I appreciated the fact that to a believer
certain information could have an impact impossible for a non-believer, that just as an
advanced course in engineering could be appreciated only by those trained in the
fundamentals of the discipline, so an understanding of the rarer truths of heaven required
first a faithful adherence to certain basic tenets. Therefore, Elder Mark E. Petersen
seemed to make sense when he explained: "The holy ordinances were never fully made
known to the world at large; they were too sacred, but the chosen and faithful participate
in all solemnity."
As I disposed my mind for my
first visit to what the Washington Post called "the mysterious citadel on the
Beltway," I studied Elder John A. Widtsoe"s article "Looking toward the
Temple." He spoke of certain "ceremonies pertaining to godliness."
"The simple ceremonies help us to go out from the temple with the high resolve to
lead lives worthy of the gifts of the gospel." Did I have any problems that were
bothering me? Rest assured, said Elder Widtsoe, himself an Apostle and one of the foremost
theologians of the Church, "every person who enters this sacred place in faith and
prayer will find help in the solution of life's problems."
"Gratitude for this
privilege," I read, "and an eager desire to possess the spirit of the occasion
should overflow in our hearts." Here would be distilled and presented the essence of
the restored gospel: "Indeed, in the temple the whole gospel is epitomized." So
profound were the truths presented that "it is not to be expected that the temple
ceremonies can be comprehended in full detail the first time . . . ." The promises
and assurances continued to flow:
It is spiritual fitness and
understanding that one receives in the temple.
From beginning to end, going
through the temple is a glorious experience. It is uplifting, informative. It gives
The laws of the temple and the
covenants of the endowment are beautiful, helpful, simple, and easily understood. To
observe them is equally simple.
Culminating this overture of
promise, Elder Widtsoe concluded that "all history seems to revolve about the
building and use of temples." The temple, I thought, would be a grander and more
inspiring worship service - finer music, more sublime; longer, more learned and more
At my initial interview for a
Temple Recommend, the Bishop moved quickly through the prescribed list of questions, all
of which I had expected, except the question: "Have you been wearing your Temple
garments?" "Have I what?" I thought. But before I could say anything, he
said: "Oh, that doesn't apply to you," and moved on to the next question. During
the week, a little puzzled at this, I asked a Mormon friend to elucidate. "You'll
find out about that in the Temple," he said. "The garments are the same as the
ones that Adam and Eve wore in the Garden of Eden; they're for protection." At my
final Temple Recommend interview with the Stake president, he asked me if I knew about the
garments. He told me I could purchase them at the Temple, and that I must wear them
continually, day and night. By way of explanation he said that he had just bought a number
of new sets of underwear before he went through the Temple for the first time and
afterwards had to throw them all away.
"Is this where it gets
weird?" I asked a friend when I heard about church-issue underwear, but, in fact, I
had no serious qualms - mostly eager anticipation. I knew there would be some ceremonies,
and I had been told vaguely about "making covenants with the Lord," but still in
my mind I envisioned a solemn and moving religious service. "Do you know the new name
the faithful receive from Jesus?" a friend asked me. "It's mentioned in the Book
of Revelation. Well, you'll find out your new name at the temple."
Most of the people in our
temple trip had their own temple garments. Since I was new, I had to rent mine for eight
dollars at the garment desk, which looked like a Hollywood version of heaven's clothing
dispensary - beatifically-smiling white-clad matrons issuing packets of freshly laundered
celestial garments. I went with the men to the men's locker room where we shed our civvies
and put on temple whites. Since I was "doing my own endowment," I had first to
dress semi-nude, covered only by a "shield" - a square piece of white cloth with
a circle cut in the center to fit over your head. I then proceeded to "washing and
Two attendants with ecstatic
expressions dripped some water on my head and blessed the various parts of my body. This
first coat of blessings was repeated and "sealed" with drops of consecrated oil.
"Your new name," one of the blessors whispered to me, "which will be your
name through all eternity, is Enoch." I emerged enameled with blessings and quite
ecstatic myself. As I left the blessing area, I accidentally overheard another initiate
receiving his washing and anointing. "Your new name, which will be your name through
all eternity," I heard the attendant say to him, "is Enoch."
Returning to the locker room,
I discarded the shield, put on a white jump suit and hospital slippers, placed a packet of
unknown content under my arm, and padded down the hall for a briefing on the
"endowment." The speaker wore a white suit, white shirt, white tie, white shoes
and white socks. He impressed upon us the solemnity and sacredness of the endowment and
offered us the opportunity to back out. If we went ahead, we must be willing to "keep
the covenants of the Lord." No one demurred and we filed down the hall to the
endowment room where the others were waiting for us.
