith's prophetic mantle, James Strang, and convinced him to establish an "Order of the Illuminati."
The Council of Fifty in Nauvoo Manifest a Distinctly Masonic Character
And Masonic ceremonial elements were incorporated in the council's meetings. A similar tenor emerged in Strang's Order of the Illuminati. It was only a few months after the claimed revelation commissioning him to organize the "Illuminati" at Nauvoo that Bennett initiated efforts to form the Masonic lodge. But Mormon historians have yet to specifically explored implications of another fact: both the name given by Bennett for the organization, "Order of the Illuminati," and the political concept embodied by the organization had a clear Masonic heritage.
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