The Patriarchal Grips


The Patriarchal Grips

Randal Meyers

When Meyers was seven or eight years old, he turned the playhouse his father had built for the kids into a secret club.  He separated the space into two rooms with a large curtain.  In the first room one had to do a secret handshake to enter the dark back room. 

"I was reminded of our secret club" Meyers remembers, "when, through my research, I discovered the secret handshakes from the Mormon temple ceremonies."  One must know these secret handshakes to enter the Mormon kingdoms of heaven.  The Mormons had made adult rituals out of the secret games of childhood.  Secret names, blood oaths, erotic anointments, and secret handshakes,  these rituals are the hallmark of any boy's club. 

Mormonism itself has a belief system based less on redemption then on retaliation.  They are retaliating against worldly evil.  By making themselves the "only true" holders of righteousness, the "only" people with the "real" means to enter the "highest" kingdoms of heaven, they are retaliating against others for their "wrong" belief systems.  Retaliation has a way of returning like for like.  It could be said that one "evil" is traded for another "evil".  It is how "the formation of a church which is most abominable above all other churches," is formed against " a church which is most abominable above all other churches." 

Part of the Mormon retaliation includes the removal of religious icons and the alteration of religious doctrines.  Mormonism traded in the cross for secret handshakes and other symbols.  An extraordinary amount of art work has been made with the cross as a Christian icon.  With its metaphors and its historical meanings, the cross is an icon, a symbol and metaphor, which translates for artists and art viewers the world over.  Most Christian art is not just meaningless for Mormons, it is actually blasphemous.  "Growing up Mormon," Meyers remarks, "I was trained to ignore the cross and view it merely as an ancient form of capital punishment."  In removing this symbol, Mormons replace it with other "sacred" symbols.  Mormonism established their symbols in secret ceremonies that relate directly to the rites performed in Masonic traditions. 

Mormons themselves are not supposed to know these secret/sacred symbols, including the handshakes, unless they are considered worthy to go through the temple "endowments".  Thus, "real" Mormonism is kept locked away in a secret society only for the true believers.  Meyers has never participated in their rituals.  He did not learn about the heart of Mormonism until he began to research Mormonism for this work. 

Meyers wrote, "Secrecy was the reason I was so startled when I personally discovered the [changing] realities of Mormon temple ceremonies.  The secrecy and strangeness of the temple ceremonies left me perturbed. I had been raised to defend Mormonism, and yet I was kept from knowing what I was defending.  I am bothered by the fact that I would not have known what I would have encountered before making promises to keep it secret."  Secrecy gives a ceremony cult like status.  Secrecy creates a suspicious, evasive and dark environment. 

Mormon people Meyers has encountered, while completing this work, have argued that the ceremonies are not secret but rather sacred.  To them he suggests they view his  art as "sacred" also.  To those who have argued that it is all kept secret because it will not be interpreted properly, he has invited them to develop their own interpretation of God and spirituality and realise that there is not one absolute and proper interpretation.  "oh but wait," Meyers asked, "you can't do that unless your prophet tells you, can you?”


From the one person exhibit, “Fear of Graven Images” at Surface Gallery, Salt Lake City, Utah,  A metaphorical view of Mormon theology. 1995.

The secret handshakes as described in:

A Latter Day Deception

by Martin Wishnatsky

Grip One. In the first handshake of Mormonism one grips the hand of the other person in the usual fashion and presses his thumb upon the knuckle of the index finger of the other person. This is the first grip of the Aaronic priesthood. The Sign is the finger across the throat. The penalty for revealing the grip is your life.

Grip Two. In the second handshake of Mormonism, one presses the thumb in between the knuckle of the index finger and the knuckle of the middle finger. The sign is a motion in the area of the chest. The penalty is your life, should you reveal it.

Grip Three. In the third handshake, one presses his thumb against the middle of the palm of the other person and at the same time extends his forefinger along the back of the other person's hand, pressing thumb and forefinger together to indicate the location of the stigmata of Christ in the palm. This is the first grip of the Melchizedek priesthood. The sign is drawing the hand across the gut. The penalty, again, is your life.

Grip Four. In the fourth handshake, known as the Patriarchal Grip, one interlocks pinkies with the other person and at the same time extends the forefinger to press against the wrist of the other person. Known as the Sure Sign of the Nail, this grip symbolizes the nail that supposedly was driven through the wrist of the crucified when the original nail tore out of His Palm. At a Mormon Temple marriage ceremony, the couple kneel at an altar, join hands across it in the Patriarchal Grip, and are thus "sealed" together.


Mormonism: A Latter Day Deception is a riveting, at times hilarious, account of how a sincere believer was disabused of his confidence in the Mormon revelation. The author, a Harvard Ph.D., joined the Mormon Church in 1980. A year later, he received a Temple Recommend for the Washington, D.C. temple. He entered the Temple a Mormon, but left it a non-Mormon.