Occult in America: Joseph Smith

(This post is the second in a series based upon a lecture I began presenting this past Spring. That talk, “Magick and The Occult in America 1820-1952″ surveys a large swath of American History and the occult and magickal practices contained within it. None of this is meant to be the last or only word on the subject, it’s just a look into corners of history I find particularly interesting. The actual lecture has more information than the written versions (and usually more jokes!) but I wanted to present at least some of that talk here on Raise the Horns. -jason)

When I first began putting this workshop together I never imagined that I would spend two months of my life delving into the history of Joseph Smith and the Church of Latter Day Saints. When it was over and all my research was done if I found myself really liking “Old Joe.” Don’t worry, converting to Mormonism never crossed my mind, but I’m drawn to religious outsiders, and Joseph Smith Junior might be the most famous religious outsider of the last 200 years.

I chose Smith for my workshop because he and his family were interested in a large range of occult and magical practices. They used divining rods, practiced ceremonial magic a la Francis Barrett’s book The Magus, and were believers in astrology. Those beliefs did not make them outsiders either, it made them average. The idea that magic exists on the margins of history is just not true. People of all stripes and all religious persuasions have had flirtations with what are commonly considered “occult” practices. Later in life Joseph Smith would also become a proponent of Freemasonry. By looking at Smith I felt as if I was looking at a broad expanse of American spirituality and belief.

Many of Smith’s early followers were also interested in magic and the occult, which is not surprising when you think about it. Smith’s message of a new religious text surviving on “golden tablets” and then translated with the use a peep stone is completely wondrous. The very essence of the Mormonism is founded upon the miraculous and I say that with complete respect. An America with visits from the angel Moroni and housing the relics of an ancient Jewish Civilization stirs the imagination, especially in early 19th Century America and England (Smith began his church in 1827).

Joseph Smith’s new religion began with the astounding; full of alleged revelations and visions directly from Jehovah-God and his angel Moroni. Incredibly such “visions” were a part of the religious landscape in the United States during the early part of the 19th Century. Rural newspapers reported on such occurrences with seriousness and frequency. A newspaper in Palmyra New York (Smith’s local paper) ran the headline “Remarkable VISION and REVELATION, as seen and received by Asa Wild of Amsterdam New York.” (1) Beginning in the 1700’s people began to feel comfortable talking about such encounters and having them written about. People claiming to talk with God was nothing new in the 1820’s (but another book equal to The Bible is a completely different story).

During the years Smith was visiting with Moroni he also worked with his father and brothers as a treasure hunter. The Mormon church has long been embarrassed by the treasure hunting pursuits of Smith and his family, but they shouldn’t be. Old Joe was simply a product of his times, and while most of us today probably scoff at the idea of searching for buried treasure, it was a fairly common pastime in early America. Newspapers reported people finding tens of thousands of dollars worth of gold buried in the ground and many Americans were convinced that the lost treasures of Capt. Kidd were buried somewhere in North America.

Like modern dowsers Joseph Smith’s number one working tool in the pursuit of treasure was a divining rod. A neighbor of his was quoted as saying:

“Young Joe had a witch hazel bough with which he claimed he could locate buried money or hidden things, later he had a peep stone which he put into his hat and looked into it I have seen both.” (2)

In the Mormon book Doctrine and Covenants Smith wrote:

“now this is not all, for you have another gift, which is the gift of working with the rod: behold it has told you things: behold there is no other power save God, that can cause this rod of nature to work in your hands”

Even though Smith never managed to find any riches he still had a very good reputation as a diviner. Many treasure hunters believed that the world was alive with spirits, and that spirits often guarded the stores of gold and silver buried in the Earth. Those spirits were said to be physically active and often moved the prizes men were attempting to raise from the ground. Stories circulated of Smith leading men to treasure, only to have it move sideways several feet or burrow deeper into the Earth the moment it was touched by a spade or shovel. Joseph Smith could lead people to buried gold, but not even his skills were enough to overcome the spirits who greedily held onto their hoards in the afterlife.

