Lucy Mack Smith “associated” magic rituals with religion? (pg. 50-51)

LDS Answers Forums Rough Stone Rolling (Critique) Lucy Mack Smith “associated” magic rituals with religion? (pg. 50-51)

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  • #1190 Reply

    LDS Answers
    Keymaster

    According to Rough Stone Rolling:

    magic-circle-1565-lucy-mack-smith-religion“The Smiths were as susceptible as their neighbors to treasure-seeking folklore. In addition to rod and stone divining, the Smiths probably believed in the rudimentary astrology found in the ubiquitous almanacs.  . . . Lucy [Mack Smith] recognized the crossover in prefacing her narrative of the plates with a caution against thinking

    That we stopt our labor and went at trying to win the faculty of Abrac drawing Magic circles or sooth saying to the neglect of all kinds of business we never during our lives suffered one important interest to swallow up every other obligation but whilst we worked with our hands we endeavored to remember the service of & the welfare of our souls.

    “Lucy’s point was that the Smiths were not lazy-they had not stopped their labor to practice magic-but she showed her knowledge of formulas and rituals and associated them with “the welfare of our souls.”  Magic and religion melded in Smith family culture.”  (Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling [New York: Knopf, 2005], 50-51)

  • #1236 Reply

    Aaron

    I was in a conversation thread about this subject with someone on these articles:

    “The dominant [Church history] narrative is not true . . .” LDS scholars encourage new history, new policy, new Church

    LDS scholars encourage new history, new policy, new Church (Defending Utah – KTALK 630 Interview)

    The counter arguments in support of Rought Stone Rolling cause me to realize that the real issue here is how the character of the Prophet Joseph Smith is being portrayed in the book. Generally, the progressives avoid that.

    Firstly, it is important to examine what the accusation brought against the Smiths really means. Was magic just this naive element of nineteenth-century culture as Richard Bushman would propose? Or is there something more sinister to the practices? It is important to understand that the power of Satan is real, for a poignant example, recall the description of the First Vision, when an enemy seized upon the boy Joseph Smith and he was “ready to sink into despair and abandon [himself] to destruction-not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as [he] had never before felt in any being.” (HC 1:5) Please see this article if you remain unconvinced.

    The notion, “she showed her knowledge of formulas and rituals and associated them with ‘the welfare of our souls'” runs contrary to history. Robert Hullinger defines the term, “Abrac, from abracadabra and abraxis, is a magic word or formula used on amulets to work magic charms. Eighteenth century Masons were said to know how to conceal ‘the way of obtaining the faculty of Abrac,’ which implied that they knew how to get it.” Such sentiment was commonly lobbied at Freemasons in the nineteen-hundreds by people ignorant and suspicious of their practices. Enough so, that one member from the Prophet’s era decided to “devote a paper to this subject” he noted that those, like Lucy Smith, who used the term “winning the faculty of Abrac” were actually “in the dark concerning the meaning of the faculty of Abrac”. He showed how the amulets connected to the dark arts and associated them to the gnosis Basilidean worship of the demon god of serpents Abraxas. A figure parallel to Lucifer himself. While he admitted the possibility, if rare, that “the fraternity were somewhat addicted to these forbidden arts” in ages past, he insisted, “the entire fabric of superstition has been swept away from the system of Masonry as it is now practised. The floor of our lodges is cleansed from the pollution by three-fold consecration, which converts it into holy ground; and we indignantly repel the insinuation that such fancies are there inculcated as branches of cabalistical science.” It is important to briefly recount the significance Masonry has to Latter-Day Saints.

