JOSEPH'S MAGIC HAT*
Joseph Smith's claim of receiving gold plates from a holy angel, has attracted millions of converts to the Mormon Church, a church which now boasts a membership of nearly thirteen million, and continues to add about a million new members every three years or less.(1)
The church's popularity began with the claim that the Book of Mormon was translated from gold plates. But, where are these amazing gold plates? Since they are not on exhibit to confirm their reality, one might humorously say, Joseph must have said "abracadabra" and pulled them from a hat! Laughable; but, in a way, that's exactly what he did!
Instead of translating directly from the alleged plates, he put his face into the darkness of a hat which contained a seer stone, and the translation of what he called "Reformed Egyptian Hieroglyphics" would appear.(2) This was a practice known as crystal-gazing or scrying. In following this procedure, Smith claimed that "spiritual light would shine":
"A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and beneath it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear."(3)
Although Smith didn't say abracadabra, his mother admitted the family practiced this magic incantation:
"Let not the reader suppose 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."(4)
"Abrac," is a Jewish Kabbalistic word. It comes from Abracadabra and Abraxis, a word placed upon amulets to work magic.(5) The first four letters, A-b-r-a, are acrostics(5-a) taken from the first letter of four Hebrew words, Ab which means Father; Ben which means Son, and Ruach Adsch which means Holy Spirit. When written in a triangular form on parchment and hung around the neck, it acted as a charm to heal tooth aches and other ailments.(6)
Masonry, at that time, claimed the use of this faculty and since Joseph's brother, Hyrum, was a Mason, the family probably learned it from him or from the many books on magic, available at that time.
JOSEPH AND THE OCCULT
Besides seer stones, Joseph's involvement with the occult also included divining rods, magic circles, sacrifice of animals, and witchcraft.
The family's involvement in witchcraft was confirmed by Fayette Lapham who, after visiting the Smiths, wrote:
"[Joseph's father] was a firm believer in witchcraft and other supernatural things; and had brought up his family in the same belief."(7)
While one may view this as shocking, one needs to understand the climate of his culture. Belief in magic was not unusual. Mormon Historian, B.H. Roberts, acknowledged that Smith's family believed in "fortune telling . . . warlocks and witches," and added that "to be credulous in such things was to be normal people."(8)
JOSEPH'S USE OF PEEP STONES AND DIVINING RODS
Joseph learned to how to use "peep stones" from his father. Joseph Smith, Sr., placing them in a hat, would receive revelation on buried treasure locations. Known as a "money-digger," he hired out to locate these caches. An affidavit by David Stafford confirmed that "the general employment of the Smith family was money digging and fortune telling."(9)
Joseph, therefore, naturally followed in his father's footsteps. Even long before he claimed to find the gold plates of the Book of Mormon through his peep stone, he was finding buried treasure and deciphering ancient writings. In one instance, according to William R. Hein, he gazed into his stone, and:
"He saw Captain Kidd sailing on the Susquehanna River during a freshet, and that he buried two pots of gold and silver. He claimed he saw writing cut on the rocks in an unknown language telling where Kidd buried it, and he translated it through his peep-stone."(10)
According to Brigham Young and Martin Harris, it was through a peep stone found in the well of a Mason Chase that Smith located and translated the gold plates. This is, of course, contrary to his later story where he said that it was an angel who directed him to the gold plates.(11)
The stone found in Mason Chase's well, was first used during Joseph's occupation as a money-digger.(12) Mormon history refers to it as the "brown" stone. Joseph Smith's father, when interviewed by Fayette Lapham, said, "Joseph spent about two years looking into this stone, telling fortunes, where to find lost things, and where to dig for money and other hidden treasure."(13) He also used peep stones to read palms.(14) The Mormon practice of giving patriarchal blessings is, no doubt, the outgrowth of Smith's fortune-telling practice.(15)
He also had a white stone called the Urim and Thummin.(16) It is with this stone, rather than the brown one, that he claimed to translate the Book of Abraham.(17)
Joseph learned from his father how to use a divining rod in detecting metals and buried treasures. Often called a "mineral rod," it was similar to dozing for water with a hazel branch.
Mormon leaders have suggested that Smith gave all that up after he started his church. But, this isn't so. The use of divining rods and peep stones continued after the Mormon Church was established and was carried into his temple ceremony.
