A NECROMANTIC INCIDENT
by Guinn Williams
copyright ~ 1988 Saints Alive in Jesus
As September 22, 1824 approached, Joseph Smith Jr. must have suffered growing anxiety. He had waited a full year to atone for the blunder of a year before when he had thoughtlessly set aside the golden plates to see if there was any more treasure to be found. At that time the spirit being told Joseph that he could have the plates the following year if he brought his older brother Alvin with him. This was evidently a vote of no confidence regarding the reliability and worthiness of Joseph alone. But worse was yet to come.
Alvin died in November of 1823 and in the 1824 audience Joseph had to report to Moroni alone again. Several sources cited by professor D. Michael Quinn quoted Smith as telling them that the message he received from the spirit personage was, in effect: "Without your dead brother, Alvin, you cannot have the golden plates."1 One can imagine Joseph's frame of mind as he turned toward home. His prospects were ebbing, but all was not yet lost. The unique context of the quest for the plates allowed for substituting a talisman of body parts wretched from the corpse of a dead man as a stand in for the man himself.
Only seven days later a bizarre notice appeared in the local newspaper, the Wayne Sentinel:
TO THE PUBLIC;
Whereas reports have been industriously put in circulation that my son, Alvin, has been removed from the place of his interment and dissected; which reports every person possessed of human sensibility must know are peculiarly calculated to harrow up the mind of a parent and deeply wound the feelings of relations, I, with some of my neighbors this morning repaired to the grave, and removing the earth, found the body which had not been disturbed. This method is taken for the purpose of satisfying the minds of those who have put it in circulation, that it is earnestly requested that they would desist therefrom; and that it is believed by some that they have been stimulated more by desire to injure the reputation of certain persons than by a philanthropy for the peace and welfare of myself and friends.
(Signed) Joseph Smith [Sr}
Palmyra, September25, 1824 2
The elder Smith was denying that Alvin's body had been exhumed and "dissected" and he purported to prove this by digging up the body and examining it. The statement scolded rumor mongers and asked for an end to the affair. But Smith Sr.'s statement is misleading, to say the least. The first clause infers that Alvin was rumored to be the victim of grave robbers who stole corpses to sell to medical schools: ("...removed from the place of his interment and dissected.") New York state had passed a law in 1813 to stop that practice and some of the precise language of the statute was evoked by Smith Sr. 3
But those who stole corpses for profit used only fresh bodies. A body buried in the earth ten months previously that had passed through the dampness of winter and then the heat of summer obviously would not qualify. The issue was a red herring.
Smith's statement suggests the incident was aimed at himself: "...peculiarly calculated to harrow up the mind of a parent." He closes with a plea for "philanthropy for the peace and welfare of myself and friends." These phrases make Smith Sr. the center of attention—a sympathetic picture of an anguished parent-when he himself knew this was not true.
The rumor-mongers referred to were all gossiping about Joseph Jr., not Joseph Sr. These separate bits of deception make it easier to doubt Smith Sr.'s version of what happened on or about September 25. Ironically, the statement inadvertency supplies information about what truly happened, which will be revealed in this paper.
The statement refers to Joseph Jr. briefly and in the most elliptical way possible: ("...desire to injure the reputation of [certain persons]"). This infers, very discreetly, that some of the gossip was directed against young Joseph and that was certainly true, given Moroni's requirements. Joseph Jr. was part of a group of money diggers who were deeply involved in occult study, occult ritual and who subscribed to a magic world view. The group's operations started about 1820 with Smith Sr. and the older Smith sons forming the core. 4
They soon attracted young neighborhood men who were of like mind. Alvin was the early leader. Apparently, he first saw the golden plates in his seer stone but could not break the enchantment and take them. 5 Joseph Jr. had shown a good deal of seeric promise and when Alvin lay dying he implored Joseph Jr. with great passion to continue the project. Lucy Mack Smith, mother of the boys, described the dramatic scene in her book. She also said that, "Alvin Manifested, if such could be the case, greater zeal and anxiety in regard to the Record that had been shown to Joseph, that any of the rest of the family;"6
There was a spiritual kinship existing between Alvin and Joseph because of their common metaphysical gift that was not present among the other sons. Eighteen year old Joseph Jr. clearly inherited Alvin's mantle as leader of the group as the 1824 audience with Moroni approached. Young Joseph was rather ingenuous and talked freely of his aspirations and visions as regarding treasure seeking. It was his cohorts and family who knew of the upcoming audience and the requirement to bring Alvin. There is plenty of precedent in occult lore for using a portion of a dead man as a substitute for the living man.
This would appear to be a case of using a talisman—an object that was magically "charged" by a magician so that it contained the presence of someone or something the magician wished to influence. Alvin's remains would be a talisman all right, but the bigger issue is that it would also involve necromancy.
Necromancy refers to invocation of the spirits of the dead, mainly to obtain information. Most authorities don't include in this category the genteel gatherings where a medium holds a seance in a darkened drawing room. Classical necromancy was an unlawful form of ceremonial magic, approached with fear and trembling. There are two kinds of necromancy—evoking the spirit of a dead man through ritual only, and working directly with the corpse to enliven it to speak. (Actually, the spirit of the departed, which had temporarily returned, would do the speaking.) Joseph Smith was thoroughly versed in the first type. This is what the audience with Moroni was all about. Anyone who wanted to use a portion of Alvin's corpse that was "charged" with his spirit would necessarily be involved in the second type.
