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 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?
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.
“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:
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).
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
You can now purchase LDS Symbol Cards at the following URL: http://symbolcards.com
This is actually pretty amazing and well worth the watch. They’ve apparently discovered this negatively-charged gel-like fourth phase of water that allows it to actually hold an electric charge. Get this, it’s all powered by light.
I love symbols, and I love spirals and how they are used in architectural symbolism. The following videos are not about architectural symbolism, but the principles that are presented are worthy of consideration on a whole myriad of levels.
Vi Hart, the woman presenting the videos talks a little fast which can be a little irritating but I love how she explores spirals so these are definitely worth the watch. All the information builds up to a very interesting theory as to why these numbers appear in nature and I think it’s spot on.
There are some really interesting implications behind what she presents here that apply to many different topics, but I’ll let you ponder those things for yourself ;)
“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.
I was up in Utah for a wedding and while driving around American Fork I stopped my car when I saw this LDS meetinghouse. I was immediately reminded of a chapel here in Nevada that I really like.
Just like the Nevada meetinghouse, the American Fort meetinghouse emphasizes the number 8 with a giant round window divided into 8 segments.
But wait, it gets better! There are also Read Full Post
First off, let me just say that I was really blown away by this conference; the insights presented were so rich, edifying and paradigm-shifting. Posting this today is a bit symbolic to me personally because today I celebrate two birthdays; the day I was born of my mother in the flesh and the day I was baptized by water and the Spirit by ordinances administer by my father.
As important as fathers and priesthood authority are, it is equally important to understand mothers and motherhood and how each plays an essential role in our salvation.
Just so you know, I don’t post anything on oneClimbs.com unless I feel that it is of particular value. I recommend viewing all of these videos and not skipping a single one because they build upon each other.
If you are a woman, then stop what you are doing and watch this conference!
I was the only boy in my family and was blessed with three little sisters, and as a father, I have been blessed with three little daughters, so the role and divine purpose of women is something close to my heart. I think that the information presented in this conference will be part of a greater understanding of women in the plan of salvation.
The beauty and inspired nature of LDS doctrine concerning men and women in God’s plan is seen afresh and in a new light, or perhaps, a more correct light. The truth is right there in front of us, we just don’t really understand what it is we are seeing, or worse, Read Full Post
I was listening to the This Week in Mormons Podcast when I heard this chapel mentioned. As I looked at the photos, some things stuck out to me.
I wish there were some better photos of this chapel. The only ones I could find were small and, unfortunately, dark and look like they were taken with a camera phone.
I’d like to see a better view of the front of this building, especially the very front were there are 3 areas with some kind of “cross” or “T-like” motifs towards the top. The number three is connected to the following doctrines or themes:
- Beginning, Middle, End
- Past, Present, Future
Symbolically speaking, the numbers 3, 4 and 8 are perhaps the most appropriate to be featured on a chapel considering the purposes of which it exists. 3 signifies divine unity while four expresses mortality and perhaps the Aaronic priesthood in that the square is a sign associate with this authority. Eight is a symbol connected with rebirth and especially Christ and we see a lot of the number eight in LDS chapel construction.
I love the fact that there are Read Full Post
This is just a little bit of early notice before the LDS Symbol Cards project goes live in the next few days on Kickstarter! As soon as I finish the promo video, we should be good to go and I’ll post the info here!
Here’s the official description:
LDS Symbol Cards are a unique way to explore symbols within the context of the LDS faith and find meaning in nature, scripture, architecture, ritual and more.
For those who have seen the original Karate Kid movie you’re probably familiar with the famous “wax on, wax off” lesson that Mr. Miyagi taught Daniel. I like the updated version of this lesson presented in the new Karate Kid movie starring Jackie Chan. You might be wondering what this has to do with ordinances – bear with me.
