Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Cinderella Story

Thanks to the Restoration, Latter-day Saints have the best gospel awareness of any Christian denomination. Revelation given to Joseph Smith and subsequent prophets of this dispensation has provided a solid foundation upon which any Mormon can build a thoroughgoing understanding of Christ’s teachings.

But there is one exception to that rule: prophecy.

It seems that the imagery of prophecy is still, to a great extent, an enigma to us. Visions such as those of John in Revelation, Daniel, Ezekiel and Isaiah — just to name a few — are loaded with symbolism that mystifies us. Even some of Joseph Smith’s prophecies have these same, symbolic features. Sections 88 and 133 of Doctrine and Covenants are a case in point.

The fact that Joseph Smith used imagery consistent with that of the ancient prophets is a powerful verification of his calling as a prophet, but it still seems to do little to help us interpret the mystifying symbolism of prophecy—either ancient or modern.

Many voices, much confusion

Over the years, there has been no shortage of those who claim to have the answers to prophecy. A whole host of books attest to the sad fact that anyone’s guess is as good as another’s.

A survey of the multitude of present offerings suggests that very nearly all of it is guesswork and hunches since none of it actually gives the reader the tools to interpret prophecy. Each interpretation depends on its founder’s preferred or particular approach.

The truth is, anyone can open the scriptures, turn to a prophetic passage and hazard a guess at the meaning of the inspired imagery found there. Warning of this very practice, Peter wrote, “No prophecy of the scripture is of private interpretation.”

Hazarding many guesses

In fact, such guessing is at the heart of the confusion that reigns in Christendom where prophecy is concerned. The would-be interpreters either avoid the most mysterious imagery, or they try to interpret it by turning to speculation.

The basic, underlying supposition of most analysts is as follows: The Old Testament prophets, upon seeing our technologically advanced world in vision, were at a loss for words. Hence, they turned to familiar imagery to describe what they saw in revelations. For example, an atomic bomb became “a pillar of fire and smoke,” or an attack helicopter firing missiles became “locusts” with “stings in their tails.” This perspective is entirely misleading and misguided.

Most damaging is that these expositors’ interpretations take to be literal what was meant to be imagery and metaphor. Contrarily, they also resort to the opposite device, making symbolic what was meant to be literal. Thus, they almost entirely sabotage the original meaning of the prophets’ words.

Keys everywhere, hiding in plain sight

What analysts universally fail to see is that there are numerous hints — ‘keys’ if you will — found in the scriptures, modern revelation and ancient history that all move us closer to understanding prophecy. By letting the prophets speak for themselves, rather than ‘interpreting’ their words, we discover those keys — both ancient and modern.

There are hints everywhere in ancient cultures that the images of prophecy were customary, traditional images, common to all early civilizations. The prophets employed these images to better communicate with the people. Thus, the study of ancient iconography or symbolism, known to cultures the world over, becomes an invaluable interpretive tool in our quest to discern the meaning of prophetic imagery, as this study reveals.

Disparagement of prophecy

At present, little attention is given to prophecy in the church. Any comment on prophecy is made only in passing. Avoidance of the topic seems to be the order of the day. Even though interest in knowing what will befall the world before the Second Coming is nearly universal, Mormons, at the same time, seem loathe to take the subject too seriously.

Prophecy, therefore, can be said to be the gospel’s redheaded stepchild. It’s there, but no one wants to acknowledge it.

Like fabled Cinderella, prophecy is ignored, banished and locked away in an upstairs apartment, out of sight and out of mind, while proper company is entertained in the drawing room. Rarely discussed, its presence in the scriptures seems to be an embarrassment or a forbidden, illegitimate subject to most Saints, territory to be explored only by marginal eccentrics or thoroughgoing apostates. Prophecy is treated as an unholy mutation, a scriptural ogre. A discussion of prophecy is held in the same regard as a root canal or an IRS audit.

However, like Cinderella, who went from being a slave in her own home to become the prince’s bride and royalty, prophecy will one day emerge from the doctrinal dungeon to take its place as a legitimate component of the gospel and the key to understanding all gospel imagery.


This state of affairs begs a number of questions. If modern revelation was so useful to us in fully explaining the gospel, then why did it fail to explain prophecy for us as well? Given that Mormonism was revealed in its fullness through a prophet of God, why don’t the Saints understand the meaning of prophecy as well as other gospel topics?

Does prophecy serve a useful function in the gospel scheme? Or is it the gospel equivalent of an appendix, a useless appendage given merely to provide a mystery, a topic to be avoided or excised when given the slightest provocation? Is it proper to simply ignore the subject altogether in one’s scriptural study in order to concentrate solely on other aspects of the gospel?

Making sense of it all

Like all Christians, most Latter-day Saints have difficulty making sense of the imagery of prophecy. As a result, they evade considering, studying or discussing it. Indeed, most have the impression that prophecy is a forbidden subject, a mystery to be avoided. Rather than allow prophecy its rightful place in the gospel, many demonstrate a strong bias against it that amounts to spiritual correctness.

Like politically correct speech, which avoids unpleasant terminology, spiritual correctness seeks to redefine the gospel without prophecy and its perplexing symbolism. Of course, such a view is contrary to Christ’s teachings. His counsel concerning equality and charity in his church can be said to also apply to subjects within his gospel. He said:

But now are they many members, yet but one body.

And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have not need of you.

Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:

And those members of the body, which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor …

… there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. (1 Corinthians 12:20-23, 25.)

In like manner, we cannot say to ourselves that prophecy has no place in a gospel study program. It should be considered on an equal footing with the rest of the gospel, not neglected and shunned. Even the Savior addressed the issue of the last days and the events surrounding his second coming, setting the standard for us.

The Cowdery Syndrome

There is one more disturbing aspect to the Saints’ attitudes toward prophecy and gospel study in general. The best way to put it may be to say that today’s Saints suffer from the Cowdery Syndrome.

Recall that while Joseph Smith was translating the Book of Mormon from the gold plates, Oliver Cowdery acted as his primary scribe. In the course of doing so, he became preoccupied with the idea of doing some of the translating as well, and the Lord granted his wish, saying, “And, behold, I grant unto you a gift, if you desire of me, to translate, even as my servant Joseph.” (Doctrine & Covenants 6:25.)

A short time later, another revelation gave Oliver further encouraging instructions and promises. Pay careful attention to the promises made to him on the occasion of this revelation because they seem to be the same as the expectations most Saints have regarding their study of the scriptures and the gospel.

Oliver Cowdery, verily, verily, I say unto you, that assuredly as the Lord liveth, who is your God and your Redeemer, even so surely shall you receive a knowledge of whatsoever things you shall ask in faith, with an honest heart, believing that you shall receive a knowledge concerning the engravings of old records, which are ancient, which contain those parts of my scripture of which has been spoken by the manifestation of my Spirit.

Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart ….

… Ask that you may know the mysteries of God, and that you may translate and receive knowledge from all those ancient records which have been hid up, that are sacred; and according to your faith shall it be done unto you. (Doctrine and Covenants 8:1,2, 12.)

Clearly, every Saint anticipates that he or she will be blessed with an improved understanding of the scriptures after reading them and praying to have them made plain. This, of course, would include the prophetic passages. Because of the counsel to “search the scriptures,” we all hope our efforts will be rewarded with greater knowledge, “a knowledge of whatsoever things you shall ask in faith,” that God will do for us what he promised to do for Oliver: “I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost.”

Tragically for Oliver, the outcome was not so pleasant. It appears that the attempt did no go well for him because the Lord soon withdrew his offer, directing that Oliver abandon translation and return to his scribal duties.

We are like him

It is in the Lord’s explanation of Oliver’s failure to translate that we find the error of modern Saints. And this is the key. He explained, “Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right ….” (Ibid., 9:7,8, italics added.)

