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The following is an excerpt from Faith Crisis 2, Behind Closed Doors: Leonard Arrington & the Progressive Rewriting of Mormon History.

In the second chapter of Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism, under the title, “The First Vision,” Bushman claimed:

  • that Lucy Mack Smith, the mother of the Prophet, had a fluent “knowledge of magic, formulas and rituals.”
  • Bushman asserted that when Joseph related his visit with the Angel Moroni to Mother Smith, she “seemed to understand how the story of Moroni might be mistakenly understood as a tale of money digging.”1 
  • Bushman also alleged that Joseph Smith’s parents were fascinated with magic, and that “Joseph Smith Sr., stimulated by his son’s supernatural experiences, searched for treasure with the help of his family.”2
  • Moreover, Bushman argued that the Smith family took Moroni’s visit as a personal confirmation of “the entire culture of magic.”3

Bushman Misquotes Mother Smith

To support these claims, Bushman drew from a statement made by Mother Smith as evidence that the Smith family possessed a deep, personal understanding of ritualistic magic. The fact remains that the progressive historian crowd has no contemporaneous Latter-day Saint source providing any indication whatsoever that Joseph Smith involved himself in money-digging activities. Because of this, they frequently resort to misrepresenting and perfidiously misinterpreting a statement from Lucy Smith,4 in their attempt to ‘create’ an alleged Latter-day Saint source. Referencing her autobiography, Bushman quotes Mother Smith, who recorded:

I shall change my theme for the present, but let not my reader suppose that because I shall pursue another topic for a season that we stopt [sic] 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.5

Bushman then uses an entirely twisted interpretation of Lucy Smith’s words to argue in his Beginnings of Mormonism that:

The Smith family at first was no more able to distinguish true religion from superstition than their neighbors. . . . they were as susceptible to the neighbors’ belief in magic as they were to the teachings of orthodox ministers. Joseph’s discovery of the seerstone and the revelation of Moroni and the gold plates confused them even further. The visit of the angel seemed to confirm the beliefs of their superstitious neighbors. . . .

[Lucy] revealed a knowledge of magic formulas and rituals. It seems likely that Joseph, Sr., stimulated by his son’s supernatural experiences, searched for treasure with the help of his family. Understandably, Moroni’s visit and the discovery of the seerstone appeared to confirm the entire culture of magic.6

Later, in Rough Stone Rolling, Bushman repeats the argument, claiming that Lucy’s comment demonstrates, “[t]he Smiths were as susceptible as their neighbors to treasure-seeking folklore. . . . Magic and religion melded in Smith family culture.”7 Did Mother Smith veritably admit to her family’s involvement in magic and the occult?

First, do we understand the true context of what Lucy Smith genuinely stated? The paragraph immediately preceding Bushman’s quotation details the Smith family’s farm labor, including harvesting 1000 lbs of maple sugar, planting a large orchard, and paying off their debts.8 Contrary to many false progressive claims, evidence shows that the Smiths were remarkably industrious and hard working. 

Lucy Smith’s history proceeds with a denial of the accusations that her family was involved in “the faculty of Abrac” or spent evenings “drawing Magic circles or sooth saying.” She is clear in stating, “let not my reader suppose that because I shall pursue another topic for a season that we stopt [sic] our labor and went at trying to win the faculty of Abrac drawing Magic circles or sooth saying.”9

Did Lucy Smith change her story?

The context of Lucy’s denial is her announcement that she is about to “change [her] theme for the present,” about to shift from an accounting of the Smith family’s farm labor to an account detailing the translation and coming forth of the Book of Mormon and other spiritual gifts experienced by her family—not a foray into folk magic. As she changes the focus of her narrative, she wisely appears to be wary that someone could give credence to the lies then circulating about her family; that the tales of “Angel Moroni” and “gold plates” were allegedly part of a magical treasure-digging career within a lazy family that had abandoned their honest farm labor in exchange for a chase after treasure buried in the earth. 

