The following includes excerpts from the book, Seer Stone v. Urim & Thummim: Book of Mormon Translation on Trial.
Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, the popular biography of Joseph Smith by Richard L. Bushman, claims that the Prophet was “involved in magic,” while simultaneously receiving revelation from Heaven and restoring the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In his book, Bushman asserts:
When he married Emma Hale in 1827, Joseph was on the eve of realizing himself as a prophet. He may still have been involved in magic, but he was sincere when he told Emma’s father that his treasure-seeking days were over. Magic had served its purpose in his life. In a sense, it was a preparatory gospel. 2
Since the day the Church was organized and until recently, faithful members viewed Joseph Smith as a prophet of God, while his detractors viewed him as a prophet of the devil. Church leaders and faithful members were adamant to keep the diametrically opposed worldviews separate and entirely distinct. With the “new narrative,” beginning around the 1970s and culminating over the past decade, this has changed. Bushman, Quinn, and other scholars have attempted to meld the magical worldview with the Gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed by the Prophet. Bushman explains:
Magic and religion melded in the Smith family culture. . . . It may have taken four years for Joseph to purge himself of his treasure-seeking greed. Joseph Jr. never repudiated the stones or denied their power to find treasure. Remnants of the magical culture stayed with him to the end.3
Bushman is not the first to propose a coexistence of magic and the Gospel in the “Smith family culture.” Those seeking to thwart Joseph Smith’s mission since before the Church was organized in 1830 have frequently leveled accusations against the Prophet. The Angel Moroni prophesied that Joseph Smith’s “name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people.”4 We see the fulfillment of this prophecy during the Prophet’s lifetime, but perhaps even more so today, and at an ever increasing rate.
What is “magic”?
According to the Webster’s 1828 Dictionary, contemporary with the Prophet Joseph Smith, magic is defined as:
The art or science of putting into action the power of spirits; or the science of producing wonderful effects by the aid of superhuman beings, or of departed spirits; sorcery; enchantment.
Superstitious or geotic magic consists in the invocation of devils or demons, and supposes some tacit or express agreement between them and human beings.5
Moving to our own time, the meaning has not changed dramatically. For example, the Encyclopedia Britannica explains:
Practices classified as magic include divination, astrology, incantations, alchemy, sorcery, spirit mediation, and necromancy. . . .
The purpose of magic is to acquire knowledge, power, love, or wealth; to heal or ward off illness or danger; to guarantee productivity or success in an endeavour; to cause harm to an enemy; to reveal information; to induce spiritual transformation; to trick; or to entertain. The effectiveness of magic is often determined by the condition and performance of the magician, who is thought to have access to unseen forces and special knowledge of the appropriate words and actions to manipulate those forces. 6
To claim that the Prophet Joseph Smith was involved in magical practices is to suggest that the Prophet engaged in rituals and/or practiced forms of the dark arts to conjure evil spirits.
- Bushman explains that “exact compliance with prescribed rituals was required” and that “magic might have prepared him to believe in a revelation of gold plates and translation with a stone.”7
- Bushman’s interpretation of the Prophet is a “boy who gazed into stones and saw treasure [that] grew up to become a translator who looked in a stone and saw words.” 8
- “In addition to rod and stone divining”, Bushman explains, “the Smiths probably believed in the rudimentary astrology found in the ubiquitous almanacs.” and that “Magical parchments handed down in the Hyrum Smith family may have originally belonged to Joseph Sr.”.9
- Likewise, Oliver Cowdery is accused of having “engaged in treasure-seeking and other magical practices in Vermont, and like others in this culture, melded magic with Christianity.” 10
- By 1828, Bushman explains that the Prophet’s “language was Biblical rather than occult” as it had previously been. 11
These allegations also target the Smith family including the Prophet’s father Joseph Smith Sr. and mother Lucy Mack Smith. Can you imagine the family of the prophet returning from a day of labor on their farm to draw magic circles and practice rituals? Can you imagine Lucy Mack Smith, the faithful, consecrated and religiously devout mother of the Prophet, whispering enchantments? Can you imagine a young Joseph Smith setting aside his Bible to study magical parchments?
Bushman does not seem to find this contradictory image of the Smiths problematic. “Magic”, according to Rough Stone Rolling, “had served its purpose in [Joseph Smith’s] life. In a sense, it was a preparatory gospel.”12
Magic prepared Joseph Smith to serve the Lord? Magic was a forerunner of the Restoration? Did Joseph Smith dabble with occultic language, rudimentary astrology or magic rituals during his early and even later life? Does it matter?
“. . . not suffer a witch to live.”
