Join us as we sit down with John Hamer, historian of the Latter-day Saint movement and a Seventy in Community of Christ to try to understand some of the basics of Mormon Origins. In this first episode of the series, we will look at the Smith family’s folk magic and folk religious background in context. We also have an important discussion about how practitioners of folk magic believe (or not) in the authenticity of their practice, including whether or not the Smith’s believed in theirs.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 1

Download MP3

Part 2

Download MP3


  1. Dave November 16, 2018 at 12:07 pm - Reply

    Can I get a copy of your ponderous PowerPoints John?

  2. Mark Blanchard November 17, 2018 at 11:58 pm - Reply

    I was extremely critical of the Melonakos interviews, but I found this “second in the series” of Mormon Origins interviews to be much more successful. Probably because Mr. Hamer can articulate his views much more clearly.

    While it was evident that Mr. Hamer’s views were influenced by a Community of Christ perspective, this was neither confusing or off-putting. In fact, it was refreshing to get that slightly-different spin on things. This topic was basically “Quinn-lite” with a dose of CoC empathy, but it worked. I found myself being prodded towards a more compassionate and inclusive posture on the subject, more willing to cut the “hucksters” and “rubes” of Joseph Smith’s early America some slack and allow them to be earnest, if mis-guided, believers doing the best they could in a pre-scientific world with limited educations. This was a great excerize in shedding our presentism for a moment and stepping back in time to a different American culture.

    I could see Hamer’s point that it was possible for the early Smith to believe his own stories and perhaps convince himself that if he told little white lies in support of his visions, he might justify them as being for the greater good. That tack works… right up to the creation of physical props in support of Smith’s bold claims. At that point, when Smith puts a pair of spectacles in a bag and claims they’re the too-holy-to-see Urim & Thummin or he puts a stack of brass plates in a box and claims the box holds the equally holy GP’s, he moves from sincere-if-slightly-deluded zealot to Barnumesque flim flam artist. And if that’s the case, I have no further use for any book that sprouted from the mind of said flim flamer, no matter how sincere he may have been, or how much good he wrought with his creation. I need much more help to see how the CoC can derive use from it, accepting as they do that the BoM is not a historical document.

    Which may be a topic for another day. But anyway, kudos on these two interviews.

    • John Dehlin November 18, 2018 at 6:10 am - Reply

      So happy to hear that you enjoyed John’s interview, Mark!

      • Mark Blanchard November 24, 2018 at 7:56 pm - Reply

        In follow up to the above, I just read a fascinating paper by Ann Taves, titled “Joseph Smith and the Materialization of the Golden Plates” that makes a very similar argument to Mr. Hamer’s. Taves proposes that Smith was a devout and believing man with a lengthy history of fringe magical thinking, who believed his visions to such a degree that they became real to him, and who crafted a set of material plates as a “vessel” to become sanctified into the “real” plates. He did this in much the same way that a Catholic Priest blesses the eucharist and wine until they become transfigured into the actual body and blood of Christ. With the sanctification, they are not just symbols of the body and blood as Mormons would think, devout Catholics believe they are the actual body and blood. Likewise Smith believed his crafted plates were the real plates.

        Taves’s proposition is intriguing and not tremendously far-fetched. After all, the whole Smith family had a history of making, finding and believing in sacred objects that only became sacred to them once they made them or found them. That’s what a peepstone was… an ordinary rock that only became imbued with supernatural powers when it was paired with the right shaman (To every wizard, his wand) and blessed through rite or enchantment. That’s what the Hyrum Smith’s “Holiness to the Lord” parchment and Jupiter Talisman were — crafted objects that became magical through divine investiture, rite or enchantment. In the believer’s mind, these objects became no less holy and real for having been first built, then sanctified, than if they had descended from heaven already formed.

        A fascinating follow-up to Mr. Hamer’s POV, or perhaps seed for another interview in your series of “Origins of Mormonism”. She’s a professor of religion at UC Santa Barbara.

