Cracking the Mormon dress code

A warning to the reader: If you are a Mormon, you will probably be uncomfortable with my references to various things not normally discussed outside the walls of the temple. (I don’t actually reveal anything that templegoers are sworn not to reveal, but I come very close at times.) If, on the other hand, you are not a Mormon, you will be unlikely to understand anything I’ve written here and even less likely to care. So, whoever you are, consider yourself warned.

Still here? Right then.

I have this theory that the so-called knee mark on the Mormon garment is located at the knee for practical reasons only and that, in terms of symbolism, its “true” location should be considered the mouth. Why do I think that? Here are a few reasons:

1. First, there’s the hypothetical plausibility of the idea. An undergarment doesn’t cover your mouth, so if there were meant to be a mouth mark, you’d have to put it somewhere else.

2. When the marks are explained in the endowment ceremony, they are introduced in the following order: square, compass, navel, knee. This order parallels that of the signs of the four tokens of the priesthood. The first sign involves raising the right hand (square on right breast), the second involves raising the left (compass on left breast), and in the third sign both hands are held down near the belly (navel mark). The final sign seems to break the pattern, since it doesn’t involve the right knee at all; it does, however, make prominent reference to the mouth.

3. The explanation of the knee mark links the knee to the mouth by quoting the biblical “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess.”

4. The breasts, navel, and mouth are a natural set, being the four points at which nourishment passes into or out of the body. Nourishment enters the body through the navel while in the womb (the endowment makes clear reference to this) and through the mouth thereafter, and the body gives out nourishment through the breasts. The right knee doesn’t fit into this picture.

5. In addition to their thematic union, the mouth, breasts, and navel are situated in a perfectly symmetrical pattern on the body, as seen below (sorry, Leonardo). No such pattern exists if the right knee is used in place of the mouth.

The significance of the Hebrew letters in the above diagram is left as an exercise for the properly initiated reader. I will point out, though, that פ signifies the mouth in Hebrew, and that the Hebrew ל is cognate with both the Latin L (looks like a square) and the Greek Λ (looks like a compass).

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