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THINGS AS THEY ARE, WERE ARE TO COME

Saturn Symbolism in the Salt Lake Temple
ANTHONY E. LARSON

Such scholarly efforts fall far short of their stated expository goal. is limited to unbridled speculation on the authors’ part as to the possible meaning of this symbol or that. T part 1 he purpose of the numerous icons and images incorporated in the architecture of the Salt Lake Temple is largely a mystery to modern Mormon scholars — a mystery that they unanimously acknowledge. moonstones.Saturn Symbolism in the Salt Lake Temple Copyright © 2001 Anthony E. indeed. are rooted in the ancient heavens dominated by the planet Saturn. Yet. Larson THINGS AS THEY ARE. . sunstones and saturnstones. excusing their failure by bemoaning the fact that no early lds prophet. typical in early temple architecture. WERE ARE TO COME The Salt Lake Temple features carved images of astral bodies on its outside walls. It means a vital part of their gospel training has been woefully neglected. Every published effort to explain the meaning and purpose of such symbolism. If they had taken the time and made the effort to understand Joseph Smith’s view of ancient history. few of their notions leave the reader satisfied or better informed. Scholarly ignorance All the verbal shoulder shrugging done by lds scholars when it comes to modern temple symbology is very telling. the symbols would be full of meaning for them. including earthstones. These and a number of other features of the temple including the baptismal font resting on the backs of tweleve oxen. authority or architect ever bothered to explain the symbols they employed.

Also. indicative of nothing important. key statements made by the prophet and his closest confidants. The Freemason connection Most scholarly expositions on lds temple iconography are largely vacuous discussions of how the symbols were likely borrowed from the Masons by early church leaders who dabbled in Masonry. one can begin to understand the elements he employed in temple architecture. the symbols are drawn from astral bodies and phenomenon. the scriptures and the teachings of modern prophets provide ample explanation if seen in the proper perspective and context. there is a more profound message for those who care to look more closely. As long as lds scholars and church members fail to give credence to the catastrophic history of planet Earth. In order to understand the iconography of the temples he inspired. . as long as they fail to connect that history with scriptural events and imagery. Early church authorities made no comment on temple symbology because it dealt with sacred themes. explanation is unnecessary for the properly initiated. one must understand Joseph Smith’s view of history and the heavens. To most. The answer is there for all to see. from this author’s point of view. as long as they fail to grasp Joseph Smith’s view of the ancient cosmos.) From a few. The temple as a parable Like scriptural parables. the meaning of temple iconography is denied to those who fail to study the gospel in depth.’ Neither is true. This type of apologist drivel casts the church and its founder in an indefensible position: The Prophet is made to look like a plagiarist and lds temple iconography and ceremony made to be borrowed. they felt no comment was needed. ‘used goods. together with the acknowledgment that he held a cosmological view of Earth’s past and future that differs significantly from today’s mainstream views. While anyone can perceive the meaning of parables and symbols on a superficial level (as every scholarly effort in that vein proves). the gospel. the iconography of the Salt Lake Temple will remain a mystery to them. including the Prophet Joseph Smith himself. yet modern Saints fail to see it because they fail to understand what they have been taught. the symbols simply appear to be decorative. (After all.Saturn Symbolism in the Salt Lake Temple 3 Ironically.

ancient and modern The symbols employed on Mormon temples share a common origin with the symbolism employed in ancient temples the world over. Additionally. While Joseph adapted elements familiar to the culture he lived in. Both Masonry and Mormonism arose in the Anglo-Saxon culture (Masonry in 13th century Europe. he could have just as easily employed elements from Egyptian. While he clearly sees that temple architecture and symbolism. From Stonehenge to Tiahuanaco. Oriental or Nordic traditions. hence it was wise on Joseph’s part to employ many similarities so that the temple would seem. to Teotiuacan and Chichen Itza. temples have always incorporated features of the current arrangement of the heavens when the temple was built as well. Yet. Mayan. . Temple symbolism. they were all erected to memorialize (remember or reconstruct) the realities in Earth’s ancient heavens as much as the heavens we have now. ancient and modern. reflected astronomical values. at least. to the Parthenon. no matter the structure. Celtic. to the pyramids on the Geza plateau and the enigmatic Sphinx. Nibley fails to make the vital connection to Saturnian traditions. temples are an amalgam of the ancient heavens and the present heavens. the title of his book tells the story: Temple and Cosmos. Mormonism in 19th century America). to Angkor Thom. No matter the culture. However. they all share one commonality: They were designed and adorned to reflect the appearance of the heavens. that would have made the temple seem totally foreign to most newly converted Mormons. In that regard. This Nibley reiterates time and again. to the Nauvoo temple and the Salt Lake Temple. Nibley alone makes the point that modern temple iconography shares that of ancient temples. that is the final key to interpreting all temple architecture and iconography. the very things they share with ancient temples and religious architecture the world over. to the appearance of the ancient heavens as opposed to our modern heavens.Saturn Symbolism in the Salt Lake Temple 4 What Mormon and Masonic temples have in common stems only from a common origin. The astral connection Among lds scholars. Indeed. somewhat culturally familiar to 19th century Americans. both ancient and modern.