This, then, is the Cowdery Syndrome: Rather than “study it out” to reach conclusions on their own first, the Saints, like Cowdery, expect that the Spirit or the Brethren will simply “give it” to them when they take no thought except to ask. They expect, as did Oliver, that it should come to them with little or no effort on their part — “you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.”

This attitude and perspective is dominant among Mormons today. Assuming that the Lord has ‘given’ them all the truths they need to know, they believe there is little left to learn about the gospel or the scriptures. They deceive themselves into believing that ideas and concepts not covered in General Conference or the Gospel Doctrine lesson manual are of little or no consequence. In fact, information provided in those venues is actually mere introductory material.

The syndrome’s acute stage

In its most advanced stages, the Saints who suffer from the Cowdery Syndrome react to new ideas with a negative, knee-jerk reaction, whether those concepts conform to gospel ideas or not. Rather than subject such ideas to scrutiny, they reject them out of hand due to their attitude, which is summarized thusly: “It’s all been revealed. Thus we needn’t study to find more or consider anything new. If something unfamiliar comes our way, it must be untrue and therefore should be rejected.” This is the end stage of the Cowdery Syndrome.

But Oliver’s experience should give every Saint pause. If the Lord expected Oliver to first exert some effort on his own to study in order to come up with a solution before he asked if his conclusions were right, then can the Lord expect any less of us in our study? The Saints are expected to get their information in the same way as Cowdery: study first, then ask.

Indeed, we learn from the experience of the Brother of Jared that this is exactly what the Lord expects: We study the problem out to the best of our ability, and then take our best solution to the Lord. If we have done our homework correctly, he will confirm our conclusion by way of the Spirit.

The situations of Oliver Cowdery and the brother of Jared clearly indicate that information gained through study, even from unlikely sources, is a vital first step to enlightenment — confirmation by the Spirit being the second step.

The best evidence that the Saints have failed as miserably as Oliver is found in our inability to understand prophecy. Had we done our homework as we have been directed to do, we would have had our answers long ago. But because we were as unfaithful as Oliver, that knowledge has atrophied and has been withdrawn.

Keys to prophecy

There are many keys to prophecy. They are not all found in the scriptures or the words of modern prophets. Some are found in science and some in comparative mythology.

Singly or separately, they are curiously insightful. Jointly, they make a powerful case for a truly novel method of interpreting prophecy. These keys have been partially explored in this author’s writings. This is the sort of study required to ferret out the least understood parts of the gospel.

Like fitting the pieces into a puzzle, each key adds a little to our understanding of prophecy, making the picture more complete. When all the pieces are in place, they produce a dynamic panorama and a comprehensive explanation of prophetic symbolism. They make prophecy plain and understandable for anyone. Mystery, confusion, contradiction and misunderstanding are forever banished from discussions and studies of the topic. They are indications of our failure, not a reticence to reveal on God’s part nor of a failure in the prophets or our leaders.

Hence, Joseph Smith’s statement, “Revelation is one of the plainest books God ever cause to be written.”

It is the goal of this author to carefully search out and examine each of these clues as we unravel the mysteries of prophecy. It is only by study of “the best books” that we can then expect to have our questions answered.

But what is even more exciting and enlightening is that this quest has allowed us to better understand all the ancient imagery found in the Bible and even in modern revelation.

It explains otherwise enigmatic statements and projects by Joseph Smith and other modern prophets since his time that have been neglected or dismissed by many LDS scholars because of their seeming irrelevance or lack of substantiation.

Still more remarkable is the discovery that this analysis reveals uncommon knowledge about temples ancient and modern — from the icons that adorn their exteriors and interiors to their very purpose and meaning.

It also explains Joseph Smith’s interest in things Egyptian and the revelations, such as the book of Abraham, which came from that study.

So, as it turns out, this effort is fundamentally about understanding the gospel itself rather than just the narrow confines of prophecy. Indeed, this study has led us to understand more clearly even the first principles and ordinances of the gospel, the very foundations of our faith. Only a study of correct principles could have such sweeping and profound implications and ramifications.

This really is a Cinderella story.

© Anthony E. Larson, 2005

Saturn Symbolism in the Salt Lake Temple (Part 2)

The most well known symbols on the walls of the Salt Lake Temple are the Earth, Moon, Sun and Star stones. That is so, likely, because they are easily understood in terms of our present cosmology. Yet, they also have an iconographic role in the cosmology of antiquity, as do all temple icons.

The Earthstones

The Earthstones are located at the bottom of the temple buttresses. Most Saints take them to symbolize the earthly nature of the telestial kingdom, the least of the three degrees of glory.

However, their position at the bottom of the wall is also reflective of Earth’s position in the polar alignment of antiquity. Its inferior position at the ‘bottom’ of the group allowed ancient man to see the other planets in the congregation in Earth’s northern skies. So, the positioning of the Earthstones at the base of the temple buttresses, beneath the other astronomical stones, is entirely appropriate.

The Moonstones

As our eyes ascend those same buttresses, the next symbol we see is that of the moon.

The Moonstones portray the various phases of the moon as it goes through a complete cycle. Their presentation on the temple walls was the result of on-site observations made by Elder Orson Pratt, a member of the twelve, from a modest observatory constructed on the temple grounds for that very purpose. Elder Pratt was a recognized, world-renown mathematician and astronomer in his day.

The reasons for the use of Moonstones are complex because they represent both current cosmology and aspects of ancient cosmology, presenting certain aspects of two planets in Earth’s ancient heavens. The application of Moonstones to the present order of the heavens needs little explanation, but their relation to the ancient heavens is complex and needs further exposition.

After the catastrophic change of the heavens from ancient to modern, mankind sought to find similarities between the old cosmological order and the new. For example, unique groupings of stars—constellations—were identified (12 of them, naturally, as with so many ancient icons) and attributed identities and attributes to them once reserved for the planetary gods of the old celestial order. In the same process, the moon inherited much of the imagery originally connected to both Venus and Saturn, partly due to its brightness—second only to the sun in the new cosmological order—and partly due to its uniquely distinct, highly visible crescent.

The moon’s brightness is important in this comparison because next to Saturn, Venus had been the brightest object in the ancient heavens — even exceeding Saturn in brightness at certain junctures in its metamorphic evolution. In the new heavenly order, the moon assumed the number two role of second brightest, just as Venus had been second only to Saturn. Additionally, the moon was the only celestial object that persistently changed its appearance as Venus had done in the old heavens. For these reasons, the symbolism of Venus was shifted to the moon in the new heavenly order. The moon was given a similar identity, including its characterization as a female deity.

The moon’s crescent is a still more powerful reminder of ancient Saturn and its imposing crescent. The crescent of Saturn was a veritable fount of symbolism. From it came the idea of a horned god, the Apis cult and the worship of bovine animals.

It was also the ship of heaven, pictured in innumerable Egyptian documents such as the facsimiles Joseph Smith acquired.

Positioned atop the pillar, it was thought of as the outstretched arms or wings of the Heaven Man or an angel.

It provided twin peaks for the World Mountain or the Twin Pillars that stood before the throne of god.

It was the crescent’s appearance upon ancient Saturn that first gave man the concept of time. Up until then, there was no means of timekeeping. It was always light; there was no darkness. The crescent appeared to rotate around Saturn once each day, due to Earth’s rotation. Thus it became the delineator of time in antiquity.

In the new cosmological order, the moon inherited that role as the timekeeper. Also, it was used as a calendrical device in many ancient temples for religious festivals. Therefore, it is entirely appropriate that modern temples have moon icons, and their placement above the Earthstones is also consistent with the present cosmological order.

The Sunstones

The meaning of the Sunstones, like that of the Moonstones, is also complicated by their duality. Saturn symbols are often confused with sun symbols when encountered in ancient temples and texts by modern anthropologists. It is for this reason that scholars tag most ancient cultures as “sun worshippers.” This same pluralism manifests itself in the case of the Salt Lake Temple’s Sunstones. In the present cosmological order, they do represent our sun, but they are also representative of the ancient, best sun, Saturn. For much the same reason, the Babylonians called the sun Shamash, but they also wrote that Saturn was Shamash.

