Mormons and theirCrystal Balls
| Pictures of Seer Stones |
|Brigham Young on auto-locomotion |
JosephSmith's father, relating how Joseph had met a man who looked into a stone and toldpeople where to dig for treasure:
Some years before, he said, his son had happened upon a man who looked into adark stone and told people where to dig for money and other things. "Joseph requestedthe privilege of looking into the stone, which he did by putting his face into the hatwhere the stone was. It proved to be not the right stone for him, but he could see somethings, and among them, he saw the [p.234] stone, and where it was, in which he wished tosee."
(Interview with the Father of Joseph Smith, the MormonProphet, Forty Years Ago; Historical Magazine 7, May 1870, 305-306)
BrighamYoung tells how Joseph Smith found his seer stone.
Willford Woodruff, a prophet of the Mormon church, wrote that on 11 September1859, at a meeting of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: "Preside[n]t Young also saidthat the seer stone which Joseph Smith first obtained He got in an Iron kettle 25 feetunder ground. He saw it while looking in another seers stone which a person had. He wentright to the spot & dug & found it" (Willford Woodruff's journal, 5:382-83).
Joseph Smithclaimed that when he was a teenager, in 1823, that an American Indian by the name ofMoroni, who had died over 1000 years ago, visited him in his bedroom at night. TheIndian told Joseph that there was a cache of items buried together in a hill nearJoseph's house.The items included a book made of gold, a breastplate, and two seerstones. From Joseph's own description:
He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fullness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants. Also, that there were two stones in silver bows (and these stones, fastened to a breast-plate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim) deposited with the plates, and the possession: and use of these stones was what constituted Seers in ancient or modern times, and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book."
(History of Joseph Smith, the Prophet, 2:34-35)
Orson Pratt, an early church leader, made clear Joseph's use ofa seer stone:
"sometimes Joseph used a seerstone when enquiring of the Lord, and receiving revelation"
("Report of Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith,Concluded", Deseret Evening News, 23 Nov, 1878)
Churchleader George Q. Cannon writing in his book "Life of Joseph Smith", told ofJoseph's use of the seer stone.
"One of Joseph's aids in searching out the truths of the [Book ofMormon] was a peculiar pebble or rock which he called a seer stone, and which wassometimes used by him in lieu of the Urim and Thummim"
(Life of Joseph, 1888, 56).
MormonHistorian B.H. Roberts wrote:
The SEER STONE referred to here was a chocolate-colored, somewhategg-shaped stone which the Prophet found while digging a well in company with his brotherHyrum, for a Mr. Clark Chase, near Palmyra, N.Y. It possessed the qualities of Urim andThummim, since by means of itas described aboveas well as by means of theInterpreters found with the Nephite record, Joseph was able to translate the charactersengraven on the plates.
(Comprehensive History of the Church, Vol. 1, p. 129)
In an 1873 account,published in Frasers Magazine, Joseph was arrested, tried, and found guilty by ajustice of the peace in Bainbridge, New York, in 1826. Here is an excerpt from thatpublished court record:
STATE OF NEW YORK v. JOSEPH SMITH.
Warrant issued upon written complaint upon oath of Peter G. Bridgeman, who informedthat one Joseph Smith of Bainbridge was a disorderly person and an impostor.Prisoner brought before Court March 20, 1826. Prisoner examined: says that he camefrom the town of Palmyra, and had been at the house of Josiah Stowel in Bainbridge most oftime since; had small part of time been employed by said Stowel on his farm, and going toschool. That he had a certain stone which he had occasionally looked at to determine wherehidden treasures in the bowels of the earth were; that he professed to tell in this mannerwhere gold mines were a distance under ground, and had looked for Mr. Stowel severaltimes, and had informed him where he could find these treasures, and Mr. Stowel had beenengaged in digging for them. That at Palmyra he pretended to tell by looking at this stonewhere coined money was buried in Pennsylvania, and while at Palmyra had frequentlyascertained in that way where lost property was of various kinds; that he had occasionallybeen in the habit of looking through this stone to find lost property for three years, butof late had pretty much given it up on account of its injuring his health, especially hiseyes, making them sore; that he did not solicit business of this kind, and had alwaysrather declined having anything to do with this business.
The veracity of thisarticle was unsubstantiated until 1971, when Wesley P. Walters found among county recordsa bill showing the cost of several trials held in Bainbridge in 1826. Included onthis bill is the following entry:
Joseph Smith Misdemeanor
the Glass looker
March 20 1826 To my fees in examination
of the above cause 2.68
To see a copy of the actual bill, click here
In theJuly, 1838, issue of the Elders' Journal, Joseph Smith attempted to answer thequestions that were most frequently asked him. Question No. 10 read as follows:
Question 10. Was not Jo Smith a money digger.
