I recently published an essay entitled “Unveiling Women”, which highlighted some of the ways women have been obscured, both historically, and in current times. One major focus was the way in which female themes appear to have been muffled within churches, and specifically within the Salt Lake Temple. One of the comments that followed the essay reminded me of something I had looked at before within the temple’s construction, but which I embarrassingly completely overlooked when writing the essay. This oversight could be the biggest evidence of the theme of hiding women.
What follows will be inserted into that original essay, with some other subtle rewording in order to make this addition flow, and in order to better complete the original point I was trying to make.
There is another icon within the temple with less recognizable symbolism regarding female deity. Hundreds of years ago, the bee had a strong royalty connotation, with the beehive as a metaphor for a kingdom. One researcher points out that “King Louis XII of France (1462-1515) showed his kingly mercy by using bees in his insignia along with the phrase ‘The king whom we serve does not use his sting.'”[i] Before the seventeenth century the hive was believed to be dominated by a king bee. It wasn’t known until later that the dominant bee in the hive is actually female.
Over time beehive symbolism shifted from the ‘king’ and governing aspects of the hive to the worker bees and their industrious nature. According to three sources found on the Salt Lake Temple Wikipedia entry, the beehive “symbolizes the thrift, industry, perseverance, and order of the Mormon people”.[ii] This is without question the interpretation of the hive that is most widely understood by members of the church, which has come through countless sermons focused on themes like hard work and contributing to a common cause.
The beehive symbol is found throughout Utah as an icon of the early Mormon settlers, but the figure is most concentrated on the doorways, door panels, and doorknobs of the Salt Lake Temple. As the hive is a metaphor of a kingdom, the door then is symbolic of entering the kingdom.
It is also worth noting that Aphrodite’s iconic seashell, which would otherwise have no association with the beehive, appears beneath the hive on the doorknobs. This combination of unique symbols on the doorknob creates an unmistakable and seemingly intentional link to the Woman at the Veil in the Celestial room (see figure 7).
With the rich symbolism of the hive, but also its literal organization and governing patterns, it is difficult to separate its imagery from the apparent deep and symbolic icons within the temple. In the hive, the queen bee presides. In the Salt Lake Temple, the room representing the Celestial Kingdom, the woman at the veil presides. It is easy to see in a church where males rule the hive, another obvious doctrinal inconvenience emerges in the beehive symbolism.
One of the most beautiful and symbolically elaborate sculptures has gone missing from the temple. Her companion sculpture in one of its most holy rooms has been turned into a mystified and genderless decoration, leaving those who look upon her confused. The most frequently occurring symbol throughout the temple of the beehive with its inherent Queen bee overtones, combined with the seashell represented beneath the Woman at the Veil and at column headers in the Terrestial room, indicate intentional architectural features along a divine feminine theme – a theme which creates a doctrinal inconvenience for a male-run church.
[i] Val Brinkerhof – The Symbolism of the Beehive in Latter-day Saint Tradition; Accessed November 2020 at www.BYUstudies.byu.edu
[ii] #1 Oman, Richard G. “Beehive Symbol”. BYU Harold B. Lee Library. Brigham Young University. #2 Kirby, Robert (March 10, 2017). “Kirby’s disturbing history: Close encounters of the bizarre kind at Mormonism’s Temple Square”. #3 Roberts, Allen D. (May 1985). “Where Are the All-Seeing Eyes? The Origin, Use, and Decline of Early Mormon Symbolism” (PDF). Sunstone Magazine. 1 (49)