Sunday, May 22, 2011

LDS Temple Symbols - A Circle in a Square

Circle in Square, Las Vegas Nevada Temple
One common Mormon temple symbol is that of a circle inscribed in a square.  This is a very simple symbol with a neat meaning.

The circle in the square represent heaven and earth coming together (a great temple symbol).  The heavens are often described as a bowl and often symbolized by a circle.  In paintings, God is often depicted as laying out the heavens with a compass and the earth with a square.  The square is made with a square and represents the earth which is often described as having four corners.  The temple is a place that represents the union of heaven and earth, and where heavenly beings (Angels & Jesus Christ) literally come. 

The circle in the square can remind us of our temple covenants.  I don't want to elaborate on this, but those who have been endowed hopefully have picked up on or will pick up on how a circle and a square represent other symbols that represent other things.

The original Nauvoo Temple had a flying angel weather vane with a symbol above related to the circle in the square.  Here is an excerpt explaining the symbol.
Above the angel was the symbol of the square and compass, and surmounting that was a stylized flame of fire. . . . There exists no account for reason of the placement of the square and compass on the weather vane. One scholar has suggested that, since the compass, which is used to draw circles, points towards the bowl of the sky, and that the square, which is used to draw squares, points towards the earth, that the combination of the two symbols represent the powers of God in creating the bowl of the starry heavens and the four corners of the earth (Brown and Smith, Symbols in Stone, p. 105). Since the symbol is associated with "the angel flying through the midst of heaven" (D&C 133:36), it may suggest that the gospel will be "declared by holy angels" (Moses 5:58) from above to the four corners of the earth, even "unto every nation, and kindred, tongue and people" (D&C 133:37). (source site)
The Salt Lake Temple used the circle in square symbol (and didn't just hint at it).  The symbol can be seen in two places.  The first is here and is actually the earth stones (they just didn't receive the details of continents when the temple materials were changed to granite.  In this case, the symbol may be unintentionally a circle in a square.  The other location is high on the temple, near the top.  In this photo the circle in the square symbol is repeated above the inscription stone and below the cloud stones (which originally were planned with trumpets and would have been trumpet stones, which is where I got the name for this blog).  I've heard people claim that this symbol is the Saturn stone.  Originally the temple was planned to include stones sculpted like the planet Saturn; however, John Taylor had them removed from the temple design at the same time he instructed the architects to stop doing everything the way the Masons did as this was not a Masonic temple.  The circle in the square symbol is definitely NOT the planned Saturn stone symbol.  If you look in the book The Salt Lake Temple: A Monument to a People 1893-1993 you can see the original elevations of the temple and they include both the Saturn stones AND the current tower circle in square symbols on the same drawing.  These two symbols are distinctly different symbols.  I hope I've cleared that up, because a lot of people claim otherwise (online and elsewhere) and it is flat out wrong.  The Salt Lake Temple would also have originally had the compass and square symbols next to the earth stones, but later designs eliminated the symbols.

Many other temples include the circle in a square symbol, so many that I'm not even going to attempt to list them.  You'll find them in stone, on doors, in glass, on fences, cast into the concrete for sidewalks, and many other places.  Here are some examples - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. The original Ogden Utah Temple and the current Provo Utah Temple contain this symbol when viewed from the top.  The upper portion of each temple was rounded and is where the endowment and sealings are performed.  The base of the temples is square (or nearly so).

I like the circle in square symbol, its simplicity, and its beautiful symbolism of heaven and earth united.  Please comment and let us know what you think about this symbol or other places it has been used.

If you want to read more, here is an article by Hugh Nibley on the subject from BYU's website.


Brian said...

Thank you for pointing out the difference between proposed Saturn stones and the circle and square, this one bothers me every time I see it.

I had a friend who served a mandarin speaking mission and he said (Spoiler alert,; hearsay, may not be authoritative) that in some Asian cultures the circle represents eternity or heaven, and the square is used both for the home and the earth (because of four corners or something like that, it was a long time ago.) The two together he said mean both 1) heaven or eternity on earth, or 2) heaven or eternity in the home.

Even if this is not true, this is what I always think when I see the circle in the square. It is a very appropriate personal interpretation for me.

Bert said...

I was in the North Visitor's Center on Temple Square last night viewing the Christus Statue, and noticed that the bench's there in front of the statue also have the circle in the square design, in the bench's legs.

Interesting how you start to notice it everywhere. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Talking of symbols on LDS temples, I don't understand for instance why on the Salt Lake Temple there are many upside down pentagram symbols. I studied history and understand that it represents demonic deity and symbolic of Satan.

