Exaltation for Mormon Women: Heavenly Mother

"Rhea, Mother of the Gods." Drawing by Adam Nielson, September 1999.

“Rhea, Mother of the Gods.” Drawing by Adam Nielson, September 1999.

In the comments on my last post, I stated that teachings on Heavenly Mother [1] have generally been key to understanding what Mormon women can expect from exaltation. This post will elaborate on that.

If exaltation for the LDS man means becoming what his Heavenly Father is—a deified ruler and creator of worlds, guiding his spirit children from intelligence to their own exaltations [2]—it stands to reason that exaltation for the LDS woman means becoming what her Heavenly Mother is. Periodically, LDS leaders have even stated this directly. For example, from an address delivered at BYU in 2010 by Elder Glenn L. Pace of the Seventy:

Sisters, I testify that when you stand in front of your heavenly parents in those royal courts on high and look into Her eyes and behold Her countenance, any question you ever had about the role of women in the kingdom will evaporate into the rich celestial air, because at that moment you will see standing directly in front of you, your divine nature and destiny. [3]

That Mormons generally believe in a Heavenly Mother is clear. That they often attribute to her divinity and (on some level) equality with the Father is also clear. LDS leaders have even, at varying times, spoken of Heavenly Mother as “procreator and parent . . . as co-creator of worlds, as coframer of the plan of salvation with the Father, and as a concerned and loving parent involved in our mortal probation.” [4] The difficulty is that these earnest beliefs and statements are undercut by the reality that nothing authoritative has been revealed about Heavenly Mother. As such, the disparity between what is known about Heavenly Mother and her role in creation (and thus, the divine nature and destiny of women) and what is known about Heavenly Father and his role in creation (along with the divine nature and destiny of men) is quite large.

These disparities include:

  • Number. That there is only one Heavenly Father seems to be a given, and LDS leaders have usually spoken of but one Heavenly Mother. Yet this was not always the case. For example, Orson Pratt’s The Seer stated, “But if we have a heavenly Mother as well as a heavenly Father, is it not right that we should worship the Mother of our spirits as well as the Father? No; for the Father of our spirits is at the head of His household, and his wives and children are required to yield the most perfect obedience to their great Head.” [5] Current temple sealing policies seem to anticipate that there will be polygyny in exaltation, but not polyandry, which suggests androcentrism and represents a significant eternal disparity between exalted men and women. [6]
  • Name. The name of the Father has been revealed and plays an important role in temple worship. The name of the Mother has not. [7]
  • Temple liturgy. Heavenly Mother is absent from it entirely and thus absent from its representation of creation of the world, as is Eve. This stands in contrast to Elohim and Adam as Michael, who are both involved in the pre-mortal creation. [8]
  • Soteriology. Confession of and belief in God the Father is essential for baptism into the LDS church and thus, essential for salvation. Confession of and belief in God the Mother is entirely optional. [9]

Many have attempted to ease these disparities by asserting that “God the Father” is, socially, a composite of both Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. For example, in her testimony for Mormon Scholars Testify, Valerie Hudson Cassler writes: “The Restored Gospel teaches that the term ‘God’ means an exalted woman and an exalted man married in the new and everlasting covenant (D&C 132:19-20).” [10] Hudson is not the innovator of this interpretation of Mormon exaltation, for it has been taught by LDS leaders for some time. The apostle Erastus Snow intimated (1878):

“What,” says one, “do you mean we should understand that Deity consists of man and woman?” Most certainly I do. If I believe anything that God has ever said about himself, and anything pertaining to the creation and organization of man upon the earth, I must believe that Deity consists of man and woman. . . .

I sometimes illustrate this matter by taking up a pair of shears, if I have one, but then you all know they are composed of two halves, but they are necessarily parts, one of another, and to perform their work for each other, as designed, they belong together, and neither one of them is fitted for the accomplishment of their works alone. And for this reason says St. Paul, “the man is not without the woman, nor the woman without the man in the Lord.” In other words, there can be no God except he is composed of the man and woman united, and there is not in all the eternities that exist, nor ever will be, a God in any other way. [11]

Nevertheless, this interpretation of Mormon deity stands in tension with other teachings on the Godhead, which distinctly hold that the Godhead consists of three entirely male persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. [12] A paradox is then evoked: it is possible to have a Godhead absent of female divinity, but not a God.

In any case, my conclusion so far is that the nature of exaltation for Mormon men is relatively certain, while the nature of exaltation for Mormon women is highly speculative and uncertain. Mormons have much to do if they wish to address this disparity, and I am not certain it can ever be truly remedied absent an official and authoritative pronouncement on the matter from LDS leaders.



[1] I choose to capitalize the expression “Heavenly Mother” out of respect for the beliefs of my LDS friends.

