Symbolism

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Sugardoodle presents: Temple Symbol Hunt

A fun idea about how adults, youth, and kids can learn about symbolism and temples with a sketchbook and LDS Symbol Cards.

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Pointing Fingers and Blame-shifting

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Junior Ganymede had a great post about Lehi’s Vision and the people pointing the fingers. The post author had been out with the missionaries and the woman they were teaching had some insights that were expounded upon, here’s a small snippet:

The fingers are being pointed to single out people for mockery. But she also saw it as a way of shifting responsibility. I think she is right.

The pointing finger is the finger that assigns responsibility. When it points to mock, it is designating the scapegoat. If the scapegoat is not explicitly given the blame, then the role of the scapegoat is to validate the existence of the inner circle by creating someone who is not part of the inner circle. And in an inner circle, by nature, questions of responsibility do not arise. One is not judged on merit but on membership.

The great and spacious building is key to understanding the modern structure (the Cathedral, That Hideous Strength, the Clerisy, the New Class, the Polygon, etc.). It explains its relationship to status. It highlights its divorce from reality, its existence in a purely social and symbolic world.

Understanding that the modern structure is a way of shifting blame and avoiding responsibility is also a valuable insight. It explains the victim sweepstakes and the grievance mongering. (A spiritually degenerative pursuit, obviously).

The blame-shifting aspect is what caught my attention. Today’s pointing fingers manifest themselves as Read Full Post

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Finality Robs Symbols of Their Meaning

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This quote brilliantly sums up a critically important key to understanding symbols.

“One explanation of a symbol that has been given does not preclude someone else seeing beyond that. Symbols were intended to expand our freedom of expression and feelings, not limit them. In suggesting some meanings associated with the symbols on the Salt Lake Temple, it need not be supposed that this constitutes the final word on the matter. Finality robs symbols of their meaning.” – Joseph Fielding McConkie, Symbols of Our Faith, 32

A few weeks ago, I was trying to leave my wife a love note on the fridge with some of the magnetic letters that were scattered everywhere. I quickly realized how limited my ability to express myself would be as I only had one of each letter.

Although I did manage to put some kind of crude message together, imagine trying to write a novel or something! Letters of the alphabet are symbols, and while the letters of the English alphabet don’t have meanings in and of themselves like Hebrew letters do, their real ability to communicate shines when they are combined with other letters to make words and sentences.

As you can see by the photo below, having only 26 letters to work with severely limits one’s capacity to communicate.

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If we think of symbols like letters of the alphabet that form words and sentences, then we are expanding our capacity to be taught by the Spirit.

One of the things that worried me about creating my Symbol Cards and ldsSymbols.com was inadvertantly establishing some kind of authoritative guide that led people to exclude any meanings that didn’t appear in my resources. I didn’t want people to think that the meanings I shared were the only meanings or that some meanings were “better” or “more correct” than others.

I felt like the projects were worthwhile as long as people understood that they represented a starting point, a place to document certain potential meanings that appear to be consistently used in scripture, culture, mathematics, biology, astronomy, etc. I think I need to do a better job at expressing that because it cannot be stated enough.

What do you think?

  • Has symbolism been a tough subject for you to understand?
  • Does McConkie’s quote resonate with your experience or help you see things in a new light?
  • What other qualities about symbolism do you feel are important to take note of?
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Stained Glass

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Picture in your mind’s eye a beautiful stained glass window where light from the sun passes through a collection of colored panes that transform the light into something wonderful.

Church is like the window and we are like those colored panes.

When we come together, the light of Christ shines through the window we create out of everyone’s collective “stained glass,” beautiful only to those have eyes to see.

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Mikveh: Jewish ritual immersion in water

A recent post on Junior Ganymede mentions the ritual bath called a mikveh where Jews practiced ritual immersions in pools of water. The parallels to Christian baptism (which means to dip or immerse) are many. In both rituals the purpose of the immersion is a symbolic cleansing or refreshing. Anciently, immersion in a mikveh was required for those converting to Judaism.

