Tuesday, 13 November 2012

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.

The Outer Court

On arriving at the temple, husband and wife are separated, heading to the left and right entrances to the temple proper. Before the central building are two walled enclosures, each divided into two, such that to enter the temple you must pass through two enclosed squares, isolated from the outside world. At various points around the outside of the temple, music is playing – wind chimes, trumpets, percussion, and so on. They are arranged in such a way that the full effect of all the music can only be heard from a specific point within.

Once separated, wife and husband enter the two sets of outer courts.

The Challenges

In the first court, the Challengers await. These men or women shout questions at the arriving pilgrim, starting as soon as they enter. They are kept off balance, and should they fail to answer a question quickly enough, answer it incorrectly, or answer with an obvious falsehood, the challenger who asked it throws red paint at them.

The questions are not on one specific topic, but centre around the pilgrim's life, their reason for coming, and of course sin. The final question – which always results in being painted – is "Are you sinful?". To say 'No' is a falsehood – but to say 'Yes' is to admit to sin.

At the inner gate waits the Guide, who opens the gate for the pilgrim and leads them through. Thoroughly painted, the pilgrim passes through the gate into the second court.

The Sacrifices

To pass through the second courtyard, the supplicant must make four sacrifices – of the four ceremonial items of apparel they brought with them. Each sacrifice is a symbol of the sacrifices they must make in life, in order of increasing importance.

The Guide directs them to each of the sacrifices in turn:

  • The porch that covers the entrance to the court is built deliberately badly. The pilgrim must sacrifice his or her staff to support it, symbolising the support of the church and the kingdom.
  • Beyond the porch is the Box of the Mothers. Here the pilgrim is required to donate their purse with all its contents to a fund which is shared out among the mothers of the city. This symbolises their obligation to support their family and dependants.
  • A rough wooden table faces the Box of the Mothers, known as the Altar of Poverty. Here they place their loaf of bread and their shoes, which will be given to the poor of the city. This symbolises their obligation to feed, clothe and care for the poor and the needy.
  • Finally the Guide directs the pilgrim to a brazier, where they must place all their remaining clothing, symbolising both their acknowledgement of their nakedness before God, and their responsibility to worship Him. The Guide gives instruction for the rest of the temple ceremony and departs, and the pilgrim casts her or his clothing into the brazier. The paint which was thrown in the Challenges creates a thick cloud of smoke, and on seeing this rise above the levels of the wall, the Guide activates the mechanism which opens the doors of the temple building.

Thus entirely naked, the pilgrim enters the temple.

The Washing

The first room of the temple is a waist-deep pool of heated water, which must be waded through to reach the inside. At the centre of the pool, a waterfall-type shower cascades from the ceiling, symbolising that it is only through God's intervention that we can be made clean. However, since it is our own actions in seeking that intervention that enable it, the pilgrim must go to the shower themselves and scrub themselves clean.

On exiting the pool, the pilgrim finds a new white robe and simple undergarment, which they don. These clothes will be all they wear until they arrive home again, and it is common practice to use them again as the 'normal clothes' on the next pilgrimage.

The Lighting of the Candles

The next room is the Circular Room, the heart of the lower floor of the temple. The Room consists of a circular passage around a large mound, with a spiral path leading up the mound, beginning in front of the door.

On entering, the pilgrim is required to turn to the left and walk clockwise around the room (indicating the passage of time, as on a sundial). At seven points along the walk (making an octagon with the entrance as the eighth point) stands a large candlestick with a single candle.

The pilgrim takes a torch from its mount by the doorway and lights each candle as they pass. Each candle lights up a carved image of one of the seven days of creation.

The Recitations

The pilgrim makes a second circuit of the now fully-lit room. Under each image is a passage from the scriptures, which the pilgrim is required to either recite or read aloud, depending on their literacy. The first six scriptures describe six major prophets, while the last prophesies the greatest prophet, who is yet to come.

The Weaving of Music

Having returned a third time to the entrance, the pilgrim now makes his or her way up the spiral path on the mound. Again at seven points on the mound are long ropes, hanging from the ceiling. When pulled, these open hatches to the outside (passing between the ceiling of the lower floor and the floor of the upper). Each passage lets in both sunlight and music to the centre of the mound. On reaching the summit, the pilgrim, receives the full, combined effect of the seven musics outside, and also – whatever the time of year – full sunlight. She or he then ascends a stone stair to the upper floor.

The Reunion Prayer

On the upper floor, husband and wife are reunited in a vaulted room with an altar at the head. Together, they approach the altar and kneel before it, then offer a prayer to God. What form this prayer takes – or even if it is ritually defined or personal to the couple – is unknown and never discussed outside the courts of the temple.

Beyond the altar is a doorway to the final corridor. The couple pass through together.

The Approach to the Throne

The final corridor slopes gently upwards, starting in relative darkness and climbing towards bright light. The light illuminates the Throne of God – a massive carven chair (tall enough to walk under) in the style of the Greek or Roman temples... but empty. It is said, however, that the Presence of God is found on the chair.

At the foot of the Throne, it is customary for the pilgrims to pause for a time and kneel in contemplation of the majesty of God. At this time, miracles are often reported to occur. Once they feel they have stayed long enough, they walk beneath the throne and out onto the balcony of the temple, into full view of the court below. The emergence of a couple is usually met with cheering.

There exists a rumour that, for actual 'sealing'-type ceremonies only (not for simple pilgrimages), an ancient and holy relic is placed on the throne. What this relic may be – or even if the rumour is true – is as unknown as the prayer.

The Return Home

Descending the wide staircase to the outer court, the couple are often gifted with flowers and praise. They then depart, travelling directly to their home, and wearing the ceremonial clothes until they arrive. Visitors from outside the city are subject to the same relaxation of rules as they were on arriving – while everyone is required to walk within the city walls, beyond them it is permitted to ride. Additionally, shoes (as an addition to the ceremonial garb) are not permitted within the walls, but may be donned at the gates.

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