Mother in Heaven
Dialogue has long been a home for important scholarship on Heavenly Mother including our special issue, “Heavenly Mother in Critical Context.”
We recognize and acknowledge that theology is difficult, messy, and personal.
We hope that by entering into dialogue with each other, we will all create a better community and a better theology that reflects God, ourselves, and our collective futures.
For those currently struggling, know that we at Dialogue will struggle with you.
For those of you mourning, we will mourn with you.
The Spring 2022 issue is a special one. “Heavenly Mother in Critical Context” begins with Art Editor Margaret Olsen Hemming on “The Divine Feminine in Mormon Art” and continues with Margaret Toscano’s “In Defense of Heavenly Mother: Her Critical Importance for Mormon Culture and Theology.” Other highlights include, “Guides to Heavenly Mother: An Interview with McArthur Krishna and Bethany Brady Spalding. And love the cover? It was carefully curated by Andi Pitcher Davis. You can read more about Sara Lynne Lindsay’s cover art here. The issue is full of other fascinating scholarship, as well as personal essays and poetry all in honor of Heavenly Mother.
The Seeking Heavenly Mother Project: Understanding and Claiming Our Power to Connect with Her
Dialogue 55.1 (Spring 2022): 169–178
Our goal is for the Seeking Heavenly Mother Project to have this empowering effect on all who participate. We see a strong need to ensure that our community is inclusive and intersectional, creating spaces wherein LGBTQ+ individuals and other members of marginalized groups can be affirmed in the knowledge that they too are created in the image of God.
If power is the ability to act, then creation is the ultimate manifestation of power. A creator is an engineer of something new, an artist of something never before seen, a musician of what has not been previously heard. Creation is not innately masculine or feminine. It is not defined by gender or channeled only through administrative practices. It is something that is ever-present in our everyday lives.
Within Latter-day Saint theology, Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father provide a clear example of creative power by creating the universe. Eliza R. Snow proclaimed this truth boldly, that the “eternal Mother [is] the partner with the Father in the creation of worlds.” More recently, Patricia T. Holland explained how together our Heavenly Parents are involved in “our creation and the creation of all that surrounds us.”
Though our Heavenly Parents are both involved in creation, Latter-day Saint discourse, teachings, and rituals often leave out Heavenly Mother, thus making it difficult to see creation as a universal opportunity. For us, this imbalance is unacceptable. As we have each sought to understand our own divine nature, as well as the nature of God, the need to know, seek, and recognize our relationship with Heavenly Mother has grown stronger. For this reason, we started the Seeking Heavenly Mother Project, centered on the idea of creativity as a pathway for connection. We believe that by creating in a variety of mediums, both artistic and literary, we can connect to the Divine Mother. Additionally, our project aims to create a community of individuals seeking to know and become like Her, thus allowing our interactions with one another to serve as acts of creation in building connection and unity.
Creation as Power
For each of us, creation has been personally meaningful. It has led us to know and feel Heavenly Mother’s love on a deeper level. For Charlotte, connecting to Heavenly Mother started during her preteen years. While reading the Doctrine and Covenants, a marvelous idea came into her head. If we have a Heavenly Father, if families are so important to God, and if we are on this earth to become like Him, wouldn’t it make sense to also have a Heavenly Mother? If we have a Heavenly Mother, what is She like? When Charlotte took these thoughts to her dad, he responded that we do have a Heavenly Mother, but “it” wasn’t really something we talk about. This interaction left her feeling rebuked for asking about Heavenly Mother, and she quieted her questions for many years.
When she got married, the questions she had asked as a child returned and brought three more questions. What do the eternities look like for me, as a woman? What does Heavenly Mother do? How am I supposed to become like someone I know almost nothing about? These questions were so persistent and left her feeling so lonely and hopeless that she sat in the shower and cried. Merely knowing that Heavenly Mother exists was not enough. Without any knowledge of Her love, Her power, or anything else about Her, Heavenly Mother didn’t feel real.
Eventually Charlotte heard about Mother’s Milk: Poems in Search of Heavenly Mother by Rachel Hunt Steenblik and Dove Song: Heavenly Mother in Mormon Poetry, a collected anthology of poems edited by Tyler Chadwick, Dayna Patterson, and Martin Pulido. Both poetry books are exclusively about Heavenly Mother. Reading them gave her comfort and hope that she, too, could know Heavenly Mother like the poets whose words she was reading. Realizing that creation is a way to learn about Heavenly Mother directly motivated Charlotte to write poetry, paint pictures, and claim her authority to know and emulate Her as one of Her daughters.
Connection in Community
Like Charlotte, each of us has seen the power of creativity in connecting to our Heavenly Mother. We have been inspired to create a community where, together, we can connect and collaborate in the search for our Mother. While individually, we each have immense creative power, together, this effect is multiplied. Thus, the invitation is open to everyone to join with us by submitting art, music, poetry, essays, or experiences centered on Heavenly Mother to SeekingHeavenlyMother.com.
Already through our efforts, we have come to know others who are using their creative power to connect with our Heavenly Mother. Two of these amazing individuals are McArthur Krishna and Bethany Brady Spalding, the authors of A Girl’s Guide to Heavenly Mother. Their book pairs artwork from artists all over the world with quotations and text in order to help girls visualize their Heavenly Mother and what She means in their own lives. Its initial success inspired McArthur to coauthor a second book with Martin Pulido, edited by Bethany Brady Spalding, entitled A Boy’s Guide to Heavenly Mother. In addition to McArthur, Bethany, and Martin, we have joined with other incredible artists, thinkers, and authors to share in this journey, many of whom are featured on our website SeekingHeavenlyMother.com. Their creative contributions to our community have allowed us to gain additional understanding of our Heavenly Mother and how She relates to her children. As we encourage one another to seek our Heavenly Mother through creativity, we will feel Her love not only in our work but also in our friendships. We will feel Her love more abundantly as we strengthen our bonds as members of the human family.
The experiences we have together in community can be transformative. Emily had one such experience during her sophomore year at Brigham Young University. While taking an Indian dance class, she learned an interpretive dance about the Hindu deity Ganesh. During a section of the dance, she used her hands to imitate the blooming of a lotus flower while slowly standing up. During this process of uplifting and unfolding, she suddenly became aware of her own divine potential. She realized that regardless of what she was going through, she had the power to ascend above the turmoil and one day become divine. After this realization, she saw all the women around the room dancing in unison, all rising above their life’s confusion. She saw divinity in them. Emily felt a sense of community and kinship with the women dancing together and felt she was journeying with them to become like the Eternal Mother.
Like the community Emily found in her dance class, this project builds a community through creative works. This sense of community has the ability to encourage and enlighten others to reach for the divine. One of our key goals is to establish a safe and inclusive venue in which we can celebrate our Heavenly Mother through our own creations. Through works of creation, we can lift and influence others. We want this project to help us grow together in our understanding of the eternal connection we have with our Heavenly Mother.
Belonging with the Divine
A community has many purposes. One is to support the efforts of the individual members. The other is to support the edification of the whole. The Seeking Heavenly Mother Project is a place where anyone can go to find art, essays, music, and poetry to ponder as they seek their own personal revelation about Heavenly Mother. We desire to build a community ever growing toward Her through creative works. Through the acts of creating and witnessing others’ creations, we can build personal relationships with Heavenly Mother.
Kayla experienced how a strong personal connection to Heavenly Mother can bless and empower others while serving as a missionary in Santiago, Chile. During her mission, she developed a friendship with Constance, a recent convert who had grown discouraged about her relationship with God. Kayla decided to teach her about Heavenly Mother. As she taught and as Constance gained her own belief in the Divine Mother, the question became obvious: “Why don’t we talk about Her more?” Constance wanted to know why the missionary discussions and Church lessons that had taught her the gospel had neglected to teach her about her Mother in Heaven. It seemed to her to be of the utmost importance that she had an all-powerful, infinitely loving Divine Mother. This understanding empowered her as she felt more connected to her own divine nature.
Throughout her mission, Kayla encountered others who were seeking this same sense of belonging that comes from learning about the Mother. As she shared her beliefs with them, her conviction of the importance of Heavenly Mother was strengthened. Other missionaries who served alongside her also sought reminders that they, too, were “created in the image of God.” By expanding their understanding of divinity to include Heavenly Mother, they expanded their understanding of themselves. Their belief in Her helped them to claim the power they had to effect change, for as children of “divine, immortal, omnipotent Heavenly Parents,” power was a part of their spiritual DNA.
Our goal is for the Seeking Heavenly Mother Project to have this empowering effect on all who participate. We see a strong need to ensure that our community is inclusive and intersectional, creating spaces wherein LGBTQ+ individuals and other members of marginalized groups can be affirmed in the knowledge that they too are created in the image of God. We want to encourage each individual to develop their own personal connection to the divine while also offering them a sense of belonging in a community of seekers where every journey is honored. By creating, connecting, and building understanding, we can support one another as we each discover our divine nature.
Note: The Dialogue Foundation provides the web format of this article as a courtesy. There may be unintentional differences from the printed version. For citational and bibliographical purposes, please use the printed version or the PDFs provided online and on JSTOR.
 John Longden, “The Worth of Souls,” Relief Society Magazine 44 (Aug. 1957): 492, 494. Quoted in David L. Paulsen and Martin Pulido, “‘A Mother There’: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven,” BYU Studies Quarterly 50, no. 1 (2011): 7.
 Patricia T. Holland, “Filling the Measure of Our Creation,” in On Earth as It Is in Heaven by Jeffrey R. Holland and Patricia T. Holland (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989), 4.
 Name has been changed.
Our goal is for the Seeking Heavenly Mother Project to have this empowering effect on all who participate. We see a strong need to ensure that our community is inclusive and intersectional, creating spaces wherein LGBTQ+ individuals and other members of marginalized groups can be affirmed in the knowledge that they too are created in the image of God. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => the-seeking-heavenly-mother-project-understanding-and-claiming-our-power-to-connect-with-her [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-11-15 01:06:56 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-11-15 01:06:56 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=29143 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
Dear Heavenly Mother
Dialogue 55.1 (Spring 2022): 167
I am encouraged by small changes, but change takes time. For now, I will speak your name. I will make you part of our eternal narrative. I will share your love and stop myself from looking past you. I will teach my children to see your light and be lifted by your strength, that they will speak your name as easily as they do Father’s—for both of you are part of their eternal makings.
Dear Heavenly Mother,
You have been lost to me, hidden from my view behind a veil of professed sacred protection, but I am searching for you—pulling you into the light. Now that I am also called Mother, I know you are strong. I know you do not need protecting, that you are a force of love and life. I believe you have always been with me. Guiding. Directing. Giving me strength in time of need and celebrating my moments of joy. I know you were there as I pushed and breathed and bled my own babies into the world. Yet, I looked past you.
Now, I see how my self-proclaimed “daddy’s girl” attitude has been shaped by the patriarchal system that hid you from me in the first place. I do not pray to you, and until recently, hadn’t even prayed about you. Now I ask Father to help me feel your love and guidance and to understand when you are present in my life. I long to find my way into your arms, to be held up by you.
For so long, I felt unbalanced, but I didn’t understand why until others of my faith began to speak your name. Now, each time you are acknowledged, I feel righted. I see myself as a woman loved by Heavenly Parents, with an inheritance that includes the feminine divine. “Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man” (1 Cor. 11:11).
I wept when you were included (as a Heavenly Parent) in the Young Women theme, Now, when my nieces recite those powerful words, you become part of their identities. I am grateful for this, but the young men, my own boys included, repeat a weekly theme that still does not include you. How long before they will be allowed to acknowledge your divinity too?
I am encouraged by small changes, but change takes time. For now, I will speak your name. I will make you part of our eternal narrative. I will share your love and stop myself from looking past you. I will teach my children to see your light and be lifted by your strength, that they will speak your name as easily as they do Father’s—for both of you are part of their eternal makings.
All my love,
Note: The Dialogue Foundation provides the web format of this article as a courtesy. There may be unintentional differences from the printed version. For citational and bibliographical purposes, please use the printed version or the PDFs provided online and on JSTOR.[post_title] => Dear Heavenly Mother [post_excerpt] => Dialogue 55.1 (Spring 2022): 167
I am encouraged by small changes, but change takes time. For now, I will speak your name. I will make you part of our eternal narrative. I will share your love and stop myself from looking past you. I will teach my children to see your light and be lifted by your strength, that they will speak your name as easily as they do Father’s—for both of you are part of their eternal makings. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => dear-heavenly-mother [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-11-15 01:06:40 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-11-15 01:06:40 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=29142 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
“O My Mother”: Mormon Fundamentalist Mothers in Heaven and Women’s Authority
Dialogue 55.1 (Spring 2022): 119–135
As the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints moved away from the plural marriage revelation, a marital system that created the cosmological backdrop for the doctrine of Heavenly Mothers, the status of the divine feminine became increasingly distant from the lived experience of LDS women. Ecclesiastical changes altered women’s place within the cosmos.
The doctrine of Heavenly Mother has long been invoked by Mormon women and Mormon feminists to posit an expanded view of gender in Mormon cosmology and offer women a tangible representation of their eternal future. At the same time, the lack of worship or veneration of a divine feminine in Mormonism raises the question of whether the doctrine has the potential to influence the temporal state of Mormon women. Historically missing from the literature and theological critiques is the inclusion of Mormon groups where this is already happening. Mormon communities outside of the LDS Church have given Heavenly Mother a place in their meetinghouses, a priesthood role in temple liturgy, and considered the tangible outcomes of her cosmological significance in late-night conversations around the dinner table once the children are asleep and the dishes are clean. This article explores the theology of Heavenly Mother in Mormon fundamentalisms and the way it influences access to religious authority.
In 2018, I sat in a meeting of the Apostolic United Brethren (AUB) at the Rulon C. Allred building in Bluffdale, Utah and opened the hymnbook to Hymn no. 3, “O My Father.” As I prepared to sing the hymn that became both a foundational theological text and a staple in LDS meetinghouses across the nation, I looked to the previous page and saw Hymn no. 4, “O My Mother.” The hymn, attributed to Eliza R. Snow, moves beyond LDS speculation of a Heavenly Mother and offers women an avenue for seeing themselves in Mormon cosmology. Their exaltation is not invisible, it is tangible and reflected in the voices of women who sing the hymn at their Sunday afternoon meetings.
O my Mother, my heart longest
To again be by Thy side,
In the Home I once called heaven
In Thy Mansion up on high.
How you gave me words of counsel
Guides to aid my straying feet.
How you taught me by true example
All of Father’s laws to keep.
This hymn is not the only place where Heavenly Mother is invoked in the fundamentalist movement. Since their earliest publications, fundamentalists spoke highly of Heavenly Mother, even hypothesizing a “Trinity of Mothers” and referencing the “Goddess of this world.” For many fundamentalists, Heavenly Mother is not absent; they know they have “Mothers there,” as Snow wrote with assurance. As a perceived continuation of early Mormonism, the fundamentalist movement relied on the work of nineteenth-century thinkers such as Eliza R. Snow and Edward W. Tullidge to posit a Heavenly Mother with divine authority as an integral part of Mormon cosmology.
At the same time, the doctrine that potentially affords women eternal representation is complicated by its entanglement with plural marriage, something both LDS and non-LDS feminist theologians have long deemed oppressive. The possibility of increased access to religious authority does not overshadow the numerous traumatic experiences of women within fundamentalism nor the documented abuse in these communities. Mormon groups that developed from Alma Dayer LeBaron’s ordination claim, referenced throughout this article, are fraught with cases of incest and underage marriage. The accounts of women’s access to a divine feminine stand alongside abusive experiences. An acknowledgment of Heavenly Mother and women’s priesthood in Mormon fundamentalism does not negate or diminish the harm caused to many women and children of the tradition.
Three decades after the publication of “O My Father,” Eliza R. Snow published another poem with additional insight into the divine feminine and the earth’s Heavenly Mother. In her 1877, “The Ultimatum of Human Life,” Snow penned:
Obedience will the same bright garland weave,
As it has done for your great Mother, Eve,
For all her daughters on the earth, who will
All my requirements sacredly fulfill.
And what to Eve, though in her mortal life,
She’d been the first, the tenth, or fiftieth wife?
What did she care, when in her lowest state,
Whether by fools, consider’d small, or great?
’Twas all the same with her—she prov’d her worth—
She’s now the Goddess and the Queen of Earth.
For Snow, a plural wife, the doctrine of Heavenly Mother was part and parcel of Smith’s cosmology that fashioned a “material heaven, comprising eternal sealed relationships between believers, both male and female.” The doctrine of exaltation was dependent on an intricate connection between the entire human family, of which women were a significant part.
While there are no firsthand sources from Smith that directly reference women’s exaltation or Heavenly Mother, historian Jonathan Stapley notes that the assumption of women’s participation was prevalent to the women who were among Smith’s close associates. As part of the construction of the Mormon heaven, Smith initiated complex sealings that sought to bind the entirety of humanity. Through temple sealings, Smith constructed a way to “[bridge] the gap that divided Mormons from each other in the cosmological priesthood network.” Part of this sealing network were the institutions of both adoption and polygamy. By the time Snow penned “O My Father,” she was aware of the polygamous sealings that were part of the kinship bonds of heaven. Three years prior, on June 29, 1842, Snow married Smith as a plural wife. As such, her beloved hymn included the assumption of plural marriage. When she wrote her assurance of a Mother in Heaven, which she testified as evident based on both reasonable and eternal truth, she likely assumed there was more than one.
Women’s exaltation, like men’s exaltation, is tied to the bonds forged over temple altars: their marriages and children. For this reason, Mormon cosmology is based on a required gender reciprocity. Men and women are, as scholar Amy Hoyt has written, “interdependent and must rely on each other for exaltation, although they may be individually saved.” This is echoed by theologian Blaire Ostler, who emphatically argued, “His godhood is dependent on Her, just as Hers is dependent on Him.” However, the emphasis on a single exalting union is a recent development. Celestial marriage only became synonymous with eternal marriage, rather than plural marriage, in the late nineteenth century. Prior to this time, Mormons believed in a theological framework where the exaltation and deification of women was inseparable from plural unions.
Like the rituals necessary for exaltation, the power behind the sealing ritual required a gender reciprocity in the early years of the Church. During the period that Smith revealed the sealing ritual, he further elaborated on the doctrine of priesthood through the temple liturgy. In his work on the early evolution of Mormon priesthood, Jonathan Stapley differentiates between the ecclesiastical priesthood, marked by offices and ordination, and the temple or cosmological priesthood, which was a means of “materializing heaven” and forging eternal bonds. The cosmological priesthood was the force that cemented earthly relationships and solidified the human family through a complicated web of dynastic sealing. For the cosmological priesthood to function, women’s participation was not only welcome but vital. Because it was familial in nature, the priesthood in the temple required women’s participation.
In the nineteenth-century Mormon context, the temple liturgy that instructed the initiated in the sacred knowledge of exaltation was intimately tied to polygamy and reserved for participants in the Anointed Quorum. The families forged on altars “had become the lingua franca of an exaltation that was steeply gendered and rooted in polygamy. In this version of plural theology, women are not denied exaltation, by any means,” writes scholar Peter Coviello. Further, “As mothers of children, they become gods in their own right. . . . They may become gods—Mothers in Heaven—but they are gods who obey. They emerge, we might say, as gods in subjection.” Like Mormon men, who understood themselves as “gods in embryo,” women similarly foresaw their future exalted state as one of deity. Within this framework, women’s deification was specifically connected to their status as wives and mothers. This was further promoted by Brigham Young, who centered both plurality of wives and women’s reproduction in his discussions of exaltation.
The connection between plural marriage and exaltation was difficult to untangle as the Church moved away from the practice. This was only further complicated by the continuation of plural temple sealings for divorced Latter-day Saint men and widowers, as well as the continued canonical status of the plural marriage revelation. Given the connection between plural marriage and women’s deification, some LDS women authors focus their attention on “the consequences of a female deity for women,” one being eternal polygamy. It is this underlying assumption in Snow’s poetry that informed many early views of women’s eternal nature as well as the current fundamentalist theology of exaltation. At the same time, while embraced by polygamists across the Restoration, it is the assumed polygamous heaven of the nineteenth century that lends to concern among Latter-day Saint women who fear an eternal state unlike the monogamous one they know on earth. Carol Lynn Pearson’s The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy: Haunting the Hearts and Heaven of Mormon Women and Men documented this sentiment through research among LDS women who remain concerned about the potential for plural marriages. In addition to hesitancy about their own eternal state, some Mormon women claim that the LDS Church’s silence on Heavenly Mother is connected to the anxiety-riddled question: Is there more than one?
For members of the Mormon fundamentalist movement, this question was never unanswered. Those who attained exaltation were destined to eternal polygamous unions, just as their Heavenly Mothers. While the institutional LDS Church stagnated on doctrinal teaching around Heavenly Mother, the Mormon fundamentalist movement continued to offer insight into the nature of Heavenly Mothers. Drawing on nineteenth-century Mormon doctrine, Lorin C. Woolley’s School of the Prophets began teaching about Heavenly Mother in 1932 at a meeting of the members of his Priesthood Council. On March 6, Woolley offered names for the wives of Adam, whom he understood as the Heavenly Father of this world:
Adam probably had three wives on earth before Mary, Mother of Jesus.
Phoebe " 2nd
3rd, probably mother of Seth. Joseph of Armenia [Arimathea], proxy husband of Mary had one wife before Mary and four additional after.
Woolley’s comment came with little context or extrapolation. However, his prophetic counsel initiated a tradition of naming the women who were deified as Mormonism’s Heavenly Mothers. Reference to the first people, Adam and Eve, as well as Phoebe and Sarah, gave early leaders an opportunity to explain the path toward women’s theosis, the ability for human beings to become gods, and the place of gendered faith in the process.
Six years after Woolley’s first reference to the divine feminine, Joseph W. Musser expanded the doctrine and gave increased import to the women of the Creation narrative. In his 1938 Mother’s Day editorial, he again drew on Eliza R. Snow and the “great and glorious truths pertaining to women’s true position in the creations of the Gods” found in her poems. He wrote, “A Goddess came down from her mansions of glory to bring the spirits of her children down after her, in their myriads of branches and their hundreds of generations!” “The celestial Masonry of Womanhood! The other half of the grand patriarchal economy of heavens and earth!,” he declared of the elevated state his cosmology supposedly afforded women in plural unions. Women were not only eternal spouses, they were part of the cosmological structure powered by priesthood authority.
In addition to the literal exalted state of women, Musser spoke of the metaphorical feminine that permeates Mormon theology and existed prior to Adam and Eve’s descent to a telestial state. According to his theology, the order of the cosmos was not only formed through patriarchal priesthood, but the birthing of the cosmological order necessitated womanhood and matriarchal power. Referring to Edward W. Tullidge’s nineteenth-century speculation on the nature of God, he asserted that before the temporal existence of our earth’s god, womanhood was manifest in the eternal structure of the “Trinity of Mothers—Eve the Mother of the world; Sarah the Mother of the covenant; Zion the Mother of celestial sons and daughters—the Mother of the new creation of Messiah’s reign, which shall give to earth the crown of her glory and the cup of joy after all her ages of travail.” This trinitarian image of divine womanhood spoke to the theological place of the feminine not only embodied in women but inherent to the eternal worlds of Mormon cosmology, even before the creation of their temporal counterparts.
Becoming Queens and Priestesses
Women’s representation in the fundamentalist cosmos has the potential to afford women an avenue toward temporal authority. The exalted familial bond that exists as God in Mormonism allows for an interpretation of God’s power, or priesthood, as embodied in both men and women. Heavenly Mother not only represents women’s eternal future but the necessity of women’s priesthood to elevate her to godliness. As with their LDS sisters, motherhood is elevated and often equated with priesthood. Blaire Ostler notes the conundrum this presents: “Motherhood is of such importance for Latter-day Saint women that it is often compared to a man’s priesthood ordination—not in his participation in parenthood as a father, but in his divine right to act in the name of God through priesthood authority.” Within the LDS Church, where priesthood is not offered to women at this time, women’s authority remains located in the reproductive sphere. Unlike with LDS women, early differentiations between an ecclesiastical and cosmological priesthood allows some fundamentalist women a recognized authority in some religious spaces. This is most often attained through the Second Anointing, but also in independent ordinations to various offices. With this in mind, one of the overarching questions is the extent to which cosmological parity translates into the elevated temporal status of women, a question long raised by the Mormon feminist movement.
In the nineteenth century, women who practiced polygamy diminished their marital desires in the present life for a reward in the next life. Women could be gods, but only in relation to men. “The revelation on plural marriage promised women greater celestial glory in exchange for consenting to the practice, and anecdotal evidence agrees that at least some (and perhaps most) of the women were motivated by otherworldly promises for them and their families,” notes historian Danny L. Jorgensen on the conundrum of Mormon deity. Despite the authority afforded to women who elevated their social position through marriage and family life, it remained the case that women’s divinity was centrally located in the polygamous family. Peter Coviello has written that “the Heavenly Mother discourse, though valuable inasmuch as it counteracts the marginlessness of the identification between authority and masculinity, does very little to unwrite the confining of femininity, and especially feminine divinity, to the sphere of reproduction.”
While women did not hold priesthood offices and were not ordained in early Mormonism, they were a vital component to the manifestation of God’s power on earth. The power that forged the cosmos was shared and manifest in the temple liturgy. This included being raised to the status of queen and priestess in the “fulness of the priesthood.” Lucy Kmitzsch found her place within the fundamentalist movement shortly after her excommunication from the LDS Church in 1934. She and her sisters all married prominent members of the community, including Joseph Musser, Lorin C. Woolley, and J. Leslie Broadbent. In reminiscences of Lucy Kmitzsch’s life by her husband, she is referred to one of the best women in Zion and at performing ordinances. The 1940 ordinance referenced by Musser resembled his diary entry for November 30, 1899, when he received his Second Anointing in the Logan Temple with his first wife. For that reason, some assume that he both passed his priesthood authority to those outside the institutional Church and offered women the authority that stems from this ordinance. While this ordinance is no longer readily available to men and women in the LDS Church, this ceremony remains the avenue that many Mormon fundamentalist women are made sure of their exaltation and sealed into eternity as queens and priestesses.
In 2017, I witnessed the potential for cosmological motherhood to translate into priesthood at the semi-annual Solemn Assembly of the Righteous Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. During a women’s meeting, the general Relief Society president, a convert to the group from the LDS Church, stood to share a talk on the perseverance of the Saints and the place of women as central to building the faith in Zion. After her talk, I spoke with a member of the Apostleship about her comments. To my admiration of her eloquence and contribution, he simply replied, “Of course it was powerful. She has priesthood.” Like Kmitzsch, the continuation for the Second Anointing afforded the Relief Society president an authoritative position within her religious community, much like her own eternal Mothers. Within this ritual, women symbolically perform the biblical event when Mary anointed and blessed Jesus through a foot washing in preparation for his death and exaltation. Like Mary, interpreted as a wife of Jesus, Mormon women who participate in this ceremony prepare their husbands for exaltation and thus ensure their own eternal status.
Save for a couple of exceptions, fundamentalist groups do not offer priesthood ordination to women independent of the Second Anointing, an ordinance connected to marriage. However, for those that do, women share in the priesthood of their eternal Mother in their temporal lives. Some of the earliest examples of this occurred under the hand of Ross Wesley LeBaron, one of three successors to Alma Dayer LeBaron’s priesthood claim from Benjamin F. Johnson. During LeBaron ordinations to the patriarchal priesthood, women were ordained alongside their husbands in a joint ordinance symbolizing the gendered nature of the cosmos and the eternal state of all exalted people. In one ordination record, two serve as representative examples:
“William Edward Aldrich summer 1982 (and then his wife, Gloria, was ordained as Matriarch)
Thomas Arthur Green 19 Feb 1985 (and then Tom ordained his wife, Beth, as Matriarch).”
One of the men ordained by LeBaron in November 1978, Fred C. Collier, continued this tradition among the women in his own Mormon community, even affording women “all the keys of the priesthood.” For Collier’s group, this takes the form of full ordination to the priesthood. Jacob Vidrine, a historian of LeBaron priesthood, explains, “Fred teaches that women can perform all ordinances for other women, but says that sacrificial ordinances/the sacrament are male priesthood responsibilities properly performed by men, but that ordained women did have authority to perform them also.” The authority to perform ordinances extends to women’s authority to baptize, confirm, bless, and ordain others to priesthood offices.
In a 2014 photograph of one such ordination, a young woman wearing a black blouse sits in a folding chair in a living room. She is surrounded by five women with their right hands placed on her head and their left hands on the right shoulder of the woman beside them. The women receiving the ordinance was ordained to the office of elderess on that day, by ordained high priestesses. This image speaks to the broader tradition within the group. A 1992 ordination record exemplifies the practice. In the minutes of the proceedings, the officiant laid his hands on the woman’s head and declared:
[name redacted], through the authority of the High Priesthood of the Holy Order of God, we lay our hands upon your head and ordain you to the office of High Priestess and confer upon you all those keys and all those rights and privileges of this office. We ordain you and we confer upon you the High Priestesshood after the Holy Order of God. We do this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
The record for this ordination reflects two women ordained to the office of high priesthesshood, the same office assumed by the exalted women in their cosmology. Within the context of this branch of Mormonism, “all the keys” included the power to seal families for eternity. In addition, there is one case of a woman ordained to the office of presiding matriarch.
In their own literature, fundamentalist Mormons explain the priesthood of women extending back to the early days of the Restoration and the role of their eternal Mother, Eve. Along the same theological lines of Adam’s exaltation as an example to all men, it is Eve’s position that became embodied by all women, including Emma Smith, the wife of the first Mormon prophet: “It was the Prophet’s mission to establish the Kingdom of God on Earth—it was a family kingdom. Its powers were vested in the King and Queen, the anointed husband and wife. In this order the parents literally stand as God and Goddess to their own family kingdom. The Prophet Joseph had chosen for his Queen the elect lady Emma—just as Joseph stood as Adam, Emma stood as Eve. She was the first woman received into the Holy Order and the first woman to be ordained to the fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood.”
