The purpose of the garment is to “cover our nakedness,” but not the nakedness your thinking of. It is a representation of our lack of knowledge, which leaves us naked in the presence of God. When Adam and Eve partook of the fruit of knowledge they knew who they were, and now had “higher knowledge.” This is why they made aprons of fig leaves, because it represented their status as exalted beings. They did not make aprons because they were embarrassed without clothes, but to symbolize their newly acquired knowledge.
When Adam and Eve left the Garden, the Lord gave them a “coat of skins to cover their nakedness.” Instead of a symbol of their powers and priesthoods, this new garment was to remind them of their covenants made in the Garden and future covenants they would make. The garment would be meaningless without the markings and the markings are meaningless without the “knowledge” they teach.
The garment was originally presented to the body of the Church by Joseph, as he taught that he was given the pattern from an Angel of the Lord and we were to make our own and wear them. The markings were to be cut in the pattern of the compass and the square; the square over the right breast and the compass over the left breast. Later, additional markings were added but it is unclear whether they were given by Joseph or added by Brigham to match the markings on the veil of the temple.
One of the original symbols of the garment was how it was cut down the middle all the way from the collar. We now have a modernized underwear style garment, whereas, originally it was meant as a sacred vesture to point us to our covenants and similitude of Christ. The original garment was meant to be cut by the initiant themselves. This cutting down the center and cutting of the markings was significant for it made us a living symbol of Christ and His sacrifice under the Mosiac Law. The animals were cut in half before offered at the temple to teach the future sacrifice of the Only Begotten. We are to see ourselves in Christ and Him in us. In the Sacrament prayer we partake of the emblems of His body and blood so that we might take His name upon us. We become an emblem of Him and His Spirit will always be with us. Thereby we become worthy to receive our Baptism of Fire. (Which rarely comes at Baptism.)
In the temple the meaning of the markings is explained, so I won’t touch on that here, but it is interesting that the compass and the square are the chosen symbols. Both are tools of measurement used in building temples in the ancient world. Many believe that Joseph stole the symbols from the Masonic Order that he was participating while in Nauvoo. I do believe that his experience with them sparked the questions that led to the Lord revealing a more complete temple experience. These symbols are ancient and have valuable symbolic meaning.
It is also interesting that John Taylor, when publically explaining the meaning the marking, said the compass was to lead us on a straight course. He referred to it as a guidance compass, not a measurement compass. The earliest examples show the compass clearly as a measuring instrument.
The square represents exactness in keeping covenants and the powers that control the four corners of the earth. To be placed over the right breast. A possible symbol of Elohim.
The compass creates a circle of varied measurement and is the sign of Heaven. When they are placed over each other it symbolizes where heaven meets earth. The circle with the point in the center is a symbol of man’s place in the cosmos and the boundry between us and heaven. Also, it represents the “sign of the nail.” It is suggested that it is the symbol of Jehovah.
There are many more symbols that are worn on the sacred garment that have not yet been revealed.
Overall, the markings on the garment are simply a teaching tool to remind us of our covenants and stand as a witness to us and others of who we are as a covenant people.
Joseph said it would be a protection both physically and spiritually as it is worn throughout our lives. I don’t believe it is magic in itself, but the spiritual strength it can bring someone can easily accomplish what Joseph promised. The garment and its markings can be a powerful witness to God of our commitment to seek to be one with the Him and His Son—you can’t beat that!