Monday, February 6, 2012

The Spiritual Symbolism of Veils


I have been thinking about writing this post ever since I posted my “Getting Adam to Partake” essay several months ago. I realized after I wrote it that there is a lot of confusion and misconceptions about the practice and tradition of women wearing veils.

The practice of women wearing veils is found repeatedly throughout the scriptures, and for a good portion of human history it has been common for women (and sometimes men) to veil their heads and faces. Today, in many religions around the world (not just Islam) women still cover their heads and their faces when they are in the presence of people not of their family and/or during religious ceremonies and practices. It is a tradition seeped in powerful religious symbolism and one which Satan has done a good job of misconstruing.

Today many people see a veil as an indicator that what ever is being veiled needs to be protected from outside influences because it is weak, unimportant, or should be controlled. For example there are people in the world who argue that women need to be veiled in order to protect them from men and their lusts. Or in a similar vein, there are people who see veils as a way to keep something secret, hidden, and untouched. Yet the truth is that such interpretations of veils are exactly opposite from what they really symbolize.

The reason you veil something is because it is powerful and the veil is to protect those outside of it from the power beneath it.

Let me give several scriptural examples to illustrate what I mean.

First, in Exodus 26 the Lord gave Moses instructions about how to build the tabernacle. Moses was instructed that a veil should be hung around the Holy of Holies, in order to separate it from the rest of the tabernacle. Later in Leviticus 16: 2, 15 we learn that the Holy of Holies possessed sacred power and that anyone who entered into it without the proper authority, or without an atoning sacrifice, would die. The veil was to protect those outside from the power within.

Second, in Exodus 34:33-34 we read how when Moses came down from the mount, after speaking face to face with God, his face shone so brightly that the children of Israel were afraid to be in his presence. He had to veil his face while he was talking to them because they couldn't look upon him. Yet Moses didn't veil when he talked to God, only when he spoke in front of the congregation. Verse 34 says,

“But when Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he took the vail off, until he came out. And he came out, and spake unto the children of Israel that which he was commanded.”
2 Corinthians 3:13 also explains that one of the reasons Moses veiled his face in front of the children of Israel, but not before God, was because Israel was not yet ready for the power and knowledge that Moses possessed. But that when Israel “… shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away… But we all, with open faces beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 3: 16, 18)

Third, in D&C 101:23 God explains that He himself wears a veil.

“And prepare for the revelation which is to come, when the veil of the covering of my temple, in my tabernacle, which hideth the earth, shall be taken off, and all flesh shall see me together.” (emphasis added)
The veil which we often think as being "over the earth” is actually over God. God is the one being veiled because the earth is not yet ready for the knowledge and power He possesses. In fact, God warns that in the day when He does reveal himself to the earth that,
“…every corruptible thing, both of man, or of the beasts of the field, or of the fowls of the heavens, or of the fish of the sea, that dwells upon all the face of the earth, shall be consumed; And also that of element shall melt with fervent heat; and all things shall become new, that my knowledge and glory may dwell upon all the earth.” (24-25)
God keeps himself veiled because if we were to see Him, in our fallen and sinful state, we would not be able to withstand His presence, we would burn-- physically and spiritually. His power and glory are that great.

Understanding these scriptures can also help us better understand the concept of modesty and why, both men and women, clothe their bodies. Clothing, in any form, is a type of veil. Joseph Smith once taught,

“All beings who have bodies have power over those who have not.” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (2007), 211.)
Our bodies are powerful and when we clothe them or veil them we are acknowledging and respecting that power. Satan doesn’t have a body, nor the power that comes with one, and so he tries to coerce us into misusing our bodies to do his work. The one and only way he can gain power over us is if those with bodies give it to him.