As a religious tradition that argues for its place as an authentic expression of nineteenth-century Mormonism, the continued ordination of women is not seen as a deviation from Restoration history but a continuation. For this Mormon group in particular, women’s ordination does not come with limitation. On the contrary, their writing on the restoration of matriarchal priesthood argues that “had Emma been worthy to receive it, she would have presided over the kingdom as presiding Matriarch, High Priestess, Queen, Goddess and Eve. Even Brigham Young would have been subject to her—she would have been his Mother, Queen and Goddess!” It is precisely because of Heavenly Mother that Mormon women across the Restoration can see themselves as active participants in the cosmological priesthood with their male priesthood counterparts. Whether this will translate into ecclesiastical priesthood in the future remains to be seen.
Speculation on the place of Heavenly Mother began soon after the introduction of the temple liturgy. Eliza R. Snow took Joseph Smith’s teachings on embodied gods and exaltation and traced them to their logical conclusion, a Mother in Heaven. Since Snow penned her famous poetry on gendered deity, the doctrine of Heavenly Mother has expanded among Mormon women as a way to make sense of their eternity. At the same time, Mormon feminists have looked to the history of priesthood and Heavenly Mother as entry points to understand women’s authority in the Church. However, the authority of women in the temple and the theology of Heavenly Mother was historically tied to relationship. Women could exercise priesthood and become gods, but only within the bonds of marriage, specifically polygamous marriage.
As the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints moved away from the plural marriage revelation, a marital system that created the cosmological backdrop for the doctrine of Heavenly Mothers, the status of the divine feminine became increasingly distant from the lived experience of LDS women. Ecclesiastical changes altered women’s place within the cosmos. However, for women involved in the fundamentalist movement, where the ambiguity over eternal polygamy is absent, the doctrinal continuity afforded women more space to institutionally discuss the place of women in the afterlife. The cosmological priesthood associated with their theological view of Heavenly Mother remains an avenue for women’s authority.
Note: The Dialogue Foundation provides the web format of this article as a courtesy. There may be unintentional differences from the printed version. For citational and bibliographical purposes, please use the printed version or the PDFs provided online and on JSTOR.
 Eliza R. Snow, “My Father in Heaven,” Times and Seasons 6, Nov. 1845, 1039. For a discussion of this poem and hymn, see Jill Mulvay Derr, “The Significance of ‘O My Father’ in the Personal Journey of Eliza R. Snow,” BYU Studies 36, no. 1 (1996–97): 84–126.
 The hymn was written by William C. Harrison and originally published as “Companion Poem to Eliza R. Snow’s ‘Invocation’” in the March 1, 1892 issue of the Juvenile Instructor, edited by George Q. Cannon.
 Joseph W. Musser, “Comments on Conference Topics,” Truth, May 1938.
 Eliza R. Snow, “The Ultimatum of Human Life,” in Poems, Religious, Historical and Political (Salt Lake City: The Latter-day Saints Printing and Publishing Establishment, 1877), 8–9.
 Jonathan A. Stapley, The Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), 11.
 Jonathan A. Stapley, “Brigham Young’s Garden Cosmology,” Journal of Mormon History 47, no. 1 (Jan. 2021): 68–86.
 Stapley, Power of Godliness, 20.
 “O My Father,” Hymns, no. 292.
 Amy Hoyt, “Beyond the Victim/Empowerment Paradigm: The Gendered Cosmology of Mormon Women,” Feminist Theology 16, no. 1 (2007): 97.
 James E. Talmage, “The Story of Mormonism,” Improvement Era 4, no. 12 (Oct. 1901): 909. For an overview of the shifting view of celestial marriage in Mormon history, see Stephen C. Taysom, “A Uniform and Common Recollection: Joseph Smith’s Legacy, Polygamy, and the Creation of Mormon Public Memory, 1852–2002,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 35, no. 3 (Fall 2002): 113–44.
 For notable examples of Heavenly Mother described as a monogamous wife of God in Church history, see David L. Paulsen and Martin Pulido, “‘A Mother There’: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven,” BYU Studies 50, no. 1 (2011): 70–97.
 Stapley, Power of Godliness, 11.
 Stapley, Power of Godliness, 26.
 See David John Buerger, “The Development of the Mormon Temple Endowment Ceremony,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 20, no. 4 (Winter 1987): 33–76.
 Peter Coviello, Make Yourselves Gods: Mormons and the Unfinished Business of American Secularism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019), 126.
 Coviello, Make Yourselves Gods, 126.
 Coviello, Make Yourselves Gods, 55.
 Stapley, “Brigham Young’s Garden Cosmology,” 84.
 Danny L. Jorgensen, “The Mormon Gender-Inclusive Image of God,” Journal of Mormon History 27, no. 1 (Spring 2001): 100.
 See Carol Lynn Pearson, The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy: Haunting the Hearts and Heaven of Mormon Women and Men (Walnut Creek, Calif.: Pivot Point Books, 2016).
 Brigham Young, Apr. 9, 1852, Journal of Discourses, 1:46.
 Joseph W. Musser, Book of Remembrances, transcribed and edited by Bryan Buchanan, 7. As described in the Book of Remembrances, Woolley further speculated that the wives of Jesus were “Martha (Industry), Mary (of god), Phoebe, Sarah (Sacrifice), Rebecca (given of God), Josephine (Daughter of Joseph), Mary Magdalen, and Mary, Martha’s sister.”
 Musser, Book of Remembrances.
 Joseph W. Musser, “Mother’s Day,” Truth, May 1938.
 Musser, “Mother’s Day.”
 Musser, “Mother’s Day.”
 Musser, “Mother’s Day.” See Edward W. Tullidge, The Women of Mormondom (New York, 1877).
 Ostler, “Heavenly Mother,” 175.
 Jorgensen, “Mormon Gender-Inclusive Image of God,” 118–19.
 Coviello, Make Yourselves Gods, 269n57.
 Coviello, Make Yourselves Gods, 17.
 “Journal, July 28, 1940,” Joseph White Musser Journals, 1929–1944, file no. 17. Photocopy in author’s possession.
 “Journal, May 1904,” Joseph White Musser Journals, 1895–1911, MS 1862, Journal 2, p. 104, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City.
 “Men who have been ordained by Ross W. LeBaron,” 1958–1995. Copy in author’s possession.
 “Ordinations and Confirmations at Hanna,” Apr. 3, 1992. Copy in author’s possession.
 Jacob Vidrine, interview by Cristina Rosetti, June 25, 2021.
 Even in groups where priesthood ordination is not conferred upon women, blessings remain a central part of fundamentalist women’s experience. This is especially true of Confinement Blessings before birth.
 “1992 Collier Ordination Record.” Copy in author’s possession.
 William B. Harwell, “The Matriarchal Priestesshood and Emma’s Right to Succession As Presiding High Priestess and Queen,” in Doctrine of the Priesthood 8, no. 3 (Mar. 1991): 12–13.
. Harwell, “Matriarchal Priestesshood,” 13.
 There are currently no women leading Mormon groups. The only woman to lead a Latter-day Saint denomination, Church of Christ, was Pauline Hancock, who broke from Community of Christ. See Jason R. Smith, “Pauline Hancock and Her ‘Basement Church,’” John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 26 (2006): 185–93.[post_title] => “O My Mother”: Mormon Fundamentalist Mothers in Heaven and Women’s Authority [post_excerpt] => Dialogue 55.1 (Spring 2022): 119–135
As the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints moved away from the plural marriage revelation, a marital system that created the cosmological backdrop for the doctrine of Heavenly Mothers, the status of the divine feminine became increasingly distant from the lived experience of LDS women. Ecclesiastical changes altered women’s place within the cosmos. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => o-my-mother-mormon-fundamentalist-mothers-in-heaven-and-womens-authority [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-11-15 01:19:18 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-11-15 01:19:18 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=29137 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
Guides to Heavenly Mother: An Interview with McArthur Krishna and Bethany Brady Spalding
Dialogue 55.1 (Spring 2022): 135-166
When Dialogue asked us to write a personal article about our process of writing A Girl’s Guide to Heavenly Mother (D Street Press, 2020), we were delighted.
When Dialogue asked us to write a personal article about our process of writing A Girl’s Guide to Heavenly Mother (D Street Press, 2020), we were delighted. The work Dialogue does is so important that it was quite a compliment to be included. For this contribution, we decided we would take the opportunity to interview ourselves. We have done lots of podcasts and interviews, but sometimes as an interviewee you just don’t get to say everything you wished you would have, or you don’t get asked questions you want to answer. So, below is our very own self-guided Q&A, for your reading pleasure.
Q: Why did you start writing children’s books?
Bethany: We’re fond of this quip from a wise fictional gas-station attendant aptly named Socrates: “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” McArthur and I get all fired up about so many good things in the gospel, but we are also pretty feisty about wanting change in the Church—first and foremost a wider embrace of Heavenly Mother and a greater recognition of the power and divinity of women (so that we can live up to our theology of the divine partnership of Heavenly Parents). So we had to decide: we could rant and rave about the lack of strong, spiritual women in our church curriculum and conversations, or we could get busy and create stories to help fill that void. And with the inspiration to invest in the rising generation, we knew that children’s books were the best place to start. So we set out writing in hopes of illuminating and building the next generation of Latter-day Saints to have a fuller sense of feminine divinity.
McArthur: Plus, Bethany and I both have three daughters. We want the world to be a different place for them to grow up in. Look around. Is this a world whose policies, culture, governments, and relationships honor women? (Hint: no.) Meg Conley has recently written about how the pandemic made the lack of respect and support for women’s domestic work abundantly clear. Gabrielle Blair’s essay on birth control elucidates the gender bigotry enmeshed in the system. Statistics on how much women are paid (or not paid) make the gender pay gap clear. And, frankly, these are just the systems within my own country. Around the world, women face discrimination and are given second-class status. If we want to sway the world, then we need to teach children correct principles.
Q: Wait! You had an agenda when writing these books?
McArthur: Um, why, yes. An agenda simply means to have an intent or a goal, an “underlying ideological plan.” Our plan is that we need our children’s books to reflect our doctrine. And, trust us, writing children’s books is not lucrative or glamorous enough to spend years of your life doing it for simple kicks. In fact, every year we consider retiring. And then we look at each other and ask, “Is there anything more the world needs from us?”
Now, sometimes people appreciate our agenda and sometimes they don’t. That’s fine. It actually doesn’t matter. Not everyone needs to buy every book. (Though, if they did, then at least the lucrative angle would change.) What matters is that 1) we feel we are using our talents for good in the world and 2) we get enough feedback from others who feel their life has been positively impacted for us to think our efforts were worth it.
Soooo, so far, we have always felt there was one more . . .
Q: Why did you choose each other as creative partners?
Bethany: If you were to meet McArthur, you’d quickly want to come up with a reason to dive into a project with her. She’s a helluva storyteller, wicked smart, and doesn’t take no for an answer (I’ve nicknamed her the Holy Harasser). Plus, she co-owned a communications company and knows how to get shizam done! McArthur and I had been neighbors in Washington DC, where we both served with the youth in urban wards and came to know how vital role models are. And she just happened to be visiting me in Mumbai, India when my almost-three-year-old daughter, Simone, asked the earnest question “Where are all of the stories of the girls?” after I finished reading her a children’s scripture book. So a dose of friendship and fate turned McArthur into my coauthor.
McArthur: Well, I was lucky Bethany called me up. And, after six books, I have to say I couldn’t ask for a better partner. I like working with people who are forces of nature—I want to grab onto their tornado whirlwind and go for the wild ride of their vision. And, P.S., it helps if they also happen to have mad editing skills to balance the deluge I drop onto a page.
Q: Why did you decide to write books about Heavenly Mother?
Bethany: From the get-go, I wanted to write about Heavenly Mother. Our Girls Who Choose God series was a great warm-up, getting readers comfortable with matriarchs and prophetesses and women judges and generals. The women from the scriptures and Church history were dynamo, but they were still human. Why not introduce girls to their ultimate female role model, Heavenly Mother? I have a master’s degree in public health and have worked on food security and nutrition programs in many communities in the US and around the world. But in my early thirties, I started to feel spiritually malnourished. Everything I worshiped and revered and thought of as sacred was male. Surely, this wasn’t a balanced diet that would promote my well-being. And as I became a mother and started having daughters, I felt compelled to come up with new meals, new recipes to nourish my girls’ spiritual development. I couldn’t just feed them the patriarchy I had grown up on. We needed to whip up a big serving of Heavenly Mother to have a more balanced spiritual feast. My own soul, my girls, and the whole world felt like it was starving for Her.
McArthur: When I was twelve years old, someone explained to me how a traditional marriage and family worked. And I thought, “Why would I possibly sign up for that? To be an inherently, divinely appointed second-class human? And why would I believe in Heavenly Parents who think that?”
Turns out—They don’t.
Traditional, for the record, is a terrible term. There is no inherent worth in something existing simply because it already does. Traditions can be beautiful and empowering, and traditions can be false and demeaning. Traditional marriages have included all those aspects. On the negative side, a “traditional” family has included such things as children not speaking until they are spoken to, women manipulating men (as was thoroughly detailed in Helen Andelin’s Fascinating Womanhood and often taught in Relief Society), corporal punishment, unrighteous dominion, unequal partnership, and more.
Bethany’s husband started using a different phrase: a divine marriage. And that’s a fabulous term. A divine marriage and family are based on mutual love and support, an understanding that everyone’s growth and development are worth investing in, and righteous partnership, which is modeled by our Heavenly Parents.
The divine model for marriage should be based on what we know of our Heavenly Parents’ relationship. Your first thought might be, “But what do we really know?” Turns out, after we did all the research for these books, plenty.
And once we saw that there was a lot of information to construct a new divine model, we knew it had to be told. Young children—both girls and boys—needed to be shown this model as something to aspire to.
Q: Why does Heavenly Mother matter?
Bethany: We Mormons speak so much about the fullness of the gospel. But to me, it really feels like we’re wrestling with just half. The splendid poet Carol Lynn Pearson writes that we can’t have holiness without wholeness. And to me, wholeness is only found as we embrace Heavenly Mother and welcome Her into our collective and personal worship and spiritual lives. To have a fullness of the gospel, we need both our Heavenly Parents. Can you imagine what would change if we disregarded the cultural baggage of a “heavenly hush” surrounding Her and instead shouted out a “heavenly hallelujah”? Imagine how young girls in Primary would feel if we included Heavenly Mother into the hymn: “I am a child of God / and They have sent me here.” Imagine how teenage girls would think of their bodies if they fully knew that God has breasts and hips and curves. Imagine how newly endowed sister missionaries would serve if they saw Heavenly Mother as part of the creative process in the temple ceremony. Imagine how young professional women could work in the world knowing that Heavenly Mother is a creative powerhouse. Imagine a new bride beaming after a sealing ceremony performed by a woman and man, celebrating a union in the image of our Heavenly Parents. Imagine how new mothers would feel giving birth and nurturing children, knowing about a Heavenly Mother equal in might and glory! And the list goes on and on . . .
McArthur: But let’s be clear: the truth of Heavenly Mother doesn’t just benefit girls, it’s also vital for boys! The prophet Spencer W. Kimball spoke often about Heavenly Mother. My personal theory on this is that because he lost his earthly mother at a young age, he was craving a mother’s love, and Heavenly Mother could help fill that void.
Originally, Bethany and I were only going to write A Girl’s Guide. We have daughters. We write “girls’ stories.” But a woman reached out to us—a mother of five boys—and asked that we include boys. That wouldn’t work for A Girl’s Guide—there were very specific reasons that we needed to discuss this doctrine in a female context. Yet the long list of reasons she offered was compelling. Boys can be blessed by the perfect love of a divine Mother.
Boys need to understand that girls are their equal—in the classroom, at work, in family life, at church, in the world. Boys need Heavenly Mother to more fully grasp the divine role of women.
Both boys and girls need to learn that the equality of their Heavenly Parents is the divine model in order to avoid the pitfalls of a skewed world. A few seemingly disparate examples come to mind:
- A recent study from Brigham Young University highlighted the overwhelming inequity of how men and women communicate in group projects. If these students understood the divine model of women and men working together, would those communication patterns be different? I think so.
- A book I recently read about Mongol queens described how their accomplishments were literally cut out of the official records. The scrolls were sliced to remove their names, their roles, their actions. The world has removed the glory of women; truth can restore it.
- Having lived almost a decade in India, it is readily apparent that even in the present-day world, the glory of women is not honored. India practices female infanticide and has one of the highest female suicide rates in the world. But let us not overlook the sexism in our own backyard, including unequal pay in the professional world and unequal workload at home.
Bethany: And knowledge of Heavenly Mother benefits not only individuals but also communities and even countries. Our Heavenly Parents exemplify the divine model of equal partnership. As Valerie Hudson and co-authors’ work shows, the benefits of treating women more equitably are stunning. In countries with higher gender equality, people live longer, there is less disease, less war, and higher levels of education. The divine model is equality. When we as humans follow a divine model, better things happen everywhere.
McArthur: So why do we write these books? Why did we think it was worth highlighting these truths? To change ourselves, our families, and the world. You know. Just that.
Q: How did you choose the art for the guides?
Bethany: McArthur was the genius behind gathering the art for the book, so I’ll let her answer with all the details. But we both felt adamant that the art be expansive and widen our understanding of God, knowing that how we humans view God determines what we believe is sacred and supreme. If we believe only in a white, male God then of course whiteness and maleness become superior. And this has damaging effects. Living in Richmond, Virginia (the capital of the Confederacy) during the racial unrest and reckoning in the spring and summer of 2020, I saw up close the ugliness of white supremacy. We wanted our guides to be part of the solution to achieving racial justice.
McArthur: We were incredibly blessed to receive the contributions of more than fifty artists. Most of the pieces in the book were done specifically for the book, which is a great risk and investment on the artists’ side.
In my own immediate family, we have Polynesian, Haitian, Native American, East Indian, and a mix of European heritage. To show a Heavenly Mother as only white would be an appalling assertion. We wanted to ensure that as many people as possible who saw the book had an entrance point to relate to their own Heavenly Mother. So, in our book we have depictions of Heavenly Mother from artists in Cambodia, South Africa, Nigeria, Lebanon, Canada, Argentina, Qatar, and New Zealand. Heavenly Mother is depicted as Polynesian, African American, Native American. We have images that are very classical and images in the style of street art. In order to find such a wide range of talented artists, we were lucky to have the resources of the Church History Museum. Their international art competitions from the last fifteen years are available online, so we were able to cull many of our international artists from there.
Through this project, we’ve seen just how much art matters. When my husband (who is not of our faith) toured the Conference Center for the first time, he turned to the guide afterward and said, “Is your church a men’s club? Sure looks like it.” For the record, we had had zero conversations about gender and the Church—he was just observant. Later, when we published the Girls Who Choose God series, I thought it was an opportunity to change the face of the Conference Center. We heard that the Church leaders were aware of this quandary and were actively working to change it. We are happy to say that Kathleen Peterson’s powerful images of women from the scriptures were some of the first art depicting women to hang at the Conference Center. For two years, girls could go to general conference and see themselves in these inspiring portraits. Now, we are happy to say that the first image of Heavenly Mother to appear on Temple Square was Caitlin Connolly’s painting In Their Image, commissioned from the cover of our book, Our Heavenly Family, Our Earthly Families. Images can reflect truth; they can also obscure it. Let’s choose truth.
Q: Tell us about some of the art.
McArthur: Every time someone asks me about my favorite artwork in the series, I answer differently because they all make me swoon. But, today, one of them is particularly on my mind. Laura Erekson created a portrait of Heavenly Mother by embedding objects in plaster. It is magnificent. A God with Her arms outstretched wide and open. And, what I love the best, Her crown, Her glory, is made of tools. Pliers, specifically.
The phrase comes to mind that we are our Heavenly Parents’ “work and glory”—and what a powerful way to show that! And what a reassuring truth to understand—that in addition to a divine Brother’s and Father’s love, we also have a Mother’s love!
Bethany: Well, I am sitting here staring at Richard Lasisi Olagunju’s Nigerian rendition of our Heavenly Parents. We needed a safe home for it until our art show in Provo in May 2021, so I happily volunteered my bedroom wall. It is about four feet tall, completely hand-beaded. Every day it serves as a bold reminder to me and my husband to work through our conflicts, reconcile, and aspire to a loving and full partnership. Plus, I need to up my hairdo game.
Q: Is there any significance to the colors on the cover of the Girl’s Guide?
McArthur: Why, yes. Thank you for asking. With these books, we actually got to decide the cover. That is not how the children’s book world usually works. So, we decided that we wanted a color that carried all the celebration of life, vibrancy, and energy that we would imagine. What would represent that better than hot persimmon coral orange? (Plus, if you see Bethany’s kitchen stools or my chaise lounge, you’d see we both live with that color too! Hmm, I just realized that Bethany’s kitchen stools and my chaise each says quite a bit about our individual passions.)
Bethany: Additionally, one of the most beautiful descriptions of Heavenly Mother came from a rabbi. He had a vision of Heavenly Mother in Her glory: “he saw Her dressed in Her robe woven out of light, more magnificent than the setting sun, and Her joyful countenance was revealed.” For us, this bold color was a tribute to the vividness of the setting sun.
Q: Why did you choose a guide format for the books?
McArthur: We wrestled with how to convey the abundance of information about Heavenly Mother in a way that was interactive and accessible for young people. Then, Bethany was inspired—a guidebook! Bethany and I are both travelers and have relished seeing the wide-reaching parts of our Heavenly Parents’ stunning planet, and guidebooks have been our fast friends along the way. Voilà! So, we sat down to see if that could work. And by sat down, I actually mean we Skyped, FaceTimed, WhatsApped—whatever technology could connect us from rural India to Richmond, Virginia, then Australia, Bhutan, South Africa, Greece, and more far-flung places as Bethany’s family worked their way around their global sabbatical. (You can see how some of these places now feature in the guidebook!)
Bethany: And the guidebook format enabled us to highlight three different sections for our readers: first, a focus on the divine attributes of Heavenly Mother; second, discovering how Heavenly Mother teaches us magnificent truths about ourselves; and third, a call to action: use these sublime truths to create a more loving world!
Q: Who should read our guides to Heavenly Mother?
Bethany and McArthur: So, if you are interested in making change, children are a good place to start. Children have not yet heard the false traditions of our forefathers or our cultural taboos around Heavenly Mother. We don’t want them to go through life as we did, lacking a key component of the identity of God and hence our own.
However, the truth of our Heavenly Mother is clearly not a doctrine that only benefits children. As Joseph Smith taught, we need to have a correct understanding of God in order to understand our own nature and destiny. Hence, this is for everyone. Literally. We’ve been delighted to hear from little kids, great-grandmas, middle-aged bishops, Young Women presidents, elderly high councilors, and others in-between who have been deeply moved by our books.
Q: How has writing these books changed your life, especially your relationship with Heavenly Mother?
McArthur: I think what has changed my relationship with Heavenly Mother even more than writing the books has been the interactions we have had with people since they’ve been published. Writing the books helped clarify a lot of information about Heavenly Mother. These were things I had heard from prophets and apostles scattered in articles here and there, and then the guides made a gathering place for all of them. And, frankly, that’s lovely, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. What happened from there is that people started asking us about Heavenly Mother and telling us about their faith journey to learn of Her. Those conversations pushed me to a place to realize that while I had spent the time and work to learn of Her, I had not put the same effort into actually having a relationship with Her. It is a very different thing to learn something academically and to learn something personally. Both are valuable, but one without the other is not enough. And so, while I have a list of moments when I have felt Jesus’ love for me or direction from my Father in Heaven, I now have added to my faith list a single interaction with Heavenly Mother. It was very clear that it was a different Being than who I had interacted with before.
Now that I know, I cannot not testify of Her. When I hear simple gospel phrases that slide out of our mouths, I want Her included. When people say “Our Heavenly Father’s plan for us,” immediately there is a bell that goes off in my head. The truth is, almost all mothers I know are involved in or even the primary planners for the family, so I cannot imagine Heavenly Mother not being involved in the plan of salvation. We also have a quote by Elder M. Russell Ballard talking about our Heavenly Parents’ plan for us. So, the most truthful portrayal of the plan of happiness is one that includes both of them.
This is true for many, many phrases we use. “I know my Heavenly Father loves me” is often said in sacrament meeting. Yes, good to know that. Do you also know you are beloved by your Heavenly Mother? Speak that truth. It matters.
McArthur: And a heavenly hallelujah!
Q: What response have the books received?
Bethany: The responses we have received have prompted some of the most humbling moments of our lives. We hear from grown women and men who say that this knowledge changed the trajectory they were on and tell us how much they wished they would have had it sooner.
We have written a handful of children’s books but never has one resonated as deeply as this. People buy one book, and then we see that a week later, they come back and buy a dozen more. It is clear that when they get it in their hands, they feel the power of the truth, and they want to share! We have been taught to let our light shine, and I think this relates directly to knowledge of Heavenly Mother. Simply, truth helps people. Why hide it?
I think this leads us into our last question . . .
Q: What are our hopes for the Heavenly Mother books?
Bethany: That people feel loved—divinely, gloriously, perfectly loved by both Heavenly Parents. And that that love spills out into the world to create a more balanced, beautiful place.
McArthur: That women will come to know their own worth and the worth of their sisters. That they will come to expect—and work for—the world to move closer to the divine model.
If you have questions you wished we would have answered, feel free to ping us via email (mcarthurkrishna [at] gmail.com and bethanybrady [at] yahoo.com) or social media (Instagram @mcarthurkrishna-creates).
 Dan Millman, Way of the Peaceful Warrior (Los Angeles: J. P. Tarcher, 1980; repr. CreateSpace, 2009), 175.
 Helen B. Andelin, Fascinating Womanhood (Santa Barbara, Calif.: Pacific Press, 1963).
 See “I Am a Child of God,” Hymns, no. 301.
 Jack Weatherford, The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire (New York: Crown, 2010).
 Valerie M. Hudson, Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill, Mary Caprioli, and Chad F. Emmett, Sex and World Peace (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012).
 Val Larsen, “Hidden in Plain View: Mother in Heaven in Scripture,” SquareTwo 8, no. 2 (Summer 2015).
 Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2007, 2011), 345.
 M. Russell Ballard, When Thou Art Converted: Continuing Our Search for Happiness (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2001), 62.[post_title] => Guides to Heavenly Mother: An Interview with McArthur Krishna and Bethany Brady Spalding [post_excerpt] => Dialogue 55.1 (Spring 2022): 135-166
When Dialogue asked us to write a personal article about our process of writing A Girl’s Guide to Heavenly Mother (D Street Press, 2020), we were delighted. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => guides-to-heavenly-mother-an-interview-with-mcarthur-krishna-and-bethany-brady-spalding [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-27 19:20:56 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-27 19:20:56 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=29138 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
In Defense of Heavenly Mother: Her Critical Importance for Mormon Culture and Theology
Dialogue 55.1 (Spring 2022): 37
Marginalizing God the Mother does not solve the problems raised by Mormonism’s doctrine of divine and human embodiment. It merely diminishes femaleness as a reflection of divinity. We do not need fewer images to understand God; we need more. Critics of Heavenly Mother have not fully grasped the negative consequences of moving toward a God beyond gender
Does the existence of the Heavenly Mother in Mormon theology promote heteronormativity that marginalizes gender nonconforming individuals? If so, why does the divine female, but not the divine male, bear the bulk of the blame for this marginalization? Why has her body and not his increasingly become the battleground over the nature and meaning of sex and gender for persons both human and divine in Latter-day Saint discourse and practice?
Though she has achieved acceptance in Mormon theology and culture, Mother in Heaven is still marginalized by the LDS Church. She is mostly absent in church worship and everyday orthodox practice and primarily referenced not as an individual deity but as one of the heavenly parents, a vague designation that subsumes her into a divine patriarchal family, serving as model for the 1995 “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As a result, her nature, dignity, and godhood remain vague in mainstream Mormon discourse because her status is uncertain, her role in creation and redemption is undefined, and because even her weakened standing in Mormon theology has been used by Evangelicals as an argument that Mormons are not fully Christian. In addition, many LDS women, orthodox and feminist alike, have long worried that Heavenly Mother is emblematic of nineteenth-century LDS apostle Orson Pratt’s version of a polygamist godhead consisting of a Heavenly Father joined to multiple heavenly mothers who are eternally pregnant and, like queen bees, forever reproducing offspring not in a matriarchal hive but in a patriarchal kingdom. In their 2020 article, “‘Mother in Heaven’: A Feminist Perspective,” which is a response to the LDS Gospel Topics essay on this subject, Caroline Kline and Rachel Hunt Steenblik point to hopeful, recent developments that work toward “dismantling cultural silence,” “legitimizing as authoritative church doctrine” positive statements about the divine female, and using capital letters and the singular in the printed term “Heavenly Mother.” Nevertheless, the authors argue that the Church’s short essay does not go far enough to establish Heavenly Mother’s godhood or her nature and standing in LDS practice and theology.
Recently, scholars with progressive views have also questioned depictions and possibly the value of Mother in Heaven, arguing that she promotes heteronormative sexuality that privileges just one image of “woman.” In “Rethinking Mormonism’s Heavenly Mother,” Taylor G. Petrey criticizes certain Mormon scholars (namely, Janice Allred, Valerie Hudson Cassler, and me): “Mormon feminists writing about Heavenly Mother have been complicit in heteronormative narratives that universalize a subset of women as the hypostasis of ‘woman.’” Petrey’s concern has become the center of LGBTQ gender critique in current LDS theological discussions where the Mother God, rather than her male counterpart, is seen as the culpable party. This new liberal critique accepts as normative the LDS Church’s simplistic view of Heavenly Mother as supportive wife of a presiding patriarchal Heavenly Father, as a female figure whose presence reinforces the structure of the conservative nuclear family that the LDS Church now projects into the eternities. Consequently, Mother in Heaven has become a stumbling block for many people.