The mysterious Saturnstones All Latter-day Saints are acquainted with the most familiar icons of the Salt Lake Temple. then the rest falls into place automatically. that “the world that then was . dragons. uninformed.Saturn Symbolism in the Salt Lake Temple 5 Failure to acknowledge. that their motions. Venus. called for Saturnstones. the Sun. constellations. Moon. as the Apostle Peter taught. Latter-day Saints readily acknowledge the astral connections of most symbols employed in the Salt Lake Temple (that would be hard to deny). Alignments with the equinox. There are Sunstones.. Earthstones and Starstones. which are now” (2 Peter 3:7) are vastly different from the originals has created endless confusion in the sciences and in our understanding of scripture and temple iconography. demons and devils memorialized in those temples were originally astral. based on something actually seen in the heavens anciently. Indeed. solstices. temple architect. Once one accepts the premise that imposing. Modern temples are no exception to this rule. Yet. yet they utterly fail to recognize their connection to the same symbolism used in scriptural rhetoric and in ancient architecture. What most Saints do not know is that the original architectural drawings by Truman O. these same scholars utterly fail to recognize that the gods and goddesses. Mars and other celestial objects are the subjects of endless discussion. perished” (2 Peter 3:6) and “the heavens and the earth.. impressive planets were the original powers that once dominated Earth’s heavens. Moonstones. . modern eyes take most of the symbolic iconography to be nothing more than stylistic decorations. Angell. Astral temples Scholars readily acknowledge the astral or cosmic connections in ancient temples. metamorphoses and interactions gave rise to all ancient myth and symbolism.

can be seen on the parapet stringcourse. is in accord with ancient iconography. This circle frieze. Note that there is no such symbol on the Salt Lake Temple as it was finally erected. . Instead. No reason was ever given. above the Sunstones. too. as depicted here. It was told only in the most sacred precincts of ancient ritual centers. While the outward symbolism of ancient architecture. and lds scholars are at a loss to explain why the change was made. But it is this author’s contention that using a Saturn symbol was making too plain a truth that the church was not willing to explain openly. located at the top of the buttresses. on the long south wall of the temple. and is related to the Eye of God symbol. It is the basic symbol for the Saturnian configuration. and is still referred to as the Saturnstones. as we see it today. saved for more sacred moments.Saturn Symbolism in the Salt Lake Temple 6 a depiction of a planet with two rings around it. This symbol. This was withheld. the truth of Saturn’s dominance in Earth’s ancient heavens was the great. a repeated symbol (called a ‘frieze’ in architecture) of a circle with a ring around it was inaugurated to replace the original icon. symbology and ritual endlessly reiterated the truths of Earth’s ancient skies. It is for this same reason. a decision was made to eliminate the Saturn icon sometime between the creation of the original plans for the temple and its final construction. sacred secret of antiquity. immediately below the three towers at each end of the temple. Apparently. the names or titles used publicly to designate these icons or deities did not directly connect them to the actual planets themselves. As noted elsewhere by this author.