Today, these are the modern cases in which a mikveh is used:

  • by Jewish women to achieve ritual purity after menstruation or childbirth;
  • by Jewish men to achieve ritual purity (see details below);
  • as part of a traditional procedure for conversion to Judaism;
  • to immerse newly acquired utensils used in serving and eating food.

The Wikipedia article I’ve been referencing here cites a source that says “The existence of a mikveh is considered so important in Orthodox Judaism that an Orthodox community is required to construct a mikveh before building a synagogue, and must go to the extreme of selling Torah scrolls or even a synagogue if necessary, to provide funding for the construction.” (Berlin, Meshib Dabar, 2:45)

These ritual immersions can happen many times throughout the year for many reasons. It was a powerful physical reminder of Read Full Post

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The Eye of God or Man?

I was looking at this picture of the Salt Lake Temple the other day and had a thought. Typically, the “all-seeing eye” of God is depicted within a triangle and not an oval. This version also has a veil-like curtain that looks like it is being removed from the eye.

That’s when I wondered if this is isn’t depicting God’s eye at all, but man’s. God would not need to have a veil removed from his eyes. Does he even perceive us through a veil or it is just that our vision is obscured by one? I think it’s the latter of the two.

I think this symbol is depicting an experience that the temple has been constructed to facilitate.

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There’s the matter of these 28 sun-like rays emanating from the oval that I’d like to address next.

I saw two sets of a 28-pointed star in the celestial room of a particular temple one evening a few years ago. No joke, the very next morning I was Read Full Post

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Tutorial on How to Use LDS Symbol Cards

I created LDS Symbol Cards but didn’t really do much in the way of providing instructions. I thought I’d put together a little video that explains their origins and how I use them personally. Even if you don’t have any cards, but still like symbolism, there are some cool little nuggets in there. If you have ordered some LDS Symbol Cards in the past, I’d love to hear any personal insights or ways that you use them in the comments below.

If you bought some cards, I’d really appreciate a review over here.

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An Amazing Creation Sequence With a Surprising Twist

I have not yet seen the film The Tree of Life although the title alone draws my interest. This particular sequence depicts the creation in a manner that is very similar to the creation sequence in the presentation of the LDS temple endowment. In both instances, we see the earth being organized and life appearing.

In this Hollywood version, we see the process of evolution being depicted and I realize that some people might have a problem with that. Personally, I do not have any problems with evolution being part of the creation process (that’s a whole other subject) but if you do, I invite you to focus on the symbolism, the principles and overall beauty of the story being told here and the surprising little gem towards the end.

At 12 minutes in you have this really powerful and thought-provoking scene that seems to be symbolically depicting the first act of grace or mercy where one dinosaur decides to not kill another one that is evidently injured or dying. What makes the scene striking is how such a thing does not fit within the law of the jungle.

In a creative twist, showing an act of mercy coming from a dinosaur rather than a human is making a bold statement. It is unexpected and makes the principle stand out even more.

It is a moment where compassion, this sense of caring and love enters the scene of creation for the first time. Like the temple video, I think we can pause on being literalistic and appreciate the principles being symbolically illustrated. Indeed, if we are to be instructed by symbolic teaching at all, we must suspend literalism and learn to view things from many facets.

All in all, I absolutely love this entire sequence and was quite amazed to find something of this nature coming out of Hollywood.

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“Nature is a divine revelation for which we only have a corrupted text.”

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That Great Book Written in Symbols

“Philosophy [nature] is written in that great book which ever is before our eyes – I mean the universe – but we cannot understand it if we do not first learn the language and grasp the symbols in which it is written. The book is written in mathematical language, and the symbols are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures, without whose help it is impossible to comprehend a single word of it; without which one wanders in vain through a dark labyrinth.” – Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)

If you cannot understand nature and the universe without understanding the language of symbols, how can you hope to understand something much simpler like temples, scripture, or gospel teachings? How many feel like they wander in vain through a dark labyrinth?

