Ritual Spirals

There seems to be a sort of rule about ritual:

When viewed as effecting some indirectly related end, say, the coming of the Messiah, the practitioners tend toward:
1. Explaining the failures of the ritual to bring about that end by blaming the folks doing the ceremony, either the “priests” or the “parishioners”:

Perhaps the Priests have lost their magic power (fallen into apostasy, lost the keys!), or the Parishioners are not pure or faithful enough (apostates!).


In either case, some abstract invisible energy or essence — its absence or presence — is believed to explain both the efficacy of the ideal ritual, and also the failures of the actual practices.  At no point is the ritual understood as a test of the reality of such an invisible energy, and whether it indeed exists.
2. Such explanations (and failures) tend to generate more elaborate rituals with even more rules and more priests and practitioners.  We spiral back to (1), and splinter groups or new priests emerge.  But don’t think the original is the right one, just because you haven’t joined the splinters.  They are both wrong.

Such is the logic behind what we call “cargo cults,” for example, and apparently behind gambling addictions.


The obvious outcome is a growth of the ritual, rather than a test of its effectiveness.  With ritual comes a spiral priests, and with priests, taboos.  With taboos we have new resources for explaining the failures of the ritual, for some one must’ve broken a taboo, and thus, we need to priests to ensure the purity of the parishioners.  Surveillance becomes a mandate of the priests, and eventually they may speak of their deity as an All-Seeing-Eye.

When we add market incentives, or political office and prestige as assuring us the power is indeed present, we can assume that the ritual will begin to take on additional energy.  Indeed, we may begin to say that the power itself is embodied in the priests/parishioners, regardless of the results of the ritual: they have the power regardless, because only they officiate, and that is the power they have.  Perhaps one might even speak of the “end” or “goal” of the ritual as not anything real or tangible, but as “symbolic” or “personal,” such as, for example, insight into the mystery of the ritual itself, into what it represents, which is now spoken of as what it does: it represents, symbolically.


Now, step back and ask yourself:  “If someone said I could have their car, if I performed certain actions, I would expect that car, or call them a liar or a fool.  But if someone promises me an intangible, invisible energy as a result of performing certain actions, should I also be satisfied if I have no evidence of receiving that energy?  Finally, should I simply change what I mean by “evidence”?  Or blame myself for failing to receive the energy?”


If we don’t start off with a good definition of what the magical invisible energy would do, if we possessed it, than we can be sure we will simply redefine whatever is, as itself evidence of its existence or of our possession.


Now we come to doubt:


Often when priests or parishioners tire of the ceremonies, calling them “dead” for example, having realized that one can only speak of “symbolism” for so long before everyone realizes they could get the same symbolism in any other way; rather than stop spiraling, they have learned to seek out some other priest or ritual which runs exactly the same way, except this time, you know, we really have the magic invisible power and the right crop of faithful / pure parishioners.    If you look at Mormon history in 1830, this is what the Church of Christ claimed, against other churches of Christ.  The logic of Restoration runs on this foolish program, it does not alter it.  See Volume One of the cultural history for more evidence…

Do we find the Book of Mormon justifying such cargo cults? 

Individually:  Jesus reportedly appears to Jacob, Nephi, Mormon, and others.  We don’t know why he did.  None of the men say, “I did X, and that brought Jesus around.”  What if Jesus visits whomever he wants, just as you might do?  What if like you he has people he visits for reasons other than to gratify his own pride and vanity, but instead for reasons related to his purposes, or to do good?  Do you only visit one kind of person, the really pure?  Or have you visited the sick, the prisoner, the aged, the impure, and so on, whom perhaps you would not personally call “friends”?