location It is striking that an icon of the planet Saturn should have occupied the highest point on the buttresses. that the sacred name of God (eeeeaaaahoooowaaayeeee) was spoken only in the Holy of Holies in ancient Israelite temples. While Brigham’s initial inclination. he was true to the pattern of secrecy set down by every other templebuilding culture in history. yet the name Yahweh was commonly known. Ironically. wondering why Saturn was selected since there is apparently nothing in Mormon theology that would designate the planet worthy of elevated positioning on a modern temple. a change of heart led him to alter the symbolic scheme. . in like manner. One scholar stumbled on the truth when he noted that Saturn may have been selected to represent Kolob since it was the most noteworthy planet in the solar system. was to display that truth iconographically on the walls of the temple. who was intimately involved in every detail of the Salt Lake Temple’s conception and construction. had learned of Saturn’s true role in Earth’s past from Joseph Smith. located above all the other icons at the highest point on the wall because Saturn once stood above all other planets or stars. If so. making it a symbolic match for the “great” star written of by Abraham. scholars seem puzzled by its presence and location. the scholar was closer than he knew. As explained elsewhere by this author. likely. He may have felt that this truth was too much for Saints and Gentiles alike. Kolob was one of many Egyptian designations of the ancient Saturnian configuration of planets. Again. One can only speculate that. location. For that reason the Saturnstones were properly included in the iconography of a latterday temple. Location. Brigham Young. used in names and expletives.Saturn Symbolism in the Salt Lake Temple 7 for example.

the location of the symbol properly orients the observer northward. when Saturn dominated earthly skies. a depiction of Saturn on a modern temple should properly be located only on a south-facing wall. as he would have done to see Saturn in antiquity. The stars forming the Big Dipper are arranged on the temple. the location of Saturn in antiquity. where the viewer is looking northward. so that it is only seen when facing the south side of the temple. the temple’s designers were true to the ancient order of things. to point the eye of the viewer to the north. not on the north. As one stands looking up at the temple’s west wall. completely inappropriate to depict Saturn on an east. In a nt i q u i t y. These stars are depicted there. west or north-facing wall. he or she is facing east with the north to his left. In this. to properly orient the viewer. east or west walls. therefore. again. More pointer stars This brings us to the depiction of Ursa Major or the Big Dipper high on the west wall of the temple. one could only see Saturn when facing north. . The temple’s designers wished. Thus.Saturn Symbolism in the Salt Lake Temple 8 Looking north Also noteworthy is the fact that the original drawings depicted the Saturnstones only on the south wall of the temple. It would be. again. facing south would have put Saturn behind the observer. Hence.

the North Star. it depicts elements of the ancient sky and the modern sky — what the ancients meant by “cosmos. . is most appropriate because. So we see that Nibley was accurate in his assessment of the temple as a representation of the cosmos. Thus we see how elements of the present heavens are combined with those of antiquity in this modern temple. Additionally. all who saw the Big Dipper constellation icon on the wall immediately knew it pointed to Polaris. the original location of the Saturnian configuration of planets in antiquity. Thus. it is the only apparently fixed object in the sky. the original cosmos. yet never moving. pointing the observer to the original elements that are no longer seen. fixed and immovable. Polaris. so as to point to the North Star. This also serves to suggest that most. symbolic language. if not all. on the viewer’s left. More accurately. the temple becomes a virtual road map of the ancient heavens. the one and only star to which a fixed symbol could constantly point. as was true of ancient Saturn. of the other temple icons depict some aspect of that ancient planetary alignment. was ancient Saturn depicted as ever turning. Orienting observers The location of the original Saturnstones on the south wall and the existing star icons on the west wall both direct the observer’s attention to the north. the polar anchor around which all heaven turns.Saturn Symbolism in the Salt Lake Temple 9 as they are in the heavens. the selection of Polaris. Polaris becomes a symbolic substitute for the ancient anchor of the heavens. It serves as a universal signpost. as they were with all its ancient predecessors. the first heavens. The Big Dipper is traditionally used as a pointer constellation for the North Star.” Thus. Thus. Saturn. the one and only star in the heavens that remains immobile. So. too. in a universal.

The Moonstones portray the various phases of the moon as it goes through a complete cycle. their position at the bottom of the wall is also reflective of Earth’s position in the polar alignment of antiquity. So. likely. Its inferior position at the ‘bottom’ of the group allowed ancient man to see the other planets in the congregation in Earth’s northern skies. Elder Pratt was a recognized. as do all temple icons. the next symbol we see is that of the moon. a member of the twelve. That is so. beneath the other astronomical stones. the positioning of the Earthstones at the base of the temple buttresses. because they are easily understood in terms of our present cosmology. Sun and Star stones. . they also have an iconographic role in the cosmology of antiquity. is entirely appropriate. world-renown mathematician and astronomer in his day. Moon. However. Their presentation on the temple walls was the result of on-site observations made by Elder Orson Pratt. Most Saints take them to symbolize the earthly nature of the telestial kingdom. The Moonstones As our eyes ascend those same buttresses. Yet. from a modest observatory constructed on the temple grounds for that very purpose. the least of the three degrees of glory. The Earthstones The Earthstones are located at the bottom of the temple buttresses.Saturn Symbolism in the Salt Lake Temple 10 part 2 The most well known symbols on the walls of the Salt Lake Temple are the Earth.