The Starstones

As with the other buttress icons in the Salt Lake Temple, the Starstones represent both the modern and the ancient heavens. Clearly, our evening sky is bejeweled with countless stars, making them an appropriate icon for a temple. But the actual star symbol is nowhere to be seen in today’s heavens. The cultural image of a star has nothing to do with those tiny pinpoints of light in our night sky. It was unique to Earth’s ancient heavens where Venus became the prototype of all star icons. (See “The Saturn Epic: In The Beginning.")

In fact, the very word star (str) derives from the ancient goddess Astarte (Aster, Ashtoreth) that virtually all mythologists acknowledge as the planet Venus and can be seen in other words, having to do with things celestial, such as ‘astronomy’ and ‘astronaut.’

Thus it is that the most familiar icons on the Salt Lake Temple can be understood more fully by seeing them in terms of Earth’s ancient skies. Indeed, in many cases, they can only be understood in those terms.

The six towers or spires

Look, for example at the six towers or spires on the temple. Rather than terminating in a peak, each is crowned with a sphere.

This may seem nothing more than decoration until one considers that such a structure once stood in earthly skies.

Indeed, the six spires on the temple are replicas of the ancient World Mountain, the pillar that sustained all heaven — the same icon from which the Egyptians derived their pyramids.

Should doubt persist about this interpretation of those spires, consider that the temple is frequently referred to in scripture as “the mountain of the Lord’s house.” This phrase makes no sense in ordinary terms. But in the language of Saturn symbolism, it makes perfect sense. If, as the ancients surely did, you consider the house or throne of god to be the orb at the peak, the structure beneath it becomes a high hill or mountain. Together, pillar and orb form the temple of god, or “the mountain of the Lord’s house.”

Thus we see that the symbols give meaning to the metaphor of scripture and vice versa. This type of interconnected unity between icon and metaphor can only be achieved by acknowledging the reality of the polar alignment of planets as Talbott and Joseph Smith depict them. This argues eloquently for the validity of this thesis.

The fact that the spires are grouped in threes is said to reflect the trinity of the godhead, but it may also reflect that three orbs were visible to the ancients.

The angel Moroni

The most dominant icon on the Salt Lake Temple is the statue of the angel Moroni, which stands atop the center spire at the east end of the temple. The most fascinating part of this statue is the trumpet he holds. Popular opinion among the Saints holds it to symbolize the sounding of the gospel to all the world. It also suggests a connection to the trumpet sounds to be heard in the Last Days, as described in Revelation. To those who have studied ancient cosmology, it points to the very real sounds that once appeared to emanate from the planetary powers that stood over the Earth, sounds that very much resembled that of trumpets. Indeed, the very instrument itself may have been invented by ancient man to duplicate the sounds once heard in the heavens. (See “The Name of God.”)

Truman O. Angel’s original illustrations of the Cloudstones for the temple depicted hand-held trumpets protruding from beneath the clouds, pointing downwards. If one understands the clouds to be a representation of Saturn or Jupiter in one of its dark or hidden phases, then the trumpets are most appropriate because it was at this catastrophic juncture in the Saturn saga that those trumpet-like sounds were most likely heard.

The baptismal font and the twelve oxen

The baptismal font in the Salt Lake Temple sets atop the backs of twelve exquisitely carved oxen.

This may seem a strange juxtaposition of images until seen in light of the ancient co-linear configuration of planets.

The horned oxen harken back to the apis statuary so common in Middle Eastern temples of antiquity. The horned bull is often depicted in Egyptian and Babylonian art. In the Saturn tradition, the crescent on Saturn was the prototype of the horns on a bull or cow, giving rise to all such worship, metaphor, iconography and art in antiquity. This is an element that properly, traditionally belongs in a temple.

Seen from ground level, the oxen and laver bear no resemblance to Saturn symbols. But if seen from above, the arrangement becomes a circle with 12 oxen evenly spaced around its edge. This is clearly Saturnian. The 12 oxen are the equivalent of the twelve numbers on a circular clock face, the 12 signs of the zodiac arranged in a circle, 12 gates to the heavenly temple as envisioned by John in Revelation, the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve Apostles. It also suggests an origin for the baptismal rite in Saturn traditions. Indeed, when closely analyzed, much of the ritual and its trappings within the temple have Saturnian touches.

The Nauvoo temple icons

Many of these same icons were originally used in the Nauvoo temple. However, a close look shows that the icons on the walls of the Salt Lake Temple were not carbon copies of those used in Nauvoo. This indicates a great flexibility in the appearance and use of these symbols, yet it shows the enduring nature of the archetypes that continue to inspire the icons. No temple, ancient or modern would be complete without them.

The way these icons are depicted is consistent with the original celestial pattern. Their placement and appearance is not haphazard or capricious. It all stems from a studied grasp of ancient traditions as they apply to temple tradition and the gospel. While parts of temple iconography reflect the modern heavens and the teachings of Christ, other parts reflect the ancient heavens and traditions. Accordingly, a grasp of the ancient message of temple architecture is almost as important as the sacred covenants administered within its walls.

© Anthony E. Larson, 2001

Monday, October 27, 2008

Saturn Symbolism in the Salt Lake Temple (Part 1)

The purpose of the numerous icons and images incorporated in the architecture of the Salt Lake Temple is largely a mystery to modern Mormon scholars — a mystery that they unanimously acknowledge.

Every published effort to explain the meaning and purpose of such symbolism, typical in early temple architecture, is limited to unbridled speculation on the authors’ part as to the possible meaning of this symbol or that. Yet, few of their notions leave the reader satisfied or better informed. Such scholarly efforts fall far short of their stated expository goal, excusing their failure by bemoaning the fact that no early LDS prophet, authority or architect ever bothered to explain the symbols they employed.

Scholarly ignorance

All the verbal shoulder shrugging done by LDS scholars when it comes to modern temple symbology is very telling, indeed. It means a vital part of their gospel training has been woefully neglected. If they had taken the time and made the effort to understand Joseph Smith’s view of ancient history, the symbols would be full of meaning for them.

Ironically, from this author’s point of view, the gospel, the scriptures and the teachings of modern prophets provide ample explanation if seen in the proper perspective and context. Early church authorities made no comment on temple symbology because it dealt with sacred themes. Also, they felt no comment was needed; explanation is unnecessary for the properly initiated. The answer is there for all to see; yet modern Saints fail to see it because they fail to understand what they have been taught.

The temple as a parable

Like scriptural parables, the meaning of temple iconography is denied to those who fail to study the gospel in depth. To most, the symbols simply appear to be decorative, indicative of nothing important. While anyone can perceive the meaning of parables and symbols on a superficial level (as every scholarly effort in that vein proves), there is a more profound message for those who care to look more closely.

In order to understand the iconography of the temples he inspired, one must understand Joseph Smith’s view of history and the heavens. (After all, the symbols are drawn from astral bodies and phenomenon.) From a few, key statements made by the prophet and his closest confidants, together with the acknowledgment that he held a cosmological view of Earth’s past and future that differs significantly from today’s mainstream views, one can begin to understand the elements he employed in temple architecture. As long as LDS scholars and church members fail to give credence to the catastrophic history of planet Earth, as long as they fail to connect that history with scriptural events and imagery, as long as they fail to grasp Joseph Smith’s view of the ancient cosmos, the iconography of the Salt Lake Temple will remain a mystery to them.