ANALYSIS OF THE STATEMENT
Let us now examine the claims made in the newspaper statement. The second clause reads, "I, with some of my neighbors this morning repaired to the grave, and removing the earth, found the body, which had not been disturbed." But Smith Sr.'s account does not seem plausible. Alvin had been buried ten months earlier. The gravesite was probably familiar to a number of Smith 's family acquaintances since Alvin died in the prime of young manhood, seemingly sorely missed. "A vast concourse of people attended the obsequies," according to his mother. 7
Any sign of tampering on a nearly year-old grave would have been detected by signs of freshly dug earth. Even extremely careful work by a ghoul could not have been concealed in light of the amount of earth it would be necessary to move to reach a coffin buried in the usual fashion. In addition, grave robbers were notoriously sloppy. They worked at night, and as rapidly as possible, sometimes in a frenzy. They were usually under acute psychological stress.
A necromancer who hoped to secure a corpse for occult purposes was especially assailed by a feeling of compulsive dread because he knew that his purpose flouted all ordinary human mores. Therefore, if Smith Sr. truly wished to verify that Alvin's remains were undisturbed he would have had only to examine the gravesite for signs of tampering. If he went so far as to dig up an undisturbed grave and open the coffin he would himself create the conditions for the wildest kind of rumor mongering unless the operation was carefully handled as a kind of formal inquest.
The newspaper notice was indeed couched in the stilted language of an inquest but all substantiation is absent. It tells of the involvement of "some of my neighbors" but it does not identify them further, even to giving the number involved. The notice was dated September 25 and states the disinterment took place "this morning," and the notice ran every Wednesday in the Wayne Sentinel for six consecutive weeks but the wording never changed; verification by the neighbors was never published.
Surely neighbors who accompanied a wronged and outraged father in such a grim task would want to complete the clearing up of ugly rumors if it all happened the way Joseph Smith Sr. said it did. Not giving their affidavits nullified the value of their effort, like laboring all day for an employer and then not bothering to pick up their wages. Furthermore, that the notice ran for six weeks meant that it did not put a stop to the rumors. Putting a notice in the newspaper drew even more attention to the affair—unnecessarily, if the grave had been undisturbed.
If we accept Smith's statement at face value his action seems hysterical, more likely to raise suspicion and draw additional attention rather than diminish it. Moreover, where is Joseph Jr.'s part in the statement? Obviously, he was the one under suspicion of opening the grave because of the requirements of Moroni. Apparently, he did not even accompany his father and the neighbors on the purported investigative visit to the grave.
Did Joseph Sr. even ask Joseph Jr. about the rumors before the opening of the grave? If Joseph Jr. denied the allegations then was the father so lacking confidence in the denial that he decided to check for himself? If the father and son were of one mind in cleaning up the rumors they should have acted together, gone to the gravesite together, and issued a joint statement. The only acceptable reason for Joseph Jr.'s absence is that he was out of the neighborhood at the time, and Smith Sr. would have used this reason if it were so. We know Joseph Jr. was home as recently as September 22.
The newspaper statement was dated September 25. That leaves only three days after the audience with Moroni for the rumors of the grave robbing to become so virulent that Smith Sr. decided to put a stop to them. But public rumors spreading far beyond the inner circle of money diggers would not crop up of their own accord after the audience.
Shortly after daybreak of September 22 it was already know by the Smith family that the audience was a failure. That would be an indication that Alvin's remains were not taken, if anything. So the rumors which exploded into life were based on more than speculation.
The disturbed grave for disturbed it surely was before Joseph Sr. ever go there clearly had something to do with Joseph Jr.'s audience with Moroni. The traditional interpretation of the meaning of Smith's statement has been that it was an incident of inexplicable malice, but that was before knowledge of the depth of Joseph Jr.'s occult activities surfaced in the last decade or two.
WAS SOMEONE ELSE RESPONSIBLE?
Another aspect of Smith Sr.'s account which does not parse in the extreme haste with which he acted on September 25. On that day Smith Sr. purportedly rounded up the neighbors, disintered Alvin's body, re-interred it and issued the statement attesting to the facts. That certainly would be physically possible, but the circumstances just mentioned weakened Smith's case considerably; i.e., the absence of Joseph Jr., lack of corroboration by the neighbors.
That these problems were not corrected in the ensuing five weeks weakens it even further. But if Smith Sr. was suddenly confronted with the discovery of an open grave and suspected or knew that Joseph Jr. did it we can understand his actions better. Who else would have done such a thing? If this was only a prank it certainly was a malicious one. We have to consider the prank possibility, however.
The prank—if such it was—was vicious in its intent and extremely effective. The scenario unfolds this way: Someone close to Joseph Jr. who was motivated by jealousy at being left out of the golden plates project or by disgust regarding it, dug up a considerable amount of earth knowing the blame would fall on Joseph Jr. The prankster would essentially be calling attention to the necessity of Alvin's remains being a part of the scheme which would hold up the whole venture to scorn and Joseph Jr. to disgrace.
