Folk Magic / Treasure Digging

Folk magic and occult beliefs were a part of early American and Mormon culture, affecting practice and doctrine in profound ways. Despite the scientific enlightenment movement that swept across Europe, Americans of diverse social classes and education levels inherited superstitions and supernatural beliefs from the colonial period. Publishers produced many volumes and almanacs that contained astrological and mystical information. Despite a predominantly uneducated citizenry in rural New England areas, an abundance of libraries across the region provided a vast array of books of all types, including texts on folk magic and alchemy.

Numerous foundational Mormon families actively believed in apparitions, divining rods, talismans, seer stones, planetary superstitions, lunar cycles, astrology and enchantments. The Smith family’s involvement in ritual magic is now widely acknowledged by the LDS Church. Smith family descendants eventually donated and displayed folk magic items, including amulets, talismans, parchments, daggers, and even magical canes and handkerchiefs. While it is easy to acknowledge and dismiss these beliefs as non-doctrinal, they become problematic when a careful examination of Mormonism reveals that there is no extricating these folk beliefs from the visions of Joseph Smith, his translations and much of the text of the Book of Mormon.

D. Michael Quinn, a prolific historian of Mormonism, observed that “the official version of early Mormon history is often incomplete in its presentation of material facts and evaluation of evidence; therefore it is inaccurate in many respects. The Smith family’s folk beliefs, treasure digging ventures and their effect on Mormon revelation are perhaps the most troubling topics for Mormon apologists and polemics, who often deny legitimate sources while selectively embracing items which conveniently fit the official Mormon narrative meticulously polished over a span of two centuries.” Quinn’s, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, is highly recommended to anyone seeking to understand how folk magic impacted early Church leaders.

See Translation Process for a thorough examination of how the Book of Mormon came to be.

TREASURE DIGGING


Upstate New York and Vermont were meccas of treasure-digging. Poorer families were infatuated with stories of buried wealth, while treasure quests occasionally attracted even prominent and wealthy participants. The Smiths’ Palmyra home was approximately three miles from the Erie Canal. Public intrigue was such that a boat would “move up and down the canal, bearing the riches of science as well as the gifts of fortune” claiming to result from the digs. [1] 

Regional treasure lore developed around the infamous Captain William Kidd, a former pirate hunter who turned pirate in the late seventeenth century. Additionally, much of the land had been taken from Native Americans and the white settlers who came afterward felt free to take whatever they could from the ground, disregarding that it was likely from burial sites of religious value to marginalized peoples. Oak Island, the site of a tremendous amount of treasure speculation, lies near Novia Scotia. Captain Kidd adventure novels were popular in the day, and the Smiths are documented to have enjoyed them. Palmyra resident Ann Eaton noted that Kidd was Joseph’s “hero,” whose work he “eagerly and often perused.” [2]

Many Smith neighbors, including Peter Ingersoll and Willard Chase, confirmed the family’s involvement in treasure digging. [3] Joseph Smith Sr. and William Cowdery, Oliver’s father, were members of the New Israelites, a Congregationalist group that focused on the powers of rod divination or “dowsing,” which is the belief that those who are skilled or inherently blessed can use special rods to find underground water sources, buried treasure, gemstones, oil, or other precious items. 

Similarly, clients testified that Joseph Jr. followed family tradition, looking into a peep stone in search of buried treasure. Upon hire, Smith would use what was believed to be a gift of “scrying,” or looking into the stone and seeing the location of supposed treasure. However, as was typically the case with such digs, the treasure would “slip away” into the earth or be whisked away by a guardian spirit. The lore surrounding the treasure was that guardians protected the prize with enchantments. Treasure seekers spun tales of spirits or angels who would thwart the dig, sometimes appearing as beings, other times as enchanted animals such as salamanders or toads.

Most treasure seekers, including the Smiths, would perform ritual magic in an attempt to counter such enchantments. Joseph Smith Sr. possessed a pointed dagger inscribed with astrological and occult symbols, which his family used to etch circles around digging sites to bind the enchantment or protect the diggers. Regardless, the treasure always remained elusive.

As one contemporary observed: Their digging in several places was in compliance with peeper Smith’s revelations, who would attend with his peep-stone in his hat, and his hat drawn over his face, and would tell them how deep they would have to go; but when they would find no trace of the chest of money, he would peep again, and weep like a child, and tell them the enchantment had removed it on account of some sin or thoughtless word; finally the enchantment became so strong that he could not see, and so the business was abandoned.” [4]

Joseph’s mother elaborated on the family’s affinity for folk magic when recording her family’s history. Lucy wrote, “Let not my reader suppose that because I shall pursue another topic for a season that we stopped our labor and went at trying to win the faculty of Abrac, drawing magic circles, or soothsaying to the neglect of all kinds of business. We never during our lives suffered one important interest to swallow up every other obligation.” [5] While understandably defensive of the disrepute commonly associated with money digging, Josiah Stowell indicated that the Smith’s loss of land and home in December 1825 owed at least in part to the Smiths preoccupation with treasure seeking. Joseph Knight’s personal history tells of his early acquaintance with Smith. Housed in the Church archives, this manuscript is “missing at least one beginning page.” The missing portion would likely cover the period when treasure digging was the primary association of Knight with the teenaged Joseph Smith. [6] 

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Benjamin Franklin

A century before the Smiths, Benjamin Franklin addressed treasure-digging.  He wrote: “There are among us great numbers of honest artificers and labouring people, who fed with a vain hope of growing suddenly rich, neglect their business, almost to the ruining of themselves and families, and voluntarily endure abundance of fatigue in a fruitless search after imaginary hidden treasure. . . . At length a mighty hole is dug, and perhaps several cartloads of earth thrown out, but alas, no cag or iron pot is found! no seaman’s chest cram’d with Spanish pistoles, or weighty pieces of eight! Then they conclude, that thro’ some mistake in the procedure, some rash word spoke, or some rule of art neglected, the guardian spirit had power to sink it deeper into the earth and convey it out of their reach.” [7] 

Though often portrayed as harmless folklore, Franklin’s commentary reiterates that the practice was perceived as long ago as the Colonial Era to be unscrupulous and even fraudulent. In Smith’s day, defrauding others with claims of lost treasure was illegal.

JOSEPH SMITH’S FAVORED BROWN SEER STONE.

