LDS endowment

[The following is a selection from a widely republished exposé by disaffected initiate Increase McGee Van Dusen. Van Dusen's exposé was first published in 1847, with a second, expanded version appearing that same year. The selection you are about to read comes from the expanded version. In total, 20 editions of Van Dusen's exposé appeared during the 1840s and 1850s.]

[I have carefully checked this electronic transcript against a photocopy of the original; you may be confident that typographical errors appearing here reflect errors in the original. The centered headers that subdivide the text are from the original. Italicized comments, or ellipses, in square brackets are mine.]

The Great Mormon Temple, at Nauvoo, the particulars of which are given on another page, was built under the direction of Joseph Smith, the Great Mormon Prophet. He said the Lord God spake to him from heaven, and commanded the people, through him, to build a house unto his (the Lord's) name, and when it was finished, he (the Lord) would reveal through the Prophet Joseph, the great object for which it was reared, and reward the people for all their labor in erecting the same. This Grand Edifice was commenced in the year 1841, by a comparatively poor and destitute people, that had just been driven from the state of Missouri. We labored on this building with many privations, in heat and cold, and in very many instances, hunger, supposing we would be rewarded for all our privations when the house was finished, with, as we always supposed, an unusual outpouring of the Spirit, as on the day of Pentecost, or at least similar. [The author then recounts the death of Joseph Smith, the succession crisis, and the completion of the Nauvoo Temple under Brigham Young's leadership.]

The great object now is, to secure the blessing in the Temple, the object for which it was built. There is now a secret preparation going on, in preparing the inside of the Temple, by a few, selected for that purpose, unbeknown to the main body of the people. The upper main floor of the Temple, in the attic story, is temporarily partitioned, by drawing heavy canvass promiscuously across the floor, in different directions, forming rooms, some large, others smaller, all furnished and fitted, representing certain things, with doors, halls, &c., like other partitions, only this is all temporary, calculated expressly for acting what I shall now describe.

First Degree in the Temple

The following process is what myself and wife were personally taken through, in turn with twelve or fifteen thousand others, in the Temple, in February, 1846, said to be our reward, as revealed from God to Joseph Smith, for erecting that splendid edifice, and the express object for which it was built.

The Drama (as I call it,) runs thus: --We have a notice to appear at the Temple at five in the morning. I am instructed to wear white drawers. My wife is to bring her night clothes with her. What these orders are for, we have no idea in the least. We go according to orders at five precisely, for we are anxious to receive our long expected blessing from God, for which we have labored faithfully, and for the knowledge of which we have been held in suspense, with thousands of others, for years, especially for the last number of weeks, while others have been going in in their turn before us. We are met at the outside porch of the Temple and ordered to pass up the main winding stairway, from the base to the upper attic story; here is a sitting room; we are ordered to be seated, where we lay off the hat, cloak, bonnet, &c.; our anxiety now begins moderately to increase, by some curious and strange movements we see here, such as carrying water to and from a certain direction, &c. A few of such and other similar strange movements are here accidentally crossing our observation, as we sit here on this singular occasion, conducted, to begin with, where we did not expect to go, in the attic story of the Temple. We are now called out of the sitting room and placed in front of a closed door, that opens on a floor the whole size of the Temple. I am ordered now to take my wife and pass through this door, which opens as we approach it. We are brought immediately into a narrow hall formed by the canvass I spoke of; at the further end of the hall stands a man; as we approach him, he says, you must here separate; directs me through a door to the right, my wife through one to the left, in an opposite direction. I am now ordered to be seated; I next pass through an examination to this effect; whether I am sufficiently responsible to receive what they are about to commit to me, &c. If I am known to be so, I am initiated through; if not, I go no further. After undergoing an examination of this kind, I am ordered by the conductor to lay off my outside clothes, such as coat, vest, pants, boots, &c, and lay them on a pile in the centre of the floor. After some more ceremony of not much consequence,