These questions can be easily answered by turning to the pages of holy writ. As we have written in previous articles, the scriptures are the standard by which Joseph Smith and his teachings should be tested. How does the Lord view magic, witchcraft, the occult, necromancy, astrology and other deviant practices?
The Son of God has been clear and decisive when it comes to witchcraft. The Book of Mormon explains that it was Jesus Christ who gave the Law of Moses.13 The law Christ revealed to ancient Israel decrees:
Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. (Exodus 22:18)
A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them. (Leviticus 20:27)
The Lord does not celebrate, condone or even tolerate this intensely serious sin. In Deuteronomy, He refers to tampering with dark forces as “abominations”.
When thou art come into the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations.
There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.
For all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord: and because of these abominations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee.
Was Joseph Smith an “abomination unto the Lord”? The Son of God “is the same yesterday, today, and forever”.14 The same God who unmistakably condemned witchcraft is the same God who appeared to Joseph Smith in the Sacred Grove. While our modernist “politically correct” culture may condone occultic activity and promote dark arts in literature, fashion, film, music, games and other “diversions”, the Lord has never changed His position.
In the last days, the Lord revealed to the prophet Micah that He would:
. . . cut off witchcrafts out of thine hand; and thou shalt have no more soothsayers:
Not only was this law given by commandment to ancient and modern Israel, but it was reiterated in the New World to the Lehites. During His personal visit to the ancient Nephites in the Promised Land of America, our Lord warned:
And I [Jesus Christ] will cut off witchcrafts out of thy land, and thou shalt have no more soothsayers . . . And I will pluck up thy groves out of the midst of thee . . . .
(3 Nephi 21:16-18)
Magic is Satanism
The prophet Mormon saw our day in vision. He compiled most of the Book of Mormon, including the portion we are not yet worthy to receive. He produced the Book of Mormon text that will be used during the Millennium. He knew principles, doctrines, revelations, events and history that we are not yet ready or worthy to receive. What does Mormon have to say about magic and sorceries in his abridgement?
And it came to pass that there were sorceries, and witchcrafts, and magics; and the power of the evil one was wrought upon all the face of the land, even unto the fulfilling of all the words of Abinadi, and also Samuel the Lamanite. (Mormon 1:19)
For those who did not belong to their church did indulge
themselves in sorceries, and in idolatry . . . (Alma 1:32)
Mormon associates magic with “the power of the evil one” and only those not belonging to the Church indulged themselves in this wickedness. The evil one is the adversary, better known as Satan.
Testimony of “a spirit of divination”
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul would not allow a woman involved in witchcraft to testify of the Gospel.
And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying:
The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation.
And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour. (Acts 16:16-18)
How reasonable is it that the Lord would choose a man delving into spirit possession to bring forth His everlasting Gospel?
Joseph Smith’s “sins”
Was Joseph Smith perfect? The Prophet clarified:
I never told you I was perfect; but there is no error in the revelations which I have taught. 15
Was the Prophet Joseph guilty of the most serious crimes a human being can commit? Again, the Prophet Joseph clarified:
I frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature; which, I am sorry to say, led me into divers temptations, offensive in the sight of God. In making this confession, no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins. A disposition to commit such was never in my nature.
But I was guilty of levity, and sometimes associated with jovial company, etc., not consistent with that character which ought to be maintained by one who was called of God as I had been. But this will not seem very strange to any one who recollects my youth, and is acquainted with my native cheery temperament. 16
Engaging in witchcraft ranks in seriousness in the realm of murder or adultery. Joseph Smith clearly pointed out that he was not “guilty of any great or malignant sins”. So what did his weaknesses consist? By his own admission, he was guilty of “levity, and . . . sometimes associated with jovial company.” In other words, he was light-hearted, boisterous or trifling, at times, in his conversation or temperament. He never admitted to sins justifying the death penalty in revealed law.
Magic: “a preparatory gospel”
Bushman seems to picture magic as a version of or partner to the Gospel. In fact, he calls it a “preparatory gospel”.
When he married Emma Hale in 1827, Joseph was on the eve of realizing himself as a prophet. He may still have been involved in magic, but he was sincere when he told Emma’s father that his treasure-seeking days were over. Magic had served its purpose in his life. In a sense, it was a preparatory gospel.17
According to Bushman, Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith encouraged Joseph to be attentive to the instructions of the Angel Moroni because they had learned to be obedient to “prescribed rituals”. In Bushman’s mind, obeying Satanic rituals apparently prepared the Smiths to follow the Lord and His messengers.
Traces of a treasure-seeking mentality still appeared in the family’s
reactions to the angel. His parents admonished Joseph to be rigorously obedient to the
messenger’s instructions, just as exact compliance with prescribed rituals was
required for successful money-digging. 18
Rough Stone Rolling’s interpretation also suggests that magic enabled the Smith family to be receptive to the coming of the Angel Moroni.
