Saturday, February 9, 2008

Temple Initiatories from a Faithful Feminist Perspective

Today I am home alone (Yippee!) and instead of scrubbing the bathtub my mind is wandering in all kinds of strange directions.

I've been thinking about the temple initiatory for women and wishing I could discuss it from a faithful, feminist perspective. Unfortunately, there are some obstacles which stand in my way of doing this. Number one, of course, is the proscription from discussing certain sacred aspects of the temple. I'm a bit more liberal than many in talking of my temple experiences. I think there are certain parts in the temple which we are clearly told not to discuss, and I'm willing to draw the line there. But can we talk about the initiatory? Most Mormons won't talk about anything remotely associated with the temple. Even among other endowed members. So bringing up any of my wonderings on this subject with fellow Latter-day Saints will be met with resistance.

Next obstacle is my physical distance from the nearest Temple. The last time I attended was the day before we moved to the Middle East, and my next opportunity to go will probably be in June, when we go back to the States for Summer vacation. But even had I the chance to go to the temple, would I find someone with whom I could discuss my concerns while sitting around the Celestial Room?

The quiet, meditative setting of the Celestial Room is not always conducive to a robust investigation of the sort I am contemplating. I yearn to talk about the 2005 changes to the initiatory ordinance. I loved doing initiatories before the changes, and I found a lot of spirituality, intimacy, and symbolism have been removed. I'd like to talk about these things with a faithful LDS woman who misses this as well, but isn't about to lose her recommend over it. I'd like to find someone who isn't freaked out by the presence of large tubs of water in early SLC Temple ordinance rooms and the liberal pouring of consecrated oil from large horns over the crown of the head. But I'd want her to be feminist and knowledgeable enough to also discuss the differences between the male and female versions of the pre-2005 ordinance and their implications for feminists. We'd talk about the words "having authority," "under proper authority," and "now authorized." We'd discuss esoteric, mystical, symbolist, and romantic approaches to the initiatory. We'd speak of the importance of ritual and what, if any, priesthood is exercised by women ordinance workers.

Do you think I can hold out any hope for such a discussion? Must I always hold the sacred/secret deep within a cavern in my heart, never to see the light of day? Or do you think that Dan Wotherspoon might be able to arrange a Wednesday night Sunstone temple session, complete with discussion period in the upper Assembly room, as a special part of this year's Symposium?

I can always dream...or perhaps I should go scrub that bathroom now.


SilverRain said...

*raises her hand* I've often longed to talk about aspects of the temple with someone, but since I generally go alone, my opportunities have been slim.

If you are ever in the Salt Lake area . . . .

Bored in Vernal said...

Silver Rain, it is a date. I'll be there this summer. I'll take you out to lunch after. Pick the place, and line up your babysitter.

Ann said...

Can I come?

Bored in Vernal said...

of course. We'll make it the first annual Salt Lake Temple Bloggersnacker. Any more takers?

East of Eden said...

I recently went and did initories in the temple nearest my home. I noticed the changes too. At first, I wondered if I had just forgotten the ceremony because I'd not done this for so long, but there were changes.

I miss certian aspects of the old ceremony as well. I wanted to mention though, if you have specific questions, you can always make an appointment with the temple president or matron. I don't know if that will bring you the discussion you desire, but it might help clear up your questions.

woundedhart said...

I still qualify as "faithful LDS," but not exactly as knowledgeable. I wish I could join the discussion, though. I loved the initiatory. It wasn't a shock to me, as some of the other aspects of the endowment were. It seemed so personal, though I bet it was more personal with the tubs and horns. :) I always imagined that back in the day, a woman's dearest friends and relatives were the ones to perform the initiatory.

The changes in 2005 were at first a surprise, and I cried all the way through that first time. It had lost some of the most vivid symbolism, though the words were still there. However, after talking to my mother in law, I understood better why the changes were made. She explained how she had always felt uncomfortable, but with the changes, she felt able to listen attentively and peacefully, for the first time in her 30 years of attending the temple.

