I was privileged to attend the recent dedication of the Washington, DC temple, during which I got thinking about the common themes in temple worship across time and cultures. I’ve always been vaguely aware of these similarities, but I went down the Wikipedia rabbit hole and spent so much time down there that I thought I might as well record my findings. Below are spreadsheets that show various Wikipedia quotes about temple worship across time and cultures (yes, I’m aware that it’s Wikipedia, but Wikipedia is actually more accurate than people give it credit for, and suffices for this purpose here). Specifically, here I look at Ancient Mesopotamian, Ancient Egyptian, Hindu, Catholic, Ancient Greco-Roman, Ancient Jewish, Modern Jewish, Muslim, Zoroastrian, Chinese, Jain, Sikh, Mesoamerican, and Shinto temples or temple analogues.
In drawing out these parallels I’m not trying to subtly make the argument that the modern endowment is an updated version of Adamic temple worship, and that the parallels are due to dissemination and modifications of these rituals across time and space (although I’m not opposed to the idea either). These parallels may have more to do with Jung and CS Lewis than Nibley, as it is likely that there is some primal religious impulse in Homo sapiens that God has spoken through, and that these parallels have as much to do with God speaking to different people in their own way as it does a direct genetic relationship to some ur-religion. Or, if you prefer a more naturalistic explanation; yes, between masonry and the Old Testament the elements were in Joseph Smith’s environment, but the decision to go in the direction of temple worship instead of the low-church Protestantism that he was raised in showed that he was able to tap into something religiously primal.
The common temple themes I sort of abductively came up with are the following.
The Sancto Sanctorum: Temple worship usually involves a most-sacred space set apart from the world or even the sacred space around it that serves as the residence (symbolic or actual) of the God being worshipped. In the temple of Solomon this was the Holy of Holies, where the God of Israel would commune with Moses and others, and as seen below most other temple experiences have their own “Holy of Holies” where the divine resides. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we have two candidates for this. The most obvious is the Celestial Room, which, as the symbolic presence of God, fulfills the Sancto Sanctorum function that the Holy of Holies in the Temple of Solomon served. However, we also have a literal Holy of Holies, which is set apart for the President of the Church as the presiding High Priest of Israel to commune with its God (and where he may or may not perform additional rituals; Church sources vaguely allude to him doing so but I’m not aware of any clear specifics).
Mountain or Raised Platform: The concept of the mountains as special connecting points between the divine and profane has a long precedent, and not just in the Judeo-Christian tradition. In the Latter-day Saint tradition, temples as “mountains of the Lord” is a common theme, and in his journal Joseph Smith alluded to being able to receive endowments on the tops of mountains like Moses. Even in cases where the sacred mountain motif isn’t explicitly invoked, the most sacred parts of temples are often raised above the surrounding area, and the celestial room often follows this pattern (e.g. Salt Lake City, Provo).
God Image: While the Celestial Room represents the presence of God, there is not single point or object that represents Him. This is somewhat unique in temple worship, and not just with figures (or “idols”). For example, Catholic Churches they sometimes conduct “Perpetual Adoration” where a consecrated eucharist host is placed in a special container and congregants can come and worship in its presence. Because, according to Catholic theology, the consecrated host is literally the body of Christ, they are in a very real sense worshipping in the presence of God.
Centrality: The Sancto Sanctorum is often placed in a central location in the temple, although often at the back as well. The celestial room of temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints usually follows this pattern, as the endowment process usually takes worshippers structurally deeper into the temple, and in some temple architectures (e.g. Provo), the celestial room is very clearly placed as the center point.
Cardinal Directions: This is a characteristic that is less stark in our temples than others. I’ve heard that the Angel Moroni points east, but I haven’t seen that written down anywhere, and I’ve seen temples where that doesn’t appear to be the case, so it may have just been a rumor or a temporary trend in temple construction. Whatever the case; east, west, north, and south doesn’t appear to have as much significance for our temples as it does for many others.