Lucy “explicitly denies that they were involved in such things [magic]. She also denies that the smiths were lazy”

The reader will recall that Lucy Mack Smith dictated her history as a 70-year-old widow who had endured decades of vicious ridicule, slander, and the vilest persecution as a direct consequence of her son’s testimony and divine mission. Joseph was only fourteen years old when a Methodist minister mocked him for his account of the First Vision, and sneeringly insisted that his vision “was all of the devil, that there were no such things as visions or revelations in these days.”10 Lucy and her family had endured “great persecution, which continued to increase,” including the cold shoulders, jealousy, and spite—spewing from their disapproving neighbors. The publishing of lies in local and distant newspapers and books—nearly all of which dismissed the Prophet’s testimony—wildly spun and perverted his experiences as occultic. Her beloved husband, Joseph Smith Sr., died a premature death following the effects of the persecution in Missouri. Her eldest living sons, Joseph and Hyrum, were shot and murdered in Carthage Jail. And finally, her sons Don Carlos and Samuel seem to have passed away under questionable circumstances—possibly through sinister means. 

As Lucy sat down to dictate her history in 184411, only a few months after the Carthage martyrdom, persecution in Nauvoo was intensifying daily. Soon, the Saints would abandon their homes, driven cruelly from their beautiful City of Joseph which they had worked so diligently to build up as a place of refuge—a bastion of freedom where they had hoped to practice their religion according to the dictates of conscience. Sadly, slander and vilification were daily trials in the life of Mother Smith—one undeniably marked by great suffering and sacrifice. 

As she prepared to give her eyewitness account of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, she knew all too well that she was countering the popular, predominant ‘magic’ spin deeply ingrained in the psyche of the Saint’s detractors. To the general public, the story of the Book of Mormon had been horribly twisted by men like Willard Chase and Hurlbut into a demonic account of dealings with the underworld. Now, as Lucy Smith prepared to speak, she rightly felt that she must precede her own eyewitness account by setting the record straight. Her husband and sons were not indolent men, nor were they obsessed with treasure seeking and magic. Again, her record is emphatically clear on the issue: “let not my reader suppose that . . . we stopt [sic] our labor and went at trying to win the faculty of Abrac drawing Magic circles or sooth saying.”12

William Hamblin (Ph.D. University of Michigan) has likewise concluded that Lucy Mack Smith’s statement was clearly a denial—not an admission—of ‘magical’ activity:

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. . . . 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?13

The reader should note that positive references—or even allusions—to magic, treasure digging, superstitious tradition, etc. do not appear in any of the Smith family’s writings, including extended family. It is a point of fact that not one shred of evidence currently exists that any of the Smiths were ever involved in, dabbled with, or even expressed a casual interest in magic.

For a thorough analysis of the doctrinal and scriptural support refuting claims that Joseph Smith and his family engaged in occultic activity, see Chapter 15 “Joseph Smith: ‘Village Seer’? Magic?” in Seer Stone v. Urim & Thummim: Book of Mormon Translation on Trial.

In addition to the historical record, from a doctrinal and scriptural approach, it should be noted that “sooth-saying” is repeatedly condemned in scripture, specifically in 2 Kings 17:17, Deuteronomy 18:9-14, and Leviticus 19:26. Magic circles that were used in the conjuration of and communion with devils were also strictly forbidden. The Smiths were devout Christians; and such activity was, no doubt, unthinkable. These sordid and debauched pursuits that Richard Bushman and other New Mormon Historians suggest were a “preparatory gospel”14 for Joseph, were in fact, punishable by death according to the laws revealed by Jehovah in the Old Testament. These dark acts were also denounced as “abominations” by Jesus Christ in the New Testament.

Same yesterday, today, and forever

Are we to accept the premise adopted by progressive historians that Joseph was an “abomination unto the Lord” just prior to, or even during, the translation of the Book of Mormon? Such a notion defies every sensibility of reason. Scripture declares that the Son of God “is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”15 The same God who unequivocally and unmistakably condemned witchcraft during ancient times is the same God who appeared to the young Joseph in the Sacred Grove. Therefore, while our modernist, ‘politically-correct’ culture may condone occultic activity—while it may combine magic and heavenly manifestations into the same ‘mystic arts’ category and promote the dark arts in literature, fashion, film, music, games, holidays, and other ‘diversions’—the Lord Jehovah has never changed His everlasting position.