The study of symbols is unfortunately ignored by many; consequently much thought and meditation, much observation and appreciation, and much enlightenment never happens. Symbols echo the underlying structure of matter and reality. I believe that the foundational principles of all existence, and how the whole functions can be explained in the numbers 1 through 9. I know that may sound like a bold statement but it is actually pretty simple to explain. I’ll have to write about that sometime.

My own personal understanding has been immensely impacted by devoting time to the study of symbols and archetypes. I see everything through a new lens, a lens where everything is important and has meaning and purpose. This in and of itself doesn’t change you, knowledge is essential, but putting it into practical use beyond self-serving intellectual stimulation is the challenge of life.

Here are a few of my favorite resources for those interested in learning more:

ldsSymbols.com

A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe by Michael S. Schneider

The Day Star: Reading Sacred Architecture by Val Brinkerhoff

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John the Baptist: Locusts and Honey, Chaos and Blessing

A friend of mine was interested in the symbolism of the beehive and bees so I sent him this article.

We were talking about John the Baptist and how he ate locusts and honey and what that might have meant. Then some lights started going on and I thought of something I hadn’t considered before. I haven’t thought this whole thing through yet, but here are some of my initial ideas.

Throughout the scriptures, we see teaching through contrast and complimentary opposition. Themes of chaos/disorder/cursings are juxtaposed with themes of creation/order/blessings. For an example, look up the word “otherwise” as it is used in the Book of Mormon. That’s a great keyword to see where these contrasting themes are presented, here are a few examples: Read Full Post

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David O. McKay Temple Address

I’m not aware of any other documents quite like this one. Here we have a general authority, David O. McKay, explaining temple ceremonies and covenants to a group of missionaries just before they receive them. I’ve had this in my personal collection for a few years now, I got it from a public pdf hosted on the BYU Idaho website. I think this would be a great thing to study for anyone preparing to enter the temple, and an insightful read for anyone who has already experienced temple worship.


An address on the Temple ceremony by President David O. McKay given Thursday, 25 September 1941, at 8:30am, Salt Lake Temple Annex (Manuscript in BYU Library Collections.)

“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20.)

Such was the commission given by the Savior to His Apostles just prior to the Savior’s return to heaven, following His resurrection. Such is the admonition and authority He has given you, my fellow workers, and I congratulate you this morning upon this calling and upon your acceptance of the privilege to preach the Gospel. It is not only a privilege but a great responsibility to be commissioned as a missionary in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In that commission the word “teach” is used and repeated. You are teachers. Very young men and young women to go out and show the world the philosophy of life, to teach them the proper way of living, but that is your calling.

I congratulate you on being worthy to go through the House of the Lord. Your presence here indicates that you have lived a pure life, each of you, that you are worthy to go into the presence of the Father. Are you?

I have come over here this morning particularly because I have met so many young people who have been disappointed after they have gone through the House of the Lord. They have been Read Full Post

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Macrocosm, Mesocosm, Microcosm

Macrocosm: the harmonious order of the natural Universe.

Mesocosm: the harmonious order reflected in the organization of society, in art, architecture, music, and sacred objects made by people.

Microcosm: the harmonious order of the Macrocosm reflected in miniature within the human being.

These explanations were provided by Michael S. Schneider in his DVD A Journey From 1 to 12 which is one of my prized possessions! It’s either a great companion to or a decent substitute for his wonderful book, A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe (which I highly recommend).

