The Eighth Day

Today, I will press my hands on my son who was born eight days ago and I will bless him. This blessing will not replace the formal naming and blessing ritual scheduled for later this year after my nephew returns home from his mission and family gathers. With that ritual, into the early twentieth century, Latter-day Saints commonly administered eighth-day blessings. And I am simply following that pattern. I will give thanks for his safe delivery. More so than in previous pregnancies, I was aware of the mortality that my wife jeopardized by fashioning a body for our son. I felt a connection to our predecessors who without modern clinical medicine stared at the destroyer with every child.

The earliest eighth-day blessing for which I have documentation is also the only for which I have a complete text (bless you Wilford). Phepe and Wilford Woodruff left Nauvoo after participating in the temple rituals, but before the temple was complete. Not long after arriving, Phebe delivered a son whom they named Joseph. What follows is the blessing that child received upon his eighth day, with my fairly relaxed annotation.

JULY 25 1845 Friday Joseph Woodruffs [1] Blessing received under the Hands of his Father Wilford Woodruff of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles while in the Arms of his Mother Phebe W. Woodruff on the eight day of his age July 25th 1845 he being born Friday morning 30 minutes past 7 oclok on the eighteenth day of July AD 1845 in Liverpool England while his Parents were on a mission from their native Country to England:

In the name of Jesus Christ, and by virtue of the Holy Priesthood & the keys of the Kingdom of God I lay my hands upon thy head & anoint thee with Holy Consecrated oil which has been Consecrated under the hands of the Quorum of the Twelve apostles [2]. With this Anointing I seal thy name upon thy head which is JOSEPH. For thou art out of the Loins of Ancient Joseph sold into Egypt through the linage of Ephraim.

Thou hast a legal right to the Melchezedec Priesthood by linage. Thou art the first fruits of the Priesthood unto thy parents since there endowment [3]. Thou art a gift from God unto thy Parents in answer to their Prayers. I bless you with the blessings of Abraham Isaac and Jacob and Joseph, Ephraim & Manassah and the blessings of the new & Everlasting Covenant the blessings of heaven & the blessings of the Earth. I seal thee against the power of Death sickness & the destroyer untill thy work is finished /for thou shalt have power over them/.

I here by dedicate and Consecrate thee unto God and the Priesthood from this time forth and forever. [4] Thou shalt live to honor thy Parents & the Priesthood. Thou shalt lay thy hands upon the heads of thy Father and Mother in their old age and bless them & thou shalt be a Comfort unto them. Thou shalt be Baptized the day thou art eight years of age so that thy Covenant with God & his kingdom shall not be broaken during thy life.

I ordain the to be a High Priest after the order of Melchisedic in the Church and kingdom of God [5] and I seal upon thy head all the powers and blessings of this Priesthood that when thou shalt arive to years of accountability & discretion thou shalt have power to administer in the ordinances thereof.

Thou shalt follow the footsteps of thy Father in thy day and generation in the linage of the priesthood. Thou shalt have posterity who shall honor their fathers.

I seal thee in the covenant of thy father that in the morning of the first resurrection thou shalt take thy station in the celestial kingdom in the linage of thy Fathers in the family organization of the celestial world. [6] I seal thee up unto Eternal life and no man shall take thy Crown. I seal all these blessings upon thy head in the name of Jesus Christ & by virtue of the holy Priesthood And Apos-tleship and Keys of the kingdom of God. Even so Amen. Thou shalt have thine inheritance with the tribe of Ephriam in the land of Joseph which is the land of Zion both for time and Eternity. [7] (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, ed. Kenny, 2:584-586.)

___________

  1. Joseph died on the 12th of November 1846 in Winter Quarters (ibid., 3:95):

    NOV 12th 1846 {JOSEPH} We found our little boy was failing and Could not possibly hold out longer. Evry exhertion had been made to make him comfortable And if possible to restore him to health but it seemed that He must go. He continued to fail through the day and night. Sister Abbot took the main Charge of him during the night as Mrs Woodruff Strength was mostly exhausted. He had suffered much from convulsions during his sickness but He breathed his last and fell asleep this morning 15 minuts before 6 oclok. And we took his remains to the grave at 4 oclok in the afternoon. We truly felt that we were called to make a great sacrifice in the loss of our son Joseph. [ ] I met in the council of {50} part of the day.

