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Saturn Symbolism in the Salt Lake Temple


Saturn Symbolism in the Salt Lake Temple

Copyright 2001 Anthony E. Larson


The Salt Lake Temple features carved images of astral bodies on its outside walls, including earthstones, moonstones, sunstones and saturnstones. These and a number of other features of the temple including the baptismal font resting on the backs of tweleve oxen, are rooted in the ancient heavens dominated by the planet Saturn.

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. Every published effort to explain the meaning and purpose of such symbolism, typical in early temple architecture, is limited to unbridled speculation on the authors part as to the possible meaning of this symbol or that. Yet, few of their notions leave the reader satisfied or better informed. Such scholarly efforts fall far short of their stated expository goal, excusing their failure by bemoaning the fact that no early lds prophet, authority or architect ever bothered to explain the symbols they employed.
Scholarly ignorance

All the verbal shoulder shrugging done by lds scholars when it comes to modern temple symbology is very telling, indeed. It means a vital part of their gospel training has been woefully neglected. If they had taken the time and made the effort to understand Joseph Smiths view of ancient history, the symbols would be full of meaning for them.

Saturn Symbolism in the Salt Lake Temple

Ironically, from this authors point of view, the gospel, the scriptures and the teachings of modern prophets provide ample explanation if seen in the proper perspective and context. Early church authorities made no comment on temple symbology because it dealt with sacred themes. Also, they felt no comment was needed; explanation is unnecessary for the properly initiated. The answer is there for all to see; yet modern Saints fail to see it because they fail to understand what they have been taught.
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. To most, the symbols simply appear to be decorative, indicative of nothing important. While anyone can perceive the meaning of parables and symbols on a superficial level (as every scholarly effort in that vein proves), there is a more profound message for those who care to look more closely. In order to understand the iconography of the temples he inspired, one must understand Joseph Smiths view of history and the heavens. (After all, the symbols are drawn from astral bodies and phenomenon.) From a few, key statements made by the prophet and his closest confidants, together with the acknowledgment that he held a cosmological view of Earths past and future that differs significantly from todays mainstream views, one can begin to understand the elements he employed in temple architecture. As long as lds scholars and church members fail to give credence to the catastrophic history of planet Earth, as long as they fail to connect that history with scriptural events and imagery, as long as they fail to grasp Joseph Smiths view of the ancient cosmos, the iconography of the Salt Lake Temple will remain a mystery to them.
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, including the Prophet Joseph Smith himself. 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, used goods. Neither is true.

Saturn Symbolism in the Salt Lake Temple

What Mormon and Masonic temples have in common stems only from a common origin, the very things they share with ancient temples and religious architecture the world over. Both Masonry and Mormonism arose in the Anglo-Saxon culture (Masonry in 13th century Europe, Mormonism in 19th century America), hence it was wise on Josephs part to employ many similarities so that the temple would seem, at least, somewhat culturally familiar to 19th century Americans. While Joseph adapted elements familiar to the culture he lived in, he could have just as easily employed elements from Egyptian, Mayan, Celtic, Oriental or Nordic traditions. However, that would have made the temple seem totally foreign to most newly converted Mormons.
The astral connection

Among lds scholars, Nibley alone makes the point that modern temple iconography shares that of ancient temples. Indeed, the title of his book tells the story: Temple and Cosmos. While he clearly sees that temple architecture and symbolism, ancient and modern, reflected astronomical values, Nibley fails to make the vital connection to Saturnian traditions, to the appearance of the ancient heavens as opposed to our modern heavens. Yet, that is the final key to interpreting all temple architecture and iconography. From Stonehenge to Tiahuanaco, to Angkor Thom, to the Parthenon, to the pyramids on the Geza plateau and the enigmatic Sphinx, to Teotiuacan and Chichen Itza, to the Nauvoo temple and the Salt Lake Temple, they all share one commonality: They were designed and adorned to reflect the appearance of the heavens, both ancient and modern.
Temple symbolism, ancient and modern

The symbols employed on Mormon temples share a common origin with the symbolism employed in ancient temples the world over. No matter the culture, no matter the structure, they were all erected to memorialize (remember or reconstruct) the realities in Earths ancient heavens as much as the heavens we have now. Additionally, temples have always incorporated features of the current arrangement of the heavens when the temple was built as well. In that regard, temples are an amalgam of the ancient heavens and the present heavens. This Nibley reiterates time and again.