        Here’s the link

    • Tom Bennett December 28, 2018 at 4:04 pm - Reply

      “I need much more help to see how the CoC can derive use from it, accepting as they do that the BoM is not a historical document.”
      This is where we appreciate the power of metaphor. Everything in life is an amalgamation of truth and untruth. Truth is truly relative to the time and place in which it occurs. What often defines what we can take away from something is our attitude toward it. In time you will likely have a variety of attitudes to the Book of Mormon. While I no longer consider myself a Mormon, not LDS at least, I will always benefit from my time in the LDS church and from the metaphors I came to know in the Restoration movement. I hope the same for you.

  3. Dot November 18, 2018 at 2:55 am - Reply

    John Hamer is a gift. Thank you for this great exchange.

  4. David November 19, 2018 at 8:05 am - Reply

    Was now, I want to be a Latter-day Seeker.
    If only I can get my family on board too…

  5. Paul November 19, 2018 at 4:17 pm - Reply

    I believe it was members or a member of Josiah Stowell’s family that pressed charges against Joseph Smith for being a glass looker and not the Knight family. Josiah actually defended Joseph. He’s the one that told the court or the judge that Joseph actually was a Seer and could see treasure in his stone and hat combination

  6. James November 20, 2018 at 10:57 am - Reply

    There is all this alternate history – very interesting. However, many anti-Mormons and evangelicals especially research the history using books such as Mormonism Unveiled by E.D. Howe which is largely based on the spurious affidavits drafted, compiled, and (allegedly) collected by the controversial Philastus Harlbut. Richard Bushman did a great job – mostly in end notes – of showing how and why the Harlbut affidavits are not trustworthy. Harlbut went out of his way to discredit Smith’s character, and to this day the likes of Sandra Tanner at Utah Lighthouse Ministry use his work to show that Smith was of a bad character, without taking a look at Harlbut’s character – which evidently was pretty bad). What I am getting at is – is there any history better researched, more reliable, and more dependent on primary sources and first-hand accounts than Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling?? I read Palmer’s Origins, and it too is heavily dependent on Mormonism Unveiled and the Harlbut affidavits.

    • MICHAEL November 21, 2018 at 5:53 pm - Reply

      Quinn’s Early Mormonism and the Magic World View is the best.

      • James November 22, 2018 at 11:11 am - Reply

        I have read that, and Bushman uses it quite extensively. But it does nothing to address the veracity of the first vision, encounters with Moroni, three witnesses, eight witnesses, Kirkland visions, Preston demons, etc. And Quinn remains a believer. In other words, outside Bushman’s RSR, I do not believe there is a more reliable history. Palmer’s “Origins”, Howe’s “Mormonism Unveiled”, and even Brodie’s “No Man Knows my History”, and the literature produced by Sandra Tanner at the Utah Lighthouse Ministry (which forms the basis of most evangelical Anti-Mormon literature) – none of it is taken seriously by Bushman. or even addressed by him, probably because as a Harvard historian (or whatever Ivy League he was at), he has to take history seriously and consider only primary reliable sources.

  7. Rex November 30, 2018 at 12:01 pm - Reply

    Always love Hamer’s perspective. I love the fresh perspective of the Talisman’s connection and touching to the garment of today. Also the scryer’s glass, mirror, crystal ball being the same flavor to the seer stone becoming basically a “crystal ball” in the bottom of the hat. Thanks for these enightened perspectives John. Just stuff not thought about in my world being thought of today.

    • Tom Bennett December 28, 2018 at 3:58 pm - Reply

      well put, drawing the parellels is very interesting and perspective building. Also the examples of “folk magic” he pointed out. Leaning and willing a ball to go somewhere while watching sports, manifesting, essential oils. People will always exhibit varying degrees of superstition.

  8. Tom Bennett December 28, 2018 at 3:56 pm - Reply

    What a great series of interviews. I think it goes to show that all spiritual concepts must be taken metaphorically and in that way they can still be as imbued with magick as we need them to be, whether that be folk magic or organized religion. It is the nature of man to add a sense of awe to that which causes him to inquire of existence.

    “I am constantly in awe of the great mystery which surrounds us.” -H.O.W.L (The Holy Order of Wildlife)

Leave A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.