This account of the endowment is excerpted from an exposé published by the Salt Lake Tribune in 1879. The first-person account was signed “Mrs. G. S. R.” Michael Homer has identified this person as former Latter-day Saint and polygamous wife Caroline Owens Miles. (1)
Salt Lake Tribune:
The Mormon Endowment House is a plain adobe building, two stories high, built like a small dwelling house, so as not to attract attention. There are blinds to all the windows which are nearly always kept down. It is situated in the northwest corner of the Temple block, (which includes the Tabernacle, New Temple, &c.,) and the whole block is surrounded by a very high wall.
On a certain day, not necessary to mention, I went to the Endowment House at eight o’clock in the morning, taking with me my endowment clothes (consisting of garments, robe, cap, apron and moccasins). I believe people used to take their own oil, but that is now discontinued, as fees are charged. I went into a small room attached to the main building (designated in the plan by the name of Reception Room,) (2) which was crowded with men and women, having their bundles of clothing. The entrance door is on the east side, and in the southwest corner, there is another, next to which the desk stood, where the clerk recorded the names, etc. Around the north and west sides were benches for the people to sit.
On going up to the desk I presented my recommend from the bishop in whose ward I was staying, and George Reynolds, who was then acting as clerk, asked me my name, those of my parents, when and where I was born, and when I was baptized into the Mormon Church.
That over, he told me to leave my hat, cloak and shoes in that room; and taking up my bundle, I went into the room marked 3 on the plan, where I sat waiting till it came my turn to be washed.
One of the women, an officiating high priestess, told me to come behind the curtain (which I have indicated by a waving line), where I could hear a great deal of splashing and subdued conversation. I went, and after I was undressed, I had to step into a long bath, about half full of water, when another woman proceeded to wash me. I objected strongly to this part of the business, but was told to show a more humble sprit. However, when she got down to my feet, she let me go, and I was turned over to the woman who had spoken to me first, and whose name was Bathsheba Smith, (one of the widows of Apostle George A. Smith). She wore a large shiny apron, and her sleeves tucked up above her elbows. She looked thoroughly like business.
Another woman was standing beside her with a large wooden spoon and some green olive oil in a cow’s horn. This woman poured the oil out of the spoon into Bathsheba’s hand, who immediately put it on my head, ears, eyes, mouth, and every part of by body, and as she greased me, she muttered a kind of prayer over each member of my body: My head, that I might have a knowledge of the truths of God; my eyes, that I might see the glories of the kingdom; my mouth, that I might at all times speak the truth; my arms, that they might be strong in defense of the gospel; my bosom–and here I must ask my readers not to think I want to tell this part of the story, but I do want people to know the truth, and how disgusting and indelicate this thing is. Mormon people deny many of these things, and civilized and decent people can scarcely realize that this institution is as infamous as it really is, but I solemnly assert that these things do exist. To continue: My bosom, that I might nourish the children whom I might raise by my husband (I was not then married, but expected to be), and another part of my body, that I might raise up a godly seed, that they might be pillars of strength to the upbuilding and strengthening of God’s kingdom upon the earth. And so she got down to my feet, when she hoped they might be swift in the paths of righteousness and truth.
She then turned me over to the woman who had washed me, and who whispered
MY NEW AND CELESTIAL NAME
in my ear. I believe I am to be called up in the morning of the resurrection by it. It was [a common biblical name]. I felt disappointed. I thought I should have received a more distinguished name. She told me that new name must never be spoken, but often thought of, to keep away evil spirits. I should be required to speak it once that day, but she would tell me in what part of the ceremony, and that I should never again have to speak it.
She then told me to put on my garments. These are made in one piece. On the right breast is a square, on the left a compass, in the centre a small hole, and on the knee a large hole which is called the “Stone.” (3) We were told that as long as we kept them on no harm could befall us, and that when we changed them we were not to take them all off at once, but slip out a limb at a time and immediately dive into the clean ones. The neck was never to be cut low, or the sleeves short, as that would be patterning after the fashions of the Gentiles.
After this I put on my clothes, and in my stocking feet, waited with those who were washed and anointed until she had finished the remaining two or three. This done, the little calico curtains (marked A and B) were drawn aside and the men and women stood revealed to each other. The men looked very uncomfortable, and not at all picturesque. They only had their garments and shirts on, and they really did seem as though they were ashamed of themselves, as well they might be.