Second Degree in the Temple

I am conducted through a door into another room, this room is considerably shaded nearly to twilight. There is a variety of ceremony going on in this room, some of rather to delicate a nature to speak of as this work is designed to be read by all classes of both sex. I am however divested of the remainder of my clothing, and placed in a horizontal position in a bath of water that has been prepared for this purpose, and am washed from head to foot, with the following ceremony: "I wash you that you may be clean to perform the work assigned to you; your eyes, that you may see the glory of God; your ears, that you may hear His voice; your mouth, that you may speak forth His praise; your arms and breast, that you may be strong to perform His work; and so down to your feet, that you may be swift to run the race," &c. All this time I am rolled and tumbled about from one side of the bath to the other. Head a part of the time under water, half strangled under a constant excitement, not knowing what was coming next. At last the priest lays his hands on my head, and pronounces me clean in the name of the Lord, and prepared for the further ordinances of his house.

I am now ordered out of the bath in a standing position, and have sweet scented oil poured from a horn on the top of my head, until it runs all over my body. I am now said to be the Lord's Annointed, as in the days of old, when they were annointed to the office of King, &c. After this I am seated, and the priest lays his hands on my head and ordains me to be king in time and eternity. After receiving this ordination I am presented with, and have put on, what they call an under garment. This is a tight fit, made of white cotton cloth, with two marks on it; a square in the breast, and a compass on the knee. I am told this garment represents the white stone in scripture, in which was a new name given. I here have a new name given me. I am told also, that I am always to wear this garment under my clothes, while I am in the world. God has ordered this; and I can receive no harm while I have it on. The name I received was [. . .], one of the names of the Book of Mormon. This name I was forbidden to reveal to any one but the one at the door of the Celestial Kingdom. What this meant, I found out afterwards. The compass on the knee signifies our willingness to bow always; the square, God's protection, &c. I now have put on me, over this under garment, a common shirt open at the collar. In this dress, after so much ceremony, I am conducted into a third room, where a lesson commences. It will readily be perceived by the intelligent reader, that this whole ceremony is designed to represent a certain thing, and what has been acted in the two rooms already described, consists altogether in a preperation of what follows, probaly designed to represent some of the ancient customs where the children of Isreal were required to wash their clothes &c. to appear in the presence of the Lord.

Third Degree in the Temple

I am now placed in a certain position on the floor designed to represent a certain thing, and that is Adam in embryo. All is now silent for a while, the silence is at length broken by a rumbling noise, as from a distance, the noise terminates in a voice: "Let the light be divided from the darkness; let the light be called day, and the darkness night: Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters; Let the firmament be called Heaven; let the waters under the firmament be gathered together in one place, and let the dry land appear; let the dry land be called earth; and the gathering together of the waters, seas; let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit-tree yielding fruit, after his kind, whose seed is in itself upon the earth; let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth, after their kind."

[The reader will perceive that this conversation differs from Moses' history of the creation. Moses says, "And the Lord sayed let there be light &c." and there was light, speaking of the Deity in the third person. It is here as if the Almighty himself is first in the act of creation; and this is the idea intended in the farce.]

After the individual thus representing the Lord behind the curtain (as in the act of creation,) is supposed to have created the heavens and the earth, cattle, beasts, creeping things, fowls of the air, fish of the sea, &c., he continues his work farther and says, "Now let us go down and make man in our image, after our likeness." All this time I am in silence, hearing, but not seeing any thing, and knowing not what is to take place the next moment; for all is new and unexpected, from first to last, of this whole drama. When he says, "Let us go down and make man," I hear his footsteps approaching the room where I am; he comes in--comes to where I am--puts his hand to the floor, and then on me, as if fulfilling this scripture: "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul." After going on, as if forming me newly of the dust of the ground, he stoops down and breathes on me, and now I am supposed to first spring into life. I am next ordered to change my position to a sleeping one, as if fulfilling, "And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept." I am now ordered to put my head down low and feign myself in a deep sleep. The individual representing the Almighty, continues his work, as if fulfilling, "And he took a rib, and the rib which the Lord God had taken from man made he a woman, and brought her unto the man." After he has taken the rib, he passes out of the room and is supposed to have formed the woman of the rib; he soon returns with a woman and places her directly before me, as I am sitting, head down, as if in a deep sleep. I am now saluted with a loud voice, "Adam, here is thy companion. I give her to be with thee--what wilt thou call her?" I now raise up my head and awake out of my feigned sleep, and to my surprise, here stands a female directly in front of me, about 3 1/2 feet from my knees, as I am seated; her dress consists of an under piece of linen, white stockings, long night gown all tied down before, and a kind of white head dress of book muslin, looking me directly in the face, without a smile. As I raise up my head from the voice, "Adam, here is thy companion--what wilt thou call her?" I now answer by direction, "This is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man." After a second squint at this supposed new Eve, I found her to be my wife that I had separated from me on first entering the Temple. This was the first time I had seen her, or even thought of her, from the commencement of this very queer and excitable farce, my mind being altogether taken up with the novelty of this unexpected ceremony. --She tells me after leaving me where we were ordered to part, on first entering, she has gone through two rooms, and the same ceremony precisely, only conducted by females exclusively. We are now supposed to be Adam and Eve, and the reason of my shirt's being outside, and she having on night clothes, is to represent nature. I now am ordered to take Eve and follow our conductor out through a partition door into another apartment.