After 1828, Joseph could no longer see that magic might have prepared him to believe in a revelation of gold plates and translation with a stone. It did not occur to him that without magic his family might have scoffed at his story of Moroni, as did the minister who rejected the First Vision. Magic had played its part and now could be cast aside.19
Is Bushman confused as to the difference between a spiritual experience from the Lord and magical rituals involving Satanic spirits? He seems to differ from “chapel Mormons” in these fundamental questions.
- Does dabbling with the power of Lucifer prepare one to receive revelation from Heaven? They are not in conflict, they support one another?
- The Smith family’s supposed involvement with magic prepared them to believe the story of the Angel Moroni’s appearance?
- Joseph Smith’s obedience to the Lord was developed by strictly following magical rituals?
- Is this how we prepare young men for the Priesthood? We invite the deacon’s quorum to a seance or teach them how to use a ouija board or tarot cards?
Should this logic be trusted with kids?
In some incomprehensible way, Bushman and his followers seem to confuse the occult with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For those who are confused, allow us to speak plainly. Magic, witchcraft and other forms and varying degrees of Satanism are not merely in conflict with the Lord, they are directly and diametrically opposed. Magic is an inversion, a blatant mockery of the Kingdom of God.
Are you interested in understanding Joseph Smith’s involvement in Freemasony and other “occultic practices”?
If Joseph Smith was involved to any degree in magic, the very foundation of the Church is put in question. The Lord’s Kingdom and the devil’s kingdom are not playgrounds one can simply alternate between depending upon mood. As President Brigham Young stated:
It is impossible to unite Christ and Baal—their spirits cannot unite, their objects and purposes are entirely different; the one leads to eternal life and exaltation, the other to death and final destruction.20
Christ and Baal are not reconciled; the Lord will hold no fellowship with the Devil. But Satan will contend until he is driven from the earth. He is the adversary, the opposer, and accuser of the brethren. He opposes the Son of God in the great struggle between truth and error.21
Magic is not a tool of the Lord, nor is it neutral. When Moses confronted the Egyptian magicians in Pharaoh’s court, it was not a contest between the Lord’s prophet and “preparatory Gospel” prophets. It was a struggle between the power of Lucifer and the power of God. Moses wasn’t searching the serpents of the magicians wondering, “Are those of the Lord? I remember growing up turning staffs into serpents using Satan’s power.” Magic is not simply a “force,” it is a hostile power that is diametrically opposed to the authority of the Son of God. The two are incompatible and irreconcilable.
“. . . magical culture . . . to the end.”
Bushman makes another accusation. He claims that Joseph Smith employed magical rituals and that “remnants of the magical culture stayed with him to the end.”
Magic and religion melded in the Smith family culture. . . . It may have taken four years for Joseph to purge himself of his treasure-seeking greed. Joseph Jr. never repudiated the stones or denied their power to find treasure. Remnants of the magical culture stayed with him to the end.22
Think about it for a minute. Bushman believes that in Carthage Jail, the Prophet Joseph may have still sympathized with and engaged in ancient “prescribed rituals”. Interesting picture. John Taylor finishes singing “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief” and then they all pull out their tarot cards to relieve stress. A caricature perhaps, but nonetheless, this is the substance of his argument. Liberty Jail? Pressure is on, the brethren have flashbacks to magical phrases and begin chanting as they rotate in a circle. Seriously? Or perhaps the magic only entailed using the seer stone while under the influence of dark forces. As a people, we should all put our trust in a man who can’t decipher between the Lord and the devil? A man who “melded” magic and religion throughout his life?
As the Servant and Prophet of the Lord Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith and Lucifer are bitter enemies. Not only was the sin of dabbling with Satan’s power “never in [his] nature”, but from his youth he was “destined to prove a disturber and an annoyer of his kingdom.” Joseph Smith and “Baal” were not friends at any time of his life. In Joseph’s own words,
It seems as though the adversary was aware, at a very early period of my life, that I was destined to prove a disturber and an annoyer of his kingdom; else why should the powers of darkness combine against me?(JS-History 1:20)
Claims involving Joseph Smith & Magic
When you encounter material claiming Joseph Smith, or his family, dabbled in magical practices, the answers can generally be found in the following two categories.
- Dishonest, questionable or even nonexistent sources – It is often the case that claims made by progressive historians, anti-Mormon literature and other material are not based in credible, primary sources. Do your own research, and investigate their claims!