Smith might be most famous for using a peep stone to reveal the Book of Mormon, a once common occult practice now gone by the wayside. Peep stones have a long history of being used in magic and the occult. John Dee’s scriver Edward Kelly was said to use a “holy stone” according to Barrett’s book The Magus. In 1839 a book on “witchcraft” noted that Dee firmly:

“believed that by means of the small Blackstone with the shining service and cut in the form of a diamond, he could hold Converse with the elementary spirits.” (3)

When I think of Joseph Smith using his peep stone to translate the Book of Mormon my brain conjures up ridiculous images of Smith in the dark with his peep stone in a top-hat. As silly as that sounds sometimes, Smith wasn’t the only person to work that way with a peep stone. It was a pretty common practice among users of what are also called seer stones. In addition to translating “Reformed Egyptian Hieroglyphics” (the language of Moroni’s Golden Tablets) peep stones were also used to find buried treasure and missing objects.

Brigham Young once quoted Joseph Smith as saying:

“Every man who lived on earth was entitled to a seer stone, and should have one, but they are kept away from them in consequence of their wickedness.” (4)

Brigham Young himself was also a believer in magic stones. According to family members Young often carried an amulet with him that he called a bloodstone. He was said to where his bloodstone when he went into “unknown or dangerous places.” (5)

In addition to seer stones and divining rods Joseph Smith and family also practiced ceremonial magic. Again, this is not unique. In 1822 a magazine in New York stated that “ we find textbooks of Kabbalah, necromancy, astrology, magic, fortune-telling, and various proofs of witchcraft” when writing about a local bookstore. By the early 1800s the American backwoods were filled with book peddlers and many of them sold books pertaining to the occult. Some of those peddlers were said to sell as many as 25,000 books a year. Occult books were even more widely distributed than most other volumes because they were more likely to be copied. (6)

Many of the occult tools, rituals, and beliefs held by the Smith family can be traced back to the book The Magus by Francis Barrett first published in 1801. The Magus contains a great deal of information on astrology, a belief that Smith carried with him throughout his life. The dates Smith chose for his nuptials with his many wives even revolved around astrological dates.

The Magus also includes instructions for the construction of a Mars talisman, which just so happens to match the symbols found on the Smith family dagger. Their magical knife was used to create magical circles, and Joseph Smith was said to have used it for that purpose on treasure hunting expeditions. (7) Members of the Smith family also used magical parchments on occasion, complete with instructions for calling up angels and keeping oneself safe from bodily harm. Many old Mormon houses in Utah have magickal parchments built directly into the walls and foundations for good luck and safety. (8)

Joseph often wore Jupiter talisman around his neck , believing that no harm would come to him while he wore it. (Sadly, he was wearing said medallion when murdered by an angry mob in Carthage Illionis in 1844.) LDS Church historians once claimed that Smith’s medallion was “Masonic” in origin, but it’s yet another formulation taken from The Magus. Smith’s medallion contained the astrological symbol, seal, and sigil of the planet Jupiter on one side along with the the Latin words “Confirmo O Deus potentissimus” or “Oh God Make me All Powerful!” The flip side of his medallion contains the Hebrew word “abba” (for father, a reference to God) and a square of numbers in Hebrew that add up to 136, the magic number of Jupiter. Smith was born under the sign of Jupiter and took that information very seriously. (9)

Like many early Americans Joseph Smith had a complex relationship with Freemasonry. The Book of Mormon was written (revealed) in the 1820’s during a period of anti-Mason hysteria in the United States. Several passages in the book allude to that. While the Book of Mormon doesn’t literally ban the practice of Freemasonry, it does warn against secret groups, which many have taken to mean Freemasonry. However those warnings did not stop Joseph Smith himself from taking an interest in “The Craft” in the last few years before his death in 1844.

Most of the “secret Temple rites” that are a part of the Mormon Church were only added after Joseph Smith became a Freemason. Secret rituals, words, and handshakes all have their origins in Masonic tradition. Even the famous “Mormon Underwear” are not free of Masonic influence. Freemasonry’s square and compass can both be found on Mormon Temple Garments, the square on the right and the compass on the left.

The largest “homegrown” religion in the United States is the Mormon Faith, a faith with very real occult roots. I have no interest in becoming a “Christo-Mormon-Pagan” but I’m fascinated that Modern Paganism shares at least a little of the same lineage. To some extent we both grew out of the Western Magical Tradition. Perhaps at the religious gathering table we’ll all sit down one day and compare tarot cards and peep stones.

There are other bits in this series, including a write-ups of Albert Pike and The Long Lost Friend. While not originally a part of this series the lecture included material on Johnny Appleseed who I have written about previously. It also includes a section on The Church of Aphrodite which Aidan Kelly wrote about last year. (As this was initially posted while on the road, depending on when you are reading this, those links may or may not work.)