Saturn Symbolism in the Salt Lake Temple

Failure to acknowledge, as the Apostle Peter taught, that the world that then was ... perished (2 Peter 3:6) and the heavens and the earth, 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.
Astral temples

Scholars readily acknowledge the astral or cosmic connections in ancient temples. Alignments with the equinox, solstices, constellations, the Sun, Moon, Venus, Mars and other celestial objects are the subjects of endless discussion. Yet, these same scholars utterly fail to recognize that the gods and goddesses, dragons, demons and devils memorialized in those temples were originally astral, based on something actually seen in the heavens anciently. Once one accepts the premise that imposing, impressive planets were the original powers that once dominated Earths heavens, that their motions, metamorphoses and interactions gave rise to all ancient myth and symbolism, then the rest falls into place automatically. Modern temples are no exception to this rule. Latter-day Saints readily acknowledge the astral connections of most symbols employed in the Salt Lake Temple (that would be hard to deny), yet they utterly fail to recognize their connection to the same symbolism used in scriptural rhetoric and in ancient architecture. Indeed, uninformed, modern eyes take most of the symbolic iconography to be nothing more than stylistic decorations.
The mysterious Saturnstones

All Latter-day Saints are acquainted with the most familiar icons of the Salt Lake Temple. There are Sunstones, Moonstones, Earthstones and Starstones. What most Saints do not know is that the original architectural drawings by Truman O. Angell, temple architect, called for Saturnstones,

Saturn Symbolism in the Salt Lake Temple

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

Saturn Symbolism in the Salt Lake Temple

for example, that the sacred name of God (eeeeaaaahoooowaaayeeee) was spoken only in the Holy of Holies in ancient Israelite temples, yet the name Yahweh was commonly known, used in names and expletives. One can only speculate that, in like manner, Brigham Young, who was intimately involved in every detail of the Salt Lake Temples conception and construction, had learned of Saturns true role in Earths past from Joseph Smith. While Brighams initial inclination, likely, was to display that truth iconographically on the walls of the temple, a change of heart led him to alter the symbolic scheme. He may have felt that this truth was too much for Saints and Gentiles alike. If so, he was true to the pattern of secrecy set down by every other templebuilding culture in history.
Location, location, location

It is striking that an icon of the planet Saturn should have occupied the highest point on the buttresses. Again, scholars seem puzzled by its presence and location, 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. 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, making it a symbolic match for the great star written of by Abraham. Ironically, the scholar was closer than he knew. As explained elsewhere by this author, Kolob was one of many Egyptian designations of the ancient Saturnian configuration of planets. For that reason the Saturnstones were properly included in the iconography of a latterday temple, located above all the other icons at the highest point on the wall because Saturn once stood above all other planets or stars.

Saturn Symbolism in the Salt Lake Temple

Looking north

Also noteworthy is the fact that the original drawings depicted the Saturnstones only on the south wall of the temple, not on the north, east or west walls. In this, the temples designers were true to the ancient order of things. In a nt i q u i t y, when Saturn dominated earthly skies, one could only see Saturn when facing north; facing south would have put Saturn behind the observer. Hence, a depiction of Saturn on a modern temple should properly be located only on a south-facing wall, so that it is only seen when facing the south side of the temple, where the viewer is looking northward, as he would have done to see Saturn in antiquity. Thus, the location of the symbol properly orients the observer northward. It would be, therefore, completely inappropriate to depict Saturn on an east, west or north-facing wall.
More pointer stars

This brings us to the depiction of Ursa Major or the Big Dipper high on the west wall of the temple. These stars are depicted there, again, to point the eye of the viewer to the north, the location of Saturn in antiquity. The temples designers wished, again, to properly orient the viewer. As one stands looking up at the temples west wall, he or she is facing east with the north to his left. The stars forming the Big Dipper are arranged on the temple,