Restrictive Access: A common criticism of temple policy is that we restrict who enters. Critics point out that people are allowed in other religious buildings, and sometimes it’s implied that this kind of restrictiveness is unique. However, the fact is that many temple settings have restrictions on who can enter the most holy spaces; generally, the priest figure is the only one allowed in the Sancto Sanctorum. Given that in the Latter-day Saint context endowed, lay members are ordained priests and priestesses, I think the parallelI works.
Cleansing Ceremony: Oftentimes temples are either the location of a cleansing ritual, or a cleansing ritual is required to enter; here I would count both baptisms for the dead and washings (and the washings of the feet for the Quorum of the Twelve) as a cleansing ritual.
Multiple Tiers of Holiness: Many temple contexts have increasing gradients of holiness as one gets closer to the divine in the Sancto Sanctorum. Solomon’s temple had the Holy Place, the Court of the Gentiles, etc., with different restrictions depending on how close you were to the Holy of Holies. Our modern day temples have a telestial room and terrestrial room that precede the celestial room, with the lighting becoming brighter the closer one gets to the divine. This tiered system is also found in many other temple contexts, with a the temple area outside the Sancto Sanctorum also considered holy, but not on the same tier as the space housing the divinity.
Offerings and Sacrifices: On our altars, we sacrifice our will, the only thing the Lord doesn’t have, to His. (Okay, I don’t have a GC quote for that, but that’s one way I’ve looked at it), but the practice of offering either sacrifices or offerings is common, whether it’s humans at Aztec temples or yen at Shinto temples.
Other: A few other categories I could have included: the role of liturgical reenactments like in Ancient Egyptian temples, temple clothing, and the light motif. For example, one surprising thing I found when doing this deep dive is that in many ancient temples the Sancto Sanctorum was actually kept in darkness so as to not expose it to the outside world, which contrasts with ours in which the divine is the brightest part of the temple.
|Sancto Sanctorum||Mountain or raised platform motif||God image||Centrality||Cardinal directions|
|Mesopotamian||The Sumerians believed that the Gods lived in the temple at the top of the Ziggurats, so only priests and other highly respected individuals could enter. Society offered them many things such as music, harvest, and creating devotional statues to live in the temple.||A world mountain formed an axis mundi that joined all three layers. The role of the temple was to act as that axis mundi, a meeting place between gods and men. The sacredness of ‘high places’ as a meeting point between realms is a pre-Ubaid belief well attested in the Near East back the Neolithic age.||His presence was symbolized by an image of the god in a separate room. The god’s presence within the image seems to have been thought of in a very concrete way, as instruments for the presence of the deity.”||An offering table was located in the centre of the temple at the intersection of the axes.||The plan of the temple was rectangular with the corners pointing in cardinal directions to symbolize the four rivers which flow from the mountain to the four world regions.|
|Ancient Egyptian||The most important part of the temple was the sanctuary, which typically contained a cult image, a statue of its god.||In Egyptian creation myths, the first temple originated as a shelter for a god—which god it was varied according to the city—that stood on the mound of land where the process of creation began. Each temple in Egypt, therefore, was equated with this original temple and with the site of creation itself. //Temple ground plans usually centered on an axis running on a slight incline from the sanctuary down to the temple entrance.||The most important part of the temple was the sanctuary, which typically contained a cult image, a statue of its god.||The temple’s inner chambers centered on the sanctuary of the temple’s primary god, which typically lay along the axis near the back of the temple building, and in pyramid temples directly against the pyramid base.|