There are two objections to this theory. The first is that someone who knew the details of the first spirit audience and the requirements for the second and who realized that a portion of Alvin's corpse could meet the requirements was in the inner circle of the Smith family money diggers. A disaffected member could probably be identified, and violent retaliation by the male members of the Smith family could not be ruled out. Furthermore, none of the company wanted to see Smith fail, as far as we know. After he "obtained" the plates they demanded their share or attempted to steal them outright, but they all recognized that Joseph Jr.'s access to the spirit was superior to their own.
The second and stronger objection is that if the prankster bought into the treasure digging magic world view he would not have dug up the grave for such an unworthy purpose as spite because that was exceedingly dangerous. When we read of the activities of Smith's and other groups we are struck by how they declare to themselves, to each other, and to unseen spirits that their motives are pure. They even attempted to keep their thoughts pure while digging, and even then they proceeded with trepidation if they felt they were possibly offending an evi1 spirit.
The occult viewpoint considered that spirits of the dead never liked to be annoyed or even summoned. Necromancers, especially those who worked directly with the corpse, had to have worthy recalcitrant spirit through force of will. 8 A prankster who uncovered the grave would be desecrating Alvin's corpse, slandering Alvin's brother and mocking the golden plates venture. Alvin's dying words to his brother were, "Do everything in your power to obtain the record. Be faithful in receiving instruction, and in keeping every commandment that is given to you."9 Anyone who believed in the possibility of Alvin's spirit taking retribution would be unlikely to challenge all that.
Besides these objections, we can refer to the newspaper statement. If we try to take the prankster theory seriously, this is where the absence of Joseph Jr. hurts the most. He, not Joseph Sr., would have been the outraged victim and likely would have been the driving force behind the investigation. He would—or should—have explained why he was not the perpetrator. It was not a situation that fell into a legal context. Innocent until proven guilty). If Joseph Jr. was being maligned unfairly and publicly as a ghoul he should have issued an icy retort, branded his accusers as contemptible, and only then said no more. He certainly was not a timid young man. Instead, the statement that was released was given solely from the father's perspective. Joseph Jr.'s absence from the statement does not seem like dignified silence. It seems like a tacit admission of guilt to what the rumors attest.
It is a certainty that the Smith family talked over the problem beforehand of satisfying Moroni's requirements and considered their options.10 They were dealing with an aspect of ceremonial magic, which is chiefly concerned with the art of dealing with spirits. Summoning a spirit required following a formalized ritual with many exacting rules.
The Smith family money digging team was already attempting to follow ceremonial rules correctly with their well-documented use of consecrated circles, swords, animal sacrifices to guardian spirits, etc. 11 They learned their rites from various occult source books, some of which we have been able to identify because of tangible evidence the Smiths left behind.
Professor Quinn has done a superlative job of studying the Smith family magic implements, especially the magic parchments, and analyzing the intricate symbols and text. He has shown that the parchments were copied directly from books of, or about, the occult by Ebenezer Sibly, Reginald Scot, Francis Barrett, and Cornelius Agrippa. Mr. Quinn names the books and even their particular editions.
Joseph, Jr. eventually became quite diligent about following correct procedures, to the point that by 1827 he presented an eerie sight when he went to meet Moroni. (He dressed himself entirely in black clothing and rode "a black horse, with a switch tail"12 under a full moon because Moroni—or a passage from an occult book—required it.) In 1823, however, his expertise was apparently still spotty, for he made an assumption that clouded his recognition of whom he was communing with. Joseph considered Moroni to be "an angel," but Moroni had described himself to be the spirit of a mortal man who had lived in the region many centuries ago. This should have alerted Joseph that he was dealing with the spirit of a dead man and that he had to carry out the appropriate rituals described in the occult books he had accepted as truthful.
MAGIC--NECESSITY OF A PARTNER
Someone who wanted to evoke the spirit of a dead man was supposed to perform the ritual with the help of a partner or apprentice. One of Smith's source books, Scot's DISCOVERIE OF WITCHCRAFT stated this several times in the most uncompromising way. On page 238,13 (Chapter 13, The Forms of Adjuring or Citing of the Spirit Aforesaid to Arise and Appear), appears "...rehearse in your own name, and your companions for one must always be with you) This prayer following...". Another such statement appears on page 244 and the author, Scot, even reiterates it in a separate note in the margin: "For the conjurer...can do nothing to any purpose without his confederate."
On the preceding page of Scot's book are complex made circles (The Seals of the Earth) that the Smith family copied onto their "Holiness to the Lord" parchment.14 The page is the beginning of a chapter enticed "An experiment of the Dead." The same "booke" (grouping of short chapters) describes how to call a spirit into a crystal stone so that visions may be seen. Obviously, these passages must have often been studied by the Smiths, especially Joseph Jr.15
Page 218 of the same book also discusses the use of the two Seals of the Earth and says the magician "must have a companion with him when questioning the spirit of an ordinary man by opening the grave." We belabor this point to show that the Smiths should have been well aware of the necessity of a companion for Joseph Jr. in the audience with Moroni. This seems to be the reason Moroni demanded the presence of someone else besides Joseph Jr. in all the autumnal equinox ceremonies we know about,16 even if the companion was a different person each time. (Alvin in 1824, Samuel Lawrence in 1825 or 1826, Joseph's new wife Emma in 1827).