Saturn Symbolism in the Salt Lake Temple

as they are in the heavens, so as to point to the North Star, Polaris, on the viewers left, the one and only star in the heavens that remains immobile, the one and only star to which a fixed symbol could constantly point. Thus, Polaris becomes a symbolic substitute for the ancient anchor of the heavens, Saturn. The Big Dipper is traditionally used as a pointer constellation for the North Star. Thus, all who saw the Big Dipper constellation icon on the wall immediately knew it pointed to Polaris. It serves as a universal signpost, in a universal, symbolic language. Additionally, the selection of Polaris, the North Star, is most appropriate because, as was true of ancient Saturn, it is the only apparently fixed object in the sky, the polar anchor around which all heaven turns. So, too, was ancient Saturn depicted as ever turning, yet never moving, fixed and immovable.
Orienting observers

The location of the original Saturnstones on the south wall and the existing star icons on the west wall both direct the observers attention to the north, the original location of the Saturnian configuration of planets in antiquity. Thus we see how elements of the present heavens are combined with those of antiquity in this modern temple, as they were with all its ancient predecessors. This also serves to suggest that most, if not all, of the other temple icons depict some aspect of that ancient planetary alignment, the original cosmos, the first heavens. So we see that Nibley was accurate in his assessment of the temple as a representation of the cosmos. More accurately, it depicts elements of the ancient sky and the modern sky what the ancients meant by cosmos. Thus, the temple becomes a virtual road map of the ancient heavens, pointing the observer to the original elements that are no longer seen.

Saturn Symbolism in the Salt Lake Temple


part 2
The most well known symbols on the walls of the Salt Lake Temple are the Earth, Moon, Sun and Star stones. That is so, likely, because they are easily understood in terms of our present cosmology. Yet, they also have an iconographic role in the cosmology of antiquity, as do all temple icons.
The Earthstones

The Earthstones are located at the bottom of the temple buttresses. Most Saints take them to symbolize the earthly nature of the telestial kingdom, the least of the three degrees of glory. However, their position at the bottom of the wall is also reflective of Earths position in the polar alignment of antiquity. Its inferior position at the bottom of the group allowed ancient man to see the other planets in the congregation in Earths northern skies. So, the positioning of the Earthstones at the base of the temple buttresses, beneath the other astronomical stones, is entirely appropriate.
The Moonstones

As our eyes ascend those same buttresses, the next symbol we see is that of the moon. The Moonstones portray the various phases of the moon as it goes through a complete cycle. Their presentation on the temple walls was the result of on-site observations made by Elder Orson Pratt, a member of the twelve, from a modest observatory constructed on the temple grounds for that very purpose. Elder Pratt was a recognized, world-renown mathematician and astronomer in his day.

Saturn Symbolism in the Salt Lake Temple


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

Saturn Symbolism in the Salt Lake Temple


It was also the ship of heaven, pictured in innumerable Egyptian documents such as the facsimiles Joseph Smith acquired. Positioned atop the pillar, it was thought of as the outstretched arms or wings of the Heaven Man or an angel. It provided twin peaks for the World Mountain or the Twin Pillars that stood before the throne of god. It was the crescents appearance upon ancient Saturn that first gave man the concept of time. Up until then, there was no means of timekeeping. It was always light; there was no darkness. The crescent appeared to rotate around Saturn once each day, due to Earths rotation. Thus it became the delineator of time in antiquity. In the new cosmological order, the moon inherited that role as the timekeeper. Also, it was used as a calendrical device in many ancient temples for religious festivals. Therefore, it is entirely appropriate that modern temples have moon icons, and their placement above the Earthstones is also consistent with the present cosmological order.
The Sunstones

The meaning of the Sunstones, like that of the Moonstones, is also complicated by their duality. Saturn symbols are often confused with sun symbols when encountered in ancient temples and texts by modern anthropologists. It is for this reason that scholars tag most ancient cultures as sun worshippers. This same pluralism manifests itself in the case of the Salt Lake Temples Sunstones. In the present

Saturn Symbolism in the Salt Lake Temple


cosmological order, they do represent our sun, but they are also representative of the ancient, best sun, Saturn. For much the same reason, the Babylonians called the sun Shamash, but they also wrote that Saturn was Shamash.
The Starstones