Most of the religious women I know who veil do it because they understand this principle in one degree or another. In my “Getting Adam to Partake” post I said,

“…my Muslim friends understood something that, at that time in my life, I was only beginning to comprehend. They knew that because they were women they had real POWER housed within their souls. They knew that they had the power to love men and to attract them to them-- hopefully for life. They knew that within their bodies lay the ability to bestow life and that how they chose to use that power would affect future generations. They fully comprehended the importance and divinity of that power and as a result they protected it and refused to misuse it.”
For every righteous thing Satan always comes up with a counterfeit and veils are no exception. Satan and the world have turned veils into symbols of oppression and ignorance. He wants us to think that the power of wickedness and darkness are what is powerful and that we need to veil things to keep them protected and pure, but that mentality ascribes way more power to Satan and the world than they actually have.

The real power lies in us, the children of God, who have been endowed with a physical body that possesses a portion of God's unfathomable power. The veil, whether worn around our heads or around our bodies, is a constant reminder to the followers of darkness that what lies beneath is powerful... really powerful... and that they will never be able to have it.

As long as we don't give our power away.

Update 12/28/12:

I was recently reading the list of symbols in "The Lost Language of Symbolsim" by Alonzo Gaskill and was really struck by what the ancient symbol of a veil represented. It said: 

"Veils : Three significant symbolic connotations of a veiled face are chastity, virtue, and modesty; submission, obedience, or commitment; and divinely recognized authority or power possessed by the veiled person."

This symbolism would have been much more understood anciently than it is today, when veils have lost much of their real meaning. It makes me sad that so many brides today are omitting (or refusing to wear) a veil, because is really an incredible symbol of female power and authority. It has just been so corrupted that the real meaning has been lost, and with it women's understanding of who they really are and their innate power.

33 comments:

  1. Awesome. I will be pondering on this.

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  2. Wow. I have been doing a lot of pondering and research with regards to modesty, and it would appear that I have only scratched to surface of this topic, after reading your words.

    Thank you for taking the time to write this blog! I have gained so much from it. You are definitely blessing the lives of many.

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  3. Thank you for sharing your insights on this. I'm at a loss of words actually.

    Your insights throughout your blog inspire me. To think, ponder, search, and grow.

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  4. What an amazing post. Truly beautiful and important...I'm sharing!

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  5. When I was first having issues with the veiling in the temple, this explanation gave me peace. But since then, I have found it troublesome. What does it mean that women have power that must be veiled and kept from men during a prayer? I feel that it puts my husband beneath me. And I can't stand for that. Whether the veil is used as a barrier to keep people from what's under or to keep what's under from what is out, it is stil a barrier. And my relationship with my husband does not require a barrier. Humanity needs less barriers. That is what is beautiful about relationships: the uncovered vulnerability. I don't believe God puts a veil between us, I believe people put it there. He wants to embrace us and for us to be equals.

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    1. God hasn't put a veil to separate us from our men. I feel honored to veil in the presence of the Lord.

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    2. "A shamefaced and faithful woman is a double grace, and her continent mind cannot be valued."
      - Ecclesiasticus 26:15

      "But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away." - 2 Corinthians 3:14

      Marriage between a Man and a Woman is symbolic of Christ and the Church. Who lifts the Bride's Veil?

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  6. TopHat:

    I don't know if this will help at all, but one day in the temple as I was sitting veiled during the prayer, it occured to me that my veil was a representation of the veil at which I meet the Lord. Since then, veiling has been one of my favorite parts of the ceremony.

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  7. Thanks for this post. It makes sense for me to think about the veil placed over us at birth to really mean that God is veiled. We can't yet abide His glory.
    Tophat: I think your concern makes sense. I guess that is why we continue going to the temple, to try and understand the symbolism and so the Spirit can teach us. Whenever there are things in the Gospel I don't understand or that seem unfair, I just remember what Nephi said: "I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things." 1 Ne 11:17.

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  8. MommyD, that is my favorite scripture!

    Tophat, I see what you mean. It isnt right to say that women have more power or are more spiritual then men. That just isnt true. Men and women are equals, in blessings and power. I dont want to try to interpret anything in the temple, that is something the spirit has to teach. Yet i find it interesting that men and women are dressed remarkably similar, except for what they wear on their heads. In the scriptures "heads" often indicate power and authority. Often we assume because men have priesthood authority and power given to them that women dont have a similar , yet different power and authority given to them. Perhaps veils are indications that we do. It doesnt put men and women on different levels but on the same level.

