Question: Did Joseph Smith and his contemporaries believe in supernatural entities with real power?

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Question: Did Joseph Smith and his contemporaries believe in supernatural entities with real power?

Every Christian, Jew, or Muslim who believes in God, angels, and divine power believes in supernatural entities with real power

So, did Joseph Smith and his contemporaries believe in supernatural entities with real power? Yes—and so does every Christian, Jew, or Muslim who believes in God, angels, and divine power to reveal, heal, etc. However, to label these beliefs as "magic" is to beg the question—to argue that Joseph believed in and sought help from powers besides God. Nobody disputes that Joseph and his family believed in the Bible, which condemns divination and witchcraft:

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. Deuteronomy 18:10

Joseph and his family viewed folk magic and the use of seer stones as not falling under Biblical condemnation

Therefore, Joseph and his family viewed folk magic and the use of seer stones as not falling under this Biblical condemnation. It is clear that Joseph and his contemporaries believed that one could gain knowledge from such activities as dowsing (using a rod to find water, ore, or buried treasure) and the use of the seer stones. This does not mean, however, that Joseph understood such activities to be a form of magic.

In Joseph's day, the power of (for example) dowsing was seen as a manifestation of "how the world worked." An article published in 1825 described how the downward bob of a divining rode "closely resembles the dip of the magnetic needle, when traversing a bed or ore."[1] A journal of science reported the idea that "the rod is influenced by ores."[2]

An early British dowser denounced the idea that dowsing for ore was based on magic. "it [the rod] guided mee to the Orifice of a lead mine. [The rod is] of kin to the Load-stone [magnet], drawing Iron to it by a secret vertue, inbred by nature, and not by any conjuration as some have fondly imagined."[3]

Using a divining rod was seen in these examples as a manifestation of natural law, and requiring the grace of God to operate

Thus, divining was seen in these examples as a manifestation of natural law. Just as one might use a compass or lode-stone to find true north, without understanding the principles or mathematics of magnetism which underlay it, so one could use dowsing as a tool, without understanding the principles by which it operated.

It is further clear that those who used divinization by rods, for example, believed that the rod's natural ability also required the grace of God to operate. Hence, practitioners would consecrate their rods, and pray to God to bless their efforts.[4] Of such matters, Oliver Cowdery was told in an early revelation, "without faith you can do nothing."[5] Like any natural ability, Joseph believed that the gift and tools of seership (in the broader sense) could be misused. As he told Brigham Young, "most...who do find [a seer stone] make an evil use of it."[6] And, Emma Smith's hostile brother Alvah would later remember that Joseph told him "that his gift in seeing with a [seer] stone and hat, was a gift from God."[7]


Notes

  1. "The Divining Rod," The Worchester Magazine and Historical Journal (October 1825): 29; cited in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 66. Buy online
  2. "The Divining Rod," The American Journal of Science and Arts (October 1826): 204; cited in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 65–66.
  3. Gabriel Platts, A Discovery of Subterraneal Treasure (London: 1639), 11–13, emphasis added; cited in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 66. Buy online
  4. See discussion in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 140, 182–192.
  5. A Book of Commandments for the Government of the Church of Christ, Organized according to law, on the 6th of April, 1830 (Zion [Independence, Missouri]: W.W. Phelps and Co., 1833) 7:4.
  6. Joseph Smith, cited by Brigham Young, "History of Brigham Young," Millennial Star (20 February 1864), 118–119.; cited in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 184. Buy online
  7. "Mormonism," The Susquehanna Register, and Northern Pennsylvanian (Montrose, Pennsylvania) (1 May 1834): 1, column 4; cited in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 184. Buy online