review – The Development of LDS Temple Worship, 1846-2000

Devery Anderson

International Journal of Mormon Studies, reviewed by Dr. Mauro Properzi

The Development of LDS Temple Worship  (DLTW) is the third volume in a remarkable documentary history that focuses on Mormon temple practices from the year 1842 through the end of the last century. The first two volumes, also edited by Devery Anderson with the assistance of Gary J. Bergera, are more narrow in temporal focus as they deal with Joseph Smith’s Quorum of the Anointed: 1842–1845 and with The Nauvoo Endowment Companies: 1845–1846  respectively. Conversely, DLTW spans over 150 years of Mormon policies, questions, adjustments, and explanations, which are related to temple admittance, ordinances, clothing, construction, functioning, etc. The wealth of information it contains, collected in almost 500 pages of text, and the focus on primary sources as opposed to their interpretation, combines to create a reference volume which is likely to be widely used and studied for many years to come.

Yet, this is not a book for scholars only, whether historians, theologians, or Mormon Studies analysts; Latter–day Saints from most walks of life will find its content accessible, enlightening, and highly engaging.  Indeed, any initial concern that Church members may experience in approaching this book, given the sensitive and sacred nature of the topic, should soon be resolved through the recognition that the editor’s intention is not to create an expose of LDS temple worship. For example, readers will find no description of signs and tokens, or of specific wording in ordinances like initiatories and sealings, which “temple–endowed” Mormons would not discuss publicly.  At the same time, the editor does not shy away from including excerpts from personal diaries and correspondence of individuals who have since passed on, omitting full names when the nature of the issue is considered to be sensitive. In other words, Anderson has tackled the difficult task of navigating the fuzzy realm of the “permissible” in Mormon discussions of temples. Although it is inevitable that both skeptics and believers will take issue on his specific setting of boundaries I believe that he has largely succeeded by showing both courage and sensitivity in espousing a reasonable middle ground which will not alienate either dispassionate scholars or faithful Latter–day Saints.

As a documentary history DLTW does not present a specific argument nor does it suggest an interpretative framework within which to place the sources it makes use of. It is descriptive rather than prescriptive and it is a collection of voices rather than a single mind at work. Still, where there is no thesis to evaluate there is an internal organization to assess. Furthermore, although it employs a variety of sources DLTW brings them together into a coherent whole, thus painting one distinguishable picture of Mormonism’s approach to the temple and its practices. After all, the editor frequently cites “official” LDS sources, including “Messages of the First Presidency,” the “History of the Church,” the “Church Handbook of Instruction” as well as excerpts from the diaries of the highest Church authorities, namely Presidents Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, Heber J. Grant, and David O. McKay, to name only a few. In short, if there is any overarching conclusion about ‘the’ Mormon view and experience of temples it is likely to be drawn from these very sources. In the very least, the picture that emerges from DLTW suggests some theological implications which are worth a thoughtful analysis.

The book’s organization is quite straightforward and strictly chronological. Eight chapters comprise the bulk of the text, each covering about two decades of documentary history with the exception of the first (1846–1880) and the sixth and seventh chapters, which narrow their focus to a single decade each. Within each chapter the organization is also strictly chronological so that sources are listed according to the date associated with their production or publication. Footnotes with brief biographical information as well as useful clarifications by the editor assist the reader in perusing the wealth of transcribed documents. A twenty–two–page photograph section is included between the third and fourth chapters of the volume and a list of abbreviations of the most frequently cited sources as well as twelve pages of short biographies of principal characters precede the introduction to the book. A detailed index amounting to seventeen pages completes the collection.

Clearly, the editor has attempted to make the volume as reader friendly as possible. Since reading documentary history can feel like a tedious endeavor at times this is indeed a welcomed characteristic of the book. Yet, I believe Anderson could have succeeded even further by internally organizing each chapter in some form of thematic fashion rather than strictly chronologically. Indeed, since some cited sources appear as either completely identical or very similar in content the strict chronological order employed sometimes separates the same quotations by a few pages. The reader is then led to wonder whether he/she has already read that particular passage. Instead, a thematic organization could facilitate the reading experience by always placing very similar or identical transcriptions right next to each other. Moreover, subsequent reference searches would also benefit by subcategorized citations about garments, temple recommends, sealing questions, second anointing, etc. within the specific chapter in which they appear. The few citations, which do not fit a clear thematic category, could be placed into a final “miscellaneous” section within each chapter. This is the only criticism I have for the organization of the volume, which is otherwise impeccable.

The introduction is the most important section of the book for the hurried reader because the editor provides a fine summary of the several hundred pages of documentary history that follow it. In these pages Anderson presents a well thought–out collection of ‘highlights’, which are organized both chronologically and thematically. As a result, the introduction reads like a fascinating and dynamic story and the editor ensures both clarity and coherence by focusing on some of the central issues that emerge from the documents. For example, he traces the development of temple garments, beginning with the time when markings were cut on the initiate’s underclothing through the years of distinction between “ceremonial” garments worn in the temple and “modified” garments for daily wearing. He also highlights the increasingly restricted exposure of church membership to the ordinance of second anointing as both numbers of initiates decreased and as the “recommending” responsibility for these ordinances was ultimately placed exclusively in the hands of the Quorum of the Twelve and of the First Presidency. Anderson further discusses modifications of policies relative to black members’ ability to participate in temple ordinances as well as addressing the recent move toward a more egalitarian approach toward women in allowing them to be endowed when a spouse is not a member of the LDS Church.

