Last week we looked at the process of creation from the standpoint of the church, the world and the universe. This last week of December, we will look more closely at the ascension process from an individual level. In Creation, the individual human was created last. This time, the last is first, and it is the initiate who must learn to begin the process of re-creation for first, self, and then for family, and eventually for the creations the initiate hopes to have. Jesus Christ provided the plan, opened the way, and gave the example. The ordinances of the gospel empower us through the priesthood and the miracle of the atonement, to become trees of life in the forest of cedars. "The trees of the Lord are full of sap; the cedars of Lebanon, which he hath planted."1 The verses go on to say that those trees become the home for plant and animal life. When we become planted in holy places, it is our privilege to welcome under and into our branches those who need our shelter and our love.
The Tree of Life
We are to become temples. Temples are the Tree of Life, therefore, we are to become Trees of life and bear fruit. The scriptures teach us how to do this:
Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves - It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.
(Alma 32: 28)
The resurrected Savior can be seen as the cross brought to life, or the Tree of Life. Within Him are the seeds of eternal life and when we are born of Him and grow to spiritual maturity, we too, through the empowerment of the temple, plant the seed that will grow to fruition. Symbolically, we partake of that fruit and gain the blessings Lehi and Nephi expounded on in their vision of the tree. Since we take upon us the name of Christ through sacred priesthood ordinances, we participate in our own salvation through our own changed Christ-like natures. We become a planting from the true vine when we qualify to begin our own garden.
Climbing the Christmas Tree
To qualify for exaltation, we progress up Jacob's ladder.2 The evergreen tree is so perfect in so many ways to show the ascension process. The boughs grow out in the four directions. The broad lower boughs are where most fruit ends up. (At Christmas time we don't want to dwell on the rotten fruit that falls to the ground.) The higher the branches go, the smaller they get. The fruit of an evergreen are the seeds hidden within the spiral cones. Some evergreens bear fruit that is only enlivened by fire. It takes a forest fire to bring about new life. We learn from Matt. 3:11 that the baptism of fire purges out corruption so an incorruptible seed can be planted. The purging brings about new life. In 1 Peter 1:23, Peter refers to that baptism of fire: "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever."
If we were to decorate a Christmas tree properly, according to symbolic order, red bulbs (fruit) would go on the bottom boughs and the colors of decorations would change as you go higher with the colors of the rainbow, which carry a lot of meaning. When a drop of black ink is dropped on an absorbent cloth, the colors separate. Red is the lowest frequency and the coarsest color and it does not ascend very high. Orange is more refined and travels higher. Yellow is above that, then green, blue, indigo, and finally, the most refined color of all is violet. So, our tree would have each of these colors on the correlating branches. Each color gives off a frequency which is a wave of energy, a musical note. Red is the lowest note and up, completing the seven notes of an octave scale (there are eight if the first is repeated at the top). The fun thing is, Christ has said that which is scarlet can become white as snow through Him. So, the first is last and is a pure white star atop the tree. A white star is the same as a white stone, which is very symbolic and has been talked about throughout our articles. When one reaches the top, (Facsimile 2, fig. 2), they are touched by the finger of God and become a lighted staff, a tree of life. Then, as that new star, they lay the foundation of a new tree, their eternal offspring, their new creation. The article Pounding in Tent Stakes explained how the foundation stone is a Urim and Thummim. It is the new white stone spoken of in the Book of Revelation. The capstone brings forth the diamond in the crown, the star on the tree that becomes the foundation for the next generation of creation.
The Alaskan Inuits have traditionally believed in a moon spirit who was concerned with fertility. The round moon with a face is drawn on a square background, with round hoops around that to denote the cosmos and demonstrating again how prevalent the idea has been that the combination of the circle and the square illustrate the workings of the cosmos. All along the top are feathers which the Inuits believed signify stars. They taught that there are 3 major spiritual forces and the moon spirit is the third member of that force.3 Many Native American tribes believe that the chief should receive a new feather each time one of his people complete the rituals and become a man. The feathers, denoting stars, have markings that identify the new man and become his mark for starting his own home and family. The warrior's rights are founded on the authority of the chief as father of his tribe with the ability to set up new fathers under him. So, back to the tree, we have the sacred sea of glass as the foundation stone, and we have the new Urim and Thummim born from the top of the tree.
