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Lucy Mack Smith and the Faculty of Abrac


Joseph Antley

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The first draft of Lucy Mack Smith's Biographical Sketches, Lucy Mack Smith dictated the following (punctuation and capitalization added):

Now I shall change my theme for the present. But let not my reader suppose that, because I shall pursue another topic for a season, that we stopped our labor and went at trying to win the faculty of Abrac, drawing magic circles or sooth saying to the neglect of all kinds of business. We never during our lives suffered one important interest to swallow up every other obligation. But, whilst we worked with our hands, we endeavored to remember the service of, and the welfare of our souls.

The significant phrase is, "But let not my reader suppose that...we stopped our labor and went at trying to win the faculty of Abrac, drawing magic circles or sooth saying to the neglect of all kinds of business."

In my opinion, the text is a clear admittance that the family participated in folk magic, something common to most rural Americans at the time. However, in Bill Hamblin's review of Quinn's Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, which is subsequently quoted in the FAIR Wiki article on the subject, he argues that Lucy Mack Smith was denying that the family participated in those activities.

Dr. Hamblin states,

Here is how I interpret the referents in the text.

Now I shall change my theme for the present [from a discussion of farming and building to an account of Joseph's vision of Moroni and the golden plates which immediately follows this paragraph]. But let not my reader suppose that, because I shall pursue another topic [Joseph's visions] for a season, that we stopped our labor [of farming and building] and went at trying to win the faculty of Abrac, drawing Magic circles or sooth saying to the neglect of all kinds of business [farming and building, as the anti-Mormons asserted, claiming the Smiths were lazy]. We never in our lives suffered one important interest [farming and building] to swallow up every other obligation [religion]. But, whilst we worked with our hands [at farming and building] we endeavored to remember the service of, and the welfare of our souls [through religion].

Thus, as I understand the text, Lucy Smith declares she is changing her theme to the story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. In the public mind, that story is associated with claims that the Smiths were lazy and involved in magical activities. By the time Lucy Smith wrote this text in 1845, anti-Mormons were alleging that Joseph had been seeking treasure by drawing magic circles. She explicitly denies that they were involved in such things. She also denies that the Smiths were lazy. She wants to emphasize that, although she is not going to mention farming and building activities for a while, these activities were still going on. Quinn wants to understand the antecedent of "one important interest" as "trying to win the faculty of Abrac, drawing Magic circles or sooth saying" (p. 68). I believe that the antecedent of "one important interest" is "all kinds of business," meaning farming and building. Quinn maintains the phrase to the neglect of means that they pursued magic to some degree, but not to the extent that they completely neglected their farming. I believe that the phrase to the neglect of means that they did not pursue magic at all, and therefore did not neglect their farming and building at all: they were not pursuing magic and thereby neglecting their business.

Hamblin's interpretation seems to be amiss and Quinn's spot on. Lucy Smith doesn't deny that the family participated in these activities. Were that her motivation, one would think that she would do it a more direct, less ambiguous way. The phrase "one important interest" clearly draws the reader back to the phrase "the faculty of Abrac, magic circles and soothsaying." Dr. Hamblin is right, however, that Lucy Smith was responding to the allegations of the Smiths' laziness; but her argument is clearly that, although the family participated in folk religion, it did not occupy their time at the expense of more important things. She is not stating that the family did not believe in folk magic or participate in treasure-seeking.

This is clear from the historical record, because the family did believe in and participate in at least one of these. Drawing magic circles was a common treasure-seeking ritual (see my treasure-seeking rituals topical guide), and during the time period that Lucy Smith is describing, the family were avid believers in and practitioners of treasure-seeking. According to Porter Rockwell, Lucy Smith and his mother regularly sat and discussed their treasure-dreams[1]. Both friends and enemies described Joseph Smith, Jr. as a treasure-seer (including Lucy Smith in her Biographical Sketches). Antagonistic accounts describe both Joseph Jr. and Joseph Sr. utilizing magic circles in their treasure-quests, and there is no reason to doubt it; if one was searching for buried treasure in the early nineteenth century, magic circles were considered a necessity.

