Tuesday, 13 November 2012

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

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