In this essay, I will interrogate the views and arguments surrounding Heavenly Mother advocated in Mormon discourse on both the right and the left. I do not have space to answer and explore all the questions raised above. Instead, I will focus on the place where mainstream and liberal discourses converge, namely on Heavenly Mother’s role as the wife of the Father God and the mother of his children. I will challenge both current Church teachings as well as Petrey’s simplified summary of my past work. I have explored multiple nuanced images and figures that represent the female divine, such as a trinity of Mother, Daughter, and Holy Spirit who parallel the male godhead in form and function and who “have been intimately involved in our creation, redemption, and spiritual well-being” from the beginning. In this essay, I will highlight Mary, Wisdom, and the Holy Ghost or Comforter as central manifestations of God the Mother who reveal her divine wisdom, justice, mercy, and love, not merely her subordinate role in the patriarchal family unit. Multiple presentations of the Mother God rooted in Mormon texts challenge the view that she merely reinforces one kind of essentialized woman or mother. On the contrary, her many roles present a polymorphous divinity who makes room for gender nonconforming people.
I understand the desire of some to eliminate, as much as possible, an embodied, gendered God with physical characteristics such as skin color or sex on grounds that those who share those specifics with God are privileged over those who do not. A God beyond human attributes resolves such problems, but a totally other God introduces difficulties too. It echoes the ancient prescriptions of many early Christian fathers, who did not want to limit the divine in any way and taught that God was totally other, totally transcendent, totally beyond human attributes. Such teachings took hold as orthodox and resulted in the denigration of the physical realm, of the earth, of the human body—especially the female body of Eve, the original sinner, and of womankind in general. But they failed to erase the maleness of the God of Spirit. The disembodied God of Western philosophical theology has always disempowered women.
The Mormon doctrine of God as an embodied, gendered, glorified, anthropomorphic personage was intended to correct the orthodox view. Joseph Smith’s theology puts the physical creation on an equal footing with the spiritual. It presents body and spirit, matter and mind as inextricably connected and equally necessary for a fullness of joy (D&C 93:33). Physicality has always been central to Mormon belief. Its authoritative texts, sacred ordinances, and practices are too committed to embodiment to allow for the elimination of God’s resurrected, material male body, which is now a permanent fixture of the Mormon worldview. This means that if the spiritual realm, like the physical realm, is a venue for bodies, heaven must necessarily be a place for all the permutations and varieties of bodies that can exist along the gender spectrum to empower all.
Though an idealistic theology that posits a God beyond male and female may seek to avoid the complex problems of gender and sexuality, a practical and effective theology will confront and deal with the complexities of physicality and not sidestep them in the hope that some vague notion of a hereafter will eventually release us from the problems that burden us in the here and now. Mormon theologians must wrestle with the reality of physicalism while actively promoting equality, spirituality, and diversity. For this reason, Mormonism should not abandon or marginalize the embodied Heavenly Mother as the coequal counterpart of the embodied Heavenly Father. To do so at this stage of Mormon history in the hope of promoting the laudable goal of gender equality and diversity would not only exchange the problems of Mormonism’s concept of divine physicality for the old orthodox problems of divine immateriality, it would also intensify the deep psychological hunger for a divine female in LDS culture by erasing Heavenly Mother before she has been allowed to become fully visible.
In his 1967 pioneering book The Hebrew Goddess, Jewish scholar Raphael Patai notes that no matter how often male religious leaders tried to remove goddess figures to establish strict monotheism, divine female images would always reemerge in new identities. He traces various incarnations of the female divine in ancient Hebrew culture, such as Asherah and the Shekinah, and suggests that the female divinity meets basic human impulses that include biological motherhood and other deeper psychological and social necessities. It is no wonder that many Mormons on a private level seek to know, understand, and picture the Mother God, especially in visual art and poetry.
While mostly absent in mainstream LDS worship and practice, Heavenly Mother is very much alive in the everyday lives of thousands of Church members. Peggy Fletcher Stack’s 2021 Mother’s Day article in the Salt Lake Tribune reported: “There is a tidal wave of interest in this divine feminine among Latter-day Saints, observers say. It has become almost a movement.” But Stack also wrote that the increased talk is “where the debates and divisions begin. She remains a God of mystery. Some believers want to keep her that way. Others crave more answers. Meanwhile, LGBTQ and single members ask: Where do we fit?” Thus, popular Mormon culture reflects the same questions posed by scholars. How can Heavenly Mother fulfill important emotional, spiritual, and cultural needs in Mormonism while also meeting the current changing expectations about sex and gender? In response to this question, I argue that an embodied, gendered female deity can be an indispensable figure and source of hope, comfort, and liberation for all the oppressed, the vulnerable, and the powerless—whether they face discrimination for their race, their ethnicity, their sexual orientation, their transgender or nonbinary status, their status as immigrants, or their impoverished or homeless condition. But Mormon theology and practice also requires Heavenly Mother to be more than a symbol since the embodiment of the divine is a central doctrinal tenet. She must stand in time and eternity as a coequal of Heavenly Father; she must be seen as a real personage who acts as the Other to the male God, breaking out of monotheism or even dualism into a rich, wide spectrum of divine possibilities and characteristics. The goal of this essay is the near-impossible task of validating the embodied Mother God while also suggesting that she contains attributes that move godhood beyond gender.
Roadmap of this Essay
Mormon authoritative texts pointing to Heavenly Mother do not focus on her mothering role in a traditional patriarchal family but on divine motherhood as emblematic of her role in the godly work of salvation. To demonstrate this, I will analyze several presentations of the divine female. I begin with Mary’s crucial appearance in Nephi’s vision in the Book of Mormon, where she is revealed as the divine embodiment of God’s love that must be physically enacted in the material realm to have salvific force. Mary’s femaleness is not tangential but central to her mission, for without the feminine face and body of God, the divine male dominates as a monolithic picture and presence. I next address the deity called Wisdom, Hokmah in Proverbs and Sophia in Hellenistic and early Christian texts. She demonstrates that the female God encompasses all attributes necessary for full divine perfection in the godhead. Finally, I will turn to the identity of the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit set forth in the Doctrine and Covenants and other Mormon scriptures. As Holy Ghost, God the Mother has a place in the Godhead, where she participates in the dispensation of the Holy Spirit, the glory or power of God that centers in both the Father and Mother, embraces the various potentials for life and gender, and expands the meaning of male and female. I will show that the Mormon godhead is comprised of glorified deities embodied in spirit, flesh, and bone, paradoxically encompassing gendered personhood as well as the divine power that reaches beyond male and female.
Mary: Mother God, Tree of Life, and Divine Love in the Book of Mormon
To understand the centrality of Heavenly Mother in Mormon theology, the tree of life vision in the Book of Mormon is a crucial starting point because it appears early in the foundational sacred text of the Mormon Restoration. In this vision, Nephi sees Mary equated with God’s love and the tree of life, a token of the ancient goddess. LDS scholar Daniel Peterson has made popular the idea that the tree corresponds to a female deity whom he identifies as Asherah from the Old Testament and whom he links to Wisdom in Proverbs. While Peterson acknowledges that Mary is also linked with the tree, still he effectively displaces Mary as a central figure in the vision by stating that it is only when Nephi sees her with a child and then connects her with the ancient goddess Asherah that the meaning of the tree becomes clear. Asherah becomes the focus rather than Mary, who is simply a mortal mother. The LDS Church and its members are, no doubt, reluctant to validate an elevated status for the Virgin Mary because of her place in Catholicism; however, their willingness to accept Asherah evidences their desire for finding a name and place for Heavenly Mother in the Bible. Nevertheless, she appears in the Book of Mormon in the figure of Mary as the “mother of God,” as seen with the Madonna and Child image that serves to explicate the tree, its fruit, and the love of God. I am not arguing that Mary is the Heavenly Mother, but rather that she reveals Heavenly Mother’s love and compassion in Nephi’s vision. Just as Mary carries Jesus in her arms, likewise God the Mother bears our burdens to bring about our eternal lives, showing the importance of the Mother’s work for the salvation of her children. Mary is indispensable to the mission of Jesus as a mediator between heaven and earth in Nephi’s vision.
After Nephi views the tree his father saw, he asks to know its meaning; the Spirit then shows him “a virgin, and she was exceeding fair and white” (1 Ne. 11:8–13). Mary is the answer to his question; she is the meaning of the tree. It is unfortunate that she is described with the racially charged words “white” and “whiteness,” but these descriptors can be read to refer not to Mary’s skin but to her unearthly, awe-inspiring divinity and beauty, which are manifest in divine glory presented as an intense white light consisting of all colors, including dark hues. It cannot be denied that the Book of Mormon contains many racist verses ascribed to its various narrators, who appear to see white skin as a sign of God’s favor, thereby confusing the whiteness of glory with the whiteness of skin. In this vision, whiteness must be decontaminated from racist implications and equated with divine love and Mary’s divine role.
Nephi understands that the fruit-bearing tree of life and Mary are mutually symbolic of each other. This is significant because a tree is a crucial symbol of the mother goddess in the iconic depictions of many ancient Mediterranean cultures and in the Bible. Proverbs links the Old Testament goddess, Lady Wisdom, to this image: “She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is everyone that retaineth her” (Prov. 3:18). Because the tree is Mary in the Book of Mormon and Wisdom in Proverbs, the tree links both to goddess figures, thus importing the ancient divine female into scriptural texts and traditions, joining together the old and new covenants, which is a central goal of the Book of Mormon. It is significant that Mary appears twice in Nephi’s vision: first alone, then again with an infant in her arms. Her first appearance alone and in the exceeding whiteness of divine glory reveals her as a goddess before she is revealed as a mother. This means that Mary is not divine because she birthed Jesus. Rather, she birthed Jesus because she was divine. Her divinity preceded the conception of Jesus in her womb.
While Nephi beholds the vision, the angel asks him a seemingly random question: “Knowest thou the condescension of God?” Nephi answers: “I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.” The angel then says: “Behold, the virgin which thou seest is the mother of God after the manner of the flesh” (1 Ne. 11:16–18). Though the connection between the angel’s question about the “condescension of God” seems unrelated to the vision of Mary, she in fact is the answer to the angel’s question because she, as the mother of the condescending God, is herself a condescending deity; and as the fruit-bearing tree, she is the embodiment of the love of God.
I am using The Earliest Text version of the Book of Mormon because most scholars acknowledge it as closest to the original manuscripts. In this version, Jesus is called “God himself” and the “everlasting Father.” The current LDS published scriptural text of the Book of Mormon changes most of the original references to Jesus as Father: “eternal Father” becomes “Son of the eternal Father,” etc. While these changes reflect mainstream LDS belief, the earlier versions suggest other possible interpretations not just of Jesus but of the status of Mary within the Mormon tradition. Mary as “the mother of God,” rather than the mother of the Son of God, elevates her position and emphasizes that, as the mother of the incarnated “everlasting Father,” she herself is not merely a subordinate human vessel but a goddess, a mother God, of whom the tree of life is symbolic. Mary, then, is envisioned as the mother of the new creation, just as Eve is the mother of the old creation.
In Nephi’s vision, the Virgin is carried away by the spirit, then returns “bearing a child in her arms” (1 Ne. 11:19–20). In this foundational text, the LDS Church is presented with the iconic Madonna and Child image famous throughout Christian art. The angel proclaims to Nephi: “Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Eternal Father.” Then he asks, “Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?” Nephi answers, “Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things.” The angel adds that it is “most joyous to the soul” (1 Ne. 11:21–23). Then the term “condescension of God” is employed by the angel one more time (1 Ne. 11:26), after which Nephi sees the ministry and death of Jesus:
And the Lamb of God went forth and was baptized of him [John]; and after that he was baptized, I beheld the heavens open, and the Holy Ghost came down out of the heaven and abode upon him in the form of the dove. (1 Ne. 11:27)
Verses 16 and 26 of 1 Nephi 11 contain the only two occurrences in the Mormon canon of the phrase “condescension of God.” In current English, “condescend” negatively connotes the patronizing act of arrogantly looking down on another. In this vision, however, “condescension” is invoked closer to its Latin root to mean “descend” or “come down with.” Nephi perceives that the love of God is the “condescension of God,” the coming of God to us because we could not ascend to God. This vision is corroborated by the following revelatory language from the Doctrine and Covenants: “He [Jesus Christ] that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in and through all things, the light of truth” (88:6). By descending below all things, Christ suffers with mortals to understand our plight, to forgive our sins, and to remedy our mortality. This condescension symbolized in Nephi’s vision by the tree of life and its fruit applies both to the Virgin Mary and Jesus, each of whom condescends into mortality to redeem us. Even for those who are hesitant to accept Mary as a premortal goddess, she is nevertheless the representative or embodiment of the ancient Mother Goddess as symbolized by the tree.
Nephi’s vision presents the female deity in three figures: as tree of life reaching to heaven and rooted to the earth; as Mary, first alone as virgin and then as mother bearing Jesus in her arms; and finally, as dove, representing the Holy Ghost descending on Jesus at his baptism. Mary, at the center of the narrative, links the tree with the dove. The reference to the dove’s appearance to declare Jesus’ divinity is recorded by all the Gospel writers and is not merely a peripheral or fanciful description. It is essential to the presence of a female deity in Christianity because the dove is an ancient sign of the Mother Goddess, as many scholars document. A long tradition connecting the divine female with the Holy Spirit can also be traced from the ancient Hebrew Shekinah to certain Christian Gnostic texts, to the writings of medieval mystics, to the works of contemporary Mormon scholars like Janice Allred. Even for those who reject the view of Jesus as Eternal Father and Holy Ghost as Mother, it should be obvious that in Nephi’s vision, the tree is Mary and its fruit is the incarnated Jesus. These visionary images serve the same sacral functions as do the birth symbols of water, blood, and flesh that are instantiated in Mary’s body. Thus, Mary’s womb is as much a site of redemption as the empty tomb.
All these images of love and life are made concrete in the vision’s revelation of the Madonna and Child, which also suggests the Pietà, Mary embracing the dead Jesus, an image that links death and rebirth. With Jesus in her arms, Mary connects heaven and earth. She is a human embracing divinity and a deity embracing humanity. She appears in the vision first as a woman alone, a virgin. Her virginity is stressed not as moral rectitude but as signifier of power. The word “virgin” or “maiden” in ancient texts commonly referred to an unmarried woman but, significantly, could refer to an independent woman whose status is not dependent on a husband or father. If Mary’s role as mother was of sole importance, she would not appear first as a lone woman. Because she does, this signifies that she alone in her own right, not as wife or daughter of a male, bears the love of God. In the vision, she returns as a mother, but not in a patriarchal framework. Rather, she is a single mother, a singular Mother, the symbol of the cosmic creative feminine, whose motherhood, though secondary to her identity, is paradoxically essential to the revelation of God’s love as real and relational, not merely abstract.
The theological implications of the Mormon canon insist that divine love must be embodied in physical personages who live among us. God’s love must be present and active, not remote and passive. It must be manifest concretely in bearing the burdens of others, in embracing the outcast, in mourning with the grief-stricken, in attending to the needy, in acknowledging others’ desires by seeking their happiness and esteeming them as equals in dignity and worth (Mosiah 4:26, 18:8–9). This love, embodied in the Mary of Nephi’s vision, is what the Virgin Mary has signified in Catholic tradition for hundreds of years. Some liberal Catholic theologians have tried to remove Mary entirely from Catholic worship to promote a genderless, inclusive God. But, as scholar Charlene Spretnak observes, this effort has neither been embraced by most Catholics nor has it led to the elevation or greater inclusion of women or of marginalized groups. Most Catholics continue to feel a powerful and compelling need for Mary because she is perceived as actively dispensing the nurturing power of God that daily sustains them from birth to death. Many LDS feel the same need for the Mormon Heavenly Mother, as demonstrated by the recent popular movement noted by Stack in the Salt Lake Tribune.
Lady Wisdom: Hokmah and Sophia
In Old and New Testament traditions and in other Jewish and Christian texts, the Mother God appears as Wisdom, Hokmah in Hebrew and Sophia in Greek. Many Mormons now accept the goddess Asherah as a legitimate manifestation of the Heavenly Mother in the Old Testament. But equally important is Lady Wisdom in the book of Proverbs because she expands the picture of the female God from a fertility or mother goddess to a god with an ethically principled core. Wisdom is the foundation for all other divine attributes because it moderates, mediates, and balances all other powers and engenders the gift of discernment. Many scholars have documented the widespread worship of Asherah in ancient Israelite folk practice and her place as the wife or consort of Yahweh, where her name is linked with him in inscriptions. However, Hokmah or Wisdom appears not as God’s wife but as a deity of equal status in her own right. She lived with God from the beginning in an independent life of her own. Her divine status is revealed in the authoritative manner she addresses humanity in Proverbs, where she issues commandments and speaks in the first person to Israel: “Now therefore harken unto me, O ye children: for blessed are they that keep my ways” (Prov. 8:32). She does not act or speak as God’s subordinate but as God’s coequal in power and dominion. She addresses all, not just the rich and powerful; for she stands at the crossroads at the entrance of the city, ready to bless any who will heed her (Prov. 8:1–3). In her hands are eternal life, honor, peace, riches, power, and justice for all her children. She declares: “For whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the Lord” (Prov. 8:35). The image of Lady Wisdom resists essentialization because it connects a distinctly female deity with divine attributes rather than with the female reproductive body, thus empowering both women and gender nonconforming people.
Hokmah becomes Sophia in the Septuagint version of the Hebrew Bible read by Greek-speaking Jews from the second century BCE. Both are feminine nouns for the abstract concept of wisdom and can be interpreted restrictively as personifications or attributes of the Hebrew God, Yahweh, or the Christian or Gnostic male God rather than as the names of a separate and independent female deity. But, as scholars have pointed out, there are rich traditions in both Jewish and Christian non-canonical texts that depict Wisdom as a goddess and connect her with the Holy Spirit, the dove, and the bride of God. Equating the Mother God with wisdom does not eliminate it as an attribute of the male God but extends it beyond traditional rational restrictions into the realm of the intuitive. In their monumental study of the Western history of the Goddess, Anne Baring and Jules Cashford emphasize the important correspondence between the goddess Sophia and the Black Madonna in late medieval tradition: “Black is the colour that is associated with Wisdom, as the dark phase of the lunar cycle, where light gestates in the womb, is transformed and brought forth anew to illuminate the soul on its journey toward divination.” The Mother God as Wisdom reveals the fullness of her godhood, which encompasses all divine characteristics necessary for harmonizing and dispensing mercy and justice on earth to all people, regardless of personal bodily and sexual identities.
The Mother God: Her Place in the Godhead
Since Mormon tradition has commonly presented the Holy Ghost as a male personage of spirit who is one of the three male supreme beings, how can the Mother be understood by Mormons to be part of the Godhead or as an equal God who participates in the creation of the world and the redemption of her children? Is it legitimate to connect her with the Holy Ghost, as some Mormon feminists have argued? The answer to both questions is yes for two principal reasons.
First and astoundingly, none of the references to the Holy Ghost in the Mormon canon (not including the Bible) identify the third person of the Godhead as male. Most of these references are either anonymous or neutral. Doctrine and Covenants 130:22 states that the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit without mentioning any gender: “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us.” In verse 23, the Holy Ghost is referred to as “it”: “A man may receive the Holy Ghost, and it may descend upon him and not tarry with him.” A careful study of all these scriptures reveals that out of 156 occurrences, three are neutral, using the pronoun “it” (D&C 130:23, Alma 34:38, and Moroni 2:2). In the remaining 153 instances, the pronouns are indefinite: “who,” “which,” and “that,” used with phrases such as “by the power of,” “the gift of,” “moved by,” “given by,” “baptism of,” and “full of.” While not conclusive, the absence of the male pronoun in these verses opens a canonical place in Mormonism for Heavenly Mother as Holy Ghost. Thus, she can be imaged as an actual personage who dispenses the power of God to her children in their mortal journey toward a fullness of glory. In stark contrast to Mormon scripture, current LDS discourse insists on identifying the Holy Ghost and Holy Spirit with male pronouns as occurs on the official Church web site: “The Holy Ghost is the third member of the Godhead. He is a personage of spirit, without a body of flesh and bones. He is often referred to as the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of the Lord, or the Comforter.” The Church presents a male Godhead of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, while Mormon scriptures leave open the identification of the Holy Ghost, thus creating a possible place in the Godhead for Heavenly Mother.
Second, although the current dominant LDS perception of the Godhead envisions the Holy Ghost as male, there are other, older traditions, some based in scripture, that depict the Spirit as female, which can create at least a linguistic space for the female in the Godhead. Nevertheless, the Christian tradition in the West has mostly identified the Holy Spirit as male since antiquity, though there have been ongoing debates both because the grammatical gender of the word “Spirit” is varied in biblical languages (where all nouns show gender that is not necessarily connected with sexed persons) and also because the noun “Spirit” does not have the strong masculine connotation associated with “Father” and “Son.” In Hebrew, the word for spirit is the feminine ruach, which has influenced some; but Jewish scholar Raphael Patai relies on the Talmudic and Midrashic term shekhina to show how this created a feminine personification of God’s Spirit for the Hebrews. The Greek word for Spirit, pneuma, is neuter, and the Latin word, spiritus, is masculine. The Latin biblical translator and theologian Jerome (c. 342–420 CE) argued that the three different biblical language genders for “spirit” meant that God transcends all categories of sexuality. Still, Jerome, like other early Christian fathers, preferred the pronoun “he” for the “Spirit,” which corresponds with his Latin Vulgate Bible translation and the patristic development of trinitarian theologies where the one God is manifest as three male personages. This has always been the trend from the early Christian fathers to contemporary Christian theologians: they claim God and the Holy Spirit are beyond gender and therefore can be described as feminine; still, they tend to use the male pronoun for the Holy Spirit. In his Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit, Protestant theologian Clark H. Pinnock gives strong reasons why the Spirit can be called “she,” but still he decides to use the masculine pronoun in his book because “using the feminine pronoun exclusively could create more problems than it solves.” The “problems” seem to be that the feminine pronoun would contradict patriarchal perspectives and structures.
Fortunately, from ancient to modern times, a strong countertradition has viewed the Holy Ghost, symbolized by the dove, as a female who is “routinely associated with maternity . . . inspiring, helping, supporting, enveloping, and bringing to birth.” Though many feminist theologians resist such essentialist representations, they still acknowledge the importance of a female Holy Ghost to create a place for the feminine in the Godhead, as seen in Hebrew, Syriac, Gnostic, and mystical texts. In the 1970s, scholars like Elaine Pagels began to excavate ancient Gnostic texts that image the Holy Spirit as a female deity: the Gospel of the Hebrews, where Jesus refers to “my Mother, the Spirit”; the Gospel of Philip, where the Holy Ghost is called the “Mother of many”; and the Apocryphon of John, which refers to the mother as Spirit and includes her in the place of the Holy Ghost in the grouping Father, Mother, and Son.
Holy Ghost and Holy Spirit
The anonymous or neutral references to the Holy Ghost in Mormon scripture and the ancient tradition of the feminine Spirit open a legitimate place for seeing the Holy Ghost as Heavenly Mother, or at least a Mormon female deity. Notwithstanding, she has been excluded from the Mormon Godhead in LDS mainstream discourse, a rejection reinforced by the conflation of the terms Holy Ghost and Holy Spirit, which overlap but are also distinct in scripture. Showing the difference between the two is important for my argument because it creates a path for both the inclusion in the Godhead of a divine female personage and also for seeing the Spirit as a source for multi-gendered generative power.
The conflation problem begins with the biblical terms for the Holy Ghost and Holy Spirit since the King James Version of the Bible, used by LDS readers, does not distinguish “ghost” from “spirit.” Those terms were synonyms in the seventeenth-century English into which that version of the Bible was translated. The current LDS Church likewise equates Holy Ghost with Holy Spirit, despite scriptural texts that sometimes distinguish the two. While the Holy Ghost is a person who is sometimes referred to as the Spirit, the term “Spirit” is also used, somewhat confusingly, to refer not to a personage but to God’s divine power that flows throughout creation—a power more accurately referred to as the “glory of God” (D&C 93:6, 36). Multiple scriptures reveal that this underlying and uniting cosmic power is not the Holy Ghost but the essence of God’s divine nature, variously referred to in the Doctrine and Covenants as fullness (93:4), the Spirit of truth (93:9), truth and light (93:28), intelligence (93:29), rest (84:24), eternal life (88:4), light of Christ (88:7), the power of God (88:13), and, yes, as Spirit (93:23).
These are all terms for divine consciousness, the mind of God, the non-gendered spirit, the fullness of which centers in divine personages. Mormon doctrine pictures the Godhead as comprised of fully divinized, resurrected beings of flesh and glory, for “the elements are the tabernacle of God” (D&C 93:35), in which dwells the fullness of the divine mind that permeates and gives unity and life to all (93:7–11). Within this field, each soul retains its independence to act in its own embodied sphere, which bestows upon it individuality and uniqueness (93:29–31). The bodies of deities in this infinite sea of energy constitute points in which their attributes and powers focus, magnify, and emanate as light and truth that mortals can experience as divine love. Doctrine and Covenants section 88 explains that this glory is not only the light of Christ but the light that “is in the sun . . . And the power thereof by which it was made,” in the moon, in the stars, and in the earth, “which light proceeded forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space—the light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things” (D&C 88:7–13) and issues forth from the “presence of God,” who sits upon “his throne” (which I interpret as “their throne”). Mormon theology presents the cosmos as the living extension of God the Father and, by implication, God the Mother, whose truth and light animate all things. This doctrine further implies that the cosmos is not a lifeless machine but a living system replete with living creatures of many varieties.
LDS tradition rightly asserts that the Holy Ghost has a personal function apart from the glory or Spirit of God. The Church distinguishes them by presenting the Spirit as a power available in some measure to non-Mormons through the “influence” of the Holy Ghost, while the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost is a special gift vouchsafed to baptized and confirmed members of the LDS Church who take upon themselves God’s name and covenant to do God’s will. While this distinction is scripturally valid, it does not explicate the glory of God or its theological significance as a matrix of potentials and as a fundamental life-giving feature of the divine nature that connects the Godhead to all creation at every point and at all times.
The Comforter as Advocate for Social Justice
Mormon scripture also equates the Holy Ghost with the Comforter: “this is my gospel—repentance and baptism by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which showeth all things, and teacheth the peaceable things of the kingdom” (D&C 39:6). The title “Comforter” appears only once in the Book of Mormon (Moroni 8:26), once in the Pearl of Great Price (Moses 6: 61), and four times in the Gospel of John (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). Surprisingly, the term occurs twenty-two times in the Doctrine and Covenants, signaling its importance in Joseph Smith’s theology. Though the Greek noun for Comforter, paraclete, is clearly masculine, no gender is applied to this term in any Restoration scripture, except Doctrine and Covenants 88:3, where the “other Comforter” or “Holy Spirit of promise” is referred to as “it.” As with “Holy Ghost,” the term “Comforter” is scripturally referred to by the anonymous pronouns “which” and “that,” thus leaving a space for the Heavenly Mother as both Comforter and Holy Ghost.
As Comforter, God the Mother bestows the baptism of fire that follows the baptism of water (D&C 33:11; 39:6). She is the first Comforter who bears witness to the mission and godhood of Jesus Christ, as occurred at his baptism when she descended “like a dove” (Matt. 3:16–17, etc.). Jesus is the second Comforter (John 14:18, 21, 23) who brings the personal confirmation of salvation and eternal life to individuals (D&C 88:3–4; 130:3). As she bears witness of his work, so he bears witness of hers, lifting her veil for those who have eyes to see her glory. Though the Greek paraclete does not appear in Mormon scripture, it can serve as a gloss on the Comforter’s role as teaching “the peaceable things of the kingdom, including truth, mercy, justice, judgment, and wisdom” (Moses 6:61). Paraclete is a compound of two Greek roots: para (by one’s side) and kalere (to call or summon for help). The Greek verb from this root can also mean to exhort, cheer, encourage, or comfort. The Greek noun paraclete is usually translated “advocate” or “counsel for the defense” or “one who pleads for the welfare of others” (evoking the role of Lady Wisdom in Proverbs as divine judge or defender), thus highlighting the Mother’s role as bringer of solace, encouragement, hope, refreshment, consolation, and as dispenser of both chastisement and forgiveness, as well as judgment on those who harm her little ones. She is the defender of the powerless oppressed. She is the judge of the powerful oppressor. She is the champion of social justice.
The Comforter role of Heavenly Mother is not limited to the Saints of the Church, for she bears witness to truth, filling with love and light her children everywhere, of every faith, and even of no faith (Joel 2:28–29; Acts 2:17; 1 Ne. 14:14). Her larger mission as teacher of the “peaceable things of the kingdom” points to the egalitarian society portrayed in the Book of Mormon after Christ’s appearance—a society in which peace and prosperity were achieved by the voluntary rejection of social and class distinctions (4 Ne. 1:3). The Book of Mormon promotes these aspirations, asserting that the Lord “inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile” (2 Ne. 26:33). Other related Mormon scriptures encourage equal treatment of old and young, of disciples and non-disciples (Gal. 3:28; Alma 1:30). It is no stretch to add to this list those who identify as LGBTQ. For the scripture warns that it is a lie to say we love God, whom we have not seen, if we withhold love from those whom we have seen (1 John 4:20).
