Strangers in Paradox
by Margaret & Paul Toscano
The Mormon Endowment
The Mormon temple endowment is a secret ritual. Those of us who have been endowed take a covenant of secrecy as part of the ceremony. For people who take it seriously, this covenant presents a formidable obstacle to any public analysis or discussion of the endowment. This problem, we feel, must be addressed first.
The covenant of secrecy is quite specific. In making it, we do not promise to avoid discussion or study of the ceremony. We promise only that we will not reveal the specific endowment acts, which Brigham Young in a public discourse indentified as “the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the Holy Priesthood” (JD 2:31).
In our view the covenant of secrecy was meant to prohibit the unofficial administration of the endowment to the uninitiated rather than to prevent discussions of the ceremony. We find support for our view in the scriptures, which are public but contain much that is presented in the temple drama. And of course the ceremony itself was not only published in the early part of this century as part of the Congressional Record but has for some time been available in various forms through non-Mormon sources.
Nevertheless the covenant of secrecy is important to us, and we wish to abide by it and to honor as much as possible the tradition that forbids the public airing of descriptions of the endowment rituals or of the specific language of the ceremony. On the other hand, we also wish to defend temple worship against accusations that the endowment is merely a hodgepodge of rituals adapted from masonry and ceremonial magic, and, therefore, either meaningless or anti-Christian. And we wish to demonstrate to the growing number of Latter-day Saints confused or put off by the ritual that it has more than mere social significance— that it should be considered, in fact, a genuine Christian sacrament.
[p.279] In this chapter we do not attempt to chronicle the history of the endowment or to ascertain the meaning it may have had for earlier generations of Mormons. Rather we wish to explore the meaning the endowment has for us, a meaning we derive from the ceremony itself. We propose to adduce its meaning from its symbols and structure. In this process, we will be subjective. We feel comfortable with this approach because we are not attempting to create either a creed, a historical narrative, or an objective description. We wish only to set forth an interpretation that some may find helpful, fruitful, or useful in arriving at a better interpretation for themselves.
This is risky business. We must, on the one hand, avoid presenting details that would amount to a violation of our personal covenants and that would offend those who, like us, take them seriously. On the other hand, we wish to avoid, for those not exposed to the ceremony, a discussion so shot through with circumlocutions as to render it meaningless. If we do not succeed, we hope we will not be chastised for trying. Our intention is not to write an expose for the curious, but to render an interpretation for the bewildered.
We will begin with four general observations. First, the validity and vitality of the endowment is, in our view, unrelated to its historical origins. Perhaps the ceremony is ancient, going back to Solomon. Perhaps it was invented out of whole cloth by Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Perhaps it adapts masonic rites known and practiced in New York in the early nineteenth century, rites whose beginning can be traced back no further than the Enlightenment and no farther away than Europe. It doesn’t matter. The historical origins of the endowment are irrelevant to its ritual importance and its efficacy as an ordinance of the restored gospel. Many if not all of the ordinances of the gospel existed in a secular or even profane form before they were adopted as sacraments of the Christian church. This position may be surprising or confusing to some, but a few examples may make our point clear.
The breaking of bread and drinking of wine as a covenant meal were known prior to the time Christ established the eucharist. The washing of feet was a common hospitality ritual of the region long before Christ invested the act with sacral significance. Baptism, too, was taken from known practices and given new meaning within the context of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The concept of making the profane sacred and renewing the old is the centerpiece of the Christian promise of justification, sanctification, resurrection, and glorification. It should not, therefore, surprise us to learn that Christ could take a commonplace act or [p.280] event and invest it with new meaning and spirituality and thereby create an ordinance or sacrament of the church.
This process, we believe, occurred with the endowment. Either an old or a new collection of rituals was presented to the Latter-day Saints as something to help them transcend their own world and enter into a new and sacred world—a world of ritual whose principal purpose is to help reunite us with God. Even if the endowment ritual cannot be traced to ancient antecedents, its meaning can. The forms may be new, but the temple ordinances serve ancient sacralizing functions which appear in one mystery religion after another back into antiquity.