Yet, what the introduction can do in highlighting dynamism it cannot quite do in conveying the low speed of its actualization. In other words, to read the introduction is to fast–forward the real rogression of the development of LDS temple worship, which is as fraught with resistance to change and attrition as it is open to modifications and adjustments. This tension emerges clearly from the documentary history itself and it is a theologically significant reality to consider because I believe it to lie at the very root of Mormonism’s nature. Armand Mauss called it the tension “between the angel and the beehive,” or the strain between the eternally ideal and the pragmatic, whereas Terryl Givens wrote of it in terms of a paradox, namely of the drive to search vs. certainty. Whichever terms are used to describe it, it is clear that Mormonism, like most other religions, has had to navigate the dangerous waters of change vis–à–vis the calmer but often unsatisfactory seas of the status quo. As a religion that has continued to expand with its temples in different times, places, and cultures, DLTW provides several illustrations of these very tensions.

For example, the recent focus on the “spiritually” protective nature of the garments versus a nineteenth century view about their power to shield from physical evil points toward greater resonance with Western cultural sensibilities and a move away from the “magical” milieu of early Mormonism. On the other hand, the fact that the full–length ceremonial garment remained in use in LDS temples for decades after the approval of the modified style indicates that any change in this department required a time of adaptation and transition. This is only one of several examples where it is apparent that Mormon authorities have attempted to balance the need for historical modifications with the security that comes from the rigidly unchanging. The preferred direction of explanation for any modification has generally involved the reduction of doctrine to core eternal principles while maintaining the symbolic expressions of those same principles as changeable. Still, DLTW points to the fact that most innovations have been accompanied by some difficulties thus underlining the fact that Latter–day Saints as a whole prefer to lean on the side of certainty as opposed to the searching end of the spectrum, to use Givens’ terminology.

It is not surprising that temples should be places where Mormons expect to experience an unchanging reality. Indeed, they are believed to symbolize the eternal realm like no other places can on this planet. Yet, to return to Mauss’ analogy, focusing on both the present human condition with one’s eyes firmly looking upward to the eternities to come has involved several questions of “translation.” For example, given the LDS belief in the eternal bond of a “sealed” family\union, how does one transpose that union to the hereafter when there have been second or third marriages, children from different spouses, excommunications, etc.? DLTW shows that Mormon authorities have gone at great length in addressing these questions but it also highlights that the same authorities recognize that some situations do not presently have an answer and that individuals must trust the love and mercy of an omnipotent God to make it all work out in the end.  In other words, to wax theological for a moment, there cannot be certainty in all the details, but only in the overarching plan and in the plan’s creator.

Furthermore, there is probably no better illustration of compromise between the ideal and the pragmatic than the early twentieth–century requirement to abide by the Word of Wisdom in order to qualify for a temple recommend. The requirement itself was accompanied by a call for leniency toward older individuals who had acquired habits involving tobacco and other prohibited substances. Similarly, from a socio–anthropological perspective much could be written about second anointings. Could their progressive “removal” from the general membership run parallel to shifting dynamics of authority, which have consolidated the separation between the hierarchy at headquarters and a worldwide membership?  These and many others are the questions that could be explored in and through DLTW. For this and other reasons previously highlighted this is a book that will continue to be discussed, quoted, and referenced for the foreseeable future. Its malleability and theological potential, which is certainly characteristic of documentary histories, is even more pronounced by the fact that DLTW presently stands alone as a publication of its kind. In short, the book itself is the ultimate illustration of the sought for, somewhat resisted, and certainly slow in coming innovation, clarification, or modification related to the temple which its pages so aptly describe in many of its finer aspects throughout the history of the LDS Church.

Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, reviewed by Stephen C. Taysom

Although we may not know it, we live our lives immersed in ritual. Many of our daily exchanges with other human beings are ritualized. We often categorize and compare religions by referencing how highly structured, or not, their liturgical worlds are. I grew up being told that Mormons avoided ritual because it connoted empty practice and vulgar symbolism. The truth is, however, that Mormon temple worship is among the richest symbolic systems of worship in Christianity.

Within the temple rituals, one can, for example, identify almost all of Catherine Bell’s six genres of ritual action. Bell was, before her untimely death from cancer in 2008, among the most prominent scholars of ritual theory in the world. A specialist in Chinese religion, Bell not only studied rituals but also produced important work on the history of the study of ritual. Bell’s work has allowed a new generation of scholars to apply ritual studies theory to a strikingly broad range of specific religious traditions.

Given the strength of the theoretical framework available, it is time that the Mormon temple ritual receives serious study as ritual. Unfortunately, it has not received as much of this attention as it should have.1 Since Joseph Smith introduced the temple endowment in 1842, it has been a source of curiosity, contempt, and even fantasy for those outside of the faith. Even for insiders, the temple has always been somewhat perplexing. Because Mormon tradition holds that matters of any specificity regarding the temple ceremonies must not be discussed outside the temple itself, those who are preparing to attend for the first time are understandably nervous. Adding to this tension is the fact that the temple is simultaneously the heart of Mormon piety and the least “Mormon” thing that most Mormons do.

In a Church where the sacramental elements are bread and water, there is no local professional clergy, and many Church buildings are centered around an indoor basketball court, the temple ceremonies represent a different sort of devotional mode altogether. They are liturgically rich and involve ritual vestment changes and symbolic body posturing, sacred words and the enactment of a holy and comprehensive mythology. No other Christian church in America comes close to the level of individual involvement in the abstract ritual performance of a sacred story that is found in LDS temples.

Most Mormons know very little about the history of the temple endowment. Signature Books, in its three-volume documentary history of LDS temple worship, has given a great gift to scholars and believers who wish to understand the historical development of these rituals through a study of the documents that believers have produced. This review looks at these three volumes, focusing on how the documents collected in each volume illuminate the possible future study of LDS temple worship, as well as what the documents tell us about using the history of temple worship as a lens through which to view LDS history more generally.

