Saturday, March 31, 2007


The First Reform Mormon Endowment is now available and will be celebrated this year for the first time. For the next several weeks, our lessons will focus on the Endowment. The following is the second installment in this series of lessons. For more information on celebrating the Reform Mormon Endowment ceremony yourself, visit, or write us to


The dictionary gives the following definition for the word symbol:

“Something used for or regarded as representing something else; a material object representing something, often something immaterial; emblem, token, or sign…

....A word, phrase, image, or the like having a complex of associated meanings and perceived as having inherent value separable from that which is symbolized, as being part of that which is symbolized, and as performing its normal function of standing for or representing that which is symbolized.”

The Reform Mormon Endowments are a series of highly symbolic ordinances which are celebrated by Reform Mormons as they reach various stages of their lives. Presented as interactive dramas, the Endowments include many types of symbols—most of which are derived from Freemasonry. (As explained in our previous lesson, Joseph Smith—the first Mormon—became active in Freemasonry during the last few years of his life. Inspired by the theatricality of Masonic ritual, he incorporated many of its elements in the Endowment ceremonies that he developed shortly before his death.)

Reform Mormonism philosophy, theology and ethics are all founded upon the distinct Mormon concept of Eternal Progression. In the 1800’s, this concept was summed up in the famous Mormon saying:

“As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may become.”

Reform Mormons view life as part of an eternal process of progression, in which the individual, by virtue of his or her Free Agency (Free Will), and by virtue of gaining more knowledge and greater understanding, grows and becomes more like God. The Reform Mormon Endowments comprise a symbolic journey through life. Through the use of various types of symbols, principles are taught that can help individuals live happy, productive and meaningful lives.

Unlike other Mormon denominations, Reform Mormonism teaches that these symbols are human creations; they are not dictated by God, nor do these symbols, in and of themselves, confer divine authority, power or virtue. In other words, the Endowment ceremonies are not required to “get into heaven,” to “be saved,” or to please God. The importance of the symbolism in the Endowments rests solely with the individual. One may find many layers of personal meaning in the symbols or one may not.


1. What has been the sole of symbols and symbolism in your religious life up until this point?
2. What is the advantage of viewing religious symbols are man-made versus taking these symbols as divinely mandated?
3. What can be some of the downfalls of taking symbols literally?


As in other Mormon traditions, the Reform Mormon Endowment is an interactive drama, a symbolic journey through life using the story of Adam and Eve. In the dramatic portions of the ordinance, there are three characters: Adam, Eve and God.

Contrary to the currents customs of many Mormon denominations, 19th century Utah Mormonism interpreted the Biblical accounts of creation, Adam and Eve and their so-called “Fall,” as being completely symbolic. Utah Mormon leader Brigham Young taught on many occasions that Adam was not “an adobe brick,” thus debunking the common assumption that he had actually been created from “the dust of the earth.” Young insisted that Adam and Eve were “created” in the same way, and upon the same principles, that all humans are “created”—meaning they were “born to parents.”

Reform Mormonism accepts this idea and builds upon it. The characters of Adam and Eve are just that: they are literary characters, not historical figures. They symbolize all human beings. Thus, as in earlier versions of the Endowment ceremonies, participants are told to think of themselves as if they were Adam and Eve.

In the various Utah Mormon traditions (the LDS and the FLDS churches), it is emphasized that Adam represents all males, and that Eve represents all females. Thus a central aspect of Endowment in those traditions, is mandating traditional gender roles. For instance, while Adam (meaning males) take an oath of obedience to God, Eve (meaning females) take an oath to either obey or “follow the council” of their husbands. This also reinforces the LDS and FLDS belief that heterosexual marriage is a legal requirement demanded by God Himself in order for the individual to become life God.

