In Mormonism, a penalty is a specified punishment for breaking an oath of secrecy after receiving the Nauvoo endowment ceremony. Adherents promised they would submit to execution in specific ways should they reveal certain contents of the ceremony. In the ceremony participants each symbolically enacted three of the methods of their execution: throat slitting, heart removal, and disembowelment. These penalties were first instituted by Joseph Smith in 1842, and further developed by Brigham Young after Smith's death. The penalties were similar to oaths made as part of a particular rite of Freemasonry practiced in western New York at the time the endowment was developed. During the 20th century, the largest Mormon denomination, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), gradually softened the graphic nature of their penalties, and in 1990, removed them altogether from its version of the ceremony. Other Mormon denominations continue to have the penalties as part of their temple oaths.

Woman in temple clothing circa the 1870s, depicted with a knife symbolically referenced in the penalty to allow ones body to "be cut asunder and all your bowels gush out."[1]

Original oaths edit

On May 4, 1842, Joseph Smith instituted the endowment ritual in his Red Brick Store in Nauvoo, Illinois to some of his closest circle of adherents later termed the Anointed Quorum.[2][3] At three different stages of the endowment, participants were asked to take an oath of secrecy regarding the ceremony.[4]: 8 

Oaths edit

  1. Throat: The participants first promised, "Should I [reveal any of the secrets], I agree that my throat be cut from ear to ear, and my tongue torn out by its roots"[5][6][7]
  2. Heart: "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;"[8]: 22 [9]
  3. Bowels: "our body ... be cut asunder and all your bowels gush out."[1]

Enactment edit

Each of the described penalties was accompanied by gestures known as the "execution of the penalty" which had the oath taker simulate the actions described in the oath.[4]: 8 

  1. Throat: The participant placed his or her right hand palm-down with the thumb extended and the tip of the thumb just under the left ear. The gesture was made by drawing the tip of the thumb swiftly across the throat until the thumb was just under the right ear then dropping the hand and arm quickly to the side of the participant's body.
  2. Heart: The participant placed his or her hand in a cup form over the left breast. The gesture was made by pulling the hand swiftly across the breast then quickly dropping the hand and arm to the side of the participant's body.
  3. Bowels: The participant placed his or her right hand palm-down with the thumb extended and the tip of the thumb on the left of the torso just above the left hip. The gesture was made by drawing the thumb swiftly across the stomach until the thumb was just above the right hip and the hand and arm were quickly dropped to the side of the participant's body.

Similar Masonic oaths edit

The oaths and their accompanying gestures resembled certain oaths performed in a particular Freemasonry tradition in western New York at the time,[10]: 141  in which participants promised:

  1. Oath of an "Entered Apprentice Mason" (Throat): "I will … never reveal any part or parts, art or arts, point or points of the secret arts and mysteries of ancient Freemasonry. . . binding myself under no less penalty than to have my throat cut across, my tongue torn out by the roots"[12]: 21–22  "This is given by drawing your right hand across your throat, the thumb next to your throat."[12]: 23 
  2. Oath of a "Fellow Craft Mason" (Heart): "I … most solemnly and sincerely promise and swear, that I will not give the degree of a Fellow Craft Mason to anyone of an inferior degree nor to any other being in the known world … binding myself under no less penalty than to have my left breast torn open and my heart and vitals taken from thence … to become a prey to the wild beasts of the field and vulture of the air".[12]: 52  "The sign is given by drawing your right hand-flat with the palm of it next to your breast across your breast from the left to the right side with some quickness and dropping it down by your side."[12]: 53 
  3. Oath of a "Master Mason" (Bowels): "I … most solemnly and sincerely promise and swear in addition to my former obligations that I will not give the degree of a Master Mason to any of an inferior degree nor to any other being in the known world … binding myself under no less penalty than to have my body severed in two in the midst and divided to the north and south, my bowels burnt to ashes".[12]: 73–75  "The Penal Sign is given by putting the right hand to the left side of the bowels, the hand open with the thumb next to the belly and drawing it across the belly and letting it fall; this is done tolerably quick. This alludes to the penalty of the obligation: 'Having my body severed in twain,' etc.".[12]: 77 

Changes edit

Beginning in 1919, LDS Church president Heber J. Grant appointed a committee charged with revising the endowment ceremony which was done under the direction of apostle George F. Richards from 1921 to 1927. Among the changes instituted was a modification of the oaths. While the gestures remained unchanged, the church clarified the verbal description of the oath with the phrase, "rather than do so, I would suffer my life to be taken."[citation needed]

Elimination edit

In April 1990, the LDS Church eliminated the oaths and the gestures from the endowment.[7][13]

Confusion with other practices edit

These penalty oaths and the oath of vengeance are often confused. The oath of vengeance—a promise to pray for justice for the murders of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum—was removed from the endowment in 1927 as part of the church's "Good Neighbor" policy,[citation needed] and the penalty oaths were removed in 1990. The penalty oaths are also frequently confused with the concept of blood atonement.[by whom?]