MAGIC ‘A COMMANDMENT OF GOD'
The Smith family took this requirement of Moroni's so seriously that they considered it "a commandment of God." The commandments of God that Moroni gave Smith from 1826 to 1827 were not anything from the Judeo-Christian heritage. They were not even especially religious in nature. By and large, they were rules of procedure that were consistent with centuries of tradition in ceremonial magic.
During Smith's first visit to the Hill, on September 22, 1823, he reached out and picked up the plates. Then he made his blunder of setting them aside temporarily and the plates slipped back into the hole beneath the stone. When Smith attempted to gather them a second time he was rebuffed by the creature that was "something like a toad", i.e., the infamous salamander. "Therefore I cried out unto the Lord in the agony of my soul, 'Why can I not obtain them?' Behold the angel appeared unto me again and said unto me, 'You have not kept the commandments of the Lord which I gave unto you. Therefore you cannot not obtain them."'17
It developed that the commandment that Smith had broken was Moroni's previous injunction that once having picked up the plates he was not to lay them down again, He was to immediately wrap them in a clean white linen napkin and take them straightway home and deposit them in a fine chest. A corollary to this purely ritualistic demand was that Smith should have an eye "single to the glory of God".
Joseph's mother understood the meaning of these injunctions. She wrote, "The angel told Joseph that the time had not yet come for the plates to be brought forth to the world, that he could not take them from the place wherein they were deposited until he had learned to keep the commandments of God not only till he was willing but able to do it." 18
So we see that the "commandments of God" referred to ceremonial details and mental attitudes. This is consistent with all grimoires on ceremonial magic. In that first appearance on the hill Moroni issued an additional commandment, that Alvin was to accompany Joseph the following year, in 1824.
The procurement of a substitute Alvin begins to look more like an absolute obligation by the late summer of 1824. Lucy Mack Smith wrote of this time, "...and supposing at this time that the only thing required, in order to possess them (the plates) until the time for their translation was to be able to keep the commandments of God and he finally believed he could keep every commandment which had been given him, he fully expected to carry them home with him."19
Evidently, the Smith family had made some arrangement about the requirement for Alvin's presence. It most likely did not involve a family decision to use Alvin's remains because the fact of the opened grave seemed to catch them so badly off guard. However, when we re-read Alvin's dying injunction to Joseph Jr. it appears that Alvin virtually sanctioned Joseph to bring his remains to the Hill if the need arose: "DO EVERYTHING THAT LIES IN YOU (sic) POWER to obtain the record. BE FAITHFUL in receiving instruction, and in keeping EVERY commandment that is given to you." (Emphasis added). When the requirement of Alvin's presence proved to be a stumbling block, Joseph had only to recall Alvin's words of solemn urgency for all the permission he would need.
MAGIC -- QUALIFICATIONS FOR THE RITE
Was there anything else impelling Joseph to take such a drastic step? We have only to look through the books that we know the Smiths were so familiar with. The books referred to are DE OCCULTA PHILOSOPHIA by Cornelius Agrippa, THE FOURTH BOOK OF (allegedly)20 AGRIPPA, THE MAGUS by Francis Barrett, A NEW AND COMPLETE ILLUSTRATION OF THE OCCULT SCIENCES by Ebenezer Sibly, and two books bound together and authored by Reginald Scot, THE DISCOVERIE OF WITCHCRAFT and A DISCOURSE CONCERNING DEVILS AND SPIRITS. The Smiths did not simply use isolated pages copied from these books because the books are a treasure trove of references, anecdotes, beliefs, and doctrines which cropped up in early Mormonism as set down by Joseph Smith.
The books quoted each other and borrowed from the same tradition—the occult lore of western Europe as set down in the 15th and 16th centuries. ALL of these books spoke of necromancy, from terse comments to elaborate instructions given in unsavory detail. All of the authors seemed to have a perverse fascination with the topic. None of them were comfortable with it. They were able to discourse easily enough about conjuring up evil spirits but to call back a living spirit into a rotting corpse seemed to affect the human psyche in a profound way— it was thrilling, repellent, and sinister.
Most of the writers denounced the practice—but sometimes the denunciation pro forma and was given with a wink to let the reader know how potent the practice was.21
Nevertheless, they conceded that necromancy performed upon the corpse was unmistakably Black Magic, or more properly, The Black Art. The practice was more or less codified by the time of the Renaissance and was known as The Ritual of Necromanac Evocation. It is described exhaustively in Sibly's book. The rite is described guardedly in THE FOURTH BOOK of Agrippa and again in THE MAGUS which quotes Agrippa's FOURTH BOOK extensively. The Ritual of Necromantic Evocation had as its purpose the questioning of the apparition—or of the corpse itself. This, of course, was not Joseph's motive in recalling Alvin. But the ritual instructed the practitioner how to get the soul back into the corpse and this did suit Joseph. He did not want an amulet of flesh that was dead and useless.