presenting certain aspects of two planets in Earth’s ancient heavens. the moon assumed the number two role of second brightest. Additionally. unique groupings of stars—constellations—were identified (12 of them. From it came the idea of a horned god. but their relation to the ancient heavens is complex and needs further exposition. highly visible crescent. just as Venus had been second only to Saturn. For example. Venus had been the brightest object in the ancient heavens — even exceeding Saturn in brightness at certain junctures in its metamorphic evolution. mankind sought to find similarities between the old cosmological order and the new. The moon was given a similar identity. In the new heavenly order. In the same process.Saturn Symbolism in the Salt Lake Temple 11 The reasons for the use of Moonstones are complex because they represent both current cosmology and aspects of ancient cosmology. The moon’s brightness is important in this comparison because next to Saturn. including its characterization as a female deity. . as with so many ancient icons) and attributed identities and attributes to them once reserved for the planetary gods of the old celestial order. naturally. the Apis cult and the worship of bovine animals. the moon inherited much of the imagery originally connected to both Venus and Saturn. The application of Moonstones to the present order of the heavens needs little explanation. partly due to its brightness—second only to the sun in the new cosmological order—and partly due to its uniquely distinct. The crescent of Saturn was a veritable fount of symbolism. The moon’s crescent is a still more powerful reminder of ancient Saturn and its imposing crescent. After the catastrophic change of the heavens from ancient to modern. the symbolism of Venus was shifted to the moon in the new heavenly order. the moon was the only celestial object that persistently changed its appearance as Venus had done in the old heavens. For these reasons.

In the present . is also complicated by their duality. there was no means of timekeeping. The Sunstones The meaning of the Sunstones. it was used as a calendrical device in many ancient temples for religious festivals. the moon inherited that role as the timekeeper. there was no darkness. Saturn symbols are often confused with sun symbols when encountered in ancient temples and texts by modern anthropologists.” This same pluralism manifests itself in the case of the Salt Lake Temple’s Sunstones. Therefore. and their placement above the Earthstones is also consistent with the present cosmological order. it is entirely appropriate that modern temples have moon icons. due to Earth’s rotation.Saturn Symbolism in the Salt Lake Temple 12 It was also the ship of heaven. pictured in innumerable Egyptian documents such as the facsimiles Joseph Smith acquired. Positioned atop the pillar. Also. it was thought of as the outstretched arms or wings of the Heaven Man or an angel. The crescent appeared to rotate around Saturn once each day. In the new cosmological order. It is for this reason that scholars tag most ancient cultures as “sun worshippers. It was always light. like that of the Moonstones. It provided twin peaks for the World Mountain or the Twin Pillars that stood before the throne of god. Up until then. It was the crescent’s appearance upon ancient Saturn that first gave man the concept of time. Thus it became the delineator of time in antiquity.

such as ‘astronomy’ and ‘astronaut. But the actual star symbol is nowhere to be seen in today’s heavens. Indeed. having to do with things celestial.Saturn Symbolism in the Salt Lake Temple 13 cosmological order. This may seem nothing more than decoration until one considers that such a structure once stood in earthly skies. For much the same reason. for example at the six towers or spires on the temple.”) In fact. the Starstones represent both the modern and the ancient heavens. in many cases. The Starstones As with the other buttress icons in the Salt Lake Temple. making them an appropriate icon for a temple.’ Thus it is that the most familiar icons on the Salt Lake Temple can be understood more fully by seeing them in terms of Earth’s ancient skies. It was unique to Earth’s ancient heavens where Venus became the prototype of all star icons. the six spires on the temple are replicas of the ancient World Mountain. The cultural image of a star has nothing to do with those tiny pinpoints of light in our night sky. Saturn. best sun. . but they also wrote that Saturn was Shamash. The six towers or spires Look. Rather than terminating in a peak. Indeed. they do represent our sun. the pillar that sustained all heaven — the same icon from which the Egyptians derived their pyramids. Ashtoreth) that virtually all mythologists acknowledge as the planet Venus and can be seen in other words. the very word star (str) derives from the ancient goddess Astarte (Aster. our evening sky is bejeweled with countless stars. but they are also representative of the ancient. each is crowned with a sphere. the Babylonians called the sun Shamash. Clearly. they can only be understood in those terms. (See “The Saturn Epic: In The Beginning.