|Hindu||Beneath the mandala’s central square(s) is the space for the all-pervasive, all-connecting Universal Spirit, the highest reality, the purusha. This space is sometimes known as the garbha-griya (literally, “womb house”) – a small, perfect square, windowless, enclosed space without ornamentation that represents universal essence. In or near this space is typically a cult image — which, though many Indians may refer to casually as an idol, is more formally known as a murti, or the main worshippable deity, who varies with each temple.//The inner sanctuary, where the murtis reside, is known as the garbhagriha. It symbolizes the birthplace of the universe, the meeting place of the gods and mankind, and the threshold between the transcendental and the phenomenal worlds. It is in this inner shrine that devotees seek a darsana||The vertical dimension’s cupola or dome is designed as a pyramid, a cone or other mountain-like shape, once again using the principle of concentric circles and squares.Scholars suggest that this shape is inspired by the cosmic mountain of Meru or Himalayan Kailasa, the abode of the gods, according to Vedic mythology.||Beneath the mandala’s central square(s) is the space for the all-pervasive, all-connecting Universal Spirit, the highest reality, the purusha. This space is sometimes known as the garbha-griya (literally, “womb house”) – a small, perfect square, windowless, enclosed space without ornamentation that represents universal essence. In or near this space is typically a cult image — which, though many Indians may refer to casually as an idol, is more formally known as a murti, or the main worshippable deity, who varies with each temple.||The whole structure fuses the daily life and its surroundings with the divine concepts, through a structure that is open yet raised on a terrace, transitioning from the secular towards the sacred,inviting the visitor inwards and upwards towards the Brahma pada, the temple’s central core, a symbolic space marked by its spire (shikhara, vimana).||The four cardinal directions help create the axis of a Hindu temple, around which is formed a perfect square in the space available.//The temples face sunrise, and the entrance for the devotee is typically this east side.|
|Catholic Church||Some Christian churches, particularly the Catholic Church, consider the Church tabernacle, or its location (often at the rear of the sanctuary), as the symbolic equivalent of the Holy of Holies, due to the storage of consecrated hosts in that vessel.||Some Christian churches, particularly the Catholic Church, consider the Church tabernacle, or its location (often at the rear of the sanctuary), as the symbolic equivalent of the Holy of Holies, due to the storage of consecrated hosts in that vessel.||The altar, centrally located in the sanctuary, is to be the focus of attention in the church.||Another common feature is the spire, a tall tower on the “west” end of the church or over the crossing.
Another common feature of many Christian churches is the eastwards orientation of the front altar.
|Greco-Roman||In ancient Greek and Roman temples the cella was a room at the center of the building, usually containing a cult image or statue representing the particular deity venerated in the temple.||The central cult structure of the temple is the naos or cella, which usually contained a cult statue of the deity.//The cult image normally took the form of a statue of the deity, typically roughly life-size, but in some cases many times life-size||In ancient Greek and Roman temples the cella was a room at the center of the building, usually containing a cult image or statue representing the particular deity venerated in the temple.||Roman temples usually faced east or toward the rising sun, but the specifics of the orientation are often not known today; there are also notable exceptions, such as the Pantheonwhich faces north.|
|Synogogue||The Ark is reminiscent of the Ark of the Covenant, which held the tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. This is the holiest spot in a synagogue, equivalent to the Holy of Holies. The Ark is often closed with an ornate curtain, the parochet??????, which hangs outside or inside the ark doors.//||The ark in a synagogue is almost always positioned in such a way such that those who face it are facing towards Jerusalem. Thus, sanctuary seating plans in the Western world generally face east, while those east of Israel face west. Sanctuaries in Israel face towards Jerusalem. Occasionally synagogues face other directions for structural reasons; in such cases, some individuals might turn to face Jerusalem when standing for prayers, but the congregation as a whole does not.|
|Mosque||Mihrab (Arabic: ?????, mi?r?b, pl. ??????ma??r?b) is a niche in the wall of a mosque that indicates the qibla, the direction of the Kaabain Mecca towards which Muslims should face when praying. The wall in which a mihrabappears is thus the “qibla wall”.|