According to James Collin Brewster, the Smith family "anointed the mineral rods and seer stones with consecrated oil, and prayed over them in the house of the Lord in Kirtland."(18) The ritual consisted of putting on temple robes and asking yes or no questions of the mineral rod. If it moved, it meant yes. If there was no movement, it meant no.(19)
To validate the Church's continued use of a divining rod, Joseph produced a revelation from God(20) addressing Oliver Cowdery, the revelation stated:
"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."(21)
Since this later proved embarrassing to the church, the revelation was altered to read: "You have another gift, which is the gift of Aaron." Church leaders probably felt this would sound more acceptable. But, since a divining rod in those days was also known as a "Rod of Aaron," it was still an occult term.(22)
JOSEPH'S USE OF MAGIC CIRCLES
The magic circles Joseph's mother mentioned, in their use of the "faculty of Abrac" to find treasures, were the same as witches use.
For example, William Stafford, a contemporary of Smith tells how Joseph said there was a buried chest of gold watches guarded by an evil spirit. To pacify the spirit, he ordered stakes set up in the form of a circle. He then sent a man to obtain a long knife, or sword, and to march around the spot with drawn weapon to guard against any satanic assaults.(23) (Treasure spirits were usually considered evil and were thought to have the power to kill a person unless appeased by magic circles and blood sacrifices.)
In this activity, Joseph and his father worked in conjunction with each other. Often, while his father was performing this service for customers, Joseph would be in the house using his peep stone to keep track of what the evil spirit was doing. William Stafford again gives an account:
"Joseph, Sr. first made a circle, twelve or fourteen feet in diameter. This circle, said he, contains the treasure. He then stuck a row of witch hazel sticks, around the said circles, for the purpose of keeping off the evil spirits. Within this circle he made another, of about eight or ten feet in diameter. He walked around three times on the periphery of this last circle, muttering to himself something which I could not understand. . . .[He then] asked leave of absence, and went to the house to inquire of young Joseph the cause of our disappointment. He soon returned and said, that Joseph had remained all this time in the house, looking in his stone and watching the motion of the evil spirit - that he saw the spirit come up to the ring and as soon as it beheld the cone which we had formed around the rod, it caused the money to sink."(24)
JOSEPH'S PARTICIPATION IN ANIMAL SACRIFICE
Animal sacrifice was part of the treasure divining business. At that time, it was understood that there were both good and bad spirits guarding treasures. According to magic books, "white animals [were] sacrificed to the good Spirits and black to the evil."(25)
Therefore, Smith procured a black sheep for one occasion, claiming it was the only way to appease the evil spirit of a particular treasure. They were to cut its throat and lead it around in a circle while bleeding.(26) Smith even sacrificed a dog on one occasion.(27)
Mr. Stafford, the owner of the sheep, was later asked by M. Wilford Poulson, if Smith stole a black sheep from him. Stafford's response was:
"No, not exactly . . . he did miss a black sheep, but soon Joseph came and admitted he took it for sacrifice but he was willing to work for it. He made wooden sap buckets to fully pay for it."(28)
A nephew of William Stafford testified:
"Jo Smith, the prophet, told my uncle, William Stafford, he wanted a fat, black sheep. He said he wanted to cut its throat and make it walk in a circle three times around and it would prevent a pot of money from leaving."(29)
JOSEPH'S OCCULT PRACTICES USED IN HIS CHURCH AND TEMPLE CEREMONY
In addition to Smith's peep stones and divining rods, he also carried animal sacrifice into his new religion. For example, he refused to let Willard Richards be ordained an apostle unless a lamb was first slaughtered and sacrificed in the temple.(30)
Joseph soon incorporated animal sacrifice into his new priesthood. He stated:
"It is generally supposed that sacrifice was entirely done away when the Great Sacrifice [i.e.] the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus was offered up, and that there will be no necessity for the ordinance of sacrifice in [sic] future; but those who assert this are certainly not acquainted with the duties, privileges and authority of the Priesthood, or with the Prophets. . . . These sacrifices as well as every ordinance belonging to the Priesthood, will, when the Temple of the Lord shall be built, and the sons of Levi be purified, be fully restored and attended to in all their powers, ramifications, and blessings. . . . It is not to be understood that the law of Moses will be established again with all its rites and variety of ceremonies; this has never been spoken of by the prophets; but those things which existed prior to Moses' day, namely, sacrifice, will be continued."(31)
JOSEPH'S BELIEF IN MAGIC MEDALLIONS AND ASTROLOGY
When Smith was killed, a Jupiter Talisman was found on his body. Displaying Hebrew characters, it was shaped like a silver dollar and made of silver or tin and carried the sign of the spirit of Jupiter.(32)
Former director of the LDS Institute of Religion at the University of Utah, Dr. Reed C. Durham, Jr.(33) identified it from a magic book available in Smith's time.(34) He explained that Jupiter was known to the Egyptians as Ammon; Zeus to the Greeks. Jupiter, in the presence of his priest, supposedly performed the most ancient form of marriage, marriage for time and for eternity (sound familiar?).(35)
Since, astrologically speaking, Jupiter stood for many of Smith's own personal ambitions, he probably selected it for that reason. The Jupiter ambitions consisted of "high positions, [having] one's own way," achieving status, and acquiring the "dignity of a natural ruler."(36) Also of interest, is the fact that in Astrology, Thursday is Jupiter's day--and for sixty years Mormon fast meetings were always on Thursdays. So also were the Lodge meetings of the Mormon Masons.
