As is customary in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I took out my temple "endowment" a couple of weeks before going on a mission at nineteen years old. I had no idea what would happen. I knew I would be inducted into wearing Mormon garments somehow at some point and that was good enough for me. I had grown up seeing my parents garments regularly in the laundry but they were often washed separately from the rest of our underwear. I picked them up and looked at them from time to time for the sake of curiosity but never for too long (they were Mom and Dad's underwear after all and who really wants to handle their parents underwear?). Mom's were particularly mysterious because they were all silky and slippery and seemed generally shapeless and incomprehensible.
I had no problems believing in the legitimacy of garments. On my way to the temple I knew I would be instructed (or commanded) to wear garments all the time from that day forward and I was okay with that. I was even excited about it. Honored actually. Garments to me represented the passage to adulthood. I would finally get to dress like the adults and see and do what the adults in Mormonism do (except for having sex).
I had heard, however, that not everyone likes the temple, that some people stop going to the temple or even to church because it's so weird. Once I heard a cousin make some kind of joke about people running around naked. It was enough to make a fellow at least a little nervous. This was going to be the day that I learned why non-Mormons considered Mormonism a cult. But I knew I wasn't joining a cult. I knew the Church so well. I had an entire life of devout attendance under my belt and I was sure everything would turn out great and I'd treasure the experience for the rest of my life.
As it turns out once things got rolling I found myself a little annoyed that I had no idea what I was doing or what was coming next. Why was it so taboo to talk about the temple? Why hadn't I been given any kind of detailed rundown before the big event? We make little kids practice being baptized over and over in preparation for the big day, but no one gets any training whatsoever before going through the numerous ritualistic components of the temple.
So when I was instructed to take off all my clothes and put on the "shield" (read white poncho) I felt a little weird. "Oh, I guess you do get naked in front of people in the temple. Um... Okay, what the heck, I'm here and I'm committed (plus I've got a decent washboard going on), whatever, here it goes..." I started striping down and the two officiators (old white guys I'd never seen before in my life) freaked out a little bit and told me to put the shield on first and then get undressed underneath. "Oops! Thanks a ton for being so clear the first time, guys! Are you two new at this by any chance?"
I wasn't sure if they were embarrassed by my mistake, embarrassed by my naked body, annoyed they hadn't given me clearer instructions, or annoyed I didn't know the drill. Whatever the case may be, I definitely felt embarrassed and annoyed.
They indicated for me to sit down on a chair, which I did, and then one of the guys said an obviously scripted prayer, touched me with a wet (just water) finger, said another prayer of sorts about me becoming a kind and a priest to the most highest godliest gods, etc., and touched me again but this time with an olive oily finger.
When I say touched I mean his finger made contact with my skin. Mostly this was no biggy because it's not like he was giving me a holy handjob with oil, but then again it was pretty messed up. I was naked and this stranger was touching me in the name of the afterlife. And yes, he did reach just inside the poncho so he could touch my side. Twice. That's messed up. I didn't like it.
The experience got a wheel or two turning. The first wheel spun in the direction of "this is not cool! why does God want me to do this?" and the other wheel ran the direction of "dude, we're so sensitive and PC these days! just think what this was like back in the ancientest of times!" I couldn't decide if this was an occasion worthy of calling the cops or a lesson in how I was too prideful and skeptical and needed to just let the Spirit work. Here's what I did: I blocked my doubts and went ahead with the rest of the experience. (I had a mission to go on for Christ's sake!) I was finally instructed to put my Gs on. They felt way too big but I was happy enough to have them.
In 2005 the Church changed the washing and anointing so that inductees wear their garments under the shield so they're no longer totally naked under there and the administrators no longer physically touch the inductees. It's a nice enough change, I guess. It's still an incredibly uncomfortable ordeal to go through, I'm sure. The crazy thing is that back in the day people really were completely naked, without even a small poncho, during this ceremony.
Considering the fact that Mormons have gone from totally naked in a bathtub where they were completely washed by someone else to sitting in their underwear and a poncho while someone only gestures to touch them, I think it's safe to say that the washing and anointing is one of the most changed rituals of Mormonism. And that's significant considering the fact that Mormon's make such a stink about baptism being altered from full emersion to just a couple of drops of water on the head.