JOSEPH FINDS A SEER STONE


The Smith’s Manchester neighbors included the Chase family, known treasure diggers. When young Joseph learned of Sally Chase’s reputation for locating lost objects using her blue-green seer stone, he persuaded his parents to let him visit her. Upon gazing into Sally’s stone, Smith envisioned an opaque white rock of his own. He described the stone as being located under a tree near Lake Erie, some distance away.

Joseph’s father suggested that Joseph obtained his first stone at “about fourteen years of age.” Historian Dan Vogel suggests the event occurred “probably in 1822 when he was sixteen years old.” [8] This timeline aligns with Smith’s confession at his 1826 Glass Looker trial (described in more depth below) to have been engaged in scrying for three years.

In 1822, Willard Chase hired Joseph and Alvin Smith to help dig. Some historians have suggested that they were digging a well, while others have described it as a treasure hole. Lorenzo Saunders, a brother-in-law of the Chases, claimed that Joseph’s brown rock was found while digging a treasure hole with the Chases, not for the Chases, who likely told others they were digging a well. “They dug that hole for money,” Saunders wrote, “Chases and Smiths altogether was digging it.” [9] 

Regardless of the timeline or intent, many sources both friendly and antagonistic have confirmed that Smith obtained three peep stones (seer stones) as a teenager. Dan Vogel’s examination of this period led him to conclude that Joseph “was an aggressive, ambitious leader among Manchester’s treasure seekers.” [10] Elder Steven E. Snow, LDS Church Historian, noted: “By 1825, young Joseph had a reputation in Manchester and Palmyra for his activities as a treasure seer, or someone who used a seer stone to locate gold or other valuable objects buried in the earth.” [11] 

In an 1859 interview, Joseph Smith’s early scribe and confidant, Martin Harris, recalled his experience with the Smith family: “There was a company there in that neighborhood, who were digging for money supposed to have been hidden by the ancients… They dug for money in Palmyra, Manchester, also in Pennsylvania, and other places. When Joseph found this stone, there was a company digging in Harmony, PA., and they took Joseph to look in the stone for them, and he did so for a while, and then he told them the enchantment was so strong that he could not see, and they gave it up.” [12] 

Joseph used his seer stones in the same manner as Sally Chase, by placing the stone in his hat and then burying his face in his hat to block out the light. It was through this method that Joseph’s mother said he was able to see things “invisible to the natural eye.” Lucy also recounted how Sally Chase aligned with competing treasure diggers and would use her green stone years later to discover where Joseph hid the gold plates. [13] 

After his marriage to Emma, Joseph carried the brown rock around his neck in a small pouch that she constructed, and he regularly consulted it for guidance. Decades later in Utah, President Woodruff referred to having “the seer stone that Joseph Smith found by revelation some 30 feet under the earth carried by him through life.”

It will become clear in later parts of this essay that seer stones were not abandoned by Joseph Smith when, according to his own dictated history, he supposedly repented of his frivolous treasure digging ways, but rather was the beginning of his ongoing claims to supernatural powers and attempts to convince others of things which could not be seen. The “seer stones” become part of the story of the Book of Mormon, as special stones are embedded into the narrative of the Jaredites and would later be substituted as the “Urim and Thumim.” The “gold plates” were also made of precious metal, buried in the earth, delivered by an angel who spoke to Smith alone and refused to allow him to obtain them until he had proven himself worthy. The Mormon narrative is not separate from treasure digging, but wholly founded in it. 

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SEER FOR HIRE


Lucy Smith validated her son’s treasure digging expertise and related employment when discussing Josiah Stowell’s 1825 journey to New York. She stated that he made the long journey “with a view of getting Joseph to assist him in digging for a silver mine . . . on account of having heard that he possessed certain keys, by which he could discern things invisible to the natural eye.” [14] 

On Nov 1, 1825, an Articles of Agreement was entered into by eleven shareholders, including Stowell and both Smith Jr. and Sr., clarifying how they would divide the anticipated spoils of their money digs in Pennsylvania. [15] 

It’s important to understand how desperate the Smiths were financially and how treasure digging had become a family necessity, though it was also a vice that contributed to their cycle of dependency. Having previously lost everything in a failed ginseng enterprise, Joseph Sr. had yet to regain financial stability. Russell Stoddard, a carpenter who labored on the Smith’s framed house, had sued Joseph Sr. for $66.59 that February for failure to compensate his labor.  The Smiths owed many other creditors, and their mortgage was more than three years delinquent, the terms having already been graciously extended by the land agent to December 1825. Smith Sr. appears never to have been a particularly good farmer, and his son followed in this path.

This same Stoddard managed to obtain the deed to the Smith property at this time, after which he promptly moved to evict them. At the final hour, the Smiths managed to secure the favor of an old Quaker friend, Lemuel Durfee, who purchased the property. He allowed the Smiths to remain for an additional year in exchange for Samuel Smith’s help on his farm. Soon after, Joseph Sr. launched out with the Stowell company to pursue buried treasure in another state.

Rumor and disgrace likely rippled through the small community as the Smiths became renters on their forfeit land. Dan Vogel observed: “The fact that he [Smith Sr.] dug for treasure with Stowell’s company in Harmony [PA]…when he should have been working to pay for his Manchester [NY] property undoubtedly contributed to his neighbors’ assessment of his character.” Like father, it appears, like son.

THE GLASS LOOKER TRIAL


Although previously discredited as a pre-trial examination, historians of Mormonism now accept the court transcripts of The People Vs. Joseph Smith, The Glass Looker on March 20, 1826, as a legitimate trial. BYU historian Marvin Hill observed: “Most historians, Mormon or not, who work with the sources, accept as fact Smith’s career as village magician. Too many of his closest friends and family admitted as much, and some of Smith’s own revelations support the contention.” [16]

Given that no treasure ever materialized, Stowell’s nephew, Peter Bridgeman took legal action after he became sufficiently concerned over Smith’s unfulfilled promises, ever-increasing requests for money and complaints about treasure slipping away. In his complaint, he wrote: “Mr. Stowell is represented as being not a very bright man, but he had saved considerable money for those times, and Joe Smith managed to get and spend most of it.” [17]

Smith was arrested in March 1826 for disturbing the peace, a charge commonly used for charlatans and tricksters, and according to the Vagrant Act of New York included those “pretending to tell fortunes, or to discover where lost goods may be found.” Referred to as “The Glass Looker” in court documents, Joseph openly admitted to indulging in magic arts and organizing hunts for buried gold. New York law provided punishment for disorderly persons, whose definition included jugglers (conjurors), diviners, and those pretending to have skill in discovering lost goods. The charge aligns with uncle Jesse Smith’s description of Joseph: “He says he has eyes to see things that are not, and then has the audacity to say they are, and that the angel of the Lord . . . has put him in possession of great wealth, gold, silver, precious stones.” [18] 

During the trial, Joseph testified on his own behalf, insisting for his defense that he could actually see “hidden treasures in the bowels of the earth,” despite never once having found any. He confirmed that he used a seer stone to help others look for treasure. The Church confirms Joseph’s involvement in treasure digging, and resulting arrest, in Joseph Smith’s 1826 Trial. [19]

Twelve witnesses were subpoenaed and many testified at Joseph’s trial, including Jonathan Thompson, who told Judge Neely that he believed in Smith’s powers. He reported digging with the seer in pursuit of a “chest of money.” Thompson “struck his spade upon . . . probably the chest, but on account of an enchantment, the trunk kept settling away from under them while digging.” Josiah Stowell similarly described a dig in which the “money moved down” beyond their reach.