The Endowment Room
The endowment room reminded me
of a Hollywood screening room. To my amazement, no sooner had we been seated - under the
stiff gaze of solemn-visaged ushers in white - than the lights dimmed and a movie began.
Elohim, Jesus and Michael appeared in Technicolor holding a meeting amidst the porticos of
Heaven. "Look," said one, "there is matter unorganized. Let us go down and
organize it and make an earth to dwell upon." "It is good," said Elohim.
The first day, the second day, the third day . . . scenes of seas roaring, birds chirping,
etc. passed before us. Jesus and Michael reported back to Elohim after each day's work.
"It is good," said Elohim. Adam was created, blond and Nordic - and his wife the
same. "It is good," said Elohim, sporting a Santa Claus beard. The devil now
appeared and lured Eve into eating the forbidden fruit. Adam partook out of pity for Eve,
and they were driven out of Eden into "the lone and dreary world." But, lo, here
came Peter (an actor on WKRP in Cincinnati), James, and John with a message of redemption.
Peter shooed the devil away and then shook Adam's hand with a knowing look in his eye.
The movie faded; the lights
came up. Before the screen stood a low altar covered in white lace. A Book of Mormon and a
Bible sat on top of it. Behind the altar stood a man in white with a grave countenance.
"Open your packets," he said, "and put on your robes." I took out a
pleated white robe and draped it over myself. Someone helped me tie it at the shoulder to
keep it from slipping off. Next came a puffy white hat. "Put on your aprons,"
said the leader. Out came a green silk apron with fig leaves embroidered on it. I tied it
around my waist. "I sure hope this gets better," I said to myself, "because
it can't get much worse."
Oaths and Grips
"We will now administer
the first grip of the Aaronic priesthood," said the leader. "Please rise. We
wish all to receive it." After a demonstration in front of the room, the attendants
walked up and down the rows giving everyone the special handshake. "We will now
administer the oath," said the man in white, "with its accompanying sign and
penalty." The sign he demonstrated by drawing his finger across his throat. I stared
in amazement. "Repeat the oath after me," he said, "while simultaneously
making the sign." The oath is: "I would rather suffer my life to be taken than
to reveal the first grip of the Aaronic priesthood." The attendants carefully watched
to see that everyone complied with the instructions.
Dressed as I was in the most
absurd costume I have ever worn - a pleated white robe over a white jump suit, adorned
with a green silk apron embroidered with fig leaves and topped off with a puffy pleated
chef's cap complete with tassel - and surrounded as I was by ardent believers and
steely-eyed spotters, I deemed it prudent not to draw attention to myself by any gesture
of disbelief, dismay or regret. I had come to Washington in a motor home with other
Mormons from my ward and would have to go back with them. Given the nature of the oaths
that were being administered, I decided not to make an issue of anything. A wise man, even
if he finds out that he has made a mistake, does not stand up in a moving roller coaster
and try to get off. He holds on, grits his teeth, and waits till the journey is completed
"Be seated," said
the leader. The lights dimmed and the movie resumed. More trials of Adam and Eve. The
lights came up again, a new handshake was demonstrated, and an oath, sign and penalty
administered. The sign was obscure to me, but required some hand motion in the area of the
chest. More movie followed and we rose for the administration of a third grip. The sign
this time looked as if one were unzipping his belly. The penalty as before was the same:
"I would rather suffer my life to be taken . . ." we all chanted in unison.
"This had better be leading somewhere," I thought to myself, "because I've
about had it." A fourth handshake followed. For the record, I include a description
of the four secret grips.
Grip One. In
the first handshake of Mormonism one grips the hand of the other person in the usual
fashion and presses his thumb upon the knuckle of the index finger of the other person.
This is the first grip of the Aaronic priesthood. The Sign is the finger across the
throat. The penalty for revealing the grip is your life.
Grip Two. In
the second handshake of Mormonism, one presses the thumb in between the knuckle of the
index finger and the knuckle of the middle finger. The sign is a motion in the area of the
chest. The penalty is your life, should you reveal it.
In the third handshake, one presses his thumb against the middle of the palm of the other
person and at the same time extends his forefinger along the back of the other person's
hand, pressing thumb and forefinger together to indicate the location of the stigmata of
Christ in the palm. This is the first grip of the Melchizedek priesthood. The sign is
drawing the hand across the gut. The penalty, again, is your life.
Grip Four. In
the fourth handshake, known as the Patriarchal Grip, one interlocks pinkies with the other
person and at the same time extends the forefinger to press against the wrist of the other
person. Known as the Sure Sign of the Nail, this grip symbolizes the nail that supposedly
was driven through the wrist of the crucified when the original nail tore out of His Palm.
