Reviews – Joseph Smith’s Quorum of the Anointed, 1842-1845: A Documentary History
Journal of Mormon History, Roger D. Launius
One of the most significant beliefs about Mormon Nauvoo is that it is where Joseph Smith completed his work of restoration. Among the Mormons, a powerful interpretation is that Joseph Smith is significant not just for his life but for his religious innovations. As Ronald K. Esplin commented in an insightful essay about Nauvoo, “Nauvoo was, and is, and will be important to Latter-day Saints because it was the City of Joseph. It was the city he built, where he lived and acted, where he died. Above all, it was the city where he fulfilled his religious mission…. In a very real sense, his other labors were prologue.”1 Nothing was more significant to this achievement than the religious innovations he incorporated into the religion. The two books edited by Devery S. Anderson and Gary James Bergera document in excruciating detail the efforts of Smith and his inner circle to establish the practice of the Mormon temple endowment. As documentary records that range far in reproducing primary source material on the subject, both works are of exceptional value. They open a window into the esoteric practices that emerged in Nauvoo in the 1840s and found their place in some strains of Mormonism following the death of the founding prophet.
Joseph Smith’s Quorum of the Anointed deals with the development of the rituals that took place in the upper room of Joseph Smith’s Red Brick Store beginning in 1842, portions of which were accidentally witnessed by some in the city. For instance, Ebenezer Robinson, who later embraced the Reorganized Church and later still departed from it, for example, described walking innocently into the upper room only to see “John Taylor, one of the twelve Apostles, in a long white garment, with a white turban on his head, and drawn sword in his hand, evidently representing the ‘cherubims and flaming sword which was placed at the east of the garden of Eden, to guard the tree of life'” (p. 79). Robinson was not part of Joseph Smith’s inner circle and did not participate in these ceremonies. Like others who became part of the Reorganized Church, he was repulsed by them.
Not so many others—who embraced the endowment as Joseph Smith taught them, even as it evolved during the last couple of years of the prophet’s life. As George A. Smith recalled in 1874:
He [Joseph Smith] stated that the Twelve were then instructed to administer in the ordinances of the Gospel for the dead, beginning with baptism and the laying on of hands. The work was at once commenced. It soon became apparent that some had long records of their dead, for whom they wished to administer. This was seen to be but the beginning of an immense work, and that to administer all the ordinances of the Gospel to the hosts of the dead was no light task. The Twelve asked Joseph if there could not be some shorter method of administering for so many. Joseph in effect replied—”The laws of the Lord are immutable, we must act in perfect compliance with what is revealed to us. We need not expect to do this vast work for the dead in a short time. I expect it will take at least a thousand years.” (38)
These ideas anchor the faith of the Latter-day Saints to this day. This work does a fine job of documenting through primary sources how the ideas emerged in Nauvoo. Arranged chronologically, various sources are connected together to describe the process of teaching these ideas among the church’s elite.
The Nauvoo Endowment Companies is in essence a sequel to Joseph Smith’s Quorum of the Anointed. It deals with efforts after Joseph Smith’s death to ensure that the temple endowment was administered to as many Saints as possible prior to the departure of the main part of the church from Nauvoo in 1846. Again, it arranges in chronological order the many accounts of temple work during 1845 and 1846. The washings and anointings; the eternal marriage ceremonies; the ritual passage from the Garden of Eden through the telestial, terrestrial, and celestial glories; the adoptions; and other endowments depicted in these primary accounts suggest the evolution of the rituals even after the death of Joseph Smith and the promulgation of this aspect of Mormon theology among the rank and file in the church.
The events of this effort are related in such accounts as this one by Abraham Owen Smoot:
On Saturday the 18th of Dec[ember] 1845, having been called on by the Council of the Twelve Apostles, I went to the Temple in Nauvoo to receive my endowment. At the hour of 8 o’clock in the morning I was received into the preparation rooms, with several others of my brethren, and I was there prepared to be conducted into the washing and anointing room, where I received my washings in clean and pure water, preparatory to my anointing, which I received under the hands of Samuel Bent, President of the High Council. I was then presented with a garment, b[e]aring the marks of the Priesthood, which I was instructed to wear as a prevention from evil. I was now prepared for the reception of further ordinances in the House of the Lord which were to me sublime, great and glorious, making on my mind endurable impressions, or as the prophet said, “engraving upon the heart or writ[t]en upon its inner parts &c.” (82-83)
The haste with which these endowments were undertaken is revealing. On February 6, 1846, the last day before endowments were suspended, 512 people in eight different companies went through the Nauvoo Temple. The intention of making these ceremonies available to as many of the Latter-day Saints as possible prior to departing from the city was apparent in these actions. Such widespread administration helped to standardize the practice among those who went west with Brigham Young.