THE WEEK-KNEED CAN BACK OUT
Joseph F. Smith then came to where we were all waiting, and told us that if “we wanted to back out, now was our time,” because we should not be able afterward, and that we were bound to go right through. All those who wanted to go through were to hold up their hands, which of course everyone did, believing that all the good and holy things that were to be seen and heard in the “House of the Lord” were yet to come. He then told us that if ever any of us attempted to reveal what we saw and heard in the “House,” our memories would be blighted, and we should
BE EVERLASTINGLY DAMNED,
for they were things too holy to be spoken of between each other, after we had once left the Endowment House. We were then told to be very quiet and listen. Joseph F. Smith then went away.
In a few moments we heard voices talking loudly so that the people could hear them in the adjoining room. (I afterwards found out in passing through that it was the prayer circle room.) It was supposed to be a conversation between Elohim (Head God) and Jehovah. The conversation was as follows.
Elohim to Jehovah–“Well, Jehovah, I think we will create an earth; let Michael go down and collect all the elements together and found one.”
Answer–“Very well, O Lord God, it shall be done.”
Then calling to another man, we could hear him say:
“Michael, go down and collect all the elements together and form an earth, and then report to us what you have done.”
Ans.–“Very well, O Lord God.”
The man they called Michael then left the prayer circle room and came through the room they called the World, into the Garden of Eden, the door of which was shut that faced the places C and D, where we were standing, listening and waiting. He remained there a second or two, and everything was quiet. At the end of that time we heard him going back the same way, to where Elohim and Jehovah were waiting. When he got back he said: “I have collected all the elements together and founded an earth; what would’st thou have me do next?” Using the same formula every time they sent him down to the world, they then told him to separate the land from the water, light from darkness, etc., and so they went regularly through the creation, but they always told him to come up and report what he had done.
When the creation was supposed to be finished, Michael went back and told them it was very fair and beautiful to look upon. Elohim then said to Jehovah, that he thought they better go down and have a look at it, which they did and agreed with Michael that it was a beautiful place; that it seemed a pity it should be of no particular use, but thought it would be a good idea to create man to live in it and cultivate these things.
They then came out of the Garden of Eden (which was supposed to have been newly finished) and shutting the door after them came to where we were standing. We were then told to shut our eyes, and Jehovah said to Michael, “Give me a handful of dust and I will create man.” We were then told to open our eyes, and we saw a man that he had taken from the crowd, standing beside Jehovah, and to whom Jehovah said:”I will call thee Adam, for thou shalt be the father of all mankind.” Jehovah then said it was not good for man to be alone, so he would create a woman and a helpmete for him. We were again told to close our eyes, and Adam was requested to go to sleep, which he obligingly did. Jehovah was then supposed to take a rib from Adam’s side and form Eve. We were then told to open our eyes, and look upon the handiwork of the Lord. When we did, we saw a woman taken from among the crowd who was standing by Adam’s side. Jehovah said he would call the woman Eve, because she would be the mother of all mankind.
THE DOOR OF THE GARDEN OF EDEN
was then opened, and we all marched in with our little bundles, (the men going first, as they always take the precedence,) and we ranged ourselves round the room on benches. The four sides of this room are painted in imitation of trees, flowers, birds, wild beasts, etc. (The artist who painted the room was evidently more acquainted with whitewashing than painting.) The ceiling was painted blue, dotted over with golden stars; in the centre of it was the sun, a little farther along, the moon, and all around were the stars. In each corner, was a Masonic emblem. In one corner is a compass, in another the square, the remaining two were the level and the plumb. On the east side of the room, next the door, was a painted apple tree, and in the northeast part of the room was a small wooden altar.
After we had seated ourselves, Jehovah told Adam and Eve that they could eat of every tree in the garden except of this particular apple tree, for on the day that they ate of that they should surely die.
He then took his departure, and immediately after in came a very lively gentleman, dressed in a plain black morning suit, with a little apron on, a most fiendish expression on his face and joyfully rubbing his hands. This gentleman was supposed to be “the Devil.” Certainly his appearance made the supposition quite easy (by the bye, I have since seen that same gentlemen administering the Sacrament in the Tabernacle on Sundays). He went up to Eve and remarked that it was a very beautiful place, and that the fruit was so nice, would she like to taste one of those apples. She demurred a little, and said she was told not to, and therefore mustn’t. But he pretended to pluck one of the painted apples and gave it to her, and she pretended to eat it. He then told her to ask Adam to have some, and she did. Adam objected strongly to tasting, knowing the penalty, but Eve eventually overcame his scruples, saying: “Oh, my dear, they’re so nice, you haven’t any idea, and that nice old gentleman here (pointing to the Devil) says that he can recommend them, and you need not be afraid of what Jehovah says.”