Dr. Durham tried to lessen the negative impact of Joseph having the Jupiter medallion, by confirming its appropriateness:
"It carries the sign and image of Jupiter . . . And in some very real and quite mysterious sense, this particular Table of Jupiter was the most appropriate talisman for Joseph Smith to possess. Indeed, it seemed meant for him, because on all levels of interpretation: planetary, mythological, numerological, astrological, mystical cabalism, and talismatic magic, the Prophet was, in every case, appropriately described."(37)
Dr. Durham further explains that the magical "purpose of the Table of Jupiter . . . was to be able to call upon the celestial intelligences, assigned to the particular talisman [and] to assist one in all endeavors."(38) By Invoking the names of these inscribed gods, he said, it guaranteed the possessor of "riches and favor, and power, and love and peace . . . honors, and dignities, and councils . . ."
It also gave one "the power of stimulating anyone to offer his love to the possessor of the talisman."(39) Certainly, Joseph would need this kind of help in his money-digging ventures, not to mention his spiritual wifery doctrine where he had to convince a woman to become his plural wife while still married to her lawful husband.(40)
Joseph wasn't the only one in his family involved in this. His brother, Hyrum, also practiced magic.(41) He possessed parchments containing pentagrams and pentacles used in gaining power over spirits and had a Masonic pouch to hold these parchments. He also carried a dagger with the Seal of Mars.(42)
JOSEPH'S OCCULT PRACTICES CONTINUED BY THE LDS CHURCH
Did succeeding church presidents continue in occult practices after Joseph died? Some of them did. Brigham Young wore a chained bloodstone about his neck for those occasions "when [he went] into unknown or dangerous places."(43)
Brigham Young inherited Oliver Cowdery's divining rod.(44) This was the rod, or cane, he was often seen with after arriving in the Salt Lake Valley. It was with it that he pointed out where the Salt Lake Temple would be, saying "this is the place".(45)
Occult symbolism was important to the leaders. When Brigham Young and John Taylor supervised the making of a woodcut seal for the twelve apostles, they copied occult symbols from Jacob Boehme's Theosophical Works--a book used for two hundred years by Christian Kabbalists and Rosicrucians.(46)
ATTITUDE OF THE MODERN LDS CHURCH
How do present day leaders respond to all this? Mostly, they try to suppress the incriminating evidence. But, when it does leak out, their rationale is to justify it as did Arturo de Hoyos. He writes:
"One cannot help but wonder the reason why the Prophet Joseph Smith, and his brother, Hyrum, the Patriarch would possess articles such as they did unless they actually believed that these items did possess some sort of supernatural power, or that they were a "key" to receiving power or protection. Is it possible that just as the Masonic ritual, which Joseph termed the "apostate endowment"(47) retained principles of truth, that these Pentacles which have come down through the ages to be asscociated [sic] with witchcraft, black magic, and the occult as a whole yet contain elements of truth which were recognized by the Prophet?"(48)
JOSEPH'S NECROMANCING AND CONTACT WITH THE DEAD
In addition to Joseph's occult interests, he was also a necromancer (contact with the dead). Long before he decided to say it was an angel who guarded the gold plates, he said it was the "bloody ghost" of a Spanish spirit. The following was his first story:
Smith said he had a dream in which he was shown the location of an iron box containing gold plates.(49) He went there, found the spot, but claimed he was knocked down three times attempting to remove the stone covering the treasure.(50) He described his experience to two individuals who later published it in the Amboy Journal. Quoting what Smith told them, they described Smith's frustration:
"Why can't I get it?" . . . and then he saw a man standing over the spot, which to him appeared like a Spaniard, having a long beard coming down over his breast to about here. [sic](Smith putting his hand to the pit of his stomach) with his (the ghost's) throat cut from ear to ear, and the blood streaming down, who told him that he could not get it alone; that another person whom he, Smith, would know at first sight, must come with him, and then he could get it."(51)
Smith related the same story to his father, how the ghost told him the valuable treasure contained information soon to be revealed to the world.(52)
As the story developed over the years, the bloody ghost soon became a nameless angel, then an angel named Nephi. Then, finally, Moroni.(53)
THIS ARTICLE IS CONTINUED IN PART II, and includes all endnotes.
*Copyright 2003. This article cannot be copied and used in a professional publication without express permission of the author.
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