The Freemason connection

Most scholarly expositions on LDS temple iconography are largely vacuous discussions of how the symbols were likely borrowed from the Masons by early church leaders who dabbled in Masonry, including the Prophet Joseph Smith himself. This type of apologist drivel casts the church and its founder in an indefensible position: The Prophet is made to look like a plagiarist and LDS temple iconography and ceremony made to be borrowed, ‘used goods.’ Neither is true.

What Mormon and Masonic temples have in common stems only from a common origin, the very things they share with ancient temples and religious architecture the world over. Both Masonry and Mormonism arose in the Anglo-Saxon culture (Masonry in 13th century Europe, Mormonism in 19th century America), hence it was wise on Joseph’s part to employ many similarities so that the temple would seem, at least, somewhat culturally familiar to 19th century Americans. While Joseph adapted elements familiar to the culture he lived in, he could have just as easily employed elements from Egyptian, Mayan, Celtic, Oriental or Nordic traditions. However, that would have made the temple seem totally foreign to most newly converted Mormons.

The astral connection

Among LDS scholars, Nibley alone makes the point that modern temple iconography shares that of ancient temples. Indeed, the title of his book tells the story: Temple and Cosmos. While he clearly sees that temple architecture and symbolism, ancient and modern, reflected astronomical values, Nibley fails to make the vital connection to Saturnian traditions, to the appearance of the ancient heavens as opposed to our modern heavens. Yet, that is the final key to interpreting all temple architecture and iconography. From Stonehenge to Tiahuanaco, to Angkor Thom, to the Parthenon, to the pyramids on the Geza plateau and the enigmatic Sphinx, to Teotiuacan and Chichen Itza, to the Nauvoo temple and the Salt Lake Temple, they all share one commonality: They were designed and adorned to reflect the appearance of the heavens, both ancient and modern.

Temple symbolism, ancient and modern

The symbols employed on Mormon temples share a common origin with the symbolism employed in ancient temples the world over. No matter the culture, no matter the structure, they were all erected to memorialize (remember or reconstruct) the realities in Earth’s ancient heavens as much as the heavens we have now. Additionally, temples have always incorporated features of the current arrangement of the heavens when the temple was built as well. In that regard, temples are an amalgam of the ancient heavens and the present heavens. This Nibley reiterates time and again.

Failure to acknowledge, as the Apostle Peter taught, that “the world that then was ... perished” (2 Peter 3:6) and “the heavens and the earth, which are now” (2 Peter 3:7) are vastly different from the originals has created endless confusion in the sciences and in our understanding of scripture and temple iconography.

Astral temples

Scholars readily acknowledge the astral or cosmic connections in ancient temples. Alignments with the equinox, solstices, constellations, the Sun, Moon, Venus, Mars and other celestial objects are the subjects of endless discussion. Yet, these same scholars utterly fail to recognize that the gods and goddesses, dragons, demons and devils memorialized in those temples were originally astral, based on something actually seen in the heavens anciently. Once one accepts the premise that imposing, impressive planets were the original powers that once dominated Earth’s heavens, that their motions, metamorphoses and interactions gave rise to all ancient myth and symbolism, then the rest falls into place automatically.

Modern temples are no exception to this rule. Latter-day Saints readily acknowledge the astral connections of most symbols employed in the Salt Lake Temple (that would be hard to deny), yet they utterly fail to recognize their connection to the same symbolism used in scriptural rhetoric and in ancient architecture. Indeed, uninformed, modern eyes take most of the symbolic iconography to be nothing more than stylistic decorations.

The mysterious Saturnstones

All Latter-day Saints are acquainted with the most familiar icons of the Salt Lake Temple. There are Sunstones, Moonstones, Earthstones and Starstones. What most Saints do not know is that the original architectural drawings by Truman O. Angell, temple architect, called for Saturnstones, a depiction of a planet with two rings around it, located at the top of the buttresses, above the Sunstones, on the long south wall of the temple.

Note that there is no such symbol on the Salt Lake Temple as it was finally erected, as we see it today. Instead, a repeated symbol (called a ‘frieze’ in architecture) of a circle with a ring around it was inaugurated to replace the original icon.

This circle frieze, as depicted here, can be seen on the parapet stringcourse, immediately below the three towers at each end of the temple, and is still referred to as the Saturnstones.

This symbol, too, is in accord with ancient iconography. It is the basic symbol for the Saturnian configuration, and is related to the Eye of God symbol.

Apparently, a decision was made to eliminate the Saturn icon sometime between the creation of the original plans for the temple and its final construction. No reason was ever given, and LDS scholars are at a loss to explain why the change was made. But it is this author’s contention that using a Saturn symbol was making too plain a truth that the church was not willing to explain openly.

As noted elsewhere by this author, the truth of Saturn’s dominance in Earth’s ancient heavens was the great, sacred secret of antiquity. It was told only in the most sacred precincts of ancient ritual centers. While the outward symbolism of ancient architecture, symbology and ritual endlessly reiterated the truths of Earth’s ancient skies, the names or titles used publicly to designate these icons or deities did not directly connect them to the actual planets themselves. This was withheld, saved for more sacred moments. It is for this same reason, for example, that the sacred name of God (eeeeaaaahoooowaaayeeee) was spoken only in the Holy of Holies in ancient Israelite temples, yet the name Yahweh was commonly known, used in names and expletives.

One can only speculate that, in like manner, Brigham Young, who was intimately involved in every detail of the Salt Lake Temple’s conception and construction, had learned of Saturn’s true role in Earth’s past from Joseph Smith. While Brigham’s initial inclination, likely, was to display that truth iconographically on the walls of the temple, a change of heart led him to alter the symbolic scheme. He may have felt that this truth was too much for Saints and Gentiles alike. If so, he was true to the pattern of secrecy set down by every other temple-building culture in history.

Location, location, location

It is striking that an icon of the planet Saturn should have occupied the highest point on the buttresses.

Again, scholars seem puzzled by its presence and location, wondering why Saturn was selected since there is apparently nothing in Mormon theology that would designate the planet worthy of elevated positioning on a modern temple.

One scholar stumbled on the truth when he noted that Saturn may have been selected to represent Kolob since it was the most noteworthy planet in the solar system, making it a symbolic match for the “great” star written of by Abraham. Ironically, the scholar was closer than he knew. As explained elsewhere by this author, Kolob was one of many Egyptian designations of the ancient Saturnian configuration of planets. For that reason the Saturnstones were properly included in the iconography of a latter-day temple, located above all the other icons at the highest point on the wall because Saturn once stood above all other planets or stars.

Looking north

Also noteworthy is the fact that the original drawings depicted the Saturnstones only on the south wall of the temple, not on the north, east or west walls. In this, the temple’s designers were true to the ancient order of things.

In antiquity, when Saturn dominated earthly skies, one could only see Saturn when facing north; facing south would have put Saturn behind the observer. Hence, a depiction of Saturn on a modern temple should properly be located only on a south-facing wall, so that it is only seen when facing the south side of the temple, where the viewer is looking northward, as he would have done to see Saturn in antiquity. Thus, the location of the symbol properly orients the observer northward. It would be, therefore, completely inappropriate to depict Saturn on an east, west or north-facing wall.

More pointer stars

This brings us to the depiction of Ursa Major or the Big Dipper high on the west wall of the temple.

These stars are depicted there, again, to point the eye of the viewer to the north, the location of Saturn in antiquity.

The temple’s designers wished, again, to properly orient the viewer. As one stands looking up at the temple’s west wall, he or she is facing east with the north to his left. The stars forming the Big Dipper are arranged on the temple, as they are in the heavens, so as to point to the North Star, Polaris, on the viewer’s left, the one and only star in the heavens that remains immobile, the one and only star to which a fixed symbol could constantly point. Thus, Polaris becomes a symbolic substitute for the ancient anchor of the heavens, Saturn.