As with the other buttress icons in the Salt Lake Temple, the Starstones represent both the modern and the ancient heavens. Clearly, our evening sky is bejeweled with countless stars, making them an appropriate icon for a temple. But the actual star symbol is nowhere to be seen in todays heavens. The cultural image of a star has nothing to do with those tiny pinpoints of light in our night sky. It was unique to Earths ancient heavens where Venus became the prototype of all star icons. (See The Saturn Epic: In The Beginning.) In fact, the very word star (str) derives from the ancient goddess Astarte (Aster, Ashtoreth) that virtually all mythologists acknowledge as the planet Venus and can be seen in other words, having to do with things celestial, such as astronomy and astronaut. Thus it is that the most familiar icons on the Salt Lake Temple can be understood more fully by seeing them in terms of Earths ancient skies. Indeed, in many cases, they can only be understood in those terms.
The six towers or spires

Look, for example at the six towers or spires on the temple. Rather than terminating in a peak, each is crowned with a sphere. This may seem nothing more than decoration until one considers that such a structure once stood in earthly skies. Indeed, the six spires on the temple are replicas of the ancient World Mountain, the pillar that sustained all heaven the same icon from which the Egyptians derived their pyramids.

Saturn Symbolism in the Salt Lake Temple


Should doubt persist about this interpretation of those spires, consider that the temple is frequently referred to in scripture as the mountain of the Lords house. This phrase makes no sense in ordinary terms. But in the language of Saturn symbolism, it makes perfect sense. If, as the ancients surely did, you consider the house or throne of god to be the orb at the peak, the structure beneath it becomes a high hill or mountain. Together, pillar and orb form the temple of god, or the mountain of the Lords house. Thus we see that the symbols give meaning to the metaphor of scripture and vice versa. 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. This argues eloquently for the validity of this thesis. The fact that the spires are grouped in threes is said to reflect the trinity of the godhead, but it may also reflect that three orbs were visible to the ancients.
The angel Moroni

The most dominant icon on the Salt Lake Temple is the statue of the angel Moroni, which stands atop the center spire at the east end of the temple. The most fascinating part of this statue is the trumpet he holds. Popular opinion among the Saints holds it to symbolize the sounding of the gospel to all the world. It also suggests a connection to the trumpet sounds to be heard in the Last Days, as described in Revelation. To those who have studied ancient cosmology, it points to the very real sounds that once appeared to emanate from the planetary powers that stood over the Earth, sounds that very much resembled that of trumpets. Indeed, the very instrument itself may have been invented by ancient man to duplicate the sounds once heard in the heavens. (See The Name of God.)

Saturn Symbolism in the Salt Lake Temple


Truman O. Angels original illustrations of the Cloudstones for the temple depicted hand-held trumpets protruding from beneath the clouds, pointing downwards. If one understands the clouds to be a representation of Saturn or Jupiter in one of its dark or hidden phases, 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.
The baptismal font and the twelve oxen

The baptismal font in the Salt Lake Temple sets atop the backs of twelve exquisitely carved oxen. This may seem a strange juxtaposition of images until seen in light of the ancient colinear configuration of planets. The horned oxen harken back to the apis statuary so common in Middle Eastern temples of antiquity. The horned bull is often depicted in Egyptian and Babylonian art. In the Saturn tradition, the crescent on Saturn was the prototype of the horns on a bull or cow, giving rise to all such worship, metaphor, iconography and art in antiquity. This is an element that properly, traditionally belongs in a temple. Seen from ground level, the oxen and laver bear no resemblance to Saturn symbols. But if seen from above, the arrangement becomes a circle with 12 oxen evenly spaced around its edge. This is clearly Saturnian. The 12 oxen are the equivalent of the twelve numbers on a circular clock face, the 12 signs of the zodiac arranged in a circle, 12 gates to the heavenly temple as envisioned by John in Revelation, the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve Apostles. It also suggests an origin for the baptismal rite in Saturn traditions. Indeed, when closely analyzed, much of the ritual and its trappings within the temple have Saturnian touches.

Saturn Symbolism in the Salt Lake Temple


The Nauvoo Temple icons

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