|Temple of Solomon||The Holy of Holies(“the Sanctuary”) is a term in the Hebrew Bible that refers to the inner sanctuary of the Tabernacle, where God’s presence appeared.||The term Har haBay?t – commonly translated as “Temple Mount” in English – was first used in the books of Micah (4:1) and Jeremiah(26:18) – literally as “Mount of the House”, a literary variation of the longer phrase “Mountain of the House of the Lord”– the abbreviation was not used again in the later books of the Hebrew Bible or in the New Testament//The Holy of Holies, also called the “Inner House,” was 20 cubits in length, breadth, and height. The usual explanation for the discrepancy between its height and the 30-cubit height of the temple is that its floor was elevated, like the cella of other ancient temples.||God spoke with Moses “from between the two cherubim” on the Ark’s cover.||The Mishnahlists concentric circles of holiness surrounding the Temple: Holy of Holies; Sanctuary; Vestibule; Court of the Priests; Court of the Israelites; Court of the Women; Temple Mount; the walled city of Jerusalem; all the walled cities of the Land of Israel; and the borders of the Land of Israel.//According to the Talmud and to the consensus theory in modern scholarship, the Holy of Holies – that is, the holiest spot on Earth, where God’s presence resided – stood directly on the Foundation Stone. Traditional Jewish sources mention it as the place from which the creation of the world began, and as the axis mundi, the center of the world and the place where the physical and spiritual words connected.|
|Zoroastrian temple||Connected to this anteroom, or enclosed within it, but not visible from the hall, is the innermost sanctum (in Zoroastrian terminology, the atashgah, literally ‘place of the fire’ in which the actual fire-altar stands).||Following the rise of the Sassanid dynasty, the shrines to the Yazatascontinued to exist, but with the statues – by law – either abandoned or replaced by fire altars.|
|Chinese||Unlike Taoist or Buddhist temples, Confucian temples do not normally have images. In the early years of the temple in Qufu, it appears that the spirits of Confucius and his disciples were represented with wall paintings and clay or wooden statues. Official temples also contained images of Confucius himself. However, there was opposition to this practice, which was seen as imitative of Buddhist temples.|
|Jain||For over 1,000 years the basic layout of a Hindu or most Jain temples has consisted of a small garbhagriha or sanctuary for the main murti or cult images, over which the high superstructure rises, then one or more larger mandapa halls.||For over 1,000 years the basic layout of a Hindu or most Jain temples has consisted of a small garbhagriha or sanctuary for the main murti or cult images, over which the high superstructure rises, then one or more larger mandapa halls.||A Manastambha(column of honor) is a pillar that is often constructed in front of Jain temples. It has four ‘Moortis’ i.e. stone figures of the main god of that temple. One facing each direction: North, East, South and West.|
|Sikh||In the Diwan Hall, there are people playing worship hymns from the Guru Granth Sahib. The Guru Granth Sahib is the highest spiritual authority in Sikhism and is to be treated as though it is a living Guru.||The only established requirements are: the installation of the Granth Sahib under a canopy or in a canopied seat, usually on a platform higher than the specific floor on which the devotees sit||In the Diwan Hall, there are people playing worship hymns from the Guru Granth Sahib. The Guru Granth Sahib is the highest spiritual authority in Sikhism and is to be treated as though it is a living Guru.||Each gurdwara has a Darbar Sahib where the current and everlasting guru of the Sikhs, the scripture Guru Granth Sahib, is placed on a takhat (an elevated throne) in a prominent central position.|
|Mesoamerican||Many of these structures featured a top platform upon which a smaller dedicatory building was constructed, associated with a particular Maya deity.||Often the most important sanctuaries sat atop towering Maya pyramids//Aztec temples were basically offering mounds||Many of these structures featured a top platform upon which a smaller dedicatory building was constructed, associated with a particular Maya deity.||For earlier periods, such crosses and shrines can, perhaps, be thought of as being connected to the central ‘cross’, or world tree of the center,best exemplified by the arboreal crosses in the temple shrines of the Cross Group in Palenque. The king was the prime embodiment of the central cross or world tree.||The Mayan pyramids even aligned well with cardinal directions, or north, east, west, and south, so that they were used like a compass|
