Strangers in Paradox
by Margaret & Paul Toscano
Rending the Veil
Some time ago we heard from two independent sources that in the Provo Temple some women refused to veil their faces at the appropriate point in the ceremony. One source heard this incident reported during a ward council meeting. A visiting stake high councilman, apparently relaying directives, advised the ward leaders that, though it was not essential for women to veil their faces as part of the temple ritual, any woman refusing to do so should be referred to her bishop for disciplinary action on grounds of insubordination to priesthood authority.
This incident and the official response to it capsulize for us a painful dilemma associated with the temple ceremony. On the one hand, it underscores how the endowment can be interpreted to validate male domination and female subordination. Here in Mormonism’s most sacred ritual, traditional images of the veiled woman, which many people connect with the oppression of secluded Muslim women, are presented along with promises of female deference to males. Recent changes have softened the covenants women make to men, but have not eliminated the subordination altogether, making discussion of this issue even more pertinent.
What emerges from these associations is a view of women as spiritual inferiors of men, a sense that women must depend and rely upon men for their salvation and exaltation in the kingdom of God. This view is fortified by the fact that admittance to the temple and discussions of the temple ceremony and symbols are under strict control of the church hierarchy, which discourages the development and dissemination of alternative interpretations of the endowment perhaps more favorable to women. Because of the apparent subordination of the female in the temple ritual, some women have come to feel that the [p.266] endowment is a principal source of their disenfranchisement from full participation in important aspects of the church. More specifically, many of these women have singled out the face veil, worn as part of their ritual temple clothing, as the chief symbol of their second class citizenship in Mormon culture.
On the other hand, other Mormon women, while admitting the negative impact of the prevailing interpretation of the endowment, also assert that the temple has been an important part of their spiritual awakening and maturation. They have been instructed and even transformed by its rituals. Many of these women feel that, historically, the endowment provides the most important basis for the claim that women are entitled, equally with men, to the priesthood and all of its rights, powers, keys, and privileges.
For us, the quandary caused by these “negative” and “positive” attitudes toward the temple ceremony, especially the face veil, derives from the interpretation that is currently given to these symbols. We believe, however, that another approach to the temple ritual in general, and the symbol of the face veil in particular, might not only circumvent the prevailing, male-oriented traditions, yielding an interpretation more favorable to women, but that a fresh approach may well prove more spiritually sound and illuminating. What we propose to do in the balance of this chapter is to apply the principles of interpretation from chapter 2 to the face veil in order to show alternative ways this symbol can be approached.
Ideas that are not paradoxical tend to be sentimental, incomplete, and dogmatic. According to psychotherapist Scott Peck: “[I]f a concept is paradoxical, that itself should suggest that it smacks of integrity, that it gives off the ring of truth. Conversely, if a concept is not in the least paradoxical, you should be suspicious of it and suspect that it has failed to integrate some aspect of the whole” (1988, 238). The same can be said of symbols. Because symbolism expresses complex truths about the nature of reality, the most universal and ancient symbols seem always to encompass simultaneously a variety of conflicting ideas. As we have already seen, the serpent can represent either death or resurrection, Satan or Christ. It may also represent either a male god or a female goddess. When the serpent is in an upright position, it represents the phallus, and when it is coiled in a circle, it represents the womb. It also appears associated with the earth, the sun, the moon, with water, or, when it is winged, with the air. Because the world itself is comprised of opposites (its yin/yang quality reflected in the Book of [p.267] Mormon notion that all things are a compound in one), effective and enduring symbols express and illuminate this dualistic aspect of reality. Symbolist J. C. Cooper puts it this way: “Much of symbolism directly concerns the dramatic interplay and interaction of the opposing forces in the dualistic world of manifestation, their conflicting but also complementary and compensating characteristics, and their final union” (1987, 8).
As with all profound symbols, the face veil, worn as a headdress by women throughout the temple and used to cover the faces of women during a ritual prayer, reflects this dualism. The veil is a paradoxical symbol evoking both positive and negative associations. However, for our modern age the negative side dominates. Of the two major sources for this negative view, the most immediate is the Islamic custom that requires women to veil not only their faces but their whole bodies. In that culture women are subordinated to men in every possible way. (It should be noted, however, out of respect for this religious tradition that these extreme customs are the product of Islamic fundamentalism and are not observed by all adhering to the Muslim faith. Many devout Islamic women do not wear the face veil at all, but simply a covering on their heads. They would argue that men are also required to cover their heads and that both forms of head coverings are signs of honor. There is also a small feminist movement among some Muslim women, who are looking for ways to liberate women while remaining faithful to their traditions.)