Since the family clearly believed in treasure-lore, and likely believed in other aspects of folk religion (as most rural Americans did), it seems silly to claim that Mother Smith was alluding to anything else in her account. The most clear interpretation, in the context of the statement and in light of the historical record, is that the family believed in folk magic, but did not let it occupy their time over more important endeavors (i.e., farming). Richard Bushman, one of the most knowledgeable historians of early Mormonism (if not the most knowledgeable), agrees with this.[2] He also devotes considerable attention in his biographies to the family's involvement in ritualistic treasure-seeking.

Dr. Hamblin wrote his review a decade ago, so I don't know if he still maintains that argument. But we needn't, in our effort to defend the reputation of the Prophet, spurn anything that suggests that the family was less than perfect, assuming that one considers participation in folk religion (particularly during the time period) a fault, a presentist judgment which seems erroneous in itself. And, in my opinion, this issue hurts the credibility of the FAIR Wiki.

[1]. See Elizabeth Kane

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Hamblin's interpretation seems to be amiss and Quinn's spot on.

I think you got these two names swapped in your assessment, yes?

Lucy Smith doesn't deny that the family participated in these activities.

Yes, she does; or at least that's the way I read it. You have to get to know old people, maybe you never knew your grandparents? These older generations, farm people, had a way of expressing things that leaned on the opposition's tenets. Let's say your sister calls you a dope, but talking to your friends, you might say "Even tho I'm a dope, I still know how to get a date for the prom." It doesn't mean you agree with your antagonist for cryin' out loud. It means you give a tip o' the hat to them but reject their precept.

Lotsa people were gossiping about how the Smiths dug for treasure, made magic circles, all sorts of stuff they never did in their lives.

Wood

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I think you got these two names swapped in your assessment, yes?

No, I did not.

Yes, she does; or at least that's the way I read it. You have to get to know old people, maybe you never knew your grandparents? These older generations, farm people, had a way of expressing things that leaned on the opposition's tenets. Let's say your sister calls you a dope, but talking to your friends, you might say "Even tho I'm a dope, I still know how to get a date for the prom." It doesn't mean you agree with your antagonist for cryin' out loud. It means you give a tip o' the hat to them but reject their precept.

Lotsa people were gossiping about how the Smiths dug for treasure, made magic circles, all sorts of stuff they never did in their lives.

The principle problem with this explanation is that the Smiths undoubtedly dug for buried treasure and almost certainly drew the magic circles around their sites.

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The principle problem with this explanation is that the Smiths undoubtedly dug for buried treasure and almost certainly drew the magic circles around their sites.

There was some feller holding forth on what Joseph Smith did at night and so forth, JS listened for a little while, then approached the stage and asked if the guy knew what JS looked like. The guy said "undoubtedly" and "almost certainly" but JS said then does he look like me and the guy said no.

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There was some feller holding forth on what Joseph Smith did at night and so forth, JS listened for a little while, then approached the stage and asked if the guy knew what JS looked like. The guy said "undoubtedly" and "almost certainly" but JS said then does he look like me and the guy said no.

That's a fun anecdote, but not especially relevant to the conversation. There is no doubt that Joseph Smith was a treasure-seeker; he never denied it. In fact, he admitted it. In a Q&A that Joseph wrote, he said, "'Was not Joseph Smith a money digger?' Yes, but it was never a very profitable job for him, as he only got fourteen dollars a month for it." (see History of the Church 3:29)

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That's a fun anecdote, but not especially relevant to the conversation. There is no doubt that Joseph Smith was a treasure-seeker; he never denied it. In fact, he admitted it. In a Q&A that Joseph wrote, he said, "'Was not Joseph Smith a money digger?' Yes, but it was never a very profitable job for him, as he only got fourteen dollars a month for it." (see History of the Church 3:29)

This thread illustrates a problem with interpreting what another person has written. We do not have Lucy Mack Smith around right now to clarify her statement. On the face of it, either interpretation would be reasonable, i.e that the Smiths did engage in some magic practices, but only in moderation, or that that she was politely tweaking some one's nose about the allegations of magic. Without direct evidence, we can only infer. Are there any other primary documents by any of the family where the use of magic can be found or reasonably inferred?