What can blind us to the mythic connection between temple worship and earlier mystery religions is the Mormon tradition that all the old “true” ordinances have been restored by revelation and are now precisely as they were in ancient times. In other words, we assume that the forms of the ordinances never change and that there is no connection between ordinances that serve the same function but take different forms. While it is undoubtedly true that the ordinance of baptism has remained the same, this is probably not so with the endowment, which may contain smatterings of ancient formulae, but which must also contain modern elements if modern Mormons are to understand it. With the endowment it is more likely that the form is new, but the function is old.
Our second general observation is that the word “endowment” is not derived from the word endow, meaning a gift or bequest. It is related to the word “endue” used in the King James version of Luke 24:49. “Endue” comes from the Latin “inducere,” which is connected to the Old French “enduire,” meaning to lead into or draw into. At the time the Bible was translated in 1611, “endue” meant to clothe and instruct or to invest a person with honors and dignities, with a power or quality or spiritual gift. The word “endowment,” derived as it is from “endue,” is apt in Mormon usage, for it refers to the ritual investiture of men and women with honors, dignities, and spiritual gifts, by enrobing them in priestly vestments, and inducting them into sacramental mysteries that are intended to give them access to greater light and knowledge.
Our third observation is that the endowment was, in our view, intended to restore to us the keys of the fullness of the priesthood. The church teaches that Joseph Smith received the Melchizedek priesthood from Peter, James, and John. But certain scriptures (D&C 2; 84:33-44; 124:47) suggest that this was meant as a provisional grant of priesthood power, sufficient only to administer the ordinances of rebirth, to organize the church, and to build the temple. A fuller priesthood was [p.281] to follow. This priesthood, unlike those previously restored, is not conferred by the laying on of hands. Rather, it is transmitted through the temple rituals in three stages. First, the powers or keys of the fulness of the priesthood are vested in individuals through the temple endowment (105:11; 128:11, 14). Second, the endowed are initiated into the holy order of God through an ordinance called the second anointing by which they “come to an innumberable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of Enoch and of the firstborn” (76:67). And third, the initiates receive the promise of joint-heirship with Christ by an oath and covenant pronounced by the Most High (84:35-38).
Our fourth and final general observation is that though some Mormons feel that the endowment is strange and alien, we believe that neither its symbolism nor its structure departs from the teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The endowment is, in part, the realization of Jesus’ promise of further spiritual gifts, honors, and dignities to those who desire a fuller spiritual life. In the endowment, we are given Christian symbols of priesthood and royalty, conducted through rites of passage, and presented with a number of cosmogonical, cosmological, soteriological, and eschatological touchstones for our spiritual journey back to God.
One of Joseph Smith’s important theological contributions to Christianity was his reassertion that the process of accepting divine gifts involves the acceptance of the ordinances of the gospel as well. The words “order,” “ordain,” and “ordinance” are obviously related. They all come from the same root “ord-,” which means to commence, order, arrange, or prepare. Ordinances are mechanisms by which individuals prepare to meet God. They are points of contact with the divine through which God creates new spiritual arrangements. As such, ordinances memorialize those moments when new spiritual horizons are opened to us.
The endowment constitutes a series of interrelated ordinances through which we ritually reenact the work done by Jesus Christ for the benefit of humanity. Where faith, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost are intended to effect in us a spiritual rebirth, the endowment is intended to facilitate in us spiritual maturation as a prerequisite to union with God.
With these general observations in mind, let us now turn to the issue of the structure of the temple endowment. The Mormon temple ritual is set within the mythic structure of the creation account, in which Adam and Eve journey from an unspecified initiatory stage, through the creation stage, the garden stage, the profane or telestial stage, the [p.282] sacral or terrestrial stage, and back to the celestial stage in which God dwells.