    It is also important to note that veils are not worn when a couple is being sealed, unlike a traditional christian marriage. It is the uniting of the two powers and that can be done face to face, as equals in blessings and power.

    I also love what Michelle said, veils are Totally symbolic of so many more things than just power, and it is very worth studying the scriptures deeper on them.

    But like i said, it is not my place to interpret things, i am just sharing my thoughts. And you should always pray and ponder and like MommyD said have faith that God has answers that he will teach us.

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  9. An interesting take on things, but unfortunately, the rest of the temple ceremony does not support that interpretation. While there was indeed a veil between the Holy and the Holy of Holies in the temple of the Old Testament, the veil was torn in two when Christ was crucified, and many people believe that symbolizes that access to the great Mediator no longer must go through the High Priest but can be accessed directly by each individual. The problem of course is that women must make a temple covenant that implies that their relationship to God is not direct, but goes through her husband, and the putting of the veil that was once rent in two, back in place again, seems to solidify this feeling. Which is why women like myself can find the temple symbolism to be very hard to grapple with.

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    1. I read a great article about the Temple ceremony and it really helped me understand what was being said about my role as a woman in the plan of salvation.
      First of all, it is important to realize that the first "ordinance" all people must experience, the first step to becoming like our Heavenly Father, is birth.
      When Eve partook of the fruit and gave it to Adam, she established their mortal birth. She initiated and took that first step in their journey and progression together. As her daughters, all women are given the role of motherhood. We carry, birth, and raise Gods children. The first step to becoming like God is having a body like Him. As Eve was the first to recognize the significance of mortality, posterity, and progression through adversity, so she was given the awesome responsibility of bringing it to all of Gods children, and, in so doing, bringing us all one step closer to Celestial Glory.
      To give Adam and his sons an equal role in bringing about the immortality and eternal life of man, they were given the priesthood. The power to bind in Heaven whatever is bound on Earth.
      God wanted us, men and women, to need one another. We are both responsible for saving ordinances, and we both participate in the primary responsibilities of the other. Fathers are involved in the conception of children and women teach and lead at church, at home, and participate in the priesthood in Temple Ordinances.
      If women feel unequal, it is because Satan has demeaned them to the point of ridiculousness. He has attempted to pervert the truth that motherhood is part of your divine right and a necessary part of the eternal progression of EVER SINGLE SOUL on this planet.
      As Eve was a leader in the Garden of Eden, the Lord asked her to allow Adam to be more involved in the next step of their progression. He did so out of respect for Eve's great wisdom. Eve chose her role as mother and bringer of mortality, and as such Adam was assigned the role of Father and Priesthood holder.

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  10. Heather,
    thank you for sharing. I have been thinking for years that the veil symbolizes a tree, and that women are trees of life to their families. Just as trees provide a filter or barrier, so do veils, and so do women. I really like your post about two trees and was excited to see that it is along the same lines as I have been thinking. I have a book coming out soon about it, but you can read a summary here
    http://www.celestiashumway.com/2009/04/tree-of-life-motif-how-it-applies-to.html

    I am so excited to find your blog! I invite you to come to my web site where I currently blog, it's all about the tree/woman/mother theme for LDS women. treeoflifemothering.com

    thanks,
    Celestia Shumway

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  11. Hi Heather, I'm a little confused by your essay and I hope you can clarify something for me. I currently live in Saudi Arabia. I read in your other post about the hijab. It seems to me that when you refer to veiling, in context to Muslim women, that you are referring to the hijab. If that is the case, I think you are a little mistaken. At least in Saudi Arabia, the hijab is different than the veil. A hijab is a covering that is worn over the hair and neck. A veil can additionally be worn over the hijab, which covers the mouth, nose, cheeks and forehead, with small slits for the eyes. Would you please clarify your meaning?? Thanks!