Glenn

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This thread illustrates a problem with interpreting what another person has written. We do not have Lucy Mack Smith around right now to clarify her statement. On the face of it, either interpretation would be reasonable, i.e that the Smiths did engage in some magic practices, but only in moderation, or that that she was politely tweaking some one's nose about the allegations of magic. Without direct evidence, we can only infer.

I completely disagree. Were she denying that the family participated in such activities, she chose an extremely awkward and ambiguous way to do it. The obvious reading is that she states that the family participated in those activities, but not to the expense of more important things:

"Now I shall change my theme for the present. But let not my reader suppose that, because I shall pursue another topic for a season, that we stopped our labor and went at trying to win the faculty of Abrac, drawing magic circles or sooth saying to the neglect of all kinds of business. We never during our lives suffered one important interest to swallow up every other obligation. But, whilst we worked with our hands, we endeavored to remember the service of, and the welfare of our souls."

There is clear, intentional parallel between the two phrases. The "important interest" and "all kinds of business" is "the faculty of Abrac, drawing magic circles or soothsaying" and the "all kinds of business," respectively.

Are there any other primary documents by any of the family where the use of magic can be found or reasonably inferred?

The family's involvement in treasure-seeking is well documented, and I discussed it briefly in my OP. Drawing magic circles was universal in the treasure-quest, so if they Smiths engaged in it (as they did), they would have drawn magic circles.

As for other forms of folk religion (the "faculty of Abrac" and "sooth saying"), it seems likely that they would have engaged in things like this as well. The Smiths were rural Americans who felt spurned by orthodox religion; engaging in alternative methods of spirituality (such as treasure-seeking) was a natural consequence, and certainly not unique to them.

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I completely disagree. Were she denying that the family participated in such activities, she chose an extremely awkward and ambiguous way to do it. The obvious reading is that she states that the family participated in those activities, but not to the expense of more important things:

Thanks for giving us your personal opinion, but she just a farmer's wife ==>> not a scholar, professional author, nor an apologist. What is clear and obvious to you is less clear to myself and others.

snip

The family's involvement in treasure-seeking is well documented, and I discussed it briefly in my OP. Drawing magic circles was universal in the treasure-quest, so if they Smiths engaged in it (as they did), they would have drawn magic circles.

Your logic is flawed. Google circular reasoning. "They drew magic circles because.... I think they drew magic circles."

As for other forms of folk religion (the "faculty of Abrac" and "sooth saying"), it seems likely that they would have engaged in things like this as well. The Smiths were rural Americans who felt spurned by orthodox religion; engaging in alternative methods of spirituality (such as treasure-seeking) was a natural consequence, and certainly not unique to them.

Again, thanks for giving us your personal opinion.

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As for other forms of folk religion (the "faculty of Abrac" and "sooth saying"), it seems likely that they would have engaged in things like this as well. The Smiths were rural Americans who felt spurned by orthodox religion; engaging in alternative methods of spirituality (such as treasure-seeking) was a natural consequence, and certainly not unique to them.

Joseph,

I personally tend to agree somewhat with your interpretation on this. I believe that Lucy was denying that participation in these types of activities overrode the more important issues or "all kinds of [more important] business." It appears that the wiki article was written a little over a year ago, and that it is primarily designed around Bill Hamblin's response to Quinn. It looks to me like the article needs to be fleshed out more, which I will look into doing when I manage to get some time.

BTW, congratulations on earning a worthy sig line after enduring one of the most hideously personally targeted threads I have ever observed on the other board.

WW*

* A Certified Sockpuppet of Scott Gordon

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I personally tend to agree somewhat with your interpretation on this. I believe that Lucy was denying that participation in these types of activities overrode the more important issues or "all kinds of [more important] business." It appears that the wiki article was written a little over a year ago, and that it is primarily designed around Bill Hamblin's response to Quinn. It looks to me like the article needs to be fleshed out more, which I will look into doing when I manage to get some time.