The Big Dipper is traditionally used as a pointer constellation for the North Star. Thus, all who saw the Big Dipper constellation icon on the wall immediately knew it pointed to Polaris. It serves as a universal signpost, in a universal, symbolic language. Additionally, the selection of Polaris, the North Star, is most appropriate because, as was true of ancient Saturn, it is the only apparently fixed object in the sky, the polar anchor around which all heaven turns. So, too, was ancient Saturn depicted as ever turning, yet never moving, fixed and immovable.

Orienting observers

The location of the original Saturnstones on the south wall and the existing star icons on the west wall both direct the observer’s attention to the north, the original location of the Saturnian configuration of planets in antiquity. Thus we see how elements of the present heavens are combined with those of antiquity in this modern temple, as they were with all its ancient predecessors. This also serves to suggest that most, if not all, of the other temple icons depict some aspect of that ancient planetary alignment, the original cosmos, the first heavens.

So we see that Nibley was accurate in his assessment of the temple as a representation of the cosmos. More accurately, it depicts elements of the ancient sky and the modern sky - what the ancients meant by "cosmos." Thus, the temple becomes a virtual road map of the ancient heavens, pointing the observer to the original elements that are no longer seen.

To be continued ...

© Anthony E. Larson, 2001

What Joseph Knew

At the heart of the exposition offered by this author in this and other publications is an effort to more fully connect modern Saints with the teachings of their founding prophet, Joseph Smith, and thus to those of the ancient prophets. Joseph faithfully and correctly reproduced those ancient teachings, passing them along to a world that was, and still is, largely ignorant of the truths of the gospel and the past.

This work is vital for many reasons, which have been repeatedly cited by this author. But one reason, not often mentioned, is that this work intellectually validates Joseph’s claim as a prophet, called of God to restore the gospel and to right the flawed paradigm of modern mankind. As such, it becomes a second, confirming witness to that of the Spirit.

Testimony first, then knowledge

While any good Saint is quick to point out that we have no need of intellectual substantiation of Joseph’s claims since we have the witness of the Spirit, which is sufficient, it can be argued that seeking intellectual support of that witness is also a worthy quest — especially when it results in further enlightenment regarding things so vital as a comprehension of the language of the prophets, the origins and symbolism of temple practices and temple iconography, symbolism and meaning of the scriptures and a corrected view of ancient history and our modern view of the world around us. Such information cannot help but augment our testimonies, further strengthening them. After all, our scriptures admonish us to “seek learning, even by study and also by faith,” and “if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118; 130:19.)

All knowledge restored?

Lest any care to argue that Joseph had communicated all knowledge needful for the Saints before his premature demise, one need only recall that one entire section of the gold plates, commonly referred to as the “sealed” portion of the Book of Mormon, never saw the light of day, suggesting that there is much more that the Saints could learn.

Additionally, the 9th and 13th Articles of Faith, Joseph’s own position on the subject, argue eloquently against such logic. “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God … If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.”
Add to that the admonition of the Lord to “seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118.) Clearly, the Lord indicates that there is much yet to be learned.

The never-ending story

The topic at hand, that has been treated by this author throughout two decades of research and writing books and articles, presents a novel and radical view of the past and the future, a sweeping vista so enormous that it can only be documented in small snapshots. No one is willing to absorb the entire story in one sitting, even if that were possible. Not only that, the reader must be given time to assimilate such far-reaching ideas, which contravene much of orthodox scientific, cultural and religious thought.

Additionally, this is a dynamic field of inquiry. As the Catastrophism movement, begun in the 1950s by Immanuel Velikovsky, grows worldwide, so do the number or researchers delving into these matters. The research is ongoing, as are the revelations it produces. New information is forthcoming on a regular basis, thus bringing new perspectives to bear on one’s gospel study.

Thus, a fragmented, piecemeal approach is the only one possible in such a dynamic field of inquiry, making the process that much more difficult. Yet, given time for elucidation, contemplation and study, those same snippets of information can be readily assembled in the mind’s eye of the investigator or reader to build a wholly new framework upon which to view both ancient history and prophecy — no mean accomplishment.

Correlation of information

The pivotal point for Latter-day Saints, when considering the tenets of Catastrophism, is what Joseph knew and taught with regard to these concepts. If there were no substantiation or corroboration of Joseph’s views in the ideas presented by modern catastrophists like Velikovsky, Talbott, Cardona, Cochrane, et al, then studying their theories would be of no advantage to us. But because there seems to be almost complete agreement between certain teachings of a prophet of God and the research of comparative mythologists, planetary scientists and scholars of all things ancient, it behooves us to investigate those connections fully.

Thankfully, the orientation of these scholars and researchers is such that they see profound value in the written records, cultural traditions and beliefs of the ancients — something Joseph would celebrate. Instead of rejecting them as fanciful, metaphysical accounts — as does modern science and some religion — these ancient records, traditions and beliefs are recognized as a valuable record of the past.

Subjective though those accounts may be, they convey a very different historical message than that commonly taught as fact in all modern educational institutions.
Those points of corroboration and substantiation are admittedly few, but they are of critical importance. A brief review may be in order.

What the prophet taught

The first point of convergence to consider is the Joseph Smith statement that the last great sign of the last days will be “a comet, a planet.” A careful consideration of all the prophet said on that occasion has many implications and ramifications, all treated at one time or another by this author. What is clear from Joseph’s statements is that future cataclysms will be of a nearly identical nature to those from the past. Additionally, it verifies the position that these calamities stem from the irregular motions of orbs in our solar system.

Another, vital connection is the Philo Dibble facsimile, said by Dibble to be a virtual copy of an illustration drawn for him by the prophet himself, supported by the corroborating statements taken from many diaries and journals of early Saints.

The Dibble illustration, showing three planets in close proximity, sharing a common axis of rotation, clearly presents an understanding by the prophet Joseph Smith of the unique polar configuration of planets that existed in antiquity. That is, the dotted lines and the angle they describe are clearly meant to delineate the declination of the axis of rotation to the plane of the ecliptic, meaning that they were ‘stacked’ pole to pole and all rotated around the same axis. This is a vital point, not mentioned by Dibble, yet clearly implied in his facsimile. Since only in this extraordinary arrangement could these three orbs have appeared to hover in the heavens, above the Earth, thus presenting a unique vista that inspired nearly all ancient symbolism and imagery, this facsimile is a pivotal clue to what Joseph Smith knew.

Again, there are many remarkable, salient connections between the concepts illustrated in the Dibble facsimile and the theories of David Talbott, who took Velikovsky’s seminal idea of orbital disarray in our solar system in antiquity and then examined the most ancient records and traditions — what he called the Saturn myths — to discover the existence of a proto-heaven vastly different from that which we know now.

The connections between Joseph’s illustration and Talbott’s polar configuration theory are stunning to an impartial investigator. While not conclusive, the points of correlation are extraordinary.

This illustration of the polar configuration of planets (left to right: Saturn, Venus and Mars) demonstrates the likely reality behind the Dibble illustration when carefully comparing the two. The Earth, not pictured in this frame, would have been some distance away to the right of the picture.

Of course, the iconography and design of modern temples offer still more connections to Talbott’s research. Tellingly, except for extensive commentary in this publication, there is a notable scarcity of information regarding the iconography of the Salt Lake Temple, its meaning and its origins. Researchers who tackle that issue universally lament the lack of data to explain temple symbols. Most simply guess at the meaning, a clear indication of ignorance.

The extraordinary capacity of Talbott’s polar configuration theories, extrapolated from the Saturn myths, to explain the symbolism of both scripture and temple iconography is graphic evidence and powerful testimony of the interpretive value of his theories, especially when contrasted with the interpretive vacuum that exists without them.

