Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Many Mansions 3: The Modified Temple


This particular temple variation is designed for one purpose: to fit into the already-existing buildings. The layout will not be altered in more than the most trivial ways. So moving staircases is out; hanging something new in place of the veil is a possible.

Equally, I won't be mentioning any higher technology than is already available – specifically, projectors, full-room audio, and automatic pausing until a button is pressed.

For similar reasons of shall we say plausibility, I will be attempting to fit this new temple ceremony within the pseudo-doctrinal boundaries of the current one. I will not be discussing anything prior to stepping out of the changing room, and will fit in as many of the things people think are essential as possible, regardless of my thoughts on the eternal nature thereof.

A Caveat

In my view, the temple ceremony should be a way to grow closer to and develop a personal relationship with God, as well as being about making covenants on your own or someone else's behalf. To that end, I envisage your own endowment being a solo affair – one of the endowment rooms in the temple will be set aside for this purpose. Similarly, it will be standard practice (but not obligatory) for a couple to go through a ceremony just for the two of them immediately prior to their sealing. In all other circumstances, you will go through as a group.

To this end, the primary description will be for your personal ceremony. Unless otherwise stated, you will be alone (with, presumably, one witness of the same gender as you). Also unless otherwise stated, the group ceremony will be identical to this, except that you are one of a congregation.

Many Mansions 2: An Ancient Temple


This fictional ancient ceremony is designed to reconcile the ancient view of the world and style of ritual with modern LDS theology. It is not something which would actually have taken place in the ancient world - but it is written as if it were. The setting you may imagine as Jerusalem around the time of Christ.

Why and Who?

The ceremony here described is for couples only. It does dual service as a religious marriage ceremony (or sealing), and as a later pilgrimage. In the latter case, it occurs after the couple are wedded in their own village.

Journey to the Temple

In order to participate in the temple experience, worshippers are required to walk to the temple itself. Traditionally they are required to walk the entire distance from their home village, but in later times this was moderated to walking from the city limits. They must bear the ceremonial items – a purse of coins, a walking staff, and a loaf of bread, and shoes, in addition to their normal clothes. However, due to the nature of the ceremony, many choose to wear extremely rough clothing, often consisting of a single piece of fabric, under an equally rough cloak.

Many Mansions 1: A New Temple


The New Temple ceremony is written as a successor to the current LDS endowment. It presupposes large amounts of available space, but does not, as written, require any technology which does not currently exist. Some of the technology may be quite expensive, but it exists.

This text also assumes that Joseph Smith was given a fairly simple set of instructions: 'The Saints should make covenants with me; a solemn ceremony in the Holy Temple is required'. This is my understanding of the actual situation – but that doesn't mean I'm right.

Many Mansions

The Temple - the House of the Lord - stands at the heart of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as it did for the ancient Jewish people. Within the sacred walls of our temples, we participate in sacred ordinances - rituals and ceremonies established in the very first days of the Church, echoing ancient patterns, and passed down to the present day.

But the problem with passing things down is that, even if they are transmitted faithfully, a lot of the meaning can be lost. This is probably best illustrated with an example.

It is fairly clear that when Joseph Smith wrote the temple ceremony, he incorporated a number of features from Masonic ceremonies and rituals. At the time, I imagine this was a kind of shortcut - the very fact that something was shared with the Masons automatically told the early Saints it was secret, sacred, ancient and full of meaning. It was not, at the time, necessarily a bad decision.

But those connotations don't hold today. Partly this is because we know more about the Masons (in the 1800s they were widely accepted to date back to the building of the temple in Jerusalem; nowadays they are considered to have been formed in the late 16th century), partly because we know less (most people wouldn't recognise a Masonic symbol, regardless of context), and partly because we simply have a different frame of reference.

A concrete example: the compass, or V-shape, is a symbol shared between Masonic and LDS ceremonies. (No secrets here - it's on the logo of the Freemasons!). In the temple, we are told it represents three things: an unbending path to eternal life, that we are to keep our desires within the bounds God has set, and that all truths may be circumscribed into one great whole (a triad which apparently goes back to David O. McKay in the 1920s).

Most of us, on thinking about it, will recall that a pair of compasses - shaped like a V - can be used to draw a circle, explaining the latter two meanings. How many of us, though, ever knew that said compasses - or, more commonly, a pencilless variant known as dividers, can be used to accurately measure distances on a map? Yes, we know about the magnetic compass - but that bears no resemblance to the V-shaped symbol!

The message here is simple: times change, and rituals need to change with them. The LDS temple ceremony has been changed numerous times - as indicated above, some of the phrasing used was introduced in the 1920s, some 80 years after the ceremony was first instituted - and there is no reason it cannot change again.

This series of posts, 'Many Mansions', contains my thoughts on a number of hypothetical temple ceremonies and related rituals. Some are fictional ancient ceremonies; some are rituals that could be instituted today. They all have in common the twin facts that a) they are not real (at least at time of writing), and b) they are invented by me. They are not the product of revelation (or not consciously, at any rate).

None of these hypothetical ceremonies are meant to offend, or to make light of sacred things. All of them are intended to be rich in symbolism, and suited to someone with an LDS theology, if not necessarily a modern LDS frame of reference.

A New Temple - A ceremony designed for a modern-day, high-technology temple
An Ancient Temple - A ritual set in a fictional Jerusalem-analogous city
The Modified Temple - An attempt to design a new ceremony which could feasibly replace the current one
A Near-Future Temple - A Heavenly-Family-oriented ceremony requiring slight technological advances