Episode 85: Mormons and Magic

Join Lindsay and Nick as they talk about contemporary ideas of magic within Mormonism vs. attitudes and practices that were common during the Restoration and the 19th century.

Books mentioned in this podcast: Early Mormonism and the Magic World View .
Bumper used: Selena Gomez’s cover of “It’s Magic”

Read 8 comments

  1. Nick talks about magic practices as if they are actual truthful working practices that people just don’t understand. But they aren’t that at all. They are occult practices that either don’t work, or work through the power of the kind of spirits that we are told to avoid. This kind of apologetic twisted logic is disengenuous and gives me a headache.

  2. Re: Apologetics? I think what you’re describing is open-mindedness. I think both panelists went to great lengths to remain as objective as possible on what I think is a very controversial topic.

    Great podcast episode. I learned a few new things.

  3. I find it very INTERESTING how you two so easily blow off very controversial topics and subjects by using the words “INTERESTING” and “FUNNY”. Lindsay says she can accept the fact that J.S. may or may not have actually had the first vision experience based on Margaret Tascono saying some myths are valuable if they are meaningful in one’s life. This flies in the face of at almost every general conference, one of the “apostles” says that the first vision was a literal event and that the boy Joseph actually saw God and Jesus Christ. I know the Kool-Aid tastes good, but I find it so sad the lengths some mormons go to to hold on to the tradition just to maintain social, familial or financial ties. Imagine if you had never been mormon and you heard the FUNNY stuff mentioned on this podcast. When you were done laughing at the FUNNY things mentioned, you would question whether those who believed this belonged in the FUNNY farm. Anyway, I hope you can go on enjoying your mormon life using obfuscation and fact twisting. All in all, this was a very INTERESTING and FUNNY podcast. :)

    • Lindsay and Nick,

      Sorry this is so late. I just listened to the podcast today. I had a few problems with it:

      1)Nick’s use and definition of the word “magic” is too broad as his definition would encompass anything that is metaphysical. The word itself is hugely problematic as it has an implicit definition, when used by religionists, as something that is not legitimate; much like the word “cult”. I would have liked the two of you discuss what the differences are between “religion” and “magic”. I would argue the line isn’t super clear, as there is cross-mixing between the two, nevertheless, I will give one way to approach the question. Magic seems to be concerned with making one’s deities do the will of the practitioner. Different methods are used to bring this about, but usually entail using some kind of inanimate object. Religion, on the other hand, is concerned with finding the will of their deity and submitting to its will (think of the word “Muslim”). Once again, I fully recognize that my definitions are problematic.

      2)The First Vision. There was no need to even bring this up. It felt like a drive-by shooting. Nick tried to draw some connection with the First Vision and magic by remarking that as the Church distanced itself from magical practices, the story of the First Vision changed. What? Secondly, regarding the vision first being described as a “dream” and then a “vision”, and the conclusion that Joseph moved the story from being something he only saw to something in real space and time, that’s a bit tentative as well. Traditionally, the word “vision” means something that only the recipient sees and hears. While a visitation, would be something that occurs in space and time and can be seen/heard by not only the recipient, but by anyone else that is in the vicinity. The way Mormons use the word vision, is theologically the same way the rest of Christianity uses the word “appearance”, or visitation. This just points to how unsophisticated we are theologically.

      3)The idea that the Church was “embarrassed” by its early magical practices and thus tried to burry its history. This was stated at the beginning, but at the end of the podcast, a more nuanced and informed idea was expressed. That being, the Church became unfamiliar with its early magical practices and thus stopped using them. Distance of time creates unfamiliarity and a sense of foreignness. I think Michael Quinn expressed my sentiment perfectly: “The record of the past indicates the culture and personal perspectives help to shape the expression of the interactions between the individual and God. What was natural and good, and effective for some individuals’ religious quest in the 1820s and 1830s would be artificial and undoubtedly ineffective for equally ardent believers today who have a different perspective” (Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, pg 228, 1st edition).

      4)Free Masonry. Really? This had nothing to do with the conversation. Another drive-by.

      5)The misuse and conflation of the words, “fact”, “evidence”, “conclusion”, and “proof”, within the context of historical research. Historical facts are collected to provide evidence for an historical conclusion. Very little, if anything, can be “proven”. This is a Pete-peve of mine with members of the Church and with those that have left the Church. An example of what I mean comes from this podcast episode with regards to the Zodiac calendar, Tuesday, and the organization of the Church. Nick rightly drew a connection between the significance of Tuesday on the Zodiac calendar, his mistake was when he said, “Because of this the Church was organized on a Tuesday.” That may be right, but it would be better stated, “Because of this, some have concluded…,” or “…some see this as evidence for…” The way Nick stated it, makes it sound like fact, when it simply is not. This is one of my critiques of Quinn as well. His research is impeccable, but then he will overstate the significance of his research and make his conclusions sound as fact.