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Constructing the Universe With Four Categories of Number

“One and two are considered the parents of numbers, not really numbers themselves. And they give birth to the digits three through nine, in other words, trinity to the trinity of trinities. And with that and zero you can create – everything. You know 3 and 4 and 6 and 8 and 12 are considered structural numbers, the numbers nature builds with. 5 and 10 are considered numbers of life…and then 7, 9 and 11 are considered numbers of mystery. They cannot be constructed…with a compass and straight edge. They’re mysteries, they’re here but they’re not here. Like 7, the rainbow, it’s here, the seven colors of the rainbow are there, but nobody can grab it. Seven is always about things you can’t grab, can’t hold on to, the seven notes of the musical scale…same with 9 and 11.”

(Michael Schneider, Oral Interview, YouTube)

Parental: 1, 2

Structural: 3, 4, 6, 8, 12

Life: 5, 10

Mystery: 7, 9, 11

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Videos of 2014 Temple on Mount Zion Conference

Source: TempleStudy.com

The Interpreter Foundation has announced the availability of the videos of the presentations given at the 2014 Temple on Mount Zion Conference which took place on 25 October 2014 in Provo, Utah. Videos of each of the presentations are now available for free viewing on The Interpreter Foundation’s YouTube channel, or on MormonInterpreter.com.  They are also embedded below for your convenience. There is also a YouTube playlist available of the conference presentations. The conference proceedings will also be published in book form in the future.

Donald W. Parry’s Introduction to the 2014 Temple on Mount Zion Conference

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LDS Symbol Cards are GO For 2014!

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You can now purchase LDS Symbol Cards at the following URL: http://symbolcards.com

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The Shelf vs. The Garden

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There is a phrase I hear repeated every now and then among members of the church. Typically when there is an issue they come across that challenges their faith, they are able to either reconcile that issue one way or another or remain undecided.

Without the necessary information to arrive at a satisfactory understanding, the person says that, for now, they will put the issue “on the shelf”.

“The shelf” is the proverbial repository for issues that you no longer want to deal with at the moment for whatever reason. You don’t have the time, resources, information or desire to pursue an answer to the question so you “shelf” it.

Here’s why I really dislike this metaphor.

When you put things on shelves all they do is

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We Are Not Particularly a Symbol-oriented people

OneClimbs reader, Richard N., posted a portion of this quote in a comment a few days ago. He was kind enough to transcribe the full quote from an audio CD by S. Michael Wilcox.

“Part of our problem is that we are not particularly a symbol-oriented people.

We like prose; well-written sentences laid out so carefully that you can’t misunderstand them. We are not big on poetry; we don’t read very much of it, particularly any serious kinds of poetry.

We like the Doctrine and Covenants. It lays out ideas line upon line, precept upon precept, building upon each previous idea. We’re not big on the Old Testament. It is so large, and it is full of strange things that are going on there that we’re not always familiar with.

We like Nephi. He says, ‘My soul delights in plainness.’ We’re not wild about Isaiah. Isaiah uses all kinds of word-pictures. And he loves pronouns and doesn’t particularly feel it necessary to give you an antecedent to the pronoun.

Now the temple is more poetry than prose. It is more Old Testament than Doctrine and Covenants. It is more Isaiah than Nephi. So our challenge as members of the Church is to learn how to learn through the use of symbols.” (S. Michael Wilcox – House of Glory)

The good news is that you can learn this stuff, and it is very rewarding. I grew up completely oblivious to most of what I know now, and I acknowledge that I am still only at the very beginning of a long journey.

I drive back and forth from Nevada to Texas a few times a year so I’m not a big fan of long journeys. Perhaps thinking about it as a journey is part of our problem. We mark out a “point A”, a “point B” and sigh as we consider the distance.

Why do we do that when we do not even comprehend what lies at “point B”? I’ve found greater peace in just appreciating what I am becoming day by day; is there even a “point B” in eternity?