A blessing of the gospel is that we know that everyone who receives a glory, will end up where they will feel the most comfortable. Their own personal frequency is the same as the color, or the level on the tree where they end up. This does not mean that everything on that level is only that color. Frequency is a subject which deserves more time and attention but will have to wait for another time.
A quick word about the wonderful apocryphal work The Ascension of Isaiah that we have referred to before; Isaiah was taken up through the seven heavens that legend refers to. Let us outline how that works. Each of the three kingdoms has three major levels. Hell is the lowest level of the telestial kingdom so it is not a glory. So we begin with the middle level of the telestial kingdom. Counting up, there are two in the bottom kingdom, and three in the terrestrial kingdom. Isaiah explained that the brightness of the next level, which would be the bottom of the Celestial kingdom, was dramatically brighter than that beneath it. Last of all, he came into the presence of the Lord in the middle level of the Celestial Kingdom. So where is the highest level? In our opinion, it cannot be shown as the others are for when someone qualifies for that kingdom, they are a planting from the original tree, a star in the crown of the Lord. They are then qualified, when the time is right, to begin their kingdom in various parts of the cosmos as a new Heavenly Father or Mother. Thus, the seven levels would be seven spirals of branches going up what we call the Christmas Tree of Life.
When we pick out a good tree what do we look for? Good balance, a symmetrical spiral of branches to the top. Finally, we have a great visual for another aspect of reading Facsimile 2. It should not be seen as flat and one or even two dimensional. We have already established the center pillar, the trunk of the tree. The branches represent the spiral process up to the top and also symbolize the four cardinal directions. They protect the trunk and the fruit (cones and seeds within).
The Tree and the Cave
Many ancient mythologies connect trees and caves. The tree of life is sometimes shown with a cave beneath it. In the story of Isis and the dead Osiris, the world tree holds the body of Osiris hidden within the middle of the trunk.
Facsimile 2, figure 1, is a type for many things including the spiritual creation of the universe, the birth of Christ, and our spiritual rebirth by fire. Also it is the middle of the pillar, the center of the cross. Life comes from death. The holly berries represent that bitter but necessary fruit which brings life to all who apply for His grace.
The rebirth is represented there. Also the birth of Christ, the author of the rebirth is found in figure 1.
Some cultures have the tradition of hiding gifts within the boughs of the tree, and of course there is the common practice of sheltering gifts beneath the tree. Evergreen branches resemble feathers and so we can see a connection of hiding the gifts with hiding the birth of the new baby birthed from the Egyptian Atef crown. The center of the crown is sheltered and protected by two tall feathers on either side. This brings us back to Facsimilie 2, fig. 1. The three mountains in the middle of Facsimile 2 can also depict two gods back to back. A god, sitting in that position is the Egyptian hieroglyphic for god. The two gods are the two Maat feathers of protection for the baby born hidden between them. The protective gods have the flail and the crook which are symbolic of the power that created, being the whip of light or power, bestirring all things to life and action.4 The Maat scepter of light in fig. 2 shines down on the cave of fig. 1 like the star of Bethlehem . Nibley wrote that "Osiris causes brilliance to stream forth through the two feathers."5 The sacred cave can also be symbolized by a beehive which is the protected place for new life.6 The unified work of the humming bees helps to bring about this life.
Bethlehem means the house of bread. The night the Savior was born, the bread of life was offered to the world. Both heaven and earth participated in the birth that night. The star, and the choir of angels were joined by the humble creatures of the earth who surrounded the manger of their king.
The top half of Fac. 2 seems to represent the choirs of angels, (fig. 22 and 23) and the star (Maat's staff of light in fig. 2). The bottom half seems to represent those who were in the cave, the herbs of the field, the animals; lambs, cattle, etc. Christ's birth, (fig. 1) joins together heaven and earth. The Lord's step-father fills the role of midwife at the birth. Those named Joseph often are sent by Heavenly Father to feed and protect the infant; the new tribe of Israel in the time of Joseph of Egypt, and the renewed spiritual tribe of Israel in the time of Joseph Smith. Again a Joseph was sent to watch the sacred mother and her child. In the article Into the Wilderness, we thoroughly explored the subject of the Church symbolizing the mother and Israel symbolizing the child. Joseph stood in for the Father in that cave and kept the child safe and hidden, though a star shone down on that holy place.
That cave was set on a solid foundation and had a strong canopy. We have previously discussed the Hebrew letter 'mem' which resembles a cave with a door and a ray of light shining down, penetrating the cave. The mem is the letter considered by the Jewish scholars to be the basis for creation. It is at the center of the Hebrew alphabet.
