Last year’s bicentennial celebration and associated bibliophilistic apex made accessible to popular discourse a granularity in 19th century Mormonism that had been lacking for perhaps decades. One of the concepts that has found a voice in this maturation is the Prophet’s tools of divination and revelation. Like many things in our history, these do not translate well to our modern praxis. This disparity forces us to consider the propriety of folk magical approaches to divine communication in our time.
The idea the Joseph used an Urim and Thummim and seer stones in his translation of the Book of Mormon is taught to us from Primary on. While the Urim and Thummim are considered to be in the possession of the angel (along with the plates, sword and director), the Church has still in it’s possession one, but perhaps up to three different seer stones in their vault (1). In his journal, Wilford Woodruff noted a pertinent event during the dedication of the Manti Temple:
Before leaving I consecrated upon the Altar the sears stone that Joseph Smith found by Revelation some 30 feet under the earth carried by him through life. (2)
Joseph used the stones for treasure seeking, finding lost items, translating the Book of Mormon, receiving revelations, and translating the Book of Abraham. (3) He found the rock upon which the church was built 30 feet under ground. Joseph also believed that his tools were not unique to him.
Most Mormons are familiar with divination in some sort or another. Bibliomancy, the practice of opening scriptures up at random to access divine will, is rather common. Missionaries often experiment in processes that approach casting lots in order to find locations in which to travail. I, however, know of no one who looks into stones to access the divine.
I was recently made aware of a new blog that purports to support the use of seer stones by citing mainstream Mormon scholarship. From the charter post:
This blog is created in order to learn more, and network with individuals that actually use or seek to use seer stones. This is a Christian blog.
I’ll be frank. I’m not quite sure what to think of this. Really, I find all modern divination off-putting. This perspective, however, isn’t particularly consistent with an historical perspective. While I am grateful for a more open and coherent discourse of our origins, I am still uncertain how to accept such anachronisms in our modern communion with God.
- D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, p.195
- Wilford Woodruff Diaries vol. 8 pg. 499 (17, 18 May 1888). Thomas Alexander notes in Things in Heaven and Earth that he had previously consecrated it at home. Ibid, vol. 8 pg. 489 (18 Mar. 1888).
- For notes on treasure seeking and item finding see Richard Bushman, Joseph Smith, RSR pg. 49-52 and notes therein. For reference to the Book of Abraham see Parley Pratt, Millennial Star (July 1842), vol 3 pg. 47 and Orson Pratt, JD vol. 20 pg. 65