What renders the endowment ritual somewhat obscure for many Mormons is the confusion that prevails from the outset of the ceremony about the unities of time and place. Where are we? And when is this? The temple drama, of course, can be interpreted as representing the past, the present, and the future simultaneously. In other words, it can be seen to take place in a mythic or timeless state. But we think it is more fruitful to assume that the drama is taking place in a future, celestial state—a point where a new creation is about to be launched. What we adduce from this assumption is the proposition that eternal life does not go on forever and ever as we supposed and that repeated resurrections are possible for the same individual. We have had some preparation for this idea in the Doctrine and Covenants, where we are told that endless punishment does not go on forever. Endless punishment is just another way of saying God’s punishment. It follows that if eternal punishment does not go on forever, then eternal life does not go on forever either—at least not in the usual way we think. Eternal life refers to God’s life. And what is God’s life? What is the mystery of godliness? It is apparently an everlasting cycle through which an individual passes, going from time to eternity and from eternity to time. Or perhaps a less confusing way to say it is that Adam and Eve and we, their children, will move from the celestial world through the paradise of Eden, the telestial and terrestrial worlds, and back to the celestial. Then if we wish we may repeat the process again, in another eternity so to speak.
Joseph Smith seemed to have had this cycle in mind when he stated: “Here, then, is life eternal—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power” (TPJS, 246-47). What did Joseph Smith mean by the phrase “going from exaltation to exaltation until you attain the resurrection of the dead”? In Mormon theology, “exaltation” includes the resurrection of the dead. One cannot be exalted and remain unresurrected. We interpret this to mean that mortals are to progress from exaltation to exaltation (which includes repeated resurrections) until they obtain the [p.283] power to resurrect the dead. It is in this way that we can eventually become like Jesus Christ.
The temple ritual, we believe, is rooted in this theology. Thus, at the outset of the endowment, initiates find themselves in the celestial kingdom as resurrected priests and priestesses, kings and queens, waiting to participate in a new creation. For this reason, the creation account of scripture becomes an important focus of the temple endowment.
Let us here observe, first, that we do not believe the creation story was intended to be taken literally. It was not intended to give us an accurate picture of how the world was brought out of chaos into nature. It is not meant to serve as an explanation of how the sun, moon, and stars were made, or how the globe was formed with the land thrusting up through the waters, the rains coming, and the rivers flowing. It was not meant to provide us with a scientific model of how plants, animals, and humans appeared on earth in their evolutionary order. Any resemblance between the creation account and modern scientific ideas of the creation is strictly coincidental.
Our Mormon creation accounts are probably sanitized versions of a story that was in its original form very like the ancient Sumerian or Mesopotamian creation myths. Thus, when the Genesis account tells us that God created heaven and earth, it does not speak from a scientific perspective, but a mythic one. As such, this phrase was probably meant to convey the idea that, in the beginning, God (a primordial deity like the god Chaos) created Heaven (Father Sky) and Earth (the Earth Goddess). The account then sets forth an antique pattern that communicates the notion that, through the union of these two deities, order and life was produced on earth. As the myth unfolds the sky god becomes associated with day and the sun, while the earth goddess becomes associated with night and the moon. The gathering together of waters in the heaven and in the earth represents the waters of life, the reproductive powers of these deities. The rain on the earth is an insemination symbol. And the earth bringing forth plants and animals is but a version—abstracted and sanitized, perhaps by later revisionists—of the old story of the earth goddess bringing forth life.
In the endowment drama of Adam and Eve, the role of Christ is central. After Adam and Eve partake of the fruit, they are told that all is not lost. God will not leave them comfortless. A savior will be provided who will assume the responsibility for their transgressions and the sins and frailities of their children. As a guarantee of this promise, [p.284] God provides coats of skin for Adam and Eve to solve the problem of their nakedness, which stands for their spiritual powerlessness. These skins represent the power of Christ to redeem them with an outpouring of his grace sufficient to protect them from the demands of justice urged by Satan.