Adam consented, and immediately after he said, “Oh, what have I done, and how foolish I was to listen to you.” He then said that he could see himself, and that they had no clothes on, and they must sew some fig leaves together. Every one then made a dive for his apron out of the little bundles. The apron is a square half yard of green silk with nine fig leaves worked on it in brown sewing silk. A voice was then heard calling for Adam, who pretended to hide, when in came Jehovah. He gave Adam a good scolding, but finally told him that he would give him certain instructions, whereby he would have a chance to regain the presence of his Father and God after he was driven out into the world. These instructions consisted of grips, &c., and the garments he wore would protect him from all evil. (Mormons say of these garments that the pattern was revealed direct from heaven to Joseph Smith, and are the same as were originally worn by Adam.)
They then put on their caps and moccasins, the women’s caps being made of Swiss muslin; it is one yard square, rounded at one corner so as to fit the head, and there are strings on it which tie under the chin. The moccasins are made of linen or calico. The men’s are made exactly like those of pastry cooks, with a bow on the right side. I should here mention, before I go further, that Bathsheba Smith and one of the priests enacted the parts of Adam and Eve, and so stood sponsors for the rest of us, who were individually supposed to be Adams and Eves.
They then proceeded to give us the first grip of the Aaronic or Lesser Priesthood [she describes the grip]. We were then made to swear “To obey the laws of the Mormon Church and all they enjoin, in preference to those of the United States.” [She describes the penalty and sign that accompany this grip.]
We were then driven out of this into the room called the World, where there were three men standing at a small altar on the east side of the room, who were supposed to represent Peter, James and John, Peter standing in the centre. He was supposed to have the keys of heaven. Men representing (or trying to) the different religious sects then came in and presented their views and said they wanted to try and save those fallen children. In doing this they could not refrain from exaggerating and coarsely satirizing the different sects they represented. Previous to their coming in, however, Peter had presented to us the gospel of Christ–at least he told us that Christ had come to die for the original sin, but that we had got to work out our own salvation, and that in the last days a prophet should be raised up to save all those that would believe in his divine mission; consequently these different representatives were told that their doctrines did not suit the people and that there was something wanting in their faith and so they could go. Then the Devil came in and tried to allure the people, and bustling up to the altar, Peter said to him: “Hallo, Mr. Devil, how do you do today! it’s a very fine day, isn’t it? What have you come after?” The Devil replied that he didn’t seem to take to any of those so-called Christian religions, why didn’t they quit bothering after anything of the kind, and live a life of pleasure, etc. However he was told to go and that quickly.
Peter then gave the second grip of the Aaronic or Lesser Priesthood [she describes the grip, penalty, and sign]. To receive that grip we had to put on our robes, which consisted of a long straight piece of cloth reaching to our feet, doubled over and gathered very full on the shoulder and round the waist. There was also a long narrow piece of cloth tied around the waist called “the sash.” It was placed on the right shoulder to receive the grip. The people to wear their aprons over it. The men then took the oath of chastity and the woman the same; but they don’t consider polygamy at all unchaste, but said that it was an Heaven ordained law, and that a man to be exalted in the world to come must have more than one wife. The woman then took the oath of obedience to their husbands, having to look up to them as their gods. It is not possible for a woman to go to Christ, except through her husband.
Then a man came in and said that the Gospel (which during those few minutes’ intervals had lain dormant for 1,800 years) had been again restored to earth, and that an angel had revealed it to a young boy named Joseph Smith, and that all the gifts, blessings and prophecies of old had been restored with it, and this last revelation was to be called the Latter-Day Dispensation. The priests pretended joyfully to accept this, and said it was the very thing they were in search of, nothing else having had the power to satisfy them. (4)
MORE SIGNS AND GRIPS
They then proceeded to give us the first grip of the Melchizedek or Higher Priesthood, which is said to be the same that Christ held. [She describes the grip.] The robe for this grip was changed from the right to the left shoulder. We were then made to swear to avenge the death of Joseph Smith, the martyr, together with that of his brother, Hyrum, on this American nation, and that we would teach our children and children’s children to do so. [She describes the penalty.]