Lastly are the dozens of statements by early Saints with corroborating information that they universally attribute to the prophet. Not only are numerous dreams and visions by early Saints made immediately more understandable and reasonable when seen in the light of Catastrophism and the Saturn myths, so are their recollections of concepts taught them by the prophet. LDS scholars can no longer discount statements by several early general authorities as fantasy or invention, as they have done in the past. Moreover, observations by Elder Orson Pratt, for example, a world-renown scientist in his own right, must carry considerable weight with modern Mormons. In truth, were Elder Pratt’s counsel to the Saints heeded to reject Uniformity and embrace Catastrophism, it would revolutionize our view of ancient history, the gospel, the scriptures and prophecy. Not only would it put church members in a position to better understand and accept recent and upcoming scientific revelations regarding ancient history, this planet, the solar system and the universe, but it would, more importantly, prove priceless as a means for giving the Saints a much more comprehensive paradigm for use in understanding the scriptures and the gospel.

Why so little information?

As noted previously, the evidence for Catastrophism and the Saturn traditions in early church literature and the statements of the brethren is admittedly fragmented and incomplete. There may be two reasons why the information, while compelling, is somewhat imprecise.

Assimilation of very new ideas is difficult. It takes time and frequent repetition to make a lasting impression. All early Saints were converts to whom almost everything the prophet taught was new. Certainly, information about ancient history, planets and astronomy was largely foreign to most of them; even if it weren't, they were not accustomed to thinking of these things as part of religion. It was a lot to absorb in a short time. What was thought to be secondary or ancillary quickly fell by the wayside over time.

Moreover, a one-time exposure to a genuinely new concept is bound to be poorly understood, information retention being as fallible as it is. The mind typically retains complicated information only after repeated exposures over time. Any attempt to pass on information gleaned in a transitory manner invariably results in distortion and ambiguity if it is retained at all. Joseph simply ran out of time before he could repeat or re-emphasize these ideas to the brethren in particular and the Saints in general. Hence, nearly all the information connected with Joseph’s view of these concepts comes to us as scraps and bits.

This makes the Dibble facsimile all the more valuable in that it is hard data, not subject to fallible human recollection. It is the vital key to Joseph’s concepts of Earth’s early heavens. It is the lynch pin of the entire thesis that Joseph taught a concept nearly identical to that elucidated by Talbott el al.

Perhaps more to the point is the fact that those that learned these things from the prophet thought them to be sacred, and thus not for repetition near uninitiated ears. Many were told these things within the confines of the temple precincts, so they kept them to themselves or recorded them only in private journals. Dibble, for example, for whom the prophet drew the illustration personally, did not make his facsimile public for almost 50 years.

Unfinished work

The most obvious reason why so little was written or said about these concepts was Joseph’s martyrdom. Any plan he might have had to elaborate on these concepts was cut short by his early demise, leaving an incomplete picture of the concepts he undoubtedly intended to amplify and embellish in the written record and to the minds of the Saints. It is most likely that, had he lived, Joseph would have had much more to say on these themes and modern Saints would be more cognizant of them.

Evidence of this view can be found in the fact that temple icons and discussions of planets, stars, moons and their role in ancient and modern calamities came late in Joseph’s career. The Kirtland temple, for example, had none of the iconography of later temples. Early revelations were intended for basic doctrine, instruction and organization of a fledgling church. It was not until the Nauvoo era that discussions of cosmological ideas came forth, once the essential business of organizing a church was more complete. Indeed, one can only speculate that had the prophet been allowed to continue his mission, much of what has been written in these pages would now be part of mainstream Mormonism rather than marginal material.

Drifting with the mainstream

To whatever degree some early Saints may have known and understood the concepts at issue here, the membership in general slowly abandoned them as they integrated into mainstream American culture, which was turning away from Catastrophism throughout the latter half of the 19th century as it adopted the tenets of Uniformity in its emerging scientific and educational institutions. This ongoing process eventually resulted in an orthodox mindset, a paradigm that left most Saints unable to make heads or tails of the evidence from the restoration at issue here, much less see it as an invaluable key to unlock knowledge from the past. An important and invaluable aid to understanding the fullness of the gospel, the past and the future, had been lost.

For these, and several lesser reasons, modern Saints poorly understand these concepts. This is why they are largely ignorant of scriptural symbolism and the meaning of temple iconography when those elements exist in rich abundance in their scriptures and their temples.

In fact, this same ignorance breeds suspicion in the minds of most Saints when confronted with these concepts for the first time. LDS congregations are understandably cautious, loathe to accept any scriptural or gospel exegesis that sounds “unscientific” or “unfamiliar,” no matter how well founded in scripture, evidence, logic and common sense. Most have never been exposed to this information nor taken it upon themselves to read the words, firsthand, of Joseph Smith and other early Saints on the subject. Nor have they heard theses concepts over the pulpit or in Sunday School classes because nearly all LDS scholars and educators, those who write church manuals, avoid these topics. These ideas contradict the present cultural and scientific paradigm that governs all education and research in our world today, so they seldom find their way into official church publications. Hence, contrary to popular LDS belief, modern science and cultural tradition hold tremendous sway over our perception of the gospel, the scriptures and the words of modern prophets, severely limiting our comprehension of them.

Few clues, strong correlation

In summary, in order to see what Joseph knew and taught with regard to these topics, we must depend on a relatively small amount of evidence that seems generally meaningless in the context of our orthodox cultural and scientific paradigm. However, when these same bits of information are reviewed in the context of Catastrophism and the Saturn myths, the evidence becomes compelling. It gives us an invaluable key: We get a glimpse of what Joseph saw; we more completely understand what he knew.

This illustration more realistically shows the relative sizes and distances of the planets in the ancient polar configuration as envisioned by Talbott and suggested by the Dibble facsimile, although this view incorporates considerable parallaxis, making the planets look closer together than they actually were.

This knowledge gives meaning to cultural traditions, beliefs, practices and rituals, the origins of which were lost in hoary antiquity. It brings added meaning to scriptural records, the words of the prophets — all ancient records from whatever source, in fact. It reveals the meaning of temple symbolism, ancient and modern, connecting it with the rich traditions of ancient temples.

Lastly, it gives meaning to obscure teachings of Joseph Smith and those who labored with him then and since. It clearly tells us that Joseph Smith embraced a view of history very much like that of modern Catastrophists. It gives meaning to information he included in scripture and bestowed on his contemporaries that otherwise seems meaningless. It gives us a systematic, uniform method for interpreting the imagery of the prophets and prophecy itself. Such insight is of infinite value to the earnest and sincere Latter-day Saint, further confirming the witness of the Spirit. Indeed, studying and learning more about all these things can only invite additional confirmation from the Spirit.

Curiosities? Or keys?

Hence, these few tantalizing bits of information, once thought to be nothing more than so much flotsam and jetsam of the restoration, turn out to be invaluable keys for every Latter-day Saint who wishes to understand all facets of God’s creation. We should have known: No bit of information that comes by revelation, no matter how insignificant it may seem, is useless knowledge. Rather it is all meant to enlighten us and enrich our understanding. Ironically, the data most disparaged by modern LDS scholars and educators turns out to be invaluable.

We should have known.

© Anthony E. Larson, 2003

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Polar Configuration and Joseph Smith

At some point in the evolution of the Polar Configuration, direct sunlight fell on the group of planets poised in one spot in Earth’s ancient skies. It was then that Saturn acquired its bright crescent. Not only that, but the Earth’s rotation about its own axis — the same rotation that produces our familiar day/night cycle — created the daily cycle known to the ancients.

The beginning of time

It was the appearance of the crescent that allowed the ancients to discern the passage of time since Earth’s rotation made the crescent appear to circle Saturn. Prior to this epoch, the Saturnian configuration of planets could only be faintly seen in the always-lit sky, immersed in a plasma fog. Since there was no nighttime sky, the stars were entirely occluded. Hence, there was no frame of reference in the heavens by which to judge the march of time. It was a timeless epoch.