Though the veiled Muslim woman is to moderns a strong image of the subordination and oppression of women, it is unlikely that Joseph Smith was influenced by this source when he introduced the veil for women in the temple. Therefore, it seems historically unwarranted to apply this connotation to the temple headdress for women, although in our modern world, many are hard pressed to quell a strong psychological and even religious aversion to this symbol.
A more likely source for Joseph Smith’s use of the veil is the biblical passage where Paul argues that a woman ought to pray with her head covered since she is the glory of man, whereas the man ought to pray with his head uncovered, since he is the glory of God (1 Cor. 11:3-15). This scripture has been used historically to keep women under the power of men. For example, in a 1968 biblical commentary on this verse, several noted Catholic scholars conclude that God has ordained both a natural and religious hierarchy in which the “subordination of the woman should be recognized in her behavior and dress. The [p.268] veil is a symbol of this subordination” (Brown, 270). Other scholars, however, have noted problems with this interpretation. While admitting that Paul does subordinate women to men, they have pointed out that he almost seems to give back with one hand what he takes with the other. Whereas Paul says first that “the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man,” he also makes the following equalizing statement: “Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man in the Lord. For the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman, but all things of God” (vv. 11-12). Moreover, the passage in 1 Corinthians 11 centers on a discussion of how women should be attired when they pray or prophesy, implying that women are praying and prophesying in public meetings, something which was not done in the Jewish synagogues. This indicates that Christians were granting women greater status than they had been allowed previously. The congruence of evidence both of equality and subordination of women in this passage has led some to conclude that although the apostle “accepted the traditional social view of the status of women, he rejected the traditional religious view,” for Paul saw that all were made free in Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:28; Orr, 126).
If so, St. Paul’s argument in Corinthians 11 then would be an appeal to abide by the dress customs of his day, so as not to disturb more than necessary those who were offended by Christianity’s new and more favorable treatment of women. This argument coincides with a parallel passage in 1 Corinthians 10, where Paul admonishes the Corinthian saints to refrain from eating meat sacrificed to idols in order to avoid offending weaker saints or possible converts. For these same reasons, Paul may have recommended decorum in dress to women who are praying and prophesying.
History provides another piece to the puzzle. Though the married women of Paul’s time did wear veils or coverings over their hair, this was not always true throughout the Old Testament period. Sometimes women wore head coverings, and other times they did not. This was also so for men (Buttrick, 747; Douglas, 324-25). Of course, in most modern Jewish worship, it is the men who are required to cover their heads. Such changes in custom strengthen the position of those who claim that Paul was not attempting to state a universal truth in 1 Corinthians 11, but was addressing a specific problem in view of prevailing customs.
Some Latter-day Saints may wonder if 1 Corinthians 11 could be alluding to an early Christian endowment-like ritual, records of which [p.269] have been lost to us. But there are problems with this view. If Joseph Smith was relying on this passage as authority for the use of the face veil for women in temple worship, he did not follow it very closely. Paul says that it is a dishonor to God for a man to cover his head while praying. And yet in the Mormon endowment and prayer circle, the man’s head is covered the whole time. Also nowhere in the Corinthians passage does Paul talk about a woman veiling her face; he talks only of her covering her head.
If Corinthians was not Joseph Smith’s source for the face veil, what was? There is no reliable and conclusive evidence to answer this question. Joseph Smith may have been influenced by sources as divergent as magical practices, Old Testament traditions, or obscure folk customs. And, of course, there is the possibility that the face veil comes to us as a result of the revelation of God without secular or sacred precedent. But identifying Joseph Smith’s sources of the face veil, although useful and important, is not what this chapter is about. Our chief purpose here is to explore the possible meanings which this symbol may have for Mormons.
One way to further this exploration is to examine other scriptural texts for indications of the use of the veil in ancient biblical cultures. There are only a few scriptural examples of a person with a veil-covered face; and each example shows a different way the veil can function symbolically.