[2] I would classify this as the most common and prominent understanding of Mormon exaltation. I will discuss variations on exaltation in a later post.

[3] Glenn L. Pace, “The Divine Nature and Destiny of Women,” Devotional, delivered at Brigham Young University, Provo, UT, 9 March 2010. 

[4] David L. Paulsen and Martin Pulido, “‘A Mother There’: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Heavenly Mother,” BYU Studies 50.1 (2011): 76.

[5] Orson Pratt, The Seer 1 (October 1853): 159.

[6] Living men are permitted to be sealed to multiple women, living or deceased, in the case of death of spouse or even divorce. Living women are only permitted to be sealed to one man at a time. Deceased women may be sealed to any deceased husbands they were married to in life. This seems more geared towards giving such women the opportunity to choose a husband in the next life rather than allowing post-mortem polyandry.

[7] Although Kevin L. Barney has theorized that her name is Asherah. See Barney, “How to Worship Our Mother in Heaven (Without Getting Excommunicated),” Dialogue 41.4 (2008): 133.

[8] I am indebted to Lynnette of Zelophehad’s Daughters for this observation.

[9] Again, my debt to Lynnette knows no bounds.

[10] Valerie Hudson Cassler, “I am a Mormon Because I am a Feminist,” Mormon Scholars Testify, posted September 2010, retrieved 1-1-2013.

[11] Erastus Snow, Journal of Discourses 19:269-70, 3 March 1878.

[12] See, for example, the section on “Godhead” at LDS.org’s “Gospel Topics”: “The Church’s first article of faith states, “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.” These three beings make up the Godhead. They preside over this world and all other creations of our Father in Heaven.


Exaltation for Mormon Women: Heavenly Mother — 16 Comments

  1. 6. This is no longer the case, polyandrous (woman sealed to both deceased and current husbands) sealings are now allowed.

    In the 1800s church many believed that Eve was the Mother Goddess (or at least an embodied representative thereof).

  2. #1 jpv ~ This is no longer the case, polyandrous (woman sealed to both deceased and current husbands) sealings are now allowed.

    When did this change? Because the 2010 CHI (volume 1) says, “A living woman may be sealed to only one husband.” (p. 19) This is repeated in the case of both divorce and the spouse’s death.

  3. The 1931 endowment has Elohim says to Jehovah, “It is not good for man to be alone.” Jehovah responds, “It is not, Elohim, for we are not alone.” Given that the creation of Eve follows, this might be an allusion to heavenly wives (though it could just mean that Elohim and Jehovah have each other). I believe it is the former.


  4. Excluding physicality, enlightened people of both genders become much less distinctively male or female and more both. Perhaps male and female is the immature mortal expression of our spiritual yin and yang. While gender may be eternal, spiritually I believe we will express both genders.

  5. Jack, regarding the temple, do you think Her absence could be explained simply by appealing to religious culture at the time the endowment was “revealed?” sent from mobile.

  6. Thank you for sharing this post. I love this topic and think about it often as I search for the Mother God I’ve always needed. Just as changes can be made in church administration from the grass roots, so can changes be made to the theology. I say a grassroots effort begin to further define Heavenly Mother. We can find a suitable name for Her and we can number as The One. We can put her back in charge of the Creation where she belongs. Isn’t that what Mothers do? Let’s make it necessary to confess belief in the Mother!

  7. With many feminists embracing gay marriage, what if the heavenly mother in this system is actually another male? Has to happen somewhere if the feminists are correct. If so, then it would explain why we do not have more conversation on the point.

  8. My comment is not welcome here? “We have atheists and agnostics, members of other religions, fully committed and believing Mormons, and everything in between.”

    [[Howard, everyone's first comment on WWE goes into moderation for approval. Once your first comment's been approved, future comments will be posted without requiring moderator review. Nothing personal. Your comment has now been approved and posted. Sorry for the delay. -Moderator]]

  9. It will take a revelation to “name Mother God” just as it will take a revelation to explain the role of Her. There is no “grassroots” innovation in Mormon theology for things not already revealed, for that way is apostasy. As of now She is silent as She should be because what we know of God is currently all we need for salvation. Anything more is blaspheme and Satanic. I mean every word I just said.

  10. Since you are using “Heavenly Mother” as a proper name, you should capitalize it anyway.

    Capitalizing “God” when referring to Yahweh has nothing to do with reverence. You capitalize it because you are using the otherwise common noun “god” as a name, i.e., a proper noun.

  11. #2 – The operative word is “living”. As of yet, living men can be sealed to more than one woman; the recent change allows *deceased* women to be sealed to more than one man.