In reality, the ancients knew nothing of the day/night cycle we see today, since the ancient ‘night’ was no darker than the time of day we know as dusk and midday was only a little brighter. Instead, the cycle they referred to was that made by Saturn’s crescent as it rotated in the heavens. It was their only frame of reference for timekeeping. Hence, one of the alter egos of Saturn was the Latin Chronus or Greek Kronos, the god of time from whose name we get such words as chronometer and chronology. He came to be symbolized in the modern era as a bearded old man carrying a sickle. Of course, the sickle — the compulsory crescent symbol used to identify him and the role he plays — betrays his original identity.

The ancients used four prototypical images or archetypes to depict the daily cycle. They were actually the same group of planets, seen in four different positions. These four positions became the basis for all ancient imagery involving four icons, whether angels, beasts or gods.

The daily cycle

With the crescent in the inferior position, as depicted in the figure below, the sky was at its darkest and the configuration at its brightest, making this the most sacred moment in the ancient ‘day.’

It was the time we think of as midnight. Hence, all ancient mystery religions regarded night as the most holy part of the day. It is this image that is most often replicated in the iconography of all ancient cultures, as will be seen further on in this monograph. Ancient terminology sometimes referred to the crescent in this position as “the below.”

The image below depicts the crescent in its morning or ‘rising’ position where it is waning as the sky brightens with the rising sun.

Notice that the crescent rises on the right as the sky lightens and the splendor of the configuration begins to diminish. Hence, it was sometimes referred to anciently as “rising on the right.” Modern scholars, thinking that such terminology refers to a sunrise, usually translate archaic words for this phase in the daily cycle as “morning.” Such misinterpretation can only foster more confusion since the actual language applies to something dramatically different from modern terminology associated with the rising and setting of the sun.

The next phase came at noon or midday when the crescent was in the superior position, as in this image.

Notice that the entire image is somewhat subdued in this, its weakest phase. This was due to the fact that the sun was now at its zenith, causing the entire complex to appear slightly ‘washed out’ much as the moon appears in the present daytime sky. Archaic words which are typically translated as “night” refer to this phase in the daily cycle, representing the waning of the sun god’s “life,” “strength,” or “brightness.” Again, this conflicts with our view, which calls this day, not night. It was also called “the above.”

The image below depicts the crescent’s position at evening.

The sky is darkening and the image is waxing brighter. The crescent is in its downward phase, referred to anciently as “descending on the left.” Once again, translators are confused by this use of the language. The ancients referred to this as the beginning of the archaic “day.” Yet, the “descending” terminology seems to imply a sunset to modern scholars.

This confusion of terminology can only be dispelled when one recognizes the reality of the Polar Configuration and the rotation of the crescent in ancient skies. Otherwise, attempting to apply current terminology for the sunrise and sunset to the archaic order of the heavens only compounds the confusion.

This also explains why the Jewish Sabbath now begins at sunset, because that time of day corresponds to the beginning of the ancient “day.” Tellingly, the archaic use was retained in the biblical Creation account where it is written, “the evening and the morning were the first day,” rather than describing it as we would today, “morning and evening.”

Of course, echoes of the original timekeeping language occur even into modern times. Archaic words for the brightening of Saturn will usually be translated as the “rising” of the sun, though the literal meanings will be “to grow bright,” to “come to life,” “to grow strong,” etc. It is also referred to archaically as “the left.” Oddly, the crescent is descending as the ancient day begins, again making translation difficult, if not impossible if one does not understand the true origin of the language.

Of course, the crescent continues to ‘rotate’ until it is once again in the inferior position, as shown in the first illustration.

As can easily be seen in these four images, the entire complex seemed to completely rotate with every rotation of the Earth. Thus, it served as an accurate timepiece. Prior to the arrival of the crescent, there was no way to distinguish day from night since the world was illuminated nearly equally at all times. Hence, earth’s inhabitants perceived that they had passed from one creation epoch, where there was only timelessness, to the next where ‘time’ began. Thus, any scriptural reference to the beginning of time likely points to this epoch.

Of course, as with all the stages in the development of the Saturn configuration, one must ask, “What does this look like?” Clearly, the ancients attributed many characteristics to this image.

Cows, ships and iconographic elaboration

One of the most dominant images in ancient religion was that of a bull, cow, calf or ox. The juxtaposition of the original image or archetype and the cow icon used to represent it makes it easy to see how one was derived from the other.

Even the Joseph Smith facsimiles in The Pearl of Great Price have an example of this icon.

Remarkably, Joseph’s explanation of this cow image was that it is “one of the governing planets,” which Saturn certainly was, if not the governing planet. In addition, he remarks that the Egyptians said it to be the Sun (Ra), which is the role Saturn played in the Polar Configuration. The Babylonians as well called Saturn the Sun (Shamash, or the biblical Chemosh).

When the ancients wished to represent the crescent/cow in its four primary positions during the daily cycle, they could properly use four separate images.

However, it would be equally correct and easier to execute by integrating the four images into one circular icon while illustrating the same symbolic idea, as seen in this Mesopotamian figure.

Thus we see how the original icons evolved into ever more complex and elaborate images.

Of course, the end result of such elaboration can be seen, for example, in our temple baptismal fonts, which are set upon the backs of twelve, life-sized oxen standing in a circle.

The logic for the font and oxen elaboration stems from the previously explained integration of four images into one and the image seen below. Not only did Saturn acquire a crescent, but so did Venus and Mars.

So, not only did the three planets appear nested, but so did their crescents as well, as seen above. If each of three crescents were represented as horns and each had four primary positions or stations in the daily cycle—right, left, above and below—the result would be twelve sets of horns (3 x 4) or twelve oxen, as represented in the temple baptismal font. This is how the symbolism evolved from simple to complex, from image to symbolic icon. In a later incarnation of the Polar Configuration, for example, these three crescents became the two arms and four wings of the four creatures Ezekiel saw in vision.

The derivation and evolution of these images is a vital concept that must be grasped in order to follow the complex elaborations of this and the many other archetypes derived from the Saturn grouping of planets. An entire book could be devoted to this symbol alone and the images it instigated. Still more amazing, this is only one of dozens of archetypes derived from the many metamorphoses of the configuration through time, before it finally disappeared altogether from the sky.

The celestial ship

Another prominent archetype of the crescent was the celestial ship, which was said by the Egyptians to sail around heaven once each day, while anchored at the top of its mast — a ridiculous image to the modern mind until considered in the context of the Polar Configuration, where it makes perfect sense.

One of several uses of this celestial ship image, derived from the crescent, can be seen in Joseph Smith’s facsimiles from Abraham. In the hypocephalus found on page 36 of the Pearl of Great Price, one finds a graphic representation of this crescent image.

Joseph wrote in his explanation of this figure, “Is made to represent God, sitting upon his throne, clothed with power and glory ...” To the Egyptians, the figure was the sun god, Ra, who sat on a brilliant, shining throne, poised on the great celestial boat. The image of the Polar Configuration answers to both those characterizations. The god, (Mars as Horus) is seated on his throne (Venus), which sets in the ship (Saturn’s crescent), “clothed with power and glory” because of Saturn’s brightness. Throne and god were seen to sit within the crescent ship, and so they are depicted in the hieroglyph and described in the texts. Joseph Smith’s explanation correctly follows that pattern.

This figure again utilizes the celestial boat imagery, and further demonstrates the elaboration of these basic symbols that took place in all ancient cultures. Joseph writes that this symbol is Ra (Ra-u-keey-ang), and “signifies expanse, or the firmament of the heavens ... also a numerical figure, in Egyptian signifying one thousand ...,” an appropriate connotation since the crescent ‘measured’ (spanned) the ‘expanse’ (entire width) of ‘heaven’ (Saturn) as can clearly be seen in the image of the Saturn configuration.