As the seed of Abraham with the right to be King, Christ was born as the baby ram of the high father. This is the meaning of the name Abram in Hebrew. Abraham takes a fun turn in meaning. Ab means father, ra means "see" or "behold." We can think of the Egyptian sun god, Ra, from which all creation stems. The eye of Ra and our sunstone make a good parallel. The last part of the name can be read as "the mem". Putting it all together would make Christ "Behold the Father of Creation". As we learn from Facsimile Three, Abraham sits on the throne by permission of the pharaoh, who is thought to be the legitimate father of his people. Our Heavenly Father, shares His promise of eternal lives through the Abrahamic Covenant.7
The people of Spain have a tradition that the cows breathed onto Christ warming Him, making us think of the breath of life. That cave is both tomb and womb. The Ark of the Covenant is like a cave and the manger would be a type for the Mercy Seat. If the Hathor/Taurus symbol at the bottom of Fac. 2, fig. 5, is really the type for the baptismal font in the basement of the temples, then when the newborn initiate is cleaned up, anointed, and dressed, he/she is sent up higher, eventually reaching the mercy seat. Christ began His mortal life from the mercy seat itself. Nibley taught that "the throne 'makes' the king."8 The altar of the temple is a representation of the throne, also the central pillar.
Cherubim protect the tree of life, which is Christ. They protect the new birth of those who take His holy name upon themselves. In figures 22 and 23 of Facsimile 2, we find types for the cherubim, and also the Egyptian figures of Isis and Nephthys who protect both the body of Osiris and the newborn son of Osiris. As discussed many times in previous articles, animals are used to portray various qualities that explain certain concepts. Figures 22 and 23 are apes. Many times, they are also shown as baboons. Years ago, while reading books by Nibley that mentioned baboons, I would be slightly disgusted. I do not like those animals and could not imagine why they would be used to describe any useful quality. After years of study and plenty of humbling, I now appreciate baboons. They are fiercely protective and most important of all for their role in fig. 1, they are the animal that first announces to the world in a loud voice, the rising of the newborn sun on each new day. The snakes in front of both apes or baboons in fig. 1, symbolize the energy of death and new life. The things we studied in the last article, When the Christmas Lights Go Out, should complete this picture of a prayer circle, singing, the fire of dancing (baptism of fire), and the new birth on the altar. The choir of angels that appeared to the shepherds would have brought a great deal of power for the new birth. They announced (like the baboons) the new birth of the son to the shepherds who are symbolic for those who will go into all the world to feed His sheep.
Baboons, like jackals, lions, and sphinxes, protect the new baby, but unlike these other examples, they raise their voice in announcement and rejoicing. They also have arms like humans which would be necessary. We are definitely not saying baboons were the choir of angels. This is only symbolic. After finally getting over my revulsion of that animal, I now think the type is very beautiful and powerful.
We too can join that choir of angels every time we go to the temple. We can raise our voices as one to give praise and pray for all good things. We can give our witness that Jesus is the Christ and help move forward the work and the birth of the final dispensation of the gospel. We can also follow the example of our prophet and while being aware that we are living in a day of increasing trials, we have to hold our heads up and be of good cheer, a light to the world and to those we love. Merry Christmas and may the Lord bless us all.
Our voices join December -
a chapel full of maybe familiar faces.
Fair-haired form caresses air,
bids us wing our words on music.
Tones elevate, expand, descend
through rhythms sweeping
between hopeful harmonies.
I wonder why we gather here,
what brings us through
the cold dark white -
then wander to where
we sang before, with swells of friends
for miles and days and centuries,
not far from now -
as heaven's host.
May Christmas joys
echo across January snows
and faith, courageous
as the Star of Bethlehem,
brighten February nights.
May small miracles melt
March into spring,
April angels point
the way to God's glory,
and His tender mercies
keep you in May.
gentle your June.
May July be jubilant
in liberty, and August
abundant in peace.
Give unto the least
your September service.
freely as October trees
release their leaves,
and number among
the imminent coming
of God's Son.
Decembering the year,
close the circle.
than before, to
worship at the manger.
Sharon Price Anderson
3World Mythology p. 216
4Nibley, Abraham in Egypt p. 142
5Ibid p. 141
6A in E p. 628
7Bible Dictionary p. 602
8A in E, p. 429