    [T]he Prophet Joseph Smith and other early Church leaders displayed an interest in Freemasonry, helped established a Masonic lodge in Nauvoo and became Master Masons. Brigham Young referred to LDS temple ordinances as “Celestial Masonry.” Apostle Willard Richards stated that “Masonry had its origins in the Priesthood. A hint to the wise is sufficient.” Apostle Heber C. Kimbal added, “There is a similarity of priesthood in Masonry. Brother Joseph says Masonry was taken from the Priesthood.” (Timothy Ballard, The American Covenant Volume I Discovery Through Revolution, p. 308)

    Practicing magic then, was a serious evil to have a member of the fraternity (who may have understood, in part, the sacredness of the signs and symbols) vehemently attest that “Freemasonry has been completely purged from all such charlatanerie, if ever it formed a part of the system, which is extremely doubtful, and is presented to the public as a pure and rational institution” (Freemasons’ Quarterly Magazine, 1848, p. 376-83). They understood, as we must understand, that such Satanic rituals and formulas constituted the blaspheming of sacred worship, of Temple rites and Priesthood. Please take a moment to watch how one Christian and Mason apostate perverted sacred symbolism in this video. Thus we see this “magic” is a complete aberration of the Godly. Divination referred to as “sooth-saying” is repeatedly condemned in scripture (see 2 Kings 17:17, Deuteronomy 18:9-14, Leviticus 19:26 for only a few examples). Magic circles were used in the conjuration of and communion with devils. How dare someone suggest that the greatest man to live, save the Son of God Himself, dabbled in such sorcery.

    The eighteenth-century tissue of iniquitous literature Mormonism Unvailed attempted to portray “the parents of the pretended Prophet, as lazy, indolent, ignorant and superstitious–having a firm belief in ghosts and witches; the telling of fortunes” these false accusations were and are often regurgitated against the Smiths. When that is understood and one is familiar with the full context of this quote, that Lucy had just devoted an entire page to describe her family’s endeavors in building and farming, the proposed interpretation becomes ludicrous at best. Dr. William J. Hamblin offers a far more plausible version,

    Here is how I interpret the referents in the text.

    Now I shall change my theme for the present [from a discussion of farming and building to an account of Joseph’s vision of Moroni and the golden plates which immediately follows this paragraph]. But let not my reader suppose that, because I shall pursue another topic [Joseph’s visions] for a season, that we stopped our labor [of farming and building] and went at trying to win the faculty of Abrac, drawing Magic circles or sooth saying to the neglect of all kinds of business [farming and building, as the anti-Mormons asserted, claiming the Smiths were lazy]. We never in our lives suffered one important interest [farming and building] to swallow up every other obligation [religion]. But, whilst we worked with our hands [at farming and building] we endeavored to remember the service of, and the welfare of our souls [through religion].

    Thus, as I understand the text, Lucy Smith declares she is changing her theme to the story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. In the public mind, that story is associated with claims that the Smiths were lazy and involved in magical activities. By the time Lucy Smith wrote this text in 1845, anti-Mormons were alleging that Joseph had been seeking treasure by drawing magic circles. She explicitly denies that they were involved in such things. She also denies that the Smiths were lazy. She wants to emphasize that, although she is not going to mention farming and building activities for a while, these activities were still going on. Quinn wants to understand the antecedent of “one important interest” as “trying to win the faculty of Abrac, drawing Magic circles or sooth saying” (p. 68). I believe that the antecedent of “one important interest” is “all kinds of business,” meaning farming and building. Quinn maintains the phrase to the neglect of means that they pursued magic to some degree, but not to the extent that they completely neglected their farming. I believe that the phrase to the neglect of means that they did not pursue magic at all, and therefore did not neglect their farming and building at all: they were not pursuing magic and thereby neglecting their business.