Despite Smith’s assertion, via his close associate Oliver Cowdery, in the October 1835 edition of Messenger and Advocate that “he was honorably acquitted,” Justice Albert Neely’s court notes recorded: “And therefore the court finds the defendant guilty.” Dan Vogel observed: “Joseph told followers that his early persecutions resulted from his visionary claims, but his severest persecution actually stemmed from his activities as a treasure seer.” It remains unclear if Smith believed that he had true power to find treasure or if he was deceiving people for financial gain. The same questions remain hotly debated about his beliefs in his own religion.

The story of Joseph Smith’s arrest and trial for money digging was published in the Salt Lake Messenger in 1971, shortly after the records were discovered. More important than Smith’s conviction, however, is how the records confirm his involvement in for-profit treasure seeking immediately before bringing forth the Book of Mormon. Historian Dale Morgan wrote: “It is immaterial what the finding of the court was on the technical charge of being a disorderly person and an imposter, what is important is the evidence adduced, and its bearing on the life of Joseph Smith before he announced his claim to be a prophet of God.” [20] Hugh Nibley, a prominent LDS scholar, observed: “[I]f this court record is authentic it is the most damning evidence in existence against Joseph Smith.” [21] 

Joseph Smith Sr.’s testimony at the trial framed his son’s money digging enterprise in religious themes, asserting that “both he and his son were mortified that this wonderful power which God had so miraculously given him should be used only in search of filthy lucre, or its equivalent in earthly treasures.” He hoped the “son of Righteousness would someday illumine the heart of the boy, and enable him to see His will concerning him.” [22] Again, it is possible that this was a sincere belief that promptly transformed into the new religion that Smith Jr. created. It is also possible that it was not. In any case, the language around treasure digging is so similar to the language around the discovery of the gold plates and other supernatural paraphernalia that it should at least prompt believing LDS members to reflect.

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SLIPPERY, CURSED TREASURE


The notion of slippery treasure, guardian spirits, and curses reflects early American folklore. These beliefs infuse the Book of Mormon text and descriptions of its discovery and translation. There are too many similarities to ignore. The prophet Mormon describes a problem in ancient America with language that is very much in line with nineteenth-century American treasure seekers. “The inhabitants thereof began to hide up their treasures in the earth; and they became slippery,” wrote the prophet Mormon. The scene was evidently such that “there were sorceries, and witchcrafts, and magics . . .  the land was cursed” (Morm. 1:18-19). And it’s not just Mormon who infuses treasure digging language into the narrative. Helaman wrote: “And behold, if a man hide up a treasure in the earth, and the Lord shall say—Let it be accursed . . . behold, it shall be accursed. And if the Lord shall say—Be thou accursed, that no man shall find these from this time henceforth and forever—behold, no man getteth it henceforth and forever” (Hel. 12:18-19), and “Yeah, we have hid up our treasures and they have slipped away from us, because of the curse of the land” (Hel. 13:35).

Martin Harris, one of Smith’s earliest supporters and an official “witness” of the gold plates, later shared a fascinating story of his experience digging with the Smiths. “I will tell you a wonderful thing that happened after Joe had found the plates. Three of us took some tools to go to the hill (Cumorah) and hunt for some more boxes, or gold or something, and indeed we found a stone box. We got quite excited about it and dug quite carefully around it, and we were ready to take it up, but behold, by some unseen power it slipped back into the hill. We stood there and looked at it, and one of us took a crow bar and tried to drive it through the lid to hold it, but it glanced and broke one corner of the box.” The three which Harris mentioned included Smith Sr., who “insisted upon it,” as well as Smith Jr. They reportedly broke off a chunk of the chest as it receded into the hill, retaining the piece as a memento. [23]

If Smith abandoned treasure digging, as he claimed, prior to his spiritual transformation which led him to the gold plates, why attempt to secure additional items at the hill Cumorah? What about his repentance? These are questions that modern LDS members cannot help but ask when they learn more about the true origins of the Church.

Joseph’s peep stone with carrying case.

PEEP STONES vs URIM AND THUMMIM


The brown peep stone that Joseph put into a hat to translate the Book of Mormon and the spiritual term “Urim and Thummim” that is mentioned in the religious text became synonymous to Smith. However, the only connection between the Biblical Urim and Thummim (which anciently refers to the colorful jewel elements of the breastplate worn by the temple High Priest) and seer stones is that they were both used as tools of divination (Lev. 8:8; 1 Sam. 14:41).

Brigham Young demonstrated the interchangeable terms Smith used: “I met with the Twelve at Brother Joseph’s. He conversed with us in a familiar manner on a variety of subjects, and explained to us the Urim and Thummim which he found with the plates, called in the Book of Mormon the Interpreters. He said that every man who lived on the earth was entitled to a seer stone, and should have one, but they are kept from them in consequence of their wickedness, and most of those who do find one make an evil use of it; he showed us his seer stone.” [24] 

Many modern LDS members who have heard the term “Urim and Thummim” imagine spectacles of sorts with special stones in the eye pieces that would allow Joseph Smith to translate the Reformed Egyptian characters on the plates. As the official narrative has changed to align with historical records and eyewitness accounts, they are asked to accept that it is perfectly acceptable for Joseph Smith to have actually translated the gold plates by looking at the seer stone with his face in a hat, never once looking at the characters themselves. But in what sense is this a translation? And if no one saw the gold plates with anything other than spiritual eyes, what assurance do members have that the translation of those plates is any better than the thoroughly discredited translation of the Egyptian papyrus that spawned the Book of Abraham? Or if apologists give up the idea of gold plates, then why was it so important for Joseph Smith to even have them?