We were then marched into the northeast room (the men, of course, always going first) designated the prayer circle room. We were here made to take an oath of
OBEDIENCE TO THE MORMON PRIESTHOOD
Any now the highest or grand grip of the Melchizedek priesthood was given. [She describes the grip. She says this grip symbolizes that when Christ was nailed to the cross, his wrists tore free and had to be nailed down a second time]; (5) it is called the
SURE SIGN OF THE NAIL,
and if the grip is properly given, it is very hard to pull apart. The robe was changed from the left to the right shoulder to receive this grip.
The men then formed a circle round the altar, linking their arms straight across and placed their hands on one another’s shoulders. The priest knelt at the altar and took hold of one of the men’s hands and prayed. He told us that the electric current of prayer passed through the circle and that was the most efficacious kind of prayer. The women stood outside the circle with their veils covering their faces, the only time throughout the ceremony that they did so.
The prayer over, they all trooped up the staircase on the north side of the house, into the room called the Instruction Room, where the people sat down on benches on the west side of the room. Facing them about midway between floor and ceiling was a wooden beam that went across the room from north to south, and from which was suspended a dirty looking piece of what was once white calico. This was called “the Vail,” and is supposed to be in imitation of the one in Solomon’s Temple. On this vail are marks like those on the garments, together with extra holes for putting the arms through. But before going through the vail, we received a general outline of the instructions we had received down stairs. This over, the priest took a man to the vail to one of the openings, (marked 1,) where he knocked with a small wooden mallet that hung on the wooden support. A voice on the other side of the vail (it was supposed to be Peter’s) asked who was there, when the priest answering for the man said, “Adam having been faithful desires to enter.” The priest then led the man up to the west side of the vail, where he had to put his hands through and clasp the man or Peter (to whom he whispered his new name, and the only one he ever tells, for they must never tell their celestial names to their wives, although the wives must tell theirs to their husbands) through the holes in the vail. He was then allowed to go through to the other side, which was supposed to be heaven, and this is where a strong imagination might be of some use, for anything more unlike heaven, I can’t conceive. The man having got through, he went to the opening (No. 2,) and told the gatekeeper to call for the woman he was about to marry, telling him her name. She then stepped up to the vail where the marks “B” are. They couldn’t see each other, but put their hands through the openings, one of their hands on each other’s shoulder and the other around the waist. (The marks on the plan at the sides are for the arms, and all the marks in the plan on the vail are exactly as they are in the Endowment House. The top round mark is the place where they spoke through, and the square, compass and stone correspond with the marks on the garments; the two bottom marks were where the feet were put through.) With the arms so fixed, the knees were placed within each other, the feet of course being the same, the woman’s given name was then whispered through the vail, then her new and celestial name, then the priestess who stood by to instruct the women told them to repeat after her a most disgusting formula or oath. I cannot remember it thoroughly, but what I do, consists of “the heart and the liver, the belly and the thighs, the marrow and the bones.” (6) The last and highest grip of the Melchizedek priesthood was then given through the vail.
They then released their hold of each other, and the priestess taking the woman to opening No. 2, knocked the same as they did at the men’s entrance, and the gate keeper having asked “Who is there?” and the priestess having replied, “Eve, having been faithful in all things, desires to enter,” Eve was accordly ushered into heaven.
Source: Mrs. G.S.R., “Lifting the Vail: The Endowment House Mysteries Fully Exposed,” Salt Lake Daily Tribune, 28 September 1879.
[The original author wrote the following: I have carefully checked this electronic transcript against a photocopy of the original article; you may be confident that typographical errors appearing here reflect errors in the original. The centered headlines that subdivide the text are from the original. Comments in square brackets are mine.]
1.) Michael W. Homer, “‘Similarity of Priesthood in Masonry’: The Relationship between Freemasonry and Mormonism,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 27.3 (Fall 1994): 60.
2.) The original article was accompanied by a sketch of the Endowment House floor plan. References to this sketch appear periodically throughout the text.
3.) I am not aware of any other account of the endowment in which the knee mark is called “the Stone.” Perhaps this is a confused recollection of being told (as recounted in Increase Van Dusen’s 1847 exposé) that the garment represents the white stone mentioned in Revelation 2:17.
4.) The endowment no longer involves a historical allegory of the Great Apostasy and Restoration, though it isn’t difficult to see how the ceremony would lend itself to such an allegory.
5.) Initiates may be interested to know that according to the author’s description, two fingers were used in this grip where currently only one is used. She says that the use of two fingers symbolizes the two nails which, she was told, were required to secure each of Jesus’s wrists to the cross. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the author’s memory on this point.
6.) Either the author misremembers the formula, or the name of the second token of the Melchizedek priesthood has changed in the course of the endowment’s history.