Volume 1: Joseph Smith’s Quorum of the Anointed

In the first volume of the trilogy, editors Devery S. Anderson and Gary James Bergera focus on documents bearing on the origin and development of Smith’s “Anointed Quorum.” This group, first organized in May 1842, initially met in Smith’s Red Brick Store in Nauvoo and thereafter in a variety of private locations, including the homes of quorum members. At the group’s meetings, they would initiate new members and perform a ritual that would be more or less familiar to modern Mormons as the temple endowment. The documents collected in the first volume are drawn largely from the journals of quorum members, most of whom were very circumspect in writing about the ritual. The documents range in content and style from the specific and voluble to the vague and rhetorically enthusiastic.

An example of the former is drawn from the journal of L. John Nuttall, who recorded an 1877 recollection from Brigham Young. According to Nuttall, Young recalled that, when the first endowments were given in Nauvoo, “we had only one room to work in with the exception of a little side room or office where we were washed and anointed had our garments placed upon us and received our new name. And after he [Joseph Smith] had performed these ceremonies, he gave the key words, signs, tokens and penalties” (7). A rather more succinct and veiled entry is found in Smith’s diary entry from September 26, 1842, in which he wrote, simply, that he spent some time “in the large room over the store” (16). Although few of the documents contain specific information about the endowment itself, when read as a whole, these early sources provide historians with several important pieces of information, including the process by which new members of the quorum were selected and the role of the quorum’s meetings in the larger problem-solving operation of the Church. On the first point, this was a small, insular group of mostly American-born converts. The nationality issue is significant in view of the fact that Nauvoo was becoming increasingly internationalized, as first the British and later the Scandinavian missions were bringing thousands of new Latter-day Saints into Nauvoo each year. Most members of the Anointed Quorum were not part of that new demographic. Members of the quorum nominated those whom they believed to be trustworthy, thus creating a web of relationships that were mapped onto the demographics of this new, sacred unit.

With regard to the second point, the documents included in this volume make it abundantly clear that Joseph Smith confronted the vast array of difficulties facing his Church in the 1840s through what he believed to be the profound spiritual power available through petitioning God in special prayer rites. These rites sanctified the entire meeting and created a sacred space in which revelation would flow unimpeded. Although the term “prayer circle” does not appear in any of the collected documents in the first volume, it is obvious from the context that the prayers offered during meetings of the Anointed Quorum involved dressing in temple robes, praying in a circle, and invoking the attention of God through the use of ritual signs. Heber C. Kimball referred to it in his journal as the “Holy Order,” and he recorded that the order prayed for rain July 10, 1845 (127). Smith and his fellow quorum members prayed about a wide range of practical issues during these sessions, including “the prosperity of Israel” (176) and “that the Lord would turn away the sickness now prevailing amongst the children in the City” (129). Prayers were also offered up for sick individuals, and what would be categorized by scholars of religion as prayers of cursing were also mentioned. For example, Willard Richards recorded a meeting after Joseph Smith’s death in which “George A. Smith prayed that the evils of the course William Smith had pursued would fall upon his own head” (135). In addition to the prayers themselves, the now-sanctified environment was used for the discussion of political, economic, and social problems that were pressing upon the Mormons. That these documents so clearly indicate that Smith conceived of and used the meetings of the Quorum of the Anointed not only to perform rituals but also as a setting uniquely suited to finding solutions to vexing problems is fascinating because the problem-solving function of temple worship among ordinary Mormons now represents one of the central features of temple worship; members speak often of receiving inspiration about practical problems during the time they spend in the temple.

Also during the period covered by the first volume, women were inducted into the Anointed Quorum and the practice of plural marriage was introduced, largely through the auspices of the quorum and the relatives of quorum members. The records are largely silent on the issue of plural marriage, as one would expect, but Todd Compton’s insightful introductory essay to the first volume, as well as many of the footnotes, help readers identify subtle references to the practice.

In sum, Volume 1 is about the creation of an elite group focused on ritual practices of mythological performance, apotropaic prayer, and eternal marriage. In subsequent volumes, Bergera and Anderson’s documents demonstrate how this process was first democratized and then modernized.

Volume 2: The Nauvoo Endowment Companies

The second volume is the longest despite the fact that it covers only the period from 1845 to 1846. Volume 2 consists largely of lists. The majority of its nearly 700 pages are devoted to reproducing temple records concerning ordinance work performed in the Nauvoo Temple between December 1845 and the Mormons’ departure from Nauvoo in February 1846. Obviously, this volume will be of interest to genealogists. But what use will historians or scholars of religion or even readers of Mormon history find in this massive collection of lists?

For me, what these records represent is a tangible manifestation of the democratization of the endowment and sealing rituals. This may seem a minor point, but in fact it represents a substantial and unusual development in the context of ritual studies. In most cases, rituals that are introduced to and, in fact, serve to create an elite are closely guarded by the elite that makes, and is made, by the rituals. In the case of the Mormon temple rites, the alacrity of the shift from the status of elite rituals to rituals serving an entire religious community, to say nothing of the shift itself, is truly remarkable. And it is in this volume that we see that shift take place.

It is one thing to be told that Mormon temple rites were democratized after the death of Joseph Smith. It is another thing entirely to read the truth of that in the lists of names. Obscure, ordinary, non-elite Latter-day Saints are initiated by the thousands into the rituals that we saw in Volume 1 being administered only to the elite. In my estimation, this is the most important, but not the only, contribution made by Volume 2.

