Thursday, March 10, 2011

Stick a Needle in My Eye - Context for Gory LDS Temple Covenenants

Anybody who is familiar with my online participation knows I make no beans about the sins of my LDS ecclesiastical fathers. I have no trouble calling a spade a spade, whether the subject is polygamy, polyandry, health codes, enmity, war, massacres, covetousness, turf protection, or priestcraft. But I think there's a sincere tendency to get inordinately worked up about the gory covenants formerly present in the LDS temple endowment ceremony. People call them blood oaths, though I don't think that's really an accurate description of the way I experienced them when I was 18.

Wikipedia currently says:

the blood oaths in the ceremony related to protecting the ritual's secrecy. ...[P]articipants made an oath that rather than ever revealing the secret gestures of the ceremony, they would rather have "my throat ... be cut from ear to ear, and my tongue torn out by its roots"; "our breasts ... be torn open, our hearts and vitals torn out and given to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field"; "your body ... be cut asunder and all your bowels gush out" showing an entire refusal to accept the promises made in the washing and anointing ordinances. The gory wording was removed early in the 20th century and changed to a less explicit reference to "different ways in which life may be taken." Vestigial accompanying suggestive gestures were removed by the LDS Church in 1990. However the temple ceremony still states that "under no condition, even at the peril of your life, will you ever divulge" information regarding the rituals. There are no documented instances of a person who has been killed for violating these oaths of secrecy.
My assumption at the age of 18 was that conceivably an antagonist of Mormonism might hold me up at gunpoint and threaten me bodily harm unless I divulged the temple secrets, and that it was against such an event that I was promising to be true. In no way did I conceive the covenant penalties to be penalties. I suppose that's odd. After all, they are called penalties. So I imagine that somebody intended them to be threatening. And I suppose it's fair to call them "blood oaths".

I think it's mistaken, however, to link these "blood oaths" to early LDS beliefs about "blood atonement". The reality as I understand it is that these oaths were not threats, and never were "enforced" or "carried out". They were simply barbaric elements of a colorfully bloody culture, such as the schoolyard oath that many a "modern" American child has demanded of a playmate as a token of trust and sincerity, "Swear to God? Cross your heart, hope to die? Stick a needle in your eye?"

Barbaric? Yes. Threatening? Perhaps in a cosmic way, but not in any direct or sinister or knowing way. Are we better off without such color? Heh. What do you think I'm gonna say?

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