:P

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I completely disagree. Were she denying that the family participated in such activities, she chose an extremely awkward and ambiguous way to do it. The obvious reading is that she states that the family participated in those activities, but not to the expense of more important things:

"Now I shall change my theme for the present. But let not my reader suppose that, because I shall pursue another topic for a season, that we stopped our labor and went at trying to win the faculty of Abrac, drawing magic circles or sooth saying to the neglect of all kinds of business. We never during our lives suffered one important interest to swallow up every other obligation. But, whilst we worked with our hands, we endeavored to remember the service of, and the welfare of our souls."

There is clear, intentional parallel between the two phrases. The "important interest" and "all kinds of business" is "the faculty of Abrac, drawing magic circles or soothsaying" and the "all kinds of business," respectively.

It may be an awkward expression to you. What you feel to be clear and intentional does not appear that way to others.

The family's involvement in treasure-seeking is well documented, and I discussed it briefly in my OP. Drawing magic circles was universal in the treasure-quest, so if they Smiths engaged in it (as they did), they would have drawn magic circles.

As for other forms of folk religion (the "faculty of Abrac" and "sooth saying"), it seems likely that they would have engaged in things like this as well. The Smiths were rural Americans who felt spurned by orthodox religion; engaging in alternative methods of spirituality (such as treasure-seeking) was a natural consequence, and certainly not unique to them.

CFR on the magic circles as being universal in treasure quests in that time period. (Not D.M. Quinn please). The only "magical" thing that Joseph is recorded to have used was his seer stone. Everything else is speculation.

Glenn

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Thanks for giving us your personal opinion, but she just a farmer's wife ==>> not a scholar, professional author, nor an apologist. What is clear and obvious to you is less clear to myself and others.

I'm sorry that it's less clear to you. However, the fact that she was "just a farmer's wife," in my opinion, further emphasizes the need to take her simply at her word, which does not include a denial of folk religion.

And this isn't just my opinion. I have yet to read of a historian of early Mormonism that disagrees, LDS or not.

Your logic is flawed. Google circular reasoning. "They drew magic circles because.... I think they drew magic circles."

That isn't my reasoning. Perhaps I'm simply not conveying my argument well enough.

The family participated in treasure-seeking. Magic circles were an essential part of any treasure-quest from the period. Neighbors reported the Smiths using magic circles in their treasure-quests. The Smiths never denied their part in treasure-seeking nor participating in the treasure-seeking rituals, including drawing magic circles.

BTW, congratulations on earning a worthy sig line after enduring one of the most hideously personally targeted threads I have ever observed on the other board.

Haha, thanks. :P

It may be an awkward expression to you. What you feel to be clear and intentional does not appear that way to others.

It's only an awkward expression if it's (unnecessarily) construed as a denial. Do you disagree that it's awkward, in that case?

CFR on the magic circles as being universal in treasure quests in that time period. (Not D.M. Quinn please).

What's wrong with quoting Quinn? His work added immensely to this field of study, and is a necessary read for anyone interested in debating this.

For the necessity of magic circles, you can see Alan Taylor,

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Joseph, your reading is obviously correct. It makes no sense otherwise.

Lotsa people were gossiping about how the Smiths dug for treasure, made magic circles, all sorts of stuff they never did in their lives.

Wood

Just to be clear, are you saying that the Smith's never "dug for treasure" in their lives?

The only "magical" thing that Joseph is recorded to have used was his seer stone. Everything else is speculation.

Glenn

The more I read it, the funnier it gets. :P

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Joseph, your reading is obviously correct. It makes no sense otherwise.

It does make sense if you know the context. Was she not responding to the Hurlbut affidavits about laziness and treasure seeking by the family?

Woody, on 12 February 2010 - 04:20 PM, said:

Lotsa people were gossiping about how the Smiths dug for treasure, made magic circles, all sorts of stuff they never did in their lives.

Wood

Cinepro said

Just to be clear, are you saying that the Smith's never "dug for treasure" in their lives?

I'm speaking for myself, not Woody, but it is pretty clear that the Smith family, or at least Joseph Senior and Junior were engaged in it for at least a month.

quote

glennthigpen, on 13 February 2010 - 03:25 PM, said:

The only "magical" thing that Joseph is recorded to have used was his seer stone. Everything else is speculation.