While the masses were being washed, anointed, endowed, and sealed in the Nauvoo Temple, Church leaders were continuing their temple meetings. One of the tasks that takes up a surprising amount of Church leaders’ time as chronicled in these documents is the ritual dedication of objects. The horns that held the holy anointing oil were dedicated individually. The oil, too, had to be ritually consecrated, something that was often done while the ritual actors were wearing temple robes. Most interesting, however, were the cases in which objects not directly connected with temple service underwent ritual dedication in the temple. For example, on December 16, 1845, a “letter which had been written by Elde]r Hyde was dedicated to God with prayer that the desired object may be accomplished by it” (47).

What the documents in Volume 3 make clear is that, by the mid-1840s, the temple itself was seen as a locus of power—not only a place set apart for the performance of sacred ritual, but a place in which actions that could be performed outside of the temple stood a better chance of achieving efficacy when performed within. The issue of efficacy is always salient in discussions of ritual. In the case of the LDS temple endowment, Volume 2 makes it clear that Church leaders believed and taught that the prayers offered up in the temple were particularly efficacious. Apostle Amasa Lyman told a group of Mormons who had just been through the endowment ceremony: “You have learned how to pray. You have been taught to approach God, and be recognized. This is the principle by which the Church has been kept together, and not the power of arms. A few individuals have asked for your preservation, and their prayers have been heard, and it is this which has preserved you from being scattered to the four winds” (120). All of these details help us develop a picture of how the Mormons viewed the power of the temple as a place and the rituals themselves as providing greater access to God and allowing God greater access to them.

These meetings also included the ritual prayer circles and discussions of the meaning of the temple endowment with Brigham Young “giving much instruction at different intervals” (58). Some of this instruction involved the proper relationships among men, women, and God. In a particularly telling temple sermon, Heber C. Kimball told the women present: “[God] did not make the man for the woman; but the woman for the man, and it is just as unlawful for you to rise up and rebel against your husband, as it would be for man to rebel against God. When the man came to the vail, God gave the key word to the man, and the man gave it to the woman. But if a man don’t use a woman well and take good care of her, God will take her away from him, and give to [sic] another” (120). This fragment is significant because it demonstrates that the LDS temple endowment, like most rituals, allows participants to incorporate contemporary cultural ideals into a ritually performed mythology that is assumed to be unchanging and eternal.

In this case, the notion that women were not only third in a hierarchy that ran from God to man to woman, but also that women were objects to be acted upon, possessed, and even redistributed is incorporated into the most sacred of Mormon ritual contexts.

While it is a sad truth that most nineteenth-century Americans would have found such misogyny unremarkable, one of the problems that ritual-making presents is that it tends to put believers in a double bind when it comes to social change. On the one hand, they are bound by their culture, but even when the culture begins to change, the old cultural ideas have been tied with an all-but-invisible bond to sacred ritual structures within the faith itself. As Catherine Bell noted: “Ritual must simultaneously disguise its techniques and purposes and improvisations and mistakes. It must make its own invention invisible.”2 Thus, rituals sometimes hamper efforts by religious groups to make social changes commensurate with changes being made within the broader culture. The documents presented in Volume 2 demonstrate that Mormon temple rituals follow a pattern common to many other rituals across time and space—a process by which “cultural or conventional orders, by themselves arbitrary and fragile, come to partake of the necessity and durability of natural law and brute fact.”3 In Volume 3, discussed below, we will see the modern Church negotiating this struggle to make the invention visible so that change can be made to the most brutish of facts without appearing to subvert the eternal rites.

Aside from the important contribution that the documents in Volume 2 make to the study of Mormon temple rituals qua ritual, they also shed light on some issues attendant to the practical management of the temple. The temple was the largest building in the area; and by the time it was completed, the Mormons in Nauvoo had become so ostracized by their neighbors that they were all focused on spending time in the temple for entertainment as well as liturgical purposes. Many of the documents record Brigham Young’s efforts to control the use of the temple building for recreation—especially dancing. While he strongly supported the Mormons in their desires to kick up their collective heels, he was particularly concerned with the “wicked” individuals who found their way inside the temple. In a document extracted from William Clayton’s journal, Church leaders noted that “some three or four men and perhaps more, had introduced women into the Temple, not their wives, and were living in the side rooms, cooking, sleeping, tending babies, and toying with their women.” The same entry noted that “there were also many persons lounging about, who had no particular duty to attend to, but who thought they had a right to be present, because they had once passed through the Vail” (193). The democratization of ritual apparently had its price.

Volume 3: The Development of LDS Temple Worship, 1846–2000

The third and final volume is perhaps the one that contemporary Mormons will find the most interesting. This volume is like the first two inasmuch as it illuminates a major shift not only in the history of temple worship but also in the history of Mormonism itself. In the case of the final volume, we see through these documents a church that has established itself as a staple of American cultural life but which finds itself struggling to negotiate the rough waters of modernity.

During this period, especially beginning with the twentieth century, Mormons were forced to make important choices about how far they were willing to separate themselves from the broader American culture. This process of separation was made more painful and difficult than it had been since the 1840s because Mormons were beginning to see themselves, for the first time in many decades, as full participants in the rising tide of American cultural influence. Also, the Church continued to struggle with the problem of democratization that had initially emerged during the very late Nauvoo period. Volume 3 contains many possible examples that could be used to illustrate these points, including discussions of polygamy, second anointings, suicide, and the move to the commercial production and sale of temple clothing.