Tamar, the daughter-in-law of Judah, covered herself with a shawl or veil and concealed her face in order to trick Judah into thinking that she was a prostitute (Gen. 38:14-19). However, another reference indicates that it must have been not chiefly the veil which signalled prostitution, but the setting in which Tamar put herself, since the same word used here for veil (tsa’ivph) is also used in Genesis 24:65 without any suggestion of prostitution. In Genesis 24:65 Rebekah covered herself with a veil when she first met Isaac. Her veil apparently served a bridal function, whereas in Tamar’s case it concealed her identity. The woman in the Song of Solomon also wore a face veil. But the word for “veil” in this verse is translated from the word tsammah, which most likely connotes an ornamental and erotic purpose.
In the Bible, men are also sometimes depicted as veiling their faces. For example, King David covered his face when he mourned for his dead son, Absalom (2 Sam. 19:4). This passage does not specify what David used to cover his face. It could have been his hands, or a shawl, or a cloak. The gesture, though, suggests mourning in this context. At [p.270] another time, David wept and veiled (chapha) his head, as did the people who were with him. This was a sign of his grief at being forced to leave Jerusalem (2 Sam. 15:30). The prophet Ezekiel was commanded to cover his face so he would not see the land as he left Jerusalem, possibly to symbolize the spiritual blindness of his people who soon would be forced to leave the city (Ezek. 12).
Perhaps the most illuminating account of a veiled or covered face in the scriptures is found in Exodus 34:33-35, where Moses veiled his face when he came down the mountain from the presence of God. Because Moses was so full of the glory or light of God, the people could not look directly upon his countenance. When Moses went back to talk to God, he removed the veil (masveh) again. In this story, God is also depicted as being veiled, only the divine veil is a cloud which masks God’s glory. Exodus 34:4 states: “And the Lord descended in the cloud, and stood with him [Moses] there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord” (see also Ex. 16:10).
This last account of a veil image accords with the myths of other ancient cultures, where deities were often portrayed as hiding their “dazzling brightness behind a mask or veil, both to protect humans from injury because of their glory and also to ‘see without being seen’” (deVries, 485). In some of these cultures, veils were associated with earth and fertility goddesses. For example in one complex section of the Hymn to Demeter, a poem dating from the seventh century B.C., the Greek goddess Demeter is depicted as being veiled while seated on a sheepskin (Athanassakis, 7). The symbols of the veil and the sheepskin are believed to have had ritual significance in the Eleusinian mystery cult, in which the demi-god Herakles figured prominently. A bas-relief on a vase depicting a veiled-Herakles sitting on a ram skin (Kerenyi, 56) corroborates the significance of the ritual use of the veil, for it is well attested in myth and art that Herakles was initiated in the Eleusinian mysteries to prepare him for his descent into the underworld as part of a heroic quest. In this ritual context, the veil, which is thrown over the head of the initiate, serves as a symbol of rebirth (deVries, 485).
A similar ritual usage of the veil is found in the Gilgamesh epic. Gilgamesh, a hero like Herakles, while engaged on a heroic quest to find the plant of life, encounters Siduri, a goddess of wisdom and the patroness of wine merchants. Gilgamesh, clad in a skin garment, approaches the veiled goddess to ask her how he may find his way to a boatman to ferry him across some great waters. Here again, the veil [p.271] and the skins are associated with the hero’s rite of passage (Gardner, 209; see also Langdon, 210-13).
Another example is found in The Odyssey, where the shipwrecked Odysseus is swimming naked in a treacherous sea in a desperate attempt to reach shore. The goddess Leucothoe comes to his rescue and gives him her veil to tie around his waist, thus empowering him to reach land safely. This entire scene is replete with rebirth imagery, suggesting that Odysseus has ritually passed into a new phase of life. In this instance, the veil, tied around the hero’s waist, represents an umbilicus connecting him with the divine powers protecting him (Homer, Book 5, 2:333-55).
In these examples, the veil is connected, not with women as inferiors, but with the goddess as keeper of the gate or mystery which the initiate (often a man but sometimes a woman), either naked or skin-clad, must penetrate in order to obtain knowledge of a new or unseen world. The veil is also symbolically connected with the hymen (Walker 1988, 317) and as such represents the covering over the holy place, the inner sanctuary of the temple, which was anciently thought of as the body of the goddess into which the god or hero or priest/king had to enter to obtain the hidden wisdom or power.
In some myths, the hero’s acquisition of what is hidden or unattainable can be accomplished only by his becoming invisible by means of a cap or veil. In the story of Perseus and Medusa, the gods give Perseus a magic cap to render him invisible and thereby give him power over the monster Medusa. Thus, caps and veils may function as keys of access to the spiritual world by enabling their wearers to enter dangerous, sacred, or forbidden places without being noticed or harmed (Walker 1983, 617).