A.E. Waite, noted occult authority, summarized the pertinent passages from Agrippa's FOURTH BOOK (quoted in THE MAGUS) and noted: "The more intimate the knowledge possessed by the operator concerning the deceased person, the more easily he was supposed to call him up."22 Alvin certainly qualified to be exorcised by his brother.
In addition, folklore decreed that "the shade of the departed lingered in the vicinity of its grave for a period of twelve months."23 Again, Alvin qualified.
According to both Agrippa and Barrett the soul may be raised from the corpse only if the deceased was known to be evil, or if he had died violently or prematurely, or if his corpse lacked a proper burial. Now, Alvin was buried correctly—but he died prematurely. Any premature termination of life enhanced the magical value of human flesh, since it could then be assumed to contain some element of unconsumed vitality.24
Alvin also qualified on the "known to be evil" count. At Alvin's burial, the presiding minister alienated the Smith Family by strongly inferring that Alvin was condemned to perdition because he was not a church member in good standing due to his treasure seeking involvement.25 The Smith family might have rejected this graceless assessment but, oddly enough, this official pronouncement from a religious authority figure undoubtedly reassured Joseph that Alvin was in the correct category to be useful, necromantically speaking. Once more, Alvin qualified.
Scot's DISCOURSE... has this passage: "When desires and lusts, after Wife, or Children, House, Lands or Money, is very strong at their departure; it is a certain truth, that this same spirit...will be hankering after these things, and drawn back by the strong desires and fixations of the imagination, which is left behind it, Nor can it ever be at rest, till the thing be accomplished, for which it is disturbed. When treasure hath been hid, or any secret thing... there is a magical cause of something attracting the [spirit] back again."26
In other words, Alvin's deathbed interest in the golden plates would make it much easier to attract his spirit back again to his corpse if the necromantic practitioner had that venture in mind. Alvin qualified perfectly. Thus, on many counts, Joseph was eminently qualified to call Alvin's spirit back into his corpse and Alvin was an ideal candidate to respond.
Other comments about the practice include from THE MAGUS: "Necromancy has its name because it works on the bodies of the dead,...alluring them into the carcasses of the dead by certain hellish charms, and infernal invocations, and by deadly sacrifices and wicked oblations.27 There are two kinds of necromancy: raising the carcasses, which is not done without blood,..."28 This passage in THE MAGUS adopts a disapproving attitude toward the whole business but this is completely negated at the end when Barrett writes: "by what influences the body may be knit together again for the raising of the dead, requires all these things which belong not to men but to God only, and to whom he will communicate them." In other words, this stuff is out-of-bounds except to those chosen by God.
MAGIC—NECESSITY OF BLOOD
The passages just quoted indicate an additional ingredient not previously discussed, the necessity of fresh blood to be a part of any ceremony calling the spirit back into the corpse. This is indeed the case, and the various books are emphatic on this point. THE MAGUS, Book II Part II, and also Agrippa's FOURTH BOOK, p.l23: "In the raising therefore of these shadows, we are to perfume with new blood the bones of the dead." This tradition is ancient. Homer, in 800 B.C, was familiar with it.29
Practitioners of The Black Art regarded fresh blood as so potent that its use even overrode other defects in the Ritual of Evocation. Scot's DISCOURSE... gives an example on page 67 of conjuring up infernal spirits in which a 'fumigation" made up of sulfur, various unguents, and a mixture of man's blood and the blood of a black cat, "which mixtures are said to be exceedingly magical: so that without any other Addition, they say, this fumigation is able of itself to make such spirits to appear before the exorcist."
So it would seem that once Joseph acquired what he needed from the corpse he had to "activate" it with fresh blood. The question as to how Smith acquired the blood is not hard to answer. Waite's commentary on necromancy says blood is "indispensable."30 The question as to how Smith acquired the blood is not hard to answer. Joseph could have simply nicked his finger with his ceremonial dagger and squeezed out a small stream of blood to drip onto what was probably the severed hand of the corpse. It would not be the first time that Joseph had spilled fresh blood during a rite of ceremonial magic. He had probably used his own blood often since various rites described by Agrippa and Scot required the blood of the practitioner for the drawing of circles, of angelic characters, etc.
As to whether Joseph Jr. used his own blood or any fresh blood on Alvin's remains, it is impossible to be dogmatic, for this reason: The Rite involving the corpse, referred to by Agrippa and Barrett and given in detail by Sibly, is not the rite that Joseph was performing.
The Ritual of Necromantic Evocation was intended to be used on the whole corpse and the idea was to call the soul back into the corpse for a short tame so that the corpse could answer questions put to it by the practitioner. Joseph's reason for securing Alvin's remains was entirely different. He wanted to take a piece of Alvin to the Hill Cumorah, four miles away, because Moroni required Alvin's presence. We mention the use of blood because the Smith's various occult source books made it obvious that fresh blood was so effective in enlivening a corpse with the soul of its owner. It would be a logical move for Joseph to make and one he shouldn't have shrunk from since he had performed similar operations while treasure digging.
The FOURTH BOOK of Agrippa, page 123, directly addresses Joseph's situation when it tells how to call the spirit back into a portion of the corpse: "From hence it is, that the souls of the dead are not to be called up without blood, or by the application of some part of their relict body." This seems to give an option of using either blood or a body part. But the next page, 124, amplifies this: "...it behooveth us to take to whatsoever place is to be chosen, some principal part of the body that is relict, and therewith make a perfume in due manner, and to perform other component rites."
Once the "principle part of the body that is relict" was obtained, the practitioner had other duties to perform, which included fresh blood. Blood was always the 'ne plus ultra.' From THE MAGUS: "For there are in the blood certain vital powers," [this is] "no less wonderful than true."31 To perceive blood this way was to discover the key which would convert part of the flesh of a corpse into a true talisman. To an ambitious neophyte magician like young Joseph such a simple, dramatic and effective tool must have seemed irresistible. Its significance was not subtle, such as the distinction as to whether Moroni was a holy angel or the spirit of a dead man. So the use of blood by Joseph seems extremely likely, but ultimately speculative.
SMITH SR. -COPING WITH THE SITUATION
By now it has become obvious who opened Alvin's grave. Joseph Jr. must have regarded such a task with distaste but he was by now utterly absorbed in a quest that he regarded as having divine sanction. Joseph might have dug up the body a day or so before the meeting, or on the night of September 21, just hours before the midnight appointment, or even directly afterwards in a last desperate attempt to assuage Moroni.
The latter scenario best fits the circumstances and would have unfolded like this: Smith Jr.'s disappointing audience with Moroni followed by an impulsive decision to unearth the corpse. Moroni refusing the too-late gesture. Smith Sr. confronted with knowledge of the desecrated grave and a crises which threatened to besmirch the family name. A depressed and ashamed Joseph Jr. removing himself from the affair. Smith Sr. taking the high road and doggedly declaring that nothing was amiss.
We will proceed on the assumption that the father knew first hand that his son had opened the grave. All of the contradictions in the newspaper statement now make sense. An immediate explanation to the public was needed. Maybe Smith Sr. first tried taking responsibility for the deed himself by telling the first sensation seekers that he had heard the rumors too, so he had gone out and disintered the body but found nothing wrong.
Maybe he blamed the deed on a prankster and then actually went out with neighbors supposedly to see if the body was still there. It seems evident that at some point Smith Sr. did gather at the gravesite with others to resolve the situation, but the orderly steps described in the statement don't seem credible. If this investigation did occur it was slapdash, at best.
We have only Smith Sr.'s word that the body was not disturbed. If his son had opened the grave then Smith Sr. was also confronted with a pried open coffin and a mutilated corpse. Maybe Joseph Jr. had replaced the coffin lid, after a fashion. Maybe the mutilation was minimal Maybe only a finger was used. But the requirements of a charm would be fulfilled with more certainty by a hand.32
If Smith did uncover the corpse in front of bystanders it would not be hard for him to be the first and only one to examine the corpse and then announce his conclusions. We have no proof of mutilation but we are asserting it as a probability because the circumstantial evidence is so compelling. Once the momentous decision had been made to turn the first shovelful of dirt it seems unlikely that Joseph Jr. turned back. In his own mind, it was an utterly serious and worthy task. Maybe Smith Jr. had made only a desultory effort at covering the coffin and some of the neighbors helped to re-cover the body properly. Any of these situations could be explained by Smith Sr. with superficial glibness, Maybe some of the neighbors believed him and some didn't. But someone would have to challenge Smith's version if they wanted to disprove it and evidently no one had the stomach to do that. Even those who did not believe Smith Sr. could appreciate that he was caught in a deplorable situation that was not of his own making.
We can declare dogmatically:
1) That the incident which prompted Smith's statement was related to Joseph Jr.'s audience with Moroni.
2) The grave was profoundly disturbed.
3) The same occult world view that allowed Joseph Jr. to invoke Moroni would have allowed him to substitute some of Alvin's remains for the living Alvin.
4) The presence of Alvin was a "commandment of God", and Joseph and Alvin were splendidly qualified to effect that presence.
5) The statement in the Wayne Sentinel is suspect.
Taking all this into account, we can confidently observe that the only interpretation of the newspaper statement that makes sense is that Joseph Smith Sr. knew his son was responsible for violating Alvin's grave and was trying to conceal the fact.
As for piecing together the actual details we have to rely on everything we know about the Smith family at this period and make educated guesses. Choosing what details to accept as the most logical does not really change the gist of the incident. Whether Smith Jr. walked to the Hill Cumorah or rode on horseback, whether he took a shovel beforehand or not, may never be known. That is why we have prefaced descriptions of the details with "probably", and "likely", and "maybe", etc.
These adverbs are chose to convey the degree of the author's certainty of the event happening. We have avoided presenting a scenario as possible just because there is no evidence to the contrary. Suggestions have been offered in which any one of several possible actions to support the main thesis of this paper. For instance, we cannot state dogmatically whether Joseph Jr. unearthed the corpse just before or just after the audience with Moroni. But either case is more likely than what is implied in the official statement: that no such thing happened. The final summary will set aside these qualifying adverbs and give the author's version of what probably happened.