Also the Sun Stone on the temple is representative of the idol 'Baal' portrayed by the image of the sun
Have you any other explanation for these symbols?

Scott said...

It has only been recently that upside down stars have been associated with evil, whereas they did not have these associations at the time the older temples were built. You will see them in cathedrals and churches throughout Europe and in patriotic settings in the U.S. You can read more here:

The sun stones are used to represent the highest heaven (by using the brightest object in the sky as a metaphor). It is also used to represent time increasing to eternity as the temple is seen as a place where families can be made eternal and where we may communicate with the Eternal God.

You do have to remember that symbols only mean what they are intended to mean. So The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a Christian church clearly isn't meaning for these symbols to represent satanic things or the God Baal that is denounced and deplored in the Bible. Nothing is further from the truth.

I have written about sun stones and star stones and discuss how they are meant to be interpreted.

Margaret Bates said...

Outsode Columbia, SC Temple, stone circles near top on outside. Often wondered about realize thet are placed upon squares of marble, hence "circle in the square." Thanks for explanation.

Steve Reed said...

Margaret, those circles are actually "Moon stones" they represent the moon in its various phases.

The moon is connected with purification by water which links it to baptism and the parallel cycles of the moon and women's fertility tie it to principles of birth.

Because of this, it is easy to see how Christ is also connected to the moon. It becomes an emblem of covenants and rebirth.

There's a TON more info but I can't place it here.

Doctor O said...

If you don't mind, I have also heard that anciently, the circle inside the square was a symbol for marriage between a man (square?) and a woman (circle). The symbol was used in alchemy, if I remember correctly, where marriage was the symbol for the great work.

As for the upside-down pentagram, I have heard it said that the reason it represents the morning star, as you have pointed out at some point, is because the morning star (actually planet: Venus) follows the trajectory of a five-pointed star over its eight year movement through our sky. Something to look into, at least.

I appreciate what this blog is trying to do. Thanks.

Elizabeth T said...

I also was taught in a fireside that the circle represents a woman and a square represents a man and their perfect overlapping illustrates the strongest shape that can be made. The fireside was based on a brother's dissertation on the architecture of temples (I don't remember his name). I was also told that the meaning of many of the external symbols were being published in the church's newspaper (Times and Seasons) so that it was plausibly common knowledge for church members.

Matthew Prina said...

Cool article. I recently visited the Vegas temple (the example that you used at the beginning of the article) and was wondering about the symbol because it is used heavily on the exterior of the temple. Right now I'm sitting in the Math Lab at BYU doing some calculus homework. The problem I'm working on revolves around finding the dimensions of a square inside of a circle. The problem reminded me of my curiosity and I just googled it and found this article. I love the symbolism and seeing how math and religion and symbolism can relate just as heaven and earth can converge. Another testimony to me that all truth can be circumscribed into one great whole.

Gary Sampson said...

The comments about the circle representing marriage made me think of Nibley's comments on Fuxia and Nuwa (husband and wife) in Chinese Mythology. Fuxia holds a compass and rules the heavens (stars) and Nuwa holds the square and rules the earth.

Captain Obvious said...

The Circle means this: Isaiah 40:22
The Square means this: Revelations 7:1

Anonymous said...

Except the picture provided is not what is on the temple. The stone on the temple is a circle surrounded by a ring inside of a square. Which is another common symbolism for Saturn. Additionally, the placement represents you would only see it while facing north, as you would in the old world planetary alignment. You should also look up the symbolism on the DC temple. It is much more blatant that it is Saturn. A simple google search will show you both. It holds a meaning despite the attempts by websites like this to claim otherwise.

Anonymous said...

The first notion that strikes me is that symbol, of the circle inside of the square, is that its the obvious symbolism of the problem of "squaring the circle".

Dad said...

They were stolen by counterfeit organizations as the swastika was stolen by the Nazis.

rocky said...

You know, as I've pondered the circle and the square symbol, I have thought that maybe it could be a representation of light and truth, which is said a lot in the scriptures and the glory of God. How does this relate to the heavens and the earth? Well, the earth is a perfect example of something, the gospel. The earth was baptized by water through the flood, and will be baptized by fire before the millennium. The gospel is the purest form if truth. And light, well the light of Christ is eternal, "one eternal round" and will last forever. One thing I've learned about temple symbols, is if it corresponds with the scriptures and gospel teachings, the interpretation of the symbol is correct:)