In the first scene, Dre (updated Daniel) enthusiastically approaches Mr. Han (updated Miyagi) and begins by trying to show Mr. Han how “good” he is and what “skills” he already possesses. Go ahead and watch this first clip:
Do we approach God thinking that we have it all figured out? Are we overly-impressed with our own wisdom and skill like Dre who felt like he had to validate himself somehow to Mr. Han? There is a verse in the Book of Mormon that I think is related to this idea:
“And whoso knocketh, to him will he open; and the wise, and the learned, and they that are rich, who are puffed up because of their learning, and their wisdom, and their riches—yea, they are they whom he despiseth; and save they shall cast these things away, and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them.” (2 Nephi 9:42)
It is easier to fill an empty vessel than a full one. Are we willing to make ourselves that vulnerable? Are we willing to sell all that we have acquired for the pearl of great price?
Dre thinks that Mr. Han is going to show him all these incredible kung fu moves, but Mr. Han has him do a seemly mundane task over and over again. Dre responds almost immediately with frustration, “Can you just tell me why I’m doing this?” while Mr. Han just keeps ordering him to continue through his routine.Read Full Post
There are at least five core elements that are used in the ordinance of the sacrament. Back on June 16th of this year I took down some ideas in my notebook concerning them so here they are. I will also be placing any number that I think is numerically significant next to the title.
- Used for sacrifices and offerings and for sacred ordinances of the gospel (LDS BD). A place where heaven and earth are bridged via covenants.
- Altar: Zabach (Hebrew) – “to slaughter an animal”.
- The life of the animal is represented by its blood. (Leviticus 17:11)
- Altars are temples in their most simple form, and the covenants made at them can vary.
- We place things on the altar to be completely consumed, we do not expect to see them again. It is expected that all ungodliness is treated this way.Read Full Post
What do Goliath, Laban and global, latter-day secret combinations often referred to as the “New World Order” all have in common?
Their stories all end the same way and the scriptures show us exactly how.
The Philistine champion, Goliath of Gath, fell to a shepherd boy named David who stood in front of him and prophesied:
“This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee;” 1 Samuel 17:46
Moments later the prophecy was fulfilled when David dropped Goliath with a single blow to the head with a stone and then:
“…David ran, and stood upon the Philistine, and took his sword, and drew it out of the sheath thereof, and slew him, and cut off his head therewith.” 1 Samuel 17:51
Goliath, a nine foot “giant” whose presence caused every Israelite soldier to tremble lay there in the dirt, beheaded by his own sword.
The sons of Lehi who were charged with securing plates of brass that contained the holy scriptures which were intended to instruct countless millions over 1000 years in a new land. Laban, also a military man of sorts was a Goliath-like threat that stood between them and this sacred record. After threatening to murder Lehi’s sons twice and violently robbing them of their wealth, Read Full Post
Perhaps most of us throw around the word “symbolism” without understanding the various nuances of the subject.
I created ldsSymbols.com with reference to the word “symbols’ because that is what most people understand. Alonzo Gaskill’s book “The Lost Language of Symbolism” defines symbols, images, types, metaphors, similes, parables, motifs and archetypes. He also mentions other categories such as analogies, comparisons, emblems, figures, hallmarks, insignias, models, seals, signs and tokens.
Here is a list of definitions from the book along with the page number for reference:
- Symbol: Something that represents another thing (p. 11).
- Image: A word or action that names a concrete thing (p. 11).
- Type: A symbol that looks forward to an antitype for future fulfillment (p. 11).
- Metaphor: An implied comparison (p. 13).
- Similes: Compare one thing to another by using the formula like or as (p. 13).
- Parable: Brief stories that employ familiar situations, events, characteristics, or elements in order to teach important spiritual truths (p. 14).
- Motif: A recurring theme or a “structurally unified verbal whole” (p. 14).
- Archetype: An image or pattern that recurs…the universal elements of human experience (p. 15).