- Counterfeits of the Priesthood – Satan delights in creating a mockery of sacred symbols, principles, ordinances and teachings. Was Joseph Smith working with the Lord’s version or the counterfeit? For example, Joseph Smith is often accused of being involved in Satanism because the inverted pentagram can be found on the Nauvoo Temple. Studying the history of this symbol reveals that this icon is historically a pure and holy symbol. Lucifer has hijacked this symbol for his own perverted purposes. To learn more, see the following clip from the documentary, Statesmen and Symbols: Prelude to the Restoration.
Another example is Joseph Smith’s involvement with Freemasonry. Have you ever wondered why Joseph Smith was a Freemason? Have you ever wondered why there was a Masonic lodge in Nauvoo? Receive your own copy of this documentary to learn more of this fascinating history!
Joseph Smith & Jesus Christ
But don’t anti-Mormon sources always accuse Joseph Smith of being involved in magic? There must be some substance behind these arguments? The Lord’s accusers argued that He cast out devils by Beelzebub or the prince of devils.
And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils.
And he called them unto him, and said unto them in parables, How can Satan cast out Satan?
And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.
And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.
And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end. (Mark 3:22-26)
Was there substance in the arguments of the Lord Jesus Christ’s detractors? Was the Lord a product of his culture?
Interesting that the accusations against Joseph Smith are an incredible parallel to those of Jesus Christ. The scribes of our day accuse Joseph Smith of the very same crimes. Joseph Smith being accused of magic and being influenced by or involved in the occult is an argument that he was indeed a true prophet of God. Darkness and light are always in conflict, one with the other.
Richard Bushman vs. Gordon B. Hinckley
Our history is in a transitional period. Bushman and other “scholars” would have us move away from the foundation of prophets of God to a more “enlightened” and “educated” approach. To do so, we disregard countless testimonies including this one taken from the appropriately entitled talk, “Lord, Increase Our Faith” from President Gordon B. Hinckley:
I have no doubt there was folk magic practiced in those days. Without question there were superstitions and the superstitious. I suppose there was some of this in the days when the Savior walked the earth. There is even some in this age of so-called enlightenment. For instance, some hotels and business buildings skip the numbering of floor thirteen. Does this mean there is something wrong with the building? Of course not. Or with the builders? No.
Similarly, the fact that there were superstitions among the people in the days of Joseph Smith is no evidence whatever that the Church came of such superstition.
Joseph Smith himself wrote or dictated his history. It is his testimony of what occurred, and he sealed that testimony with his life. It is written in language clear and plain and unmistakable. From an ancient record he translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God. It is here for all to see and handle and read. Those who have read with faith and inquired in prayer have come to a certain knowledge that it is true. The present effort of trying to find some other explanation for the organization of the Church, for the origin of the Book of Mormon, and for the priesthood with its keys and powers will be similar to other anti-Mormon fads which have come and blossomed and faded. Truth will prevail. A knowledge of that truth comes by effort and study, yes. But it comes primarily as a gift from God to those who seek in faith. 23
Will the anti-Mormonism of the past continue to become mainstream LDS history? Or will we heed President Hinckley’s warning? The question is: where do you stand?
- Did Lucy Mack Smith “associate” magic rituals with religion? (Responding to Rough Stone Rolling, pg. 50-51)
- Joseph Smith Forum FAQ: Did Joseph Smith mix Christianity with Nineteenth Century tradition and magical powers? Did he attempt to employ dark arts to discover hidden treasure?
- Statesmen & Symbols: Prelude to the Restoration (DVD) – Watch online, purchase DVD
- Hinckley, Gordon B. “Lord, Increase Our Faith,” Ensign, November 1987, 52-53. Also Hinckley, Gordon Bitner. Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1997. Print. 103.
- Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 54; emphasis added.
- Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 51; emphasis added.
- Joseph Smith—History 1:33.
- Noah Webster’s First Edition of An American Dictionary of the English Language. Anaheim, CA: Foundation for American Christian Education, 1967. Print.
- “Magic.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., n.d. Web. 06 Jan. 2017.
- Bushman, Richard L., and Jed Woodworth. Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. Print. 54
- Ibid. 73.
- Ibid. 50.
- Ibid. 73.
- Ibid. 69.
- Ibid. 54.
- 3 Nephi 15:5
- 1 Nephi 10:18, Mormon 9:9, Hebrews 13:8
- Smith, Joseph. History of the Church 6:366
- JS-History 1:28
- Bushman, Richard L., and Jed Woodworth. Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. Print. 54
- Ibid. 54.
- Ibid. 69.
- Young, Brigham. Journal of Discourses 11:274
- Ibid. 8:116.
- Bushman, Richard L., and Jed Woodworth. Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. Print. 51
- Gordon B. Hinckley, “Lord, Increase Our Faith,” Ensign, November 1987, 52-53. Also Hinckley, Gordon Bitner. Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1997. Print. 103.