At a Mormon Temple marriage ceremony, the couple kneel at an altar, join hands across it
in the Patriarchal Grip, and are thus "sealed" together.
At the Veil
Instead of an oath and penalty
to accompany the Patriarchal Grip, which is the second handshake of the Melchizedek
priesthood, the movie screen lifted - to reveal a polyester curtain with strange markings
on it shaped like "V's" and square "L's". I could vaguely make out men
standing at intervals behind the curtain. Various attendants, male and female, stood in
front of it, dressed in Temple white and smiling broadly at us. "What now?" I
thought, and imagined a tattooing or a bloodletting as a fit culmination for the ghoulish
experience that had so far transpired in the endowment room. But, no. The curtain was no
more than the "veil" that separates this world from the next. Having, like Adam,
been "true and faithful" in receiving the four grips, taking the oaths of
secrecy and agreeing to the penalties, we now qualified to pass into the celestial
kingdom. The men behind the curtain were representations of Elohim, waiting to welcome us
into bliss. First, however, we had to recite the grips and oaths correctly. The
"V's" and "L's" were openings in the curtain to allow the Elohims to
put their hands through to test us. The attendants were there as prompters in case we had
An attendant led me to the
veil. He lifted a tiny hammer suspended from a bracket and rapped
"tink-tink-tink" to let Elohim know that he had a visitor. After reviewing the
handshakes with me, Elohim taught me an elaborate blessing while engaging me through the
curtain in a full-body hug on the "five points of fellowship" - foot to foot,
knee to knee, chest to chest, cheek to cheek, and mouth to ear. A gentle chorus of
tink-tinks filled the room mingling with the murmur of endowees reciting their litanies
and the muffled tones of the clones of God uttering their blessings through the curtain.
At last my own Elohim released me, parted the veil, and, taking my hand, pulled me behind
the curtain. When I looked puzzled as to what celestial revelation might come next as the
culmination and perhaps compensation for what had so far transpired, he gestured for me to
The Celestial Room
I did so and came into the
"Celestial Room," a Louis XIV-style lobby with a beautiful chandelier, ornate
stuffed furniture and lush carpeting. Other endowees were present, sitting quietly or
whispering softly and reverently to one another. "I guess we wait here," I
thought, "for the real pay-off. I sure hope it gets better." "How did you
like it?" one of my Mormon friends asked. And it hit me. This is it; it's over.
Looking at my stricken face, another friend said, "Whatever you may think, Martin, I
want you to know that God is very pleased with what you've done today." We then went
downstairs and ate lunch.
Endowing the Departed
After lunch (I hardly said a
word), we came back upstairs and I was given a name typed on a slip of paper which I
pinned to my jumpsuit. Having been endowed myself, I could now do endowments "for the
dead." I was to stand in for a Matthew Ramage who had died in 1856. Since no soul can
enter the Celestial Kingdom without an endowment, the Church, as the sole custodian of
this ceremony, feels obligated to perform endowments for every soul who ever lived. Only
in this way can those who died before Christ restored the true gospel to Joseph Smith in
1829 ever have a hope of full salvation. By standing in for Matthew Ramage, I was
performing a small part of this holy work. First stop was the "New Name Room,"
where an attendant whispered Matthew Ramage's "new name" to me. "Your new
name, which will be your name through all eternity," he said, "is Enoch."
We proceeded to the Endowment Room. The same ceremony as before took place replete with
movie, oaths, gestures, penalties and robes. "When you take the oaths,"
instructed the leader, "think of the name of your proxy as if you are that
person." A small English graveyard was endowed in this session, a few of the
stand-ins nodding off occasionally - perhaps to the eternal detriment of those for whom
they stood as proxy. "Jesus was a proxy for us on the cross; it's the least we can
do," said one Mormon.
Having endowed both myself and
Matthew Ramage, leaving both of us in a position to give the proper handshakes at heaven's
gate, I felt I had done a full day's work and declined the opportunity to go through a
third time. The movie was beginning to wear on me. "Heaven has enough Enoch's for one
day," I said to myself.
After changing back into
street dress and stuffing my used garments into the laundry chute, a Mormon couple took me
to the Garment Center in the basement of the Temple where I purchased four sets of sacred
underwear. They were embroidered with an "L" over the left breast, a
"V" over the right, and a straight line across the left knee as a reminder that
every knee shall bow to Christ. I slung the bag under my arm, stopped to have my picture
taken in front of the Temple, and rode home in silent consternation.