Through the ordinances of the temple, initiates receive the greater light and knowledge about our purpose on earth. They also receive the full keys of the priesthood, by which they are empowered to come into contact with God through the mediation of Christ, whose symbols and signs are prominently featured throughout the ritual.
Many Mormons, upon first attending the temple, are surprised by the symbolic nature of the endowment rites. This is due, in part, to the fact that in Mormonism, ordinary church worship is as symbol-poor as temple worship is symbol-rich. Many are not prepared for this contrast, a problem exacerbated by the reluctance of members to discuss the endowment, even with the initiated. In what follows, we will set forth our own interpretation of certain of the symbols and types which Mormons encounter in our temple worship in an attempt to share the meanings we glean from our experience.
Symbols of Regeneration. We have mentioned before that the symbols of regeneration include faith, repentance, baptism, and confirmation. These, the first principles and ordinances of the gospel, are the ordinances of rebirth. Faith is a form of spiritual begetting. Repentance or a change of heart is our response to God’s spirit and constitutes the embryonic recreation of a new, spiritual being. Baptism is birth out of the amniotic waters of an old life. And to receive the Holy Ghost is to take the breath of life, the spirit of God. The initiatory ordinances of the temple are a continuation of this rebirth imagery, even though they are administered to us years after we are baptized and confirmed. These ordinances symbolize our cleansing as spiritual newborns, by which vestiges of the old, profane world are washed away and all our bodily functions are rededicated to sacred purposes. Once ritually washed, we are, like newborns, anointed. The ritual unguent used for this purpose is olive oil, an important religious symbol, not only in the Mormon tradition, but in others as well. Joseph Smith referred to one of his revelations, Section 88 of the Doctrine and Covenants, as the “olive leaf” because it had been “plucked from the tree of paradise.” Apparently, in his mind, the tree of life was an olive tree. This notion is echoed in the Book of Mormon account of Lehi’s dream, where the tree of life is said to represent Jesus Christ, as the incarnate love of God (1 Ne. 11:8-28).
[p.285] Extending this metaphor, the olive, as the fruit of the tree of life, represents Christ’s spiritual gifts to humanity. And olive oil, as the essence of the olive, represents the spirit, power, or glory of God. This usage is enhanced by the fact that olive oil was an economic staple of the Near East and served as a cleansing agent, a preservative, a fuel for lamps, a condiment, an aid to cooking, and a fragrant ointment to condition and protect the skin. The New Testament contains the parable of the ten virgins of whom five had extra reserves of oil for their lamps as they awaited the coming of the bridegroom (Matt. 25:1-13). The Doctrine and Covenants clarifies that the oil in this parable is a metaphor for the holy spirit (D&C 45:56-57). This symbol resonates in the word “Gethsemane,” which means “oil press,” suggesting that Christ’s atoning sacrifice consisted of a loss or withdrawal of his spirit or glory, a teaching asserted explicitly in D&C 19:20, where we are admonished to repent lest we suffer in a lesser degree the sufferings of Christ in Gethsemane, which sufferings “in the smallest, yea, even in the least degree you have tasted at the time I withdrew my Spirit.”
Given these associations, it is not surprising that olive oil should be employed in the humblest and most common of all gospel ordinances, the administration to the sick, as well as in the most sacred and most guarded ordinances of the temple. In the blessing of the sick, the anointing of the head with olive oil signifies the outpouring of the spirit of God sought by the faithful in order to restore health or well-being. In the temple the initiatory anointings signify the outpouring of the power and blessing of God upon the individual. The anointing is an act of dedication and consecration. The use of oil in the initiatory ordinances not only signifies the bestowal of spiritual gifts granted as a help and protection, but it also establishes the individual as a candidate for the fullness of the priesthood, the full compliment of spiritual gifts and powers attainable by mortals.