Indeed, what we find is that the text describes the symbol and the symbol clarifies the text. So it is with all these images. They appear in ancient texts, including the scriptures, as gods, creatures, objects, angels, etc. This is the symbolic language of the prophets, and it can be written with words as well as illustrated with symbols because it was all originally derived from icons or images. The metaphorical language sometimes seems as bizarre as its iconographic counterpart. Yet, seen in the context of the Saturn complex, each very accurately explains the other as well as becoming easily understood.

The archetypes

Depicted here are two prototypical images or archetypes derived from the original polar or Saturn configuration (as seen in figures 1-4), variations of which can be seen in ancient art and metaphor the world over. The celestial ship and cow symbols were derived from the archetype image on the left. Compare it to the images on the Joseph Smith papyrus above.

Both symbols can even be seen on modern temples, as seen below.

Below are several examples of common Egyptian glyphs that illustrate the way the crescent was depicted in that culture, which will help explain why they appear as they do on modern temples.

The first of the three panels here shows how elaborate the illustrations could become and how common it was to duplicate the same archetype with a variety of different symbols, while still preserving all the basic concepts. Note that the upraised and spread arms were used to represent the crescent, a presentation that should be familiar to Latter-day Saints. Note also that the horns of the cow or the back-to-back lions also represent the crescent. It is confusing to the modern, Western mind, but with an understanding of the original image, the archetype presented by the Saturn’s crescent, what once looked like a form of symbolic fantasy becomes a systematic way of remembering the past.

Once again, we see the crescent portrayed as arms or horns — or both — extended about the central orb or enclosure. Of course, the celestial ship icon would be equally correct, as used in the Joseph Smith papyri. Note how a variety of images are used to depict the same thing, each conveying a slightly different message to the Egyptian mind.

The extended arms (ka) as used here represent the crescent in both its superior and inferior positions, the ‘above’ and the ‘below,’ inferring the two primary times of day: midnight and midday. It thus refers to the crescent’s daily cycle and the rotation of the polar enclosure.

As in the icon, so in the myth

So, too, we see such variations in the stories used to depict or elaborate such images. They shift characters and settings easily without losing their identity, once seen in the context of the Saturn configuration. This applies, in some cases, to scriptural accounts as well.

It is easy to see how scholars and Egyptologists have become confused by this tendency to endlessly elaborate these images in art and text. It is also easy to see how biblical scholars mistake some scriptural stories as accounts of real events, when they are really elaborate metaphors or narrative derived from ancient images. However, with knowledge of the original apparition in heaven, it becomes relatively easy to follow the variations, whether in scripture, mythical stories and sagas or in the vast reservoir of imagery and iconography employed in tomb and temple art.

It is stunning to consider that so much of the ancient mysteries—including the symbolism of the scriptures—are interconnected and easily decipherable when considered in the context of the Saturn configuration. Egyptian icons that once made no sense become teaching tools designed to remember some aspect of Earth’s ancient heavens. It is for this same reason they are used in modern temple icons, as we have seen.

These illustrations demonstrate the common practice of placing a symbol over the head of an anthropomorphic figure to identify them with their planetary original or archetype. This led to the idea of a crown or halo over the heads of deities and saints in later cultures. Here, the crescent plays a primary role in the identification process.

Once again, the original images give us a frame of reference heretofore unknown, which allows us to identify them as the Egyptians intended. It is likely, for this same reason, that Joseph was able to make as much headway as he did in understanding Egyptian texts because he understood the relationship between the ancient heavenly prototypes and the symbols and language that evolved from them. Now, every student of the scriptures can use these tools to better understand those ancient texts for themselves.

Depicted here are illustrations from all over the Mesopotamian area showing the crescent beneath the circle or star to demonstrate the variety and commonality of this imagery. All the star images within the circle are extremely significant, because Venus altered its appearance to become the prototypical star, nestled within the crescent in a later phase of the Polar Configuration.

In fact, now we can understand figures 22 and 23 in the Joseph Smith facsimile pictured below. The baboons are drawn with orbs-in-crescent on their heads, designating them as stars/suns, just as Joseph said. It is a perfectly logical correlation, in ancient symbology.

The star-in-crescent image below is Babylonian, said to be Shamash, the sun. But it is also the name of the planet Saturn — correctly so, since Saturn was the original ‘sun,’ the more perfect ‘sun’ of antiquity.

Note that this is more accurately a portrait — an ancient ‘snapshot,’ if you will — of the ancient Saturn configuration, even carved in stunning relief. The center orb is Mars. Behind it is Venus in her resplendent phase as the original ‘star.’ The crescent of Saturn is pronounced. This illustration is more representative than it is symbolic, unlike most of the previous illustrations we have examined.

A close look at this dramatic image reveals the planets in conjunction: In the center we see Mars nested inside Venus, which has extended protrusions formed by plasma streams erupting from the surface, giving it the appearance of a star. The crescent encloses the whole, just as it did in antiquity, even though the sculptor has taken some liberty with the extent of the crescent’s cusps, which was natural since he knew these details only from more ancient art and text, not by personal experience. The orb of Saturn is implied rather than depicted, which is in keeping with the way the ancients recalled the whole configuration. That is, Saturn was a rather passive actor when compared with the dynamic ‘personalities’ of Venus, Mars and the Crescent.

In fact, the above image makes no sense when viewed from the perspective of present cosmology. If the Babylonian artist meant this to be the sun, how could it show a crescent? There is no crescent on the sun. If it is meant to depict the moon in crescent phase, how can a star appear in front of the moon or within its crescent? It is a physical impossibility in our present heavens. Clearly, this is meant to depict an order of the heavens vastly different from that which we know today.

Most impressive throughout all this is how accurately Joseph Smith evaluated the Egyptian texts and icons he had before him. He was no fraud, as so many have attempted to portray him. He knew what he was talking about, having learned through study and revelation. These details of Egyptian culture were totally unknown in Joseph’s day. Further, when his work in Egyptian texts is examined in light of the Saturn configuration — a very recent hypothesis, historically speaking, and likely the most correct — Joseph’s interpretations shine even more brightly than when seen by the dim light of orthodox Egyptology. He saw these things as modern catastrophists, who are cosmologists and mythologists, see them—certainly far more accurately than anyone alive in his day.

This assessment also serves to bring Dibble’s illustration into sharper focus.

Joseph, Dibble claimed, drew this picture, which depicts three orbs moving around the sun, locked in a polar alignment position with a common axis of rotation.

Taken together with the remarkable correlations elucidated above, this illustration is powerful evidence that Joseph Smith understood the nature of the Polar Configuration and its impact on the imagination of mankind, as the virtual snapshot below demonstrates when compared to the Dibble illustration.

Perhaps it will be useful once again to see how this unique arrangement of planets, envisioned by Joseph Smith, would have looked from the Earth, anciently.
Bear in mind, that this is only the smallest part of the prodigious body of evidence that argues eloquently for this view of ancient history and the gospel. Exploring all its facets, which will be done over the course of time by this author as time permits, is a mind-expanding experience of the highest order — especially where scriptural, gospel and temple symbolism are concerned.

The appearance of this marvelous spectacle in heaven made such a lasting impression on all mankind that cultures and religions the world over reverenced and duplicated it in endless variety. No wonder the ancient prophets and apostles rejoiced when they saw these things in vision. It is no wonder, too, that the iconography and metaphorical symbolism of the restored gospel should respect and perpetuate this time-honored tradition. If the Polar Configuration thesis is correct, then it serves to explain why a modern prophet felt compelled to incorporate its traditional symbolism in temples. It explains why all the revelation he received properly used this same metaphorical imagery. It explains his intense interest in ancient Egyptian texts and hieroglyphs. And most invaluable to us, it provides a systematic explanation of the most enigmatic parts of our religion.

This is a powerful witness of Joseph’s calling as a prophet. In this author’s opinion, this view of ancient history and the gospel puts a virtual lock on his claims of revelation. He was precisely what he said he was. Have no doubt of that fact.

© Anthony E. Larson, 2002