United Brethren has retired.

Grandpa Smith and the Witches (Archive)

It's always been a slight puzzlement that a religion that has an aversion to playing with face cards (occultic?) celebrates Halloween (also occultic?) with abandon. I'm glad, though, because I get to dress my son as Yoda today without guilt.

Anyway, here's my Halloween post.

In the famous Salem witch trials of 1692, Joseph Smith's great-great-grandfather Samuel Smith and Samuel's father-in-law John Gould testified against Mary Easty and Sarah Wilds. Both women were executed. Here are the court records:
The deposistion of Samuell Smith of Boxford about 25 yers who testifieth and saith that about five years sence I was one night att the house of Isaac Estick sen'r. of Topsfeild...and as I was agoeing whom that night about a quarter of a mille from the said Esticks house by a stone wall I Received a little blow on my shoulder with I know not what and the stone wall rattleed very much which affrighted me my horse also was affrighted very much but I cannot give the reson of it.

The Depotion of John Gould aged about 56 yeares or theire about Testifeth and saith that some time sence...sister Mary Redington tould mee as she was Coming from Salam With her Brother Redington that GoodWife Wilds did strive two or three times to pul her doune of her horse one time she did strive to pul her doune in a brooke but she did set her selfe with all her strenke she Could and did git out of the brook and soone after she was got out of the brooke she said that GoodWife Wilds did pul her doune bakwords of her horse and held her doune so as she Could not helpe her selfe tell her Brother Redington and Sarg't Edmon Townes did Come and helper...
Rather flimsy testimony I would say, at least for "witchcraft".

Anyway, it's ironic that Joseph's detractors often accuse him of dabbling in the occult. Whilst stories of seer stones and "peeping" are accepted by informed Mormons today (for example, Rough Stone Rolling pp. 48-52), rebuttals of some of the more lurid claims can be found at www.fair-lds.org. Search under "magic". But folk religion seems to have existed alongside Christianity among the poor of the American frontier, and I think some of this rather benign superstition still lingers in modern Mormonism. Urban legends about protective garments would be one example.

Anyway, further reading on Mormon "magic" this Halloween would include:

- Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker series (based loosely on the Joseph Smith story) celebrates the magic "knacks" of Alvin's family.
- John L. Brooke, Refiner's Fire - the making of Mormon cosmology (read FARMS review for LDS apologetic response).
- D. Michael Quinn - Early Mormonism and the magic world view (also read FARMS review)

Happy Halloween!

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