Two examples are particularly illuminating: the evolution of the temple garment and the prayer circle. First introduced as part of the original Anointed Quorum endowment rites in the 1840s, by the early twentieth century the garments were beginning to pose some practical problems. Garments for both men and women consisted of thick union-suit-type articles with long sleeves and long legs. They tied up the front, had a collar, and did not feature a closed crotch. Instructions issued to temple presidents in 1904 underscored the fact that “garments . . . must not be altered or mutilated and are to be worn as intended, down to the wrist and ankles, and around the neck. These requirements are imperative; admission to the Temple will be refused to those who do not comply therewith” (139). The same instruction was reissued in 1911.    What the documents in this volume reveal is that, as late as 1911, most Church leaders understood the garments to be sacred, not only in function but also in design. In 1923, Salt Lake Temple President George F. Richards, acting as part of a committee to reexamine temple practices, pushed hard for a modernization of the garments, to include “dispensing with the collar, using buttons instead of strings, using the closed crotch and flap, and for the women wearing elbow sleaves [sic] and leg length just below the knee” (198–99). The First Presidency eventually approved the changes to the garment; and according to an article in the Salt Lake Tribune, included in Volume 3, the motivation for these changes stemmed largely from the experiences of women. “The younger of the gentler sex complained that to wear the old style with the new finer hosiery gave the limbs a knotty appearance, . . .[and] was embarrassing in view of the generally accepted sanitary shorter skirt” (200).

The Tribune article notes that the changes were met with resistance from some older members of the Church. One woman was quoted as saying: “I shall not alter my garments, even if President Grant has ordered me to do so. My garments now are made as they were when I was married in the endowment house long before the temple was built. The pattern was revealed to the prophet Joseph, and Brother Grant has no right to change it” (199). The point of view expressed by this anonymous woman—that the pattern of the garment was revealed to Joseph Smith and was, therefore, immutable—was the standard notion held by most Mormons throughout the nineteenth century.

In fact, one of George F. Richards’s main tasks was to demonstrate to the committee of apostles that Joseph Smith had, in fact, experimented with a number of designs for the garment and that the specific pattern was not revealed from God. Once Richards had successfully made this case to most of the Church leaders (Joseph Fielding Smith voted to oppose most of the proposed changes), further modifications to the garment were increasingly frequent. In 1936 the Church moved to produce a garment “without sleeves” in order to “obviate undesirable exposure of the garment which now so frequently occurs through the wearing of present-day patterns of clothing” (241). This is a clear instance in which the behavior of the members of the Church persistently conformed with American cultural norms and which, in turn, led to a liberalizing of ritual practice.

While one might be tempted to view this development as evidence of the weakness of hierarchy in the Church, I see this type of development as a choice on the part of the hierarchy to avoid the exacerbation of tension both between the hierarchy and its members and between the Church and the broader culture. It is worth noting that Church officials felt some ambivalence toward the changes being made in the garment. This ambivalence appeared in the requirement, in force until 1975, that all patrons coming to perform temple ceremonies were required to wear the “old-style” garment while in the temple. Eventually, however, that requirement was also dropped. In 1979, the Church authorized the production of a two-piece garment (437). As of 2011, the one-piece variety is available only by special order and is not carried in LDS Church Distribution centers. Remember that one of Bell’s central arguments about ritual is that it faces the double-edged sword of power and inflexibility from the occlusion of its own construction. By making the creation of one aspect of the ritual visible again, to return to Bell’s earlier framing of the issue, George F. Richards introduced a high level of flexibility to the ways Mormons wore and thought about their ritual undergarments. It is also not surprising that this development occurred in the twentieth century, a period of unprecedented visibility of the very dynamics of ritual invention,” according to Bell.4

On the issue of prayer circles, the documents in Volume 3 are equally enlightening. As noted in Volume 1, the prayer circle formed an important element in the meetings of the original Quorum of the Anointed. Once established in Utah, Mormon leaders performed prayer circles regularly as part of their meetings, as well as part of the endowment. Additionally, members of the Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency formed their own private prayer circles that included members of their families as well as close friends. An excerpt from the diary of Apostle Richard R. Lyman, written when his prayer circle was disbanded in 1929, sheds light on how these private prayer circles operated: “Two weeks ago tonight . . . I met with my prayer circle for the last time—and disbanded it. The [first] presidency and the Council of the Twelve decided . . . that only official prayer circles be continued—that is, circles which have other business to do as for example high council and our weekly council meeting. It is nearly 33 years since Francis M. Lyman invited me into the circle. President Grant presided over it after the death of FM Lyman until he became president of the church—since then I have been its president” (224). These private prayer circles thus evolved with an orderly succession and invitation process and imitated in striking detail the form and function of many of the meetings that the Quorum of the Anointed held during the lifetime of Joseph Smith.

Finally, some individual stakes also had prayer circles for various priesthood quorums, as Lyman alluded to in his journal. Volume 3 includes extracts from a history of one such prayer circle that was attended by elders in the Salt Lake Stake beginning in 1898 (225). Such official, but locally organized, prayer circles persisted until 1978. That year, the First Presidency wrote: “Because of the increasing number of requests for such prayer circles, viewed in light of the rapid growth of the church, and because of the complications that holding prayer circles on Sunday have created . . .[we] have decided that such prayer circles . . . be discontinued immediately” (434). The letter suggests that a suitable replacement for the local prayer circle was for stake leaders to attend a regular endowment session and participate in the prayer circles being held there. The real difference, of course, is that the prayer circles held as part of the endowment ceremony would not allow local leaders to act as voice in the prayers and thus they would be unable to vocally ask for guidance on specific local matters.

On the surface, it appears that the case of the prayer circles demonstrates the process of what Max Weber called the routinization of charisma. Considered more carefully, however, it is clear that the documents pertaining to the prayer circles indicate several dynamic historical processes at work. First, it is clear that Church leaders were concerned with the centralization of authority and that they were aware, especially with regard to the private prayer circles, that divisions within the Quorum of the Twelve could be incubated into full-fledged schisms in the context of individual prayer circles. While it may be difficult for modern Mormons to comprehend, meetings of the Quorum of the Twelve in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were often contentious, frequently factious, and occasionally rancorous. The move to disband the private prayer circles of such leaders may have served to lessen the propensity for division within the quorum.