Necessity for an Embodied Goddess of Compassion
Re-envisioning the Godhead to include Heavenly Mother emphasizes the need for an embodied, compassionate Goddess. But why? Isn’t compassion a non-gendered divine attribute? Yes, of course. But in Christianity, all the divine attributes are centered in the person of Jesus. His incarnation and resurrection as a male God who experienced the full weight of the mortal plight calls us to connect with him as one who understands our suffering, our frustrations, our discouragement, and even our despair as mortals. “O God, why has thou forsaken me?” cried Jesus from the cross (Matt. 27:46). We know that he even understands the agony of existential crises. Compassion is weak in the abstract. But embodied, it is empowered and actualized to make differences in real time in the real world. Compassion is made concrete when real persons bear our burdens, lament our griefs, lift our arms, and strengthen our knees.
The divinities of Mormon scripture are embodied to assume and embrace human afflictions, whether physical, mental, spiritual, or relational. These deities descend to be with us, as Nephi sees in vision. For Mormons, God is not just above us; God is with us, participating in the messiness of human experience, of mortal exile. The Mormon Godhead do not merely understand our suffering, they share it. This must be true for both male and female deities, for the Father who becomes Son in the person of Jesus and for the Mother who becomes Daughter in the person of Mary or Eve. It is only God with us in flesh, as Son or Daughter, who experiences an infinitely diminished life in order to lead us to a more abundant life. Mormonism presents a divine Other who is not wholly other. Mormon deities experience with their creations both mirth and mourning. They not only empathize with mortal joy and grief and participate in them; they are also changed by them. An embodied female God allows us to see not only the divine in women’s bodies but that she, too, is Immanuel, God with us. Over the past forty years, I have collected women’s (and men’s) visions of Heavenly Mother and have noted the extraordinary way these concrete experiences validate both individual self-worth and a sense of personal care from the Mother God. In such experiences, her love is not merely an emotion; it is a revelation, a personal awakening to her understanding of the messiness of life, of its rejections, losses, and failures, as well as its joys and fulfillment. And with this understanding come healing and personal transformation.
Motherhood and Gender Fluidity
Motherhood is a double bind for Heavenly Mother, just as it is for women. Emphasis on motherhood tends to equate women with their reproductive function alone while diminishing women unable or unwilling to be mothers. For this reason, I refer to her not only as Mother God but as an empowered divine female and Goddess. Mormon feminists have sometimes downplayed the mothering aspects of Heavenly Mother to avoid imprisoning her and Mormon women in an immortal, patriarchal harem as eternal producers of offspring. On the other hand, denial of motherhood reduces female power and import. These tensions forefront an important reason the Mother God’s body is a point of controversy in Mormon feminist discourse.
This conflict does not infect the fatherhood of God, which rather makes him more approachable and reliable because his fatherhood is accepted as compatible with his divine powers and roles. Consequently, fatherhood is perceived to expand men’s roles and to enhance a Mormon man’s priesthood opportunities. On the other hand, though praised, motherhood has done nothing to reverse the exclusion of Mormon women from those same priestly functions. Meanwhile, what endears Jesus to many people are his mothering attributes: compassion, mercy, love, and kindness. This is not to say these qualities are essentially or exclusively feminine or motherly. But biblical texts depict them as feminine, associating them with God the Father and Jesus through such images as God giving birth, God nursing, God’s breasts (shaddai in Hebrew), God as midwife, God as female pelican, God as mother bear, God as homemaker, God as helper like Eve (ezer in Hebrew), God as baker woman, God as mother eagle, God as mother hen.
Just as everyone has a father, everyone has a mother, whether the offspring is straight, gay, transgender, or nonbinary. And queer people of all identities are also biological parents. Even when offspring are produced with the aid of modern technology, egg and sperm are needed to create life, even with reliance on surrogate mothers or when genetic materials are combined during in vitro fertilization. Of course, mothering is more than a biological function. It involves the long job of raising and supporting a child, which continues until death, and a person of any gender can fulfill this vital role. But the fact that, biologically, woman is needed to create an embryo is crucial. Many Greek myths tell stories of male gods seeking to usurp the generative process to eliminate the pesky tribe of women, usually with disastrous results. The similar goal of diminishing the Mother God, or at least her mothering function, is likewise ill-conceived and will likely fail to root out heteronormativity, sexism, prejudice against nonbinary and gender nonconforming people, or the emotional need for a Heavenly Mother who is as powerful as Heavenly Father and equally worshipped with him.
In defending the Mormon concept of an embodied and distinctly separate Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father, it may appear I am promoting a binary view of the cosmos that essentializes men and women and that marginalizes those who do not identify as one or the other. In my view, polarity is not incompatible with diversity. In Mormonism, it is possible to believe in embodied Mother and Father Gods of equal status while promoting free choice and fluidity of sex, gender, and sexuality for them and their children.
The binaries of the divine male and female are problematic only if they are viewed as fixed, unchanging, and exclusive. But this is not what is presented in Mormon theology, which teaches that our heavenly parents are creators, particularly of spirit children from uncreated intelligences. Joseph Smith revealed that individuals are coeternal with God. We existed for eternity as intelligences, as undeveloped potential souls, as sparks of light and truth that comprise the infinite glory of God. We existed as potentials that may be released into independent spheres where we can act for ourselves. The Mormon Gods are like two points that form a line, points that have the power to create other points, a plane, a space, or other dimensions in which an abundance of possibilities and forms may emerge and flourish. Because Heavenly Father and Mother are fertile producers of life, they neither essentialize male or female nor inhibit nor prohibit fluidity or free choice. In each act of creation, these deities alter the matrix of potentials and change themselves. This is the Mormon doctrine of eternal progression. Continuing creation increases diversity by expanding the spectrum of possibilities defined between the poles of the divine male and female.
This concept of binaries is nuanced in the Book of Mormon, where the prophet Lehi observes: “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.” Note that the opposition here is claimed to be “in” not “to” all things. This suggests that each “thing” is a compound like yin and yang. By combining the binary in one body, the nonbinary dominates to become a whole. The passage further observes that “all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead” (2 Ne. 2:11). This means there is male in every female, female in every male, light in darkness, darkness in light, matter in energy, and energy in matter. These concepts include metaphysical, spiritual, and physical dimensions. It is impossible to separate interior from exterior, consciousness from unconsciousness, matter from energy, light from darkness, pleasure from pain, male from female without eliminating existence itself, without killing the body, whether it be a human body or the cosmos. However, there are layers between interior and exterior, between consciousness and unconsciousness. There are degrees between matter and energy, light and darkness. Likewise, there is a spectrum of possibilities between male and female. There are as many ways of enacting and performing gender as there are people. If male and female are analogized as midnight and noon on a spectrum of night and day, there would be an endless variety of light and shadow between the poles, but where light and dark would remain distinguishable, separate physical realities.
Gender Fluidity and Critique in Mormonism
Though most Mormons undoubtedly view their personhood as essential and eternal, there is nothing in Mormon theology that precludes the notion that we may yet experience transformations of many kinds. We may even experience change from female to male and back again, or to some other gender. The Mormon doctrine of eternal progression implies movement, not stasis. It teaches that we are eternal beings, that our intelligences are uncreated and coeternal with God, that we existed before this life and will live hereafter—although we know very little about the premortal and postmortal worlds. It is possible within a Mormon framework to accept sex differences as biological realities while favoring fluid categories and porous boundaries, rejecting simple dichotomies, and moving to multiple gender identities. To be limited here or in the hereafter by rigid gender, sex, race, or class roles is not required by Mormon scripture, regardless of the current patriarchal aspirations and policies of the LDS Church.
Recent gender critiques by LDS scholars have done little to damage Mormon patriarchy, but they have undermined Mormon feminism. Many left-leaning women feel hesitant to promote Heavenly Mother for fear of creating a picture of God that leaves no place where LGBTQ people can identify with the divine image. Taylor Petrey’s work over the last decade has made an important contribution toward demonstrating how Mormon doctrine can include diverse sexuality both morally and cosmologically, at least as it applies to queer identities, same-sex relationships, and love among male gods. I agree with his fine arguments for same-sex love and sealings. But it is telling that in his 2016 “Rethinking Mormonism’s Heavenly Mother,” Petrey does not come up with new ways of reimagining the Mother God or seeing her in multiple ways.
In arguing for a polymorphous view of God, Petrey focuses on males and cites his own 2011 article “Toward a Post-Heterosexual Mormon Theology,” where he shows the possibilities for same-sex or non-heterosexual couplings in the biblical and temple stories of the creation. But he does so by diminishing female figures in traditional fashion and leaves no space for Heavenly Mother as creator. He states that the “creation of the earth, organization of the elements, and even the creation of the living bodies of Adam and Eve all occur without the presence of female figures.” Petrey also invokes an old theological argument where the male God employs language to bring forth the physical universe and, like an artist, molds Adam out of the dust of the earth. In Petrey’s reading, God then penetrates Adam, another male, to bring forth woman. He argues that only males are necessary because creation and salvation are “male-only priesthood activities.”
Petrey emphasizes the love of males in the Godhead without acknowledging Eve or Mary as potential divine or even powerful figures, and he fails to show the sacrality of female-to-female love. He may simply be describing what he sees as possible within these sacred texts, for he admits this “comes at the expense of females” and that we “may need to rethink women’s independent status with respect to priesthood.” But Petrey does not acknowledge those of us who have attempted to rethink the priesthood and the female divine in new ways; he reduces our complex arguments simply to promoting heteronormativity and essentialist views of “woman.” In “Rethinking Mormonism’s Heavenly Mother,” Petrey again privileges the male Godhead, asserting they show how “heterosexual pairing is not required for love that constitutes divinity.” While I agree that love is beyond gender or heterosexual coupling, Petrey fails to show how Heavenly Mother by herself could manifest a divine love for her children as she works toward their salvation. Divine love embraces all other loves.
Does the very existence of Heavenly Mother simply promote heteronormativity that marginalizes gender nonconforming individuals? The answer is “no” if God and Goddess are understood as connected in the mystical union known as the hieros gamos, the ancient sacred marriage of heaven and earth, matter and spirit, being and non-being. But the answer is “yes” if we imagine the heavenly parents coupled in a patriarchal marriage idealized in the proclamation on the family or the homey illustrations in Church manuals and on the Church website. God the Male and God the Female are not the celestial version of Ward and June Cleaver, or of President Nelson and his current wife Wendy. They are male and female manifestations of the supreme mystery of the Supreme Being—the “We Are” extension of the “I Am,” who are both one and many. God the Mother and God the Father are coequal creator and redeemer Gods who participate in a glory-filled pleroma of divine principles and divinities with many shapes and aspects, reflecting the wide variety of human genders and sexualities.
It is ironic that many people seem to think that heteronormativity is not an issue if Mormons stick to the traditional all-male Godhead, supposedly on the assumption that the embodied male gods are sexually neutral without a female presence. But divine male bodies are still preferred, which have supported heteronormative patriarchal structures for human societies in the past. If the Mother God is eliminated, what remains is a Godhead of males that continues to justify the subordination of women. If a female deity is presented only as the sustaining partner of a presiding male divinity, the result is a suffocating patriarchy. If females in heaven are valued only for their reproductive functions, then heaven becomes a reductive type of materiality. If divine embodiment is eliminated, then the material is rendered inferior to the spiritual or is subordinated to insubstantial ideas and forms, which has justified the exploitation of the planet, the environment, and living creatures with ruinous results.
When I wrote the book Strangers in Paradox: Explorations in Mormon Theology between 1984 and 1990 with my husband Paul, my goal was to create a legitimate place for female power in the highly patriarchal texts and culture of Mormonism. I saw unique potential for this because of Mormonism’s open theology, its concept of a plurality of gods and worlds, and its doctrine of eternal progression. Through my study of Joseph Smith and other religions both old and new, I became convinced that female priesthood and female deities were indispensable to religious equality for women here and in eternity. The Heavenly Mother in Strangers is not a domesticated mother or wife but a fierce and powerful goddess with various faces and representations in a heterodox Godhead. I wanted her to stand as a reproach to an all-male Godhead, to act as an Other to traditional views of God. In the more than thirty years since the publication of that book, I have worked to expand images and roles for the divine female. In my oft-presented and ever-evolving slide show entitled “Images of the Female Body—Human and Divine,” I explore sixteen major metaphors or instantiations of the Goddess, including non-anthropomorphic ones. The over three hundred images in that presentation demonstrate, more than words can say, diverse representations: old and young, large and slender, appealing and frightening, feminine and androgynous, of various races and genders, which value nonconforming identities. I have desired to create diverse pictures of our Divine Mother who, in all her manifestations, is so awe-inspiring and beautiful that we feel her power and love on a deeply spiritual level and long for her, just as many do for Jesus Christ.
There is more work to be done to expand our pictures of God within Mormon theology. Accepting Joseph Smith’s teaching that the Godhead is not simply a male social trinity but a council of Gods has the potential for envisioning divinities with multiple sex and gender identities, as well as representing theologically the paradoxical relationships of polarity and multiplicity. Think how pictures of God would expand if female deities were added to the temple ceremony, if Elohim included male and female actors of all races. A plurality of Gods could include eternally sealed gay, trans, nonbinary, and androgynous divinities. The Mormon doctrine of eternal lives, worlds, and experiences is ripe to embrace a vast range of possibilities. Representations of divinities could present masculine depictions of Heavenly Mother and feminine depictions of Heavenly Father. There is no mandate nor justification to depict any of the Gods as white, including the Mother. First Vision pictures could show dark-complected Father and Son encircled by brightness to fortify that it is the light, not their pigmentation, that is white. While such plurality may seem pagan and disturbing to mainstream Mormons and Christians, it is consonant with the Christian objective of theosis: “it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Perhaps we will be like them: multiple, not single.
Marginalizing God the Mother does not solve the problems raised by Mormonism’s doctrine of divine and human embodiment. It merely diminishes femaleness as a reflection of divinity. We do not need fewer images to understand God; we need more. Critics of Heavenly Mother have not fully grasped the negative consequences of moving toward a God beyond gender. Margaret Barker, in her remarkable and popular book The Mother of the Lord: The Lady in the Temple, emphasizes the cost of this approach as it occurred in the ancient Jewish and Christian cultures. Barker argues that king Josiah of the Hebrew Bible eliminated the female God from the temple and from temple worship to purify religious practice and eliminate idolatry. This seemingly worthy goal damaged women for centuries and never created a safe place for those not conforming to gender norms. Rather than erasing her, Mormons should reinstate the Divine Lady in the temple and in LDS doxy and praxis to enhance religious life for all its adherents. Her ample bosom and her outstretched arms are wide enough to receive all her children.
 Caroline Kline and Rachel Hunt Steenblik, “‘Mother in Heaven’: A Feminist Perspective,” in The LDS Gospel Topics Series: A Scholarly Engagement, edited by Matthew L. Harris and Newell G. Bringhurst (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2020), 321.
 Taylor G. Petrey, “Rethinking Mormonism’s Heavenly Mother,” Harvard Theological Review 109, no. 3 (2016): 16.
 Margaret Merrill Toscano, “Put on Your Strength O Daughters of Zion: Claiming Priesthood and Knowing the Mother,” in Women and Authority: Re-emerging Mormon Feminism, edited by Maxine Hanks (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992), 427, where I focus on Eve, Mary, the Holy Spirit, Sophia, Zion, and the Bride.
 See Grace M. Jantzen, Becoming Divine: Towards a Feminist Philosophy of Religion (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 31.
 See Kline and Hunt Steenblik for a discussion of this need, 310–13.
 Raphael Patai, The Hebrew Goddess, 3rd ed. (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1990), 23–25.
 Many new poetry books about Heavenly Mother have emerged recently: Rachel Hunt Steenblik, Mother’s Milk: Poems in Search of Heavenly Mother (Salt Lake City: By Common Consent, 2017); Dove Song: Heavenly Mother in Mormon Poetry, edited by Tyler Chadwick, Dayna Patterson, and Martin Pulido (El Cerrito, Calif.: Peculiar Pages, 2018), with works from 1844 to 2017; and Carol Lynn Pearson, Finding Mother God: Poems to Heal the World (Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith, 2020).
 Peggy Fletcher Stack, “Latter-day Saints are talking more about Heavenly Mother, and that’s where the debates and divisions begin,” Salt Lake Tribune, May 8, 2021. Stack also highlights visual art about the Mormon Mother God in her article.
 I first connected Mary with the tree of life and Heavenly Mother in my 1992 chapter “Put On Your Strength,” 429.
 Daniel C. Peterson, “Nephi and His Asherah,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9, no. 2 (2000): 16–25.
 Peterson, “Nephi and His Asherah,” 18, 22. Peterson concludes that Asherah’s connection with the tree “suggests that the Book of Mormon is, indeed, an ancient historical record in the Semitic tradition,” 25.
 Anne Baring and Jules Cashford, The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image (London: Viking, 1991), 496–506. Peterson notes this too.
 For Book of Mormon citations from 1 Nephi, I’m referring to The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text, edited by Royal Skousen (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2009). Elsewhere I use the standard LDS version.
 Skousen, ed., The Earliest Text.
 Baring and Cashford, 42–43, 595, 630.
 Janice Allred, God the Mother and Other Theological Essays (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 54–60. See Fiona Givens, “Feminism and Heavenly Mother,” in The Routledge Handbook of Mormonism and Gender, edited by Amy Hoyt and Taylor G. Petrey (New York: Routledge, 2020), 553–68. Givens raises the possibility of Heavenly Mother as Holy Ghost but does not cite similar explorations of other Mormon feminists.
 Stephen Benko, The Virgin Goddess: Studies in the Pagan and Christian Roots of Mariology (Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1997), 10–12.
 Charlene Spretnak, Missing Mary: The Queen of Heaven and Her Re-Emergence in the Modern Church (New York: Palgrave, 2004).
 See Kevin L. Barney, “How to Worship Our Mother in Heaven (Without Getting Excommunicated),” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 41, no. 4 (Winter 2008): 121–46. Fiona Givens stresses the importance of both Asherah and Wisdom in Givens, “Feminism and Heavenly Mother,” 562–64.
 Patai, Hebrew Goddess, 39; William G. Dever, Did God Have a Wife?: Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 2005), 162–67; Margaret Barker, The Mother of the Lord, Volume 1: The Lady in the Temple (London: Bloomsbury, 2012), 118–26.
 For a list of forty-five divine qualities and names for the Mother God that can be gleaned from scriptural texts, see Janice Allred, “The One Who Never Left Us,” Sunstone 166 (Apr. 2012): 69.
 Patai, 97–99, 277, 325–27; Baring and Cashford, 470–78, 609–58.
 Baring and Cashford, 647.
 Patai, 96–111.
 Jerome, Comm. in Isalam 11 (PL 24.19b); quoted in Elizabeth A. Johnson, She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse, 25th anniversary ed. (New York: Crossroad Publishing), 86.
 Clark H. Pinnock, Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit (Downers Gove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 1996), 17.
 Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, Pneumatology: The Holy Spirit in Ecumenical, International, and Contextual Perspective, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2018), 141.
 Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels (New York, Vintage Books, 1979), 52. More modern translations complicate the picture: Marvin Meyer, ed., The Nag Hammadi Scriptures (New York: HarperOne, 2007).
 Margaret M. Toscano, “Movement from the Margins: Contemporary Mormon Women’s Visions of the Mother God,” in Spirit, Faith, and Church: Women’s Experiences in the English-Speaking World, 17th–21st Centuries, edited by Laurence Lux-Sterritt and Claire Sorin (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012), 207–26.
 Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, The Divine Feminine: The Biblical Imagery of God as Female (New York: Crossroad, 1994).
 Petrey, 111–12.
 Margaret and Paul Toscano, Strangers in Paradox: Explorations in Mormon Theology (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1990), 89–97.
 A version of this presentation appeared in The Mormon Women’s Forum: An LDS Feminist Quarterly 5, no. 4 (Dec. 1994): 1–24.
 I agree with Blaire Ostler that images of Heavenly Mother should include “all those that choose the label ‘woman.’” Blaire Ostler, “Heavenly Mother: The Mother of All Women,” in Continuing Revelation: Essays on Doctrine, edited by Bryan Buchanan (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 2021), 145.
 Since the publication of Strangers, Paul and I have both argued for a Mormon theology that values non-heterosexual identities and parenthood. Margaret Toscano, “Heavenly Motherhood: Silences, Disturbances, and Consolations,” Sunstone 166 (Mar. 2012): 76; Paul Toscano, “Homosexual Spirituality and the Redemption of Pleasure: An Epistle of Paul to the Mormons, Parts 1 & 2,” Sunstone 165 (Jan. 2012).
 Barker, 329–75.[post_title] => In Defense of Heavenly Mother: Her Critical Importance for Mormon Culture and Theology [post_excerpt] => Dialogue 55.1 (Spring 2022): 37
Marginalizing God the Mother does not solve the problems raised by Mormonism’s doctrine of divine and human embodiment. It merely diminishes femaleness as a reflection of divinity. We do not need fewer images to understand God; we need more. Critics of Heavenly Mother have not fully grasped the negative consequences of moving toward a God beyond gender [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => in-defense-of-heavenly-mother-her-critical-importance-for-mormon-culture-and-theology [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-11-15 01:19:33 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-11-15 01:19:33 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=29134 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
The Order of Eve: A Matriarchal Priesthood
Dialogue 53.1 (Spring 2020): 99–107
Elder Oaks clarified that priesthood is the authority and power of God. By extension, that must also be the authority and power of our Heavenly Mother. I decided to give it a name. Not the Order of Aaron, that great Old Testament wingman to Moses, or the Order of Melchizedek, mentor and life coach to Abraham, but the Order of Eve, a matriarchal priesthood, in honor of the mother of all living.
Elder Oaks clarified that priesthood is the authority and power of God. By extension, that must also be the authority and power of our Heavenly Mother. I decided to give it a name. Not the Order of Aaron, that great Old Testament wingman to Moses, or the Order of Melchizedek, mentor and life coach to Abraham, but the Order of Eve, a matriarchal priesthood, in honor of the mother of all living.[post_title] => The Order of Eve: A Matriarchal Priesthood [post_excerpt] => Dialogue 53.1 (Spring 2020): 99–107
Elder Oaks clarified that priesthood is the authority and power of God. By extension, that must also be the authority and power of our Heavenly Mother. I decided to give it a name. Not the Order of Aaron, that great Old Testament wingman to Moses, or the Order of Melchizedek, mentor and life coach to Abraham, but the Order of Eve, a matriarchal priesthood, in honor of the mother of all living. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => the-order-of-eve-a-matriarchal-priesthood [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-27 19:46:24 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-27 19:46:24 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=25882 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
Heavenly Mother: The Mother of All Women
Dialogue 51.4 (Winter 2018): 171-174
Heavenly Mother is a cherished doctrine among many Latter-day Saints. Her unique esthetic of feminine deity offers Latter-day Saint women a trajectory for godhood—the ultimate goal of Mormon theology.
Heavenly Mother is a cherished doctrine among many Latter-day Saints. Her unique esthetic of feminine deity offers Latter-day Saint women a trajectory for godhood—the ultimate goal of Mormon theology. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => heavenly-mother-the-mother-of-all-women [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-27 19:49:06 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-27 19:49:06 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=22886 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
“The Perfect Union of Man and Woman”: Reclamation and Collaboration in Joseph Smith’s Theology Making
Dialogue 49.1 (Spring 2016): 1–26
Central to Joseph’s creative energies was a profound commitment to an ideal of cosmic as well as human collaboration. His personal mode of leadership increasingly shifted from autocratic to collaborative—and that mode infused both his most radical theologizing and his hopes for Church comity itself.
Any church that is more than a generation old is going to suffer the same challenges that confronted early Christianity: how to preach and teach its gospel to myriad peoples, nationalities, ethnic groups, and societies, without accumulating the cultural trappings of its initial geographical locus. As Joseph Milner has pointed out, the rescue of the “precious ore” of the original theological deposit is made particularly onerous, threatened as it is by rapidly growing mounds of accumulating cultural and “ecclesiastical rubbish.” This includes social accretions, shifting sensibilities and priorities, and the inevitable hand of human intermediaries.
For Joseph Smith, Jr., the task of restoration was the reclamation of the kerygma of Christ’s original Gospel, but not just a return to the early Christian kerygma. Rather, he was attempting to restore the Ur-Evangelium itself—the gospel preached to and by the couple, Adam and Eve (Moses 6:9). In the present paper, I wish to recapitulate a common thread in Joseph’s early vision, one that may already be too obscure and in need of excavation and celebration. Central to Joseph’s creative energies was a profound commitment to an ideal of cosmic as well as human collaboration. His personal mode of leadership increasingly shifted from autocratic to collaborative—and that mode infused both his most radical theologizing and his hopes for Church comity itself. His manner of producing scripture, his reconceived doctrine of the Trinity, and his hopes for the Nauvoo Women’s Relief Society all attest to Joseph’s proclivity for collaborative scriptural, theological, and ecclesiastical restoration.
Though Smith was without parallel in his revelatory capacities (by one count he experienced seventy-six documented visions), he increasingly insisted on democratizing that gift. As one scholar remarked, “Joseph Smith was the Henry Ford of revelation. He wanted every home to have one, and the revelation he had in mind was the revelation he’d had, which was seeing God.” Richard Bushman has noted how “Smith did not attempt to monopolize the prophetic office. It was as if he intended to reduce his own role and infuse the church bureaucracy with his charismatic powers.” This he principally effected through the formation of councils and quorums equal in authority—and revelatory responsibility—to that which he and his presidency possessed. Most remarkable of all, perhaps, was Smith’s readiness to turn what revelations he did receive and record into cooperative editing projects. With his full sanction and participation, the “Revelation Books” wherein his divine dictations were recorded bear the evidence of half a dozen editors’ handwriting—including his own—engaged in the revision of his pronouncements.
It was in that work of scriptural production that Joseph recognized that theological reclamation necessarily entailed fracturing the Christian canon to allow for excision, emendation, and addition. Arguably, the most important work of reclamation and re-conceptualization is Joseph’s understanding of the nature and attributes of the three members of the Godhead whose own collaborative work and glory are “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). Smith believed that the true nature and attributes of the Trinity, the truly “plain and precious things,” were either buried, revised, camouflaged, or expunged from the biblical text (1 Nephi 13). Part of his reclamation entailed a restoration of the Divine Feminine together with a revision of contemporary conceptions of priesthood power and authority in conjunction with “keys” Joseph believed had been lost following the advent of Christianity. Joseph saw himself as midwife in the restoration of the priesthood of the Ur-Evangelium. Within this framework, he envisioned collaborative roles for women and men within the ecclesiastical structure and ministry of the nascent LDS Church, evidenced in partial form in the initiatory, endowment, and sealing rites of the LDS temple.
Reclamation of Divine Collaboration
In answer to William Dever’s question “Did God have a Wife?” the LDS faith responds with a resounding affirmative. Relatively recent excavation of the symbols and modes of worship attributed to the Divine Feminine both within and outside the ancient Hebrew tradition, together with salient clues within the biblical text, are helping to support Joseph’s reclamation of God, the Mother, from the textual absence to which she has been consigned. As Joseph’s theology never emerged ex nihilo, neither is it reasonable to infer his re-introduction of the doctrine of Heavenly Mother to be without canonical and, given Joseph’s penchant for rupturing boundaries, extra-canonical precedent. Joseph showed himself to be quite happy trolling every possible resource in order to reclaim what he considered was most plain and precious (D&C 91:1).
Joseph’s theology was Trinitarian, but in a radically re-conceptualized way. A conventional trinity, in its thrice-reiterated maleness, could never have produced the collaborative vision of priesthood that Joseph developed. It is, therefore, crucial, for both historical context and theological rationale, to recognize that Joseph reconstitutes the Godhead of Christendom as a Heavenly Father who co-presides with a Heavenly Mother. In 1878, Apostle Erastus Snow stated: “‘What,’ says one, ‘do you mean we should understand that Deity consists of man and woman? Most certainly I do. If I believe anything that God has ever said about himself . . . I must believe that deity consists of man and woman. . . . There can be no God except he is composed of man and woman united, and there is not in all the eternities that exist, or ever will be a God in any other way, . . . except they be made of these two component parts: a man and a woman; the male and the female” (emphasis mine). In his 1876 general conference address, Brigham Young suggested a strik-ing equality within that Godhead, when he talked of “eternal mothers” and “eternal daughters . . . prepared to frame earth’s like unto ours.”
Prescient but not surprising, therefore, is the merging of Smith’s reconstituted Godhead with the traditional Trinity. Elder Charles W. Penrose drew an unexpected inference from Joseph’s new theology when he suggested an identification of the Holy Spirit with Heavenly Mother. He responded to a Mr. Kinsman’s assertion that “the members of the Trinity are . . . men” by stating that the third member of the Godhead—the Holy Spirit—was the feminine member of the Trinity: “If the divine image, to be complete, had to reflect a female as well as a male element, it is self-evident that both must be contained in the Deity. And they are. For the divine Spirit that in the morning of creation ‘moved upon the face of the waters,’ bringing forth life and order, is . . . the feminine gender, whatever modern theology may think of it.” Penrose may have been relying upon Joseph’s re-working of the creation narrative in the book of Abraham, where “movement” is replaced with “brooding”—a striking image of a mother bird during the incubation period of her offspring. (One remembers in this context Gerard Manley Hopkins’s lovely allusion to the Holy Spirit who, “over the bent/World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.”)