  2. The 19th century Saints were known to hold in particular value oil which had been consecrated by Church authorities. A favorite example is Louisa Barnes Pratt who brought a bottle of oil consecrated by Brigham Young on her mission to the Society Islands with her husband. She often administered healing rituals to the native population who viewed the oil she carried with significant reverence. Also note that anointings were common for various rituals beyond healing. For example, children were anointed before being sealed to their parents, and people were anointed before death.
  3. This language reflects the teachings of the temple where the purpose of child to parent sealings was described as legitimating priesthood heirship. Note that this priesthood was a bit different than is commonly discussed in the Church today. I have come to call it Joseph Smith’s cosmological priesthood and I discuss it in depth in my “Adoptive Sealing Ritual,” Journal of Mormon History forthcoming, Summer 2011.
  4. Generally, dedications were more common at the end of life. However, an important antecedent to this is Sidney Rigdon’s dedication of his daughter to God, which he viewed as saving her miraculously.
  5. The ordination of infants and young children was fairly common in the early Utah period, mostly in times when the children were not thought to live. In fact the First Presidency eventually debated on what to do with these children as they got older and what quorums they should function in.
  6. I quote from this blessing in the aforementioned paper on adoptive sealing ritual to highlight the familial and priesthood network that was heaven. Salvation, priesthood, and kinship became synonymous in the temple.
  7. Throughout his life, Wilford Woodruff had a hyper-realistic view of the eternal worlds, often describing streets, houses, work and even wealth.

Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing this. It is rather heart-breaking that little Joseph died so young. Makes me grateful to live now. My youngest would have struggled to survive in those days without the surgeries she had in her first months.

    J, congrats on your new little one! Will you be documenting it like Wilford did? Of course, I guess you just did here.

  2. Aaron R. says:

    After the blessing of my first child I felt a strong urge to perform the formal blessing at home with a limited number of people. However, after a series of discussions I decided to perform the blessing of my second child in the building.

    Had I heard about this before I would certainly have performed a similar blessing as well. Thank you for sharing J.

  3. Thanks J. As you know, I am very much in a place at the moment where this carries particular significance.

  4. Thanks, J. Great Stuff.

  5. £10 if you have your wife join you.

  6. Researcher says:

    Congratulations! It sounds like a lovely way to connect your research and writing to your family life.

  7. Lovely post J.

  8. J, glad to hear all went okay with the delivery. Rituals in family life can be valuable, I think, and this is one that I had not run across before. For a couple of years when our kids were younger, we used to do a modified* Seder dinner at Easter to try and help them understand the atonement better. We have some Jewish ancestry on both sides of the family, back many generations, and at least for me it served as a more concrete way of connecting with them.

    *One of the big modifications involved serving ham.

  9. #8 – Yeah, kevin, that counts as a big modification.

    Thanks for this, J. One of the most powerful experiences I have had in my life with prophecy occurred with the blessing of my second son.

    Whenever I read a post about blessings now, I think of Margaret’s post on BCC years ago, “To the Pastor”:

    http://bycommonconsent.com/2007/05/03/to-the-pastor/

    Thanks for reminding me of it with this post. Reading two such posts in one day is a real treat.

  10. Great stuff, J. Thanks. How common were these 8th day blessings among the rank and file and was this seen in terms of circumcision? The JST styles circumcision as recalling baptism at eight years. I assume knowledge of that text was not common.

  11. Great work.

  12. Thanks all.

    WVS, I would describe it as very common. When church authorities discussed baby blessings in the last quarter of the 19th and first quarter of the twentieth century it was not uncommon for them to reference it as well.

  13. …and to the eighth day part. I have to believe that it was an nod to circumcision (though it appears that church leaders planned to circumsize babies at the endowment house on their eighth day as well). That this earliest account I have found (though I would imagine that there were others as well that I have not found), is so proximate to the temple and invokes temple language suggests that it might arise out the explicit Old Testament restorationism associated with it.

  14. kailiala says:

    J – congrats on restoring this ritual blessing in your family. When I was 8 days old, my great grandmother demanded that I be blessed – she believed it was a weighty tradition that needed to be followed. Naturally, the priesthood bowed their heads and agreed with Tutu.

  15. A beautiful tradition!

  16. And I was going to say thank goodness that circumcision wasn’t involved in the 8th day blessing, but then #13 throws that off. I find it rather troubling that early priesthood holders would consider circumcision in the restoration when it seems very clear in the LDS scriptures that it is unnecessary. That is also before the time when the practice became in vogue among Americans and Europeans (for supposedly medical benefits, since you know, preventing masturbation is a medical benefit AND circumcision is so effecting at that…).

    Anyway, a digression, I would love to see references for leaders planning to circumcise on the eighth day.

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