Fourth Degree in the Temple

This is a much larger room than the others through which we have passed, the floor all nicely covered with green trees, shrubbery, plants, flowers, &c., one varying from the other in height as they stand on the floor, forming allies, walks, &c., representing the garden of Eden. This place being a little shaded, at least as dark as twilight, and the shrubbery interspersed with human beings, dressed in this peculiar way, acting out so sublime a piece, formed a sight both novel and sublime in the extreme.

We follow a man here through the aisles and walks of the garden, representing the Almighty, beholding the strange and unexpected scenery that has just presented itself to our view. He says, "This is a beautiful place, every thing delightful for the eye and taste--of all these things you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, (pointing to a certain tree,) thou shalt not eat; neither shalt thou touch it, for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." He leaves the garden, and in a few moments another individual comes in, representing the Devil. He walks round between the trees and peaks and skulks, as if intent on some mischief, and coming to the tree which we have been forbidden to partake of, he says to my wife: "This is the best of all the fruit of the garden," and solicits her to partake. She takes, eats and gives to Adam. While we are amusing ourselves with the delicious taste of the fruit, (which is raisins tied on a small tree on the floor,) the conductor starts up all of a sudden, and says, "Hark! the Lord is coming; let us hide!" We are ordered to squat down behind the shrubbery on the floor. The feigned Lord's foot steps are now heard--coming in, he walks on the floor, at last calls out, "Adam! where art thou?" We answer, "We heard thy voice and foot steps in the garden, and were afraid, and hid ourselves." And he says, "Who told thee that thou was naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree whereof I command thee not to eat?" The answer is, "The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree and I did eat." He then turns to my wife, and says, "What is this that thou hast done?" She answers, "The Serpent beguiled me and I did eat." He now turns to the individual representing the Devil, and says, "Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life." After the man representing the Devil receives the curse from the one acting the part of the Lord, he gets down and crawls out of the room on his belly, dragging himself slowly along, as if cursed indeed. To my wife the Lord now adds, "I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children," &c. And to me he says, "Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree of which I commanded thee, saying, thou shalt not eat of it; cursed is the ground for thy sake: in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life. Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for dust thou art, and unto the dust shalt thou return."

We now have aprons put on of white cloth, about eighteen inches square, with green silk leaves pasted on. We are ordered to kneel down to an altar that stands on the centre of the floor, where we are instructed in a variety of things, such as the folly and impropriety of being deceived by the devil, and our not obeying the command of God, &c. We are also strictly cautioned not to be led astray again by the devil's influence in any shape that may come hereafter. We now say on our knees, we renounce the devil forever, and promise also to keep the commandments of God. We now have certain signs, grips, key-words, &c., given, and all the whys and wherefores explained. [The author provides examples.] We are particularly instructed in these signs, key-words, grips, &c., three of each.

Fifth Degree--A Burlesque on all the Sects

After some more ceremony of not much consequence, we are conducted into another, a fifth room, which is a representation of the present Religious world. This room is darker than any of the others through which we have passed, I suppose expressive of what the Mormons say of the sects, that they are all wrong and in gross darkness. The idea conveyed of what is in this room is that we, Adam and Eve, have strolled away from the true ways of the Lord, and have become contaminated with some or all of the sectarian religion of the day, or in other words, a lapse of six thousand years is supposed to have intervened between what is here acted and that in the room we were in previous to this.

