I have been listening to Alonzo Gaskill’s book “Sacred Symbols: Finding Meaning in Rites, Rituals, & Ordinances” and at one point he mentions the symbolism of veils. It set me off on a search to understand this topic better. I did a simple search in Scripture Notes for:
If you’re new here, the wildcard * on the end brings in any results like veils, veiled, and so on beyond the word “veil.”
There were 58 results, and as seen below, other verses came up as well that don’t mention the word veil.
From the topical guide entry for veil, there are 3 other references not found in a search for “veil*”
There is also another reference in 1 Corinthians 11:10 which I will address below.
As can be seen there are various elements to veils. Satanic veils are to conceal light and truth from people. They are individual and global in nature. Without seeing the spiritual reality of these things, just imagine a dark covering over your head, body, or the whole earth. He’s trying to shut us out from God’s light.
On the other hand, God’s veils are not to keep us in darkness but to protect people until they are sufficiently sanctified to pass through the veils and receive more light. They are holy and hidden from the world. They veil us to protect things of a lower order from the consuming power that emanates from God which will be “utterly destroyed by the brightness of [his] coming.” (D&C 5:19).
Christ rent the veil to give us power to come to God ourselves. Then throughout scripture he informs us how to come to him in faith and ascend into heavenly realms through the veil. We are invited and commanded to do this. These are only 3 key verses which contain instructions for specifically doing this. There are other verses as well, but these contain the sacred formulas.
These elements sound simple enough as if they are “primary” answers, but as we dig into them, seeking to implement them in our lives, they can quickly become overwhelming and difficult. It’s part of the process. If rending the veil were easy and everyone did it, so many more would be condemned because of the higher knowledge they attained and then rejected by returning to Babylon. By making the process difficult, God has put a protection in place that only the serious achieve spiritual heights.
It reminds me of this statement by Thomas Paine in his letter, “The Crisis,” published December 23, 1776.
What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: ‘Tis dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated…”
Take for example removing our fears and jealousies. We quickly discover we have layers of false beliefs and traditions in place that our ego is quick to protect. It constantly tells us we are in the truth and protected from falsehood and wraps us in self-deception that make us rely on the arm of flesh instead of truly coming to God and relying on him. Practically the whole last year and a half have been reliance on the arm of flesh for the world. Panic and false promises have turned freedom in society and hearts, to false security and false hope. We have to learn to subjugate the ego and move from one state of grace to a higher, relying on faith instead of tradition (or arm of flesh knowledge). This is largely a private journey that may lead us in directions we didn’t expect. I am aware of a few people’s strange journeys they’ve taken to come to God… It’s not our place to judge what paths someone walks because, I believe, they worked that out with God before coming here and this is why blaming God for things is pointless. It was our choice of spiritual development paths that put us into our circumstances, with promises for how they would let our spirits grow.
Life is full of surprises that are both planned by God for our spiritual development, and caused by the use of our agency in opening and shutting doors along life’s journey. Our goal has to be the elimination of unbelief and the increase in our faith so that the veil of unbelief is removed and we can lift the veil that separates us from God. This takes great mental effort to tune our minds to God, but he’s promised it’s available and achievable.
What do all these things imply for why women are covered with a veil, particularly in sacred temple rituals? What is the symbolism? I think a lot of people are confused by the use of women covering their face with a veil and consider it something negative, yet consider these things…
Moses hid his face with a veil because of the power emanating from his encounter with God because the people couldn’t look upon that degree of glory, yet he wanted to lift the veil for all Israel to experience God for themselves. The Holy of Holies is concealed with a veil to protect the people from the presence of God, yet Christ removed that veil through the atonement to bring access to God to everyone. We might consider the possibility that women are “behind the veil” and not in front of it, as a protection to the rest of us and a sign of authority and that they lift the veil symbolically to reveal something powerful.
Alonzo Gaskill in his book Sacred Symbols, chapter 5, discusses the symbolism of temple clothing and in speaking of early Christian worship where the woman would wear a veil, notes that the veil was a symbol of power and authority.
In 1 Corinthians 11:10 we read “For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.” There are different interpretations of this in commentaries you can find on Bible Hub for this verse.
Most other translations of this verse change the word power to a sign or symbol of authority, and a couple translations change this to a covering or veil. In essence, the woman is clothed with power and authority in prayer and coming to God in the presence of angels.
Paul mentioned (not as doctrine) that women’s long hair is a glory and a covering to them (1 Cor. 11:15). In a sense, the covering is a veil. One interesting commentary (Ellicott’s) noted that the Jews would be familiar with the power that came from Samson not cutting his hair. It may have been equated to the concept that angels once fell to marry the daughters of men (Genesis 6:2-5) apparently because of their beauty, so women conceal their beauty (with a veil) to be modest in the presence of angels. Interesting interpretation…
Paul taught that husbands should love their wives, “even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;” (Eph. 5:25). Christ is the bridegroom (D&C 88:92) and the church is the bride, so the church as bride is concealed by a veil. The symbolism here is perhaps simply the sign of subordination to God, and modesty which we ALL must do in humility or we do not obtain the communion we seek.
Paul also taught that we are the temple of God. Then the temple must have symbolic meaning within each of us. When we engage in sacred temple worship, and are told that we must consider ourselves as if we were Adam and Eve, we see a prototype man and woman, fall, then ascend through the steps of their worship to return to God’s presence. In a macro view, we might consider the possibility that Adam, who refused the temptation of the devil, represents the spirit of both men and women. We might consider that Eve, who partook of the fruit, represents the body or natural man state of both men and women. In this sense we are all both Adam and all Eve. I suppose you could say it’s the male and female parts of us, or our yin and yang. Then at a point where women veil their faces, it could also be perceived that it is representative of the body showing subordination to God and having the need to veil itself whereas the spirit does not require having protection from the spiritual nature of coming to God.
There are many facets to this concept of veils and trying to establish just one symbolic viewpoint seems fruitless. On the one hand, there is protection for the wearer, another view is the sign of subordination (both to the husband, and to God), and on the other, it is a sign of power and authority and being in God’s presence.
Jewish customs also state that a man is to place the veil on the woman he’s marrying as a sign that he will clothe and provide for her and that he marries and values her for more than her outer beauty. It was also to prevent the mistake made by Jacob where he was tricked into marrying Leah instead of Rachel because she came to the wedding heavily veiled leaving him unaware who she was.
The whole of scripture is ripe with the symbolism that we are entering into a marriage covenant with God. Perhaps the unveiling and revealing of the bride is somewhat reminiscent of the uncovering or circumcision of the heart where our love for God is uncovered and unrestricted. That’s speculative and something to ponder, but the word uncover reminds me of the definition of circumcision.
The scriptures are amazing and when viewed in light of the ancient customs, gives a richer meaning than what people in today’s world often ascribe to a cursory examination viewed by today’s standards.
(Featured image by iakovenko at 123rf.com)
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