Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Mares Eat Oats ...

Do you remember that old song that says, “Mares eat oats and does eat oats, and little lambs eat ivy; a kid’ll eat ivy too, wouldn’t you?” For years, as a child, I sang that song as a string of nonsense syllables, seeing absolutely no meaning in the words I muttered. I would sing, “Mairsy dotes and dozy dotes, and liddil amb zee divvy; a kiddle e dyvie two, wouldn’t you?” That’s what I thought everyone else was singing because that’s what I heard. It just never occurred to me that I was misunderstanding what I had memorized, until one day when it all fell into place.

More to the point, until then no one knew that I didn’t know what I was singing because what I sang sounded quite correct to them. They thought I knew what I was saying, so no one attempted to correct me.


Latter-day temples, stunningly beautiful though they may be, are unlike any other structures in Christendom. In fact to even the casual observer, there seems to be very little Christian about them, inside or out.

Outside, the symbols and markings, where present, are not those seen in other religious architecture. There are no gargoyles, no angels, no crosses and no statues of saints. Instead, all icons are either conspicuous by their absence, or there are copious illustrations of stars, planets and suns.

Inside as well, there is a striking absence of ritual and liturgy typically associated with Christianity, baptism and marriage being the two exceptions. References to Christ are infrequent, oblique and incidental, rather than being central. It’s as though the focus of the temple was almost entirely on something else.

The dissimilarities are pronounced and striking. They are especially so to those who enter a temple for the first time. The reaction of novice attendees to what they hear and see there ranges from mild surprise to outright shock. The temple ceremonies are so foreign to them, newcomers must be assisted throughout as to what to do and say in each rite. Nothing in their experience up to this point, in church teachings and practices outside the temple, prepares them for the oddity, strangeness and peculiarity of the temple odyssey.

Most accept the experience with equanimity, quietly accepting the apparent abnormality of the experience on faith alone. Some few are incredulous, openly rejecting the rites and ceremonies as foreign to their personal creed. In the end, conformity and compliance win the day as most initiates hide their surprise or dismay with either silence or expressions of the beauty and enormity of it all.
Those few who can bring themselves to articulate their surprise, confusion and incredulity by asking for an explanation are greeted with a trite statement from church and temple authorities, who usually explain to the quizzical party that with regular temple attendance and prayerful inquiry, it will all be made clear in good time.

Therefore, what is said and done in LDS temple rituals is mostly a mystery to Mormons.

In order to reconcile the obscurity and unfamiliarity of what they have been taught, temple worthy Mormons assume that the sole source of these temple rites and rituals is nothing less than pure revelation from God, that those things are consummately sacred, so above and beyond our poor intellects that we can scarce comprehend them, much less begin to understand them. Therefore, they assuage their confusion and ignorance by assuming that what is said and done within modern temples is uniquely spiritual and celestial, exceeding the grasp of our blinkered intellects. Thus they reason that any attempt to decipher them is doomed to failure in our benighted, telestial state.

On a personal note, my temple experience more or less paralleled that of my fellow Mormons — until my research unfolded an entirely unexpected yet welcome benefit. I learned that the temple is a monument to the ancient heavens, the primeval heavens. It is a memorial in stone and ritual of the astral drama that unfolded in Earth’s ancient heavens, a sacred, cultural treasure trove of information. What happens inside is all … I say ALL … about the same thing as we see on the outside, where icons are present: stars, planets and manifestations that emerged in our ancient skies and the traditions that evolved from them.

It was at that juncture that it became abundantly evident that what was rehearsed in our temples was the same, traditional story told in the sacred space of religions the world over. That this ancient story is also repeated in modern temple ritual, erected by prophets of God, is a powerful witness to the validity of the Restored Gospel. Joseph Smith had no access to this type of information in that bygone era, except it came through revelation, as he professed.

What a stunning development. I had followed the logic and rationale of avant-garde or maverick scholars regarding obscure, mythological and traditional beliefs, tested their conclusions against statements of modern prophets — especially those of Joseph Smith — only to find that this information made plain the meaning of temple iconography and ritual.

It has become apparent to me that Joseph Smith and his successors had a clear vision of what had happened in the past, a vision that is distinctly different than that held by sectarian and secular scholars alike in our day and age. And like their predecessors, the Old Testament prophets, our Savior and his Apostles in the New Testament as well as the holy men in every other ancient culture, these modern prophets had restored and preserved that cosmological tradition in modern temples.

Along with that conviction came the realization that my fellow Mormons knew nothing of this. Even temple officiators who enacted those sacred temple dramas and rituals, including temple presidents, knew nothing of the meaning in what they were doing. None had been able to explain them to me. So I was left to assume that they did not understand the origins and meaning of what they were doing and saying.