The next set of definitions are from various sources online:
- Analogy: A comparison between two things, typically on the basis of their structure and for the purpose of explanation or clarification. Google Definition
- Comparison: an examination of two or more items to establish similarities and dissimilarities. Merriam Webster
- Emblem: A heraldic device or symbolic object as a distinctive badge of a nation, organization, or family. Google Definition
- Figure: A person, animal, or object that symbolizes something. A pictorial or sculptural representation, especially of the human body. The Free Dictionary
- Hallmark: Any mark or symbol of genuineness or high quality. Your Dictionary
- Insignia: A symbol or token of personal power, status or office, or of an official body of government or jurisdiction. Wikipedia
- Model: A three-dimensional representation of a person or thing or of a proposed structure, typically on a smaller scale than the original. Google Definition
- Seal: An embossed emblem, figure, symbol, word, letter, etc., used as attestation or evidence of authenticity. Dictionary.com
- Sign: A token; something by which another thing is shown or represented; any visible thing, any motion, appearance or event which indicates the existence or approach of something else. Webster’s 1828 Dictionary
- Token: A sign; something intended to represent or indicate another thing or an event. Webster’s 1828 Dictionary
Sometimes some of the greatest mysteries are right in front of our eyes every day. This morning I came across this YouTube Video called “The Mystery of Magenta” and was really interested in how this guy approached the subject of how the brain perceives color.
You’ll have to check it out and ponder the implications. I was blown away at how the color magenta is different from all the other colors and how it might be the answer to some things I have experienced. All I can say about it is that I think there is something to the color magenta and the veil; perhaps someone out there will know what I am talking about.
I posted this photo on Instagram yesterday and have been thinking about kids and the temple. According to Val Brinkerhoff in an interview with temple architect Keith Stepan, the Las Vegas and Portland Oregon temples were the first for over 100 years to restore the use of celestial symbolism on the outside of the buildings. Since then, the level of detail and design on the outside of temples has seemed to increase dramatically.
Today, I have noticed that the symbolism is everywhere, from the fence to the gardens and fountains and it is a joy to explore and discover.
I have 3 young daughters between the ages of 2 and 7 who I often take on “Daddy-daughter dates” to the temple. The grounds are peaceful and beautiful and as we walk around, we look at the symbols on the temple and the plants and patterns that are all around us. We talk about what things might mean and study different doctrines and principles according to the child’s understanding.
Kids get symbols. They can learn them just like any language and they are really good at it.
In the picture that was drawn by my 7 year old (without any help), she created a temple that had the celestial bodies in the correct order: the moon at the bottom, the sun and then the stars up top. She also drew a fence that features a squared circle motif and what is interesting is that this is different from the Las Vegas temple. She either observed it elsewhere or realized the importance of weaving symbols into the fence design.
I found the temple flanked by two trees interesting because of the consistent patterns of the number 2 associated with trees that is used on many temples (possibly in connection with the two trees in the garden of Eden, man and woman can be symbolized by two trees as well).
The only thing that’s really off is the Moroni statue; if the temple is facing east in this drawing, then Moroni is facing north. Moroni is usually facing east and sometimes south east like on the Las Vegas and a few other temples.
I wanted to share this to point out the value in bringing anyone to the temple, whether they are children, teens or even people not of our faith. The grounds and building itself are filled with teachings, doctrine and principles that all can benefit from. It is a wonderful place, even on the outside, to meditate and receive revelation.
I’m grateful that such a place exists.
Freshly led out of Egypt, the children of Israel were delivered by a series of miracles that seem like they must have been incredible to witness. Camped at the base of mount Sinai, they were left alone without their leader, Moses. During this time they could have lived by the memory of what they had seen, they could have remembered and been true to what was shown to them. Instead, in a matter of days they were building new gods to worship. How quickly they had forgotten, how unable they were to walk when left alone.
Walking alone is part of the process
The following is a few excerpts from a paper written by Terryl L. Givens called “Letter to a Doubter” which I read recently on Mormon Interpreter. He illustrates this principle of patience when walking alone and the importance of remembering.
I have experienced this phenomenon often in my life where I have these incredible revelatory and enlightening experiences followed by silence and a sense of spiritual isolation. I’ve often wondered if I was being rejected by God or if I had done something to offend him by my actions or not being true enough to his commandments. I’ve talked to others that Read Full Post