Even though recorded third-hand, the following account suggests that the prophet, Joseph, while not expressing the same identification as Penrose, was projecting the same reconstituted heavenly family:
One day the Prophet, Joseph, asked [Zebedee Coltrin] and Sidney Rigdon to accompany him into the Woods to pray. When they had reached a secluded spot Joseph laid down on his back and stretched out his arms. He told the brethren to lie one on each arm, and then shut their eyes. After they had prayed he told them to open their eyes. They did so and saw a brilliant light surrounding a pedestal which seemed to rest on the earth. They closed their eyes and again prayed. They then saw, on opening them, the Father seated upon a throne; they prayed again and on looking saw the Mother also; after praying and looking the fourth time they saw the Savior added to the group.
V. H. Cassler has written, “What we have taken as absence was presence all along, but we did not have the eyes to see it.” Even within our tradition, glimpses of Smith’s radical innovation have neither been sufficiently recognized nor appreciated. One such unrecognized symbol resides on the threshold of the celestial room in the Salt Lake Temple. Just above the veil on the west wall stands a remarkable, six-foot statue of a woman, holding what looks very much like a palm frond. She is flanked by two easily discernible cherubs to whom she is linked by gar-lands of colorful, open flowers. While chubby cherubs are ubiquitous in Renaissance art and could, therefore, be mistaken as merely decorative, the number and placement of the cherubs in the celestial room of the temple draw one back to the majestic, fearful Cherubim—guardians of the Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies of the First Temple. The Lady of the Temple is positioned at the portal of the veil—the representation of the torn body of the Lord, Jesus Christ—through which all kindred, nations, tongues, and people shall pass into the celestial kingdom (Hebrews 10:20, Matthew 27:50–51). The original statue was purchased by Joseph Don Carlos Young, who was called by the Church Presidency to succeed Truman O. Angell as decorator of the temple interior. Young purchased the winged statue named “The Angel of Peace” and two cherubs on a visit to New York in 1877. However, during a dream vision one night Young recorded: “I felt impelled to remove the wings. Now I saw a smile and expression that I never saw before and I can now allow this . . . to be placed there.” The enigmatic lady’s station at the veil of the temple, replete with crucifixion imagery, makes it unlikely that she represents Eve. Mary, the mortal mother of the Lord, is a possibility, given her maternal relationship to the Messiah. However, the Lady’s presence at the entrance to the celestial room, representing the celestial kingdom, suggests someone else. There are several key clues as to her possible identity.
Of note is the palm frond the Lady is holding. Anciently, trees were a potent symbol of Asherah, God the Mother. In fact, the Menorah—the seven-branched lamp—that is reputed to have given light in the original Holy of Holies is fashioned after an almond tree, covered in gold—representing the Tree of Life spoken of at the beginning and end of the biblical text. Not only are flowers fashioned into the Menorah: open flowers are one of the temple’s primary decorative motifs. Palm trees also were closely associated with the First Temple with which the interior was liberally decorated together with cherubim: “And it was made with cherubims and palm trees, so that a palm tree was between a cherub and a cherub; and every cherub had two faces” (Ezekiel 41:18). Palm fronds also play a conspicuous role in Jesus’ Passion—in particular his dramatic entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the day that begins the week ending in the crucifixion and resurrection of the Savior. The thronging crowds, waving and throwing palm fronds beneath the hooves of the donkey carrying the Messiah, “chant a Hoshi’ahnna’ (Hebrew “Save Us”)—a clear indication that many, if not all, the Jews present recognized that the man astride the donkey was the promised Messiah. The palm fronds together with the chant suggest a recognition on the part of the thronging masses of the presence of the goddess Asherah—the Mother of the Lord—whose primary symbol is a tree.
Asherah, or the Divine Feminine, is referred to in Proverbs 3:18 as the “Tree of Life.” Her “fruit is better than gold, even fine gold” (Proverbs 8:19). Those who hold her fast are called happy (a word play on the Hebrew ashr). It can be assumed, therefore, that Asherah and Wisdom (Sophia in the Greek) are different names for the same deity. According to the book of Proverbs, Wisdom/Asherah is the name of the deity with whom “the Lord founded the earth” (Proverbs 3:19–20). Before the world was, She was. “Long life is in her right hand; /in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life” (Proverbs 3:16–18). Latter-day Saints are enjoined to search for her in the opening chapters of the Doctrine and Covenants because Wisdom holds the keys not only to the mysteries of God but to eternal life (D&C 6:7, 11:7).
Interestingly, the biblical association of Sophia with the Tree of Life finds powerful echo in the Book of Mormon narrative. Nephi begins the account of his vision by expressing an ardent desire to “see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God unto all those who diligently seek him [God]” (1 Nephi 10:17, 19). Nephi’s narrative starts in the company of the Spirit, who immediately draws his attention to the Tree of Life—“the whiteness [of which] did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow . . . the tree which is precious above all.” Mary, the mortal mother of the Messiah, whom Nephi sees following the vision of the tree (the Asherah), is similarly described as “exceedingly fair and white” (1 Nephi 11:13, 15, 18). After Mary is “carried away in the Spirit for the space of a time,” she is seen bearing the Christ child (1 Nephi 11:19–20). This association of Christ’s birth with the Tree of Life, with its echoes of a Divine Feminine, is not unique to the Book of Mormon. The oldest known visual representation of the Madonna and Child effects the same conjunction. In the Roman catacombs of St. Priscilla, a fresco dated to the second century depicts the mother and child, with a magnificent Tree of Life overarching both. Immediately following Nephi’s vision of Mary and the Christ child, he watches “the heavens open, and the Holy [Spirit] come down out of heaven and abide upon [Christ] in the form of a dove” (1 Nephi 11:25–27). It does not appear to be coincidental that both “Spirit” and “dove” are gendered female in Hebrew, Syriac, and Aramaic.
Augustine also finds his theological heart strings pulled by the pro-vocative power and logic of the Holy Spirit as in some sense the Wife of the Father and Mother of the Son: “For I omit such a thing as to regard the Holy Spirit as the Mother of the Son and the Spouse of the Father; [because] it will perhaps be answered that these things offend us in carnal matters by arousing thoughts of corporeal conception and birth.” At about the same time, the early Church Father, Jerome, interpreting Isaiah 11:9 in light of the Gospel of the Hebrews, noted that Jesus spoke of “My mother the holy spirit.” Even though Jews returning from the Babylonian captivity were essentially monotheistic, there are suggestions that their belief in a deity that comprised the Father (El), the Mother (Asherah), and the Son (Yahweh) from the First Temple tradition and before persisted. For example, in 1449 Toledo some “conversos” (Jewish converts to Christianity) were alarming their ecclesiastical leaders by refusing to relinquish certain tenets of their previous faith: “In as much as it has been shown that a large portion of the city’s conversos descend-ing from the Jewish line are persons very suspect in the holy Catholic faith; that they hold and believe great errors against the articles of the holy Catholic faith; that they keep the rites and ceremonies of the old law; that they say and affirm that our Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ was [a] man of their lineage who was killed and whom the Christians worship as God; that they say that there is both a god and a goddess in heaven.” As Margaret Barker has stated: “It has become customary to translate and read the Hebrew Scriptures as an account of one male deity, and the feminine presence is not made clear. Had it been the custom to read of a female Spirit or to find Wisdom capitalized, it would have been easier to make the link between the older faith . . . and later developments outside the stream represented by the canonical texts.”
Reclamation of Ecclesiastical Collaboration
The reciprocal synergy of the Godhead was a catalyst—or at least precursor—to Joseph’s quest for a universal collaboration of male and female. On March 17, 1842, he took another momentous step in that direction. At that time both male and female members of the Church were actively engaged in the construction of the Nauvoo temple. Women collaborated in the enterprise primarily by contributing financially and by providing the masons with clothing. In addition, they saw to the needs of impoverished members arriving daily seeking refuge. As the number of women engaged in support of temple construction and relief efforts grew, a group of them, at the instigation of Sarah Kimball, formed the Ladies’ Society of Nauvoo. Eliza R. Snow drafted the constitution and by-laws and then took them to Joseph, who, while applauding the enterprise, suggested the ladies might prefer something other than a benevolent or sewing society. He invited the sisters to “meet me and a few of the brethren in the Masonic Hall over my store next Thursday afternoon, and I will organize the sisters under the priesthood after the pattern of the priesthood.” In other words, just as the male society had been organized after the pattern of the priesthood, the women of the church would form a female society, with Joseph’s sanction and blessing, after the same pattern.
Like the men before them, the women were to be organized under the umbrella of the priesthood “without beginning of days or end of years” (Moses 1:3). Joseph further stipulated: “the keys of the kingdom are about to be given to them [the sisters], that they may be able to detect every thing false—as well as to the Elders.” While it has been argued that the expression “keys of the kingdom” in regard to women refers solely to their initiation into the ordinances of the “greater [or] Holy Priesthood” in the temple, Joseph seemed to attribute to women a priestly standing. In other words, he acted on the assumption that in order to access the priesthood that “holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God” together with the temple ordinances in which “the power of godliness is manifest,” one would already need to be a priest (D&C 84:19–22). At least, there is evidence that this is how Joseph understood access to priesthood power and authority.
On March 31, 1842, Joseph announced to the inchoate Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, first, his recognition that collaboration between men and women was key to spiritual and ecclesiastical progress—“All must act in concert or nothing can be done,” he said. Second, “the Society should move according to the ancient Priesthood” as delineated in Doctrine and Covenants 84 (given in Kirtland on September 22 and 23, 1832). And, third, in order to accomplish the above, “the Society was to become a kingdom of priests as in Enoch’s day—as in Paul’s day.” Eliza R. Snow understood that the women’s Society or priesthood would enable women to become “Queens of Queens, and Priestesses unto the Most High God.”
Joseph’s conception of female authority may have been tied to his understanding of the New Testament. That women as well as men held Church offices in “Paul’s day” has become apparent with the recent, more accurate translations of the Greek New Testament and research into early Christian ecclesiology. In Ephesians chapter four, Paul enumerates the gifts of the Spirit imparted by the Lord before His ascension: “some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God to maturity” (Ephesians 4:11–13). Women as well as men were to be found in possession of each of these “gifts.” Peter Brown demonstrates that, unlike pagans and Jews, “They [Christians] welcomed women as patrons and . . . offered women roles in which they could act as collaborators.”
In his letter to the Romans, Paul sends greetings to Andronicus and Junia (perhaps Julia), commending them for their faith and stating that “they are prominent among the apostles.” Later writers would masculinize the name, but Chrysostom in the late fourth century had no problem praising “the devotion of this woman” who was “worthy to be called an apostle.” In the second book of Acts, Luke records the following: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17–18). The apostle Paul considered the gift of prophecy one of the greatest spiritual gifts: “Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts,” he said, “and especially that you may prophecy [for] those who prophesy speak to other people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Corinthians 14:1, 3). Indeed, Orson Pratt stated in 1876 that “there never was a genuine Christian Church unless it had Prophets and Prophetesses.” It is, therefore, not surprising to find them mentioned in the New Testament. In Acts 21, we learn that the four unmarried daughters of Philip the evangelist possessed “the gift of prophesy” (Acts 21:8–9).
The primary role of evangelists was to teach the death and resur-rection of Jesus Christ. Raymond Brown has noted that in the Gospel of John, the Samaritan woman serves “a real missionary function,” while the women at Christ’s tomb are given “a quasi-apostolic role.” As Kevin Giles puts it, “the Synoptic authors agree that it was women who first found the empty tomb. And Matthew and John record that Jesus first appeared to women. The encounter between the risen Christ and the women is drawn as a commissioning scene. The Lord says, ‘Go and tell my brethren’ (Matthew 28:10, cf. John 20:17). The women are chosen and commissioned by the risen Christ to be the first to proclaim, ‘He is risen.’”
Deacons are also listed among the offices in the nascent Christian Church, and women are also included. In his letter to the Romans, Paul commends Phoebe, “a deacon or minister of the church at Cenchreae” (Romans 16:1). The terms “pastors” and “teachers” are joined grammatically in Ephesians 4:11. It appears that the term “pastor” in the New Testament was the universal term referring to spiritual leadership. Among the female pastor-teachers, Priscilla is singled out for her theological acumen, instructing (together with—possibly her husband—Aquila) the erudite and eloquent Apollos of Alexandria “more accurately . . . in the way of God” (Acts 18:18, 24–26). Significantly, of the six times this couple is mentioned, Priscilla precedes Aquila in four of them—according her prominence over Aquila either in ministry or social status—or both. Rodney Stark stated in his book The Rise of Christianity that “It is well known that the early Church attracted an unusual number of high status women . . . . Some of [whom] lived in relatively spacious homes,” to which they welcomed parishioners. Priscilla is not the only woman mentioned in connection with church leadership. In addition to Priscilla we learn of Mark’s mother (Acts 12:12), Lydia from Philippi (Acts 16:14–15, 40), and Nympha in Paul’s letter to the Colossians (Colossians 4:15). The apostle John addresses a letter to the Elect or Chosen Lady and her children (congregation) in 2 John 1:1. All apparently function as leaders of the Church.
The title translated as “Lady” in the New Testament is the equivalent to the title “Lord,” generally denoting social standing but possibly, in an ecclesiastical sense, denoting someone in a position of church leadership. According to Stanley Grenz, the nascent Christian Church “radically altered the position of women, elevating them to a partnership with men unparalleled in first-century society.” It appears that Joseph was engaged in the same endeavor in mid-nineteenth-century America. During the inaugural meeting of the Relief Society, after reading 2 John 1:1 Joseph stated that “this is why she [Emma] was called an Elect Lady is because [she was] elected to preside.” While it can be argued that the aforementioned are all gifts of the Spirit that do not necessarily involve priesthood, there is evidence that Joseph saw the Spirit as directing the implementation of these gifts into specific priesthood offices.
I mention these historical precedents because it is clear that Joseph Smith was aware of them and that they influenced his directive to Emma that “If any Officers are wanted to carry out the designs of the Institution, let them be appointed and set apart, as Deacons, Teachers &c. are among us.” On April 28, 1842, after reading 1 Corinthians 12 to the Society, he gave “instructions respecting the different offices, and the necessity of every individual acting in the sphere allotted him or her; and filling the several offices to which they were appointed.”
And so we find that the striking degree of collaboration between men and women in the early Christian Church is replicated in the founding of the LDS Church. In this regard, Bishop Newel K. Whitney’s words are significant: “It takes all to restore the Priesthood . . . without the female all things cannot be restor’d to the earth.” This implies a much broader role for women in the Church structure than temple service alone. In Joseph’s journal account following the Female Relief Society meeting of Thursday, April 28, 1842, he writes: “Gave a lecture on the pries[t] hood shewing how the Sisters would come in possession of the priviliges & blessings & gifts of the priesthood—&c that the signs should follow them. such as healing the sick casting out devils &c.” Commenting on Doctrine and Covenants 25, which Joseph read at the inaugural meeting of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, he stated that Emma “was ordain’d at the time, the Revelation was given”—that is, Emma was ordained not by man but by God to the position of Elect Lady (“and thou art an elect lady, whom I have called [or chosen]” [D&C 25:3]) as Joseph was ordained/chosen by God to the position of First Elder. It is clear from Emma’s remarks two years later at the Female Relief Society meeting of March 16, 1844, that she recognized that her ordination to the position of Elect Lady with its attendant power, privileges, and authority were divinely bestowed: “if thier ever was any authourity on the Earth [I] had it—and had [it] yet.”
The second Relief Society president, Eliza R. Snow, who gained and retained possession of the Nauvoo Relief Society minutes, also recognized that Emma’s authority to preside over the Female Relief Society gave the women’s organization independence: “The Relief Society is designed to be a self-governing organization: to relieve the Bishops as well as to relieve the poor, to deal with its members, correct abuses, etc. If difficulties arise between members of a branch which they cannot settle between the members themselves, aided by the teachers, instead of troubling the Bishop, the matter should be referred to their president and her counselors.” Reynolds Cahoon, a close affiliate of Joseph, understood “that the inclusion of women within the [ecclesiastical] structure of the church organization reflected the divine pattern of the perfect union of man and woman.” Indeed, Cahoon continued, “the Order of the Priesthood . . . which encompasses powers, keys, ordinances, offices, duties, organizations, and attitudes . . . is not complete without it [the Relief Society]”).
The source of women’s ordination, Joseph suggested, was the Holy Spirit. He understood the women to belong to an order comparable to or pertaining to the priesthood, based on the ordinance of confirmation and receipt of the Holy Spirit. To the Nauvoo women, he suggested that the gift of the Holy Spirit enabled them to “administer in that author-ity which is conferr’d on them.” The idea that priesthood power and authority were bestowed through the medium of the Holy Spirit was commonly accepted among both Protestants and Catholics at that time. The nineteenth-century Quaker, William Gibbons, articulated the broadly accepted view that “There is but one source from which ministerial power and authority, ever was, is, or can be derived, and that is the Holy Spirit.” For, “it was by and through this holy unction, that all the prophets spake from Moses to Malachi.” The Reformed Presbyterian Magazine cites this “holy unction” as “not only the fact but the origin of our priesthood” claiming to be made “priests by the Great High Priest Himself . . . transmitted through the consecration and seal of the Holy Spirit.”
Such a link between the priesthood and the gift of the Holy Spirit is traced back to the early Christian Church, based on two New Testament passages. In John 20, the resurrected Christ commissions His disciples to go into the world proclaiming the Gospel, working miracles, and remit-ting sins in the same manner He was sent by His Father—through the bestowal of the Holy Spirit: “As my Father has sent me, so send I you. When he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:21–23). Peter preached that “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power” (Acts 10:38). And so to the Relief Society sisters Joseph “ask’d . . . if they could not see by this sweeping stroke, that wherein they are ordained, it is the privilege of those set apart to administer in that authority which is confer’d on them . . . and let every thing roll on.” He called this authority “the power of the Holy Priesthood & the Holy Ghost,” in a unified expression. Elsewhere he stated that “There is a prist-Hood with the Holy Ghost and a key.” Indeed, Joseph presses the point even further. In a Times and Seasons article, he wrote that the gift of the Holy Ghost “was necessary both to ‘make’ and ‘to organize the priesthood.’” It was under the direction of the Holy Spirit that Joseph was helping to organize—or, more accurately, re-organize—women in the priesthood.
For Joseph, the organization of the Female Relief Society was fundamental to the successful collaboration of the male and female quorums: “I have desired to organize the Sisters in the order of the Priesthood. I now have the key by which I can do it. The organization of the Church of Christ was never perfect until the women were organized.” It was this key Joseph “turned” to the Elect Lady, Emma, with which the gates to the priesthood powers and privileges promised to the Female Relief Society could now be opened. The injunction given to recipients of priesthood privileges in Doctrine and Covenants 27 could, therefore, also apply equally to the nascent Female Relief Society to whom the keys of the kingdom were also promised.
The fact that the Female Relief Society was inaugurated during the same period and setting as the founding of the Nauvoo Masonic Lodge is helpful in understanding its intended purpose. Joseph had been raised to the Third Degree of Freemasonry (Master Mason) the day before this auspicious meeting. And a plausible argument has been made that the prophet considered the principal tenets of Masonry—Truth, Friendship (or Brotherly Love), and Relief—to be in complete harmony with the reclamation of the Ur-Evangelium. It can, therefore, be argued that Friendship, “the grand fundamental principle of Mormonism,” formed the sacred bond between the male and female priesthood quorums in their efforts to proclaim truth, bless the afflicted, and alleviate suffering by providing relief as they worked side by side on their united goal to build the Nauvoo temple, assist those in need, preach the Gospel, excavate truth, and establish Zion.
The organization of the female society also finds instructive parallels with the creation story in the books of Genesis and Abraham. Abraham states that “the Gods took counsel among themselves and said: Let us go down and form man in our image, after our likeness; and we will give them dominion. . . . So the Gods went down to organize man[kind] in their own image, in the image of the Gods to form they him, male and female to form they them” (Abraham 4:26–27). In the second biblical creation narrative, Eve is created after Adam when it was decided by the Gods that “it was not good for man to be [act] alone” (Genesis 2:18). After Adam and Eve were organized they were given the family name of Adam. He “called their name Adam” (Genesis 5:2; Moses 6:9). Adam is the family name, the couple’s surname. (One can note here the precedent set by “God” as a family name evidenced in the appellation: God, the Father; God, the Son; and God, the Holy Spirit). Erastus Snow’s remark bears repeating here: “Deity consists of man and woman. . . . There never was a God, and there never will be in all eternities, except they are made of these two component parts; a man and a woman; the male and the female.”
The divinely decreed identity of the couple, Adam, is one of complementarity, two beings separated by a creative act and then reconstituted as one by divine sacrament. Only later does the name Adam come to denote the individual male rather than the couple. It is, perhaps, in this context of Adam as the family name that the following scripture from the book of Moses should be read: “And thus [they were] baptized, and the Spirit of God descended upon [them], and . . . [they were] born of the Spirit, and became quickened. . . . And they heard a voice out of heaven, saying: [ye are] baptized with fire, and with the Holy Ghost. This is the record of the Father, and the Son, from henceforth and forever; And [ye are] after the order of him who was without beginning of days or end of years, from all eternity to all eternity. Behold, [ye are] one in me, [children] of God; and thus may all become my children” (Moses 6:65–68).
In Moses, we learn that Eve labored with Adam. They worship together. They pray together. They grieve the loss of Cain together. Together they preach the gospel to their children (Moses 5:12). The right to preside over the human family was given jointly to Eve and Adam, as were the sacred rights of the temple: “And thus all things were confirmed unto [the couple] Adam, by an holy ordinance” (Moses 5:59). The sacerdotal nature of “ordinance” implies that Adam and Eve were also to collaborate in the powers inherent in priesthood. They were both clothed in holy garments representing the male and female images of the Creator Gods. Adam and Eve, therefore, represent the divine union of the God, El, and His Wife, variously known as Asherah (The Tree of Life), El Shaddai (God Almighty), Shekhina (The Holy Spirit), and Sophia (Wisdom). As Heber C. Kimball said, “‘What a strange doctrine,’ says one ‘that we should be taught to be one!’ I tell you there is no way for us to prosper and prevail in the last day only to learn to act in Union.”
It is this union that Joseph appears to be attempting to restore with the organization of the Female Relief Society. The Nauvoo Relief Society minutes indicate that Joseph considered himself to be authorizing the women of the Church to form an institution fully commensurate with the male institutions he had organized earlier. The name the founding mothers chose for their organization was the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, possibly suggesting their recognition that what was being organized was the full and equal counterpart to the already operating male priesthood quorums. John Taylor’s suggestion to name the female quorum “The Nauvoo Female Benevolent Society” in lieu of the Relief Society presidency’s proposal “The Nauvoo Female Relief Society” was rejected outright by the female presidency. “The popularity of the word benevolent is one great objection,” adding that we “do not wish to have it call’d after other Societies in the world” for “we design to act in the name of the Lord—to relieve the wants of the distressed, and do all the good we can.”
It appears likely that the second president of the Female Relief Society recognized exactly that. As Eliza R. Snow told a gathering of Relief Society sisters on March 17, 1842, the Relief Society “was no trifling thing, but an organization after the order of Heaven.” Indeed, Eliza later stated:
Although the name may be of modern date, the institution is of ancient origin. We were told by our martyred prophet, that the same organization existed in the church anciently, allusions to which are made in some of the epistles recorded in the New Testament, making use of the title, “elect lady”. . . . This is an organization that cannot exist without the priesthood, from the fact that it derives all its authority and influence from that source. When the Priesthood was taken from the earth, this institution as well as every other appendage to the true order of the church of Jesus Christ on the earth, became extinct, and had never been restored until now.
In her poem, “The Female Relief Society: What is it?” Eliza expresses her understanding that the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo is the legitimate counterpart to the male organization by emphasizing the word “order” in the sixth and last stanza. She does so by enlarging the word in such a way that it immediately draws attention to itself, implying that she understands the “Relief Society” to be an order of the priesthood. The “Chosen Lady”: Emma is so called “because [she was] elected to preside” as Joseph, the First Elder, was also elected to preside. In the words of President John Taylor, “this Institution was organiz’d according to the law of Heaven—according to a revelation previously given to Mrs. E. Smith, appointing her to this important calling—[with] . . . all things moving forward in . . . a glorious manner.”
The female counterpart of the priesthood would be linked to that of the male order in the appropriated grand fundamental of Masonry: friendship. One could construe that the name for the women’s organization, “The Female Relief Society, was chosen with the Masonic fundamentals of “truth,” “friendship,” and “relief” in mind—therefore empowering the female and male organizations to work together in mutual support, encouraging each other and meeting together in council—patterned after the Divine Council presided over by El, El Shaddai/ Asherah, and Yehovah. If that collaborative vision did not yet come to fruition, it did not go unnoticed by those who constituted the second generation of Relief Society sisters who were very familiar with the founding events of their organization; Susa Young Gates wrote that “the privileges and powers outlined by the Prophet in those first meetings [of the Relief Society] have never been granted to women in full even yet.”
In turning “the key” to Emma as president of the Female Relief Society, Joseph encouraged Emma to “be a pattern of virtue; and possess all the qualifications necessary for her to stand and preside and dignify her Office.” In her article for the Young Woman’s Journal, Susa Young Gates, in her recapitulation of Doctrine and Covenants 25, reminds her young, female readership that Emma was not only called to be a scribe but a “counselor” to the prophet and that she was “ordained to expound the scriptures. Not only set apart but ordained!” With Emma in possession of the keys to preside over the Female Relief Society, it was now possible to create a “kingdom of priests as in Enoch’s day—as in Paul’s day.” As in the ancient church of Adam and Eve envisioned by Joseph and, as in the early Christian Church, women would share the burdens of administering the affairs of the kingdom together with ministering to their congregations, the sick, the poor and the needy, and proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Indeed, Relief Society sisters performed a vital role in their min-istrations to the poor and the sick—including the pronouncement of blessings of healing. For example, Helen Mar Kimball Whitney records being blessed at the hands of Sister Persis Young, Brigham’s niece, who “had been impressed by the Spirit to come and administer to me . . . She rebuked my weakness . . . and commanded me to be made whole, pronouncing health and many other blessings upon me. . . . From that morning I went to work as though nothing had been the matter.” At the Nauvoo Relief Society meeting of April 28, 1842 Joseph Smith had promised that “if the sisters should have faith to heal the sick, let all hold their tongues, and let every thing roll on.” Women and men would also be endowed to perform the saving ordinances performed initially in the Masonic Lodge and then in the newly constructed Nauvoo Temple in order to redeem “all nations, kindreds, tongues and people” culminating in the sealing of the human family to each other and to the Divine Family, thereby fulfilling their collaborative roles as “Saviours on Mount Zion.”
As Susa Young Gates noted, “there were mighty things wrought in those long-ago days in this Church. Every great and gracious principle of the Gospel—every truth and force for good—all these were conceived and born in the mighty brain and great heart of that master-mind of the nineteenth century, Joseph Smith, the development and expansion of these truths he left to others” (emphasis mine). Susa then added that Joseph “was never jealous or grudging in his attitude to woman. . . . He brought from the Heavenly store-house that bread of life which should feed her soul, if she would eat and lift her from the low estate of centuries of servitude and ignominy into equal partnership and equal liberty with man.”
 Joseph Milner, The History of the Church of Christ, vol. 2 (London: T. Cadell and W. Davies, 1812), v.; Joseph Milner, The History of the Church of Christ, vol. 3 (Boston: Farrand, Mallory, and Co., 1809), 221.
 They are treated in Alexander L. Baugh, “Parting the Veil: Joseph Smith’s Seventy-Six Documented Visionary Experiences,” in Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations 1820–1844, edited by John W. Welch and Erick B. Carlson (Provo and Salt Lake City: Brigham Young University and Deseret Book, 2005), 265–326.
 Interview Kathleen Flake, “The Mormons,” PBS Frontline/American Experience (Apr. 30, 2007), retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/mormons/interviews/flake.html.
 Richard Bushman, “Joseph Smith and His Visions,” in The Oxford Handbook of Mormonism, edited by Terryl L. Givens and Philip L. Barlow (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 118.
 This practice is most clearly evident in his revelation on priesthood, D&C 107.
 See The Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations, Manuscript and Revelation Books, Facsimile Edition, edited by Robin Scott Jensen, Robert J. Woodford, and Steven C. Harper (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2009).
 William Dever, Did God Have a Wife? (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2005).
 Among Joseph’s reading material is Willam Hone, ed., The Apocryphal New Testament (London: Hone, 1821). For Smith’s library, see Kenneth W. Godfrey, “A Note on the Nauvoo Library and Literary Institute,” Brigham Young University Studies 14 (Spring 1974): 386–89.
 Erastus Snow, Mar. 3, 1878, Journal of Discourses, 19:269–70.
 Richard S. Van Wagoner, ed., Complete Discourses of Brigham Young (Salt Lake City: Smith-Petit Foundation, 2009), 5:3092.
 Women in Heaven,” Millennial Star 64 (Jun. 26, 1902): 410, retrieved from https://archive.org/stream/millennialstar6426eng#page/408/mode/2up. Penrose, who was editor at the time this editorial was written, is likely the author.
 Gerard Manley Hopkins, “God’s Grandeur,” Poems (New York: Oxford University Press, 1961), 70.
 Abraham H. Cannon, Journal, Aug. 25, 1880, LDS archives, quoted in Linda P. Wilcox, “The Mormon Concept of a Mother in Heaven,” in Maureen Ursenbach Beecher and Lavina Fielding Anderson, eds., Sisters in Spirit: Mormon Women in Historical and Cultural Perspective (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992), 66; see also Maxine Hanks, Woman and Authority (Salt Lake: Signature, 1992).
 V. H. Cassler, “Plato’s Son, Augustine’s Heir: ‘A Post-Heterosexual Mormon Theology’?” Square Two 5, no. 2 (Summer 2012), retrieved from http://squaretwo. org/Sq2ArticleCasslerPlatosSon.html.