Our attention is now attracted by an individual coming in from an adjoining room, representing the Devil. He comes in great glee, hopping and skipping about the floor, holding in his hand a long-handled wooden noggin, which holds about a pint. He says, "Good morning brother Methodist, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Baptist, Universalist, Shaking Quaker, Millerite, Campbelite," &c., enumerating all the sects of the day, except the Mormons: "Come, let us drink the cup of fellowship this morning." He now drinks, and hands the noggon to us; we drink, and hand it back. He then goes on with a long ceremony, as follows: Well, brethren, you must have done well--had a great many revivals--gained a numerous host of converts, and would have succeeded in getting the world into some of our churches, had it not been for that Joe Smith and the Mormons. They are round everywhere, preaching that we are all wrong--not organized according to Scripture, and say we (Protestants) have no authority to preach, except what we have got from the Catholics, and all the world agrees that is good for nothing. And now, brethren of the sects, I tell you that Mormon plan is an almighty one, and much to be dreaded--It strikes at the very root and foundation of all our holy religion, and will eventually become the prevailing religion, unless something can be done to stop it. It has been supposed a humbug, and would soon come to naught. But this supposition is founded altogether in ignorance. Now, who can not but see this (Joe's) plan is well calculated to undermine all of us. He says, 'God has nothing to do with our churches--he has never sent us to preach; and they have the impudence to ask us to show our authority, and this we cannot do, of course. It is true, we read in the Bible, 'Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature;' but they say that commission is not to us, but to men of the generation in which it was given. (And is not this true?) Now, the world has been long wondering how so many ways could be right, and differing one from the other; and Mormonism is calculated to unravel all this mystery. They come right out and say we have all been preaching men's precepts for the commandments of God. And now, I tell you there is much truth in their sayings. We might as well know the truth, and then prepare ourselves accordingly. We could do well when our authoirty was not questioned; but when they come with the evidence they bring, and say, 'They are sent by Revelation;' I tell you it is not easy to withstand them. And finally, brethren, I am satisfied that it will not do to undertake to hold an argument with them, and we had better let them entirely alone, and neither hear nor read any of their books, but keep up the popular cry, 'Oh, how great is the delusion of Joe Smith and Mormonism! Oh, how great!' and as long as we can keep the people ignorant of their real principles, we shall do well. Now, brethren, of all sects, we are talking over things this morning among ourselves--and it must not go to the world," &c.

After a long ceremony of this kind in favor of the Mormon Fraternity, we are interrupted by an other individual coming in, representing the Almighty. He commands the Devil to depart and let these deceived people (the sects,) alone, and trouble them no longer; for the time has come when they shall be delivered from his Satanic influence and power, by which they have been bound since the Apostolic age of the world.

The Devil now reluctantly withdraws, and makes towards the door looking back over his shoulder at the heavenly messenger, and halts, as if at a loss to leave or stay. He is now commanded again, to leave, and let the sects alone. He now drops his noggin and flees out of the room with great haste and fury. The supposed Lord that has acted the last part and conquered the Devil, takes us now and teaches us the folly of every other way, that is all the sectarian ways and recommends the one true way to us, i.e., the Apostolic way which he tells us is Joseph Smith's doctrine in every particular. We are now supposed to be converted to the Mormon faith exclusively, in token whereof, we have our clothing changed, and are dressed in white linen, exactly alike with a curious cap of the same material. Another idea is here conveyed in this room, that is all the other religions have to be renounced in turn, and this the particulars of which we are here instructed in must eventually be embraced.