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Interested in more? Receive a copy of Faith Crisis 2, Behind Closed Doors!

During the 20th century, an organized objective to rewrite Latter-day Saint history from within, unbeknownst to the general Church membership, went head to head behind the scenes with traditional leaders of the Church. Meet the main players of this conflict: Leonard Arrington—progressive “Father of New Mormon History,” Ezra Taft Benson—traditionalist defender, and many other advocates of traditionalist and progressive Latter-day Saint history.

As traditionalists and progressives sparred during the 1970s-1980s, a covert cold war commenced in Salt Lake City, Utah, with the progressives spying on the traditionalists, and the traditionalists spying on the progressives. Secret informants, leaked documents, falsified reports, and even employed pseudonyms—all were part of this struggle to dominate Latter-day Saint history. But how did, and does, this secret conflict affect you? Progressives, working in the Church History Department and at Brigham Young University, claimed 40 years ago that it would take a generation to re-educate the Church. Where are we now in that re-education?

► RECEIVE YOUR OWN COPY TODAY! Visit the Joseph Smith Foundation store.

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Featured image credit: Wayne Herschel, Wikimedia

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  1. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1984), 72.
  2.  Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1984), 73.
  3. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1984), 73.
  4. John Dehlin host, “Folk Magic / Treasure Digging,” Mormon Stories, February 15, 2019, https://www.mormonstories.org/truth-claims/joseph-smith/treasure/; Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1984), 72-73; Richard L. Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Vintage Books, 2007), 50-51.
  5. Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–1845, p. 10, bk. 3, The Joseph Smith Papers.
  6. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1984), 72-73.
  7. Richard L. Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, (New York: Vintage Books, 2007), 50-51.
  8.  “In the spring after we moved onto the farm we commenced making mapel [sic] sugar of which we averaged 1000 lbs per year. we then began to make preparations for building a house as the Land Agent of whom we purchased our farm was dead and we could not make the last payment we also planted a large orchard and made every possible preparation for ease when advanced age should deprive us of the ability to make those pysical [sic] exertions of which we were then capable.” Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–1845, p. 9-10, The Joseph Smith Papers.
  9. Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–1845, p. 10, bk. 3, The Joseph Smith Papers; emphasis added.
  10.  Joseph Smith—History 1:21.
  11. Lucy Mack Smith began her manuscript in 1844, concluding in 1845.
  12. Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–1845, p. 10, bk. 3, The Joseph Smith Papers.
  13. William J. Hamblin, “That Old Black Magic,” Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn, FARMS Review of Books 12, no. 2 (2000): 225–394.
  14. Richard L. Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Vintage Books, 2007), 54.
  15.  1 Nephi 10:18, Mormon 9:9, Hebrews 13:8.
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6 COMMENTS

  1. This is such an important topic, I love the point made here that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith, trusting him to open the last dispensation. God does not condone satanic practices so to claim that Joseph Smith was involved in such things and acceptable to God would make a mockery of both the Lord and His chosen prophet of the restoration.

    To mingle witchcraft with the history of the restoration serves two purposes, neither of which are from the Lord but from the devil: To make Joseph Smith seem to be a wicked man. And to make witchcraft seem acceptable to God. This is calling evil good and good evil.

    We must share the truth of this, for it has been and will be a great stumbling block for many people. No one will be exalted in ignorance, as the Lord said “ And this is ​​​life​ ​​​eternal​, that they might ​​​know​ thee the only true ​​​God​, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast ​​​sent​.” If we think God may be changing in how He views what He once called an abomination, then we don’t know God. Helping others to see the truth about God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ is the work of Salvation which Joseph Smith was trusted to bring forth.

