I was raised to believe that the temple ceremony would be the pinnacle of my existence as a Mormon girl. The temple ceremonies were shrouded in secrecy; members were forbidden to reveal details of the ceremonies to others. To do so would be to risk dire punishment. Some of my peers whispered about the temple ceremonies being discussed online; my faithful mind shrank from the blasphemy of the idea.
As a girl, I imagined the endowment ceremony and sealing to be a metamorphic experience; I would go in as a caterpillar and emerge as a beautiful butterfly. I thought the ceremonies would be full of holiness and light and awe, one that would forever transform me as a person. My imagining of the temple ceremonies was wrapped up into a starry-eyed ideal and reinforced by the many times members talked about their temple experience as being “the most sacred day of my life”.
Even after I left the Church, I was reluctant to pry into the secrets of the temple. Mormons view their ceremonies as sacred; I did not want to infringe upon the beliefs of others, even if those beliefs were no longer mine. I dismissed the comments of non-Mormons about the temple ceremonies as propaganda, in spite of the fact that I had no idea of what the temple ceremonies were about. My voice teacher, who had been disowned by his Catholic parents for being gay, made a comment about the temple ceremonies as being about “learning a secret handshake”. I brushed off his comment, although the idea stuck in my mind and led me to start wondering about the ceremonies my family had been through.
My curiosity grew and grew, until one day, three years after I lost my belief in the Mormon Church, I finally caved in to my desire for knowledge. With shaking hands and a jumpy demeanor, I went online and typed “Mormon temple ceremonies” into the search engine.
What I read stunned me. Secret handshake? Washing and anointing of the initiate’s body, who was only wearing a thin white sheet? Blood atonements? My understanding of my family and my religious up-bringing, which had been based on the idea that Mormonism is a simple religion free from ritual and ceremony, shifted and tore in the wake of this new knowledge. My parents received their endowments in 1977, when members had to make a ritualistic cutting gesture across their throats as an indication of the penalties they would face if they ever talked about the ceremony. The ceremony I read about seemed so different in tone from the church that I knew. I couldn’t picture my parents --- the product of a long line of New England Puritans, complete with an aversion to rituals and pomp --- going through these ceremonies. But the details made an odd sort of sense; my siblings’ jokes about fig leaf aprons took on a whole new perspective in the light of this new knowledge.
Learning the details of the temple ceremonies altered how I view myself as a post-Mormon. I may not be a Mormon but I was raised as one and my family still believes. There were a lot of under-currents running through my childhood, under-currents that I only had a dim understanding of. For example, I never understood why my mother was so submissive to my father, to a degree that almost destroyed my family. Now I know that my mother swore an oath in the temple to “observe and keep the law of your husband, and abide by his counsel in righteousness”. Since my mother is a very religious woman, I have no doubt that she takes this vow very seriously. I have struggled for years to understand why my mother is so submissive to a husband that is indifferent to his wife and children. My struggles to over-come my mother’s example, to shape my own expectations of family and marriage, has been a long-running theme throughout my adult life.
There are still many aspects of my childhood that I don’t understand. Someday I hope to arrive at an understanding of who I am and how I fit into my family and the world at large. Until then, I will seek to learn as much as I can.
Note: If you would like more information about the Mormon temple ceremonies, I recommend this resource:
If you are interested, I also have a post that acts as a prelude to this subject, titled "Garments and Temple Ceremonies"