 Joseph Don Carlos Young, Private Notebook (no date; no pagination), currently in the possession of Richard Wright Young, grandson of Joseph Don Carlos Young, quoted in Alonzo L. Gaskill and Seth G. Soha, “The Woman at the Veil,” in An Eye of Faith: Essays in Honor of Richard O. Cowan, edited by Kenneth L. Alford and Richard. E. Bennett (Provo: Religious Studies Center, 2015), 91–111.
 Daniel Peterson, “Nephi and his Asherah: A Note on 1 Nephi 11:8–23,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9, no. 2 (2000): 16–25, 80–81.
 See Exodus 25:31–37, 37:17–22; Zechariah 4:1–3; Genesis 2:9; Revelation 22:2. See also Margaret Barker, King of the Jews: Temple Theology in John’s Gospel (London: SPCK, 2014), 34–38. Biblical quotations are from the NRSV unless otherwise noted.
 See 1 Kings 6:18, 29, 33.
 See also Ezekiel 40:16, 31.
 See John 12:12–13. The Hebrew for “Hosanna” is “Hoshi’ahnna” meaning “Save us” as noted in Margaret Barker, The Gate of Heaven (Sheffield: SPCK, 2008), 84.
 William Dever, Did God Have a Wife?, 101.
 E.g., Proverbs 1:20.
 See photographs of the fresco at Catacombs of Priscilla, http://www.cata-combepriscilla.com/visita_catacomba_en.html.
 Augustine, The Trinity, Book VII, ch 5. My gratitude to Rachael Givens Johnson for alerting me to this passage.
 Margaret Barker, The Mother of the Lord, vol. 1: The Lady in the Temple (London: Bloomsbury, 2012), 104.
 Kenneth B. Wolf, “Sentencia-Estatuto de Toledo, 1449.” Medieval Texts in Translation (2008), retrieved from https://sites.google.com/site/canilup/toledo1449. My gratitude to Rachael Givens Johnson for sharing this quotation with me.
 Barker, Mother of the Lord, 331.
 Sarah M. Kimball, “Auto-Biography,” Woman’s Exponent 12, no. 7 (Sep. 1, 1883): 51, retrieved from http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/WomansExp/id/10872/rec/17.
 Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book, 38, retrieved from http://josephsmith-papers.org/paperSummary/nauvoo-relief-society-minute-book.
 Eliza R. Snow, “An Address,” Woman’s Exponent 2, no. 8 (Sep. 15, 1873): 63, retrieved from http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/WomansExp/id/15710/rec/31.
 Peter Brown, The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), 145.
 Romans 16:7.
 John Chrysostom, “Homilies on Romans 31,” in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, VI: Romans, edited by Gerald Bray (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 358.
 Orson Pratt, Mar. 26, 1876, Journal of Discourses 18:171.
 Raymond Brown, “Roles of Women in the Fourth Gospel,” Theological Studies 36 (1975): 691–92.
 Kevin Giles, Patterns of Ministry among the First Christians (Victoria: Collins Dove, 1989), 167.
 Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1997), 107.
 For example, 2 John 1:1, 4, 13; 3 John 1:4.
 Stanley R. Grenz and Denise Muir Kjebo, Women in the Church: A Biblical Theology of Women in Ministry (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 78.
 Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book, 9.
 Ibid., 8.
 Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., The Words of Joseph Smith (Orem, Utah: Grandin Book Company, 1991), 115.
 Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book, 58.
 Joseph Smith, Journal, Apr. 28, 1842, in Andrew H. Hedges, et al., eds., Joseph Smith Papers: Journals, Volume 2: December 1841–April 1843, edited by Dean C. Jessee, et al. (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2011), 52 (hereafter JSP, J2).
 Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book, 126.
 E. R. Snow Smith, “To Branches of the Relief Society (republished by request, and permission of President Lorenzo Snow),” The Woman’s Exponent 27, no. 23 (Sep. 15, 1884): 140, retrieved from http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/WomansExp/id/33963/rec/1.
 Quoted in Jill Mulvay Derr, Janath Russell Cannon, and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, Women of Covenant: The Story of Relief Society (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1992), 39, 50.
 Ehat and Cook, Words, 115. As Ehat and Cook point out, there seems little alternative to reading the “confirmation” in his expression as a reference to the gift of the Holy Ghost (141).
 William Gibbons, Truth Advocated in Letters Addressed to the Presbyterians (Philadelphia: Joseph Rakenstraw, 1822), 107. Quoted in Benjamin Keogh, “The Holy Priesthood, The Holy Ghost, and the Holy Community,” Mormon Scholars Foundation Summer Seminar paper, Brigham Young University, Jul. 23, 2015, n.p.
 Gibbons, Truth, 85.
 “Hours With Holy Scripture,” The Reformed Presbyterian Magazine (Edin-burgh: Johnstone, Hunter & Co, 1866), 45. Quoted in Keogh, “The Holy Priesthood, The Holy Ghost and the Holy Community.”
 On April 28 Joseph again visited the Relief Society meeting and discoursed on the topic of “different offices, and the necessity of every individual acting in the sphere allotted to him or her.” Given what follows it is evident that Joseph is addressing the different spiritual gifts allotted to each member of the community. For, he continues that “the disposition of man [is] to look with jealous eyes upon the standing of others” and “the reason these remarks were being made, was that some little thing was circulating in the Society,” com-plaints that “ some [women] were not going right in laying hands on the sick &c,” instead of rejoicing that “the sick could be heal’d” (Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book, 35–36).
 Ehat and Cook, Words, 7.
 Ibid., 64 (emphasis mine).
 Joseph Smith, “Gift of the Holy Ghost,” Times and Seasons, Jun. 15, 1842. Quoted in “The Holy Priesthood, The Holy Ghost and the Holy Community,” Keogh.
 Sarah Kimball, “Reminiscence, March 17, 1882,” in The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women’s History, edited by Jill Mulvay Derr, et al. (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2016), 495; emphasis mine.
 Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book, 40; D&C 27:13–18.
 Cheryl L. Bruno, “Keeping a Secret: Freemasonry, Polygamy, and the Nauvoo Relief Society, 1842–44,” Journal of Mormon History 39, no. 4 (Fall 2013): 159.
 Don Bradley has illuminated these connections in “The Grand Fundamental Principles of Mormonism: Joseph Smith’s Unfinished Reformation,” Sunstone (Apr. 2006): 32–41.
 Ehat and Cook, Words, 234.
 Snow, Journal of Discourses 19:266.
 For example, Exodus 6:3. For a discussion of Shaddai/Shadday as a female name, see Harriet Lutzky, “Shadday as a Goddess Epithet” in Vetus Testamentum 48, Fasc. 1 (Jan. 1998): 15–16.
 Raphael Patai, The Hebrew Goddess, 3rd ed. (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1990), 105–06.
 Heber C. Kimball, Nov. 29, 1857, Journal of Discourses, 6:102.
 Considering the male priesthood to be the “Male Relief Society” is no stretch. The profound influence of Masonry on Smith, his choice of the Masonic Lodge for organizational purposes, the association of Masonic thought with “Relief,” and the women’s choice to employ that term explicitly in their organization’s name, all suggest that the male organization was effectively in Smith’s conception a “male Relief Society.”
 Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book, 11–12.
 Eighth Ward, Liberty Stake, Relief Society Minutes and Records, 1867–1969, vol. 1, May 12, 1868. In First Fifty Years, 270.
 Eliza R. Snow, “Female Relief Society,” Apr. 18 and 20, 1868, in First Fifty Years, 271 (emphasis mine).
 Eliza R. Snow, “Female Relief Society of Nauvoo: What is it?” in First Fifty Years, 135.
 Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book, 9.
 Ibid., 14.
 Susa Young Gates, “The Open Door for Women,” Young Woman’s Journal 16 (Mar. 3, 1905): 117; retrieved http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/YWJ/id/14738/rec/16.
 Gates, “Open Door,” 116.
 Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book, 22.
 Ehat and Cook, Words, 110.
 Helen Mar Whitney, “Scenes and Incidents at Winter Quarters,” Woman’s Exponent 14, no. 14 (Dec. 15, 1885), 106, retrieved from http://contentdm. lib.byu.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/WomansExp/id/12881/rec/69.
 Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book, 36.
 Gates, “Open Door,” 116.
2016: Fiona Givens, “‘The Perfect Union of Man and Woman’: Reclamation and Collaboration in Joseph Smith’s Theology Making” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol 49 No. 1 (2016): 1–26.
Givens argues that one of the things that Joseph Smith was trying to restore was teachings taught to Adam and Eve, in particular men and women working together. Givens also highlighted the existence of Heavenly Mother.[post_title] => “The Perfect Union of Man and Woman”: Reclamation and Collaboration in Joseph Smith’s Theology Making [post_excerpt] => Dialogue 49.1 (Spring 2016): 1–26
Central to Joseph’s creative energies was a profound commitment to an ideal of cosmic as well as human collaboration. His personal mode of leadership increasingly shifted from autocratic to collaborative—and that mode infused both his most radical theologizing and his hopes for Church comity itself. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => the-perfect-union-of-man-and-womanreclamation-and-collaboration-in-joseph-smiths-theology-making [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-06-04 23:47:42 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-06-04 23:47:42 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=18872 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
How to Worship Our Mother in Heaven (Without Getting Excommunicated)
Dialogue 41.4 (Winter 2008): 121–147
In this essay, I shall begin by describing what we can learn about our Mother in Heaven from the scriptures. I then will draw from those descriptions some (very modest) suggestions for how we might actually worship, or at least honor, Her in ways that should not be considered offensive or heterodox by traditionalists. This essay is therefore a little exercise in religion-making. It is my hope that I will be able to express my mediating thoughts in a way that will not be deemed offensive by those of either school of thought on the subject.
In the first place I wish to go back to the beginning of creation. There is the starting point in order to know and be fully acquainted with the mind, purposes, decrees, and ordinations of the great Elohim that sits in the heavens. For us to take up beginning at the creation it is necessary for us to understand something of God Himself in the beginning. If we start right, it is very easy for us to go right all the time; but if we start wrong, we may go wrong, and it is a hard matter to get right.Faithful LDS scholars have a strong motivation to take the recent non-LDS scholarship regarding Asherah as the Hebrew Goddess very seriously. If they have any interest in propping up the contemporary Mormon image of Elohim as a father deity and Jehovah as a separate son deity (and they do), then they must recognize that Asherah is an integral part of that scholarship. And given that the existence of such a Mother in Heaven figure was apparently taught by the Prophet Joseph, it is certainly in the interest of apologetically oriented LDS scholars like me to take this scholar-ship and Asherah herself with the utmost seriousness. At this point I would like to briefly survey what the scriptures teach those with eyes to see and ears to hear about our Mother in Heaven. As I have already suggested, She is not nameless, but She had (and has) a name: Asherah. The word ’asherah appears forty times in the Old Testament (see Appendix A), sometimes referring to the Goddess directly, but more often referring to Her cult object—apparently a wooden pole that represents a sa-cred tree (like the Tree of Life) which acts as an allusion to the Goddess her-self. In the King James Version (KJV), the Hebrew word ’asherah is always represented by the English word “grove,” following the mistranslations of the Greek Septuagint (alsos) and Latin Vulgate (lucus, nemus). Although when referring to a cult object ’asherah may have occasionally been used to refer to a single living tree (but not necessarily a grove of trees), the word is sometimes modified in some way by such verbs as “make” (’asa), “build” (bana) and“erect”(natsab), indicating that it was a manmade object representing or symbolizing a tree, and not an actual living tree. The difference between the KJV and the modern New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), may be illustrated by 2 Kings 23:4:
|KJVAnd the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest, and the priests of the second order, and the keepers of the door, to bring forth out of the temple of the LORD all the vessels that were made for Baal, and for the grove [’asherah], and for all the host of heaven: and he burned them without Jerusalem in the fields of Kidron, and carried the ashes of them unto Bethel.||
NRSVThe king commanded the high priest Hilkiah, the priests of the second order, and the guardians of the threshold, to bring out of the temple of the Lord all the vessels made for Baal, for Asherah [’asherah], and for all the host of heaven; he burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron, and carried their ashes to Bethel.
KJVBut thus shall ye deal with them; ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves [’asherim], and burn their graven images with fire.
NRSVBut this is how you must deal with them: break down their al-tars, smash their pillars, hew down their sacred poles [’asherim], and burn their idols with fire.
- Genesis 1:26–27.
And God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over [the animals]. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.The parallelism of the passage suggests that the image (tselem) of God was both male and female. The introductory formula with its plural forms appears to reflect a pantheon, and although the Priestly author who wrote the first chapter of Genesis would not have intended it, being profoundly monotheistic himself, he appears to have made use here of older material reflecting the original plural Hebrew conception of God. The implication of this passage is that men and women were created male and female in the image of God, which is also male and female.
- Genesis 21:33. The KJV reads: “And Abraham planted a grove in Beer-sheba, and called there on the name of the LORD, the everlasting God.” A more literal rendering might be: “And Abraham planted a tamarisk tree at Beer-sheba, and called there on the name of Yahweh El Olam.” Note the combination of the divine names “Yahweh” and “El,” together with Olam “Eternal [lit. (of) Eternity],” an epithet of El. The final form of the text as it has been preserved has no direct mention of Asherah, but it seems likely that this planting of a sacred tree by the patriarch Abraham was an act to venerate Her.
- Genesis 30:13. The KJV reads: “And Leah said, Happy am I, for the daughters will call me blessed: and she called his name Asher.” It has been suggested that what she really said was not “happy am I” [be’oshri, lit. “by (or with) my happiness”], but “by Asherah” or “with Asherah’s help” [be’asherah], Asherah being a fertility goddess. The traditional way of taking this, “by/with my happiness,” is very awkward. The name of the Goddess, Asherah, is very similar to the word for “happiness,” so it would have been a simple matter for scribes to remove Asherah’s name from the narrative by replacing it with the noun for “happiness.” Invoking the name of a deity in childbirth was common, and the normal form of such an invocation is with the b- prefix (meaning “by”) Leah uses here. Leah had similarly exclaimed “by Gad” or “with Gad’s help” upon the birth of her son (through her handmaid Zilpah), whom she duly named “Gad.” Gad was the god of luck worshipped in Phoenicia and Canaan. In this theory, the name of Leah’s son Asher would simply be the masculine form (without the feminine –ah ending) of the Goddess’s name.
- Genesis 49:25. Jacob’s blessings to his sons includes an invocation to Yahweh (v. 18), followed by an invocation to El (v. 25) including the common El epithet Shaddai (“almighty”) used in parallel with “El.” This verse also bestows the blessings of Breasts-and-Womb, which was known as an epithet of Asherah.
- Proverbs 3:13–18. One form into which Asherah worship was transformed was as Lady Wisdom (Hebrew chokmah) in Proverbs 1–9. It has therefore been suggested that there is an intentional word play on the name of the Goddess in an inclusio we find in Proverbs 3:13–18. An inclusio is a type of distant parallelism between material at the beginning of a section of text and that at the end of the section, thus framing or bracketing the material in the middle. These six verses form a discrete block of text. In verse 13 is “happy” (a word that is very similar to “Asherah” in Hebrew) and “Wisdom” (the designation of the Goddess as She was transformed). Five verses later in verse 18 is the expression “a tree of life,” a characteristic of Asherah paralleling the word “Wisdom” (v. 13) and a repetition of “happy” (v. 13). As the parallel elements are given in inverted order, this particular inclusio is chiastic in nature:
A. happy [v. 13; ‘ashre] B. Wisdom [v. 13; chokmah] [Framed material in verses 14 through 17] B. a tree of life [v. 18; ‘ets chayyim] A. happy [v. 18; me’ushshar (same root as ‘ashre)]That “Wisdom” appears in parallel with “a tree of life,” long associated with Asherah as a sacred tree, tends to suggest the association of Wisdom with Asherah. The word play on the name Asherah in the Hebrew word “happy” tends to confirm that association.
- Proverbs 8:22–31. Another illustration of the recasting of Asherah as personified Lady Wisdom is in this passage, quoted below from the NRSV:
The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth— when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil. When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.
- Isaiah 6:13. The Revised Standard Version (RSV) of this passage reads: “And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains standing when it is felled. The holy seed is its stump.” The reference to “a tenth” appears to be an allusion to Judah, the tribe which was not taken as part of the Assyrian conquest. This tenth would not entirely escape but would be punished also in the Babylonian captivity. Yet even then a righteous remnant would re-main, from which Israel could once again grow and flower. Thus, the end of the verse reflects the concept, common in Isaiah prophecies, of a re-turning remnant. For example, Isaiah 7:3 states that Isaiah had a son symbolically named Shear-jashub (“A Remnant Shall Return”).
- Hosea 14:8 [Hebrew 14:9]. This verse in the RSV reads: “O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you. I am like an evergreen cypress, from me comes your fruit.” The line rendered “It is I who answer and look after you” is a translation of the Hebrew ani ’aniti wa’ashurennu (the “you” of the RSV is literally “him” in the Hebrew, referring to Ephraim). The meaning of the line as it stands is obscure. Some scholars suggest here a conjectural emendation to ’ani ’anato wa’asherato, meaning “I [Yahweh] am his Anat [another Canaanite goddess] and his Asherah,” which would then restore the parallelism of the first two half-lines in the verse. Even if one does not follow these scholars in emending the text, at the very least there seems to be a word play on the names “Anat” (possibly understood during the Israelite period as another name for Asherah) and “Asherah” in the Hebrew text as it exists. That there is such an allusion to Asherah here can be seen particularly in how Isaiah 27:9, which is based on this passage, makes explicit reference to ’asherim “Asherah poles.” True, the prophet here is arguing against Asherah worship as part of the reform movement. But he does so gently, by having Yahweh assume Her attributes. Yahweh tells Ephraim that He (Yahweh) will fulfill the historic role of Anat/Asherah in the future for Israel. Yahweh is like a sacred tree (as is Asherah); the source of fertility is not Asherah, Goddess of fertility, but Yahweh Himself. While perhaps not a positive allusion to Asherah, this passage does illustrate how Yahweh co-opted Her functions during the reform period.
- Ezekiel 8:3. This passage reads: “and the spirit . . . brought me to Jerusalem, to the door of the inner gate that looketh toward the north; where was the seat of the image of jealousy, which provoketh to jealousy [sml hqn’h hmqnh].” (See also v. 5.) This “image” is generally assumed to be a statue of Asherah present at one time in the temple. The expression “image of jealousy, which provoketh to jealousy” makes little sense. It has been suggested that the real designation of this figure was sml hqnh, “the image of the creatress,” consort to Yahweh, who is called “creator [qnh] of heaven and earth” in Genesis 14:19. If this suggestion is correct, then “image of jealousy,” sml hqn’h, is a word play used to avoid mentioning the (at that time) forbidden “image of the creatress.”
- 1 Nephi 11:8–23. In this passage the Spirit shows to Nephi the tree which his father had seen, beautiful and white beyond description. Nephi tells the Spirit: “I behold thou has shown unto me the tree which is precious above all.” The Spirit asks Nephi what he desires, and he responds that he wishes to know the interpretation of this tree that had been shown to his father and which he now beheld himself. Instead of straightforwardly answering his question, the angel shows Nephi a vision of a virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins, whom the angel identifies as the mother of the Son of God. And then Nephi sees the virgin with a child in her arms, whom the angel identifies as “the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father!” At this point, the Spirit asks Nephi the same question Nephi had previously asked him: “Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?” To the modern reader, the tree seems irrelevant to the vision of Mary, but Nephi replies that he now knows the meaning of the tree: “Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; where-fore, it is the most desirable above all things,” to which the angel responds “Yea, and the most joyous to the soul.”
- Name and titles. I personally regard it as very significant that we actually know the name of our Mother in Heaven: Asherah. In the ancient world, knowing the name or etymon of a god was very important, and just having this small bit of information helps us to personalize Her rather than leaving Her in the realm of unknown and distant abstraction.
- Creation. In Proverbs 8:30 quoted above, Lady Wisdom reports that She was present during the creation and assisted with it. In the NRSV, this passage reads: “then I was beside him, like a master worker.” The KJV mistranslates this verse as: “then I was by him, as one brought up with him” (meaning “like a child”). The key term in the Hebrew is ’amon, meaning a master craftsman, artificer, or architect. Thus, this passage portrays Wisdom as a skilled craftsman working beside Yahweh in creating the world. This concept fits readily into Mormon thought, since we understand the creation not as the work of a single deity, but rather as the collaborative effort of a small pantheon working together.
- Sacred trees. Asherah was most profoundly represented in the scriptures with various forms of tree symbolism, beginning in the Garden of Eden. Prominent in the garden is the tree of knowledge of good and evil. In Mormon theology, the Fall is actually necessary for human moral development. As is often expressed, the Fall and the Atonement were not Plan B, a band-aid to remedy a great mistake, but rather Plan A, intended all along. The Fall had both positive and negative effects. The Atonement remedies the negative effects, while the positive effects remain intact. Therefore, in Mormon thought, Eve is not the great scapegoat of all humanity, ruining our one chance at true happiness, but rather the moral heroine of the story, who by a flash of insight or intuition saw the necessity of partaking of the fruit. The fruit of this tree made human beings “wise” and, thus, was the source of wisdom. The story also mentions an-other sacred tree, the tree of life, from which Adam and Eve were separated after the Fall.
- Artistic representations. Although the Hebrew Bible itself has only hints about the worship of Asherah in ancient Israel, the archaeological record is much richer and is not burdened by the polemical perspective of the Josian and other reformers. William Dever’s remarkable recent book, Did God Have a Wife?, is an excellent source of archaeological evidence for ordinary Israelites’ common worship of Asherah. In antiquity there was a rich tradition of iconic representation of Asherah.
- Fertility, childbirth, and lactation. It should come as no surprise that Asherah was originally a fertility goddess. Fertility, childbirth, and lactation were among the very gravest concerns of ancient women—liter-ally matters of life, death, and familial survival. These issues remain crucial even in our own day, when infertile couples routinely spend thousands of dollars attempting to successfully have children of their own.
- Healing. Popular culture routinely portrays the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (and, by extension, the tree of life) in the Garden of Eden as an apple tree. But in Jewish tradition, the tree of life was most commonly an olive tree, which makes sense given that tree’s important role in Middle Eastern culture. I have long thought it significant that we give healing blessings using consecrated olive oil, which is the fruit of the tree of life, therefore most appropriate to the task, and at least in part a symbol of our Mother’s nurturing concern for our health and well-being.
- Happiness. Even though “happiness” was not the true etymology of the name “Asherah,” Israelites doubtless understood the name to have that meaning. Therefore, there was a tendency to create word plays using “happiness” in situations associated with the Goddess. Sometimes “happiness” was substituted for her name to avoid mentioning Her at all. Therefore, passages in the Old Testament that refer to happiness should be read closely with these possibilities in mind, and, as Peterson rightly notes, the same sensitivity in reading happiness passages should also be extended to our reading of the Book of Mormon text. There may well be nuggets of information about the Goddess hidden in such passages awaiting discovery by a diligent reader.
- Wisdom. Since Asherah was recharacterized as personified Wisdom, we should read passages referring to wisdom with an eye attuned to possible nuanced allusions to the Goddess. In particular, we should read with care the whole of the Wisdom Literature (in the Old Testament, this would include Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon, and Ecclesiastes).
- Temple service. I see the crowning way to worship our Mother in Heaven as engaging in temple service, whether as workers or as patrons. The connection between our Mother and the temple was and is pro-found. Consider, for instance, the following points:
- “Asherah” means “sanctuary,” “holy place,” and is thus, essentially, a synonym for temple.
- During times favorable to Asherah worship in ancient Israel, there was a statue or other image of Her prominently displayed in the temple.(This image was removed during times unfavorable to Her worship.)
- The menorah was a stylized almond tree and probably a symbol of the Goddess. It burned olive oil, which also was Her symbol.
- The two cherubim atop the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies were identified as Asherah and Yahweh.
- Our modern temple ritual revolves around a creation drama, in which Asherah participated as a master craftsman.
- The Garden of Eden narrative prominently features two sacred trees (the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life), both of which represent Her.
- One of the most prominent ways that ancient Israelite women worshipped Asherah was by weaving textiles that were then used in the temple. It is not entirely clear what these weavings were—perhaps wall hangings or veils.
See PDF version of this article for Appendix A: The 40 Specific Occurrences of "Asherah" in the Old Testament and Appendix B: Bibliography of Non-LDS Literature.  Gordon B. Hinckley, “Daughters of God,” Ensign, November 1991, 100. The 1909 statement reads: “. . . even as the infant son of an earthly father and mother is capable in due time of becoming a man, so the undeveloped offspring of celestial parentage is capable, by experience through ages and aeons, of evolving into a God.” The 1995 statement reads: “Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents . . .” For the history of the idea in its Mormon context, see Linda R. Wilcox, “The Mormon Concept of a Mother in Heaven,” in Sisters in Spirit: Mormon Women in Historical and Cultural Perspective, edited by Maureen Ursenbach Beecher and Lavina Fielding Anderson (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987), 64–77.  George D. Smith, “‘Is There Any Way to Escape These Difficulties?’: The Book of Mormon Studies of B. H. Roberts,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 17, no. 2 (Summer 1984): 94–111.  My survey of scholarship on the ancient Hebrew pantheon is to some extent personal and subjective, as virtually all of the propositions I shall make can be and have been debated by scholars. The picture I will paint simply reflects my sense of the situation based on my reading of the literature.  Boyd Kirkland, “Elohim and Jehovah in Mormonism and the Bible,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 19, no. 1 (Spring 1986): 77–93; and his “Jehovah as Father: The Development of the Mormon Jehovah Doctrine,” Sunstone 9 (Autumn 1984): 36–44.  See in particular Margaret Barker, The Great Angel: A Study of Israel’s Second God (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1992). For an appreciation of Barker’s work from an LDS perspective, see Kevin Christensen, “Paradigms Regained: A Survey of Margaret Barker’s Scholarship and Its Significance for Mormon Studies.” Occasional Papers, No. 2, edited by William Hamblin (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2001). I acknowledge that Barker’s scholarship is controversial and that not all LDS scholars are enamored with it. See, for example, Terrence L. Szink, “Jerusalem in Lehi’s Day,” FARMS Review 16, no. 2 (2004): 149–59. While Barker happened to be my point of entree to scholarship on the ancient Hebrew pantheon, recent scholarship on this subject is both extensive and broadly based. See Appendix B, “Bibliography of Non-LDS Literature.”  The Israelites and the Canaanites lived contemporaneously at the same place with approximately the same culture. The Canaanites also ante-dated the Israelites; scholars refer to Canaanites during the Iron Age as Phoenicians. Many scholars take the position that the Israelites did not conquer the Canaanites but rather simply arose from among them indigenously. The Hebrew language originated as a Canaanite dialect.  In general, see Mark S. Smith, The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1990).  John Day, “Asherah,” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, edited by David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 1:483–87. This article is a summary of Day’s longer study, “Asherah in the Hebrew Bible and Northwest Semitic Literature,” Journal of Biblical Literature 105, no. 3 (1986): 385–408. There are a couple of similar Syro-Palestinian inscriptions of the same pattern referring to “Yahweh and His Asherah.” It is unclear whether the reference to “Asherah” in these inscriptions is meant to refer directly to the Goddess or to Her cult object, a wooden pole representing a sacred tree, since proper names in Biblical Hebrew normally do not take a pronominal suffix (the “his” of the English translations). If the reference were to Her cult object, the allusion to Her would be indirect but nonetheless present.  On the further transformations of Asherah, see in particular Raphael Patai, The Hebrew Goddess, 3rd ed. (Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 1990).  Stan Larson, “The King Follett Discourse: A Newly Amalgamated Text,” BYU Studies 18, no. 2 (1978): 199, as quoted in Kevin L. Barney, “Six Key Concepts in Joseph Smith’s Understanding of Genesis 1:1,” BYU Studies 39 no. 3 (2000): 124.  This material is adapted from my unpublished internet essay, “Do We Have a Mother in Heaven?” http://www.fairlds.org/pubs/MotherInHeaven.pdf (accessed July 11, 2007) [Editor’s Note: Link in original PDF no longer works; updated link provided in hyperlink].  W. L. Reed, “Asherah,” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, edited by George Butterick, 5 vols. (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 1982), 1:251; Patai, Hebrew Goddess, 296–97 note 15.  Smith, Early History of God, 16.  Ibid., 95.  Day, “Asherah.”  Barker, The Great Angel, 54.  Daniel C. Peterson, “Nephi and His Asherah: A Note on 1 Nephi 11:8–23,” in Mormons, Scripture, and the Ancient World: Studies in Honor of John L. Sorenson, edited by Davis Bitton (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1998), 191–243. His shorter, popularized version appeared as “Nephi and His Asherah,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9, no. 2 (2000): 16–25. The title is a word play on a series of Syro-Palestinian inscriptions that refer to “Yahweh and His Asherah.”  “However, in light of the instruction we have received from the Lord Himself, I regard it as inappropriate for anyone in the Church to pray to our Mother in Heaven.” Hinckley, “Daughters of God,” 100.  Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon (1907; rpt., Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1979), 81.  See the discussion in Tilde Binger, Asherah: Goddesses in Ugarit, Israel and the Old Testament (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), 142–46.  So for example “an awesome wind sweeping over the water” in E. A. Speiser, Genesis: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Vol. 1 of THE ANCHOR BIBLE (New York: Doubleday, 1962), 3.  Given that Asherah’s particular role was as procreator and given this particular maternal metaphor of brooding over the waters, one might be tempted to suggest that Her particular role in the creation had to do with the biological creation of life, which indeed originated in the deep. But this would, of course, simply be a speculation.  It is possible, as some scholars have speculated, that the two trees were originally one and the same and were separated only for the dramatic needs of the story.  See Kevin L. Barney, “Happy Tu Bishvat,” By Common Consent, February 3, 2007 (accessed July 22, 2007). When I first learned of this holiday from an article in my local paper, one of the congregations celebrating the holiday was Congregation Ets Chayyim, Hebrew for “Tree of Life.”  William G. Dever, Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2005). For reviews of the book from an LDS perspective, see Paul Hoskisson in BYU Studies 45, no. 2 (2006): 186–89, and Alyson Skabelund Von Feldt, “Does God Have a Wife?” FARMS Review 19, no. 1 (2007): 81–118.  I purchased this particular five-inch replica for $22 plus shipping from http://www.sacredsource.com over the internet.  Although I was not present, Andrew C. Skinner gave a presentation on the olive tree’s position as the preeminent tree of life in Jewish tradition, concluding that many impressive connections help establish the core idea that the tree of life is the most desirable of all things. This presentation was given at a symposium on the tree of life on September 28–29, 2006, sponsored by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at BYU. See the report in “Symposium Explores Widespread Tree of Life Motif,” Insights: An Ancient Window 26, no. 5 (2006): 1, 3–4.  For some interesting introductory commentary on historic Mormon practices of using olive oil in healing, see Jonathan Stapley, “The Evolution of Anointing the Sick,” June 8, 2005, http://www.splendidsun.com/wp /annointing/ [“annointing” is as per original] (accessed July 22, 2007) [Editor’s Note: This link no longer works], and Jonathan Stapley, “Consecrated Oil as Medical Therapy,” both on By Common Consent, April 17, 2007 (accessed July 22, 2007).  Jacob Neusner, The Glory of God Is Intelligence: Four Lectures on the Role of Intellect in Judaism (Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1979).  See, e.g., Patai, The Hebrew Goddess, 67–95.  See 2 Kings 23:7, which reads in part in the KJV: “by the house of the LORD, where the women wove hangings for the grove” [lit. “where the women wove houses (bottim) for Asherah”], where the meaning of bottim is uncertain.  Some Mormon women are offended by having to veil their faces in the temple. I have argued elsewhere that the veil can be understood as a symbol of resurrection. Kevin L. Barney, “The LORD Will Swallow Up Death Forever,” By Common Consent, September 7, 2006 (accessed July 22, 2007). Another possibility relevant here might be to understand the veil in terms of the weavings women made in honor of Asherah in the ancient temple. The woman’s veil can be seen as a microcosm or model version of the larger veil of the temple.  There remain two significant issues concerning the nature of our Mother in Heaven that the information I have been able to tease out of the text is not really sufficient to answer. Here I will give my opinion (for whatever it may be worth) on these issues, with the understanding that it is simply speculation on my part. First, is our Mother an embodied being or a spirit? I realize some Mormon feminists like to equate Her with the Holy Ghost, thus making a trinity of Father, Mother, and Son. That arrangement has a certain appeal. And, as I have argued, one of the ways Asherah was reconceptualized was indeed as God’s Spirit. But I think it is oversimplistic to equate Asherah with the Holy Ghost. Although I do see an echo of Her in the Holy Ghost, I believe that in actuality She is an embodied being in exactly the same sense that the Father is an embodied being. Indeed, the “logic” that President Hinckley mentioned would seem to require embodiment. Furthermore, embodiment fits both the anthropomorphism of the ancient Israelite pantheon (and its Canaanite precedents) and our modern view of God the Father possessing a tangible, physical body of “flesh and bone” (D&C 130:3). In my view, God the Mother is similarly embodied. Second, is God the Mother one or many? One could make an argument for a plurality of Mothers. In the Canaanite pantheon, El had multiple consorts; and in nineteenth-century Mormonism when polygamy was actively practiced and defended, having plural wives may have seemed like the more natural arrangement. In my conception, however, there is only one Mother in Heaven to match our Father in Heaven. Such uniqueness is consistent with the Israelite evidence, which worships only Asherah in contradistinction to the multiple consorts of the Canaanite pantheon. Further, in my view a single Mother in Heaven is more consonant with contemporary Mormon thought. [post_title] => How to Worship Our Mother in Heaven (Without Getting Excommunicated) [post_excerpt] => Dialogue 41.4 (Winter 2008): 121–147
In this essay, I shall begin by describing what we can learn about our Mother in Heaven from the scriptures. I then will draw from those descriptions some (very modest) suggestions for how we might actually worship, or at least honor, Her in ways that should not be considered offensive or heterodox by traditionalists. This essay is therefore a little exercise in religion-making. It is my hope that I will be able to express my mediating thoughts in a way that will not be deemed offensive by those of either school of thought on the subject. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => how-to-worship-our-mother-in-heaven-without-getting-excommunicated [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-27 19:51:47 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-27 19:51:47 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=10013 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
Kevin Barney Responds
Dialogue 42.2 (Summer 2009): xiii–iixx
The truth is that the winners get to write the history, and itwas those who rejected Asherahwho largely redacted or wrote the Old Testament as we have ittoday. There is, quite frankly, alot of political spin in the OldTestament. I recognize that weget really nervous when we starttalking about spin in the scrip-tures. So I do not blame anyone,including you, for not wanting to follow me there.
