Friday, February 13, 2009

It's Not Easy Being Green

At the risk of being ridiculed or scoffed at for being too open, let me briefly pull back the author/researcher curtain to let you see the inner mulling and musing of the mind behind all these “peculiar” notions.

To put it simply, I’m at the end of my rope. And I have been for some time.

Kermit the Frog sings a woeful little tune that best characterizes my predicament. “It’s not easy being green,” he chants, plaintively. I know how that feels when your fellow church members perceive you as the purveyor of odd knowledge, someone saying something different than what they’re accustomed to hearing.

Like the Whos in Whoville, I cry out, “I am here. I am here! I am here!!” But, no one hears. No one sees.

You see, to the majority of church members, I’m invisible … and so is my research. I believe I have stumbled across a most valuable truth, one that was once fairly common knowledge among early church members, one that was taught by Joseph Smith and preserved in our temples. That’s what I work to share with my fellow Saints. But, therein lies the rub. Very few care to hear it.

Actually, I feel more like Horton than the Whos. I know what I know to be true. But most Mormons don’t believe me because of their preconceptions. They prefer to reject me and my “strange notions,” dismissing me as a kook or a fraud rather than examining the issues more closely. Strangely, others see me as a threat, worthy only of their disdain and reprehension. They seek to suppress my ideas.

Just so you know, here’s my song. It’s a little longer than Kermit’s, but it rhymes just about as well. It sounds like this …

About 30 years ago, I came across a book that changed my whole view of the Restored Gospel. The concepts presented in that book set me on a path that led me first to the comprehension of past planetary catastrophes, then to prophecy, to the language of the prophets, to obscure statements by Joseph Smith, to a completely revised understanding of ancient planetary history, to an interpretation of religious symbolism worldwide and finally to a thoroughgoing grasp of latter-day temple symbolism and ritual (not necessarily in that order).

If that sounds to you like a lot of ground to cover, it is. It took me into heady intellectual country — Hugh Nibley kind of stuff — a place I never dreamed I might venture. But true to my quest, I soldiered on, invigorated by the soul-expanding concepts that periodically washed over my mind and heart like emotional and intellectual tidal waves.

It took years of study, research and a willingness to follow the clues—no matter how unlikely or unpopular they seemed to be. But, it was worth every moment because this study, which began with a burning desire to understand the scriptures, has opened doors to knowledge and understanding that I never expected find, least of all to open. Just when I think this line of inquiry has yielded all there is to learn, it inevitably shows me more.

As a result, my testimony of Joseph Smith and the Restored Gospel has expanded beyond anything I thought humanly possible. My understanding of gospel principles is more profound, by many orders of magnitude, than I had ever imagined. And perhaps most importantly, I can ‘read’ the temple experience as though it were a book or a familiar and treasured story.

What about you? When you read prophecy, is the imagery and message crystal clear? Or is it confusing and bewildering? When you contrast present scientific views with the scriptural record, do you start scratching your head? When you attend the temple, is the intent and the meaning of each ritual and all its symbolism as plain as a child’s primer? When you try to make sense of these things, does your head start to hurt and your brain begin to reel? As I did at first, do you simply avoid contemplating all these things because it all seems too much like an exercise in futility?

Given those nagging misgivings and because most of these things are a mystery to most Saints, you’d think that they’d be anxious to get a few pointers. But, just the opposite is true. In my experience, any effort to draw attention to these gospel blind spots is met with suspicion and disbelief. Rather than ask questions, they begin to avoid me, ignore me, criticize me or pretend I’m not even in the same church.

So, it’s not easy being seen. In fact, it’s a lot of hard work. I’ve labored for over 30 years in an effort to gain a foothold on the LDS imagination. I’ve written books, prepared and given daylong lectures with a slideshow, produced a documentary, several video clips with 3D animation, created a web page advertising my ideas and a blog that contains the results of years of research and study. None of that was easy. It cost me precious personal time and considerable resources. Yet after all that, I don’t seem to be getting significant traction among my fellow Saints.

So, here’s the question at the heart of the matter: How does an average Latter-day Saint like myself with a vital message make his voice heard in the church? Since I’m not a General Authority, how do I make an impression on others? What can I do to make enough of an impression that most Mormons will inquire further? After trying every initiative I can think of to put this information in front of church members, what more can I do that I’ve not already tried? I’m flat out of initiatives.