The veil also emerges then as a symbol of invisibility, mystery, and hidden power. And here, too, is another instance of how a symbol can function in both positive and negative ways: invisibility as we have seen can bring great power and knowledge, but it can also prevent a person from being known or having any direct influence. The positive and negative aspects of being veiled or invisible are reflected in the word reveal, which can have opposing meanings, both derived from its Latin stem. It can mean to unveil or to veil again. Thus, the veil, like symbols in general, can reveal or conceal what is hidden.
In the worship of both the Greek goddess Athena and Egyptian goddess Isis, the veil appears not as a covering for the face, but in the [p.272] form of a curtain to separate these divinities from their worshippers. As described by Plutarch, at a certain point in the rituals of these goddesses, the curtain was pulled back so that their images could be revealed: “In Sais, the statue of Athena, whom they believed to be Isis, bore the inscription: ‘I am all that has been, and is, and shall be, and my robe [veil] no mortal has yet uncovered’” (Plutarch, 2:24-25).
Similar descriptions are found about the worship of the goddess Isis. According to one historian, “In his Eleventh Book Apuleius gives a very interesting description of the manner in which Isis was worshipped in Rome in the latter half of the second century A.D …. At day break on the day of the festival of the goddess the priest went into her temple, and threw open the doors, leaving nothing but white linen curtains across the doorway to screen the interior. When the courts were filled with people, these curtains were drawn, and the worshippers were permitted to gaze upon the image of the goddess” (Budge, 2:218).
In some mythologies, when the veil appeared in the form of a curtain, it was symbolic of “the universe which the goddess weaves” or “the world of manifestation woven by the Great Goddess” (Cooper, 185). It is significant that Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, was also the goddess of weaving. Her robe or peplos embroidered with mythological symbols was “carried like the sail of a galley in public procession” at the time of her festival (Liddell, 621). In the Christian apocryphal Book of James, the Virgin Mary is chosen by the priests of the temple to weave the veil of the temple from threads of blue, scarlet, and purple. It is while she is spinning the thread that the angel appears to tell her she will bear the son of God (Hennecke, 1:379-80).
But whether manifest as a curtain, or as a face covering, or even as girdle, the veil represents the boundary between the sacred and the profane. In myth and ritual, the veil signifies the threshold, which must be passed to gain life or esoteric knowledge. Sometimes the initiate wears the veil, as in the case of Herakles and Odysseus; and sometimes it is worn by the deity, as in the case of Demeter or Siduri. Anciently, the wearers of masks or veils were identified as gods and goddesses, “at least for the participation in the sacred drama or procession” (Walker 1983, 617).
The image of a god or goddess behind a veil or embroidered curtain brings us back to the more familiar symbols of the Israelite and Mormon temple veils. The Israelite’s ancient tabernacle and later their temple contained several sets of veils which covered the entrances to [p.273] the various sanctuaries within them. In fact the walls of the tabernacle built by Moses consisted of curtains or veils; and a special, embroidered veil hid the holy of holies (Douglas, 1231-33). In the Mormon temple, what is called “the veil of the temple” actually consists of a number of identically embroidered veils, usually set side by side.
Within the context of the endowment, the temple veil is symbolically connected with the embroidered undergarment. Both the veil and the garment contain similar ritual markings, suggesting that our physical bodies constitute the veil or boundary which separates us from the spiritual realm. Thus to be lifted out of the body is to be lifted beyond the veil into the spiritual world. This connection between the veil and the body is echoed by the New Testament writer of Hebrews, who connects the veil of the temple with the flesh of Christ. This writer explains that, under Jewish law, only the high priest could enter the holy of holies in order to make a blood offering for the people. He then goes on to say that this ritual foreshadowed the sacrifice of Christ, which altered our relationship with God. According to this writer, Jesus is our “Great High Priest.” Because he was sacrificed on the altar of the world and passed beyond the veil of his mortal flesh into the true holy of holies of heaven, he has opened the way to God for all of us. To this end the Epistle states: “Having therefore, brethren [and sisters] boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, his flesh” (10:19-20).