Glenn

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Signature has published the comment in context. Here's what the preceding paragraph says:

In the spring after we moved onto the farm we commenced making Mapel sugar of which we averaged each season 1000 lbs per year. we then began to make preparations for building a house as the Land Agent of whom we purchased our farm was dead and we could not make the last payment we also planted a large orchard and made every possible preparation for ease as when advanced age should deprive us of the ability to make those physical exertions which we were then capable of

Now I shall change my theme for the present but let not my reader suppose that because I shall pursue another topic for a season that we stopt our labor and went <at> trying to win the faculty of Abrac drawing Magic circles or sooth saying to the neglect of all kinds of buisness we never during our lives suffered one important interest to swallow up every other obligation but whilst we worked with our hands we endeavored to remmember the service of & the welfare of our souls.

And not only temporal blessings were bestowed upon us, but also spiritual were administered. The Scripture, which saith,

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Signature has published the comment in context. Here's what the preceding paragraph says:

In the spring after we moved onto the farm we commenced making Mapel sugar of which we averaged each season 1000 lbs per year. we then began to make preparations for building a house as the Land Agent of whom we purchased our farm was dead and we could not make the last payment we also planted a large orchard and made every possible preparation for ease as when advanced age should deprive us of the ability to make those physical exertions which we were then capable of

Now I shall change my theme for the present but let not my reader suppose that because I shall pursue another topic for a season that we stopt our labor and went <at> trying to win the faculty of Abrac drawing Magic circles or sooth saying to the neglect of all kinds of buisness we never during our lives suffered one important interest to swallow up every other obligation but whilst we worked with our hands we endeavored to remmember the service of & the welfare of our souls.

And not only temporal blessings were bestowed upon us, but also spiritual were administered. The Scripture, which saith,

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There is so much wild and contradictory "information" about those activities that it is difficult to separate the facts from the chaff, especially when the the information is funneled through an avowed enemy and man of not such a good character as Hurlbut.

Specifically, what "wild and contradictory 'information'" do you have mind?

Thanks for finding that. I do not know whether the family actually drew circles in any of the treasure seeking that they did. None of their documents indicate such. Most of their documents print a picture of hard work which left little time for less certain (by a lot) means of obtaining the needed cash for their mortgage payments and daily subsistence.

Except, as Quinn discusses in Early Mormonism and Alan Taylor argues in his paper cited above, treasure-seeking wasn't always financially-motivated, especially for Seekers like the Smiths. Treasure-seeking was an alternative method of spiritual expression. It provided a way to interact with the supernatural and experience divinity in a way that traditional Protestantism had denied them.

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But this isn't about Joseph Smith, per se. This about the whole Smith family.

Here's what Bushman says about the Smith family (Rough Stone Rolling, pp 50-51):

The Smiths were as susceptible as their neighbors to treasure-seeking folklore. In addition to rod and stone divining, the Smiths probably believed in the rudimentary astrology found in the ubiquitous almanacs. Magical parchments handed down in the Hyrum Smith family may have originally belonged to Joseph Sr. The visit of the angel and the discovery of the gold plates would have confirmed the belief in supernatural powers. For people in a magical frame of mind, Moroni sounded like one of the spirits who stood guard over treasure in the tales of treasure-seeking. [85] The similarities may even have made the extraordinary story more credible in the Smith family. Lucy recognized the crossover in prefacing her narrative of the plates with a caution against thinking

that we stopt our labor and went at trying to win the faculty of Abrac drawing Magic circles or sooth saying to the neglect of all kinds of buisness we never during our lives suffered one important interest to swallow up every other obligation but whilst we worked with our hands we endeavored to remember the service of & the welfare of our souls.

Lucy's point was that the Smiths were not lazy-they had not stopped their labor to practice magic-but she showed her knowledge of formulas and rituals and associated them with "the welfare of our souls." Magic and religion melded in Smith family culture. [86]

[85] references Quinn's Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, various pages.

[86] references the Hurlbut affidavits and Tiffany's Monthly, among other things.

