Friday, March 16, 2012

The Sacred Embrace as Five Points of Fellowship

I often lament that modern Mormonism has lost portions of its early history. While some of these forms and concepts are best consigned to the trash-bin, others are sorely missed. I believe that there are traditions from our nineteenth-century past which have lost their significance because there has been a lack of understanding about their religious symbolism.

Many older members of the Church and students of LDS history will recall the "Five Points of Fellowship," which was a part of Mormon liturgy up until the last two decades. This was an important emblematic ritual -- a sacred embrace which preceded entering into the presence of the Lord through the veil. Because this symbolic rite had its origins in Nauvoo-era Freemasonry, there is much we can learn about the meaning behind the symbol from Masonic writings. But I don't believe these understandings were ever carried over into LDS discourse.

In the now-obsolete Mormon ceremony, the petitioner was not allowed into the symbolic presence of the Lord until he or she had conversed with Him upon the Five Points of Fellowship "through the veil." Since one cannot enter into the Celestial sphere without first having died and then been raised, this typology is an important part of the ritual. This aspect of being called up out of the grave is not apparent in the LDS version of the ceremony, but it has important connotations in Freemasonry. Mormons will easily recognize the associations which signify oneness with God and the whisperings of the Spirit within each of us, but other aspects of the rite are not as evident.

The Five Points of Fellowship are described as: 1.) inside of right foot by the side of right foot, 2.) knee to knee, 3.) breast to breast, 4.) hand to back, and 5.) mouth to ear.

As explained by the Master of a Masonic lodge in the third degree ritual, the Five Points of Fellowship serve a double purpose in instructing in fraternal duties, as well as forming a mode of recognition.  They are a method of explaining and emphasizing the need for brotherly love, co-operation and unity. The points may vary slightly among different Masonic lodges at different locations and time periods (for example: "cheek to cheek" instead of "mouth to ear"), but they are all very similar. A poem written by the "Masonic poet laureate", Robert Morris, gives the signification. In the first stanza, he summarizes the meaning of the points. In the second through sixth stanzas, he expounds on the symbolism for each point: 1.) foot to foot, 2.) knee to knee, 3.) breast to breast, 4.) hand to back, and 5.) cheek to cheek.

The Five Points of Fellowship  
By Robert Morris 
Joyful task it is, dear brothers
Thus to take upon the lip
With full heart, and fitting gesture,
All our points of fellowship.
Foot and knee, breast, hand, and cheek
Each a measured part shall speak:
Speak of answering mercy's call;
Speak of prayer for Mason's all;
Speak of keeping secrets duly;
Speak of stretching strong hand truly;
Speak of whispering the unruly. 
Foot to foot: 'tis Mercy's mandate,
When is heard the plaintive sigh,
Hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked,
On the wings of aid to fly;
Hasten, mitigate the grief --
Hasten, bear him quick relief!
Quick with bread to feed the hungry;
Quick with raiment for the naked;
Quick with shelter for the homeless;
Quick with heart's deep sympathy.
Knee to knee: in silence praying,
Lord, give listening ear that day!
Every earthly stain confessing,
For all tempted Masons pray!
Perish envy, perish hate,
For all Masons supplicate.
Bless them, Lord upon the ocean;
Bless them perishing in the desert;
Bless them falling 'neath temptation;
Bless them when about to die!
Breast to breast: in holy casket
At life's center strongly held,
Every sacred thing entrusted,
Sealed by faith's unbroken seal;
What you promised God to shield
Suffer, die, but never yield.
Never yield whate'er the trial;
Never yield whate'er the number;
Never yield though foully threatened,
Even at the stroke of death. 
Hand to back: A brother falling --
His misfortune is too great,
Stretch the generous hand, sustain him,
Quick, before it is too late.
Like a strong, unfaltering prop,
Hold the faltering brother up.
Hold him up; stand like a column;
Hold him up; there's good stuff in him;
Hold him with his head toward heaven;
Hold him with the lion's grip.
Cheek to cheek: O, when the tempter
Comes, a brother's soul to win,
With a timely whisper warn him
Of the dark and deadly sin.
Extricate him from the snare,
Save him with fraternal care.
Save him -- heavenly powers invoke you --
Save him -- man is worth the saving
Save him -- breathe your spirit in him
As you'd have your God save you.
This completes the obligation;
Brothers, lest you let it slip,
Fasten on tenacious memory
All our points of Fellowship;
Foot and knee, breast, hand, and cheek --
Foot and knee, breast, hand, and cheek.
Thus, a Mason is taught the following (see William Morgan, Illustrations of Masonry):
  • Foot to foot. He should go out of his way, and not permit his steps to halt in extending mercy and benevolence.
  • Knee to knee. The knee should be bent in intercessory prayer for others, and in pleading for forgiveness for his own sins.
  • Breast to breast. The man of honor should guard all just and lawful secrets inviolate within his breast.
  • Hand to back. It is a Mason's duty to support his Brother, to lift him up, and to speak well of him before the world. This may also hold some symbolism of being "raised up" in other ways.
  • Mouth to Ear. He should whisper good counsel into the ear of a Brother, instruct him, and warn him of coming danger.
Another poem written by Freemason N. A. McAulay expounds on the symbolism of these five points and concludes that these five points lead the Mason to the revelation of "that Mystic Word," i.e. the Lost Master's Word. In Mormonism, that Word is given as a blessing.
The Five Points Symbolism 
By Brother N. A. McAulay 
Foot to foot, that we may go,
Where our help we can bestow;
Pointing out the better way,
Lest our brothers go astray.
Thus our steps should always lead
To the souls that are in need. 
Knee to knee, that we may share
Every brother's needs in prayer:
Giving all his wants a place,
When we seek the throne of grace.
In our thoughts from day to day
For each other we should pray. 
Breast to breast, to there conceal,
What our lips must not reveal;
When a brother does confide,
We must by his will abide.
Mason's secrets to us known,
We must cherish as our own. 
Hand to back, our love to show
To the brother, bending low:
Underneath a load of care,
Which we may and ought to share.
That the weak may always stand,
Let us lend a helping hand. 
Cheek to cheek, or mouth to ear,
That our lips may whisper cheer,
To our brother in distress:
Whom our words can aid and bless.
Warn him if he fails to see,
Dangers that are known to thee 
Foot to foot, and knee to knee,
Breast to breast, as brothers we:
Hand to back and mouth to ear,
Then that mystic word we hear
Which we otherwise conceal,
But on these five points reveal. 

Gerald B. Gardner, a freemason, was responsible for much of the modern revival of Wicca. He brought some of his personal idiosyncracities as well as some borrowings from freemasonry into this occultist group. Thus, in Wicca we see the ritual of the "Fivefold Kiss," a form of the Five Points of Fellowship. The Fivefold Kiss is a ceremony involving kissing five parts of the body. Each kiss given is accompanied by a blessing. These actions are reminiscent of the early LDS initiatory work, which has also changed a great deal in form.

Blessed be thy feet, that have brought thee in these ways
Blessed be thy knees, that shall kneel at the sacred altar
Blessed be thy [womb/phallus], without which we would not be
Blessed be thy breasts, formed in beauty/ breast formed in strength
Blessed be thy lips, that shall utter the Sacred Names.

I think it's intriguing that the Wiccan ceremony preserves the symbolic nature of the elements, while the Mormon ritual did not. This, in my opinion, is the reason that the ritual did not survive in the LDS church. As we lose the significance, symbolism, and historical background of our rituals and indeed many of the concepts and teachings in the Church, they are no longer vital in our worship.

No comments: