Question: What Church sources discuss Joseph Smith and "folk magic"?

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Question: What Church sources discuss Joseph Smith and "folk magic"?

Gordon B. Hinckley, "Keep the Faith," Ensign (Sep 1985): "They have minutely explored the environment in which Joseph Smith lived in an effort to rationalize—some on the basis of folk magic and the occult—the remarkable things which he did"

Gordon B. Hinckley, "Keep the Faith," Ensign (Sep 1985):

From the day that Joseph Smith walked out of the grove in the year 1820, critics and enemies—generation after generation of them—have worked and reworked the same old materials. They have minutely explored the environment in which Joseph Smith lived in an effort to rationalize—some on the basis of folk magic and the occult—the remarkable things which he did. Early in this fishing expedition, one of them gathered affidavits from neighbors and associates in an effort to undermine the character of Joseph Smith. This old bale of straw has been dished up again and again as if it were something new. They have raked over every available word that he spoke or wrote, and they then in turn have written long tomes and delivered long lectures trying to explain the mystery of his character and his work....

As I have already mentioned, from the beginning of this work there has been opposition. There have been apostates. There have been scholars, some with balance and others with an axe to grind, who have raked over every bit of evidence available concerning Joseph Smith, the prophet of this dispensation. I plead with you, do not let yourselves be numbered among the critics, among the dissidents, among the apostates. That does not mean that you cannot read widely. As a Church, we encourage gospel scholarship and the search to understand all truth. Fundamental to our theology is belief in individual freedom of inquiry, thought, and expression. Constructive discussion is a privilege of every Latter-day Saint....

Of course, there are items in our history which, when pulled out of context and highlighted, separated from the time and the circumstances in which the events took place, may raise some questions. Remember, however, that no Church leader of whom I am aware, past or present, has ever claimed perfection. They have been and are human, including those who have served as Presidents of the Church. The Lord has always used those he has found most suitable for His purposes. Notwithstanding some human weaknesses, they have accomplished great and remarkable things, and this even while enemies have been snapping at their heels. The work has moved steadily and consistently forward, and the only losers have been those who, in a spirit of criticism, which usually has begun in a very mild and innocuous way, have in some instances literally read, talked, and written themselves out of the Church because they looked only for the negative, read only the negative, and discussed only the negative.

To all Latter-day Saints, I say, keep the faith. When you study, do so with balance. [1]

Gordon B. Hinckley, "Lord, Increase Our Faith," Ensign (Nov 1987): "I have no doubt there was folk magic practiced in those days"

As most of you know, in the last four or five years we have passed through an interesting episode in the history of the Church. There came into our hands two letters that were seized upon by the media when we announced them. They were trumpeted across much of the world as documents that would challenge the authenticity of the Church. In announcing them we stated that they really had nothing to do with the essentials of our history. But some few of little faith, who seemingly are always quick to believe the negative, accepted as fact the pronouncements and predictions of the media. I recall a letter from an individual who asked that his name be taken from the records of the Church because he could no longer believe in a church that had to do with an experience with a salamander.

Now, as you know, these letters, together with other documents, have been acknowledged by their forger to be total frauds and part of an evil and devious design which culminated in the murder of two individuals.

I have wondered what those whose faith was shaken have thought since the forger confessed to his evil work....

Out of this earlier episode has now arisen another phenomenon. It is described as the writing of a “new history” of the Church as distinguished from the “old history.” It represents, among other things, an effort to ferret out every element of folk magic and the occult in the environment in which Joseph Smith lived to explain what he did and why.

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.[2]

Notes

  1. Gordon B. Hinckley, "Keep the Faith," Ensign (Sep 1985)
  2. Gordon B. Hinckley, "Lord, Increase Our Faith," Ensign (Nov 1987)