Another symbol of regeneration is the act of naming. In the temple, we encounter the symbology of sacred names, which are not meant to function as names in the ordinary sense but are keywords. They point to differing spheres of being through which Christ and Adam and Eve passed and through which we too must pass if we are to be like them. The first keyword suggests that all of us came from a more ancient sphere of being, where we had names and identities and lives now forgotten, whose memory we must retrieve. From this other place, we, like Adam and Eve before us, come to earth. Here, travelling under our present names, we are isolated and must be reconnected with the [p.286] other spheres of being. Like Adam and Eve we must pass into a kingdom prepared for us. In this journey we will be guided by Jesus Christ, in his role as the Son. We take his name as our name. Thus the interdependence of past, present, and future is symbolized by names that represent the different guises which a single soul assumes on this, the hero’s or the heroine’s journey. The fact that the names are given to us by Christ signifies that he is our initiator. The most sacred name is the name of God. It is not given in the temple, although initiates are taught how to ask for this name. It is not given because only Christ is to give it.
Sacred Clothing. In the temple, we are robed in sacred clothing, also symbolic of regeneration. This clothing serves two additional symbolic functions. First, it ritually confirms to us that righteousness must be imputed to us. We do not enter God’s presence dressed in our self-righteousness, but clothed in the power and goodness of God. Second, the temple clothing represents the roles or personas we assume during the temple drama.
In the Garden, we are told, Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed until they partook of the forbidden fruit. Upon discovering their shame, God made coats of skin for a covering for them. This covering is now represented by a white undergarment. It symbolizes the skin of an animal slain in similitude of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The skin, then, represents the messianic priesthood of Jesus, the power that created and recreated the world. It is the symbol of his atonement. For this reason, it is embroidered with marks that represent the wounds, inflicted during his crucifixion, upon his palms, his wrists, his feet, and his side. By assuming the sacrificial skin thus adorned, we take upon ourselves the image of Christ and ritually assume his suffering and death as our own. And with Paul we can say that we bear the marks of the Lord’s crucifixion on our bodies (Gal. 6:17). This is the mantle of God’s love. It is the cloak of his charity. It is the covering of his righteousness. It reminds us daily that Jesus took our sins upon him as if they were filthy rags and, in return, he stands ready to clothe us in his own holiness. The garment is the symbol that Christ died as if he were as sinful as we so that we might live as if we were as sinless as he. We wear this symbol in secret to reaffirm that the grace of God is not to be used to obtain public admiration or social status.
In addition to the garment, as temple initiates we are introduced to other sacred clothing: the robes of the priesthood. It is through the process of ritual investiture that the endowed assume the roles and [p.287] personas of Adam and Eve and of Jesus Christ. It is because of our identity with and connection to these beings that we become entitled to inherit eternal life and enter into the presence of God. The design of the robe is unusual because it can be draped over one shoulder or the other, allowing for the display of different symbols in the garment.
Geometric Shapes. In the temple, we encounter the symbols of the square, the compass, the arc, and the rule (or continuum). These symbols are never totally explained in the temple, although some interpretive suggestions are provided. It is important to understand that these symbols, though very possibly borrowed from Masonry, have a Christian meaning within the context of the temple ceremony.
In our view, the square signifies the justice of God in bringing order out of chaos. It is a symbol of creative power and of the primal organizing principle and is associated with Aaron’s rod. The shape of the square suggests uprightness, law, order, strictness, exactness. In ancient Egypt the square was thought to be an abstract representation of Osiris’s judgment seat, where he sat during the ritual weighing of the heart. This mark is preeminent during the lesser priesthood ceremonies, indicating that the primary purpose of this priesthood is to reveal the law of God, to create and maintain order, to make distinctions and to do justice.