The truth is that the winners get to write the history, and it was those who rejected Asherah who largely redacted or wrote the Old Testament as we have it today.[post_title] => Kevin Barney Responds [post_excerpt] => Dialogue 42.2 (Summer 2009): xiii–iixx
The truth is that the winners get to write the history, and itwas those who rejected Asherahwho largely redacted or wrote the Old Testament as we have ittoday. There is, quite frankly, alot of political spin in the OldTestament. I recognize that weget really nervous when we starttalking about spin in the scrip-tures. So I do not blame anyone,including you, for not wanting to follow me there. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => kevin-barney-responds [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-27 19:48:57 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-27 19:48:57 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=9937 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
But when it comes to pegging Asherah as our Heavenly Mother, there are many problems which must be overcome,and Kevin Barney falls short ofdoing so. Barney’s proposition isthat the early worship form ofvenerating Asherah is morevalid than the later, more evolved form of monotheism.[post_title] => Asherah Alert [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => asherah-alert [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-27 19:50:46 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-27 19:50:46 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=9936 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
If I Hate My Mother, Can I Love the Heavenly Mother?
Dialogue 31.4 (Winter 1998): 31–42
A series of questions began to occur to me: If I hate my mother, can I love the Heavenly Mother? If I hate my mother, can I love myself? If I hate God, can I love myself? If I hate myself, can I love my mother or theHeavenly Mother? I wanted to put these questions in the sharpest terms possible—love/hate. There was no room for ambivalence at this point. I had to let myself feel my strongest and darkest feelings, about mymother, about myself, and about God.
A series of questions began to occur to me: If I hate my mother, can I love the Heavenly Mother? If I hate my mother, can I love myself? If I hate God, can I love myself?[post_title] => If I Hate My Mother, Can I Love the Heavenly Mother? [post_excerpt] => Dialogue 31.4 (Winter 1998): 31–42
A series of questions began to occur to me: If I hate my mother, can I love the Heavenly Mother? If I hate my mother, can I love myself? If I hate God, can I love myself? If I hate myself, can I love my mother or theHeavenly Mother? I wanted to put these questions in the sharpest terms possible—love/hate. There was no room for ambivalence at this point. I had to let myself feel my strongest and darkest feelings, about mymother, about myself, and about God. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => if-i-hate-my-mother-can-i-love-the-heavenly-mother [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-27 19:52:36 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-27 19:52:36 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=11091 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
Toward a Mormon Theology of God the Mother
Dialogue 27.2 (Summer 1994): 15–40
It would seem that Mormons who have believed for over a hundred years in the real existence of the Goddess, the Mother in Heaven, should be far ahead of other Christians in developing a theology of God the Mother. However, our belief in her as a real person puts us at a disadvantage. If the Goddess is merely a symbol of deity, as the male God is also a symbol, then certainly God can be pictured as either male or female with equal validity.
Note: The Dialogue Foundation provides the web format of article as a courtesy. Please note that there may be unintentional differences from the printed version. For citational and biographical purposes, please use the printed version or the PDFs provided online and on JSTOR.“What kind of a Being is God?” inquired Joseph Smith. “I will tell you & hear it O Earth! God who sits in yonder heavens is a man like yourselves . . . It is the first principle to know that we may converse with him and that he was once a man like us, and the Father was on an earth like us.” He also said, “If men do not comprehend the character of God they do not comprehend themselves.” Today Mormon women say, “If I do not comprehend the character of God the Mother, I cannot comprehend myself.” They ask, “What kind of a being is she?’ From Mormon theology there is one thing we can conclude: she is a woman like us; she has a woman’s body. Without it she could not be our mother. Feminist theologians have demonstrated the need for the feminine principle in our concept of deity. They have argued that picturing God as male leads to valuing masculine attributes, values, and experience over feminine ones and contributes to the oppression of women. The symbol of the Goddess is necessary, they say, to affirm the goodness of the feminine, to enable women to claim their female power, and to acknowledge the goodness of the female body. Ironically, the vast majority of them do not believe that the Goddess possesses a real female body. It would seem that Mormons who have believed for over a hundred years in the real existence of the Goddess, the Mother in Heaven, should be far ahead of other Christians in developing a theology of God the Mother. However, our belief in her as a real person puts us at a disadvantage. If the Goddess is merely a symbol of deity, as the male God is also a symbol, then certainly God can be pictured as either male or female with equal validity. Joseph Smith, after asking what kind of a being God is, asked his congregation, “Have any of you seen or herd him or communed with him?” For Mormon theology this is a very important question. God must reveal himself or we have no knowledge of him. Must we then wait for a revelation of the Mother before we have any knowledge of her? The answer is both “Yes” and “No.” We must be aware of the possibility of idolatry, of creating her in our own image, of making her into what we conceive the perfect woman should be, of using our images of her to control or manipulate others. On the other hand, we should also recognize the importance of our own seeking after God. Comprehending ourselves is as vital to comprehending God as comprehending God is essential to comprehending ourselves. Our own experiences, our loneliness, our communion with others, our sorrows, our joys, our sins, our striving for righteousness, our demand for justice, our finding forgiveness, our reaching out to God for knowledge and comfort are all experiences with the divine. And we should not assume that there has been no revelation of the Mother or that waiting for her to reveal herself need be entirely passive. In this essay I attempt to reinterpret the Mormon concept of the Godhead. This interpretation is based on three convictions. I believe that God the Mother is equal to God the Father in divinity, power, and perfection. I believe that God, both Father and Mother, is deeply involved in our mortality and immortality. I also believe that God the Father has revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ. Although he is male, for me he is an adequate model. He modeled many roles for us-father, mother, teacher, friend, son, lover, servant, lord—and also many attributes. If he were the only God, he would be enough. But there is another god and she has a woman’s body like mine. I want to know her, not simply as a model, but as a person. That she is God as well as woman is as important for men as it is for women as it affirms the equality of male and female and of masculine and feminine attributes and values. At the same time I must add that I am in no way whatsoever attempting an official reinterpretation of LDS doctrine; that prerogative rests solely with the leaders of the church. I am interested simply in offering a possibly new understanding and appreciation of the Mother based on my own reading and personal reflection. The doctrine of the Godhead presently taught by the Latter-day Saint church is that the Godhead consists of three distinct individuals or personages. These personages are God the Father, his son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. Each of these individuals has. a particular mission in relation to humanity; God the Father is the father of all the spirits of mortal beings. He is the ultimate source of all power and knowledge, and the other two members of the Godhead are subordinate to him. Jesus Christ is the Son of the Father; he is the first born of the spirit children of God and the only begotten of the Father in the flesh. This enabled him to become the Redeemer and Savior of humankind. Because of his death and resurrection everyone will be resurrected, and through his atonement all who repent and believe in him will be forgiven of their sins and receive eternal life. Jesus represents the Father and acts as his agent. The Holy Ghost, unlike the Father and the Son who possess bodies of flesh and bone, is a personage of spirit He is one of the spirit children of God the Father and has the mission of revealing truth and testifying of the Father and the Son. He is also called the Comforter because he gives peace, hope, and comfort. Although Mormons believe that we have a Heavenly Mother, she is not included in the Godhead. Does this mean that she is not also God? Does this mean that she has no mission to perform in relation to our mortal probation, that her role is restricted to giving birth to our spirits and nurturing us in our premortal lives? I find such conclusions unacceptable. God the Mother must be equal to God the Father; she must play an equally active role in bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man and woman. I believe that a serious acceptance of the existence of God the Mother requires us Mormons to re-examine and reinterpret our doctrine of the Godhead. I also believe that such a re-examination must be firmly grounded in the scriptures. I acknowledge that there is no direct information given about God the Mother in the scriptures. However, both the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants teach that some revelations have been withheld. The Book of Mormon tells us of revelations given to a few which the prophets were not permitted to write or which they were commanded to seal up until a later time, and the Doctrine and Covenants speaks of knowledge “that has not been revealed since the world was until now; a time to come in the which nothing shall be withheld, whether there be one God or many gods, they shall be manifest’’ (121:26, 28). One God that has not been manifest is the Mother. Surely this is a promise that she will be revealed. Also the fact that she is not directly revealed in the scriptures does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that the scriptures have nothing to say about her. Indeed, new revelations always demand a reinterpretation of scripture and permit us to see things and understand things in ways we previously could not. To re-examine our doctrine of the Godhead I examined all the references to deity in the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants. I then attempted to work out relationships between different names of deity without using traditional Mormon assumptions about the nature of the Godhead but simply relying on the evidence of the text. I recognize that every reader has her own prejudices and hidden assumptions as well as the ones she shares with the various groups she belongs to, and that it is not possible to approach a text completely objectively; however, perhaps something may be gained by trying. I do not hope to present a complete or final interpretation of the Godhead as given in the scriptures I reviewed. Such a result is neither possible nor desirable. However, I do hope to present an interpretation which fits the text better than the one we presently subscribe to. I did not begin my study without a hypothesis. My study of the scriptures. over many years had presented me with several passages I found difficult to harmonize with the view of the Godhead I had learned from LDS seminary and church manuals and publications. The first passages that struck me were the teachings of Abinadi. He repeatedly taught that God himself would redeem his people and make an atonement for their sins (Mosiah 13:28, 32, 33; 15:18, 19; 16:4). He explained that God was both the Father and the Son (15:2–7) and concluded his testimony by saying, “Teach them that redemption cometh through Christ the Lord, who is the very Eternal Father” (16:15). The most obvious interpretation of Abinadi’s words is that God the Father and Jesus Christ are two names for the same being. There are other scriptures in the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants which plainly teach the same concept. My initial hypothesis, then, was that God the Father and Jesus Christ are one individual. Do the scriptures bear this interpretation? Are there any which present difficulties for it? The most common names for deity in the scriptures are God, the Lord, the Lord God, and Jesus Christ. Others include the Holy One of Israel, the Messiah, the Redeemer, the Savior, the Father, the Eternal Father, the Son of God, the Lamb of God, the Only Begotten of the Father, the Creator, and the Almighty. I have excluded all terms referring to the Holy Spirit as these will be discussed later.
Jesus Christ, Lord and GodThe names God and the Lord are used synonymously throughout the scriptures, often being used together as the Lord God. “God” is the generic term for deity, the Supreme Being, the translation for the word El or Elohim in the Bible. The personal name for God in the Bible is YHWH which is translated as “the Lord” or “Jehovah.” The Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants seem to follow this usage. “God” is more often used when general information about deity is being given, for example, “O how great the holiness of our God” (2 Ne. 9:20), and “the Lord” is used when specific acts and words of God are given, for example, “I have received a commandment of the Lord that I should make these plates” (1 Ne. 9:3). It is possible to show that the names God, the Lord, Jesus Christ, the Holy One of Israel, the Redeemer, the Savior, the Messiah, and the Creator all refer to the same Supreme Being in the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants. Every major prophet in the Book of Mormon taught this. Writing of his vision, Nephi said, “And the angel said unto me again: Look and behold the condescension of God! And I looked and beheld the Redeemer of the world” (1 Ne. 11:26, 27). Literally condescend means to come down with. According to the angel the condescension of God is the Redeemer. So Nephi learned exactly what Abinadi later taught, that God himself would come down among his people to redeem them. Nephi also wrote, “For if there be no Christ, there be no God; and if there be no God we are not, for there could have been no creation. But there is a God, and he is Christ, and he cometh in the fulness of his own time” (2 Ne. 11:7). Jacob declared, “He also hath shown unto me that the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, should manifest himself unto them in the flesh” (2 Ne. 6:9); and:
O how great the holiness of our God! . . . And he cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men . . . And he suffereth this that the resurrection may pass upon all men . . . And he commandeth all men that they must repent, and be baptized in his name, having perfect faith in the Holy One of Israel, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God . . . . for the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel has spoken it (2 Ne. 9:20–24).King Benjamin, in his great sermon to his people, said:
The Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay, and shall go forth amongst men, working mighty miracles, . . . And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body . . . And he shall be called Jesus Christ ... the Creator of all things from the beginning (Mosiah 3:5, 6, 8).He concluded his teachings with these words: “I would . . . that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his, . . . that ye may have everlasting salvation and eternal life, through the wisdom, and power, and justice, and mercy of him who created all things in heaven and earth, who is God above all” (5:15). I have already mentioned that Abinadi taught that God himself would redeem his people. “And were it not for the atonement which God himself shall make for the sins and iniquities of his people, . . . they must unavoidably perish” (Mosiah 13:28). Speaking of those who have part in the first resurrection, he declared, “They are raised to dwell with God who has redeemed them; thus they have eternal life through Christ . . . being redeemed by the Lord” (15:23, 24). Alma wrote, “And now, the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world” (Alma 42:15). The word of the Lord came to Mormon saying, “Listen to the words of Christ, your Redeemer, your Lord and your God” (Moro. 8:8). When he visited the Nephltes, Jesus Christ introduced himself: “I am Jesus Christ . . . I am the God of Israel and the God of the whole earth” (3 Ne. 11:10, 14). Prophesying of the remnants of the house of Israel, he said, “And they shall be brought to a knowledge of the Lord their God, who hath redeemed them” (20:13). His disciples “did pray unto Jesus, calling him their Lord and their God” (19:18). Moroni wrote of the vision of the brother of Jared in which he saw Jesus. “And he saw the finger of Jesus . . . he knew that it was the finger of the Lord; Wherefore having this. perfect knowledge of God, he could not be kept from within the· veil” (Ether 3:19–20). The Doctrine and Covenants is in harmony with the Book of Mormon in using. the names God, the Lord, Jesus Christ, Jehovah, the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Savior all to refer to the same God. Section 1 is given by the Lord. In verse 20 he says, “But that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world.” Section 6 begins, “Behold, I am God,” and in verse 21 the same speaker declares, “Behold, I am Jesus Christ.” In D&C 18:47 we read, “Behold, I am Jesus Christ, your Lord and your God, and your Redeemer.” Other passages read: ‘‘Listen to the voice of Jesus Christ, your Lord, your God, and your Redeemer” (27:1); “Verily thus saith the Lord, your God, your Redeemer, even Jesus Christ” (66:13); “For the Lord is God and beside him there is no Savior” (76:1);
. . . as God made the world in six days, and on the seventh day he finished his work and sanctified it, and also formed man out of the dust of the earth, even so in the beginning of the seventh thousand years will the Lord God sanctify the earth, and complete the salvation of man, and judge all things, and redeem all things . . . and the sounding of the trumpets of the seven angels are the preparing and finishing of his work . . . the preparing of the way before the time of his coming (77:12);“We saw the Lord . . . and his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters, even the voice of Jehovah” (110:2).
Meaning of “The Father”My study of the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants shows that it is consistent with the text to interpret the names God, the Lord, Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, the Creator, and Jehovah as all referring to the same being. My initial hypothesis was that all the names of God refer to the same being. The only names that posed any difficulty were those referring to the Father or the Son. Since it is easy to establish that the names referring to the Son also refer to Jesus Christ, it could be concluded that all the names of God except “the Father” refer to Jesus Christ. However, this leads to the conclusion that “God” and “the Son of God” are the same person. Indeed, for this reason most Mormons usually think of God as God the Father. But I have shown that “God” consistently refers to the same being who is Jesus Christ. A close examination of all the occurrences of the name “the Father” in the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants suggests that it cannot be consistently maintained th.at the Father and the Son are simply two separate individuals. “The Father” seems to have several different meanings. In many verses the Son is called the Father, implying that the Father and the Son are the same person: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (2 Ne. 19:6); “And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning” (Mosiah 3:8); “He said unto them that Christ was the God, the Father of all things” (7:27); “Teach them that repentance cometh through Christ the Lord, who is the very Eternal Father” (16:15); “Now Zeezrom saith unto him: Is the Son of God the very Eternal Father? And Amulek said unto him; Yea, he is the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth, and all things which in them are” (Alma 11:38–39). The resurrected Jesus said to the Nephites, “Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in Heaven, is perfect” (3 Ne. 12:48). If Jesus were speaking of two individuals it would be more natural for him to use “and” rather than “or.” The commas enclosing “ or your Father who is in heaven” make this phrase an appositive explaining “I” rather than a compound subject. Also the verb is singular rather than plural. Finally, “And because of the fall of man came Jesus Christ, the Father and the Son” (Morm. 9:12); and “Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son” (Ether 3:14). Sometimes the Father and the Son seem to be spoken of as two separate beings, but closer examination of the text shows them to be the same person. In section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord Jesus Christ) says, “But if ye enter not into my law ye cannot receive the promise of my Father which he made unto Abraham.’’ Here Jesus seems to refer to his Father as someone separate from himself. However, there are many references that show that Jehovah was the one who covenanted with Abraham. The next two verses confirm this. “God commanded Abraham, and Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham . . . Was Abraham therefore under condemnation? Verily I say unto you, Nay; for I, the Lord commanded it’’ (vv. 33–35). This also shows that the Lord sometimes speaks of himself in the third person. Sometimes ‘‘Father” seems to be an alternate name for God or the Lord. This poses a problem for my interpretation only when Jesus is the one speaking. However, again he may simply be referring to himself in the third person, saying that as the Father, the premortal Christ, he did and said! certain things. This may have been the case when he visited the Nephites as the resurrected Lord. He talked to them about the covenants which the Father made with the house of Israel, with Jacob, and with Abraham, but it was the Lord God Jehovah the same being who would become Jesus Christ, who covenanted with Abraham, Jacob, and the people of Israel (3 Ne. 20:27, 1 Ne. 15:18). Jesus gave the Nephites. the same teachings which he gave the Jews in the Sermon on the Mount. In these he often referred to “your Father in heaven.” Since Jesus’ purpose in this sermon was to teach people how to live and about their relationship with their Father in Heaven rather than to reveal who he was, we cannot conclude that the Father he referred to was necessarily a different person than himself. However, there are some passages in which the most natural interpretation is that the Father and the Son are two separate beings. These passages refer to the relationship between the Father and the Son. In the Book of Mormon most of these occur in the accounts of the appearance of the resurrected Jesus to the Nephites. Jesus tells them that he suffered the will of the Father, that he glorified the Father, that his doctrine was given him by the Father, and that his Father commands all to repent and believe in Jesus Christ. He also talks about commandments which the Father gave him, says the Father sent him, talks of going to or ascending to his Father, and prays to the Father. In the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord or Jesus Christ speaks of the kingdom of his Father and those whom his Father has given him, says that he has done the will of the Father, claims to be our advocate with the Father, pleads for us before the Father, and says that no one will come unto the Father but by him. How are we to understand such passages in light of our discovery that the Lord, God, and the Redeemer are one being? Should we reinterpret Lord-God-Redeemer passages in light of Father-Son passages or should we reinterpret Father-Son passages in light of Lord-God-Redeemer passages? To attempt to answer these questions I will discuss the few scriptures which attempt to explain the relationship between the Father and the Son. Only in two places in the Book of Mormon and one place in the Doctrine and Covenants is the question directly addressed. These passages all assert that they are discussing one being and explain why he is called the Father and the Son. First, let us look at Mosiah 15:2–5.
And because he dwelleth in flesh , he shall be called the Son of God, and having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son— The Father because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son— And they are one God, yea the very Eternal Father of heaven and earth. And thus the flesh becoming subject to the Spirit, or the Son to the Father, being one God . . .Verse two says that because God will dwell in mortal flesh he will be called the Son of God. Verse 5 interprets verses 2–4 by equating the Son to the flesh and the spirit to the Father. The Son subjects himself to the Father by subjecting the flesh to the spirit or his mortal self to his eternal self. Abinadi says nothing about the LOS church’s current belief that Jesus is called the Son because he is the literal Son of God the Father in the flesh nor does he assert that Jesus receives his power to redeem and resurrect because his mortal father is God. According to Abinadi Jesus’ power to redeem and resurrect comes from himself, his spirit being the Spirit of the Eternal Father himself. The second passage in the Book of Mormon explaining the relationship between the Father and the Son occurs in 3 Nephi 1:14. Here the Lord, the premortal Jesus, tells Nephi, the son of Nephi, that he will be born the next day. “Behold, I come unto my own, to fulfill all things which I have made known unto the children of men from the foundation of the world, and to do the will, both of the Father and of the Son—of the Father because of me, and of the Son because of my flesh.” There is an interesting echo of Abinadi here. Abinadi said that the will of the Son would be subjected to that of the Father, but the Lord says that he comes into the world to do the will of both the Father and the Son. “Of the Father because of me,” the Lord says, which means that he is the Father, “and of the Son because of my flesh.” Here the Lord asserts that he is already a god of spirit and flesh and that the spirit and flesh are in harmony. Understanding the Lord’s words as a comment on Abinadi’s words, we conclude that “the Father” can mean “God the Eternal Father, a being of spirit and immortal glorified flesh” or it can refer only to the spiritual part of God’s eternal being, and that “the Son” can mean either “God the Eternal Father, a being of spirit and immortal glorified flesh,” putting the emphasis on the flesh to distinguish the person of God from the Spirit of God, or it can refer to God as a mortal being dwelling among people to redeem them from their sins, or it can simply refer to the body of God. Doctrine and Covenants 93 agrees with Abinadi in equating the Father with the spirit and the Son with the flesh. Verses 3–5 read:
And that I am in the Father and the Father in me, and the Father and I are one— The Father because he gave me of his fulness, and the Son because I was in the world and made flesh my tabernacle, and dwelt among the sons of men. I was in the world and received of my Father, and the works of him were plainly manifest.Note the parallel construction of verse 3 with the words of Abinadi and the words of the Lord. All explain why the Lord is both the Father and the Son. In section 93 the Lord says that he is the Father “because he gave me of his fulness.” In verses 16 and 36 we learn that “he received a fulness of the glory of the Father” and the “glory of God is intelligence or, in other words, light and truth.’; Verses 9 and 11 call the Redeemer “the Spirit of Truth” which came and dwelt in the flesh. Thus in section 93 “the Father” seems to mean “the Spirit of God.” Verse 17 substantiates this conclusion.” And the glory of the Father was with him, for he dwelt in him.” According to Joseph Smith the Father cannot dwell in a person’s heart because he has a body of flesh and bones (D&C 130:3, 22). Although the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit, it also cannot dwell in a person’s heart. Our bodies can only be inhabited by our own spirits. Therefore, if the Father dwelt in the Son, “the Father” must mean the spirit body of God and the Son and the Father must constitute one eternal being. However, “the Father” seems also to sometimes nave a meaning beyond the personal spirit of God. Verse 23 of section 93 reads, “Ye were also in the beginning with the Father; that which is Spirit, even the Spirit of truth.” Here the Father is called Spirit and the Spirit of truth; the Redeemer, as was pointed out, is also the Spirit of truth. “The elements are the tabernacle of God; yea, man is the tabernacle of God” (v. 35). The terms God and the Father in such passages seem to mean a spiritual substance or power that: pervades all things. The Lord says, 11I am the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (v. 2). In section 88 this concept is amplified.
. . . he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth. Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ... Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space-- The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things (vv. 6–7, 12–13).“The Father” or “God” or “the Spirit of God” or “the Spirit of the Lord” may mean this totality of spirit or a portion of it. “Spirit,” “intelligence,” “light,” and ‘‘glory’’ seem to be synonymous terms. A spirit or a personage of spirit is an individual being organized from spirit and given independence (D&C 93:30). Spirit is a unifying principle, but if it could not be divided up into separate spheres, there would be no existence. Understanding that “the Father” can mean either “God the Eternal Father, a personage of spirit tabernacled by immortal glorified flesh/’ or “the personal spirit of God,” or “the totality of spirit which emanates from God” illuminates some of the more difficult Father-Son passages. “I am in the Father, and the Father in me, and the Father and I are one,” could be interpreted to mean, “I am in the totality of spirit which emanates from the Father and the individual spirit personage of the Father dwells in my body, thus I am the Eternal Father.’’ The scriptures in which Jesus speaks of those who believe in him becoming one through him seem to require a different interpretation. For example, “that they may become the sons of God, even one in me as I am one in the Father, as the Father is one in me, that we may be one” (D&C 35:2). This speaks of many distinct individuals, each with his or her own spirit and body, becoming one. What does this oneness mean? Jesus explains it by comparing it to the oneness he has with the Father. But I have shown that the Father and Jesus, when the Father is an individual, are the same individual. To attempt an interpretation of this passage and offer another meaning for the term “the Father11 I will examine a revelation given to Joseph Smith and several other scriptural verses. Joseph Smith received this revelation probably in 1833. It was not written down but was related by Orson Pratt in 1855. It is given in the form of questions and answers.
