In my view, when we fully grasp the story the ancients recorded for us, we begin to see clearly for the first time what in scripture is symbolic and what is literal. Most often, we find out that our perception had to be flipped nearly 180 degrees. What we saw as symbolic turns out to be largely literal, and what we thought to be literal turns out to be mostly symbolic. From that perspective, we have as much to learn about the gospel from its symbolism as we do from its literalism, another concept that completely eluded us before.
At one time, we spent all our effort trying to understand the literal while almost completely ignoring the symbolic. Yet, given the sheer weight of symbolism in scripture, one has to wonder how we managed to avoid it so completely? It must be meaningful or God and his prophets would not have put it there. Remember, Joseph said that God would give no revelation without also providing the key to understand it. It’s my experience that we’ve had the keys before us since early in the restoration. Our failure was to not recognize them for what they are.
And while all of it is vital to us in our quest to understand the past and the scriptures, the most important element is the “local principle,” as presented by Kip Farr, a researcher and scholar who coined the term. That is, what we read in the scriptures in general, and Abraham in particular, that God has revealed to his prophets about the heavens pertains only to our small corner of the universe: our solar system. Kolob and the other celestial bodies are not found in distant parts of our galaxy, as most Mormons assume. What is recorded there tells the story only of “this creation,” (See Moses) not all the creations of God. This is a vital key. Kolob, was and still is right here in our planetary neighborhood, masquerading as a mere planet in our time. All ancient cultures revered it as the “God Star,” Saturn, though it was given a multitude of names—some descriptive, some titular. Hence, we find the descriptive, Semitic name “Kolob”—which probably means something akin to “Heart Star”—applied to it in the Pearl of Great Price. Even the names the Israelites used lead us to that conclusion. El or Elohim, usually referred to by historians as a Canaanite god because they fail to recognize that many of those “Canaanites” were actually Israelites, was connected to the planet Saturn. In fact, several ancient sources affirmed that the Israelites worshipped the planet Saturn. Even the name “Israel” (yis-ra-el) means something akin to “People of Saturn” or “Saturnians.”
From a gospel perspective, we can explain that circumstance by noting that when the Israelites strayed from the teachings of the prophets, it was to follow the customs and traditions of their neighbors, who were idolaters. But they didn’t have to depend on other cultures for that tendency. The progenitors of the Israelites, the Hebrews and their forefathers before them, experienced the actual events that gave rise to those idolatrous symbols and practices in all ancient cultures. Except for the prophets, to whom the true nature and order of the heavens was revealed as it was to Abraham, the rest of the Hebrews created their own traditions to retain the memory of the original heavens and Earth that once existed and what they saw and experienced in the pivotal time period when all that changed.
Naturally, those traditions paralleled those of their neighbors, who experienced the very same events. The names changed, but the stories, traditions and rituals created to remember those ancient times became part of their culture, and history tells us that they retained those traditions down through time, even though they might have repented of their idolatrous ways. It was perfectly natural that the prophets draw upon that ancient tradition to teach the gospel in their day and age, whenever it might be. Joseph Smith, a thoroughly modern man, still employed those ancient traditions and symbols.
Thus, a widespread, cultural tradition filled with imagery and ritual based on the ancient order of the heavens was preserved, even though later generations hadn’t a clue as to what it all meant. Ancient and modern historians readily identify the Israelites as Saturn worshippers when, in fact, they simply employed Saturn symbolism and ritual to teach gospel principles and out of respect to the cultural traditions of their forefathers.
We, today, in fact, do exactly the same thing. All our holidays (holy days) are celebrations of astral events, most of them Saturnian. Our Christmas celebration is a full-blown example, since everything from Santa Claus to the Christmas tree draw on celestial symbolism born in the original, Saturn-dominated heavens. The quintessential modern temple, in Salt Lake, is replete with Saturn symbolism—including Saturn Stones, which were originally intended to be displayed as a planet with two rings around it at the top of the buttresses on the south wall only so one had to face north, the ancient location of Saturn in the heavens anciently, to see them. Moreover, the Big Dipper on the temple’s west wall is strategically placed so as to point to the pole star, Polaris, the exact location of Saturn in Earth’s ancient skies. (This confirms that modern prophets knew precisely how to employ such symbolism correctly. It’s not mere decoration nor is it haphazardly applied.) Critics have and will continue to insist that Mormonism is a cult, in part because of our prophets’ affinity for using planetary symbolism, a practice most often associated with paganism in the Christian mind. Yet, with all that, we do not consider ourselves Saturn worshippers. It’s just part of our tradition.
Nowhere is this key more pertinent than in the creation story and God’s revelation of the cosmos to Abraham.
© Anthony E. Larson, 2008