Answer. YES, but it was never a very proffitable job to him, as he only got fourteendollars a month for it.
(Elders' Journal, July, 1838, p.43; reprinted in theHistory of the Church, Vol. 3, page 29)
Joseph's wife Emmaremembered the stone as:
"a small stone, [which was] not exactly, black, but was rather a darkcolor."
(Emma Smith Bidamon to Mrs. Charles Pilgrim, Nauvoo,Illinois, March 27, 1871. Original letter in the library of the Reorganized LDSChurch)
In1879, Emma, widow of Joseph Smith, described the process of translating the golden platesthus:
"In writing for your father I frequently wrote day after day, oftensitting at the table close by him, he sitting with his face buried in his hat, with thestone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us"
(Emma Bidamon Smith interview, 1879, available in Vogel,Early Mormon Documents, Volume 1, p. 541)
The Book of Mormon refers to God giving his servant a stone:
"And the Lord said: I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone,which shall shine forth in darkness unto light, that I may discover unto my people whoserve me" (Alma 37:23)
BrighamYoung told how in 1841 Joseph Smith exhibited his seer stone to some followers and taughtthat every man is entitled to a seer stone:
"Every man who lived on the earth," Joseph said to them, "wasentitled to a seer stone, and should have one, but they are kept from them in consequenceof their wickedness, and most of those who do find one make evil use of it."
(Brigham Young's journal, as quoted in Latter-dayMillennial Star, 26:118,119)
Joseph Smith taught that God lives on a giant crystalball:
"The place where God resides is a great Urim andThummin."
(Doctrine and Covenants 130:8)
Josephalso taught that the Earth would become a giant crystal ball, and those residing onit would be able to look into it and see things happening on inferior planets:
"This earth, in it's sanctified and immortal state, will be made likeunto crystal and will be a Urim and Thummim to the inhabitants who dwell thereon, wherebyall things pertaining to an inferior kingdom, or all kingdoms of a lower order, will bemanifest to those who dwell on it; and this earth will be Christ's. (Doctrine and Covenants 130:9)
On February 25, 1856, Brigham Young displayed the seer stone tothe regents at the University of the State of Deseret (Later re-named University of Utah),one of which was Hosea Stout. He described it that night in his journal:
"a silecious granite dark color almost black with light colored stripessome what resembling petrified poplar or cotton wood barkabout the size but not theshape of a hen's egg." (Stout Diary, February 25, 1856)
On June 17th, 1877 in Farmington, Utah, Brigham Young made thesecomments concerning Joseph Smith's treasure hunting. It was believed that an unseenpower moved the treasure deeper into the earth after the hunters had partially uncoveredit.
Or[r]in P. Rockwell is an eye-witness to some powers of removing thetreasures of the earth. He was with certain parties that lived near by where the plateswere found that contain the records of the Book of Mormon. There were a great manytreasures hid up by the Nephites. Porter was with them one night where there weretreasures, and they could find them easy enough, but they could not obtain them. Hesaid that on this night, when they were engaged hunting for this old treasure, they dugaround the end of a chest for some twenty inches. The chest was about three feet square.One man who was determined to have the contents of that chest, took his pick and struckinto the lid of it, and split through into the chest. The blow took off a piece of thelid, which a certain lady kept in her possession until she died. That chest of money wentinto the bank. Porter describes it so [making a rumbling sound]; he says this is just astrue as the heavens are. I have heard others tell the same story. I relate this because itis marvelous to you. But to those who understand these things, it is not marvelous.
(Journal of Discourses 19: 37-38)
Though Brigham young acknowledged Joseph's use of a seer stone,he didn't claim the same talent. John Taylor, addressing a church congregation, madethese comments:
"Brigham Young in saying that He did not profess to be a prophet seer& Revelator as Joseph Smith was, was speaking of men being born Natural Prophets &seers. Many have the gift of seeing through seer stones without the Priesthood at all. Hehad not this gift [of using seer stones] naturally yet He was an Apostle & thePresident of the Church and Kingdom of God on Earth". (Wilford Woodruff Journal, 5:550).
Inan 1890 interview, William Smith, brother of Joseph Smith, described the "Urim andthummin".
Explaining the expression as to the stones in the Urim and thummim being setin two rims of a bow he said: A silver bow ran over one stone, under the other, arroundover that one and under the first in the shape of a horizontal figure 8 much like a pairof spectacles. That they were much too large for Joseph and he could only see through oneat a time using sometimes one and sometimes the other. By putting his head in a hat orsome dark object it was not necessary to close one eye while looking through the stonewith the other. In that way sometimes when his eyes grew tires [tired] he releaved them ofthe strain. He also said the Urim and Thummim was attached to the breastplate by a rodwhich was fastened at the outer shoulde[r] edge of the breastplate and to the end of thesilver bow. This rod was just the right length so that when the Urim and thummim wasremoved from before the eyes it woul<d> reac<h> to a pocked [pocket?] on theleft side of the [p.509] breastplate where the instrument was kept when not in use by theSeer. I was not informed whether it was de=tacha<bl>e from the breastplate or not.From the fact that Joseph often had it with him and sometimes when at work<,><I> am of the opinion that it could be detached. He also informed us that the rodserved to hold it before the eyes of the Seer.
(William Smith interview with J.W. Peterson and W.S.Pender, 1890, from "Statement of J. W. Peterson Concerning William Smith," 1 May1921, Miscellaneous Letters and Papers, RLDS Church Library-Archives, Independence,Missouri. Available in "Early Mormon Documents, Vol 1, Vogel)
In a "revelation from god", Joseph Smithreveals how those who attain glory in the afterlife will receive a seer stone of theirown:
"Then the white stone mentioned in Revelation 2:17, will become a Urimand Thummim to each individual who receives one, whereby things pertaining to a higherorder of kingdoms will be made known. And a white stone is given to each ofthose who come into the celestial kingdom, whereon is a new name written, which no manknoweth save he that receiveth it. The new name is the key word"
(Doctrine and Covenants 130:10-11)
Withinmonths of the organization of the Mormon church in 1830, a church member started givingrevelations by his own stone. The credulous nature of many early church members isapparent in their ease in believing whatever someone says they receive via thestone. In Joseph Smith's History of the Church, he writes thus:
To our great grief however, we soon found that Satan had been lying in waitto deceive, and seeking whom he might devour. Brother Hirum Page had in hispossession a certain stone, by which he had obtained certain "revelations"concerning the upbuilding of Zion, the order of the Church, etc., all of which wereentirely at variance with the order of God's house, as laid down in the New Testament, aswell as in our late revelations. As a conference meeting had been appointed for the26th day of September, I thought it wisdom not to do much more than converse with thebrethren on the subject, until the conference should meet. Finding however, thatmany, especially the Whitmer family and Oliver Cowdery were believing much in the thingsset forth by this stone, we thought best to inquire of the Lord concerning so important amatter...
(History of the Church, Vol 1, p. 109-110)
Joseph Smith then had another "revelation fromGod" that put Hirum Page in his place:
"And again, thou shalt take thy brother, HiramPage, between him and thee alone, and tell him that those things which he hath writtenfrom that stone are not of me and that Satan deceiveth him; for behold, these things havenot been appointed unto him, neither shall anything be appointed unto him, neither shallanything be appointed unto any of this church contrary to the church covenants".(Doctrine and Covenants 28:11-12)
A long-running irritant to the authority of the church was the boy prophetJames Collins Brewster. When he was 11 he claimed to have received the "Book ofMoroni" by revelation. Several members of his family and others weredis-fellowshipped from the larger church due to their belief in these revelations. Five years later, in 1842, Brewster was still receiving revelations. The followingnotice was published in the church newspaper:
We have lately seen a pamphlet, written, and published by James C. Brewster;purporting to be one of the lost books of Esdras; and to be written by the gift and powerof God. We consider it a perfect humbug, and should not have noticed it, had it not beenassiduously circulated, in several branches of the church. This said Brewster is aminor; but has professed for several years to have the gift of seeing and looking throughor into a stone; and has thought that he has discovered money hid in the ground inKirtland, Ohio. His father and some of our weak brethren, who perhaps have had someconfidence in the ridiculous stories that are propagated concerning Joseph Smith, aboutmoney digging, have assisted him in his foolish plans, for which they were dealt with bythe church.
(Times and Seasons, Vol.4, No.2, p.32)
In Britain in 1841, devout Mormon WilliamMountford claimed to conjure images in his crystals. Local church leader AlfredCordon made a detailed record of the circumstances, including quotes from Mountfordhimself:
"This bro Mountford had in his possession severalGlasses or Chrystals, as he called them: they are about the size of a Goose's egg madeflat at each end. He also had a long list of prayers wrote down which he used. The prayers was [sic] unto certain Spirits which he said was in the Air." Then, quoting Mountford: "When I pray to them in the name ofthe Father, Son, Holy Ghost, any thing that I want will come into the Glass." Cordonthen described how Mountford divined the future for a young woman: "Hebrought out his Chrystals and prayed unto a certain Spirit [---] then she must peep intothe Chrystal and in it she would see the young man that woul[d] become her husband."