Second, the move to disband local prayer circles, most of which existed in Utah, was at least as much about the increasing availability of temples as it was about an attempt to rob local authorities of power. Also, as the twentieth century progressed, so did the view of the temple as a place of devotion and contemplation, a view that was replacing the older sense of the temple as a place for ritual work. Therefore, it is not surprising that Church authorities would seek to make the temples the exclusive home of the most spontaneous and contemplative element of the ritual.


It is true that many elements of temple worship have been dealt with in articles and books such as David J. Buerger’s The Mysteries of Godliness: A History of Mormon Temple Worship (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1994) and D. Michael Quinn’s “Latter-day Saint Prayer Circles” (BYU Studies 19, no. 1 [Fall 1978]: 79–105. But any historian will affirm that there is nothing quite like reading the primary source documents and working out their significance and meaning for oneself. With these three volumes of primary materials, Signature Books has bestowed a gift on readers—especially on LDS readers who want to understand the roots and the history of the rituals that mean so very much to them. There is nothing here that would destroy faith or besmirch the sanctity of the temple rituals. On the contrary, these books function, in some sense, as manuals that will make LDS temple worship richer and more powerful for the believer; these books are a record of how hard Mormons have worked over the course of almost two centuries, how much thought and effort and time and money they have invested in maintaining these rituals, in keeping them relevant, in ensuring that their essential elements did not wash into the sea of anachronism as the culture changed around them. Indeed, these documents provide a more powerful testimony of the enduring importance of temple rituals to Mormons everywhere. Furthermore, the books present scholars of religion and ritual with a wealth of data that can be analyzed and interpreted in sophisticated ways that will further our understanding of the relationship between ritual and cultural development.


1. One major exception to this trend is Kathleen Flake, “‘Not to be Riten’: The Mormon Temple Rite as Oral Canon,” Journal of Ritual Studies 9, no. 2 (1995): 1–21.

2. Catherine Bell, Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 224.

3. Roy A. Rappaport, Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 166.

4. Bell, Ritual, 224.


Association for Mormon Letters, reviewed by Bryan Buchanan

Ask the average Mormon what prompted the change wherein stake presidents no longer recommended people for second anointings and you would probably hear the answer, “There’s a second one?”  Due to the wall of secrecy that has been thrown around the temple and all of the ordinances thereof (not just the second anointing), most Latter-day Saints are unaware of the complex and fascinating history behind the initiatory rites, endowment, sealing and second anointing.  Devery Anderson, who previously co-edited two volumes covering earlier periods of temple ordinances, has amassed a veritable trove of primary source material on these ordinances in the post-Nauvoo period.  The Development of LDS Temple Worship, 1846-2000: A Documentary History (hereafter DLTW) is sure to become an oft-cited classic of Mormon history due to its wide-ranging pool of sources, many rarely seen.  This is a fairly long review and I feel that correlates well to the study’s importance.

The collection is divided into eight periods: 1846-80, 1881-1900, 1901-18, 1921-40, 1941-60, 1961-70, 1971-80 and 1981-2000.  A list of abbreviations for commonly used sources includes two notable listings: the David Buerger Papers (University of Utah library) and the Michael Quinn Papers (Yale University library).  Anderson’s compilation would be markedly different had these two trailblazing collections never been amassed.  The description of DLTW as a “comprehensive collection of official documents” (from the dust jacket, emphasis mine) is important —with the wealth of information available to him as editor, Anderson did not need to rely on speculation or exposés for details. In addition to solidifying its lasting value, this reliance makes the work more “safe” for conservative but interested readers.

Following a selection of short biographical sketches of the principal characters and a fine contextualizing introduction, Anderson begins to depict the development that would take place haphazardly in the chaos of the final days of Nauvoo, the trek west, and settlement in Utah. Not surprisingly, very little happens until things settle down in Salt Lake—there, Anderson notes, despite its fame as the first “temple” in Utah, Ensign Peak was apparently the site of only one endowment (that of Addison Pratt previous to a mission to the Sandwich Islands).  Alongside well-known citations from the Journal of Discourses (such as Brigham Young’s definition of the endowment), Anderson includes a letter from the First Presidency to leaders in southern Utah giving a very early—if not the earliest—form of what would later become the temple recommend interview.  The only item that would sound out of place to a modern Mormon, of course, is the query as to belief in the “plurality of wives.” In this formative period, one can see the “revelation in council” principle so obvious in this collection—when the question is how many might receive their second anointing, several rise to speak until the determination is reached that, until a proper temple is constructed, only one person could be anointed in any given meeting.  In this first section, two matters are raised that receive much attention throughout DLTW: the previously mentioned second anointing and the nature and marking of the garment.  Under the direction of Young himself, the garments were physically cut while on the wearer.  (A brief aside on footnoting: Anderson is thorough in providing short biographical entries on prominent characters.  Additionally, it is clear that he is up to date with periodical contributions—a footnote keyed to a mention of baptism for health directs the reader to the fine recent study of this relic in the JMH.)

The increased amount of correspondence in the second section exhibits another feature of the development of temple ordinances.  In many cases, a letter dealing with a situation not addressed previously would lead to a formal ruling (often following discussion) which, in turn, might be codified in a circular letter or an official handbook.  Another interesting feature is how each temple developed its procedures—attendees of the Logan Temple were queried on things ranging from the expected Word of Wisdom and tithing to whether they donated to the temple and attended fast meetings. Gender differences are also  obvious throughout this section—in a response to a sister who had not received her second anointing with her husband before he died, Wilford Woodruff replied in effect not to worry and no ceremony was performed (this ruling would be reversed by Lorenzo Snow).  Of course, men were able to employ proxies in order to have deceased wives anointed to them. Including both questions and answers through correspondence is a fascinating aspect of DLTW—in many cases, the reader is able to trace a particular concern through to closure. The variable nature of racial restrictions is also addressed in an 1889 letter to the president of the St. George Temple—in this period, relatives of African Americans were able to be baptized for their kin (though not endowed).  Additionally, an entry documents the wording for the ceremony performed for the persistent (and humble!) Jane Manning James, which pronounced her “Servitor to the Prophet Joseph Smith.”