Within Reform Mormonism, there is not such oath because the genders are not seen as dependent upon one another. Eternal Progression is the result of individual initiative, learning and growth. Within Reform Mormonism, marriage—both heterosexual and homosexual—can be eternal, but it is for the purpose of companionship and personal happiness—not as mere obedience to some imagined divine legal system.

In the Reform Mormon Endowments, a man may portray the character of Adam and a woman the character of Eve—but if circumstances are such that two people are not available, a man may portray Adam alone or a woman may portray Eve alone. The characters of Adam and Eve—either together or separately—symbolize any and all human beings.

The third character in the Reform Mormon Endowments symbolizes God, or the Gods. As Reform Mormons openly accept the unique Mormon doctrine of a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother, the character of God may be portrayed by either a man or a woman.
In the end, the meaning of the symbolism does not change because of the gender of the person or people portraying these symbolic characters.

Because the symbolic nature of the Garden of Eden story is emphasized, there is no danger of Reform Mormons mistakenly thinking that what they are seeing presented is a recreation of an actual historical event. In every sense, the Garden of Eden/Adam and Eve story as presented in the Reform Mormon Endowment is a symbolic journey through life, applicable to all human beings.


1. If you have experienced the Endowment in other Mormon traditions, what was your reaction to the way the Garden of Eden/Adam and Eve story was presented? Did you take it symbolically or literally? What was the result of doing so? Was it positive or negative?
2. If you took the story as literal history, how did this affect your thoughts and feelings on such things as science, the Theory of Evolution, gender roles within the family and within society at large?
3. What is your reaction to the concept of taking the Garden of Eden/Adam and Eve story as being purely symbolic?


In all Mormon traditions, the Endowment has been presented either in a special temple, or in a space that has been set apart and dedicated for that purpose. For instance, the first Endowment ceremony was presented in the attic storage room above Joseph Smith’s red brick store in Nauvoo, Illinois. The attic was decorated for the ceremony and then dedicated through prayer as a sacred space “set apart” from the rest of the world. After Joseph’s death, when construction of the Nauvoo Temple was completed, Brigham Young decorated the Temple’s attic floor and set it apart from the rest of the Temple as a sacred space in which the Endowment could be presented.

Reform Mormons do not currently build temples. Instead, any space that can accommodate the Endowment ceremony may be dedicated by prayer before hand, and set apart as a sacred space. Once the Endowment has been presented, the space may return to its normal uses.


Mormonism in the 19th century incorporated many elements of ancient Israelite worship in its ceremonies and ordinances. Chief among these was the practice of going through a washing and anointing of the body before entering a temple or dedicated space. According to the Bible, the ancient Israelite Priests were washed and anointed before entering the Temple or Tabernacle to perform religion ordinances.

In Reform Mormonism a symbolic washing and anointing is performed privately on each person before they celebrate the Endowment. This washing and anointing is done with the utmost modesty. Participants in the Endowment dress completely in white clothes of their own choosing. A white pancho-like covering (traditionally nick-named “a shield”) is placed over their clothing, to protect the clothes themselves. Using a few drops of water on the fingers of the person administering the ordinances, the participant’s body is symbolically washed and blessed. The participant then undergoes a similar ordinance of being anointed with oil, with a series of blessings being bestowed on the person.

Through this symbolic ordinance, the participant is blessed and set apart from the mundane routine of daily life, in preparation for celebrating the Endowment.


Historically, the elements of Mormon Endowment ceremonies that have received the greatest attention—and criticism—from those outside of Mormonism have been the use of signs and tokens. These are also key elements in Masonic rites, and Joseph Smith lifted them right out of Masonic ritual with little or any changes at all.


What exactly is a token? The dictionary gives the following definitions:

1. something serving to represent or indicate some fact, event, feeling, etc.; sign: as in“Black is a token of mourning.”

2. a characteristic indication or mark of something; evidence or proof: as in “Malnutrition is a token of poverty.”

3 a memento; souvenir; keepsake: as in “ The seashell was a token of their trip.”