This verse also seems to refer to the tradition in the Gospels that at the time of Christ’s death, the veil in the temple at Jerusalem was rent in two (Matt. 27:51), symbolizing the teaching that Christ parted the veil of mortality so that all could freely enter into eternal life and the presence of the Most High. The identification of Christ’s body with the veil also emerges in the legend of how Christ’s countenance was impressed in blood on Veronica’s veil. According to tradition, she used the veil to wipe the face of Jesus as he ascended the hill of Calvary. An associated usage of the veil in Christian ritual can be seen in the custom of veiling the cross during the Easter season to commemorate the three days when Christ’s body was in the tomb. This Christian custom parallels the Babylonian new year rites in which the shrine of Nabu was veiled in memory of his descent into the underworld (Langdon, 160).
Keeping all of these associations in mind, how can we interpret the image of the veiled woman in the Mormon temple? First, we should [p.274] note that in none of the sources we have examined has the veil been used strictly as a symbol of female inferiority. In each of these contexts, the veil expresses complex and even conflicting meanings. The most important of these meanings is associated with the rite of passage and with rebirth.
In the Mormon temple ceremony, rebirth is a predominant theme. The initiates are first washed and cleansed as if from the blood of birth and then clad in coats of skin, represented by the white, priesthood undergarments. Like newborns they are given new names. Thus they are brought out of the world of the profane into the world of the sacred and are sent on a spiritual quest. They are told that their models in this pilgrimage are their spiritual progenitors, Adam and Eve. The purpose of their search is to obtain the mysteries of godliness and to eat of the fruit of the tree of life. To do this they must receive instruction from angels, pass certain tests, and finally approach the veil, where they will receive final empowerment from God. On this spiritual journey the initiates are given, piece by piece, sacred clothing. This clothing symbolizes the bestowal upon them of grace, power, spirit, knowledge—in other words, it symbolizes the priesthood of God—that allows them to bring their quest to fruition.
It is important to note in this regard that from the undergarment to the outer robes, the only ritually significant difference between the temple clothing of men and women is the head covering. The men wear caps and the women wear veils. In our view this difference does not mean that women are inferior, but it may mean that the priesthood as vested in women has some manifestations and functions which distinguish it from those associated with the priesthood as vested in men. In other words, the different head coverings signify that priesthood has a female as well as a male modality. However, the differences overall in the priesthood robes of men and women, and by implication the priesthood functions of men and women, are few when compared to their similarities.
Furthermore, although the cap and the veil may symbolize subtle differences in priesthood, they also accomplish the same ritual function within the context of the endowment because they signify the crowns of glory, placed upon the initiates as symbolic of their anticipated status as kings and queens and priests and priestesses.
So, why is it the woman instead of the man who must wear the veil in the temple? One reason is that, in the scriptures, the woman frequently appears as a symbol for Israel, for the Christian church, for [p.275] the world, and for the earth—each separated from God by a veil. When she stands as the symbol of God’s people, the woman is also called the wife of God or the bride of Christ, which brings to mind the image of the bridal veil. In fact the gnostic Gospel of Philip calls the holy of holies the “bridal chamber”; it is entered by going through a veil. But the “bride of God” is not merely the earthly church. She is also a heavenly goddess. For this reason, the woman, in the temple ceremony, represents what is on both sides of the veil: the visible world, including all the people of the earth who are covered by a veil, and the invisible world, including the realm of hidden divinities and hidden power beyond the veil. Men too function as symbols in the temple. They also represent both humanity and divinity.
Although it is true that in ritual one person can play many roles, our culture has assigned symbolic roles to males and females which often link men with divinity and women with humanity. The recurrent use in our culture of the female as the symbol of the lower or material world and of the male as representation of the higher or spiritual world has reinforced the notion that women are inferior (Reuther 1983, 80). Though women have more often been connected with the lower realm, as indicated by Reuther, there have been notable exceptions, most likely influenced by images of the Virgin Mary as a female divine. Dante’s Beatrice and Goethe’s “eternal feminine” fall into this latter category. Romanticism’s idealization of women also followed this tradition.
The connection of women with the lower realm has happened in large part because our Western religious tradition has been virtually stripped of all imagery of a female divinity. The Heavenly Mother or Goddess is missing. This is true in Mormonism as well as other Christian religions. We are so conditioned by her absence that even in the temple it is difficult to see how the woman also reflects an image of the divine. That is why we must stress that the veiled woman in the endowment represents the Goddess, the Heavenly Bride, who is hidden and who must yet be revealed. What the temple has been teaching us for years is what many feminists have been recently saying: It is the woman’s identity and power which must yet to be unveiled in this dispensation.