This state of affairs left me incredulous. How could the meaning behind all this sacred ritual and architecture be lost while the vehicle designed to retain it has been so well preserved? Certainly, those who instigated it, beginning with Joseph Smith, knew the meaning of these rites. Such was no fortuitous accident. Church authorities have faithfully preserved our temple traditions for a dozen generations since Joseph Smith first established them in the 1840s; yet no one today can or will say what they mean or what they represent.

It’s quite odd, actually, when I think about it — preservation without comprehension. Yet, that’s what’s happened.

This is why at the outset of this monograph I cited the instance from my own experience. Like my “Mares eat oats …” story, that’s what the temple ritual is to today’s initiate and worker alike — mummery and mimickery with no comprehension of its truly profound meaning. It’s quite tragic and wonderful, both at the same time. The entire meaning is preserved, thankfully, but with absolutely no comprehension of its implication. What a stunning state of affairs.

© Anthony E. Larson, 2009


Mr. said...


In defense of nonsense, the lyrics are usually written in nonsense form. In fact, the song makes a point of moving from nonsense to clarification. So it's no accident this happened to you.

Paul said...

"It’s quite tragic and wonderful, both at the same time. The entire meaning is preserved, thankfully, but with absolutely no comprehension of its implication. What a stunning state of affairs." -- Tony Larson

What a profound analysis. Like a book of ancient sacred golden plates written in a language that cannot be read, modern day temples preserve their true meaning and purpose through the use of symbols and rituals, but nobody in authority is able to interpret the temple language. And so the members remain in ignorance and place it all in that great box of mystery and holy knowledge that is beyond mortal comprehension.

Hence, LDS temple goers happily go through the motions and sing the lyrics to the sacred song, “Mares eat oats and does eat oats, and little lambs eat ivy; a kid’ll eat ivy too, wouldn’t you," yet they know almost nothing of the meaning and purpose of the temples and rituals they perform.

This is what the Matrix is really all about. The Matrix is not a neuro-interactive simulation system where everybody is plugged into the same application program. Instead, the Matrix is a large body of incorrect knowledge. And sadly, the vast majority of mankind spend their entire lives plugged into it and know nothing of the truth.

Fifteen hundred years ago, everybody knew the earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the earth was flat. And up to a short while ago, you probably didn't even know that temples had exterior icons that represent stars and planets, such as Saturn. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow.

The truth is out there just waiting to be discovered by curious open minded people who are strong enough and brave enough to replace their incorrect knowledge or beliefs with the facts.

Joseph Smith made the following two statements:

“Brethren, if I were to tell you all I know of the Kingdom of God, I do know that you would rise up and kill me.” – Joseph Smith (by Parley P Pratt, Millennial Star 55:585)

“Many men will say, “I will never forsake you, but will stand by you at all times.” But the moment you teach them some of the mysteries of the Kingdom that are retained in the heavens and are to be revealed to the children of men when they are prepared for them they will be the first to stone you and put you to death. It was this same principle that crucified the Lord Jesus Christ, and will cause the people to kill the prophets in this generation.” – Joseph Smith (HC 5:424)

In light of these two quotes, you must not expect the higher truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to operate in parallel with incorrect knowledge. This is what Joseph Smith was trying to make clear to the LDS membership, who were well versed in gospel doctrine. In other words, their Christian traditions and beliefs about the gospel were so different than the truth, that the members would have been unable to accept and internalize them, and would have risen up against the prophet and even sought to take his life.

If what Joseph Smith said does not cause us to question what we think we know, then nothing will.


J.A.G. Fehr said...

Well judging by the lack of out cry thus far, I'd say waters are looking calm. But that's just me. I like to learn, even if it seems almost hard to swallow at first.

In The Doghouse said...

Great post and wonderful follow up comments.

Many are walking at "noon day in darkness" because they are lost in the "teachings of man mingled with scripture".

I believe we have been given the tools to "know all things", but are simply too distracted with everyday living to search them out and apply them.

Your insights are very helpful for any who wish to study. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Temple experience is very personal. Sometimes you understand somethings due to your intellect, and sometimes, you just know them because of your faith and spirituality. Some of us do not share our Temple experiences because they are only ours and nobody will understand them as we do. Some of us just attend and do the work without complete understanding, but only to obey.
Sometimes, your own personal revelation will enlighten your understanding of Temple work; and sometimes, you do not need to know and understand everything. Some of us, just go to the Temple to receive the Lord's peace, joy and love that we need to keep us going.
Anyway, we will all know and understand everything when the Lord considers we are ready to receive all of his light.
All in time my friends; all in time.

Chloie Leavitt said...

Dear Oilsfreak...just wanted to point out that although I agree with your points, I believe something is begging to be added. You said "we will all know and understand everything when the Lord considers we are ready to receive all of his light." This is obviously true. What I would add is that we don't just "happen" to be ready. We GET ready. Seek and you shall find. If you don't look you're not going to see. So while I agree it's good to attend the Temple, even simply for the sake of obedience, we are not going to find there what we are not actively seeking.