Sixth Degree in the Temple

We are now conducted through a partition door into a room that represents the Millenial Morning, or the holy, not the most holy, place; on the center of this floor stands another altar erected, with three Books on it--the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants, (the revelations of Joseph.) We are required to kneel at this altar, where we have an oath administered to the effect, that we will, from this time henceforth and forever, use our influence to murder this nation, and teach it to our posterity and all that we have influence over, in return for their killing the Prophet Joseph. They say the murdering of Smith is a national offense. It is true that all was not personally engaged in the act; but the nation has long winked at the abuse of the Mormons, and in this way they have encouraged mobs from time to time, until they have finally taken the life of the Lord's Prophet, and now it is the will of the Lord, that the nation should be destroyed; and this is his will, that we shall enter into this secret conspiracy against the Government, &c., for the above reasons and many more given. We are also sworn at this altar, by a solemn oath, that we will never reveal to any person what we here do and see in the Temple, during this whole farce, from first to last. If we give the least idea or intimation of it, our lives are to be taken; and the way of taking it is described; [the penalties are listed].The Lord, his holy angels and all that are in the room are called on to witness the solemn covenant we here make. The individual that administers this oath, next takes hold of the hand and gives other grips, signs, words, &c., of a higher order than those given in the Garden of Eden.

[There follows a lengthy digression in which the author warns that Brigham Young, "the wickedest man probably now on the earth," is using the endowment to foment conspiracy against the U.S. government. The author fears that, having moved west, Young is now preparing the Mormons for civil war and inflaming the Indians with hope of reseizing their ancestral lands.]

After being instructed in many other things in this room of less consequence, I am taken by a female conductor and led to another partition which they call the Veil that separates the Holy from the Most Holy place. This thin cloth, called the Veil, is something like book-muslin, covers a vacancy left in the partition for this purpose, behind which stands a man in the Most Holy place. With him I converse, through this thin cloth. I here give him the new name I confidentially received, signs, motions, grips, &c., given to me at the different altars, which is a condition of my entrance through a door about three or four feet to the left, called the Door of the Celestial Kingdom of God. My conductor knocks at this door--it is opened by one from within, who asks, "Who is there?" My conductor replies, "One having kept all the commandments of God, (referring to the carrying out of the principles represented and acted in this farce,) desires to enter the kingdom and be forever with the Lord."

Seventh Degree in the Temple

I now pass through this door, which brings me into a very large and spacious room, perfectly light, all nicely furnished, representing the Celestial Kingdom of God, or the highest degree of glory that man is to arrive at in the eternal world. This being the last room representing the final rest of man, we are now all clothed exactly alike, in fine white linen, with crowns on our heads, representing what we are finally to come into possession of--that is what we were ordained to in the second room, king and queen, for that is the object of this whole drama, to represent what has been and will be through time and eternity.

Source: I. McGee V. D., Positively True: A Dialogue between Adam and Eve, the Lord and the Devil, Called the Endowment (Albany, NY: C. Killmer, 1847).


  1. Van Dusen divides the endowment into seven "degrees," which correspond to the different parts of the endowment as follows:

    1st degree Reception area (similar to the temple chapel in contemporary practice)
    2nd degree Initiatory
    3rd degree Creation Room
    4th degree Garden Room
    5th degree World Room (or Telestial Room)
    6th degree Terrestrial Room
    7th degree Celestial Room

  2. See Revelation 2:17 and D&C 130:11.

  3. See Exodus 19:10-11. Since Van Dusen thought to look to Exodus for the source of the initiatory's symbolism, I'm surprised that he didn't make the connection to the washing, anointing, and clothing of priests, described in Exodus 29:4-7.

  4. This paragraph is enclosed in square brackets in the original.

  5. According to Van Dusen's account, the endowment was presented as a historical allegory of the Great Apostasy, the Restoration, and the Millennium. The endowment no longer has this particular allegorical dimension, but it isn't difficult to see how the ceremony would lend itself to historical allegory.

  6. Later descriptions of the oath of vengeance are consistent in describing it as an oath (a) to pray that God will avenge the blood of the prophets upon the nation and (b) to teach one's descendants to pray likewise. I suspect that Van Dusen's references to "murder[ing] this nation" and to a "secret conspiracy against the Government" are sensationalist hyperbole. On the other hand, in the absence of additional evidence, I cannot rule out the possibility that an originally more violent oath, akin to what Van Dusen describes, had been toned down by the time the oath of vengeance was described in later exposés.

Back to Top | Webmaster