But why does the woman veil her face in the prayer circle? To answer this question we must recall that the temple prayer ritual, like all prayer, is the means by which a person encounters God. In other words, in prayer an individual or a group approaches the veil to knock, ask, and seek what is hidden. In the prayer circle the veiled woman represents Israel, the church, the world, the earth, Eve, as well as the whole [p.276] group of men and women in the prayer circle. Each of those in the circle is separated from God by the veil, but each is invited to pursue the spiritual journey to the veil, where the mysteries of God will be revealed. At the same time the woman represents the hidden divinity behind the veil, who, when the prayer is over, will unveil her face, so that all may look directly upon the divine glory.
But is it not demeaning for women to wear the veil, since it implies that they cannot view God directly while men can? This view of the veil does not hold up scripturally or symbolically. We are told that no man (or woman presumably) can see God and live unless they have been transformed by the spirit. Moreover, when men and women actually approach and pass through the temple veil or curtain, they enter with their faces exposed. If the face veil meant that women could not view God directly, then they would be veiled at the point of entrance into the celestial presence. Furthermore, as we have seen in our examination of veil imagery, what is veiled or hidden is not inferior but superior to what is unveiled: the divine presence, the sacred place, the holy of holies, the celestial world.
Yet, the scriptures talk about a veil of darkness or unbelief which covers the people. Here is the paradoxical aspect of the symbol. But we must remember that this veil covers all people, not just women. And, too, the veil of darkness has its positive meaning. It is a symbol of protection, the cloak of Christ’s charity or mercy that protects us in this probationary state from the brightness of God’s glory—which would destroy us—until we can be transformed to endure God’s presence. Thus, the veil of Christ’s charity covers a multitude of sins. In his mythic novel Till We Have Faces, C. S. Lewis uses the veil image in a similar way; the veil hides our sin, our ugliness, our facelessness. We cannot unveil the face of God until we first have faces ourselves. Then we will see as we are seen.
In the temple the association of the veil with Christ’s sacrifice for us is profound and unmistakable. Both men and women embrace God through the veil before entering the celestial room. This symbolizes that our contact with God is made possible through Jesus Christ, whose body is represented by the veil. The marks in the veil represent his wounds, suggesting that our way to God is through Christ’s sacrifice. Before God accepts us into the glorified presence, God feels to see if we have received the wounds of Christ in our bodies. Only after we have ritually received the imputation of Christ’s crucifixion are we empowered to enter the most sacred place. Thus, the veil, the caps, the [p.277] embroidered garments—the veil of the temple itself—are symbols not of inferiority, but of rebirth and initiation made possible through the atoning blood of Christ. By his sacrificial act, Christ the Bridegroom rent the veil, parted it, and opened the way into the most sacred place for all—male and female alike. For in Christ Jesus are all made free.
But who has dared to enter freely into the holy place? Or to look upon the bare equality of the heavens? It has been easier for us, we fear, to retreat into the comfortable confines of our darkness than to open ourselves to new possibilities. It has seemed more respectable to keep our symbols secret than to understand what they mean. For our part, we believe that the purpose of the temple is to enlighten and empower us to part the veil and see as we are seen and know as we are known. Though we cannot part the veil for ourselves, we can stand at the door and knock, with receptive hearts, waiting for God to open. But, as St. Paul observed, unbelief can keep us from seeing; for “the veil is upon their heart. Nevertheless,” he promises, “when [they] shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away. Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with open [unveiled] face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:15-18).
Because we are not taught to read, reinterpret, and revitalize our religious symbols, we are in danger of losing them. We do not wish to lose the richness of any of our symbols, particularly the face veil. And yet, neither do we wish to see it used to justify the subordination of women. We frankly doubt that our complex interpretation of the veil will become generally accepted in the church. It is more likely that the veil will continue to be perceived and presented as a negative image for women and as justification for their continued disenfranchisement.
So because the face veil has become a symbol of oppression and subordination of women in our age, we wish it were possible to rend the veil in two and on the pieces write a “title of liberty” in memory of all those whose faces have been hidden and hearts broken behind a veil of spiritual alienation and oppression. We wish it were possible to write on it in memory of our Mother, the Goddess; in memory of our Father, Jesus Christ; in memory of the gospel which calls us out of bondage and fear, and sin to mourn with those that mourn, to comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to bear one another’s burdens that they may be light, until that day when with open faces we shall look upon the unveiled faces of the Most High. [p.278]