________

Before being written down (or Dragon Dictated down) this post was part of a lecture. Since there are so many quotes in this piece I have tried to provide a few footnotes, but as this was originally designed as a spoken piece and I’m sure I’ve missed a few. I used the following books for research purposes, especially the first two.

Early Mormonism and the Magic World View by D. Michael Quinn published by Signature Books in 1998 is where all of the quotes in this piece come from. Early Mormonism is more than a just a peek into the lives of Joseph Smith Jr. and family, it’s an extensive look at magick and the occult in the early United States. Even if you don’t have much interest in the early LDS Church this book is completely worth picking up.

No Man Knows My History by Fawn Brodie last revised in 1995 and published by Vintage remains the best available biography on Smith. Reviled by many in the Mormon Community, I think it paints a sympathetic portrait of Old Joe, I liked him after reading Brodie’s work. It also contains a lot of information on Smith’s borrowings from Freemasonry.

The Angel and Sorcerer by Peter Levenda from Ibis Press and published in 2012 is a decent introduction to the topic, but lacks much substance. Brodie, who originally wrote History in 1945, provides more depth on the overlap between Masonry and Mormonism than Levenda.

1. See Quinn page 14
2. Quinn page 33
3. Quinn page 40
4. Quinn page 245
5. Quinn page 88
6. Quinn page 21
7. Quinn page 341
8. Quinn page 134
9 Quinn page 83

About Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey has been involved with Paganism for the last twenty years, and has spent the last ten of those years as a speaker, writer, and High Priest. Jason can often be found lecturing on the Pagan Festival circuit, so you might just bump into him. When not reading and researching Pagan history he likes to crank up the Led Zeppelin, do rituals in honor of Jim Morrison (of The Doors), and sing numerous praises to Pan, Dionysus, and Aphrodite. He lives in Sunnyvale CA with his wife Ari and two hyper-kinetic cats.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    Regarding the spirits moving treasure.

    Reminds me of a piece of folklore I read many years ago (source sadly lost) from my local region (Wessex, now south-west England). It tells of a certain tree that was haunted by the ghost of a woman (some sources say a faery), who protected a golden treasure.

    A local man decided to claim the treasure and was told that, if he would share the treasure with the local orphanage, she would allow him to have half. But there was a catch – he must dig in silence, and before the sun rose (she only appeared at night.)

    The man set to with his shovel and dug for hours, in silence. Shortly before dawn his shovel hit something hard – the lid of the treasure chest. Unable to contain himself, he exclaimed “Well, bless me!” The treasure sunk into the earth and the spirit vanished, a sad look upon her face.

    Try as he might, he never found that treasure. Nor has anyone since seen the woman.

    There is also this one, I found online:
    http://prehistories.wordpress.com/tag/hillfort-folklore-buried-treasure/

    On another point, I wouldn’t scoff at the idea of searching for buried treasure. It is not that uncommon a pastime in the UK. Consider the Staffordshire Hoard:
    http://www.staffordshirehoard.org.uk/

  • Glen Cook

    While I enjoyed the historical context, it would be better to use the correct name of the LDS Church and to refer to Smith by a term other than “Old Joe” which is a term of derision and may reflect on the objectivity of your writing.

  • ericjdev

    This is really good stuff, I was raised LDS and I heard the stones referred to as Urim and Thummim and also as seerstones. Many LDS temple ceremonies seem to me to lean heavily on Freemasonry, he was undoubtedly seriously influenced by it/outright ripping it off.

  • E B

    You write and read selectively, though you hint that Joseph Smith is a complex and likable person. Why not read some pro-Joseph books about his life – still touching on his flaws – such as “Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling” by Lyman Bushman? I’d also like to point out as a practicing Mormon that the Book of Mormon is a text written anciently by practicing Jews/Christians in the Americas, having fled Jerusalem at the time of Babylonian rule. As such, the Book of Mormon has literally NO reference to Freemasonry whatsoever. None. The Doctrine and Covenants doesn’t mention it either, though Mormons are taught about the connection in Church history.

    Also considering that Masonry is an offshoot of the Jewish Temple Practices at the time of Christ, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claims to restore Christ’s Church with the fullness of the gospel (including temples, as in ancient times) to the earth I don’t see why people are surprised at the connections between Mormonism and Judaism and Masonry.
    http://www.conservativemormonmom.blogspot.com

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      “the Book of Mormon is a text written anciently by practicing
      Jews/Christians in the Americas, having fled Jerusalem at the time of
      Babylonian rule.”
      As with any historical claim, what evidence is there of this claim? (I should further point out that there were no Christians at the time of Babylonian rule.)