Among your friends, are there some you rely on for some things, but not others?  Are there some who are not quite as “good” as others, or who might have eccentricities, or vulnerabilities perhaps you’d like to help them with?  Do some bring you joy, for various reasons?  Does Jesus deal with the same crop of people, or with people who are either simply pure or impure?  D&C 76…gives us reasons for being better people, but we must look elsewhere for guidance on what “better” looks like, to the Lord.    Perhaps his visits or absences among us come more from, say, thinking, “I don’t want to hang out with Mr. X, because we just don’t jive, and he seems unwilling to see my point of view,” than it is like, “I don’t want to hang out with Mr. X, because he isn’t pure enough to be around me, and I am unable to purify his invisible essence.”

If we open up the category of people visited by Jesus to include the sick, the aged, the sad, those needing healing, his friends and so on, we find ourselves without any rules for bringing him about.  Are there rules for bringing you to my home, in addition to directions and an invitation being necessary conditions?  Perhaps it is an error to think of Jesus as like a Dominos delivery boy, or the ambulance.


Collectively: Rather than the Messiah showing up to ratify their righteousness, he appears and explains to some survivors of calamities that they are simply not as bad as the dead.  Nothing they did, no magic they possessed, brought him to them.  Indeed, he seems to delight in befriending the most stiffnecked people.

When Christ visits them at the temple the second day, he brings his own bread and wine, but not because the people had some magic.  When he shows them miracles, it is because of their faith; but their faith was not the cause of the miracles, it being apparently necessary but not itself sufficient.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a good definition of “faith” as used in this context.  If we did, man, we could create processes for acquiring it, distributing, and indeed, make an economy of faith that promised to bring about the magic of the Messiah, for those possessed of the right amount of some intangible energy.

The cults, rituals, priests and parishioners who believe some invisible intangible energy can be mobilized in such and such a way rely necessarily on idols, and if Jesus indeed showed up, he would it seems be treated as an idol, not as their creator and benevolent friend.


  1. Jaxon says:

    I’m going to first admit that I didn’t read every single word, so this comment is based on “skim reading”.

    I would disagree that the group at bountiful “didn’t do anything” to merit Christ’s visit. They were gathered around the Temple, participating in worshipping. They were at the right place, doing the right things. They may have survived because they were “good enough,” but the visitation from The Lord came due to their faithfulness to the Gospel practices.

    For a better idea of what I’m referring to I would suggest reading, “The Second Comforter” by Denver Snuffer.

    Ultimately though, the underlying message (if I am not mistaken) is that Christ determines to when and to a whom He visits; He is not simply summoned.

    1. day2mon says:

      Thanks Jaxon, for skimming (and admitting). I’ve read the Second Comforter, and cannot see how “gospel practices” is evident in the crowd at Bountiful. Where is this found in the BoM?

      1. Jaxon says:

        You know, upon reading it closer, there isn’t a clear indication that they went to the Temple specifically to worship — conjecture and speculation at best. Thanks for pointing it out.

      2. DJL says:

        All I can see is that those who were saved didn’t have stones in their hands ready to take down whatever prophet walked into their village. That seems to be the only difference–that they weren’t murderers.

        PS – It seems that those 4th Generation Nephites figured out the the whole sacrament economy thing. True, it wiped out their whole civilization and made them into sons of Perdition as a result, but I’ll bet those were some might fine-lookin’ churches while they stood.

      3. sfort says:

        The Nephites came 11 months later after the shake up to celebrate the harvest. The tradition coincided with going to the temple. The nearest one was in Bountiful. You may notice that they recognized an entirely different view of the landscape than when they last were there. Then you realized it had been at least a year. Yes these were the most faithful. By going to the temple from distance, it provided the sacrifice necessary for them to witness what many did not.

      4. DJL says:

        Seems more like crowd convenience to me. There were many who didn’t go the first day who got to participate in the second day’s activities. Were they less righteous? Also, Christ continued to minister for a while after Bountiful. We don’t know where that was or to whom he appeared.

        Remember that those who didn’t see Christ yet still believed on the words of the messengers were more blessed, so if you are going by degrees of righteousness, then those who saw him would be less righteous than those who didn’t yet still believed.