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  12. Swedemom, i know that veiling is called different things in lots of arab countries. In Jordan the hijab is the headscarf that covers te hair and neck. Among the people I associated with they called it a veil, maybe it was a matter of differences in language, none of them were native englsh speakers. I know that most of them didnt approve of the extreme face veils that the saudi women wore. But there was a wide variety of " veils" or headscarves that my muslim friends wore. In englsh they called them all veils, but like i said it may have been a language difference.

    In my getting adam to partake post i was referin to women who wore veils, or headscarves, by Choice and not by coercion- which there was plenty of too. I am sure you see it in Saudi Arabia too, that there is a huge difference between women who choose to veil or those who are for forced to.

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  13. Heather, thank you for response to my question. While I was reading, I kept thinking of the veils and hijabs I see all the time. So it kept throwing me for a loop because I realized you seem to be referring to the hijab.

    I can't even speak a word of Arabic (I've only been here a few days) nor am I a student of the Middle East. I'm just relating what I've seen.

    According to the coverings that are worn in Saudi Arabia, I would tend to think that the term "veil" would be a mis-translation. However, as I mentioned before, I don't know Arabic at all, so the word may indeed be appropriate.

    I find it interesting that the Jordanians considered the Saudi Arabian use of the hijab and veil extreme. I confess that I find the veiling of one's face extremely disconcerting. (Can you imaginge what a small child must feel like if lost in the store and surrounded by women whose faces are veiled?)

    I wear an abaya when I go out in public out of respect and also to avoid confrontation with the religious police. Riyadh is the most conservative city in Saudi Arabia.

    I find it curious though when I go to the stores, to see clothing which is very immodest. It makes me wonder if these women wearing abayas are dressed very differently underneath. I also wonder how their husbands, fathers, and brothers feel about that.

    On a different note: RunnerGirl20, my own feelings about the use of the veil and certain covenants in the temple mirror yours. I struggle mightily with this. While I appreciate Heather's discussion, I'm not sure that it totally clarifies things for me or makes me feel differently. I'm certainly struggling along, trying to make sense of it.

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  14. Thank you for this, and for every single article you have written on this blog.

    Isabell

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  15. I had another thought this morning. Like you, I've spoken to women who wear the veil out of a deep sense of meaning and spiritual obligation. I find that really meaningful and powerful.

    But I don't necessarily think that ALL women who wear the abayas, hijabs, and veils (at least not in Riyadh) do so out of deep religious devotion. The consequences for refusing to wear the coverings are severe. In my mind, that is where a line is crossed. In our church, while we encourage certain standards of modesty, we don't enforce it with threats of violence.

    I also think there is a double standard there. The men who wear traditional dress--head covering, long sleeved robes which are also long--seem to me to be more respectful. I also see men wearing western dress without reprucussions. To me it doesn't seem fair that men aren't compelled to follow the modesty standards in the same way.

    But at the same time, there is some type of pressure for men to maintain some standards. My husband realized, after a couple of trips to Saudi Arabia, that wearing short sleeved shirts and shorts was completely inappropriate in that culture. We looked around and we are able to find clothing in a fabric that wasn't terribly hot and still was modest.

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  16. Am I the only one who thought of the palantir that Saruman keeps veiled in LOTR when they read this?

    Thank you for the food for thought!

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  17. Ran into this today which mentioned how veils are looked at as described by an Iranian historian: http://gbbothsidesnow.blogspot.com/2012/02/musings-on-modesty.html

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  18. Hi Runnergirl20, I just read your comment and wanted to make a remark. We, men and women, have always had access to the great Mediator throughout all history - our link to Him has been and always will be direct. No one stands between us and Salvation. The suggestion that the veil to the Holy of Holies or High Priest stopping anyone from having a direct relationship with Christ is incorrect.

    I understand the covenant in the temple to which you refer. That covenant does not alter my relationship with God - perhaps with my husband but not with God.

    The role of the High Priest was to perform ordinances just as they do today (sacrifices in antiquity/ sacrament today). We all depend on someone else performing those ordinances for us. For example, no one can baptize themselves.