4. something used to indicate authenticity, authority, etc.; emblem; badge: As in “Judicial robes are a token of office.”

As explained in our previous lesson, a token in Medieval Masonic guilds consisted of a special secret handgrip or handshake that a mason would give to his foreman to communicate his level of training in stone masonry and thus his pay scale for work done.
With the development of Freemasonry during the Enlightenment, secret handshakes were developed as tokens of fraternity.
In the Endowment ceremonies of LDS of FLDS Mormonism, as series of Masonic-like handshakes are used as tokens or proofs that one has advanced through the various Priesthood offices of the church. Because the use of tokens is often taken literally within these Mormon traditions, critics have often attacked the LDS and FLDS Churches for teaching that one can only be admitted into heaven if one can give “secret handshakes.”

In the Reform Mormon Endowment, there is only one token and its purpose is completely symbolic. It represents nothing more than the individual’s spiritual connection to God and to others, and this symbol is used ONLY IN THE CONTEXT OF THE CEREMONY ITSELF. In other words, Reform Mormonism utterly rejects the mistaken notion that one’s progression is dependent on learning a particular handshake.

For thousands of years, human beings of all cultures have developed various handshakes and handclasps as gestures of greeting and goodwill. In the context of the Reform Mormon Endowment, the token is used to convey a feeling of goodwill towards and connection with God, with others and with the eternal aspect of all things—nothing more and nothing less.


The dictionary gives several definitions, but what concerns us here in the use of sign in the context of religious ceremonies. The definitions that relate to this are:

…a motion or gesture used to express or convey an idea, command, decision, etc.: Example: “Her nod was a sign that it was time to leave.”

….to mark with a sign, esp. the sign of the cross.

…to obligate oneself by signature: Example: “He signed with another team for the next season.”

Many religions use symbolic arm and hand gestures as signs of devotion—the most famous being the sign of cross that Catholics and other Christians use in their worship and devotions. Within certain Christian and Jewish traditions, a minister, priest or rabbi may raise his arm and hand in a particular way when pronouncing a particular blessing on a congregation. Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians may raise their hands above their heads in certain ways as a symbolic sign that they are open and receptive to the Holy Ghost.

In the court systems of many nations, a person being sworn in as a witness may raise his arm to the square as a sign or symbol of his honesty and integrity.

Those celebrating the Reform Mormon Endowment make a series of four covenants with God—each related to the four principles of Reform Mormonism: faith, knowledge, revelation and restoration.
When making each of these covenants, participants make a sign using their arms and hands. There is a different sign for each of the four covenants. (These covenants will be discussed at length in the next four lesson.) Just as a person in court use the right arm to make the sign of the square when “swearing to tell the truth,” so those celebrating the Reform Mormon Endowment make certain signs while making the four covenants.

The universal symbol for Reform Mormonism is the drawing of the compass (a V shape) within a circle. The visual elements that make up this symbol can be rearranged to make two other symbols. Thus this one visual symbol actually contains four visual symbols. Each of these visual symbols is related to the principles of faith, knowledge, revelation or restoration.

The signs used in the Reform Mormon Endowment are physical representations of these visual symbols. Part of the instruction given in the Endowment is an explanation of how these visual elements can symbolize the four principles of Reform Mormonism.
Just as raising the right arm to the square symbolizes honesty, and just as making the sign of the cross symbolizes reverence for the death of Christ on the cross, so the use of these particular gestures—these signs—symbolize one’s commitment to the four principles of Reform Mormonism. These symbolic gestures are used only when celebrating the Reform Mormon Endowment and within one’s own private devotions.


1. If you have experienced the Endowment in other Mormon traditions, what was your honest reaction to the use of signs and tokens in those traditions?
2. What is your reaction to the use of signs and tokens in the Reform Mormon Endowment as explained above?
3.With regard to the use of signs and tokens, do you perceive a difference between the Reform Mormon tradition and other Mormon traditions?


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