I tend to agree with Bushman's interpretation on this. Lucy's statement does seem to show that she had "knowledge of formulas and rituals" associated with these practices. I also think that the Hurlbut affidavits indicate a certain level of involvement of Joseph Smith, Sr. with such things, although I believe that Hurlbut's influence severely affected their reliability and that certain statements (such as some of those from Willard Chase), need to be looked at very skeptically.

Quinn does provide a huge amount of information on the subject in Mormonism and the Magic World View (second edition). I started reading the book by first reading the endnotes, as I often do. Unfortunately, what might otherwise be a tremendously solid book is contaminated severely by the inclusion of polemic attacks throughout the endnotes. It is very disappointing to be reading the endnotes and find interspersed with them massive attacks on LDS scholars who had previously negatively reviewed Quinn's first edition, one of whom was Bill Hamblin. Quinn does this over, and over, and over again. It wrenches the reader away from the otherwise scholarly tone of the book, and raises doubt as to just how unbiased the rest of Quinn's interpretation of the information might be.

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I mentioned Bushman in my OP, and that he agrees with Quinn in his interpretation of Lucy's statement. He also details their involvement in treasure-seeking pretty extensively (much more so, IIRC, in his Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism.

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Except, as Quinn discusses in Early Mormonism and Alan Taylor argues in his paper cited above, treasure-seeking wasn't always financially-motivated, especially for Seekers like the Smiths. Treasure-seeking was an alternative method of spiritual expression. It provided a way to interact with the supernatural and experience divinity in a way that traditional Protestantism had denied them.

Here is a review of Quinn and his "Early Mormonism and the Magic World View" by John Gee. I do not buy into Quinn's logic. As i have noted, the documents produced by the Smith family do not reflect that "world View". That is my personal opinion. You are welcome to yours.

Glenn

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Here is a review of Quinn and his "Early Mormonism and the Magic World View" by John Gee. I do not buy into Quinn's logic. As i have noted, the documents produced by the Smith family do not reflect that "world View". That is my personal opinion. You are welcome to yours.

Glenn

Regardless of your opinion of Quinn's ultimate conclusion, he makes a good argument on the nature of treasure-seeking as spiritual expression. Before him, Alan Taylor (writing outside of a Mormon context) made the same argument. Treasure-seeking was a spiritual event.

And despite whether you think the Smiths had a "magic world view" (a term I'm not a fan of, either), they definitely participated in treasure-seeking.

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Regardless of your opinion of Quinn's ultimate conclusion, he makes a good argument on the nature of treasure-seeking as spiritual expression. Before him, Alan Taylor (writing outside of a Mormon context) made the same argument. Treasure-seeking was a spiritual event.

I would disagree with associating treasure seeking with a "spiritual event" because of the way we define a "spiritual" event as opposed to the way it has been defined in the past. We use the term in a religious context, and it has often been used to describe the magical realm devoid of religion (i.e. spiritualism, spirit rappings, etc.). I don't see any religious value in the spiritualist trappings of treasure seeking.

I also don't buy the idea that Joseph Smith, Jr.'s use of a seer stone prior to receiving the plates was in spiritual preparation for what came later. It certainly gave him confidence in his ability to translate the unknown text of the plates with a rather unorthodox method, but only by transference, not practice.

Quinn is correct in the basic idea that the Smith's lived in a time and place (and segment of their society) which believed in the supernatural. He has exaggerated the nature of that belief and attempted to make the entire family's participation more profound that it seems to have been. I remember having a rabbit's foot as a child. They were made and sold commercially. I was told that it was for luck, but I didn't know much about luck at the time, and certainly wasn't involved in the magical worldview that imbued such tokens with their power. I carried it because it was kind of fun and other people had them.