We can now flesh out this interpretation of the events of September 22, 1824. Joseph Jr., his family, and the inner circle of the money digging company knew long beforehand that Alvin's death changed the circumstances of the 1824 audience. They hoped that the spirit being would accept the death as a reasonable excuse for Alvin's absence. The family talked over the problem and on the night of September 21 they dressed Joseph Jr. in Alvin's clothing with Alvin's personal articles in the pockets.
Joseph Jr. set out for the Hill Cumorah on foot, shortly after ten PM under a full moon. He canted his ceremonial dagger and robes with him. Most of the family stayed up all night awaiting the results. Joseph performed the ceremony of conjuration correctly and at midnight Moroni appeared. When Joseph was informed that without Alvin he could not have the plates he concluded this was a problem he could solve. He quietly returned home, surreptitiously picked up a shovel and hurried to the gravesite.
With roiling emotions, he dug up the corpse, murmuring prayers and incantations the whole time. He took what he needed and hastily recovered the corpse. He returned to the Hill Cumorah and implored Moroni for another audience. Moroni either did not appear at all or else told Smith that his effort was useless, to try again the following year.33 He returned home after daybreak, physically and emotionally exhausted. He told his family the entire train of events, of failure at every turn, and fell into bed.
Smith Sr. went out in the sunlight to pack down the earth around Alvin's grave as needy as possible. Other members of the money digging team, intensely curious, came to the Smith home and were told that Joseph failed to obtain the plates. They learned then, or very shortly afterward on their own accord, that Alvin's grave had been violated. The knew who had done it and why. This development was so sensational and so impossible to keep secret that they started bruiting the whole story around the countryside. Within a day or two the appalling rumors begin to reach the Smith family. Smith Sr. was confronted with an impossible situation. Joseph Jr. had acted rashly but he was only doing his best in a project that involved the entire family.
Soon the senior Smith launched his investigative charade and issued his forlorn newspaper statement which pasted a fig leaf of propriety over the whole affair. The episode might seem peculiar to chose who read about it 164 years later but to Smith Sr. it seemed like the reasonable dining to do at the time. Likewise with his son. His actions might seem horrific to an outside observer but they seemed perfectly reasonable to Joseph Smith Jr.
Perhaps the chief objection that will be made against the claims of this paper are the purely physical demands made on Joseph Smith Jr. The Smiths were poor in 1824 and did not seem to own any horses for transportation. Joseph probably trekked all night on foot. As a child, Joseph suffered a severe shinbone infection which left him with a lifelong limp. This did not hamper his ability to walk long distances and he was reported to have done so periodically for most of his life. Joseph was an unusually robust you man. Almost nineteen years old, he would be at the height of his physical powers of endurance.
Referring to the map, we can see that the three point axis of Joseph's route on September 21-22 was connected then, as now, by a fine road in level country. The Hill Cumorah was just 150 feet high and the site of the audience was only a hundred yards from the road. Joseph walked two and tree quarter miles from his home to the site on the hill. He was informed by Moroni that without Alvin there would be no plates; this was probably shortly after midnight.
Then, according to the thesis in this paper, he walked two and three quarter miles back home to pick up a shovel. He walked one and three quarter miles to the Church St. Cemetery. He spent an hour or more unearthing the coffin. He spent half an hour recovering it. He was tired but barely aware of it because he was ready to consummate his mission which had to be accomplished before dawn. It was already approaching 4:00am. He rapidly walked four miles back to Hill Cumorah. Then he met failure a second time. He straggled home as the sun rose, having covered fourteen miles on foot and engaging in at least an hour of furious digging. In addition, he may have undergone a modified fast for a day or two or three, since that was common in rites of ceremonial magic. Clearly, this was a physical trial that would tax Joseph nearly to his limit.
Happily, we are able to propound this as within Joseph's capability because his mother devoted several pages of her book (pages. 124-127) to describing a very similar ordeal undertaken almost five years later. Smith was under terrible stress at the time. Against his better judgment, Smith had allowed Martin Harris to go off on a trip for a few days while carrying the only copy of the translation of the plates. Smith had not heard from Harris for three weeks and was in great anxiety.
In the same period, Emma had given birth to the* first child. The child was stillborn and Emma hovered near death. Joseph was forced, nevertheless, to take a stagecoach to check on Hams. After traveling many hours without food or sleep he disembarked the stage at 10 PM. He walked twenty miles through a forest, finally arriving at his destination just before daylight. He needed the help of a stranger to lead him by the hand for the last four miles, but this journey seems even more daunting than the earlier one.
(Guinn Williams is a resident of Los Angeles who works in home remodeling. He has been a student of Mormonism for many years, ever since a close friend became a Mormon. He is particularly interested in the source and power of the religion. His research has led him to investigate the occult roots of Mormonism, which he believes are the key. This seems to have been borne out by the recent outpouring of information about Joseph Smith's money digging and sorceries.)
1] D. Michael Quinn, EARLY MORMONISM AND THE MAGIC WORLD VIEW, 1987, p.l36.
2] Fawn Brodie, NO MAN KNOWS MY HISTORY, 2nd ea., 1971, p.28.