What is most remarkable about both of these books from my perspective is the hierarchies created in the rituals in which men were endowed to become kings and gods and women to become queens and priestesses. The Mormon temple concept, as it emerged in Nauvoo with its secrecy, ritualistic washings and anointings, incantations, preoccupation with Old Testament images, and elaborate rites providing for eternal exaltation during which faithful Mormons would “inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths” (D&C 132:20), implies that those who did not experience this same endowment must occupy an eternally subservient station. The temple ritual as documented here always mandated a second-class position for women beneath their priesthood-holding husbands, but women of the faith would be exalted above all others. Did this set of ideas emerge ambivalently over time or was it deliberately fostered by status anxiety or other more subtle factors?
Both Joseph Smith’s Quorum of the Anointed and The Nauvoo Endowment Companies are welcome additions to the literature of Mormon Nauvoo. They present highly useful documentary materials for all to review. Historians will find them helpful in understanding the evolution of the Mormon temple concept and the practice of rituals in the city. Genealogists and believing LDS will profit from the wealth of biographical and canonical material contained in these works.
1Ronald K. Esplin, “The Significance of Nauvoo for Latter-day Saints,” Journal of Mormon History 16 (1990): 72.
Dave’s Mormon Inquiry, David Underhill
I just finished reading through my advance reading copy (“ARC”) of Joseph Smith’s Quorum of the Anointed, 1842-1845: A Documentary History (Signature, 2005), edited by Devery S. Anderson and Gary James Bergera. The book doesn’t use a standard narrative treatment, but instead presents a chronological arrangement of quotations from all available sources relating statements about the Quorum of the Anointed (“QA”), the select group of about ninety individuals who received the higher LDS ordinances under the direction of Joseph Smith before his death in June 1844. A foreword by Todd Compton and a summary introduction by the editors provide context and a framework to the source material that forms the body of the book. There is also a handy section giving short biographies of all QA members. I’ll touch on a few of the highlights.
The Sources. Some quotes come right out of the History of the Church, but might not jump out as relating to the QA if one were reading the HC directly. Many quotes come from Nauvoo diaries of LDS leaders: Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, John Taylor, Joseph Smith, Wilford Woodruff, Willard Richards, and William Clayton. When arranged chronologically, the sources often provide duplicate accounts, but they seem to be quite consistent in their reports, a pleasant result. Of the diarists, William Clayton seemed the most complete and enlightening.
The People. While many names are familiar, there are a few that might be surprising. James Adams, for example, was a member of the first Nauvoo endowment group in May 1842. Baptized LDS in 1836, he was made a probate judge in 1841. He was also Deputy Grand Master of the second Masonic Grand Lodge of Illinois and helped establish Nauvoo’s lodge in early 1842. A handy fellow to have around.
The Gap. From July 1842 to May 1843, the sources fall silent. The QA apparently went inactive during that period in response to John C. Bennett’s embarrassing disclosures and accusations. I knew Bennett’s book caused a big flap, but I was surprised to see the effect it had on an activity as important and as publicly unobserved as the Quorum. When activities resumed in May 1843, women were first admitted into the QA, which is often referred to as a priesthood quorum. The 1843-44 period was thus the high water mark of female participation in higher LDS councils. It’s worth noting that women were not admitted into Masonic lodges.
The Tone. All in all, it’s a pretty tame book. On the one hand, if you’re expecting something earthshaking, I’m not sure you’ll find it. On the other hand, those with standard LDS sensibilities about LDS temple lore are not likely to be offended by the book. Most of the text, after all, is taken from diaries of early LDS leaders; there isn’t any material taken from the John C. Bennett writings or other rather uninformed critics. The preliminary ARC inner flap notes state that “the editors of this volume do not reveal anything that would be considered invasive or indelicate,” and I found that to be true throughout the book.
Conclusion. I confess I was somewhat surprised that the original Joseph Smith material (as suggested from the selected diary accounts of the early LDS leaders) seems remarkably similar to the modern LDS material (which, for me, extends to the pre-1991 era; your experience may differ). Somehow I had formed the impression that there were substantial revisions between then and now, but this book gently suggests otherwise. That alone might make the book a worthwhile purchase for some LDS readers.
Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Stephen C. Taysom
Making Visible the Hand of Ritual
Devery S. Anderson and Gary James Bergera, eds. Joseph Smith’s Quorum of the Anointed, 1842–1845: A Documentary History (Salt
Lake City: Signature Books, 2005); Devery S. Anderson and Gary
James Bergera, eds. The Nauvoo Endowment Companies, 1845–
1846: A Documentary History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books,
2005); Devery S. Anderson, ed., The Development of LDS Temple
Worship, 1846–2000: A Documentary History (Salt Lake City: Signature
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 f low 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.
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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
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
E[lde]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
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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 fromWilliam 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 alsomany persons lounging about, who had
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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 inf luence. 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 Quorumendowment 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 f lap, 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
172 DIALOGUE: A JOURNAL OF MORMON THOUGHT, 45, no. 2 (Summer 2012)
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 inf lexibility 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 f lexibility 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, cir-
cles 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-f ledged 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
174 DIALOGUE: A JOURNAL OF MORMON THOUGHT, 45, no. 2 (Summer 2012)
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 TheMysteries 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 affirmthat 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.