“What is the name of God in the pure language?” The answer says,” Ahman.” “What is the name of the Son of God?” Answer, “Son Ahman—the greatest of all the parts of God excepting Ahman.” “What is the name of men?” Sons Ahman,” is the answer . . .This revelation goes on to say that Sons Ahman are the greatest of all the parts of God except Son Ahman and Ahman. In this revelation “ Ahman” seems to be equivalent to God or the Father as the totality of spirit since Son Ahman and Sons Ahman are parts of Ahman. Son Ahman, Jesus Christ, is an individual, a personage who is embodied since “Son11 refers to the flesh. As the greatest of all the parts of Ahman, he is creator of all things, ruler of all things, the God we worship. This revelation calls men and women “Sons Ahman.” However, it may refer to exalted beings rather than mortal ones. To support this idea I offer the following reasons. In Doctrine and Covenants 76 Joseph Smith describes the celestial glory and those who will receive it.
They are they who are priests and kings, who have received of his fulness, and of his glory; Wherefore, as it is written, they are gods, even the sons of God— And he makes them equal in power and might and dominion. And the glory of the celestial is one, even as the glory of the sun is one (vv. 56, 58, 95, 96).Those who inherit celestial glory are called gods or sons of god. Christ has made them equal and has given them all things; they are one in him. As gods or sons of god, being embodied celestial beings, they are the greatest of all the parts of God excepting Son Ahman and Ahman.
And thus we saw the glory of the celestial, which excels in all things—where God, even the Father, reigns upon his throne forever and ever; Before whose throne all things bow in humble reverence, and give him glory forever and ever (vv. 92–93).Celestial beings receive of the fullness of the Father through Jesus Christ. As many individuals partaking of one glory they may also be called the Father. With this additional meaning of “the Father” I can now offer a possible interpretation of D&C 35:2. “They may become the sons of God” means “inherit celestial glory”; “even one in me” means ‘‘become equal in power, might, and dominion, receiving all things from Jesus Christ”; “as I am one in the Father” means “as I am one among the celestial beings”; “as the Father is one in me” means “as the celestial beings have been made one by me”; and “that we may be one” means “that we may all dwell together in celestial glory.”
The Mother in the GodheadHaving reinterpreted “the Father,” we now look for the Mother. She is present in the scriptures, but she is hidden; even as we do not see light in a room but see the room and all things in it by the light which is present, so is she in the scriptures. Nephi explains why Jesus was baptized: to obey the Father in keeping his commandments and to set an example for us. “And he said unto the children of men, Follow thou me” (2 Ne. 31:10). In Doctrine and Covenants 132:6 the Lord reveals a “new and everlasting covenant . . . [which] was instituted for the fulness of my glory; and he that receiveth a fulness thereof must and shall abide the law.” The new and everlasting covenant is the covenant of eternal marriage. As we have seen, those who inherit celestial glory receive a fullness of God’s glory and are called gods. According to the revelation on eternal marriage, those who do not marry by the new and everlasting covenant and are not sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise cannot be enlarged, but remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods,11 but those who do marry by the new and everlasting covenant and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise #shall ... be gods, because they have all power.” If the Lord requires us to keep the law of celestial marriage to become gods, then Jesus himself must certainly keep it. The laws he institutes are to make us like him. In the celestial glory all are equal; therefore the daughters of God are equal to the sons of God and God the Mother is equal to God the Father in power, might, and dominion. If the gods are divine couples, then we can assume that God himself is also a divine couple, that God the Father, as a being of spirit and body, is eternally joined to God the Mother, also a being of spirit and body. “The Father” then must also mean “the Mother” as “sons of God” certainly includes II daughters of God.” This suggests another way of interpreting the Godhead. The Father is the divine couple, Father and Mother, each possessing a spirit and a glorified body. They must together be the source of light or spirit which permeates all things. If the name “the Father” refers to the union of the two personages who together are God, then perhaps the other two names in the Godhead refer to them separately. As we have seen, 11the Son” refers to the flesh, so the Lord or Jehovah, as the embodied God, is the Son. But the name “the Son,” as Abinadi points out, more specifically points to his mission as the Redeemer, to his taking on himself a mortal body to redeem us from sin. Perhaps, then, the Holy Ghost is the name of the Mother which refers to her work among us in mortality. One objection that has been made to the suggestion that the Holy Ghost is the Mother is that the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit but the Mother must have an immortal, glorified body as the Father does. Indeed, this same objection is likely to be raised against the idea that Jesus is God the Father. If Jesus is God the Father, it will be argued, then he must have had an immortal, physical body before he took on himself a mortal body. But many Mormons will object that the scriptures teach that the resurrected body and spirit are inseparably connected, so Jesus must have been a personage of spirit before he became a mortal man and thus he could not have been God the Father. However, given the teachings of Joseph Smith about the importance of the body—that all beings with bodies have power over those who do not, that it was necessary for us to obtain bodies to become like God—it is impossible that Jesus, the Lord God, the Creator of heaven and earth, the Holy One of Israel could have been what he was and have done all he did without a body. Although a resurrected person is not subject to death in the sense that his body and spirit will separate without his will or control, it may be that he has the power to separate his body and spirit if he so desires. Is there any scriptural support for the view that the premortal Jesus had a body of flesh and bone? I have already discussed the passage in 3 Nephi where the premortal Jesus speaks of his flesh. In the New Testament Jesus says to the Jews, “For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself”; and “I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it again’’ John 5:26, 10:17–18). This could refer not only to his power to lay down a mortal body and take it again as an immortal body, but also to his power to lay down an immortal body and take on a mortal body. The best evidence that the premortal Jesus had a physical body is in Ether 3. When the brother of Jared sees Jesus Christ he sees his immortal physical body.
And the veil was taken off from the eyes· of the brother of Jared, and he saw the finger of the Lord; and it was like unto flesh and blood . . . And he saith unto the Lord: I saw the finger of the Lord, and I feared lest he should smite me; for I knew not that the Lord had flesh and blood. And the Lord said unto him: Because of thy faith thou hast seen that I shall take upon me flesh and blood . . . (3:6, 8–9This is usually interpreted to mean that the brother of Jared saw the spirit body of Jesus because he said, “I will take upon me flesh and blood.” But, as Joseph Smith taught, an immortal body is a body of flesh and bone without blood, so it was necessary for the Lord to correct the brother of Jared. However, it is significant that the brother of Jared thought it was a body of flesh and blood. Many people have seen spirits and they never mistake them for bodies of flesh and blood. Jesus told the brother of Jared, “Behold, this body, which ye now behold is the body of my spirit” (Ether 3:16). A spirit body is composed of spirit. Mormons use the term spirit body to emphasize the fact that we believe spirit is a substance, but body of my spirit” implies the body is not of the same substance as the spirit, that is, it implies a physical body belonging to the spirit. Jesus continued,” And man have I created after the body of my spirit.” The creation of man and woman includes the physical creation. Moroni comments, “Jesus showed himself unto this man in the spirit, even after the manner and in the likeness of the same body even as he showed himself unto the Nephites” (v. 17). Usually this is interpreted to mean that this man saw the spirit of Jesus Christ. However, as Joseph Smith taught, it is necessary to be quickened by the spirit to see God in the flesh (D&C 67:11). Therefore this could simply mean that the brother of Jared was in the spirit when he saw Jesus. “Even after the manner” must mean in the same way, which included seeing and touching. “And in the likeness of the same body” is usually interpreted to mean that the physical body which the Nephites saw was in the likeness of the spirit body which the brother of Jared saw. However, this passage is also consistent with the interpretation I offer. The body which the brother of Jared saw was not identical to the body which the Nephites saw, although they were both in the likeness of Jesus’ spirit. Moroni emphasizes that “he ministered unto him even as he ministered unto the Nephites.” Jesus ministered to the Nephites as their God, a being of flesh, bone, and spirit. If it was possible for the Lord to lay down his immortal body to take on mortal flesh, then surely it is also possible for the Mother to lay down her immortal body to become the Holy Ghost. The scriptures refer to the Holy Ghost, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of Christ, the Comforter, and the Spirit of truth. Two possible meanings that we have ascertained for these names are the personal spirit of Jesus Christ and the substance or power that emanates from God and pervades all things in differing degrees. The scriptures do not make it clear whether the Holy Ghost is an individual being or a power. However, there are several passages which declare that the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost are one God. How are we to interpret this? The official doctrine of the LOS church at this time is, as has been pointed out, that they are three distinct individuals. I have tried to show from the scriptures that the Son is one individual, who is also called the Lord, God, and our Redeemer, and that the name “the Father,” when it refers to one individual, refers to the same person who is Jesus Christ. The Holy Ghost could also be interpreted as the power of God, since Jesus refers to himself as the Spirit of truth and the names “my Spirit,” “Spirit of the Lord,” “Spirit of God,” etc., are actually used more frequently than and often synonymously with the Holy Ghost. Thus the names “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Ghost” could all refer to one individual God, but I would argue that this interpretation would also require us to recognize God as Mother, Daughter, and Holy Ghost. There are, however, reasons to believe that there is an individual being, a god distinct from Jesus Christ, called the Holy Ghost who has a special mission to perform among humans. Nephi taught his people that the words of Christ are given by the power of the Holy Ghost. “I said unto you that after ye had received the Holy Ghost ye could speak with the tongue of angels ... Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore they speak the words of Christ” (2 Ne. 32:2–3). The connection between angels and the Holy Ghost is interesting. Angels are messengers of God who are seen as well as heard; whoever is ministered to by an angel knows he has seen and heard a being distinct and different from himself. The Holy Ghost, however, speaks to the mind and heart (D&C 8:2). It is sometimes difficult to distinguish her voice from our own inner voice. The reason she is not dearly pointed out as an individual in the scriptures is because she does not often manifest herself as an individual distinct from ourselves. It is also possible that there are many spirits working with the Holy Ghost to perform her work. Jesus, during the Last Supper, spoke of two distinct comforters; one he called the Holy Ghost and the Spirit of Truth, the other he also called the Spirit of truth. Joseph Smith taught that the Second Comforter was Jesus Christ himself. He also taught that the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit who is also God who also has a distinct mission to perform for us even as the Son atoned for our sins.
Everlasting covenant was made between three personages before the organization of this earth, and relates to their dispensation of things to men on the earth; these personages, according to Abraham’s record, are called God the first; the Creator; God the Second, the Redeemer; and God the Third, the witness or Testator.But numerous scriptures testify that the being who would become Jesus Christ created the earth. And in Moses 6:8–9 we read, “In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; in the image of his own body, male and female, created he them.” If God created male and female in the image of his own body then God the Creator must be the Divine Couple, a Man with a male body and a Woman with a female body. If God the Creator is the Divine Couple and God the Redeemer is the male part of the Divine Couple, then it is reasonable to conclude that God the Witness or Testator is the female part of God the Creator. God himself came down among the children of men to redeem his people. He sacrificed his immortal body and took on himself a mortal body to become one of us and suffer the pains and sorrows of mortality. He sacrificed his mortal body so that he might conquer death and bring about the resurrection of all humanity and he suffered the pains of all our sins so that we might be redeemed. God herself came down among the children of women to succor her children. She sacrificed her immortal body to be with us; she remains a spirit so that she can always be with us to enlighten, to comfort, to strengthen, to feel what we feel, to suffer with us in all our sins, in our loneliness and pain, and to encircle us in the arms of her love. She bears witness of Christ and leads us to him, teaching us of their will so th.at we might partake of eternal life in their kingdom.
Prophecies of the Revelation of the MotherWe find the Mother in the scriptures, then, wherever they speak of the Holy Ghost, but of course they do not identify the Holy Ghost as our Mother. When will she be revealed? Do the scriptures prophesy of her revelation? Joseph Smith taught that in the last days many things would be revealed. The purpose of this is to bring about a whole and complete and perfect union. In order to do this, lost and hidden thlngs from past ages will be revealed as well as things which never have been revealed (D&C 128:18). The Lord told Joseph Smith, “God shall give unto you knowledge by his Holy Spirit, yea, by the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost, that has not been revealed since the world was until now” (121:26). The clause “that has not been revealed since the world was until now’’ is usually considered to modify “knowledge.” However, it could also modify “the Holy Ghost,” yielding “The Holy Ghost has not been revealed since the world was until now/’ that is, in the last days. However, whether this interpretation is admitted the Lord says that there is “a time to come in the which nothing shall be withheld, whether there be one God or many, they shall be manifest” (v. 28). So the Holy Ghost, either as one with God or one of many gods, will be revealed in the last days. Therefore we should look for prophecies of her revelation among the prophecies of the last days. We should not expect to find any plain prophecies. Prophecies of the future are usually metaphoric, allusive, and suggestive rather than plain and since the Mother herself is hidden in the scriptures, we can expect that prophecies concerning her appearance will be even more hidden. I will discuss two dusters of metaphors which I believe refer to the Mother: the arm or the hand of the Lord and the bride of the Lord. In speaking of the last days Isaiah prophesied, “The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations” (Isa. 52:10). In the Book of Mormon Nephi, Abinadi, and Jesus all refer to this prophecy and it is referred to four times in the Doctrine and Covenants. What is the meaning of “arm of the Lord" or ‘hand of the Lord?” What is to be revealed in the last days? To discover this I undertook a rhetorical analysis of all occurrences of the phrase “arm of the Lord” or “hand! of the Lord” in the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants. There are a. number of passages which indicate that “arm of the Lord” or “hand of the lord” denotes the means by which the Lord carries out his purposes or accomplishes his work. For example, “It is the hand of the Lord which has done it” (Morm. 8:8); ‘‘being directed continually by the hand of the Lord11 (Ether 2:6); “he extended his arm in the preservation of our fathers” (Mosiah 1:14); and “my arm is stretched out in the last days to save my people Israel” (D&C 136:2). Of course, we regard such passages as metaphoric; we do not think that the hand or arm of the Lord is literally accomplishing the work. By what means, then, does the Lord carry out his purposes? To determine this I looked for parallel constructions that might explain or interpret “arm of the Lord” and found several such passages. “I call upon the weak things of the world ... to thrash the nations by the power of my Spirit; and their arm shall be my arm11 (D&C 35:13–14). Since they are to accomplish their work by the power of the Lord’s Spirit, the arm of the Lord is the Spirit of the Lord. ‘‘For I the Lord have put forth my hand to exert the powers of heaven” (D&C 84:119). This tells us that what is done by the hand of the Lord is done by the powers of heaven. “Thus the Lord did begin to pour out his Spirit upon them; and we see that his arm is extended to all people who will repent and call upon his name” (Alma 19:36). This verse equates the Lord’s pouring out his Spirit to extending his arm. “He was taken up by the Spirit, or buried by the hand of the Lord” (Alma 45:19). Again the hand of the Lord is equated to the Spirit. Having identified “Spirit of the Lord” or “power of my Spirit,” or “Spirit11 to mean “arm of the Lord” or “hand of the Lord,” I checked to see if this was a plausible interpretation for all occurrences of ‘‘arm of the Lord” or “hand of the Lord” and found it to be so except in the few cases where a literal interpretation seemed to be required. The Spirit of the Lord is not necessarily the personage of the Holy Ghost, so something more would seem to be required to show that the prophecy that the Lord will make bare his holy arm in the eyes of all nations is a prophecy of the revelation of the Holy Ghost or Mother in the last days. I have one more interpretation to offer to show that the prophecy that the Lord will make bare his holy arm in the eyes of all nations is a prophecy of the revelation of the Mother. Isaiah’s prophecy reads, “For the Lord hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God” (52:9–10). In his visit to the Nephites, Jesus rendered the prophecy as:
For the Father hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem. The Father hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of the Father; and the Father and I are one (3 Ne. 20:34–35).Joseph Smith taught that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Second Comforter and that when anyone obtains this last comforter he will have Jesus himself appear to him from time to time and that he will manifest the Father to him and they will together visit him. If the Lord or the Father comforts his people, he appears to them and he also reveals the Father to them. Since the Father is also the Divine couple, the manifestation of the Father could mean the revelation of the Divine Couple, and “The Father hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations” could mean that Jesus reveals himself as the Father and his divine wife as the Mother. Doctrine and Covenants 97:19 supports this interpretation. “Zion is the city of our God, . . . for God is there, and the hand of the Lord is there.” This implies that “the hand of the Lord” is indeed a person whose presence in Zion is as important as God’s. Interpreting “the Father” as “the Divine Couple” also suggests an interpretation for scriptures which assert that Jesus is on the right hand of the Father or God. These scriptures may picture the Father and Mother standing or sitting side by side and Jesus is on the right and she is on the left. Thus either the Son or the Daughter, the Father or the Mother could be called the arm or hand of the Lord. The second cluster of metaphors which I believe point to the revelation of the Mother are those of the marriage of the Lamb. Jesus called him.self the bridegroom (Matt. 5:19) and gave two parables, the Marriage of the King’s Son and the Ten Virgins, in which he compared the Second Coming to a wedding and himself to the bridegroom. In the Doctrine and Covenants he refers to himself as the bridegroom five times in connection with the Second Coming. Will there be a real wedding at the Second Coming or is the wedding merely figurative? The most detailed account of the marriage of the Lamb is in Revelation. Before Christ descends to the earth John hears a voice saying., “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come., and his wife hath made herself ready11 (19:7). The bride is usually interpreted to mean the church of God or the people of Israel. John calls the bride the new Jerusalem (21:2., 9–10). But a figurative meaning does not preclude a literal one. John also says., 11And the Spirit and the bride say, Come.” Since the Fall brought about the separation of many things—God from humanity, male from female., body from spirit, individual from community, faith from reason—the Millennium will bring all things into a new unity. But the Fall also brought about the separation of God from God, Father from Mother. Isaiah declared:
Yea, for thus saith the Lord: have I put thee away, or have I cast thee off forever? For thus saith the Lord; Where is the bill of your mother; s divorcement? To whom have I put thee away, or to which of my creditors have I sold you? Yea, to whom have I sold you? Behold, for your iniquities have you sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away (2 Ne. 7:1).Our Mother exiled herself voluntarily to be with us. The Mother is identified with the Child: she also took our sins on herself. In Revelation 12:1 John describes the Divine Mother. “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.” A great dragon made war on her and she fled into the wilderness where the dragon continued to make war on her and her children. Joseph Smith in his translation of the Bible said that the woman was the church of God. The images of the sun, moon, and wilderness are also found in a description of the church given three times in the Doctrine and Covenants.
That thy church may come forth out of the wilderness of darkness, and shine forth fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners; And be adorned as a bride for that day when thou shalt unveil the heavens (109:73–74).One metaphorical meaning of “wilderness” is given by the Lord. “Behold, that which you hear is as the voice of one crying in the wilderness—in the wilderness, because you cannot see him-my voice, because my voice is Spirit” (D&C 88:6). The wilderness where the Mother is exiled is the realm of the Spirit which we cannot see. The description 11fair as the moon” and “clear as the sun” and “terrible as an army with banners” reminds us of the glorious woman in heaven “clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet,” her power denoted by the crown of stars on her head. Again Mother is identified with Child. She cannot come out of the wilderness adorned as a bride to meet her bridegroom until her child is sanctified. “But first let my army become very great, and let it be sanctified before me, that it may become fair as the sun, and clear as the moon, and that her banners may be terrible to all nations.” The description” fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners” is taken from the Song of Solomon where it describes the bride of the king. If the Song of Songs is interpreted as an allegory of the hierosgamos or marriage of the divine male and female, this further supports the view that the marriage of the Lamb is literal as well as figurative and that the Mother will be revealed “adorned as a bride for that day when God shall unveil the heavens” and be reunited with his divine spouse. As the time for the revelation of the Mother draws closer we should expect that some people will receive visions or voices or feelings which manifest her presence and her mission. I would like to share one such experience with you. My husband David and I were driving home to Provo after having been in Denver for David’s twenty-fifth high school reunion. I will give David’s account of what happened.
The time in Denver was good, along the lines of recovery as I felt, but better than I anticipated. No close friends were there but after a time I felt kinship with many I met again. I felt a great desire to celebrate the lives of these friends and comfort those who had discovered that their lives were not exactly what they had anticipated they would be. It was a ti.me of reaching out with love and understanding. The epiphanal experience came on the way home. It was about noon. Janice was driving—she had been since Denver—and I was reading to her from Margaret’s and Paul’s book [Strangers in Paradox]. I got to a part of the book that overwhelmed me suddenly: “Rather each is cast in the Image of the Mater Dolorosa, the mourning mother who imposes upon herself a voluntary exile in order to wander with, and comfort her children, mourning and grieving in the veil of tears.” At th.is point I felt tears welling up inside of me and I choked on, “She is like Rachel weeping for her children. She is De . . .” I couldn’t control my voice; I couldn’t go on. I wept for a while and then said, ur am very touched by this.” Janice said, “It’s more than that. It’s revelation.” I said, “She is here with us. She is in the back seat with us and . . .” What was I feeling? I was saying inside myself, “This is what I want—to comfort in this veil of tears, to nurture, not to advance myself. This is what I have always wanted.” Yearning towards her, I cried out in my heart, “I want to share your loneliness and sorrows. How can I? Oh, that I could comfort with you!” I realized that she was not in the back seat. She was around me and before me. With tear fogged eyes I saw her fill the horizon in front of me. I couldn’t go on reading. Tears were on my cheeks. I am not usually so overcome with feelings. I rarely cry. I stopped wondering if Janice would wonder why I was having such trouble going forward. I began wondering if I could remain on earth. I was being expanded and it was joyful—and it hurt! This was not just empathy for the Mother. This was epiphany. She is here! I felt such love and identification for her and her work and rapture at her presence. What would I tell Janice? What could I tell her? Finally I regained control and found out. “I’ve given my heart to the Mother. She was here and I wasn’t sure that I would go on living.”
Worshipping the MotherOne question which has received a great deal of attention is whether we should worship the Mother and, if s01 how? The question is important to those who sincerely believe that our Heavenly Mother is God, while those who believe that only the Father is really God tend to view the answer as self-evident (of course, we worship only God the Father) and the question as presumptuous., This is not surprising since fundamentally to worship God means to acknowledge that the being we worship is God. When Jesus first appeared to the Nephites they thought he was an angel. But after he told them that he was Jesus Christ, they fell to the earth. Jesus then invited them to feel the prints of the nails in his hands and feet. After they had done so, they all fell down at his feet and worshipped him. They worshipped him because they knew he was their God and the God of the whole earth, the light and life of the world who had atoned for their sins. Whether we should worship the Mother, then, depends on whether we know her and know who she is. We have not been commanded to worship her as we have God the Father. Worship demands a distance; he is the transcendent God, while she is the immanent God. She bears witness of him and leads us to him. Without her with us we could not see him as the Almighty God. However, once she has been revealed to us and we see and understand that she is also God, then we also, in the most fundamental way, worship her. There is no question whether we should worship her; no one can allow us or forbid us to worship her. We simply do. We also worship God through rituals. or ordinances. These connect us in some way to God and are the means through which we, by performing some action, receive blessings from him. All religions believe their rituals come from God. They are either transmitted from generation to generation or rediscovered or revealed by God himself. Some women look for ancient forms of Goddess worship to express their devotion to the Goddess. However, we as Latter-day Saints only need to re-examine the ordinances given us through Joseph Smith to see that she is present in all of them. We cannot worship him without her presence. Because they are one there is no ordinance through which we worship only him or only her. We are baptized to show our faith in him, but faith is a gift of the Spirit which testifies of Christ. We repent of our sins believing that he has atoned for them and we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost to sanctify us and reveal his will to us so that we may retain a remission of our sins. In partaking of the sacrament we remember him and he pours out his Spirit more abundantly on us. The temple ordinances, as Margaret and Paul Toscano have shown, symbolize both the sacrifice of Christ and her veiled presence. Jesus taught that doing the will of God is more important than formal worship; indeed, it is the truest worship because it requires our deepest commitment and expresses our truest desires, our essential being. “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven” (3 Ne. 14:21). If we want to worship the Mother, we must do the work of the Mother, and if we do the work of the Mother, we worship her. Her work is the same as his work. They are one God. Nephi taught that the words of Christ will tell us all things that we should do and that the words of Christ are given by the power of the Holy Ghost (2 Ne. 32:5). For Mormons the question of whether we should worship the Mother has focused mainly on whether we should pray to her. Those who think we should not pray to her point out that Jesus commanded us to pray to the Father in his name and conclude that the only acceptable form of prayer is to address God as Heavenly Father and end the prayer in the name of Jesus Christ. I have tried to show that Jesus is the Father whom we worship. In Doctrine and Covenants 93, which clearly teaches that the Son is the Father, the Lord says, “I give unto you these sayings that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name.” ‘This means that Jesus Christ is the name of the Father which we should use when we pray to him and worship him. He has other names but we should call him Jesus Christ because that is the name through which we are saved. “Behold, Jesus Christ is the name which is given of the Father, and there is none other name given whereby man can be saved” (D&C 18:23). H the words are changed around a little this reads, “Behold, Jesus Christ is the name of the Father which is given.” Mormons usually interpret this verse to mean that Jesus Christ is the name given by the Father, which is also a true interpretation, but it obscures the more fundamental one. Doctrine and Covenants 109 is the prayer offered by Joseph Smith at the dedication of the Kirtland temple, which he said was given to him by revelation. In this prayer he addresses God as “Lord, God of Israel,” “‘Lord,” “Holy Father in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of thy bosom,” “Holy Father,” “Jehovah,” “Mighty God of Jacob,” and “O Lord God Almighty.” All these names are names of Jesus Christ and this prayer is dearly addressed to him. It is concluded with a simple “Amen.” Nephi, in his account of his life, usually tells us that he prayed to the Lord, and we have seen that he identified the Lord as the one who would come to the earth to redeem his people. He also exhorts us to pray to the Father in the name of Jesus Christ (2 Ne. 32:9) and tells us to worship Christ (25:29). He does not distinguish between praying to the Lord, praying to the Father in the name of Christ, and worshipping Christ. If we are to pray to Jesus, the question arises, “To whom did Jesus pray?” As a mortal man he prayed to the Father and as God among the Nephites he also prayed to the Father. But I have shown th.at the Father, the Man of Holiness, is Jesus Christ. Surely Jesus did not pray to himself. Perhaps the Father whom Jesus prayed to was the same being who on several occasions introduced Jesus as “My Beloved Son.” Who was this? The voice is described in 3 Nephi 11:3.
. . . and it was not a harsh voice, neither was it a loud voice; nevertheless, and notwithstanding it being a small voice it did pierce them that did hear it to the center, insomuch that there was no part of their frame that it did not cause to quake; yea, it did pierce them that did hear it to the very soul, and did cause their hearts to burn.This description has several points in common with descriptions given of the voice of the Holy Ghost. It was a small voice but it pierced those who heard it to the center and it caused their hearts to bum. I believe that this being who bears witness of Jesus Christ is his Beloved, the Woman of Holiness, who is now the Holy Ghost. She calls him, "My Beloved, who is the Son.” Should we pray to the Mother? Although we are not commanded to pray to her, we are commanded to pray with her. “He that asketh in the Spirit asketh according to the will of God” (D&C 46:30). And when we pray, we invoke her presence (19:38). And our prayers are answered through her. Understanding this, we certainly may address her directly in our prayers. However, prayer, unlike ritual, does not require a form given by God in order to be efficacious. In its most fundamental sense prayer is a reaching out for God. The deepest longings of our hearts, our strivings for goodness, our hearts broken by our sins and failures, the pains of our humanity, our hope for love, and finally our deepest desires to know God are all prayers to him and her. Jesus taught us to pray to the Father, not to set up barriers between us and God, but to remove them. God is your Father, he taught us. You need not be afraid to approach him because he loves you. You are fathers yourselves, he reminded us; you know that you respond to your children’s pleas. “How much more will your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matt. 7–11) She is our Mother, a Mother who knows our needs before we can express them, a Mother who is here before we call out to her. Which of you mothers, if your child cries out in the night, will not hear her cries and go to her and put your arms around her and comfort her? If you, then, being weak, know how to comfort your children, how much more does our Mother in Heaven comfort us when we stand in need of comfort? Or which of you mothers, if your child is confused or has a problem, will not give him counsel? H you, then, lacking knowledge of the future, know how to counsel your children, how much more does our Heavenly Mother guide us when we ask to know what we should do? Or which of you mothers, if your child asks you a question, will send him away? If you, then, being ignorant of many things, know how to enlighten your children, how much more does our Mother in Heaven give truth to those who seek it? Or which of you mothers does not know that your children need you to be with them? If you, then, being selfish, will sacrifice to be with your children, how much more is our Mother, not in heaven, but here with us?
 Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., The Words of Joseph Smith (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1980), 344.  Ibid., 340.  Ibid., 344.  Ibid., 173.  Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (Liverpool, eng.: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1854–86), 2:342.  Ehat and Cook, 4–5.  Ibid., 64.  Joseph Fielding Smith, comps., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1968), 190.  Ehat and Cook, 5.  Margaret and Paul Toscano, Strangers in Paradox (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1990), 265–91. [post_title] => Toward a Mormon Theology of God the Mother [post_excerpt] => Dialogue 27.2 (Summer 1994): 15–40
It would seem that Mormons who have believed for over a hundred years in the real existence of the Goddess, the Mother in Heaven, should be far ahead of other Christians in developing a theology of God the Mother. However, our belief in her as a real person puts us at a disadvantage. If the Goddess is merely a symbol of deity, as the male God is also a symbol, then certainly God can be pictured as either male or female with equal validity. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => toward-a-mormon-theology-of-god-the-mother [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-27 19:54:26 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-27 19:54:26 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=11663 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
The Need for a New Mormon Heaven
Dialogue 21.3 (Fall 1988): 73–85
I used to love this description because my Mormon heaven seemed far superior to this standard Christian heaven that Twain’s Satan describes. Sexual intercourse does have a place in Mormon heaven, though not as an end in itself. Heavenly residents are busy with activities. Those righteous individuals who become gods in Mormon heaven will certainly be using their intellects as they create worlds and keep them running, and they will undoubtedly be learning continuously. Mormonism never suggested there would be continual music, nor continual church or Sabbath days in heaven.