The compass represents Christ’s mercy—his purpose to bring not merely order out of chaos but also perfection, represented by the circle made by the compass. Medieval alchemists pondered the problem of turning the square into a circle and hit upon using the square as a compass to do this. By answering the demands of his own justice and taking upon himself responsibility for the transgressions of his people, God frees us from the exacting demands of divine justice. He turns the square into a compass. Thus, the perpendicular lines of the square, which suggest that mortals are at variance with God, become the legs of the compass, one active and one passive, working together to circumscribe all into one. The compass then represents the male and female divinities with their fullness of spiritual gifts and powers working in concert to produce the circle, the perfection that embraces everything in divine love. The compass serves additionally as a symbol of the fullness of the priesthood, which unlike the Aaronic priesthood, is exercised by males and females together. The square and compass are associated with the human breast in order to reinforce the teaching that the purpose of priesthood, both lesser and greater, is to nurture.
The arc no longer appears to be an arc, probably due to imprecision [p.288] in its rendering over the years. Now it is represented as a straight, horizontal line or rule. In our view, the arc has a symbolic function similar to the arc of the rainbow in the story of Noah. It represents the power of Christ to break the circle of his perfection in order to lay down his life and take it up again. It represents the power of endless lives, the power to enter and to exit the body, to go from one resurrection and exaltation to another. It was believed by some early Mormons that our spirits entered and exited our bodies through the navel. Thus, the navel is associated with the power to enter and exit mortality. Because the navel is the aperture of nourishment for the body in its fetal stage, its associated symbol, the arc, reminds us that we humans are continually nourished by God—by the very body and blood of Jesus— through the medium of his incarnation, death, and resurrection.
The rule or continuum is associated with the knee. The knee in Mesopotamia and in other places was a euphemism for the genitals. The idea that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ is an apt statement to associate with the knee mark. The meaning is that the procreative powers rest in Christ, the central creative force of the universe. And that these powers in us are derived from him.
In sum, the square, compass, arc, and rule represent Christ’s divine attributes: (1) justice, law, order, creation, distinction, and the necessary polarities comprising the paradoxes of the universe; (2) mercy, love, forgiveness, acceptance, union, transcendence, and perfection; (3) the power of God over mortality and immortality, over temporal life and eternal life; and (4) eternal progression, the continuation of the seed forever.
Other Signs and Symbols. In the temple, we also encounter certain symbols representing the four principle elements of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ: First, Christ ascended up on high. Second, Christ descended below all things. Third, Christ was pierced for the transgressions of the children of Adam and Eve, thus taking upon himself responsibility for their mortality and making possible their resurrection from the dead. And fourth, Christ was pierced for our individual sins, thus assuming the full weight of the sins of the world in order to redeem each person. This sacrifice lies at the heart of God’s fellowship with us. It is the symbolic fulfillment of the promise made by God to Adam and Eve to provide a Savior for them and us.
Other symbols or signs are connected with Christ’s role as the initiate’s prophet, priest, king, and friend. A rod in the right hand, [p.289] related to the symbol of the square as a sign of power over the elements, signifies that the fundamental attribute of God in the temporal world is justice. In a world where entropy reigns, the ordering power is the prime desiderata. An orb in the right hand represents the white stone or seer stone or Urim and Thummim into which we may look to obtain a higher vision for ourselves and others. Also an orb can be associated with the bitter cup Jesus drank to give us access to this better world. A scepter resting near the bowels (the seat of mercy) usually signifies a two-edged sword with which the sovereign may take life or raise an individual to knighthood. The sword near the bowels of the monarch indicates that if mercy is to flow unto others, we as kings and queens must be willing to lay down our lives for others.
The final representation of a dove in flight recalls an outpouring of glory or power, which transfigures, translates, resurrects, and glorifies. It represents the blessing of immortality and eternal life, the calling and election made sure as symbolized by the descending pillar of flame or tongue of fire of the pentecost. It represents the reception by us of the hand of God, laid upon the head to emblazon thereon the name of God. It represents Jacob’s ladder, upon which eternal beings must ascend and descend from eternity into time and from time into eternity in a never-ending cycle in imitation of God.