  2. After studying the life of Joseph Smith, his teachings, and the story from his mother’s pperspective it is extremely hard to imagine as one has said “his family returning from a day of labor on their farm to gather together to draw magic circles and practice rituals!” I can not fathom mother Lucy Mack Smith, the “faithful, consecrated and a religiously devout mother of the Prophet, whispering enchantments?” Can you imagine a young Joseph Smith setting aside his Bible to study magical parchments? Nope, me either! That is not the Joseph and family I have come to love!

  3. Thank you for showing how this quote has been used out of context! It’s helpful to know where these ideas come from and why so many people are confused!

    My life was changed and I came to love Lucy Mack Smith when I read “History of the Prophet Joseph Smith By His Mother”. I felt such deep gratitude for her righteousness as a wife and mother, ached for the trials she faced, and felt inspired by how she persevered. I’m very grateful for her. I’m sure it pains her to see people twisting her words that she carefully chose to tell her family story.

  4. So to anyone who has done research on Joseph Smith and still rejects the beautiful spirit of truths that are contained in teachings of Joseph’s Smith Jr. and faithful history accounts about him are like unto Korihor who already has a “carnal mind.” I often wonder and do feel that Korihor and other Antichrists recorded in The book of Mormon were members of the Lord’s true Church. Why else would they have so much influence over the people.

    Richard L. Bushman has supported Humanistic ideas, he spoke at and has sponsored at least one “Mormon Transhuman Association” Conference which is of one of the flavors of Humanism which is at its core anti-God mingled with Latter-Day Saints teachings. Scriptures teach this never of God.
    Richard supported his wife and other women start a Feminism Magazine called “Exponent II” which is for women of all the different faiths of Mormonism and gender minorities. Which Feminism is now become easily decerned as anti-God. (I am not against the rights of women or men) Just mostly the part of Feminism that rejects the man’s/husband’s and woman’s/wife’s role and purpose in the home and Feminism rejects the Eternal perspective of woman and her being a wife and mother in our Heavenly Father’s Pan. It rejects both the men and women. When ever someone rejects either gender they reject both.

    I think it is important to always remember to talk to everyone about anything you have learned about the life and teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Most have not researched from source documents enough to find answers to their difficult questions, because of this they will have a much higher chances of leaving the Church.
    This is why it is important talk to everyone! When they know someone that is not shy in talking to them and also does care about them, this will increase the chances of them asking you questions about the concerns that they have about “fill in the blank,” especially when they know the chances of you knowing the answer or know that you will research it.

    We will not always know or an can tell when someone is struggling with something.

    In the Book of Mormon, the saints struggled with a man named Korihor was preaching in the Land of Zarahemla. I will not cover the whole account.
    Here is an account of him being deceived by the devil that he gave after he was struck dumb. In verse 53 Korihor plainly teaches that he was already sinful man.

    In Alma 30:52 And Korihor put forth his hand and wrote, saying: I know that I am dumb, for I cannot speak; and I know that nothing save it were the power of God could bring this upon me; yea, and I always knew that there was a God.

    53 But behold, the devil hath deceived me; for he appeared unto me in the form of an angel, and said unto me: Go and reclaim this people, for they have all gone astray after an unknown God. And he said unto me: There is no God; yea, and he taught me that which I should say. And I have taught his words; and I taught them because they were pleasing unto the carnal mind; and I taught them, even until I had much success, insomuch that I verily believed that they were true; and for this cause I withstood the truth, even until I have brought this great curse upon me.

    Earlier in verse 18 while in the Land of Zarahemla “And thus he did preach unto them, leading away the hearts of many, causing them to lift up their heads in their wickedness, yea, leading away many women, and also men, to commit whoredoms—telling them that when a man was dead, that was the end thereof.”

    Everyone I didn’t personally know but did know they have left the Church, has gone into greater sin even when they still believe in God.

    In verse 19 “Now this man went over to the land of Jershon also, to preach these things among the people of Ammon, who were once the people of the Lamanites.”
    20 “But behold they were more wise than many of the Nephites; for they took him, and bound him, and carried him before Ammon, who was a high priest over that people.”