As evidenced in the third section, diary accounts from “second tier” Latter-day Saints often provide fascinating looks at temple ordinances “in the trenches.”  For example, an entry from William H. Smart’s diary details the second, private portion of the second anointing performed at home.  In their case, they sang hymns, prayed together, read from the scriptures, and dedicated the room before performing the ordinance. Unrelenting questions on the scope of the Word of Wisdom reached the First Presidency in this period—Joseph F. Smith was generally willing to “grandfather” in older members who were entrenched in their habits. The importance of precedent is clear throughout this section—in a meeting in St. George, temple president David H. Cannon shared that, based on a statement of Brigham Young, it was acceptable to temporarily turn in the collar or roll up the sleeves of the garment but not to cut off the sleeve.  One final point of interest from this section—the de-emphasis on the oath of vengeance—shows that it was played down following the Smoot Hearings and its attendant negative publicity, a clear example that, as in many cases dealing with church policy, outside events were often the catalyst for internal change.

The fourth section starts with an entry from George F. Richards, a prominent (and generally unrecognized) voice in temple matters during the first half of the 20th Century. His efforts were a curious blend of revision as well as preserving the past.  For example, diary entries concurrently record the abolishing of the temple choir and moving administrations to the sick from the garden room to the assembly room, all while he is stridently campaigning for an increase in the number of second anointings (which saw a steep decline during the presidency of Heber J. Grant).  The downturn in these ceremonies is generally tied to an incident in Idaho in 1926 where a man suggested to a priesthood meeting congregation that they get their own second blessings.  As a result (as outlined in a letter from Heber J. Grant), responsibility for recommending such candidates was transferred from stake presidents to apostles, often when they visited stake conferences.  From that point onward, Richards would fight a losing battle (often single-handedly) against the decrease in administrations, feeling that it was abhorrent for leaders—especially apostles—to have this blessing withheld.  This section also highlights the impact of the growing church on temple matters—an interesting document from the 1920s gives the “REQUIREMENTS AND INSTRUCTIONS FOR SETTING UP PRAYER CIRCLES IN STAKES.”  The quasi-canonical status that the garment pattern had acquired is starkly demonstrated through an excerpt from a T. Edgar Lyon oral history in which he recounts being probably the first person to wear the “new” garment in the Salt Lake Temple. A temple officiator protested that Lyon was not wearing the “temple garment”—only a personal rebuke from George F. Richards was sufficient to convince the staid temple worker that modifications had been approved and did not constitute rank heresy.

Portions of a sermon given by David O. McKay in the Salt Lake Temple in 1941 relate to the very nature of DLTW.  He remarks that so many who had attended the temple went away disappointed because their expectations were not met.  My experience is that this is due to the shroud of secrecy thrown over the temple, a shroud that I feel is far too broad and thick and one that I think earlier generations of leaders would have found disconcerting. Citations from George F. Richards’ journal, continued in this fifth section, reveal that he felt a personal commission to not only standardize and perfect the ordinances but, particularly, to ensure that more than 8 second anointings would be performed in the next 12 years after a 1942 diary entry.  More than 30,000 had been performed in the first 100 years of Mormon history and Richards would go to his grave lamenting its virtual demise.  Minutes of a meeting of the First Presidency and the 12 in 1953 stress the challenges embodied in the Swiss Temple that would initiate a new phase of temple work.  The need to present the endowment ceremony in various languages would lead to the use of motion pictures in order to accommodate patrons. These discussions are enriched by the use of oral histories, many times from otherwise unknown employees who provide details such as using a dark-haired Eve in a later temple film due to concerns from South American members that blondes were “freaks because everyone is black haired and dark.”  One other example highlights the impact of the technological revolution—an employee who dealt with data processing explained to general authorities that even if every adult member spent eight hours a day in the temple every day of the week, they would never keep up even with birth rates.  After pursuing several avenues to see whether technological advances could speed things up (and feeling that several of the brethren were getting nervous), he was comforted to hear Joseph Fielding Smith say “I have a feeling that you young men know what you are talking about and I have confidence in you.”

The 1960s would see another innovation in temple ordinances—due to the lack of names provided by temple patrons themselves, temples were on the verge of closing frequently.  This was obviously not acceptable so, as Genealogical Manager George Fudge described, an extraction program was developed to fill the gap.  This decision, in turn, led to the approval of performing temple ordinances out of the normal order.  A fascinating piece of correspondence from 1966 shows a church on the cusp of internationalism, a church in which a member could still write to President McKay directly and receive a ruling on her questions.  In response, he decided that this elderly woman could be sealed to a dead friend but not to the living husband of a couple with whom she was also friends.  In a book full of fascinating possibilities, perhaps the most intriguing to me comes from this period.  Mark Garff, chairman of the Building Committee, proposed a visionary plan in which a “temple ship” would be outfitted and travel constantly to areas far from a temple and thus serve the needs of the people.  In the middle of serious meetings on the possibility, additional counselor Alvin Dyer pipes up with the non sequitur, “What about the curse on the waters mentioned in the D&C,” and due to this, or (hopefully more germane) additional factors, the plan was eventually scrapped.

