This episode is 94% Temple, 6% Beer. Mostly I talk about the throat-slitting penalty that was removed from the endowment ceremony in 1990, when I still had the (mis)fortune of experiencing it.
I would love to hear your feedback.
Most of my attributions got edited out (I had to seriously shorten my ramblings, believe it or not), and I had intended to include them in the accompanying post, so thanks Wren, for the reminder! The excerpts I read are from “Bad Blood, Good Blood: Mountain Meadows Massacre and the Atoning Sacrifice of John D. Lee,” a paper I wrote for a religious studies class three years ago. I also quote from David Buerger’s The Mysteries of Godliness: A History of Mormon Temple Worship. You can download the entire paper (in Microsoft Word format). It was great fun to write, stringing together with some academic glue (a la Rene Girard) a massacre and secret vengeance oaths and bloody sacrificial atonement by firing squad. Here’s the part I read in the video:
The vengeance oath is but one of several that Mormons took in temple ceremonies. In three of these oaths, temple initiates promised not to reveal certain secret hand gestures, passwords, and penalties associated with these “signs.” The penalties were particularly violent in their symbolism and deserve some attention.
The penalties had verbal and somatic components. In the nineteenth century, Mormons taking several of the oaths would describe the manner of death (i.e., the penalty) prescribed for breaking the respective vow while pantomiming the manner of death. In 1927, most of this harsh language was removed:
The language of a number of penalties was tempered. For example, previously initiates had agreed that revealing endowment secrets would bring these penalties: “[Let my throat…be cut from ear to ear, and my tongue torn out by its roots”; “our breasts…be torn open, our hearts and vitals torn out and given to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field”; and “your body…be cut asunder and all your bowels gush out.” Now these penalties simply alluded to “different ways in which life may be taken.” (Brueger, p.141. Also, see note #14.)
The penalties were not a purely Mormon innovation. Joseph Smith probably was inspired by Masonry when creating the oaths and penalties. There are parallel actions and language in Masonic rites, and there is plenty of evidence that Smith and many men who were close to him were practicing Masons in Nauvoo.
The penalties were wholly eliminated from the endowment when the ceremony was streamlined in April 1990. I participated in my own endowment rite a month before these changes were made and had the opportunity to enact the penalties before they were removed. I remember two of the three. When the officiator administered one of the oaths and said (speaking for us), “it would be better for me to take my life,” those of us in attendance mimed, in a stylized manner, slitting our throats from one ear to the other (with our thumb representing the knife). In a later oath we mimed our own disembowelment. Speaking from personal experience, I have a visceral response to this part of the ritual that I do not have to any other elements. The throat-slitting action is particularly strong in my memory, perhaps because it is reinforced by its usage in popular culture outside of the Mormon temple. It is acknowledged that ritual is a powerful teaching tool; I suspect that violent ritual is even more so, because it has the potential to provoke an instinctive visceral response that is then associated with the contextual teaching.
Finally, the beer. It was an Alesmith Wee Heavy Scotch Ale (our favorite, Kiltlifter from Moylan’s, falls into this category). You saw the head in the video. The feel was kinda lighter than I expected from a dark, high alcohol ale. It is strong on the malt, sweet, and what bitter there is comes as much from the smokey, caramelized malt as from the light hops. Since I dream of the highlands, and am not so much into hops, this is a *perfect* beer for me. Cheers!
Apparently some aspect of the LDS temple ceremony will be portrayed on HBO’s Big Love (tonight?). Here’s a picture that was forwarded to me, apparently from TV Guide:
Mormons are decrying this as sacrilegious and disrespectful, of course, but as one of thousands who was hoodwinked into going through the ceremony and socially coerced into accepting its secret oaths and tenets, I think that just about any public airing will help to diminish the power of the ritual. While I would hesitate to characterize Mormonism as a cult, the temple is where it gets the closest to acting like one. So this airing is a Good Thing. And it may be the first episode of Big Love I actually watch.