So, that’s my sad song. Like Kermit, it’s not easy being green.

So, what do you think? How can I put this message before the membership? What approach can I take that I have not taken already? Which among you cares to lend a supportive hand? Who can point me down the path to access? Any ideas?

© Anthony E. Larson, 2009

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Circle of Meaning and Comprehension

There is a great body of ancient texts that scholars like Hugh Nibley classify as ascension literature. It’s called that because each of the various authors, who are implicitly prophets, ascend to heaven to see a marvelous vision. The best examples in modern revelation are the books of Moses, Abraham and Enoch in the Pearl of Great Price.

The ascensions were very real, and they were marvelously impressive, judging by all the accounts. Most report begin transported to a “high mountain.” Others are compelled to “climb up” a brilliantly illuminated ladder, set of steps or a “strait and narrow” path. Each passes through several levels or spheres as he ascends. Some encounter sentinels at the gates to each level or at the very topmost level, and each of these sentries requires the proper password or response from the visionary in order to pass. Once at the top, they see what they report as heaven, paradise or the celestial kingdom. Some converse with God; others do not.

By design, the temple experience, whether ancient or modern, replicates the actual visionary ascension experience. Thus, the temple was and is a virtual reality, a replica of the real thing. Anciently, initiates were ushered through a series of locations within the temple where they experienced various rites and rituals, each meant to duplicate part of the ascension experience.

While earthly temples, ancient or modern, can never duplicate the magnificence of the actual visions they are meant to imitate, every effort was made to give the temple architecturally impressive, if not overwhelming, splendor and majesty. The very best of everything that a culture could muster went into that sacred edifice, whether it was a Greek temple, an Egyptian pyramid/temple, a Native American kiva, a Babylonian ziggurat, a Celtic henge, an Israelite temple, a Mayan pyramid/temple or the Nauvoo and Salt Lake temples. They were the highest examples of what any culture could muster in terms of luxury and architectural grandeur.

Most temples were festooned with icons that represented some part of the visionary archetype, things we take to be mere decorations: stars, moons, suns, pillars, mythic or real beasts and a most sacred enclosure or holy of holies partitioned by a curtain, veil or doorway.

Most Latter-day Saints who attend the temple are unaware of this intimate and ancient connection to our modern temples, but it is very real and very telling. It puts the modern temple experience in good and venerable company, making it authentic and true to the originals in every way. This, in and of itself, is also a powerful witness to the claims of divine revelation by Joseph Smith.

Because temple rituals are re-enactments of the archetypal ascension vision, which I believe was given to all the prophets (it wouldn’t do to have several versions, would it?), when reading ancient accounts, it’s often hard to tell whether we’re reading about an actual ascension or just an earthly version, administered in a temple — something we would call an endowment.

Where you and I might differ is in our interpretation of what the prophets saw. It would probably be your position, as it is with most Saints, that the prophets were shown things truly celestial in nature, and therefore completely foreign to anything in Earth’s past or present. To that mindset I would respond by asking, why, then, does nearly every ancient culture share the same perspective, imagery and symbolism as we do in modern temple rites? In spite of being thoroughgoing pagans, did they all have prophets to enlighten them? How is it that our temple rituals have nearly everything in common with those of ancient, pagan cultures?

So where did all this common ascension/temple tradition come from? I would contend that all religions share the same pool of archetypes because the ancients, pagan or not, had a shared set of cosmological experiences – not visions or revelations but real life actualities that played out across earthly skies at the dawn of time. They were eyewitnesses to spectacular displays of light and sound that left and indelible impression on their cultural and religious traditions and practices. That’s why all ancient cultures display a multitude of astral symbols in their sacred precincts. It’s the same reason Joseph Smith and Brigham Young put astral symbols all over the outside of modern temples.

I would further contend that what the prophets saw in vision, as recorded in ascension texts, was a rehearsal of those ancient cosmological events presented to them in vision, which they subsequently related in the very symbolic terms preserved by their various cultures. As a result, the more any prophet’s culture preserved of these astral or cosmological archetypes and narratives, the more relevant imagery any one prophet’s ascension account could include.