|Shinto||In Shinto shrine architecture, the honden (main hall), also called shinden, or sometimes…. as in Ise Shrine’s case, is the most sacred building at a Shinto shrine, intended purely for the use of the enshrined kami, usually symbolized by a mirror or sometimes by a statue.||Physically, the honden is the heart of the shrine complex, connected to the rest of the shrine but usually raised above it//Important as it is, the honden may sometimes be completely absent, as for example when the shrine stands on a sacred mountain to which it is dedicated||In Shinto shrine architecture, the honden (main hall), also called shinden, or sometimes… as in Ise Shrine’s case, is the most sacred building at a Shinto shrine, intended purely for the use of the enshrined kami, usually symbolized by a mirror or sometimes by a statue.||In Shinto shrine architecture, the honden (main hall), also called shinden, or sometimes… as in Ise Shrine’s case, is the most sacred building at a Shinto shrine, intended purely for the use of the enshrined kami, usually symbolized by a mirror or sometimes by a statue. The building is normally in the rear of the shrine|
|Restrictive access||Cleansing ceremony before entering||Multiple tiers of holiness||Offerings or sacrifices||Other|
|Mesopotamian||The Sumerians believed that the Gods lived in the temple at the top of the Ziggurats, so only priests and other highly respected individuals could enter.||Sacrificial meals were also set out regularly, with a sacrificial animal seen as a replacement (p?hu) or substitute (din?nu) for a man, and it was considered that the anger of the gods or demons was then directed towards the sacrificial animal.|
|Ancient Egyptian||most of the populace was excluded from direct participation in ceremonies and forbidden to enter a temple’s most sacred areas.||Sacred lakes found in many temple enclosures served as reservoirs for the water used in rituals, as places for the priests to ritually cleanse themselves and as representations of the water from which the world emerged||Beyond the temple building proper, the outer walls enclosed numerous satellite buildings. The entire area enclosed by these walls is sometimes called the temenos, the sacred precinct dedicated to the god.//Therefore, as one moved toward the sanctuary the amount of outside light decreased and restrictions on who could enter increased. Yet the temple could also represent the world itself.||To emphasize the sanctuary’s sacred nature, it was kept in total darkness.//Especially important was the pr ?n? “house of life”, where the temple edited, copied, and stored its religious texts, including those used for temple rituals. The house of life also functioned as a general center of learning, containing works on non-religious subjects such as history, geography, astronomy, and medicine.//creation myths re-enacted|
|Hindu||Devotees may or may not be able to personally present their offerings at the feet of the deity. In most large Indian temples, only the pujaris(priest) are allowed to enter into the main sanctum.||The temple space is laid out in a series of courts (mandapas). The outermost regions may incorporate the negative and suffering side of life with the symbolism of evil, asuras and rakshashas; but in small temples this layer is dispensed with. When present, this outer region diffuse into the next inner layer that bridges as human space, followed by another inner Devika padas space and symbolic arts incorporating the positive and joyful side of life about the good and the gods. This divine space then concentrically diffuses inwards and lifts the guest to the core of the temple, where resides the main murti, as well as the space for the Purusa, and ideas held to be most sacred principles in Hindu tradition.||Devotees in major temples may bring in symbolic offerings for the puja. This includes fruits, flowers, sweets and other symbols of the bounty of the natural world.||The appropriate site for a temple, suggest ancient Sanskrit texts, is near water and gardens, where lotus and flowers bloom, where swans, ducks and other birds are heard, where animals rest without fear of injury or harm.These harmonious places were recommended in these texts with the explanation that such are the places where gods play, and thus the best site for Hindu temples.|
|Catholic Church||Following the exposition of the doctrine of transubstantiation at the fourth Lateran Councilof 1215, clergy were required to ensure that the blessed sacrament was to be kept protected from irreverent access or abuse; and accordingly the area of the church used by the lay congregation was to be screened off from that used by the clergy.||As the priest places each on the corporal, he says a silent prayer over each individually, which, if this rite is unaccompanied by singing, he is permitted to say aloud, in which case the congregation responds to each prayer with: “Blessed be God forever.” Then the priest washes his hands, “a rite in which the desire for interior purification finds expression.”||Only the major basilicas may prefix their titles with the adjective sacrosancta (most holy).||The altar in the Roman Catholic church is the center of the church where the sacrifice on the cross is made present in sacramental form.|