3] Statute passed by the 36th session of the NY state legislature, (1813), Chapter CXXIV, "And Act to prevent digging up and removing dead bodies for the purpose of Dissection."
4] E.D.Howe, MORMONISM UNVAILED; 1834, affidavits of Willard Chase and William Stafford.
5]Article by John Dart, LOS ANGELES TIMES, 1985.
6] Lucy Mack Smith, HISTORY OF JOSEPH SMITH BY HIS MOTHER; ed.by Preston Nibley;1945, p.89.
7] Lucy Mack Smith, ibid. p.89.
8] MAN, MYTH AND MAGIC, encyclopedia edited by Richard Cavendish, 1983, v.7, p.l953.
9] Lucy Mack Smith, ibid., p.81.
10] Historian Jan Shipps has demonstrated that the Smiths regarded the golden plates venture as a family project. Ha book, MORMONISM, THE STORY OF A NEW RELIGIOUS TRADITION, analyzes the preliminary manuscript by Mother Smith which gave rise to her book published in 1853.
11] Jerald and Sandra Tanner, MORMONISM, MAGIC AND MASONRY, Modern Microfilm, 1983, p.3134.
12] E.D. Howe, ibid., cites Willard Chase, p.242.
13} This citation uses the modern reprint of Scot's book from Southern Illinois Univ. Press, Carbondale, 1964.
14] To be precise, their drawing was copied from Sibley's book which borrowed heavily from Scot, including the two seals. Dr. Quinn has shown that the Smith family used both books.
15] Joseph Jr. sought treasure, observed spirits, and allegedly translated the golden plates, all by seeing visions in his seer stones.
16] Joseph's very first experience with Moroni took place in his bedroom, the night before he first went to Hill Cumorah specifically to get the plates with Moroni's help. No companion in the bedroom is mentioned. Joseph underwent a ceremony in which he tried to contact "some kind of heavenly messenger."(Quinn, ibid. p.ll8, citing Oliver Cowdery) Professor Quinn implies the ceremony was one described in Scot's DISCOVERIE OF WITCHCRAFT to conjure up the spirits Paymon, Bathin and Barma (ibid. p.l20). They were fallen angels, not dead men. Instead, Moroni appeared, but not on Joseph's initiative. But after that first meeting Joseph should have known that when invoking Moroni, on his own initiative, a companion was required.
17]Quinn, ibid., p.l23, cites HISTORY OF THE CHURCH and others.
18] Lucy Mack Smith, ibid., p.81.
19] ibid., p.83.
20It is commonly acknowledged that THE FOURTH BOOK is a skillful forgery, similar in style to the three authentic books by Agrippa. This fact has not affected its acceptance by occult practitioners in the slightest.
21] Scot's DISCOURSE... is an exception. It contains a long condemnation of the practice, based on theological truths, which can hardly be improved upon.
22] A E. Waite, BOOK OF CEREMONIAL MAGIC, 1961 ea., p.324.
23] THE ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO THE SUPERNATURAL, encyclopedia edition by Sarah Litvinoff, 1986; many other encyclopedias.
24] Cavendish, ibid. vol.7, p.l954.
25] Years later, in the Kirkland temple, Joseph Smith related a vision he had of seeing Alvin in the Mormon Celestial Kingdom
26] Reginald Scot' A DISCOURSE CONCERNING DEVILS AND SP~ITS, 1665, the later edition, p.41. This book is bound with Scot's THE DISCOVERE OF WITCHCRAFT and printed for Andrew Clark and dedicated to Sir Roger Manwood.
27] "0blations" refers in this case to various potions which always included men's or animal's blood. 28Francis Barrett, THE MAGUS, 1801, reprint edition by University Books, 1967; Book II, Part 1, p.69.
29] Antiquities specialist E.O. James comments in ORIGINS OF SACRIFICE: "Letting blood drip over a corpse is to strengthen the deceased in the grave. In the classical mythology of Greece and Rome it is this belief which is expressed in the story of the visit of Odysseus to the underworld by way of the land of the Cimmerians. Here he dug a trench and poured into it the blood of black victims and soon the shades gathered around clamoring for blood. As the requests were granted, they slowly revived and became animated." The animal sacrifices that Smith made during treasure digging sessions were usually described as black dogs and black sheep. (Tanner ~ Tanner ibid., p.32-34; collections of affidavits by William Stafford, C.R. Stafford, accounts by W.D. Purple, Hiel Lews, and Emily Austin.
30] Waite, ibid., p.324.
31] Barrett, ibid. Book II, Part 1, p.l6.
32] Agrippa recommended "a principle part of the body", and goetic practitioners were conscious of decorum. To gouge out a chunk of flesh indiscriminately would be unseemly. Taking an organic entity was preferable, and the hand was "nobler" than the foot. There even existed a tradition in the occult of obtaining a hand from a corpse. This was the "Hand of Glory," cherished by thieves since the Middle Ages, though 3probably used only rarely.
33]Ceremonial magic included rules of timing and preparation. Smith had advanced part way through the ceremony with Moroni but was brought up short when Moroni inquired after Alvin. If Smith thought he could go off for a few hours to solve the problem and pick up again where he left off, he was mistaken.
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