Since such data has been completely expunged from our cultural record, we Latter-day Saints completely fail to grasp the express meaning of our temple rituals. Because our version of the traditional temple ascension is only a faint echo of the original, it’s hard for modern Saints to make the intended connection. And because our culture teaches us that the original cosmological events, the genesis of sacred imagery, never happened, we completely fail to see the meaning in such accounts and their cosmological origins.

Another vital conclusion we can draw from all this is: What we see illustrated on the exterior architecture of LDS temples is what the rituals within are all about as well. Most church members regard the symbols on the outside of the Salt Lake Temple, the quintessential exemplar of temple tradition in our time, to have nothing at all to do with what happens inside. And yet, nothing could be further from the truth. Both inside and out, it rehearses and recalls the ancient heavens. That bit of perspective comes only from a corrected view of the past.

And that leads us to a startling conclusion that most Saints have never imagined. The formula for what I call the Circle of Meaning and Comprehension looks like this:

Notice the progression in the Circle of Meaning and Comprehension. One can start anywhere in the series and move in either direction. But as the proper connections are made, moving from one concept to the next, one returns to the place where one started. By repeating this circular process, one’s grasp of the Restored Gospel grows and grows.

Additionally, this process provides a new, intellectually invigorating and spiritually augmenting perspective on life and the world we live in, a new point of view on everything around us. It truly and accurately tells us about “things as the are, as they were and as they are to come.”

Our temple rituals, in my opinion, are given to educate us and point the way to enlightenment. Perhaps more importantly, they are a type and a kind, meant to prepare us for the real thing, if we become worthy. We have the opportunity to have the same visions as the prophets. But, as long as we fail to comprehend the meaning and origins of what we see in our temples today, we may never be given that sacred privilege.

© Anthony E. Larson, 2009

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

What The Prophets Saw

It’s this author’s contention that all the prophets saw the same vision: Ezekiel, Daniel, John, Lehi, Nephi, Moses, Abraham and even Joseph Smith. It’s the “One Vision” given to all who qualify, as near as I can determine.

We mistakenly assume they each had a different revelation because each account seems unique. Not so. They saw the same things, but described them in different terms or focused on specific elements of the greater vision to the exclusion of the remainder.

Prophets created a narrative to explain what they saw in terms that their contemporaries could understand. The variations in their accounts are a function of the cultural traditions of the society and era in which they lived. They had to use imagery common to the culture they lived in so that their message would be better understood.

We fail to see the commonality of prophetic accounts because those traditions have been wholly expunged from our culture. We know virtually nothing of the cosmological events that dominated the imagination of ancient cultures the world over, nor do we have any comprehension of the metaphors and icons those events spawned.

Yet, someone from ancient times, in whatever culture, would have easily understood those common elements. They all shared them in one form or another. It’s we, living in modern times, stripped of any knowledge of what actually happened in Earth’s ancient skies, who are ignorant of these things. The imagery entirely escapes us.

It’s like the “One Story” told by nearly every ancient culture the world over. In fact, that universal story is derived from many ancient sources because no single culture’s tradition tells the whole story. Only by assembling elements from various traditions can we see the whole story, a task easily accomplished using comparative mythology and an alternate view of ancient cosmology.

The prophets, upon seeing this remarkable vision, quickly realized that they were witnessing the genesis of all ancient lore, the archetype from which sprang all cultural religious tradition. They were overwhelmed by its magnificence, splendor and majesty.

And what was that vision? Well, while no one illustration or even animation can approach what the prophets saw standing in Earth’s ancient heavens, this animated video clip may give you some idea.

This vision was a presentation of the planetary history of our Earth in a “grand constellation of worlds,” as Orson Hyde put it (See “A Knowledge of the Stars.”), when our planet was thought of as God’s “footstool” (Doctrine and Covenants 38: 17.) and the greatest of these proximate planets was called the “throne of God,” as Pres. Brigham Young put it, and “Kolob” by Abraham. Its reality was accurately and tellingly illustrated by Joseph Smith when he made this drawing for Philo Dibble.

What does this mean to you? It means that this message is central to understanding the imagery and metaphor of the scriptures. It means that without it, no Latter-day Saint can fully appreciate the gospel message. It means that this concept is central to our temple experience, which is a reenactment of the prophets’ vision. This was Joseph Smith’s message to those Saints who were willing to accept it.

Where do you stand?

© Anthony E. Larson, 2009