|Greco-Roman||A cella may also contain an adyton, an inner area restricted to access by the priests—in religions that had a consecrated priesthood—or by the temple guard.//Garlic-eaters were forbidden in one temple, in another women unless they were virgins; restrictions typically arose from local ideas of ritual purity or a perceived whim of the deity. In some places visitors were asked to show they spoke Greek; elsewhere Dorians were not allowed entry. Some temples could only be viewed from the threshold. Some temples are said never to be opened at all. But generally Greeks, including slaves, had a reasonable expectation of being allowed into the cella. Once inside the cella it was possible to pray to or before the cult image, and sometimes to touch it; Cicero saw a bronze image of Heracles with its foot largely worn away by the touch of devotees.||The main Greek temple building sat within a larger precinct or temenos, usually surrounded by a peribolos fence or wall; the whole is usually called a “sanctuary”.||No gatherings or sacrifices took place in the cella as the altar for sacrifices was always located outside the building along the axis and temporary altars for other deities were built next to it.||Often, the only source of light for naoi and cult statue was the naos’s frontal door, and oil lamps within. Thus, the interior only received a limited amount of light.|
|Synogogue||(Article on Mikveh ceremony): By a kohen, prior to a service in which he will recite the priestly blessing, according to the custom of some communities||Jewish law states the ark is the second holiest part of a synagogue after the Torah scrolls themselves.||In Orthodox synagogues, men and women do not sit together. The synagogue features a partition (mechitza) dividing the men’s and women’s seating areas, or a separate women’s section located on a balcony.|
|Mosque||Under most interpretations of sharia, non-Muslims are permitted to enter mosques provided that they respect the place and the people inside it.[additional citation(s) needed] A dissenting opinion and minority view is presented by followers of the Maliki school of Islamic jurisprudence, who argue that non-Muslims may not be allowed into mosques under any circumstances.||As ritual purification precedes all prayers, mosques often have ablution fountains or other facilities for washing in their entryways or courtyards.|
|Temple of Solomon||Within this area was the Court of the Women, open to all Jews, male and female. Even a ritually unclean priest could enter to perform various housekeeping duties. There was also a place for lepers (considered ritually unclean), as well as a ritual barbershop for Nazirites. In this, the largest of the temple courts, one could see constant dancing, singing and music.
Only men were allowed to enter the Court of the Israelites, where they could observe sacrifices of the high priest in the Court of the Priests. The Court of the Priests was reserved for priests and Levites.//The Holy of Holies was entered once a year by the High Priest on the Day of Atonement, to sprinkle the blood of sacrificial animals
|In the Priestly Code of Exodus, instead of the Molten Sea is described a bronze laver (basin), which was to rest on a bronze foot (presumably meaning a stand). The text explains that this laver was to be used for the Israelite priests to wash their hands and feet when they entered the sanctuary. This is confirmed in a later part of the Priestly Code, in the passage describing the actual installation of the Tabernacle furniture.||The Mishnah lists concentric circles of holiness surrounding the Temple: Holy of Holies; Sanctuary; Vestibule; Court of the Priests; Court of the Israelites; Court of the Women; Temple Mount; the walled city of Jerusalem; all the walled cities of the Land of Israel; and the borders of the Land of Israel.||Animal sacrifices in temple|
|Zoroastrian temple||Only priests attached to a fire temple may enter the innermost sanctum itself||In the Zoroastrian religion, fire (see atar), together with clean water (see aban), are agents of ritual purity. Clean, white “ash for the purification ceremonies [is] regarded as the basis of ritual life”, which “are essentially the rites proper to the tending of a domestic fire, for the temple [fire] is that of the hearth fire raised to a new solemnity”.||In India and in Indian-Zoroastrian communities overseas, non-Zoroastrians are strictly prohibited from entering any space from which one could see the fire(s). While this is not a doctrinal requirement (that is, it is not an injunction specified in the Avesta or in the so-called Pahlavi texts), it has nonetheless developed as a tradition.//Only priests attached to a fire temple may enter the innermost sanctum itself||When the adherent enters the sanctum he or she will offer bone-dry sandalwood (or other sweet-smelling wood) to the fire.//In present-day Zoroastrian tradition, the offering is never made directly, but placed in the care of the celebrant priest|
