Within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the various rituals and ordinances that take place in LDS temples are considered to be the highest expression of God’s love for us and the path of human ascension. And for many church members, especially the ones who have really leaned into temple ritual, it is. But for a significant number of others, most likely a majority of those who have participated, temple experiences baffle them or even become sources of deep internal conflict or discouragement, or they even play a role in their choosing to leave Mormonism, either through being less involved or even fully removing themselves from its membership records.
In this episode, my very good and wise friend Jody England Hansen and I acknowledge the experiences of participants all along this spectrum of reactions, but discuss the temple and ritual in general through the lenses of myth and ritual studies, symbolism and archetypal energies and truths, and our own experiences with the temple, including key moments from our own journeys with the temple that have led to our own shifts toward greater appreciation of what gifts lie within when we let go of certain preconceived notions and wrong-headed rhetoric about the nature of the endowment and other ordinances. A key feature in our journeys through life and in faith must be a willingness to allow our world views to expand as we accumulate more and more experience. What can seem like THE truth at one time in our development must be able to yield to the lessons found in all the complexities life will lead us into. And an absolute key in all of this shifting must involve embracing mythic truths and rich symbolic methods that teach us in ways that are impossible simply through what our minds alone can discover.
I think you will find the discussion herein to be challenging but also liberating, unusual in its frankness while also empowering. May it be so!
Dan Wotherspoon, “Why Ritual ‘Makes Sense,‘” Sunstone, Fall 2016
Charles Randall Paul, “The Sacred Secret Open to All: Ye Are Gods,” Sunstone, May 2009
We all live our lives within mythic structures, and we always will. But early on, as James Fowler states, we take these overarching stories as literally true (he names his Stage 2 as Mythic-Literal). Then life, in ways that we can comprehend, serves up alternate mythologies. We begin to see the stories of others as genuine options for us to adopt, or at least appreciate deeply. In that dilemma of seeing more than one story or mythic framing being as capable of leading people to experience rich and joyful lives, with strong values and a dynamic sense of purpose, we must begin to shift our perspective. We are now forced to see our myths as value stories rather than factual truth, and begin to enter into a new relationship with them.
Making this shift is extremely difficult. At first, most of us want to hide or re-cocoon ourselves solely within our story as being THE right or best one. This transition toward comfort with our overarching stories and sense of the world/universe/purpose as being mythic and something other than what we thought it was can take a very long time. But it is a shift worth making, because all of a sudden the world and universe come alive for us in ways we can’t, in our fears, imagine. Now we are playing on a much larger stage: a lure that calls us to embark upon the hero’s journey, the quest to overcome what scares us or holds us back, and into a new life that can help heal ourselves and the communities we are part of.
In this episode, my wonderful friend Charles Randall Paul (Randy) and I dive deeply into the importance and value of myth (debunking any thought of it as “not true”) and the excitement of being in a broader world in which we are now able to be creators and teachers and livers of our highest values and experience harmony between our old and ever-emerging selves in ways that enliven our family and community bonds and experiences and, hopefully, model for others the boons of these journeys into the unknown that lead us back transformed in powerful ways.
I hope you’ll join us in this important conversation, this attempt to assist us all in “unlearning” any perjorative thoughts of myth as being less powerful or vital than “facts.” I also hope you’ll find attractive, as well, what we do in the sections that help bring alive gorgeous aspects of Mormonism’s foundational myths.