OBTAINING THE PLATES


Joseph’s family, friends, and neighbors bore witness to a very different process of obtaining the gold plates than what is commonly taught, with the night-time visitation by the angel Moroni and subsequent journey to the Hill Cumorah to be shown the plates, but not allowed to take them. Regarding this period of Smith’s life, Dan Vogel guides: “One must be cautious in reconstructing the original story, especially when citing portions that were influenced by Joseph’s later emendations.” [25] 

Martin Harris confirmed: “He found them [the gold plates] by looking in the stone found in the well of Mason Chase. The family had likewise told me the same thing. . . .  It was by means of this stone he first discovered the plates.” [26] The simple seer stone that had so recently guided Joseph Smith in search of buried treasure was apparently the real source of the gold plates. By all contemporary accounts, the angel was a later addition, when Smith began to reframe the plates as a religious text and the foundation of his new religious movement, rather than the money-making venture from which they originated.

Henry Harris, a contemporary of Joseph Smith’s, stated regarding the gold plates: “He looked in his stone and saw them in the place of deposit.” [27] Willard Chase recounted how Joseph told him that without the stone, “he would not have obtained the book.” [28] Another Palmyra resident, Orsamus Turner, recalled: “It was by looking at this stone in a hat, the light excluded, that Joseph discovered the plates.” [29]  John Gilbert, who typeset the Book of Mormon, recalled Smith telling him that “by the aid of his wonderful stone he found gold plates on which were inscribed the writings in hieroglyphics.” [30] 

Willard Chase claimed that in 1827 Joseph Smith, Sr. told him “that some years ago, a spirit had appeared to Joseph his son, in a vision, and informed him that in a certain place there was a record on plates of gold; and that he was the person that must obtain them. He [Joseph Smith] then observed that if it had not been for that stone, he would not have obtained the book.” [31] 

Oliver Cowdery elaborated on how Smith was “prevented from obtaining the gold treasure by a thrice-repeated shock that was produced upon his system.” According to occult folklore, thrice repeated instructions from guardians or spirits signified truthfulness. Thus, it should also be no surprise that the Angel Moroni first appeared to young Joseph three times in one evening to repeat his instructions. Further, the repetition of three yearly visits to the Hill Cumorah sounds very different within this context of mythic story telling. Were these experiences about the restoration of the original gospel of Jesus Christ or a new American twist on an old religion?

Benjamin Saunders, Joseph’s neighbor, spoke positively of the Smiths. Mormonism Unvailed chose not include his affidavit in 1834 because it was deemed too favorable to Smith. Yet even he recounted of hearing first-hand of Joseph’s encounter with a toad-like creature – not an angel. “When he took the plates there was something down near the box that looked some like a toad that rose up into a man which forbid him to take the plates…” Willard Chase’s 1833 affidavit also mentions Smith’s encounter with the toad: “He saw in the box something like a toad, which soon assumed the appearance of a man, and struck him on the side of his head.”

The 1823 Visit

The traditional narrative states that Joseph Smith Jr. made three attempts to obtain the plates from the Hill Cumorah on the evening of Sept 21, 1823, the day after the angel first visited him. Willard Chase, Joseph Knight, Lucy Mack Smith, and William Smith recounted various aspects of Smith’s attempts, including his astonishment when the plates unexpectedly disappeared, as well as how he was overpowered from touching them again after he had placed them on the ground. According to Smith himself, upon moving a large stone, he discovered the plates within a stone box. According to his mother, after Joseph lifted the plates from the hole, he set them on the ground to investigate if anything else “would be of some pecuniary advantage to him.” But when he returned his attention the plates, they had disappeared from sight, returning to their location in the hole.

Joseph’s mother went on to describe how her son again tried to retrieve them but “was hurled back upon the ground with great violence. When he recovered, the angel was gone.” Far from feeling a spiritual calling from God, it seems that even Smith’s direct family members described his intentions as purely mercenary and more consistent with early American treasure-digging lore. Joseph wondered if the enchantment prohibited him. He asked aloud, “Why can I not obtain this book?” The angel appeared and responded, “Because you have not kept the commandments of the Lord.” [32] 

Lucy Smith also elaborated on the specific instructions her son Joseph had received from the guardian of the gold plates, echoing folklore of this era of Americana. He was “not to lay the plates down, or put them for a moment out of his hands, until he got into the house and deposited them in a chest or trunk, having a good lock and key.” On this task, Smith failed and the plates slipped away again. [33] 

According to Joseph Smith and the attestations of friends and family, the angel provided further instruction to bring his elder brother Alvin the following year on an appointed date. Accounts differ regarding what transpired during subsequent visits. Regardless, the historical record is not nearly as simple as the later narrative that Joseph Smith recorded in his personal history so often referred to in the faithful LDS narrative.

The 1824 Visit

Joseph is said to have returned to Cumorah in 1824 without Alvin, who had passed away in November of the prior year. Perhaps this lack of prophetic clarity is part of the reason that the narrative later changed to excise the necessity of Alvin’s presence. All accounts agree that the guardian required Smith to bring another person with him on the appointed date of September 22 of the coming year after the lack of success in obtaining the plates on this second visit. While not providing specific instruction, Smith was advised that he would know who the right person was. Joseph Knight recalled Smith explaining that he “might have the book if he brought with him the right person.” [34] 

FATHER SMITH’S NEWSPAPER NOTICE

Within days of Smith’s second unsuccessful visit to the hill in 1824, someone discussed exhuming Alvin Smith’s body. Perhaps a family member had mentioned the angel’s requirement that Alvin accompany Joseph, and the predicament his recent death precipitated. Some may have speculated that the Smiths would use Alvin’s body to satisfy the treasure guardian. Joseph Smith Sr. printed a public notice in the Wayne Sentinel to address the rumors, reassuring the community that Alvin’s body was still buried and intact.

Dan Vogel suggests “Joseph Sr.’s explanation for disinterring Alvin’s body is questionable because one should have been able to determine if the grave had been disturbed without exhuming the body. It seems probable, therefore, that Joseph Sr. himself may have been the source of the rumor, that the story was a ruse to exhume Alvin’s body for its use in attempting to get the gold plates.” [35] 

To modern sensibilities, this detail in the story of obtaining the gold plates may seem too bizarre to credit, but it fits well within the nineteenth-century folklore. Getting the gold plates was an urgent priority in the Smith household, as their financial situation remained dire; so if Alvin’s body was necessary to fulfill the guardian angel’s provisions, then that would have to be done. But there is no way to reconcile this part of the story into the modern narrative of Joseph Smith following the orders of the God of Christianity, thus it is conveniently omitted.