|Jain||Before entering the temple, one should bathe and wear fresh washed clothes or some special puja (worship) clothes – while wearing these one must neither have eaten anything nor visited the washroom. However, drinking of water is permitted.||Typically, the Jain layperson enters the Derasar (Jain temple) inner sanctum in simple clothing and bare feet with a plate filled with offerings, bows down, says the namaskar, completes his or her litany and prayers, sometimes is assisted by the temple priest, leaves the offerings and then departs.|
|Sikh||People from all faiths are welcomed in gurdwaras.|
|Mesoamerican||The specific rituals engaged in by the king are only rudimentarily known. The Postclassic K?iche? king together with his dignitaries regularly visited the temples to burn offerings and pray for the prosperity of his people, while fasting and guarding sexual abstinence.||Larger temples also featured subsidiary chambers accommodating lesser deities.||In the Nahuatl language, the word for priest was tlamacazqui meaning “giver of things”—the main responsibility of the priesthood was to make sure that the gods were given their due in the form of offerings, ceremonies, and sacrifices.||The temple house (calli) itself was relatively small, although the more important ones had high and ornately carved internal ceilings. To maintain the sanctity of the gods, these temple houses were kept fairly dark and mysterious—a characteristic that was further enhanced by having their interiors swirling with smoke from copal (meaning incense) and the burning of offerings.|
|Shinto||The building is normally in the rear of the shrine and closed to the general public.//Shinto priests themselves enter only to perform rituals.||At shrines, these ch?zubachi, are used by worshippers for washing their left hands, right hands, mouth and finally the handle of the water ladle to purify themselves before approaching the main Shinto shrine or shaden(??). This symbolic purification is normal before worship and all manned shrines have this facility, as well as many Buddhist temples and some new religious houses of worship.||The torii is a gate which marks the entrance to a sacred area, usually but not necessarily a shrine. A shrine may have any number of torii (Fushimi Inari Taisha has thousands) made of wood, stone, metal, concrete or any other material. They can be found in different places within a shrine’s precincts to signify an increased level of holiness.||Usually, a worshipper will approach the honden, placing a monetary offering in a box and then ringing a bell to call the kami’s attention|
Nice post. It’s sometimes unfortunate when family members can’t be part of a temple sealing, but there’s an unavoidable trade-off between greater inclusion and making the temple’s holiness visible.
Also, point of Latin: It’s (usually) Sanctum sanctorum. Save Sancto sanctorum for the dative and ablative cases (so I’ll give you “in the/outside the Sancto sactorum”).
Great post. I think I’m more in the Nibley camp–though a combination of his ideas on diffusion and Jung’s universal archetypes is certainly possible. Even so, I’d probably go with the notion of multiple dispensations around the globe before I’d side too much with Jung.
While there are certainly patterns that seem to come out of the woodwork — the average middleclass home being situated and navigated much like a temple for example — there are some aspects of temple worship (IMO) that must come to us through a revelatory source that exceeds our intrinsic powers as human beings–even our collective powers as Jung might argue. The whole of our temple liturgy is quite complex–and there’s an endless number of ways we could get wrong–that is, with out some help from the “outside.”
Fascinating article. Thanks. What about, as a Mormon example of a holy place, the US constitution? Might even be a better example in some ways since there is only one.
In ways, so many similarities and yet in reality, so far apart. I often argue that we’re we to travel back in time to the ancient Nephite civilization that we would be almost completely shocked at how much different their worship and temple use really is than what we imagine. We really, without interpretation, would scarcely recognize any of their worship practices. I tend to even believe that the very first congregations of LDS in Joseph Smiths time would hardly recognize our worship practices and culture today. Temple worship practices in the early church of Joseph Smiths day is far different than temple worship practices today. And, we will still continue to modify and change, and interpret doctrine differently progressing forward.
Yeah, even our overall understanding of the plan of salvation and how it’s viewed and understood from the temple will change rather dramatically. I tend to believe that culture has way more to do with worship practices than we think.