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    1. Hi Moma Curls. I don't believe she made any reference to the high priest stopping anyone from having a direct relationship with [Jehovah] or Christ. The veil separating the Holy of Holies was, however, in accordance with revealed law according to the Old Testament....or the Old Covenant. Christ revealed new law and fulfilled the old. In the sacrifice of Himself the veil of the temple was opened. (see Matt. 27:51, Luke 23:45, Hebrews 6:19-20) It could be you did not entirely understand the veiling to which she referred. There's so much to learn each time we attend the temple, isn't there? I can promise though, that there is nothing God desires of His children in that sacred place that does anything but represent His love and blessing for the edification of His children.

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  19. My feelings on this matter are that Heavenly Father provided a shelter for a woman, to house her emotions and expressions during such a private and emotional time for many women. Men weep, surely. Men feel powerful feelings. However, women are more prone to weep and feel our tender feelings to the point of it being seen on our faces and in our expressions. To me, this is my Father sheltering me... not because I am weak, but because my faith and expression of my prayers in my faith are powerful, sacred, and private.
    I appreciate the veil so much and often wish I could keep it over my face during more of the temple experience.

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    1. Thank you for that insight. I love it!

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  20. I love your thoughts here, Heather. While reading your post, I kept thinking about how we are told that, when we are born and take on our mortal bodies, a veil is drawn for us. That veil is keeping us from seeing the power of Heaven that was found in our premortal existence. It reminds me of the need of the Tree of Life to be guarded by cherubim with flaming swords; there is more power there now than we can deal with in our current states.

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  21. Thank you for this! I've been searching for an answer on this for awhile and the only things I could find online were anti-mormon sites. I'm so glad I came across this blog. Thank you for the great explanation and symbolism of the veil.

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  22. In regards to veiling in the temple, it has occurred to me that perhaps it is an indication that our Heavenly Mother is just as present as our Heavenly Father during our prayers, she is just "veiled" from us. We are, after all, created in Her image, so I would think there are whispers of Her somewhere in the temple ceremony.

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  23. Colleen, your explanation really resonates with me. I'll definitely consider that next time I'm in the temple, as well as look for other suggestions of Heavenly Mother. Thank you.

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  24. I love this post! Thanks, Heather, for your insights, and thanks to all the commenters for yours as well! In regards to the discussion on veiling in the temple, I have a few ideas, but it is difficult to express them here in such a public forum. I will try to do the best I can.
    One thing we have to remember about the temple ceremony is that everything in it has been around since the creation of the world (or longer). Because the clothing and ceremonies are ancient, they sometimes seem strange to us in the culture we're part of today. But even in the Bible, there are stories where women veil their faces. And Paul exhorts the women in 1 Corinthians to cover their heads. So, in ancient times, the veiling would have seemed normal to them.
    Of course, everything in the temple is symbolic, and the more we think about the symbols, the more ways we can see them. I like Michelle's comment about the veil during prayer representing the veil between us and the Lord. I spoke with my mother about this, and she has had a similar feeling - that the veil during the prayer is the same as the veil between us and the Lord, just as is symolized elsewhere during the temple ceremony.
    In thinking about this, I realized that I could think of the prayer in a different way than I had ever thought of it before. If we think of each woman as representing "all living", and we think of each man as representing God, then, during prayer, we see a very personal relationship between God and those living on Earth. When we pray to Him, although we are not able to look upon His face, we come close to Him, and He figuratively takes us by the hand, almost drawing us into His presence. It mirrors the time when God WILL draw us into His presence, through the veil. But for now, when we speak to Him in prayer, we come close to Him and are led by Him.
    I hope what I am saying makes sense. I would like to describe my ideas more explicitly, but do not feel that I can do so here. Thanks for the great discussion!

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    1. I love this concept and it feels true and powerful as I let it sink in.

      Years ago I wanted to understand the concept of veiling but didn't get very far. Thank you everyone for your comments and Heather for the post!

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