The 1825 / 1826 Visits

Contemporary historical accounts of any visit to Cumorah in 1825-1826 are lacking, despite the later narrative that insists they happened. What is clear is that Smith continued attempting to satisfy the guardian’s requirements to get the gold plates for potential financial gain. Willard Chase recommended fellow necromancer Samuel Lawrence as the man to accompany Smith to the hill if he needed someone else to satisfy the guardian. Samuel’s skill as a seer was known within the community. Willard Chase provided a detailed account of the period and according to this, Smith revealed the general location of the plates to Lawrence, at which point the other man produced and consulted his own seer stone and inquired of Smith if anything else accompanied the plates. Smith said “no,” prompting Lawrence to request that Joseph peer into his [Lawrence’s] stone.

At first, Joseph could not see anything through the rock, but a second request came from Lawrence to “look again, and see if there was not a large pair of specks with the plates.” This unexpected turn of events presented both opportunity and risk to Smith. In acknowledging Lawrence’s vision, Smith became stuck with the spectacles that Lawrence introduced to the story. Thus even in the later, orthodox version of the eventual recovery of the gold plates, they came with spectacles that had seer stones within them, the “Urim and Thummim,” that fit more with the folklore of the time than with any ancient Israelite artifacts.

Lawrence’s assistance and visionary prowess was, in turn, validated by Smith, thus bolstering his own reputation as a seer. But Smith’s association with Lawrence was brief, as he quickly recognized him to be a competitor (a problem that arose again and again for those in association with Smith throughout his career as a seer and then as a prophet). In the end, he did not take Lawrence to the hill or attempt to retrieve the plates for some time. The historical record confirms that on the momentous night in 1827, Joseph tasked his father with keeping an eye on Samuel Lawrence to ensure he would not attempt to follow Joseph Jr. to search for Cumorah’s treasure. [36]

Smith still needed someone else to satisfy the guardian’s requirement that another person accompany him. He determined by looking into his seer stone that the “right person” would be his future wife. His sister, Katharine, summarized the guardian’s requirement: “You will know her when you see her.” She elaborated: “That fall he went down to Pennsylvania and became acquainted with his wife, Miss Hale, and he knew when he saw her that she was the one to go with him to get the records.” Consulting the guidance of his seer stone, Joseph confirmed it was Emma Hale he was to marry.

Numerous friends and family members corroborated the guardian’s requirement that Joseph must be married, and she must accompany him the following September, lest the plates slip away forever. Joseph Knight, who at times employed and supported Joseph, recounted how Smith’s angel instructed him to “do right according to the will of God,” that he might obtain the plates the following year. [37] But reading the accounts of these neighbors, the question arises of whether God spoke to Smith or if Smith was invoking God to manipulate others, as he would again and again.

Lorenzo Saunders recalled: “Joseph said that he saw the angel again; the Angel told him he must go and get him a wife and then he could take his wife and . . . get the plates.” [38] “It was freely talked among the neighbors that Jo Smith said he had a revelation to go to Pennsylvania and get him a wife.” [39] Another neighbor recalled: “Jo told Emma he had a revelation about the plates, but that he could not obtain them until he had married her.” [40] Thus young Emma, who must have felt a little unsure about marrying a perpetually unemployed man who had recently been on trial for treasure seeking, whose father did not approve of the match, had pressure put on her to marry Smith so that he could advance his other goals. This scenario foreshadows Smith’s later polygamous adventures, when he told women that an angel with a sword was threatening his life if they did not marry him secretly.

The 1827 Visit

Another challenge to the traditional narrative about obtaining the gold plates is the preparation Smith made for his final attempt to obtain the plates, carefully following occult protocol: everything black. He borrowed Joseph Knight’s black horse and a carriage. He acquired black clothes, and there exists a receipt for the purchase of “lamp black” (paint) from the Palmyra store four days prior. Several friends and neighbors corroborated the requirement for total blackness during this critical visit to the hill, and his mother mentioned it in her Biographical Sketches. 

Joseph’s sister stated that he was to appear at two o’clock—the powerful hour of Saturday morning over which his ruling planet Jupiter presided. Oliver Cowdery’s first published history of Smith used the terms “necromancy” and “enchantment” to describe this event. Despite all the rigamarole about needing a second person to obtain the plates, it turned out that Smith actively kept that other person from participating in anything that might have allowed them to verify their reality. Emma’s cousin reported that “she stood with her back toward him while he dug up the box.” Smith then took the plates and hid them in a hollow black oak tree rather than bringing them home. [41] Very few of these elements remain in the modern LDS narrative.

Though the plates remained unseen in the woods, Lucy Mack Smith reported that her son brought home the “specs,” which had been previously suggested by Samuel Lawrence. No one would ever see these magical spectacles with seer stones, but Lucy felt them through a silk handkerchief in which Joseph had wrapped them. Lucy recalled: “Upon examination, [I] found that it consisted of two smooth three-cornered diamonds set in glass, and the glasses were set in silver bows, which were connected with each other in much the same way as old fashioned spectacles.” [42] Though his mother was the person most likely to support Smith’s story, even she was not allowed to view her son’s success with folk magic. Lucy Mack Smith’s stories about her son often use language that supports a more unorthodox, unspiritual version of events, which is perhaps why her history has largely been cleansed from the official Church narrative.

Smith’s own retellings of this episode evolved over time. By 1838, Smith was suggesting he located the plates by the “distinctness of the vision which I had had concerning it.” [43] Later accounts never suggest that the plates were removed from the ground and avoid the details associated with the supernatural rules governing slippery treasure. Smith’s attempts to obtain the plates were said to have merely been forbidden by the messenger.

This white-washing of Mormon origins serves the modern LDS Church’s claims of restoring the true gospel of Christ from New Testament times, but it does not represent the contemporary accounts of those events. Perhaps Joseph Smith and others didn’t understand what was happening at the time, as apologists suggest. Or perhaps it is the modern Church that doesn’t understand.

TREASURE SEEKING IN LATER YEARS


Though many apologists argue that treasure seeking was merely a folly of his youth, Joseph Smith’s treasure seeking activities via his various peep stones did not terminate with the formation of The Church of Christ or printing of the Book of Mormon in 1830. In August 1836, Smith read an Ohio Telegraph newspaper story of treasure allegedly hidden under a house, and discussed the article with Ebenezer Robinson, a boarder in his home. Desperate with debts he could not pay, a motivation that fueled so many major endeavors through his life, Smith traveled to Salem, MA in search of the buried treasure. In persuading them to attend, Smith told Sidney Rigdon, Oliver Cowdery and his brother Hyrum that it was a “missionary tour,” but the mission was more elusive treasure.