        I say do away with the whole scale of righteousness thing. They got what they got. The important thing was how they responded. Eventually they were all converted for a few generations. Why is that not good enough for us? Is it a competition? “It’s a race to the face of The Lord! The first one there wins!”

      5. Jaxon says:

        Whoa! Listening to your MormonStories podcast and heard you’re from Pleasant Grove. Small world!

  2. Annalea says:

    “13 O all ye that are spared because ye were more righteous than they, will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you?” ~3 Nephi 9

    So, the question remains, what is “more righteous”? I happen to agree with Denver on this one: “more righteous” means more willing to obey what The Lord asks you to do, moment by moment, throughout the day. It’s is not a higher score, based on a checklist, but a condition of the heart and the practice of obedience.

    None are wholly righteous, save Jesus only. He is righteous because He did only what His Father asked Him to do. So, it is our willingness to follow Christ’s personal guidance as we imitate the model He created with His life that determines our righteousness.


    In my experience, faith is both a choice and a gift.

    It has been a choice when there have been times when I have chosen faith–to believe what God has told me–above all the evidence to the contrary. When His words have been fulfilled, my confidence has waxed stronger and stronger.

    It has been a gift when, because I obeyed an instruction asked of me by Christ, Himself, blessing has been poured out and my confidence in Jesus has grown stronger again.

    Maybe that’s a formula, maybe not. I’m still working on the semantics. 🙂

    1. DJL says:

      Sorry, it doesn’t say anything about obedience moment to moment, but here we have the exact definition of what “more righteous” means in this context:

      “And it was the more righteous part of the people who were saved, and it was they who received the prophets and stoned them not; and it was they who had not shed the blood of the saints, who were spared.”

      Seems to me that the bar was set pretty low. “You didn’t stone a prophet?” Check. “You didn’t shed the blood of a saint? Check. Okay, you’re spared.”

      Although if it does say something about obeying a voice from minute to minute, day to day, I would like to see it.

      PS – If we are to become “the children of Christ,” then we would do what we see OUR “Father” do. That is laid out in The Sermon: bless your enemies, walk a mile with those who ask it of you, etc. Some semantics to look at, anyway.

      1. Annalea says:

        JDL, contradicting me doesn’t invalidate my reasoning. 😉 I laid out in reasonable clarity why I felt obedience to the Holy Ghost determines righteousness. If you have refutation for that, I’d love to hear it. Obedience to the still small voice indicates a willingness to receive from God. Receiving the prophets definitely falls under that one.

        Based on the cultural norms and societal practices of Jewish-based culture in the Law of Moses, not participating in stoning seemed to me to be a pretty big deal. Stoning was a judgement and sentence of death. Disagreeing with that could be akin, socially, to standing up in General Conference, right in front of a camera, and dissenting during the sustaining. Except the folks who lived the Law of Moses didn’t seem to mind violence as much as we do today.

        Besides . . . did you catch what “stoning prophets” and “shedding the blood of the saints” is talking about? It’s murder. I wouldn’t call that a low bar. It takes a hard heart and a blind mind to be willing to take a life, even if it is a mob-mentality stoning.

        The Lord looks upon the heart . . . always. Outward performances are for signs and wonders to show the world what faith in Jesus can do, and to bless those around us. But they are not righteousness, in and of themselves. It is the motive behind them, and whether or not they are happening because God sent us right there, at that moment, to fill a specific need.

      2. DJL says:

        I’m just showing what the words say in context of the Lord’s explanation of why some were destroyed and others were not. I’m sure the Holy Ghost can determine righteousness, but in this case, the only explanation we have from Christ about what “more righteous” means, is that the prophets and saints were not killed by those who were spared. If there is somewhere that Jesus says that “more righteous” means ones who were obeying daily guidance from the Holy Ghost, I must have missed it.

        It wouldn’t surprise me if your conjecture about stoning and the L of M are correct. But in my book, participating in murder is a pretty low standard, meaning that “more righteous” in this case meant “not a murderer.” Of course, he did also say that they received the prophets, so there may be more to that story.