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Most Temples Have a Theme

“According to Keith Stepan (former Managing Director of Temple Construction), many LDS temples are thematic, making use of a single visual motif to unify the exterior architecture and interior design and furnishings. These unifying motifs potentially point to a particular doctrine or concept.  At the Mt. Timpanogos Utah Temple, for example, we see an arching motif in the main east and west windows pointing to the theme of Jacob’s Ladder. At the San Diego Temple, 2 interlocking squares are used over 10,000 times throughout the structure, potentially symbolizing the Melchizedek Priesthood. In these and other LDS temples it is the fence design that first reveals their general visual theme.” – Val Brinkerhoff, The Day Star – Reading Sacred Architecture (Book 2), 131

In a recently published book “Sacred Walls: Learning from Temple Symbols” by Gerald E. Hansen and Val Brinkerhoff (photographer), readers are presented with a series of doctrinal themes that are explained using the particular architectural symbolism of various temples.

On the inside cover flap of the book, “Sacred Walls: Learning from Temple Symbols” it states:

Both books and buildings have voices. But rather than the letters of an alphabet, buildings use towers and spires, columns and buttresses, mosaics and paintings, glass and geometric figures, and statues and friezes to speak volumes. However, even though architectural symbolism existed before the written word, the message of a building is often difficult for most of us to recognize.

For Latter-day Saints, temples are the most important and symbolic buildings in existence. Through temples the unique doctrines of the restored gospel are communicated. Although the bulk of this instruction occurs inside the temples, temple exteriors also tell of these profound doctrines — when you understand how to read them.

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Why President McKay was “Disappointed in the Temple”

President David O. McKay once said that he was “disappointed” when he first went through the Temple and he explains why. I think this could be helpful to any who are preparing for the temple, or who are still trying to understand what it is all about.

Do you remember when you first went through the House of the Lord? I do. And I went out disappointed. Just a young man, out of college, anticipating great things when I went to the Temple. I was disappointed and grieved, and I have met hundreds of young men and young women since who had that experience. I have now found out why. There are two things in every Temple: mechanics, to set forth certain ideals, and symbolism, what those mechanics symbolize. I saw only the mechanics when I first went through the Temple. I did not see the spiritual. I did not see the symbolism of spirituality… I was blind to the great lesson of purity behind the mechanics. I did not hear the message of the of the Lord… How many of us young men saw that? We thought we were big enough and with intelligence sufficient to criticize the mechanics of it and we were blind to the symbolism, the message of the spirit. And then that great ordinance, the endowment. The whole thing is simple in the mechanical part of it, but sublime and eternal in its significance. (From Gregory Prince and Wm. Robert Wright. David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2005): 277)

I appreciated these words from President McKay. I think we all spend most of our first trips to the temple focusing on the mechanics if we were not adequately instructed on learning through symbolic teaching. While the initiatory has many parallels to baptism and confirmation, there’s nothing comparable to the endowment anywhere else in Latter-day Saint worship.

I think the closest you can get are the accounts recorded in scripture where a prophet is taken up into the presence of the Lord, guided by angels and shown the creation of the world and given sacred knowledge. At one level, I believe the endowment is a symbolic “ascension vision”, similar to the experiences of Abraham, Moses, Enoch, Nephi, and the Brother of Jared to name a few.

Here’s another great quote from President McKay:

“Brothers and sisters, I was disappointed in the temple. And so were you. […] There are few, even temple workers, who comprehend the full meaning and power of the temple endowment. Seen for what it is, it is the step-by-step ascent into the Eternal Presence. […] If our young people could but glimpse it, it would be the most powerful spiritual motivation of their lives!” (Andrew Ehat, ” ‘Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord?’ Sesquicentennial Reflections of a Sacred Day: 4 May 1842,” Temples of the Ancient World, edited by Donald W. Parry (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1994), 58-59.)

President Spencer W. Kimball had this to say about the ordinances of the Temple:

“If you understood the ordinances of the House of the Lord, you would crawl on your hands and feet for thousands of miles in order to receive them!” (Temples of the Ancient World: Ritual and Symbolism, p. 58-59)

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