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Finality Robs Symbols of Their Meaning


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.


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 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


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.


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:

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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