    So here it teaches those who knew more knowledge than many of the Nephites. This is important. The events that happen in the verses verses 20-60 would have not of happened if it was not for them and others like them.
    They bound him and brought him to the Ammon the High Priest of them, then Ammon sent him to out of the land of Jershon. Then Korihor continued preaching in Gideon, he then was bound again by those in that city. They were also wise in the knowledge of truth. They took him to their High Priest and also their Chief Judge whose name is Giddonah. Once he saw the hardness of his heart he bound him and sent him to Alma the Chief Judge in the land of Zarahemla. Then Korihor keeps being the stubborn man that he is, and still rejecting that there is a God, an said “show me sign”, then was struck dumb by God.
    This next part is important, they went out and made it known unto all people.
    In verse 57 “Now the knowledge of what had happened unto Korihor was immediately published throughout all the land; yea, the proclamation was sent forth by the chief judge to all the people in the land, declaring unto those who had believed in the words of Korihor that they must speedily repent, lest the same judgments would come unto them.”

    To apply verse 57, to us this is our Church leaders. But can be us as ministering Brothers or Sisters, and yes we can be to those whom we are not assigned to.

    58 “And it came to pass that they were all convinced of the wickedness of Korihor; therefore they were all converted again unto the Lord; and this put an end to the iniquity after the manner of Korihor.”

    I want to emphasize, all of those who left the Lord by following Korihor were converted to the Lord again.

    The message here is, the moment those who have knowledge of what is true, it has the power to change hearts to or back to the Lord. But the Lord needs our help. They didn’t return to the Lord until after the knowlege was given to them. If we choose not to, then He will keep prompting others until He find someone else that will, but we will be held accountable until we repent. This includes talking with everyone. I think it is easier to keep them in the church than trying to bring them back.
    I have a lot of people come to me for answers over the years, I believe it is a much better approach to make a connection with others and help them stay in the church before they really start thinking about leaving the church and their covenants.

  5. There are so many lies and rumors swirling around Josepg Smith Jr. and his family. I appreciate those who debunk these myths and lies. The truth needs to be heard.

  6. First and foremost, abundant thank-you’s to the Stoddard Family and to the many others involved in the Church history research.

    I admit, that without this research, I would be completely ignorant and naive of the reality that there are those who seek to alter, change, and undermine the Church’s history and the character of the Prophet Joseph Smith Jr.—within the very walls of the Church itself—what detrimental irony. It begs the question, how many wolves in sheep’s clothing do we walk within the church?

    Without going too much deeper into the metaphoric rabbit hole, the Lord Jesus Christ chose such a wolf as one of his twelve—Judas Iscariot, who betrayed the very Lord of all Creation. Ponder that one for a moment.

    The tired narrative that the Prophet Joseph Smith was a “gold-digger,” and practicing “magic,” is indicative of the perpetual effort to undermine his true character and ultimately sabotage the credibility that the Church is even true—at least, this is only what I can deduce and conclude with. Even in the most subtle of ways, those without a strong testimony of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ can and do easily fall prey to those lies. Most especially if and when those lies are coming from inside the Church itself.

    Those appointed over the Church history and the education thereof—stewards over such sacred responsibility, repeatedly share a different story. Ex. taking words out of complete context (in the case Lucy Mack Smith) to pervert the minds of those who read, into believing such abominable lies as Joseph Smith’s family taking a partiality towards witchcraft and magic—what garbage.

    As saddening and frustrating as it is to acknowledge this reality, the point here that needs to be driven is, that the Lord’s Church is being attacked from within (shouldn’t come as a surprise). The Lord Jesus Christ needs his valiant ones to stand for truth and righteousness in all their words, actions and thoughts. He allows such things to take place to “[try them] in all things.” -D&C 136:31

    The history of the Church and the character of the prophet Joseph Smith have been and are currently under attack. Both of which undermine the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ as being genuine, valid, even sacred. Calling myself to open repentance, I have need to do better in the effort to defend the Lord’s chosen, His gospel, and His Church. This expressly includes the history of the Church. “Shall we not go on in so great a cause!” -D&C 128:22

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