  12. Pingback: Sunday in Outer Blogness: Goodbye to 2012 Edition!! » Main Street Plaza

  13. I take “Adam”, the creator (in the temple, assisting Jehovah), as a collective humanity, not as a single man (since that is what “Adam” means). Thus, as I understand, to present Adam as the assistant creator to Jehovah, is to teach us that all human beings are creators. Thus, I do not take it as something that signals a gender element in the temple ceremony. I use this as one example, but my greater point is that there is a LOT in the temple that one might not see at first glance that can teach us about being men and women or about just being human, and so I would not stick on the literalist or first level ideas of the symbolism in order to make a definitive comment on God’s approach to gender.

  14. When one understand the etymology of the world Elohim, one learns that the Hebrew implies that God is plural. I have even heard some say that the Hebrew word implies male and female genders but it is harder to find evidence supporting that claiming. Yet, if one accepts that Elohim is plural, then its easy to believe that Elohim does not refer to just Heavenly Father, but can also encompass Heavenly Mother, that together they are the great God, co-equals, both present and involved in the creation. If that is true, then throughout the temple ceremonies, Heavenly Mother is present beside Heavenly Father. That is what I like to envision, at the very least.

  15. Actually, disparity isn’t all that large when you consider BY’s Adam-God theology. He was quite explicit on who our Mother in Heaven was.

    “I tell you more, Adam is the father of our spirits … [O]ur spirits and the spirits of all the heavenly family were begotten by Adam, and born of Eve. … I tell you, when you see your Father in the Heavens, you will see Adam; when you see your Mother that bore your spirit, you will see Mother Eve” (Manuscript Addresses of Brigham Young, Sunday 10/8/1854).

    “Eve our common Mother who is the mother of all living bore those spirits in the celestial world (The Lecture at the Veil, Journal of L. John Nuttall, Tuesday 2/7/1877)”

    As to the great wedding bro. Orson has been telling us about is nothing more or less than this, Adam’s father came to him, saying here is the wife you have had so long, now you are going to have one wife to take with you to yonder earth, and if any of your other wives ever go to an earth to become the mother of all living, to become an Eve, it will be to another earth, not to that one. She is called Eve because she is the mother of all living, and she is the queen of that earth. Adam is the Lord of the earth and the father of all living on this earth, as Eve is the mother of all living on this earth” (Manuscript Addresses of Brigham Young, 8/25/1867).

    “Attended conference, a very interesting conference, for at this meeting President Brigham Young said thus, that Adam and Eve were the names of the first man and woman of every earth that was ever organized and that Adam and Eve were the natural father and mother of every spirit that comes to this planet, or that receives tabernacles on this planet, consequently we are brother and sisters, and that Adam was God, our Eternal Father. This as Brother Heber remarked, was letting the cat out of the bag, and it came to pass, I believed every word, for I remembered saying to the Brethren at a meeting of High Priests in Nauvoo, while I was speaking to them under the influence of the Spirit, I remarked thus, that our Father Adam had many wives, and that Eve was only one of them, and that she was our mother, and that she was the mother of the inhabitants of this earth, and I believe that also, but behold ye there were some that did not believe these sayings of the Prophet Brigham, even our Beloved Brother Orson Pratt told me he did not believe it. He said he could prove by the scriptures it was not correct. I felt very sorry to hear Professor Orson Pratt say that. I feared least he should apostatize, but I prayed for him that he might endure unto the end, for I knew verily it was possible that great men might fall” (Journal of Joseph L. Robinson, 102-03, 10/6/1854).

  16. That there is a Mormon Women identity crises is certain. Why do we look to Pres Monson for revelation? That, perhaps, is a dead branch. There is no good reason why a humble girl, holding the Keys of the Priesthood received in the Endowment, can’t go to the Lord in the True Order of Prayer and receive this necessary revelation. I love the endowment. It is perhaps, the most important revelation Joseph ever had. But, there should be caution used here. First, the apparent androcentric nature may be a false one. BY hated women as much as he hated blacks. There is a key element in the endowment that begs to be noticed. And, that is the anachronistic appearance of Peter, James and John. To me that signifies that BY had messed with the ceremony. (BY was trying to exalt the apostolic nature of his supremacy.) But, there was a higher priesthood and Brigham would only refer to it tangentially. It is called The Fulness of the Melchezidic Priesthood, The Calling and Election, or the Second Anointing. Where the man is ordained a King and a Priest (Queen and Priestess). There is literature out there. Both the man and the woman receives it. They really cannot receive it with out the other.

    Anyway (I’ve got to wrap this up, my wife calls me), there is a godess (I hate that word, it has such a wiccan flavor to it). And that is Sophia. She created everything, including Man (well, man–well, Adam). To hit only the highest points, She married the Christ and together created Man. She and the Christ became androgynous. Together they had an offspring which became The Androgyne. Adam and Eve. One being. Which split (Eve taken out of the side of Adam). Adam lost the Christ part and Eve retaining the Sophia part. There really is a literature out there. Anyway, maybe more later. She is compelling me. Another time.

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