Saturn Symbolism in the Salt Lake Temple 14 Should doubt persist about this interpretation of those spires. This type of interconnected unity between icon and metaphor can only be achieved by acknowledging the reality of the polar alignment of planets as Talbott and Joseph Smith depict them. it points to the very real sounds that once appeared to emanate from the planetary powers that stood over the Earth. pillar and orb form the temple of god.” This phrase makes no sense in ordinary terms. as described in Revelation. (See “The Name of God. If. you consider the house or throne of god to be the orb at the peak. or “the mountain of the Lord’s house. sounds that very much resembled that of trumpets. The most fascinating part of this statue is the trumpet he holds. which stands atop the center spire at the east end of the temple. The angel Moroni The most dominant icon on the Salt Lake Temple is the statue of the angel Moroni. To those who have studied ancient cosmology. as the ancients surely did. it makes perfect sense. but it may also reflect that three orbs were visible to the ancients. the very instrument itself may have been invented by ancient man to duplicate the sounds once heard in the heavens. It also suggests a connection to the trumpet sounds to be heard in the Last Days. Together. Popular opinion among the Saints holds it to symbolize the sounding of the gospel to all the world.”) . consider that the temple is frequently referred to in scripture as “the mountain of the Lord’s house. the structure beneath it becomes a high hill or mountain. The fact that the spires are grouped in threes is said to reflect the trinity of the godhead. This argues eloquently for the validity of this thesis. Indeed.” Thus we see that the symbols give meaning to the metaphor of scripture and vice versa. But in the language of Saturn symbolism.

Angel’s original illustrations of the Cloudstones for the temple depicted hand-held trumpets protruding from beneath the clouds. much of the ritual and its trappings within the temple have Saturnian touches. 12 gates to the heavenly temple as envisioned by John in Revelation. This is an element that properly. The horned oxen harken back to the apis statuary so common in Middle Eastern temples of antiquity. traditionally belongs in a temple. the 12 signs of the zodiac arranged in a circle. If one understands the clouds to be a representation of Saturn or Jupiter in one of its dark or hidden phases. the arrangement becomes a circle with 12 oxen evenly spaced around its edge. This is clearly Saturnian. In the Saturn tradition. pointing downwards. The 12 oxen are the equivalent of the twelve numbers on a circular clock face. The baptismal font and the twelve oxen The baptismal font in the Salt Lake Temple sets atop the backs of twelve exquisitely carved oxen. the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve Apostles. But if seen from above. iconography and art in antiquity. then the trumpets are most appropriate because it was at this catastrophic juncture in the Saturn saga that those trumpet-like sounds were most likely heard. Seen from ground level. The horned bull is often depicted in Egyptian and Babylonian art. the crescent on Saturn was the prototype of the horns on a bull or cow. . It also suggests an origin for the baptismal rite in Saturn traditions.Saturn Symbolism in the Salt Lake Temple 15 Truman O. This may seem a strange juxtaposition of images until seen in light of the ancient colinear configuration of planets. when closely analyzed. giving rise to all such worship. Indeed. the oxen and laver bear no resemblance to Saturn symbols. metaphor.

No temple. For more essays from this series: http://mormonprophecy. Their placement and appearance is not haphazard or capricious. This indicates a great flexibility in the appearance and use of these symbols.mormonprophecy. other parts reflect the ancient heavens and traditions. a grasp of the ancient message of temple architecture is almost as important as the sacred covenants administered within its walls.blogspot. newsletters and published books exploring this material in depth: http://www. ancient or modern would be complete without them.Saturn Symbolism in the Salt Lake Temple 16 The Nauvoo Temple icons Many of these same icons were originally used in the Nauvoo Temple.com . The way these icons are depicted is consistent with the original celestial pattern. videos. Accordingly. However. While parts of temple iconography reflect the modern heavens and the teachings of Christ.com/ Your questions or comments are welcome: anthonyelarson@gmail. It all stems from a studied grasp of ancient traditions as they apply to temple tradition and the gospel. a close look shows that the icons on the walls of the Salt Lake Temple were not carbon copies of those used in Nauvoo. yet it shows the enduring nature of the archetypes that continue to inspire the icons.com/ For online classes.

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