      • DougH

        What evidence is there that Abraham, Moses or Elijah existed? Or that the Twelve Tribes came out of Egypt and invaded Canaan? The best you can say is that the shoe mostly fits. The same holds for the Book of Mormon.

        And of course there weren’t any Christians at the time of the Babylonian rule, any more than there were at the time of the first Christians – English hadn’t evolved yet, and they called themselves something else, a term for each language. But whatever the language, the name would have the same meaning – Messiahites, the followers of a redemptive, sacrificial Messiah (among other things, even for most Christians – consider Revelations).

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          I can’t prove the existence of the individuals, but we can prove the existence of ethnicity in regional areas throughout history. There is no archaeological for Semite remains in South America between the times of 1894 BC and 539 BC.

          Speaking of BC – Before Christ… There could not have been Christians (regardless of linguistic label) Before Christ It is pretty self explanatory.

          • DougH

            And how many archeological remains do you expect to be left by a couple of families and whatever retainers they brought with them? Say, fifty people tops, some 2600 years ago. And fifty people likely to quickly “go native” in matters of dress, food and architecture.

            And I suppose you can argue that it’s impossible for people to look forward eagerly to the coming of the Messiah if you don’t believe in prophets, but don’t Christians generally claim that the prophets knew of Christ’s coming, and wrote of it? Jesus did open the scriptures to the men he sought out on the road to Emmaus, after all, showing how those scriptures taught of his first coming as well as his second.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I’d expect there to be at least something to suggest their presence, beyond the tablets. Some bone remains, perhaps?

            I am not arguing that there were not messianic Jews eagerly anticipating the arrival of their Messiah, I am arguing that they could validly be labelled as his followers, since he would not have had any teachings for them to follow.

            You will not notice that I am not disputing the veracity of the claim about the tablets, merely asking for evidence to support it.

          • DougH

            I believe by tablets you mean the gold plates? For that we have eleven eyewitness testimonies of the plates’ existence. For archeological remains, if the newcomers adopted the material culture of the native peoples how would you tell them apart? It’s possible that a number of the Mesoamerican ruins we’ve already found are places mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Some Mormon scholars have attempted to work out the most likely candidates and have some reasonable theories, but I doubt we’ll ever know.

            And the situation you describe is precisely what the Book of Mormon describes – people living by the Law of Moses (sometimes) while guided (and sometimes ruled) by prophets, looking forward to the coming of a savior Messiah. Whether you want to call them Christians or reserve that title for those that believe in that Messiah only after his earthly ministry that’s fine, though I’m not sure what other title you’d use. “Christian” derives from a Greek word that means the same thing as the Hebrew Messiah, after all, so basically a Christian is a Messiahite, by way of the Greek language.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I am not asking about evidence for the plates themselves, but the people that they were associated with.

            How would we tell the the Semites apart from the Natives? That can be done by looking at bones. They have been able to determine origin of bones from much older periods of time. Also the potential for remnant artefacts that were brought with. You would also imagine their religious fervour (and genetic legacy) would have seeped into the native population.

            The common usage of ‘Christian’ is ‘one who follows the teachings of the Christ/Messiah.’ Can’t follow his teachings if you predate them.

          • DougH

            I had to do some quick research, because the issue of the ethnicity of bones simply isn’t something that has come up much, either for Mormon scholars or anti-Mormons. Forensics specialists can determine the ethnicity of a body in broad terms (Caucasian, Mongoloid, Negroid) primarily through the skull – however, only if the body is primarily of one ethnicity. I would say that the small numbers of the original party again works against using bones – the chance of finding the body of one of the original fifty max Semitics 26 centuries back is essentially zero, and within a few generations the ethnicity of the native population they intermarried with would have dominated. And as far as I know, we just don’t have many human remains from pre-Classic and early Classic Mesoamerica.

            On the other hand, genetics *is* something that has come up quite a bit, and has proven one thing very clearly – that the belief of a majority of Mormons for most of our history that all the natives of the American continents were descended from Lehi and Ishmael’s families was wrong. However, the Book of Mormon itself when examined closely doesn’t support that belief, either – the region most of the BoM covers is, at most, around 300 miles on a side and the relatively small population that can fit within that territory.