Kalola said...

I wish I could join you when you're visiting SLC. I don't know if I would be welcomed in your little group, because I have never been through the temple. All I know about temple initiatories is what I've read on-line. I have read that the anointings have been reduced to one simple act.

I'll be looking forward to follow-up reports on your get together.

BTW, BiV, where did you find the drawing of the woman in full temple clothing? You always have such fascinating photos and drawings on your blog. What is your secret?

green mormon architect said...

Great article. I think the reticence to talk is cultural, since there are only a handful of items we are forbidden to share with others. Everything else is open for discussion, in my opinion.

I also loved the initiatory and agree 100% that something is now missing. It is now only a symbolic washing and anointing.

The same could be said for other items as well. There is something beautiful about actually progressing from room to room as part of the creation narrative. That has changed in most temples and is now symbolized by turning on a light as symbolic of progression into a higher kingdom.

Jamal said...


I hear you on the rooms thing, however maybe it's just the places I've lived, but it seems like there's been a move to a middle ground more lately. The Manhattan Temple for example, even as small as it is, has you move rooms at least once during the endowment and has a lovely mural and "natural" feel in the Telestial Room. I'm guessing (maybe others could chime in) that it's not the only temple with some middle ground. I know the Mesa Temple has at least kept all the old artwork/murals even if the electronic presentation is how it's done now and I presume other older temples that have been updated do the same.

Zillah said...

I'd love to participate in the slc temple visit. Besides, I find the live sessions much more accessible and meaningful than the video.

I received my endowment after 2005; however, while I loved the experience of the initiatory, I was disappointed that there wasn't more ritual involved, from actions to implements. (I actually felt that the entire temple experience wasn't nearly "strange" enough, but I'm a sucker for elaborate and arcane rituals.)

Mellifera said...

If you're ever in Orlando... I heard Disneyland is down around there somewhere, so if that ever gets into your vacation plans let us know. (But don't. They'll charge you $17 for waffle and a cup of natty unripe fruit. True story. ; )

While I was getting trained to do initiatories a girl about my age came through, and she asked me and my trainer "How is it that, you know, you guys can do this?" Keep in mind that as temple workers we're not supposed to explicate the ordinances to patrons- any interpretation we could offer would just be personal opinion but would inevitably end up looking a lot more official that it really is. The question she had was answered right in the text of the ordinance, though, so I was about to point it out when my trainer said "We don't discuss" etc. And then come to find out it was only her second time doing initiatories. I kinda felt bad for her but I'm sure she's found a less uptight temple lady since then, or just had the sense to ask a friend instead. ; ) And as far as asking the temple president or matron, my guess is they'd give you the same response.

Discussing the ordinances inside the temple , that's an interesting phenomenon. I always want to talk to Bro. Mellifera about this or that during the session, and then once we get to the Celestial Room it's like... *Don't worry about it!* As far as trying to interpret what all of it means, I guess maybe it's one of those things where you just have to have it straight from the Holy Ghost or it won't come across right. And maybe wait for life experience to open some of the things up for you. Just every time I actually get a chance to talk about what it all means, I don't want to anymore. It's the funniest thing.

Now as for the history of it, the changes that have happened, and all that other "metadata" stuff, I am just dying with curiosity. : ) Last week during the opening meeting before the temple shift they announced they've just made some (very) minor changes to the endowment, which elicited comments from the octogenarians about all the other changes they've made over the decades, but of course wouldn't elaborate on and it drove me nuts all day.

green mormon architect said...

you're right - there is one transition in some of the new small temples (reno, fresno that I'm aware of), so I guess that is better than no transition. The original concept for Mesa and for Alberta were beautiful. For Mesa, you moved along an axis towards the Celestial room - always returning to the axis and moving upwards til the goal was reached. In Alberta, you circled the building, from quadrant to quadrant, always upward, until you reached the Celestial room in the center. As you progressed, the wood finishes in each room got darker and richer - the opposite of the standard white experienced in most Celestial rooms. It's nice to still have these beautiful rooms, but the room as designed is taken out of context of the entire experience, in my opinion.