There are parts of the worldview that are really that common (and logically not all that distant from believing that angels might help earth-bound humans). There were other beliefs that even that community thought were extreme. It seems likely that Joseph Smith, Sr. was involved in some of those, and that Joseph Smith, Jr. would certainly have been aware of them. It is less known how much Joseph Smith, Jr. would have participated in the more fantastic spiritualist rituals. The evidence for all of that is problematic in that it comes from people who are trying to discredit the Smiths, but keep themselves distant from the practices themselves. In spite of that context, it is clear that most of those giving the statements were well acquainted with the practices and well acquainted with the general public opinion about them. It becomes unclear when some of those things attributed to the Smiths came from the general fund of knowledge of what they "must have done--because this is how it is done" and when it came from observation (and when it did, the observer tried very hard to distance themselves--bringing the possibility that some of their actions might have been transferred to the Smiths). The evidence on these points is very good at defining the general activities, and less valuable as sure descriptions of the Smiths' involvement.

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There are parts of the worldview that are really that common (and logically not all that distant from believing that angels might help earth-bound humans). There were other beliefs that even that community thought were extreme. It seems likely that Joseph Smith, Sr. was involved in some of those, and that Joseph Smith, Jr. would certainly have been aware of them. It is less known how much Joseph Smith, Jr. would have participated in the more fantastic spiritualist rituals.

What do you consider "the more fantastic spiritualist rituals"? Drawing magic circles? Sacrificing animals?

It is all but certain that Joseph Smith Sr. used a divining rod and that Joseph Smith Jr. used a seer stone (several, actually). Whatever the level of their involvement in "extreme" folk magic practices, their participation in that culture went well beyond your rabbit's foot analogy.

See, for example, Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet" (M.A. thesis; Utah State University, 2000).

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I would disagree with associating treasure seeking with a "spiritual event" because of the way we define a "spiritual" event as opposed to the way it has been defined in the past. We use the term in a religious context, and it has often been used to describe the magical realm devoid of religion (i.e. spiritualism, spirit rappings, etc.). I don't see any religious value in the spiritualist trappings of treasure seeking.

It isn't especially relevant whether or not you see religious value in treasure-seeking. As I argued in a recent paper, treasure-seeking was undoubtedly a spiritual event for many (most?) of its participants, and most especially the treasure-dreamers, seers, and rodsmen.

In fact, the treasure-seeking boom of the early nineteenth century was directly connected with the flood of Evangelical revivals and camp-meetings that swept the American Northeast during the Second Great Awakening.

I also don't buy the idea that Joseph Smith, Jr.'s use of a seer stone prior to receiving the plates was in spiritual preparation for what came later. It certainly gave him confidence in his ability to translate the unknown text of the plates with a rather unorthodox method, but only by transference, not practice.

Do you believe that Joseph had the ability to see things with his stone -- such as lost objects, hidden treasure, or needles in a haystack -- as his friends, family, and himself believed?

Quinn is correct in the basic idea that the Smith's lived in a time and place (and segment of their society) which believed in the supernatural. He has exaggerated the nature of that belief and attempted to make the entire family's participation more profound that it seems to have been. I remember having a rabbit's foot as a child. They were made and sold commercially. I was told that it was for luck, but I didn't know much about luck at the time, and certainly wasn't involved in the magical worldview that imbued such tokens with their power. I carried it because it was kind of fun and other people had them.

My OP wasn't criticism or praise of Quinn, aside from pointing out that his interpretation of this dictation of Lucy Smith's was correct.

There are parts of the worldview that are really that common (and logically not all that distant from believing that angels might help earth-bound humans). There were other beliefs that even that community thought were extreme. It seems likely that Joseph Smith, Sr. was involved in some of those, and that Joseph Smith, Jr. would certainly have been aware of them. It is less known how much Joseph Smith, Jr. would have participated in the more fantastic spiritualist rituals.

What do you consider "the more fantastic spiritualist rituals"? Drawing magic circles? That was hardly a "fantastic spiritualist ritual". It was extremely common and near-universal among treasure-seekers.

The evidence for all of that is problematic in that it comes from people who are trying to discredit the Smiths, but keep themselves distant from the practices themselves. In spite of that context, it is clear that most of those giving the statements were well acquainted with the practices and well acquainted with the general public opinion about them.

Even if their statements reflect the "general public opinion" of the 1830s, a decade before that, it wasn't quite the same. Treasure-seeking was far more common and, in many places, praised. For the commonality of treasure-seeking, see these references:

One Vermont newspaper reported in 1822 that there were
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