            But when you go with the more reasonable understanding of a small group of people moving into an already inhabited locale things get much dicier. There’s a specific set of characteristics needed for long-term maintenance of a particular genetic signature for alleles in a population:

            1. Completely neutral variants.
            2. No mutation.
            3. No migration.
            4. Constant, nearly infinite population size.
            5. Completely random mate choice.

            That doesn’t seem possible to find, but in reality you can get by if there aren’t significant violations of the assumptions. The populations of the BoM violate at least two and possibly four of the characteristics.

            Then there’s the investigation into haplotypes. But again, while the results are inconclusive at best for a small group of localized immigrants – there are four broad groups of Asian ancestry and a much smaller group of with apparent European/Semitic links that don’t fit, but they’ve also found a number of other haplotypes don’t fit the major groups and are largely ignored in individual studies.

            Simply put, genetics cannot either prove or disprove the claims of the Book of Mormon.

            As for artifacts, we don’t know much about the two families that arrived around 600 B.C., but the best guesstimates I’ve seen is that they were probably originally traders and maybe blacksmiths before migrating. And then they spend almost a decade at minimum on the move, so they would have arrived in the New World – with a completely foreign climate and already extant population and mostly likely quickly adopted local ways of living. Under those conditions, I wouldn’t expect artefacts uniquely different from the surrounding populations – they wouldn’t have known how to produce most if any, and would have needed to adapt to the local environment anyway. Besides, if it isn’t made of stone it isn’t likely to last long once abandoned. And one thing the BoM is clear on is that the level of religious fervor was highly variable from the beginning.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            It is more recent, but I will point to Native American Ancestry for some Icelanders due to Viking exploration in the tenth century being shown through genetic sampling:
            http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ajpa.21419/abstract

            Further, the remains of Luzia Woman, found in Brazil, has been dated to 11,500 years ago:
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luzia_Woman

            So, the potential for the evidence is there.

            As for artefacts, you suggest that at least some of the hypothesised migrants were metalworkers. That would leave evidence, as would their particular decorative trends.

            Without supporting evidence in the historical record, the claim becomes as nebulous as the Loch Ness Monster.

          • DougH

            Your examples help make my point about the uncertainty of genetics in archeology and history – it seems the only reason why they believe that the Icelandic subclade comes from America is because they already knew of the Viking voyages to America – that particular subclade, C1e, isn’t found anywhere else, and one of the four subclades in the larger C1 haplogroup is found in Asia. Without knowing of the Vikings’ voyages to America, they’d probably assume that the most likely source *is* Asia – certainly, the Norse had contacts with the lands east, following the rivers – it’s because of the Norse slave trade that the English word “slave” derives from “Slav.” And in the case of Luiza, we are talking about a single skull that may well “just be due to genetic drift and other factors affecting cranio-facial plasticity in Native Americans” rather than from southeast Asia (To quote from your link.) If they were to find a single skull from 2600 years ago that looked Semitic, they’d probably assert the same thing simply because they’d find that more reasonable than the miniscule two-off Middle Eastern contact the BoM describes.

            And without the supporting evidence in the historical record, the Book of Mormon claims are as tenuous as those of much of the Bible, and as strong – through the testimony of the Spirit. We don’t generally seek to prove the truth of the BoM with what we have learned of Mesoamerica from that 1,000-year period, but to enhance our understanding of it.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Considering this is a Pagan blog, using the Bible to shore up claims of veracity of the Book of Mormon doesn’t work too well.

          • DougH

            I hardly expect non-Mormons to accept my own spiritual claims as proof of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, whether they be Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Wiccan, whatever. If they did they’d be Mormon. What I would hope is that they’d grant us the same personal legitimacy of faith that they would grant to others not of their religion – that as with others we may be wrong (not that “wrong” is much of a concern with pagans, from what I understand), but aren’t stupid, ignorant, or willfully blind.

            The simple fact of the matter is that Mormons’ belief in the Book of Mormon is not based on physical evidence but a personal spiritual testimony, nor do we use what physical evidence there might be to try and “sell” the BoM to others. Those of us that take an amateur interest in Mesoamerican archeology do so mainly out of a desire to better understand the people written of in our book, not to justify its veracity.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I just like to try and find hard, verifiable evidence for historical claims. (Trust me when I say that a lot of Paganism has more problems with that than Mormonism.)