Smith and his comrades stayed for weeks, tracking down clues. Confirming both the purpose of his “mission” and enthusiasm for the pursuit of the prize, Smith wrote his wife Emma on Aug 19, “with regard to the [great] object of our mishion [sic] you will be [anxious] to know, we have found the house . . . very luckily and providentially, as we have one spell been most discouraged.” As the prophet plotted to obtain the house and treasure, he reported, “The house is occupied, and it will require much care and patience to rent or buy it.” Smith soon returned to Kirtland empty-handed, leading many to downplay the awkward fact that the entire Presidency was involved in the failed treasure scheme.

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DEPICTION OF OLIVER COWDERY’S DIVING ROD

FOLK MAGIC IN CHURCH HISTORY AND DOCTRINE


The LDS Church presents everything backwards, as if the later elements of Smith’s religious narrative were present from the beginning. In fact, it is more valid to read things the other way around, that the folk magic of the early years remained in everything later. Doctrine and Covenants sections 6-8 contain a series of early revelations, recorded in sequence in April 1829, which provide a prime illustration of the manner in which Joseph Smith produced and altered revelations. Consulting his brown seer stone, referred to in D&C 6 as the Urim and Thummim, Smith spoke to Oliver Cowdery of the sacred gift from above which Oliver already possessed. Smith then informed Oliver that he had received a new gift – the gift of translation (D&C 6:25-29). Oliver Cowdery was an educator by trade and expressed his desire to participate with Smith in bringing forth ancient records, but the conversation was rooted in magic and stones.

In the midst of this, Joseph and Oliver found themselves debating whether or not the apostle John “tarried on earth in the flesh or had died.” [44]  Smith proceeded to demonstrate to Oliver just how easily he could vision ancient documents that were nowhere in the vicinity, as D&C 7 is purported to be Smith’s “translation” of an ancient document recorded on parchment and buried by John the Beloved himself. Smith never claimed to possess John’s parchment, nor does the Bible mention any such record. Smith was practicing folk magic, though it is now called revelation or vision.

This revelation was originally published as revealed in chapter 4 of the Book of Commandments. When it was reprinted less than 24 months later as D&C section 7, it had somehow grown considerably longer than the original via numerous changes and additions. The remarkable visionary nature of the revelation aside, many have questioned how a translation of John’s physical record could expand in such a manner. This alteration is illustrative of Smith’s re-framing and re-interpreting past events as it suited him.

Smith’s next revelation, found today in D&C 8, begins by reminding Oliver Cowdery that he is blessed to receive a knowledge of old records, before expounding in a most fascinating manner upon the nature of Oliver’s previously undefined gift. Smith’s original revelation to Oliver stated that he had the “gift of working with the sprout” (diving rod) or the “rod of nature” which had told him “many things.” Oliver was to “hold it in [his] hands” and do “marvelous works.” When compiling the Book of Commandments, this revelation was altered to refer to Oliver’s “gift of working with the rod” (BoC 7:3). As revelations were compiled into the Doctrine & Covenants, this revelation referring to his divining sticks was again reworded to the “gift of Aaron” (D&C 8). No wonder that members of the modern Church have no idea of the magical origins of these revelations.

In fact, divining rods play an unsuspecting role in early Mormon history. Both Oliver and his father were known rodsmen, and Brigham Young later used Oliver’s divining rod to locate the Salt Lake City temple site. The LDS Church refers to its leaders’ use of divining rods in Church History Topics, Divining Rods, lds.org.

Reliance upon rods and canes for divine inspiration remained a theme of early Mormonism. Heber C. Kimball repeatedly recorded the inspiration his “rod” [likely a cane] channeled. “I inquired by the rod. It was said my family was well that my wife would come to me in the east” (Heber C. Kimball journal, June 6, 1844). Kimball’s use of the rod continued: “he went home and used the rod.” [45]; and “The same evening I sat down in my house in the presence of my wife and inquired of the lord by the rod.” [46] In later years, Heber continued to favor his staff, recording that “in the evening it was told me by the Lord rod.” [47] As is typical with any part of the narrative that doesn’t suit the modern LDS Church, Kimball’s later autobiography had the word rod removed from the text.

Not to be outdone by sticks, stones continued to play a role in early Mormonism beyond Joseph Smith’s lifetime. The revelation found in D&C section 34, given to Orson Pratt in 1830, was dictated while Joseph Smith buried his face in a hat containing a seer stone. In the Book of Mormon, the finger of God illuminated sixteen Jaredite stones. Smith later claimed that the stones became the Urim and Thummim that accompanied the gold plates. The brown seer stone that Smith used most frequently was placed upon the altar of the Manti temple during the dedication ceremony, ostensibly to facilitate a greater spirit of revelation.

SMITH FAMILY INSCRIBED MARS DAGGER

Magical Items

There are many magical elements beyond stones and divining rods in early Mormon history. The Smith family created various parchments, likely used to channel mystical energies. The symbols appear to have been copied from occult handbooks, including Francis Barrett’s The Magus, published in 1801. Some historians propose that the parchments were mere “heirlooms” of the Smith family, lacking a confirmed provenance. However, the historical record today provides some context for these cherished items. One primary parchment was titled “Holiness to the lord,” the same title affixed above temple entrances today.

In addition to stones, there were handkerchiefs used for healing. Acts 19:12 illustrates how the Apostle Paul sent special handkerchiefs among the people to heal them. In 1837, Latter-day Saint apostles wrote: “Many scores of persons were healed by our sending a handkerchief to them.” In 1839, Smith gave a handkerchief to a faithful member to alleviate his sick child, suggesting that the cloth would deliver healing powers. There are numerous recorded instances of attempted faith healing via handkerchiefs. [48] 

Finally, Smith’s cane was often thought to have special magical power. This cane had astrological symbols carved around a crown and serpent head. Following Joseph and Hyrum’s death, wood from their caskets was cut into strips and turned into canes. Various canes were distributed among Church leaders; many were blessed in the temples. President Heber C. Kimball spoke in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on March 15, 1857, expounding upon the certain powers of coffin canes. [49]

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JOSEPH SMITH’S JUPITER TALISMAN

ASTROLOGY IN EARLY MORMONISM


To truly understand what Joseph Smith was engaged in means to see the world as Smith himself and those in his time period did. Modern science and medicine were still coming of age in Smith’s day. Speculative practices such as astrology had not yet diverged from what would become mainstream science. The astrological dominance of Jupiter in Smith’s life is well documented and inscribed on numerous ritual items used in the early days of the Mormon movement. The date of Smith’s annual visits to Hill Cumorah coincided with the autumnal equinox. Even the date of Smith’s marriage to Emma aligns with Jupiter’s astrological power.

