Endowment (Mormonism)

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The Nauvoo, Illinois Temple was originally destroyed shortly after the death of Mormonism's founder, Joseph Smith, Jr. It was rebuilt, and the temple was rededicated in 2002
In Mormonism, the Endowment, also known historically as the Holy Order, is a sacred ritual usually performed in temples. Instituted by Joseph Smith, Jr. in 1842, the ritual consists of highly symbolic acts and covenants designed to endow initiates with priesthood power, and to prepare them for their ascent into heaven. Today, the Endowment is practiced mainly by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its offshoots; for many other sects of Mormonism, such as the Community of Christ, the ceremony is of historical interest only.

The Endowment consists of two phases: (1) an initiation, and (2) an instructional and testing phase. The initiation consists of washing and anointing by a "priest" or "priestess" (depending on the sex of the initiate), culminating in the clothing of the patron in a "Garment of the Holy Priesthood," which is thereafter worn as an undergarment. The initiate is given a "new name" which signifies his or her new life as a disciple of Christ.

The instructional and testing phase of the Endowment consists of a scripted reenactment of Adam and Eve's experience in the Garden of Eden (usually a film or recording but sometimes performed by live actors). The instruction is punctuated with oaths, symbolic gestures, and an antiphonic prayer around an altar, and at the end of instruction, the initiate's knowledge of symbolic gestures and key-words is tested at a "veil."


Secrecy and sacredness concerning the temple rituals

The initiation and instructional/testing phases of the Endowment ceremony include certain names, as well as symbolic gestures called tokens and signs, that Mormon initiates swear an oath never to reveal to outsiders. Historically, the initiate also swore to keep secret a distinct gesture called the "penalty", which was a symbolic reenactment of various ways in which a person could be killed. In the past there was also an "oath of vengeance." However, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the predominant Latter Day Saint sect still practicing the ritual, has since removed the "penalty" and "vengeance" portions of the ceremony. Today, the "names," "tokens," and "signs" are protected by a simple "covenant and promise" never to reveal them.

Other than the ceremony's secret words and gestures, which remain a central part of the ceremonies, the remainder of the ceremony carries with it no covenants of secrecy. However, most Latter-day Saints who practice the ritual are unwilling to discuss the specific details of the ceremony. Saints commonly state that the rituals are "sacred" but not "secret," and Latter-day Saint Apostle Boyd K. Packer has encouraged members not to "discuss the temple ordinances outside the temples." See Preparing to Enter the Holy Temple.

In practice, Latter-day Saints keep silent about the ceremony for numerous reasons. Some argue that details of the ceremony should be kept from those who are not properly prepared. Many Saints believe that Jesus often taught in parables for the same reason. (http://scriptures.lds.org/matt/13/10-17#10) Second, many Saints keep silent about the ceremony because they believe that its meaning cannot be properly conveyed without the actual experience in the temple. Brigham Young once stated that

"there are but few, very few of the Elders of Israel, [and members of the church] now on earth, who know the meaning of the word endowment [the primary temple ordinance]. To know, they must experience...." —Discourses of Brigham Young, page 416.

The temple ceremony involves entering into solemn covenants or oaths, however, and critics have expressed concern that a person may be denied access to the specific details of these covenants until that person is faced with making them in the temple, making it impossible to reflect on their meaning or ramifications. Most of these covenants, however, have an explicit basis in published Latter-day Saint scripture.

Some Saints also keep quiet about the ceremony because they believe it may not be understood without revelation from God, and that this revelation can only come in the temple. However, other Mormons have suggested that the Latter-day Saint reticence to discuss the Endowment encourages attacks and unauthorized exposÚs by Evangelical Christians, and therefore advocate a more transparent attitude toward the ceremony. See, e.g., Michael W. Homer, "'Similarity of Priesthood in Masonry': The Relationship between Freemasonry and Mormonism," 27(3) Dialogue (Fall 1994) 42.

The Initiatory

The "Initiatory" is a prelude to the Endowment proper, and consists of (1) Washing and anointing, (2) Clothing in the temple garment, and (3) receiving a "new name."

Washing and anointing are perhaps the earliest practiced temple ordinances for the living since the organization of the LDS Church. There is evidence that these ordinances have been performed (in part) since 1832. They were first practiced in the Whitney Store as part of the School of the Prophets(See John 13 KJV).

As part of the Endowment ceremony, the ordinance of washing and anointing symbolizes the ritual cleansing of priests that took place at Israel's Tabernacle, the temple of Solomon, and later temples in Jerusalem (See Exodus 28:40-42, Exodus 29:4-9, 20-21 29-30, 30:18-21). The washing symbolizes being "cleansed from the blood of this generation," and being anointed to become "clean from the blood and sins of this generation." See Washing and anointing.