          • DougH

            I tend to be the same way, I enjoy learning about the why’s and wherefore’s of history – the daily lives and ways of thinking as much as the great battles. But sometimes hard answers simply aren’t there, and you have to go with assumption piled on supposition until something better comes along, IF something better comes along. The Age of Arthur, for instance, Great Britain from around 400 to 600 AD, an important and fascinating period about which we will probably never know all that much – certainly not as much as we’d like to.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            We tend to call that the ‘Migration Period’, as that is when the Germanic tribes invaded and settled these shores.

            Whilst we will never learn as much as we would like about those times, we still do have more knowledge on the period than many would suppose.

            I do agree that many things are assumptions based on pretty weak evidences. The important thing is to be open to new information, rather than attempting to suppress it as it does not fit in with preconceived notions of how something should be.

          • DougH

            Ah, but “The Age of Arthur” is so much more romantic!

            And you’re right about needing to be open to new information, of course, but you also need to be careful not to go overboard when interpreting new discoveries. When the first genetic survey was published showing a large majority of American Indians were originally from Asia, anti-Mormons exulted that the Book of Mormon had been proven false when all that had been proven was that the belief that all American aborigines were descendents of the Lehites was wrong. Then when the American Indian Haplogroup X was found to be shared by some populations in Europe and the Middle East, some Mormons started pointing to it as evidence of the Lehites. No, it wasn’t that, either – too old, wrong geographical location.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            It’s only romantic if you favour Arthur over the Saxons…

  • trytoseeitmyway

    I’m a fan of The Doors too, but I have to wonder about someone who reads a couple of books and thinks he’s an expert. I can’t imagine on what basis “No Man Knows My History” can be claimed as the best biography of Joseph Smith after the publication of Richard Bushman’s “Rough Stone Rolling.” And Michael Quinn’s work – as the article admits, the author simply plowed through “Early Mormonism” and repeated uncritically what he read there – was inspired by claimed historical documents that later turned out to be forgeries. Quinn’s answer to that was that the forgeries raised issues that required a re-examination of other evidence. That’s the old “fake but accurate” defense.

  • S B

    Joseph Smith founded the Church in 1830, not 1827 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mormon_church

    Also, I haven’t been able to find any passage in the Doctrine and Covenants reading: “now this is not all, for you have another gift, which is the gift of
    working with the rod: behold it has told you things: behold there is no
    other power save God, that can cause this rod of nature to work in your
    hands” I’d be interested in seeing your source for this quote.

    The closest I’ve found is D&C 8: 6-7 “Now this is not all thy gift; for you have another gift, which is the gift of Aaron; behold, it has told you many things; Behold, there is no other power, save the power of God, that can cause this gift of Aaron to be with you.” This text may be less exciting than the one you cite, but it makes more sense given Joseph Smith’s actual culture.

    It sounds like you’re having fun learning more about Joseph Smith, but two months isn’t very long to get a deep understanding of an unusual religion. I hope you’ll consider talking to some real Mormons to find out more about what we really believe.

  • David Crampton

    E B, Jason isn’t a practicing Mormon, so he’s likely to approach the history of the LDS Church from an outside, objective point of view. Historical correlations and available academic analyzations of religious texts are more likely to be considered as primary sources. As there aren’t any historical references to the Book of Mormon before the 1820′s (please correct me if I am in error), he’d have to take that as its starting point.

    trytoseeitmyway, I’m not seeing the part where Jason claimed to be an expert.

    From a Mormon perspective, is the claim to have roots in the Western Magical Tradition offensive?

    • DougH

      When it comes to subjects such as Joseph Smith and the history of the LDS Church, there is no such thing as an objective POV – the view of the unbeliever is as subjective as that of the believer. What’s important is how academically rigorous either’s conclusions are. I enjoy reading articles about the Church written by outsiders, they often have a unique and sometimes enlightening perspective, but on my mission I read anti-Mormon literature for its comedic value – it was blindingly clear that those writers hadn’t done their homework.

      And while I obviously can’t speak for everyone, this Mormon doesn’t find anything offensive here. Joseph Smith didn’t cease to be a product of his time and place when he became a prophet, and at least one scholar has suggested that it was that very Western Magical Tradition that enabled him to become a prophet – he needed to be open to the possibility of getting an answer before he asked God the question that resulted in the First Vision, after all.

  • Chris

    Wonderful article. As an Ex-mormon, I appreciate anything that helps folks better understand the religion and its roots before they immerse themselves in it. This article gives a good, objective outline of J.S.’s background and modus operandi without the bias of so many publications spewed out by either the anti-LDS or the LDS community itself.

    Just the facts ma’am, just the facts.


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