        D&C 98 tells us that sparing an enemy when they are delivered to your hands is considered righteousness, so that seems to apply here. I’ll have to dig some more and see if there are instances in scripture where it defines it as obedience, like you say.

    2. day2mon says:

      For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.

      58:27 Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;

      58:28 For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.

      58:29 But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned.

      1. Annalea says:

        Command? Where did I say (or infer) commanding?

        The Lord is talkative . . . His words never cease, along with His works. If I’m asking Him what He would have me do, moment to moment, then I’m doing the best work of my own free will, because it is good works in accordance with the will of God.

        Sometimes that might be, “Go start a non-profit,” and then I have a tremendous amount of work to do that doesn’t take moment-to-moment instruction, if I know a lot about starting non-profits.

        Sometimes it’s “Go read to your children.” I don’t need God to tell me to turn the pages, and I’ll be busy with that for quite a while.

        Sometimes it’s “Hug your son,” and then I’m ready for another instruction only a few minutes later.

        Ahhhh, semantics. Figuring out what we are all *really* saying is quite the circus sometimes, because our minds and experiences vary so widely. 🙂 Fun times!

      2. day2mon says:

        again, I’d say by “command” he means the very things you insist are just “talkative” suggestions. If we move away from the tedious and mundane, and back to the original question, we can see that if God ought not command us in all things, or we are a slothful servant, than we have a problem, as I see it, when we insist that Jesus only did what he was commanded. This model of a hierarchy of father over son is, in my opinion, a corruption and an evil. It makes slaves greater than creators, because they are following rules. Gods in this theology are the most enslaved, having to following every suggestion from the god above them. No thanks.
        In volume 5 I explain how another reading regarding Jesus and “the father” can be recovered from the BoM, sans hierarchy. I think, generally, I’m skeptical about any program that turns ordinary things that ought to be done throughout the course of the day as somehow exalting, not because of the deed done, but because one was following some powerful being. If we exclude “obedience” as adding value, as it were, to our actions, then we are left justifying ourselves on our actions alone, whether they be good or evil, and not because we are following someone else’s commands, instructions, guidance, or other verbs-of-speaking. Hence, we should be doing good, because we have that power, and not be seeking for some other power, earned after following someone’s often vague and ever-changing commands.

    3. Michael McAlpine says:

      I was struck by your comment and wanted to reply. You are stating that there is a model that Christ has left us which if we follow we are made righteous. This is a Mormon reading of scripture, so I think you are spot on with your cultural understanding.

      I grew up in the Mormon church and in the 2011 year when we last studied the New Testament I decided I would give it a read – but in a serious way. I didn’t stick to reading thematically as directed by the “study guide”. Reading for up to 10 hours a week on just that week’s material was very useful, if not frustrating to the theme leader who was asking the standard questions expecting the standard/scripted responses.

      This course of study lead me to consider that Mormons don’t really read the Bible, and don’t also read the BoM. While the BoM is often confused, we also read into scripture, not just the BoM, things that are not there. For example, the Fall of Man is not mentioned in the Book of Genesis, but is an interpretation that developed over time.

      You have read into the purpose of God’s intervention into time and space was to leave us a model through which we can make ourselves righteous. You have changed Christ into a teacher and exemplar and robbed him of his glory by making righteousness something we do.

      We bring a culture to our reading and a some 2,000 years of scriptural interpretation to our reading and understanding. We forget what scripture says and stick to the standard answers and questions. Go back and read again avoiding the programmed thematic reading we do as Mormons and really read. You will discover that God’s intervention was not about a model for us to use to make ourselves righteous.

      1. Michael McAlpine says:

        My response above is to post 7 and the third paragraph of that post.

      2. day2mon says:

        thanks Michael, as far as your response goes, I heartily agree.

  3. LDSDPer says:

    Just wanting to say that we (husband, too) read every word, and it was oddly comforting. Jesus does what needs to be done, and He is the one who knows what that is.

    I’m glad.