After the washing and anointing, the patron is given the temple garment (Garment of the Holy Priesthood). This garment represents the "coats of skins" given to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. See Temple garment.

Similar ordinances are performed for the living and the dead in LDS temples where priesthood holders are:

  • Washed with water
  • Clothed in holy garments
  • Anointed with oil
  • Ordained or consecrated

As the final part of the Initiatory, the patron is given a New Name, as part of their new life as a disciple of Jesus Christ. In general, this name is only known to the person to whom it is given; however, an endowed LDS woman may reveal her name to her endowed husband (but not vice-versa). The "new name" is based in part on Rev. 2:17 and 3:12, referring to a "white stone" with a "new name written" thereon. See also LDS Doctrine and Covenants 130:11 ("And a white stone is given to each of those who come into the celestial kingdom, whereon is a new name written, which no man knoweth save he that receiveth it. The new name is the key word.")

The instructional and testing portion of the Endowment

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This is an endowment room in the Houston, Texas Temple, which was dedicated on 26 August 2000
The LDS church does not publish information about the Endowment, and members do not usually discuss it openly. Many feel that the most important ceremony performed by members of the church is the Temple Endowment.

Brigham Young taught that "Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the house of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation" (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe [1954], 416).

Another LDS Church President, Harold B. Lee, stated that the teachings of the temple are "designed by a wise Heavenly Father who has revealed them to us in these last days as a guide and a protection throughout our lives, that you and I might not fail to merit exaltation in the celestial kingdom where God and Christ dwell" (Improvement Era, June 1967, page 144).

Most Latter-day Saints that attend the temple believe that the Endowment focuses heavily on the plan of salvation and the atonement of Jesus Christ. Parts of the Plan of salvation explained include:

  • The Eternal Nature of God, Jesus Christ and their divinity;
  • The pre-mortal existence and eternal nature of man (mankind lived with God before mortal life);
  • The reality of Satan;
  • The fall of Adam and the reasons for mortality, trials and blessings;
  • The Atonement of Jesus Christ and the need for the Atonement;
  • The relationship of grace, faith and works;
  • Death, the literal Resurrection and assignment to the various kingdoms of glory;
  • The need for personal righteousness, covenant keeping, and love of God and fellow man;
  • The sanctity and eternal nature of the family.

The following description is given in a Church publication of what to expect when one enters the temple:

"[During the endowment] you will receive instructions and learn the important events of our eternal journey. You'll learn about the creation of this world and about our first parents being placed in the Garden of Eden. You'll learn how Satan tempted Adam and Eve and how they were cast out of the garden and out of the presence of God into our world, with its opposition in all things. Here they learned about the joys as well as the discomforts of life.
"After Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden and placed in the world where we now live, they were taught the gospel, and they entered into covenants of obedience with God, just as you will in the temple. How we keep these covenants determines the nature of the life we will enjoy after this mortal experience.
"In the eternal world there are kingdoms of glory. You will inherit one of these, depending on your performance in this life. The aim of the gospel and the purpose of temple marriage are not only to keep us together, but also to make us eligible for Heavenly Father's highest reward for us-exaltation in the celestial kingdom. This kingdom is symbolized by the celestial room." -- New Era, June 1975 page 20.

The Endowment is often thought of as a series of lectures where Latter-day Saints are taught about the creation of the world, the events in the garden of eden, what happened after Adam and Even were cast out of the Garden into the Telestrial World, and the progression of righteous individuals through Terrestrial laws to the Celestial Kingdom and exaltation.

During the ceremony, Latter-day Saints are dressed in temple clothes or robes, are taught about various gospel laws (including obedience, chastity, sacrifice and consecration) and covenant to keep them. They are given various "key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the holy Priesthood," to remind them of these covenants. At the end of the ceremony, the participant is "tested" on his knowledge of what he was taught and covenanted to do and then admitted into the Celestial room, where he may meditate and pray.

One important part of the Endowment ceremony is instruction teaching the "True order of Prayer," which involves several couples encircling an altar while repeating an antiphonic prayer. See Prayer circle.

History of the Endowment

The endowment in the pre-Nauvoo era

As early as 1831, Smith taught that temples needed to be built so the saints could receive the fullness of the priesthood. When the Saints left the temple in Kirtland, he mentioned that the "fullness of the priesthood" had not yet been given. The "fullness of the priesthood" later became associated with the Second Anointing, which is today an extension of the Endowment ceremony rarely discussed. See Second Anointing.