    Although the phrasing is a bit ambiguous, the matter can easily be resolved by reference to the rest of Lucy’s narrative. Contra Quinn, Lucy Smith’s text provides no other mention of the supposedly “important interest” of magical activities but does deal prominently with their religious and business concerns. If magic activities were such an important part of Joseph Smith’s life and Lucy was speaking of them in a positive sense as “important interests,” why did she not talk about them further in any unambiguous passage? My interpretation fits much better into the context of Lucy Smith’s narrative as a whole, in which she amply discusses farming and family life, as well as religion and Joseph’s revelations—the two important interests of the family—but makes no other mention of magic. As Richard Bushman notes, “Lucy Smith’s main point was that the Smiths were not lazy as the [anti-Mormon] affidavits claimed—they had not stopped their labor to practice magic.” Thus, ironically, Quinn is claiming that Lucy Smith’s denial of the false claims that the Smith family was engaged in magical activities has magically become a confirmation of those very magical activities she is denying! (William J. Hamblin, That Old Black Magic)

    If the household of the Prophet had really been involved in “black magic” enough to connect the practices to the “welfare of their souls” why were these mystical arts only referred to in a solitary and loosely interpreted passage? Why does the subject go completely unmentioned in the wide and prolific writings of Lucy Smith? I would submit, that not only is it belittling and demeaning to insist that the Smiths had any entanglement in the occult, it is blatantly inconsistent with the real history and slanderous to the valiant and noble characters the Smith family.

  • #1246 Reply

    Phil Fletcher

    The claim has been made that Bushman’s interpretation is contextualized with several other sources that indicate the Smith’s involvement in magic. The reality is there is no friendly, or even neutral primary accounts that suggest a connection to magic. In fact Richard Bushman’s sources come from apostate Michael Quinn’s Early Mormonism and the Magic Worldview. In fact it was his interpretation that William Hamblin is referring to in Aaron’s post.

    Michael Quinn was a Mormon pseudo-historian excommunicated on ground described as “very sensitive and highly confidential” but not so much anymore, since he is now openly living as a homosexual. What kind of credence should we give this book? Both Latter-Day Saint and non-Mormon scholars alike have criticized his it as relying too heavily on environmental folklore without a proven connection to the Prophet; the work accepts without question the contents of Philastus Hurlbut’s highly anti-Mormon affidavits published in Mormonism Unvailed by Eber D. Howe. You can read about the apostate Hurlburt’s conduct in Church History and he was excommunicated from a Methodist church later in life for the same immoral behavior. Howe was a self-proclaimed skeptic of religion in general who thought Mormonism a “delusion”. To compound that, Quinn’s core argument is unreasonable with the infamous “Salamander Letter” and other works which turned out to be (big surprise) forgeries by Mark Hofmann a counterfeiter and convicted murderer. Yet Early Mormonism and the Magic World View has prolifically filtered its way into Bushman’s own biography.

  • #1253 Reply

    Daniel

    Aaron, Phil you guys have summed it all up. There is so much that has been twisted and changed to fit he understanding of man. When Lucy or someone says magic many people jump at it and say “Look! they used magic!” The fact its That they were strong in the Faith of God (Joseph Smith History), and it was that faith that lead Joseph Smith to that Grove and Prayed and was told the Truth.

  • #1274 Reply

    LC

    “The Smiths were as susceptible as their neighbors to treasure-seeking folklore. In addition to rod and stone divining, the Smiths probably believed in the rudimentary astrology found in the ubiquitous almanacs. . . .

    I don’t get it… Why does this guy (Richard L. Bushman) want to demean & belittle the Smiths so badly? Even to the extent of greatly distorting the truth. Does it make him feel better about himself? What does he accomplish in doing this? He bases his crude comments entirely misinterpreting Mrs. Smith’s writings and using his personal opinions.

  • #1291 Reply

    Kani

    I think this quote “Michael Quinn was a Mormon pseudo-historian excommunicated on ground described as “very sensitive and highly confidential” but not so much anymore, since he is now openly living as a homosexual.” gives preference to recognizing the lack of credit to his source of information.

    I myself have never came across a article or write up on Joseph Smith being engaged in magic And would heavily question the dialogue of any argument in favor of such a accusation.

    My testimony of Joseph smith still stands unshaken, and I wholly sustain the Prophet and all that he has done as divinely inspired in rebuilding the kingdom on the earth.

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