My book club just read this book, The Mysteries of Godliness: A History of Mormon Temple Worship, by David John Buerger. I have to say that while the book is interesting, I had some real discomfort while reading the book. As an active Mormon, we have promised not to talk about the sacred ceremonies outside of the temple. So, I will honor that promise. On the other hand, it was fascinating to learn some of the changes over the years, and I felt a greater understanding of temple ceremonies.
As I talk about this book, I will review some of the commonly known practices about temple worship, and I’ll highlight some of the interesting changes over the years. There are 3 main religious ceremonies performed in Mormon temples:
- Baptism for the Dead
- Marriage Sealings
The book primarily discusses the evolution of the Endowment ceremony. Apostle Boyd K Packer (next in line to become prophet) wrote a booklet titled, The Holy Temple, and the text can be found on the church website. Quoting from Elder Packer’s booklet,
the teaching of the temples is done in symbolic fashion. The Lord, the Master Teacher, gave much of His instruction in this way.
The temple is a great school. It is a house of learning. In the temples the atmosphere is maintained so that it is ideal for instruction on matters that are deeply spiritual. The late Dr. John A. Widtsoe of the Quorum of the Twelve was a distinguished university president and a world-renowned scholar. He had great reverence for temple work and said on one occasion:
- The temple ordinances encompass the whole plan of salvation, as taught from time to time by the leaders of the Church, and elucidate matters difficult of understanding. There is no warping or twisting in fitting the temple teachings into the great scheme of salvation. The philosophical completeness of the endowment is one of the great arguments for the veracity of the temple ordinances. Moreover, this completeness of survey and expounding of the Gospel plan, makes temple worship one of the most effective methods of refreshing the memory concerning the whole structure of the gospel.
The modern Endowment ceremony evolved during the life of Joseph Smith. One of the things that struck me about the book was that many of the visions were seen not just by Joseph, but by others. D&C 137 describes a vision in which Joseph saw his brother Alvin in the heavens. I had not realized that this vision was part of this early version of the endowment ceremony; today, Mormons would refer to these early ceremonies performed in the Kirtland Temple as “Initiatory Work”, where the people were ceremonially washed. In my studies of the Dead Sea Scrolls, I know the people at Qumran were constantly going through ceremonial washings, and I have always felt there was some sort of similarity between this community, and the Initiatory washings in the Kirtland Temple.
One of the strangest things to note that these early washings were done with whiskey and cinnamon. The footnote on page 11 says,
According to Book of Mormon witness Oliver Cowdery, five days prior to the 21st some preliminary washings took place: “met in the evening with bro. Joseph Smith, Jr., at his house, in company with bro. John Corrill, and after pure water was prepared, called upon the Lord and proceeded to wash each other’s bodies, and bathe the same with whiskey, perfumed with cinnamon. This we did that we might be clean before the Lord for the Sabbath, confessing our sins and covenanting to be faithful to God. While performing this washing unto the Lord with solemnity, our mings were filled with many reflections upon the propriety of the same, and how the priests anciently used to wash always before ministering befoer the Lord. As we had nearly finished this purification, bro. Martin Harris came in and was also washed” (Oliver Cowdery Sketch Book, 16 Jan. 1836, pp. 4-5, archives, historical department, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.)
Buergar says on page 11 that these ordinances were first introduced on 21 Jan 1836 (which matches the dating in the D&C 137),
These ordinances clearly were patterned after washings and anointings described in the Old and especially New Testaments (see Lev. 8; Mark 6:13; Luke 4:18, 7:38, 44; John 13:1-16; 1 Tim 5:10; James 5:14.)
Buergar then details that these washings were followed by anointings with oil, and some impressive visions were accompanied on the following pages. I guess I found it interesting that whiskey and cinnamon were used. I know at some point it said the reasoning for this was to send a sweet savor to God. With the current prohibition of alcohol in the Word of Wisdom, this really strikes modern Mormons as unusual. I also remember reading that the Word of Wisdom wasn’t a temple requirement until 1921. How things have changed….
I had planned a longer post, but I’ll stop for now, and pick up on a few other interesting tidbits on the Endowment later than I found interesting. I will say that the bulk of the current Endowment wasn’t revealed to Joseph until the Nauvoo period, and I’ll cover some general details on that in a future post. While some may have heard that there are some Masonic influences in the current Mormon Temple ceremonies, during the Kirtland period, Joseph was not a Mason, and these influences are absent during this early time period. Questions?