During the 1970s, lingering questions about the orthodoxy of the “new” garment (after 50 years, it is a testament to the status quo that it was still under question) continued to pop up. In a nod to tradition, the old style garment was still recommended for temple use in a 1972 letter from the First Presidency.  Though a similar letter three years later would leave the option open to the individual, Anderson points out in a footnote that the Provo Temple still required the old-style garment in certain situations. That the floodgates of information were slowly closing during this period (likely a result of the expanding correlation program) is exemplified in several letters from President Kimball inviting persons to receive their second anointing—no names are attached to the letters.

The final section is remarkable in its contrast to earlier sections—sources during this period are confined almost entirely to publicly available Church publications and circular letters.  Given the amount of detail and personal story in earlier sections, this period is noticeably pedestrian in nature (this is, of course, a reflection on the availability of sources, not laziness on the editor’s part).  Even the statements from Church leaders are markedly reserved in what is discussed—where earlier leaders were far more free in their discourse, later church officials rarely strayed from the sacred (but not secret) approach. Topics during this period often deal with the realities of modern life: how are divorces handled, what if the church member is mentally handicapped, how are adoptions to be addressed, etc.

This book was a joy to read and review, period.  DLTW will soon be regarded as a remarkable collection of primary source material that, though focused on the development of temple ordinances, represents the course of Mormon history as a whole.  As I stated at the beginning of this review, the real value lies in the amount of concrete detail originating directly from those involved rather than secondhand speculation or conjecture.  A few (minor) quibbles: biographical sketches for Jesse Crosby are inadvertently included twice (p 28, 63). Also, footnote 17 on p 60 dealing with a statement by J.D.T. McAllister in Sep 1886 (referring to the St. George Temple closing “some time ago” due to the threat of a raid) hearkens all the way back to the Utah War for the incident.  I think a far more proximate and likely possibility is found in Charles L. Walker’s diary entries from that month.  On Sep 2nd, Walker notes that the temple was suddenly ordered closed for an “indefinite period of time” (it would reopen a little more than two weeks later) due to the “threats of our enemies.”  Finally, though this would be extremely difficult to accomplish, more intimate detail would be welcome for the last two sections.


Mormon Historical Studies, reviewed by Dustin M. Naegle

Together with Joseph Smith’s Quorum of the Anointed, 1842-451 and The Nauvoo Endowment Companies, 1845-46,2 Anderson’s edited volume The Development of LDS Temple Worship, 1846-2000 continues an intriguing series of documentary histories that represent an abundance of primary sources related to LDS temple practices. Following the format of the previous two volumes, Anderson briefly narrates the history of Utah-era temple worship from its early beginnings at Ensign Peak to the more recent explosion of temple construction in the 1990s.  He also provides a brief commentary on several of the lesser-known modifications in LDS temple practices (e.g., the second anointing, policy regarding and the temple). Anderson also includes a section of short biographical notes of the “principal characters,” as well as a useful index, organized mostly by individuals, though a few subject headings are included. The documentary material itself features excerpts from a variety of diaries, letters, official LDS publications, notes, minutes, and sermons. Footnotes supplement the primary material by providing readers  with biographical information on a number of individuals mentioned in the excerpts (particularly in the earlier sources).  To a lesser extent, the footnotes also help clarify or provide further information on historical events mentioned.

Readers will find a diverse range of source materials, from official declarations by LDS church leadership to accounts of personal religious experiences.  The shear breadth that this volume attempts to negotiate (over 150 years!) will certainly open the possibility of questioning particular omissions (e.g., the “Hosanna Shout”); however, Anderson does well to provide a good range of material.  Among the materials, readers will find an ambience of familiarity in experiences, such as Samuel W. Richards’s, when a “[q]uorum … consisting of 15 members  …  called upon the Lord, his spirit attended us, and the visions of heaven were opened to our view” (5). However, readers may be surprised to find President John Taylor, in an 1886 letter, counseling a temple president that “there are many cases where people may violate the strict letter of the Word of Wisdom, and yet be following its spirit in doing so” (61); or that in 1968, a committee within the LDS leadership proposed that “we buy a ship and outfit the ship and make it a temple ship and that we take this ship to the ports of the earth where our people are” (372) as a way to provide temple ordinances economically to a growing global LDS population; or that in the 1950s, soon-to-be assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles Gordon B. Hinckley “proposed presenting the endowment ordinances in movie form” (291). Perhaps most apparent in my reading through the document excerpts was the degree to which the LDS Church has grown and thus adapted its practices to new contexts and new challenges.

Anderson’s work is certainly in line with the useful documentary histories that Signature Books traditionally has sought to produce. Reliance (at times) on transcriptions, rather than actual documents, will surely perpetuate ongoing discussions about accessibility to Church records, as well as raise questions about how such a work will be received in academic circles. With regard to source materials, the choice to include widely available published material such as the History of the Church or the Journal of Discourses seemed, at times, unnecessary.  While some readers will no doubt feel that temple-related material ought not be the subject of a publicly available volume, I feel that Anderson’s work is respectful on all accounts in treating a subject that most Latter-day Saints consider sacred (to the extent of frequently using dashes to conceal sensitive names and information).

Overall, Anderson’s work will be a welcome addition to many general readers who are interested in better understanding the practices and policies behind what is perhaps the most central pillar of the Mormon faith. It will also serve as a convenient and beneficial reference guide to integral primary source materials for specialists interested in researching the subject of LDS temple worship.


1. Devery Scott Anderson and Gary James Bergera, eds., Joseph Smith’s Quorum of the Anointed, 1842-1845: A Documentary History (Salt Lake City:  Signature Books, 2005).

2. Devery Scott Anderson and Gary James Bergera, eds., The Nauvoo Endowment Companies, 1845-1846: A Documentary History (Salt Lake City:  Signature Books, 2005).