Bored in Vernal said...

Nope, I don't recommend going to your friendly neighborhood Temple President or Matron with these kind of discussions.

I'm waiting for the next time Kevin Barney is called as Temple President, myself.

Stay tuned, folks, I'll let you know more about our SL Temple trip!

Jessawhy said...

Thanks for the post. I do miss some things about the old initiatory. I haven't done them too much, though.
It is nice to go to the temple with people who you feel comfortable talking with. You've given me a great idea of inviting my feminist friend to take a temple trip with me.

m&m said...


My first thought would be that I would be thrilled to have a discussion with you. I think in the temple, there is much that can be discussed, within the bounds of what the Spirit gives you the green light to discuss, of course. I have often had wonderful discussions in the celestial room, where questions and thoughts and learning has been shared.

You know I'm in the area, and SilverRain knows how to find me. :)

Rosalie said...

Very interesting post and comments. I, too have enjoyed some whispered discussions in the past in the Celestial room. I had also thought that it was considered permissible to discuss many things about the ceremonies outside the temple.

However, a couple of things have happened over time that have changed my perceptions.

The first, which affects the atmosphere in the Celestial room, is that there seems to be an increasing emphasis in recent years on maintaining the Celestial room as a place for quiet individual contemplation.

And after attending the temple this past week, I felt strongly reminded that a discussion of the details of temple ordinances was probably inappropriate (even if not forbidden) whenever it went beyond what has been publicly announced, or published by Church authorities.

Even inside the temple, as mellifera intimated, discussions, or "explanations" might not be as desirable as we might think. We probably all know someone who was given some "information" (maybe about how to wear garments) by someone supposedly in the know, but who was really giving a very personal interpretation, going beyond what should have been said. Perhaps a discussion of changes is also open to the perpetuation of inaccuracies, and more likely to confuse than enlighten.

I think mellifera pinpointed two very good reasons for reticence when she wrote:

As far as trying to interpret what all of it means, I guess maybe it's one of those things where you just have to have it straight from the Holy Ghost or it won't come across right. And maybe wait for life experience to open some of the things up for you.

Bored in Vernal said...

OK, this discussion has gotten toooo uppity for me. And since it is my blog and I get to say what I want, here it is:

I think there needs to be two celestial rooms in the temple. One for people who want to sit and sigh and speak in teeny little voices and hear the Holy Ghost whisper in their ear. This is perfectly fine for many many Mormons. God bless you all. But for learners like me--

another room (best sound-proofed, I think) where I can have a rollicking good discussion about spiritual things that make me EXCITED and A LITTLE BIT LOUD and maybe even IMPASSIONED. And where I wouldn't feel out of place QUESTIONING and not expecting to get an answer, really, but just WRESTLING with things, because that is how I, BIV, REALLY FEEL THE SPIRIT AND LEARN!! Yes, I often get revelation by TALKING ABOUT IT AND NOT ALWAYS IN A QUIET VOICE, EITHER. AND THAT IS HOW THE SPIRIT SPEAKS TO ME.

Green blinking lights all the way, and a roller-coaster ride, baby. That's the Holy Ghost I know and love.

Bored in Vernal said...

Oh, and those of you who are lamenting the loss of symbolism in architecture, movement and ordinance, Amen to you. I revel in uncovering some of the symbolisms that were part of the temple ceremony historically. Take a gander at Satan's apron, for example. Zillah should like this one.

(But DON'T click on the link if the Spirit is giving you a RED LIGHT, for heaven's sake!)

Doc said...

I was listening to a fascinating podcast by Van Hale a while back. In it he describes how the Nauvoo Temple had actual dances. It truly was a place for rejoicing. Can you imagine any of that sort of thing going on today?

I think they need to reopen the dance halls and the assembly halls. It would be great to have open inquiry, questions, discussion there. I'm with you BiV. I'm a learner too.