We have a new exchange student from Thailand, she is buddgist and she came to our church services yesterday and it is completely foreign. Later we discussed similarities and differences and sufficeth to say, the differences far outweigh the similarities to the point that it’s easy to see how cultures can grow outside of influence and can create theologies far removed from realities. Buddhist temple worship is nothing at all like our temple worship, just as ancient Nephite temple worship was probably nothing like our temple worship either.
Rob, I agree that we would probably find some stark differences between the modern church and that of the ancient Nephites. Even so, we do run into patterns in the Nephite scriptures that resonate with our experience in modern temples. Here’s a good one from Alma chapter 33:
3 Do ye remember to have read what Zenos, the prophet of old, has said concerning prayer or worship?
4 For he said: Thou art merciful, O God, for thou hast heard my prayer, even when I was in the wilderness; yea, thou wast merciful when I prayed concerning those who were mine enemies, and thou didst turn them to me.
5 Yea, O God, and thou wast merciful unto me when I did cry unto thee in my field; when I did cry unto thee in my prayer, and thou didst hear me.
6 And again, O God, when I did turn to my house thou didst hear me in my prayer.
7 And when I did turn unto my closet, O Lord, and prayed unto thee, thou didst hear me.
Notice the inward movement from lesser to greater sacred space through a pattern that befits the temple:
That’s quite the stretch.
I think what makes temple worship so immersive for me is the act of progression. Moving from one physical space to the next helps me better internalize the endowment. Murals in the Telestial Room are especially meaningful since it helps patrons to transpose Adam and Eve’s journey into their own environments and cultures. More elaborate lighting, trimmings, and other fixtures between rooms also play a factor in visualizing progression to patrons.
That’s why I’m a little disappointed that all of the newer temples in the past few years have only stationary rooms. Just making the lights brighter in one room is such an underwhelming feature compared to progression. It’s unfortunate that the Church has moved away from progressive rooms recently, but don’t think that they’ll go away permanently. After a 40 year hiatus, President Hinckley brought progression back in the late 90s (albeit in 2 stages instead of 4), so I’m hoping that it will make a comeback soon.
I went through a live session in the Salt Lake temple before it was discontinued. It was the coolest thing ever. But I understand why the church has reduced the physical movement involved–what with most of our faithful patrons being in their sunset years. That and just the practicality involved in enabling more people to participate.
Rob, I could be stretching things a bit–I sometimes err in that direction. Even so, I think there’s a clear analogue between that pattern and the ancient Israelite temple. And much of that analogue is captured in our modern temples ceremony–though nowadays it is embedded perhaps more in narrative than in space.
I can understand making the endowment easier to handle for senior members, but when it comes to temple worship, there has to be a balance between function and form. If the pendulum swings from one extreme to the next, there are lasting ramifications. That’s what happened with the Logan Temple in the 1970s. Though the interior needed to be updated, the architect took it way too far and gutted the entire thing. So instead of finding that balance, the architect cared more about capacity than design, which in turn resulted in a more stale interior. That’s why I think 2-stage progression was the perfect compromise. It helped reduce movement while also retaining the symbolism behind progression.
Another concern that I have is the Church trading the use of films for slides. Yeah, it’s easier to translate for international members and it’s easier to implement prompted changes to the script, but it also makes the endowment feel less organic. Of course, I can understand why the Church had to quickly remove those films (since the director of those films was thrown in prison for child sex abuse in 2019), but it’s hard to connect with still images compared to a full film.
I can be kinda of a critic when it comes to the arts. For me, the films were always a bit subpar–though I found beauty in their function. I think a lot of good can be done with the “slides” approach–in terms of bridling the weight of the didactic elements without compromising the art itself. So, IMO, there are good reasons vis-a-vis *aesthetics* as well as the practical considerations involved for going in the direction of “stills.”
That said, I think you might agree that the ideal experience would be: to be carried away to the top of a high mountain and be shown the vision of all things in glorious detail. But for now we must work with the skeletal framework of that vision as provided in the temple–adding meat to the bones here a little and there a little.