      • Thanks Mike,
        We can’t win them all! Cannuck Aussie thinks it was too apologetic and you think too critical- this is such a tricky and complicated topic! No wonder Elder Packer was not a fan.
        1. We could have spent three hours distinguishing between religion and magic but even scholars don’t completely agree. That would be a good podcast topic for the future but I feel like the definitions worked well enough for the purpose of this podcast.

        2. The first vision accounts are completely relevant to this topic since the presence of visions and dreams (mystical practices) were very common and considered magic. Why would the topic of early church magic be limited to money-digging? While the term “vision” is interpreted in our vernacular as something sacred or an experience with the divine, it absolutely fits within the realm of magical practices and the occult. I don’t see how we could tackle this topic, or Quinn’s research and not talk about the first vision. I apologize if it felt rushed to you, again the first vision and the other accounts could use its own podcast but I’m not sure that’s in the purview of fmh right now.

        3. The church absolutely, actively and aggressively tried to bury this particular history for a time and I would argue tries to do so culturally. Packer’s famous “The Mantle is Far Greater than the Intellect” and the censure of Quinn and his work centered on this research. While I agree we as a people lost sight or remembrance of old practices, I think there was a point when the church actively sought to keep all these “not useful truths” kept locked away.

        4. I actually agree that masonry isn’t really considered magical, but it has in the past been linked to the occult and since the rituals and secrecy are foreign to many, I don’t think it was such a foreign concept to introduce. I would say it should be a topic for its own podcast, but we’ve done one already and so have many other podcasts. :)

        5. I agree we could have been more careful with these terms but I don’t agree with your conclusions. Honestly the arguments you make above sound apologetic. I understand if you don’t want to take Quinn’s work at face value, but I do think there are enough primary sources at this point to trust Quinn’s conclusions. Much of Quinn’s criticisms don’t center around his sources or the occurrence of his claims but his conclusions of divinity or fraud and motives of Joseph, not if they actually happened or not. I think Nick refrained from stating his actual opinions on that topic (which might surprise you!) Again, we could have been more careful with the terms but the way you use “fact” as in: ” The way Nick stated it, makes it sound like fact, when it simply is not.” Could be under the same scrutiny. What makes a fact? What defines truth? How do we trust any historical account we consider “fact.” Can trust anything to be a fact of history? If we have evidence of something like Lucy Mack’s diary linking the restoration organization to the zodiac, that’s not conflating. Your comment makes it sound as if it is purely coincidental and I don’t think that’s a fair read of the history.

        I like you a lot my brother, but now I’m dying to know- about your opinions on early church magical practices. Do you not trust in the idea of multiple first visions and magical practices or do you object with the way they were presented here? If the latter, how would you have presented this topic? More open ended questions? More scrutiny on the research? We might never agree on this because I trust Quinn’s work immensely and have seen little credible scholarship to discount it and lots and lots of scholarship to corroborate it.

        • I’ll just respond to the last paragraph.

          “Do you not trust in the idea of multiple first visions and magical practices or do you object with the way they were presented here?”

          I know there are multiple accounts of the First Vision and I understand there are several plausible reasons (on both sides of the aisle) for such. I just don’t think understanding them is helpful through the lens of folk-magic, but rather through the lens of the Second Great Awakening and America’s move away from institutional religions. Perhaps if Nick could have drawn a stronger connection between folk magic and the First Vision, I would have responded differently about how that particular topic was handled.

          I whole-heartedly embrace the idea that early Mormons practiced folk magic and that it strongly informed its founders. Heck, Joseph was swimming in this stuff. Regarding Michael Quinn, I too trust his research. My point is only that one can draw different conclusions than he does based on the information he presents and that he doesn’t necessarily state that “Joseph did such and such BECAUSE of a particular magical influence.” That’s all. I in fact agree with probably 99.9% of what he says and can’t remember what the 0.1% is with which I disagree; it’s been 7 years since I read Early Mormonism and the Magic World View. Just an FYI, I hold the same level of scrutiny with Brian Hales and his research into early Mormon polygamy and have challenged some of his conclusions via private e-mails.

          I just bristle when traditional-believing Mormons use parallelmania to draw some conclusion and treat it as a “fact”. I also bristle when those perhaps a little to the left do the same.

          Less you think I didn’t like this episode, I did. I liked it a lot. Heck, I’ve listened to everyone you all have done.

          …ok I lied I have more to say. Regarding President Packer, I agree with you there. The issue I have, is that Nick made it sound like the Church, very early in its history (circa Brigham Young), tried to burry the magical part of its history, while I just don’t see any evidence to draw that conclusion. The reason I say this is because Nick seemed to insinuate that as the story of the First Vision changed, so did Mormonism’s embarrassment of its early magical roots. Did the Church later try to distance itself and “burry” this part of its history? Heck ya it did.

          It strikes me as odd that anything that is seen as embarrassing with regards to our early history is defended as, “Heck everyone was doing that.” (insert racism, or magic). While those things that aren’t embarrassing, we embrace as uniquely Mormon. Why can’t we make up our dang minds?

Leave a Reply