(Alfred Cordon diary, 151-152 (27 Mar 1841) LDS Archives)
InDecember of 1835, Bishop Edward Partridge was visiting Kirtland from Missouri when he metthe daughter of John Thorp. This young girl had her own stone and was known as aseeres. He describes the circumstances:
"She told me she saw a seer's stone for me, it was a small blue stonewith a hole in the corner, that it was 6 or 8 feet in the ground".
(The Journal of Bishop Edward Partridge, 1818, 1835-1836,transcribed by Lyman DePlatt, a great-great-great grandson, 34 (27 Dec, 1835), LDSArchives)
LDSsettler Priddy Meeks described in his journal the proliferation of seer stones in thesouthern Utah town of Parowan. He said he "...kept the seer stones undermy immediate control". He described a foster child living in his home by thename of William Titt: "...was born a natural seer. He was the besthand to look in a seer stone that I was ever aquainted with." Hisjournal expounds that Titt:
"Did a great deal of good by finding lost property and by telling peoplehow their kinfolks were getting along, even in England." "He would satisfythem that he could see correctly by describing things correctly."
(Journal of Priddy Meeks, 200)
Christian Anderson, aformer Millard Stake high councilman, councilor in the Fillmore Ward bishopric,Fillmore city councilman, justice of the peace, and city recorder, wrote in 1890 that he:
...saw a Sister Russell of Salt Lake City who has aseersstone, and she told me that the future was bright for me; that the Lord loved me andthat I should gain much power and influence among my brethren."
(The Personal Journal of Christian Anderson, Book IV,56. Book V, 20, copy in LDS Church Library)
Three years later,this same Sister Russell (Sophia Romriell Russell) was sanctioned by the churchauthorities. Glass looking was a priesthood responsibility, so only men were allowedto do it. James E. Talmage and Salt Lake Stake president Angus M. Cannon visited herin February of 1893. Talmage wrote that she:
"...claims a standing in the church, and alsoasserts her ability and right to discern great things through seer stones in herpossession." Cannon "...reminded her that she was acting indefiance of the Priesthood, for the High Council before whom she had been tried, hadforbidden her using the stone for such hidden purposes, except as she was directed by thePriesthood." (James E. Talmage 1892-93 diary, 182)
In1887, a body guard of church president John Taylor reported that he had seen and handledthe seer stone:
"On Sunday last I saw and handled the seer stone that the Prophet JosephSmith had. It was a dark color, not round on one side. It was shaped like the top of ababy's shoe, one end like the toe of the shoe, and the other round"(Samuel Bateman diary, 17 Aug, 1887, Lee library)
WilfordWoodruff, as new president of the church in 1888, dedicated the Manti, Utah temple. While there, Woodruff had the stone upon the alter:
"Before leaving I Consecrated upon the Altar the seers Stone that JosephSmith found by Revelation some 30 feet under the Earth [and] Carried By him throughlife" (Wilford Woodruff's journal, 18 May, 1888)
JosephFielding Smith confirmed that the seer stone is in the possession of the Mormonchurch:
The statement has been made that the Urim and Thummim was on the altarin the Manti Temple when that building was dedicated. The Urim and Thummim so spoken of,however, was the SEER STONE which was in the possession of the Prophet Joseph Smith inearly days. This seer stone is NOW in the possession of the Church.
(Doctrines of Salvation,Vol. 3, p. 225)
MormonBishop Fredrick Kesler wrote in his diary in 1899 that church president Lorenzo Snowshowed him the seer stone:
...showed me the Seerers [sic] Stone that the Prophet Joseph Smith had bywhich he done some of the Translating of the Book of Mormon with. I handeled [sic] it withmy own hands. I felt as though I see & was handling a very Sacred thing. I trust &feel that it will work in his hands as it did in the Prophet Joseph Smiths hands."
(Fredrick Kesler diary, 1 Feb, 1899, Marriott Library)
ModernChurch authority Bruce R. McConkie confirmed the use of the stone by Joseph:
"The Prophet also had a seer stone which was separate and distinct fromthe Urim and Thummim, and which (speaking loosely) has been called by some a Urim andThummim" (McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 1966, 818)
In about 1982, a descendent of Brigham Young, Mary Brown Firmage was toldby the First Presidency's secretary that there were 3 seer stones in First Presidency'svault. She was allowed to see one when she visited that office. She reported:
"The stone was not chocolate brown but rather the color of brown sugar.It was 3-4 inches long, 2 inches wide, and had a hump in the middle which made it perhaps2 inches thick at the thickest point. It was fiat on the bottom and had three black,concentric circles on the top 1/2 inch. Below the circles were many small black circles.The stone was not transparent."
(Mary Brown Firmage interview with Richard S. VanWagoner,11 Aug 1986. Van Wagoner papers, Marriott Library)