Continued practice by Mormon fundamentalists edit

Some groups within the Mormon fundamentalist movement continue to practice the endowment without modification.[citation needed] These groups still participate in these oaths when performing the endowment.[citation needed] Some of the denominations that continue to perform the original endowment include the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Apostolic United Brethren, and the True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days.[citation needed]

Depictions and discussion edit

Numerous individuals and works have referenced the temple penalties and their manner of execution. The 2022 Hulu series Under the Banner of Heaven (set in the 1980s) depicted the throat-slicing gesture of the pre-1990 LDS endowment ceremony.[14] Author and former Brigham Young University professor[15] Brian Evenson wrote a depiction of the penalties in a novel, and stated "any book that spoke in any detail about the relationship of Mormon culture to violence needed to acknowledge the connection of the temple ceremony to violence."[16]: 99 

Writer J. Aaron Sanders stated that the temple penalties were a form of blood atonement.[16]: 94, 99  Author Peter Levenda linked Smith's introduction of the Masonic blood oaths into the temple endowment as a step towards later threats of blood atonement for other perceived crimes in Utah territory.[17] Historian Wallace Stegner wrote “It would be bad history to pretend that there were no holy murders in Utah and ... no mysterious disappearances of apostates".[18] Another historian Juanita Brooks stated that violent enforcement of religious oaths was a "literal and terrible reality" advocated by Brigham Young "without compromise".[19]

One example cited by historians is in March 1857 when an elderly church member of high standing William R. Parrish decided to leave Utah with his family when he "grew cold in the faith", but had his throat slit near his Springville, Utah home.[20][21]

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ a b [8]: 23 [10]: 141 [11]: 26 
  2. ^ "Joseph Smith's Quorum of the Anointed, 1842–1845: A Documentary History". Signature Books.
  3. ^ Mayes, Kenneth (May 2, 2012). "Picturing history: Temple ordinances restored". Deseret News. LDS Church.
  4. ^ a b Kearns, Thomas (1906). Endowment Oaths and Ceremonies. Salt Lake City, UT: Salt Lake City Tribune. p. 8 – via Chronicling America.
  5. ^ Caldwell Montez, Shannon (December 2019). The Secret Mormon Meetings of 1922 (PDF) (Master of Arts in History thesis). University of Nevada, Reno. p. 33.
  6. ^ Buerger, David John (1987). "The Development of the Mormon Temple Endowment Ceremony". Dialogue. 20 (4): 55.
  7. ^ a b Dart, John (May 5, 1990). "Mormons Modify Temple Rites Ceremony: Woman's vow to obey husband is dropped. Changes are called most significant since 1978". Los Angeles Times.
  8. ^ a b Goodwin, Samuel H. (1921). Mormonism and Masonry: A Utah Point of View. Salt Lake City, Utah: Grand Masonic Lodge of Utah. ISBN 978-1-258-89398-9 – via Google Books.
  9. ^ Anderson, Devery S. (2011). The Development of LDS Temple Worship, 1846-2000: A Documentary History. Salt Lake City: Signature Books. p. 129. ISBN 9781560852117 – via Google Books.
  10. ^ a b Buerger, David John (2002). The Mysteries of Godliness: A History of Mormon Temple Worship (2nd ed.). Salt Lake City: Signature Books. ISBN 1-56085-176-7 – via Google Books.
  11. ^ Homer, Michael W. (November 4, 2022). "'I Will Shoot Him, or Cut His Throat, Spill His Blood on the Ground': Mormon Blood Atonement and Utah Capital Punishment" (PDF). The Journal of CESNUR. 6 (6). Turin, Italy: CESNUR. Archived (PDF) from the original on June 7, 2023 – via Internet Archive.
  12. ^ a b c d e f Morgan, William (1827). Illustrations of Masonry by One of the Fraternity Who has devoted Thirty Years to the Subject: 'God said, Let there be Light, and there was light'. Batavia, New York: David C. Miller – via Internet Archives.
  13. ^ Tanner, Jerald; Tanner, Sandra (2005). Evolution of the Mormon Temple Ceremony: 1842-1990. Salt Lake City: Utah Lighthouse Ministry.
  14. ^ Blake, Meredith (June 4, 2022). "Church members decry TV portrait of Mormon life: 'It's designed to make us look alien'". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, California.
  15. ^ Young, Adrian Van (February 10, 2016). "The Dark Fiction of an Ex-Mormon Writer". The New Yorker. Retrieved April 25, 2018.
  16. ^ a b Sanders, J. Aaron (2010). "Avenging Angels: The Nephi Archetype and Blood Atonement in Neil LaBute, Brian Evenson, and Levi Peterson, and the Making of the Mormon American Writer". Peculiar Portrayals: Mormons on the Page, Stage and Screen. Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press. ISBN 978-0-8061-3426-0 – via Project Muse.
  17. ^ Levenda, Peter (September 2012). The Angel and the Sorcerer: The Remarkable Story of the Occult Origins of Mormonism and the Rise of Mormons in American Politics. Newburysport, Massachusetts: Nicolas-Hays & Ibis Press. p. 139. ISBN 9780892545810 – via Google Books.
  18. ^ Bagley, Will (2010). "'Except As a Friend': Wallace Stegner Among the Mormons". Utah Historical Quarterly. 78 (2). Utah Historical Society. doi:10.2307/45063248. JSTOR 45063248 – via ISSUU.
  19. ^ Bagley, Will (2002). Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press. p. 51. ISBN 978-0-8061-3426-0 – via Google Books.
  20. ^ Aird, Polly (Fall 2004). "'You Nasty Apostates, Clear Out': Reasons for Disaffection in the Late 1850s" (PDF). Journal of Mormon History. 30 (2). Mormon History Association: 183, 186, 190, 202. JSTOR 23289370 – via Brigham Young University.
  21. ^ Denton, Sally (2003). American Massacre: The Tragedy at Mountain Meadows, September 1857. New York City: Random House. p. 106. ISBN 9780375726361 – via Google Books.

External links edit