Prior to April 1990, Mormons encountered in the temple certain symbols of justice and propitiation, called penalties. Some Mormons, particularly in the nineteenth century, assumed that in reenacting these rituals Mormons were agreeing to allow their lives to be taken if ever they violated any of their temple or other covenants. We assume that because this tended to be offensive to many modern Mormons, the penalties were removed. In our view, however, to the extent these rituals were interpreted to reinforce the concept of self-atonement, they were misunderstood.
There is no question that justice has a place in our religion and that the wages of sin is death. But, within the context of the temple ceremony, it is to be remembered that the death threatened is assumed not by the initiate but first by Adam and Eve and then, ultimately and infinitely, by Jesus Christ in whose persona each initiate stands. The ritual punishment seemed to mean that justice cannot be robbed and that punishment follows sin, but such a punishment may be suffered by a divinity who voluntarily assumes responsibility for us and thus becomes the author and finisher of our salvation. Thus, the penalties intended for us are suffered by God. The penalty ordinances were [p.290] representations of the ancient blows of death suggested in the earliest Hebrew texts treating the Abrahamic sacrifice and are associated with covenant making. Abraham slit the sacrificial animal in three places, and God passed through the parts as a pillar of fire, saying in effect, “Abraham, I promise to bless you and I will keep my promise, even if it means that what happened to this animal must happen to me.” And of course it did. We think the ancient Japanese ritual of seppuku is related to these blows of death, which constitute a revelation about the nature of the godhead—resurrected and glorified beings who have the power within themselves, as Christ declared, to take up their bodies and lay them down again as required for the benefit of their posterity.
The Veil. In the temple, we are also introduced to the symbol of the veil presented in two forms: a curtain and a face veil. At the veil or curtain of the temple, we encounter symbols that remind us of the seven wounds of Jesus: one in each palm, one in each wrist, one in each foot, and one in his side. The number seven is associated with God’s wounds, which are also symbolized by the seven stars in the big dipper, the seven openings in the human head, and the seven stars in the Pleiades. The veil represents Christ himself. Its presence reminds us that access to the eternal world is through his sacrifice. In wearing the garment, we are actually covered with a veil, who is Christ.
At the veil we are not required to impress God with our knowledge of doctrine, or our worthiness, but with our allegiance to Christ. For if we are wounded with his wounds, we’ have received his grace and may enter into heaven as if we were Christ. The Lord is the keeper at the veil. It is he who draws us through into the celestial world, the place of first creation, the place of final maturation. This is where all things begin and end. We have come full circle and have greater light and knowledge as a result of our experience. We understand that eternal life is one eternal round.
By way of conclusion, we wish to make three points. First, our discussion is not intended to be exhaustive. We believe there is much about the temple which should be explored and analyzed: architectural symbols, the symbolic import of the movement of the initiates through the temple rooms along different points of the compass, the various arrangements which prayer circles may assume, the geometric position of certain physical symbols, the symbolic meaning reflected in the order for laying the temple cornerstones, and the significance of the entire temple as a calendar of mythic events. This catalog is far from complete.
[p.291] Second, we do not want anyone to think that we are advancing our interpretations in a dogmatic or credal way. We wish only to show that the temple is more than a potpourri of plagiarized tropes. It has a meaning relating directly to Jesus Christ as God and Savior. Whether the true meaning of the temple resembles the interpretations we have advanced here is something each person must answer for himself or herself. And that is the only way it can be. It is the way of myth and symbol and continuing revelation.
Finally, although our interpretation is debatable, we think that Joseph Smith considered the temple endowment to be his crowning contribution to the church. The endowment is his greatest sermon, a sermon in symbols. The ceremony of the temple was given to lead step by step through rituals and robings to the point where endowed men and women might stand prepared to enter into the most sacred of all associations with God. This association is the hieros gamos, the divine marriage, where the creation and the creator are made one.
Union with the Most High is the fulfillment of the promise of the endowment, the promise that we should become the friends of God, to be sealed to the sacred personages who have assumed the chief responsibility for our eternal life and joy, so that with them we might be one and hold in common the fullness of the godhead.