Reviews – Joseph Smith’s Quorum of the Anointed, 1842-1845: A Documentary History

Joseph Smith's Quorum of the AnointedJournal 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

Books, 2011).

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.

Reviews 165

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.

166 DIALOGUE: A JOURNAL OF MORMON THOUGHT, 45, no. 2 (Summer 2012)

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

Reviews 167

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

168 DIALOGUE: A JOURNAL OF MORMON THOUGHT, 45, no. 2 (Summer 2012)

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.

Reviews 169

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

170 DIALOGUE: A JOURNAL OF MORMON THOUGHT, 45, no. 2 (Summer 2012)

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.

Reviews 171

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-

Reviews 173

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.

Reviews 175


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.