Joseph Smith possessed a silver talisman approximately the size of a large coin that contained astrological symbols, which was often referred to as a “silver piece.” Apologetic scholars have attempted to ascribe Masonic origin to various artifacts, but they were clearly astrological. Historian Michel Quinn has thoroughly demonstrated how the talisman as well as the Smith family’s Mars dagger both relied on Barrett’s The Magus as their source. These magical practices and beliefs did not end at any point during the religious phase of Smith’s development. It was reported that Smith retained the Jupiter talisman on his person until his death in Carthage, believing that it functioned as a personal protector.

Even after Smith’s death, these astrological items maintained their value for his widow. Charles Bidamon, the son of Emma Smith’s second husband, listed various items for sale in 1937 that had belonged to Emma. The Jupiter Talisman was referred to as “a silver pocket piece which was in the prophet’s pocket at the time of his assassination.” He wrote that Emma “prized this piece very highly on account of its being one of the prophet’s intimate possessions.”

The dates of events in the founding of the Mormon movement may seem to be random, but they are very much not. Nearly every major vision or event in Smith’s life aligns with the astrological timing of Jupiter and the moon. “It is interesting to note,” observes one scholar, “that Smith specifically recalls the exact date of this first Moroni appearance while providing only a general time frame, spring of 1820, for his vision of God and Christ. September 21 was a day of great significance. There had been a full moon the night before, and the time of the full moon was considered advantageous to search for buried treasure. The Key of Solomon says in its first chapter that without knowing the “order of hours and of days, and of the position of the moon, the magician’s efforts will be of no effect.” [50] Joseph Smith was indeed a magician of his time.

JOSEPH SMITH’S OBSERVATIONS IN THE NIGHT SKY

Joseph Smith’s journal presents an entry on March 14, 1843, as recorded by Willard Richards, that was likely prompted by the widely-observed Great March Comet of 1843. Richards sketched the phenomena, titled Observations in the Night Sky, as Smith dictated a mystical interpretation of a moon halo and sword-shaped comet tail. The Magus, a prominent handbook of the occult and ceremonial magic, instructs: “you must observe the Moon…for you shall do nothing without the assistance of the Moon.” [51] Joseph Smith suggested it was a sign of the times, representing “a union of power and combination of Nations.” Smith further elaborated on the astrological event during the April 6 Conference, relating “signs in the heavens above on the earth beneath” to the return of Christ. Church newspapers further discussed the phenomenon.

Planetary objects exerted great influence in early Mormonism and remain engraved upon prominent places of LDS worship, reflected in temple rituals and various salvation doctrines. Joseph Smith was said to have described the inhabitants of the moon in great detail, as recorded in the journal of Oliver B. Huntington and promoted in official LDS publications. “ ‘Inhabitants of the Moon are more of a uniform size than the inhabitants of the Earth, being about 6 feet in height. They dress very much like the Quaker Style & are quite general in Style, or the one fashion of dress. They live to be very old; comeing [sic] generally, near a thousand years.’ This is the description of them as given by Joseph the Seer, and he could ‘See’ whatever he asked the Father in the name of Jesus to see.” [52]

President Brigham Young went beyond affirming the residents of the moon to assure members in the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City regarding the inhabitants of the sun: “Who can tell us of the inhabitants of this little planet that shines of an evening, called the moon?… When you inquire about the inhabitants of that sphere you find that the most learned are as ignorant in regard to them as the ignorant of their fellows. So it is in regard to the inhabitants of the sun. Do you think it is inhabited? I rather think it is. Do you think there is any life there? No question of it; it was not made in vain.” [53]

CONCLUSION


The historical record is clear that occult and folk magic practices played a significant role in not only Joseph Smith’s early career as a treasure seeker but also the formation and development of the Church. How scholars and historians interpret the role of folk magic in Smith’s life largely depends on their view of his prophetic role. While some scholars may reduce Smith’s treasure digging and seer stone usage as innocent preparation for a higher calling, many are unsatisfied by this reductionist explanation and point to numerous other historical facts that support a magical view that lies at the heart of Joseph Smith’s religious innovations. The most critical of scholars find Smith’s use of folk magic and treasure digging to be evidence of charlatanism that continued with the fabrication of the gold plates and the Book of Mormon. In any case, the origins of the Mormon movement cannot be understood without a comprehensive examination of their historical context. Even today, many stories and aspects of Mormonism remain rooted in occult practices and supernatural beliefs.

