Dancing in Worship
If this round dancing in the prayer circle seems peculiar, recall Lehi’s vision at the beginning of The Book of Mormon, where he sees God on his throne “surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God” ((The Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 1:8)). Nibley comments:
Surrounding concourses are concentric circles, and the singing and praising are never static: it is a dynamic picture with everything in motion, as Lehi sees it, and as the cosmic pattern of the thing requires. The prayer circle is often called the chorus of the apostles, and it is the meaning of chorus which can be a choir, but is originally a ring dance. ((Nibley, Hugh, et al. Mormonism and Early Christianity. Vol. 4. Salt Lake City, Utah; Provo, Utah: Deseret Book Co.; Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1987, 53-54))
The temple is a university of learning, where our whole person is instructed and taught, body, mind and spirit. A disembodied spirit has never been able to perform these sacred ordinances alone because it requires a physical body. The ceremonies are both physical and intellectual activities that have changed little since the foundation of this world. However, as Nibley points out, they may at some point have involved more physical activity in the form of a type of dance. Evidence shows that dance may anciently have been part of the temple environment, and that it may again be in the future.
Hugh Nibley has provided a wealth of information on the history and context of the temple in antiquity. He reminds us:
Latter-day Saints believe that their temple ordinances are as old as the human race and represent a primordial revealed religion that has passed through alternate phases of apostasy and restoration which have left the world littered with the scattered fragments of the original structure, some more and some less recognizable, but all badly damaged and out of proper context. ((Nibley, Hugh, et al. The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment. 2nd ed. Vol. 16. Salt Lake City, Utah; Provo, Utah: Deseret Book; Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, Brigham Young University, 2005, xxvii))
I believe that the round dance, which has been entrenched in cultures throughout the world, and as seen in the dances of people ancient and modern, is a prime example of a scattered fragment of the temple ordinance given to our first parents, Adam and Eve. It has been corrupted and passed down through all ages of time. It is for this reason that so many cultures, no matter how diverse their beliefs or locations, still exhibit some of the same patterns in their round dances. Furthermore, dance itself, as an art form, may have originally come from the temple, or at least from the great ritualistic dance dramas performed by ancient societies enacting their fragmented versions of the temple ceremonies. We are blessed to know the true origin of these practices, and to have the true presently revealed and restored form available to us in the vast numbers of temples being constructed around the globe. The temple is the true center of our civilization and society, as it has always been, and we must work to help it be the center of our lives.
Dance they in a ring in heaven
All the blessed in that garden
Where the love divine abideth
Which is all aglow with love.
In that ring dance all the blessed
In that ring dance all the angels
Go they before the Bridegroom Dance
All of them for love.
In that court is joyfulness
Of a love that’s fathomless.
All of them go to the dancing
For the Savior whom they love. ((Taylor, Margaret Fisk. A Time to Dance: Symbolic Movement in Worship. Philadelphia: United Church Press, 1967, 106))
It can be plainly seen from the preceding posts that this type of ritual practice is not out of place in the milieu of worship. In fact, it sits squarely in middle of the history of early Christian worship, and prior to that, it has gone back to the beginning of time. If Joseph Smith made up the LDS temple ordinances, or even pilfered them from fraternal organizations, then our learned critics have the task of explaining why these things are a recognized pattern of religious worship in literature, art, and practice since the world began. Surely Joseph Smith did not have enough formal education, or even access to sufficient scholarly materials, to have compiled such rites from comparative historical studies. The temple ordinances were revealed from God to the prophet Joseph Smith, just as they have been revealed to every prophet of every dispensation since the world began.
Tia Roskelley Fowles
Wow, I have to say, my research paper for this same class was nothing compared to this. What great insights and connections. I knew there was a reason I felt such a deep spiritual connection with dancing. Thank you for sharing this paper with us!
Thanks Tia! It was a fun paper to research and write.
I think that dancing, like crying or laughing, is inborn in each of us. It is part of who we are. Since the day my baby was born she has been dancing and moving to the music. Where did she learn how to do that? We didn’t teach her that, she just started doing it one day and hasn’t stopped since. I think there is much more to dance than we usually think. There are eternal qualities to dance. It is not just a passing hobby in this life.
My main question is when and why was dancing inserted into a prayer circle to make it a round dance?
Well, I would say that that the Latter-day Saints believe that the form of ritual worship of God can and has changed through different dispensations. When we say “dancing” we are referring to motion in the circle. The form of the ancient prayer circle might have involved motion at different points in time, as Nibley has shown us. These things are flexible and adaptable. The form of the worship in Moses’ tabernacle, for instance, was quite different, but still had quite familiar elements.
But more than that, many of the examples I’ve shared were, what I believe, “apostate” forms of the prayer circle, which had devolved from a form of worship to a form of entertainment and recreation. Many of them lost the real meaning behind the circle. Ritual turned to art, and we can see this in many diverse examples in literature, dancing, painting, theater, etc. Nibley taught that all the muses originally came from the temple, but had still changed significantly from their source.
I suppose your second point is the answer I had in mind when I asked the question.
I was wondering if you concluded in your research that the dancing was inserted after apostasy from the true ordinances.
Although I guess it is always plausible that different dispensations danced, or moved, in their prayer circles.
I believe that it is possible that in different dispensations, and in different contexts and places, there may be movement in the circle, just as Lehi’s vision describes the heavenly circle “in the attitude of singing and praising their God.” Whether it be a “prayer” circle or another type of circle, I don’t know. But what is prayer other than a form of worshiping God? Prayers sometimes occur in the form of song or praise.
D&C 25: 12
12 For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads.
It could be that this scripture has much to so with the idea of the prayer circle being a chorus. It states pretty clearly that the song of the righteous (temple recommend holders) is a “prayer” unto me. (a.k.a the prayer circle)
What do you think of the Muslim practice of praying in concentric circles around the Kaaba?
I am truly happy that I have finally sat down and read this paper through. It has fed my mind and spirit. Thanks for posting, Bryce.