I wonder exactly what a Temple president or matron thinks they are preserving by cracking down on discussion. It seems like a good way to make misunderstandings or apprehensions fester into open wounds, to make stigma and confusion reign, and to keep the very participants in the dark about what is really going on. If we can't work on this stuff in the temple, then where?
I spent over 10 years completely weirded out and frustrated by the temple. It is only now as I really, desperately have started digging out any bits or pieces of information I could find that I am starting to realize how deep, profound, and beautiful our rituals really are. The ceremony changes indicate to me that I am not alone in this.

I wonder how much discussion and education could alleviate some of our need to cut out pieces of the ceremony, or at least let us have a better idea of what we are giving up and why.

Bored in Vernal said...

Doc, ♥♥♥♥♥

m&m said...


This is the way I am, too, but BiV, I've also seen what kinds of insights you can pull out of a good wrestle with the scriptures in the quiet chambers of your soul. I can't help but wonder if the Lord wants us to have this kind of soul-searching experiences.

I do think there is a time and place for some discussion in the temple, and the Spirit can guide there. I haven't experienced the feeling that RoAnn describes about wanting discussion to cease altogether, but I could just be wrong there.

I do think that often, though, what we learn really is so personal, so different depending on where we are and what we are wrestling with and what we have studied, etc. etc. etc.

I also have found (or at least feel strongly) that we are taught a lot more than we think by our prophets and in the scriptures. My single most significant temple insight experience came pouring over scriptures on the temple, having a huge light-bulb moment, and then discovering after the fact a talk that Elder Nelson had given that had given me ALL of the tools, even the references, to have the Aha! that I had had.

There were many ahas that day, not only specifically about the temple, but about how the Lord wants to give us insight but we have to work and listen to what we are being taught, because there are layers in the teachings in the scriptures and the words of the prophets.

There are also lots of really interesting books that help peel off the layers, that can plant the seeds for understanding the symbols better.

m&m said...

BTW, FWIW, I haven't heard anyone suggest here that questioning and wrestling to learn is a problem. :)

Bored in Vernal said...

That's right, there should be (and are!) many avenues for learning about the Temple--books, scriptures, the Spirit, participating in ordinances, talking to other endowed members. These things can all be done while keeping the sacredness of this holy place foremost. No one should ever feel that they have to quash all their questions down inside and sublimate their valid experiences.

ldahospud said...

I met Julie Smith at the Logan temple a couple of summers ago, specifically to talk in the Celestial room. It was helpful (for both, I think), but we got shushed a couple of times by the matron, even tho' Julie and I were the only ones in the room, and we were whispering.

zehill said...

I have never felt required to limit my conversations about the temple to the Celestial room, and actually prefer to talk elsewhere. A friend and I usually just wander the halls and find a couple chairs or a bench in a corner.

Zillah said...

Satan's apron...fascinating. Thank you!

Jo said...

Biv, I am thinking a restart of the School of Prophets would be just what you need. When I think of them, my mind's eye pictures exactly what you described.

Kristin said...

I am supposed to be preparing a R.S. Lesson and instead I have spent over an hour hopping around your blog. What a treat!

Personally, I love the changes. I am so much more comfortable now. As a temple worker, I was glad it had changed as well. I also think that for people who are elderly, disabled and for those who have suffered sexual abuse, it is much easier.

On the other hand, I'm still having trouble getting used to the endowment changes. (For one thing, it's harder to stay awake!)

Stephanie said...

You can compare Satan's apron to the masonic apron since that's where it came from;


Unknown said...

@Stephanie: I wished to point out that the apron you link to as the model for "Satan's Apron" is in fact the apron of our first President, George Washington. It was presented to Washington by the Marquis de Lafayette in 1784, having been hand sewn and embroidered by Mme Lafayette especially for Washington. A discussion of the apron and its Masonic significance may be found here:

Joe Steve Swick III, PM
Verity Lodge No. 59 F&AM
Kent, Washington