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[1] Wayne Sentinel, Palmyra, NY, June 23, 1824.
[2] Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 3:148.
[3] Dan Vogel, Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet, 36.
[4] J. and H. Lewis in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 4:303.
[5] Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches.
[6] Quinn, Magic World View, 54.
[7] Benjamin Franklin, The Papers of Benjamin Franklin 1: 134–39.
[8] Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 1: 457.
[9] Lorenzo Saunders interview, Nov 12, 1884, in Quinn, Magic World View, 42-46.
[10] Dan Vogel, Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet, 35.
[11] Steven E. Snow, “Joseph Smith in Harmony,” Ensign Magazine, September 2015.
[12] Joel Tiffany, “Interview with Martin Harris,” Tiffany’s Monthly, August 1859.
[13] Smith, Biographical Sketches, 91–92, 109.
[14] Smith, Biographical Sketches, 91–92.
[15] Articles of Agreement, reprinted in Salt Lake Tribune, April 23, 1880.
[16] Marvin S. Hill, Review of Roger Anderson, Joseph Smith’s New York Reputation Reexamined, BYU Studies Quarterly 30, No. 4.
[17] Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 4: 153.
[18] Jesse Smith, letter to Hyrum Smith, June 17, 1829, JS Letterbook 2: 59–61.
[19] lds.org, Church History Topics.
[20] Dale Morgan, Dale Morgan on the Mormons, Part 2, 1949–1970, 87.
[21] Hugh Nibley,The Mythmakers, 142.
[22] Morgan, On the Mormons, 195.
[23] Quinn, Magic World View, 61–63.
[24] Brigham Young, Millenial Star 26: 118, Dec. 27, 1841.
[25] Vogel, Making of a Prophet, 47.
[26] Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 2: 309.
[27] Affidavit of Henry Harris, circa 1833.
[28] Willard Chase affidavit, 1833.
[29] John J. Hammond, The Creation of Mormonism: Joseph Smith Jr. in the 1820s, 64.
[30] John H. Gilbert interview, The Detroit Post and Tribune, Dec 3, 1877.
[31] Willard Chase Statement, 11 Dec 1833, in Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, reprinted in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 2: 71–72.
[32] Oliver Cowdery to W. W. Phelps in Messenger and Advocate, Oct 1835.
[33] Smith, Biographical Sketches, 83–86.
[34] Joseph Knight, Reminiscences.
[35] Vogel, The Making of a Prophet, 57.
[36] Knight, Reminiscences, 2. See also, Saints, Vol 1: The Standard of Truth, 36.
[37] Knight, Reminiscences, 2.
[38] Lorenzo Saunders interview, Nov 12, 1884.
[39] Sylvia Walker statement, March 20, 1885.
[40] William R. Hine affidavit, 1885.
[41] Quinn, Magic World View, 147–66.
[42] Smith, Biographical Sketches, 101.
[43] Joseph Smith, Manuscript History.
[44] Original heading of Book of Commandments chapter 4.
[45] Heber C. Kimball journal, Sept. 5, 1844.
[46] Heber C. Kimball journal, Jan 25, 1845.
[47] H. C. Kimball memorandum, January 21, 1862.
[48] Quinn, Magic World View, 313-14.
[49] Journal of Discourses 4: 294.
[50] Clay L. Chandler, “Scrying for the Lord: Magic, Mysticism, and the Origins of the Book of Mormon,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 36, No. 4.
[51] Barrett, The Magus, 148.
[52] Journal of O.B. Huntington, Book 14, 166 / The Young Woman’s Journal, published by the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Associations of Zion, 1892, vol 3, 263-64.
[53] Prophet Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol 13, 271.

 

 

RELEVANT PODCAST EPISODES


Episode 1074: An Audio/Video Reading of this Essay – John Dehlin

Episodes 1054-1055: Joseph Smith’s Treasure Digging – Dan Vogel

Dan Vogel is (in my opinion) the preeminent living scholar on Joseph Smith. Recently I was fortunate enough to spend 8 hours with Dan, discussing: 1) his life story, 2) his research and perspectives on Joseph Smith’s participation in folk magic and treasure digging, and 3) his views on how the Book of Mormon was written. In conjunction with our new Mormon Stories Podcast “Truth Claims” initiative (which includes new web content and a billboard along the I-15 corridor), I share with you today part 2 of my interview with Dan Vogel, focusing specifically on Joseph Smith’s treasure digging. I hope you will enjoy this as much as I did.

 

Episodes 1008-1009: FOLK MAGIC, JOSEPH SMITH, AND MORMON ORIGINS WITH JOHN HAMER

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.

 

Episode 32KATHLEEN MELONAKOS – HOW THE MORMON CHURCH CAME TO BE

Kathleen Melonakos’s book Secret Combinations: Evidence of Early Mormon Counterfeiting (1800-1847) has created buzz in many online Mormon communities and we are excited to launch our series with Kathleen’s expertise and careful research. Her book chronicles the evidence that early Mormon leaders, starting with Joseph Smith Sr., dealt in counterfeit money beginning in Vermont, and continuing throughout Joseph and Hyrum’s careers. It places the Smith brothers in the early American context where counterfeiting networks and some of their CEO-like bosses posed as preachers. It is the only book of its kind that uncovers the problems counterfeiters caused in early America and what really happened before, during and after the Book of Mormon appeared on the scene. Her book is both fact-based and fast moving, supported by more than 1400 footnotes and over 100 photos and illustrations. It is also based on nearly 10 years of research conducted in Vermont, New York, Illinois, Missouri, and Utah.

In this interview, Kathleen attempts to provide the historical context for the life of the Smith family and the founding of the LDS Church. In particular, we focus on the counterfeiting culture of the time period (Part 1), treasure digging as a practice (Part 2), the origins of the Book of Mormon (Part 3), and finally we delve into how her research and work influences Kathleen’s personal beliefs (Part 4).

Episode 48RICHARD BUSHMAN

In part 2 of this multi-part interview with Dr. Richard Bushman, the world’s foremost scholar on Joseph Smith and early Mormonism and author of Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, we tackle 4 main topics. First, brother Bushman provides a high level review of the major Joseph Smith biographies that preceded Rough Stone Rolling, including Fawn Brodie’s “No man knows my history.” Next, brother Bushman discusses the art of writing history, and the challenges involved in trying to arrive at “the facts” and “the truth” for both historians, and readers of history. Finally, we discuss in depth the first 2 of our top 10 tough Joseph Smith issues: 1) The multiple and somewhat varying accounts of Joseph Smith’s first vision story, and 2) Joseph Smith’s involvement in folk magic and treasure digging.

 

Episode 32GRANT PALMER

Grant Palmer takes us through a deep dive into his 1st book–An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins. During this episode we cover Joseph Smith’s treasure seeking and usage of peep stones, the actual mechanics of the Book of Mormon translation process, the recorded accounts of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon, the multiple versions of Joseph Smith’s First Vision story, and the evolution of the LDS Priesthood accounts over time.

 

EPISODE 552: AN ANALYSIS OF THE LDS CHURCH SEER STONE ANNOUNCEMENT

For decades, and heavily over the past ten years, Mormon historians, podcasters, and critics have been urging the LDS Church to be more open and honest about Joseph Smith’s use of folk magic and a peep stone/hat in his production of the Book of Mormon text.

On August 4th, 2015 the LDS Church released the third volume of the Joseph Smith Papers, which includes the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon. It also released photos of the seer stone that Joseph Smith used as a scryer to search for buried treasure, and that he also placed in a hat to produce the text for the Book of Mormon.  (for detailed discussions of Joseph’s use of a seer stone in the Book of Mormon’s creation, see CES Letter, Mormon Think, or D. Michael Quinn’s “Early Mormonism and the Magic World View.”

An October 2015 Ensign article is set to appear called “Joseph the Seer” which attempts to explain Joseph’s practice of using a seer stone.

In this episode John Hamer, J. Seawright, Micah Nickolaisen, Jamie Hanis Handy, and Jonathan Streeter join us to analyze these events.