The first Mormon endowment ceremonies were performed at a temple in Kirtland, Ohio. These ceremonies were significantly different from the modern version of the Endowment ceremony that was first performed in Nauvoo, Illinois, but similar to the initiatory ordinances performed at Nauvoo and today.

Joseph Smith's Nauvoo endowment

The modern Endowment ceremony (then called the "Holy Order") was first performed by Joseph Smith, Jr. and nine initiates on May 4-5, 1842, in the Red Brick store in Nauvoo, Illinois. The first initiates included James Adams, who was the Deputy Grand Master of the Masonic Grand Lodge of Illinois, as well as Newel K. Whitney, George Miller, and Heber C. Kimball, who had previously been lodge Masters, and Hyrum Smith, who had been a Freemason since 1827. The remaining five participants, Joseph Smith, Jr., William Laws, William Marks, Brigham Young, and Willard Richards, had been initiated as Freemasons just weeks before the meeting.

Some commentators have noted similarities between portions of LDS ceremony and the Royal Arch Degree of Freemasonry, specifically instruction in various signs, tokens, and keywords, and the imposition of various forms of the penalty of death for revealing them. The LDS church does not deny these similarities, and many within the church claim Freemasons use corrupted forms of the rituals that were originally given by God at the Temple of Solomon, and the LDS ritual is a reintroduction of those original forms. Heber C. Kimball seemed to support this position, writing that Masonry had "degenerated." [1] (http://www.lds-mormon.com/mormmaso.shtml) John A. Widtsoe said of the similarities, "these similarities, however, do not deal with the basic matters but rather with the mechanism of the ritual."

Concerning the first endowment in 1842 at the Red Brick store in Nauvoo, Joseph Smith recorded:

...the communications I made to this council [the twelve] were of things spititual, and to be receive only by the spiritual minded: and there was nothing made known to these men but what will be made known to all the Saints of the last days, so soon as they are prepared to receive, and a proper place is prepared to communicate them, even to the weakest of Saints: therefore let the Saints be diligent in building the Temple. - History of the Church 5: 1-2

After the event above, Smith said to Brigham Young, "Brother Brigham, this is not arranged perfectly; however we have done the best we could under the circumstances in which we are placed. I wish you to take this matter in hand: organize and systematize all these ceremonies."

The first endowments for women occurred in 1843. By the time of Smith's death more than 50 persons had received the Endowment.

The endowment as practiced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

After the Nauvoo Temple was dedicated in 1846, and under the direction of Brigham Young, The Endowment ceremony was introduced to the Church at large. Potted plants were used in areas representing the Garden of Eden, and other "rooms" were furnished appropriately, including a room representing the Celestial Kingdom. In 1877 Brigham Young directed the text of the endowment to be written, and the first endowments for the dead were performed.

In 1893 minor alterations in the text were made; more thoroughgoing revision were made by 1927, when the "oath of vengeance" was eliminated, the graphic language used in describing penalties was toned down, and mention of the Adam-God doctrine was removed. In 1936, the Church added an explanation of the marks on the veil.

The first filmed versions of the endowment were made in the 1950s. In the 1970s textual changed omit the specific salary given by Lucifer to his preacher, and reference to Satan's black skin was removed.

In 1990, further changes included the elimination of all penalties, the five points of fellowship, use of English or natural language rather than the Adamic syllables, the role of the preacher, and all reference to Lucifer's "popes and priests" were dropped. The ceremony was also changed to lessen the differences in treatment between men and women. Women no longer are required to covenant to obey their husbands, but instead must covenant only to follow to their husbands as their husbands follow the Lord. Also, Eve is no longer explicitly blamed for the Fall, and several references to Adam were replaced with references to Adam and Eve. The lecture at the Veil was also cut, and some repetition was eliminated.

A 1996 estimate by Richard Cowan states that around 150 million Endowments have been performed.


  • Homer, Michael W. (Fall 1994) "Similarity of Priesthood in Masonry: The Relationship between Freemasonry and Mormonism." Dialogue 27(3) 42.
  • Packer, Boyd K. (1980). The Holy Temple. Bookcraft Publishers, Salt Lake City, Utah. ISBN 0884944115.
  • -- (2002). Preparing to Enter the Holy Temple. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, UT. ISBN 0236793000† This pamphlet is adapted from The Holy Temple by Boyd K. Packer.
  • -- (2003) Endowed from on High: Temple Preparation Seminar; Teacher's Manual. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, UT. ISBN 0236854000.†

† The materials published by the LDS Church directly may only be available from the church's distribution center.

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