  4. Good Will says:

    Well, I’m finally caught up. I’ve read every word. (Ugh!) Do I get a prize?

    1. day2mon says:

      Ugh, yes. It’s waiting with my brother in law in Nigeria, a fine fellow who happened to come into a bit of inheritance…

  5. sfort says:


    I think your inlecting thoughts in there that do not exist. The Lord provides every blessing because of the desire of the heart. There is no race, nor competition. What about the LKirtland dedication? Were the saints who were in New York or abroad not blessed to be there? The Lord uses compensatory blessings on a continual basis. There is no scale for degrees of reighteousness. The journey we all take is written on our faces and hearts. Thanks for your thoughts on this. You have the right frame of reference.

  6. sfort says:


  7. DJL says:

    Well I guess that’s the question, isn’t it? Does Heaven give compensatory blessings for good deeds done on earth, or should I say.. Is that the ideal model of Heaven? It seems like a pretty easy system to hijack, whether you are an earthly administer or a spirit whispering commands (or even a god in search of a following). Not only that, with compensation comes enumeration, estates, bean counters, lawyers, judges, divisions, contentions, properties and a whole slew of problems.

    It’s true that I can bribe my kid with a cookie when he does something nice. And I may continue to give him cookies so that he can learn to understand what it feels like to be a good person. But eventually I hope that he will become mature enough that he does good things just because he wants to… Because he dwells in the place of “good,” not driven by an expectation of a compensatory cookie. That is my perception of what it means to be righteous.

  8. pmccombs says:

    Hypnotherapy is a curious thing.

    The motions and the rules are really important here, so pay attention. First, relax. Don’t worry. You have to relax. Now, put those hands together. Close your eyes. Everybody has to do this, just so.

    Here the therapist becomes an author and narrates to us no less than reality itself: I am dripping warm honey on your clasped hands. Can you feel it? Yes, you can. Feel the honey, how it flows over you, and into the cracks between your fingers and your between your palms.

    On it goes like this; we fear not and we believe, and we clasp our hands. The story becomes ever more plausible.

    Now. You have completed the ritual. You will not be able to separate your hands. Try it–open your eyes and take your hands apart. You can’t do it, can you?

    Well, *I* did it. That’s fine, not all are suitable. Some lack real intent. Some fear too much. Some will not relinquish… but those five there– look! Their hands are stuck! They will proceed to the front and take their places, and the author guides them through his program. They laugh, they cry; they smell things, see things, feel things. One of them even forgets the number three. In the end, they have new Power. They can overcome their problems.

    All in the space of minutes, the human mind has a whole new reality facilitated by a *ritual*.

    And we have a lifetime steeped in tradition. It creates our world, giving us a ritual for knowing what is real and what is not. We can have certainty; God himself will say just these things (A, B, and C), and this is how he will do it.

    It’s funny, though. When I interviewed a bunch of Catholics, they had a whole different epistemology. It wasn’t the same set of rules that gave them their knowledge, but they came to know just the same. Except.. except the ex-Mormon Catholics. They were different; they had the Mormon story still, and it was a part of their conversion to Catholicism. Make no mistake: God told them that Joseph Smith was a fraud, and all of Mormonism besides. And then God led them to a new church! Where they received an hundred fold! Who can deny the Holy Ghost and heaven’s honest truth?

    Oh, here and there you may find those to whom the Lord has made clear, *in no uncertain terms*, the veracity of Denver Snuffer’s writings. Maybe even Daymon has accrued some groupies through these same means; these rituals and rules can sometimes stick onto other things and lead in surprising directions once you’ve got them.

    The Lord is liable to say anything at all, given the right parameters.

    None of this is particularly alarming or harmful, in my opinion, until it is used to spread hierarchy, emptying people of their own volition and their own voices, in order to turn them into tools. We need to imitate this or that version of Jesus, you see, and become someone else, not us. We run scripts now, good little robots.

    Myself? I’m looking for ritual and rules. They seem to be a part of this complete human existence. I’d rather not become a tool, though.

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