Psychedelics as a Means of Revelation in Early and Contemporary Mormonism (Part 1)
Psychedelic-facilitated visions were central to the origins of Mormonism
This paper was presented at the Forms of Psychedelic Life conference at UC Berkeley (April 14-15, 2023). It’s meant to give an overview of different facets and themes of the use of psychedelics within the Mormon tradition. Many of these themes will be further expanded upon in future posts and papers. (I’ll happily take requests for which to do first!)
On a spring day in 1820 near Manchester, New York, Joseph Smith Jr. went into the forest near his home with the intention of praying to God. There he had a theophany, a vision of God along with his Son, Jesus Christ, but not before having an encounter with what he would later say was the Devil himself. This vision, touted as being the result of nothing more than a sincere prayer, while in fact was a sincere prayer, was most likely preceded and facilitated by the ingestion of what today is known as a psychedelic or psychoactive substance.1 Thus the foundation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the LDS church for short) is built upon a psychedelic trip. This is by no means a declaration of the falsehoods of the church’s historical and theological claims, but rather an opening of a method of inquiry into the role psychedelics might play in contemporary LDS theology and practices based on how integral psychedelics seemed to be in the foundation of the church.
Within this paper I will be operating under the assumption that the use of a psychedelic to facilitate a visionary experience does not preclude the veridicality of the experience. Thus, if Joseph did use a psychedelic substance to facilitate his first vision, it does not mean that he did not see God and Jesus or that it was merely a hallucination. Instead, I will treat the contents of the experience to be fully veridical just as one might do the same in interrogating the visionary experiences of Joseph if he did not use a psychedelic substance. A full treatment of whether or not this is a correct approach is beyond the scope of this paper.
In this paper I will show how psychedelic substances functioned and were seen as a spiritual tool to provide a means for revelatory experiences in Joseph Smith Jr.’s theology as well as how these experiences were fundamentally communal and embodied in nature. First I’ll look at how Joseph Jr. viewed his quest for knowing which religion was correct as an extension of his father, Joseph Smith Sr.’s quest for wisdom and how Joseph Jr. enshrined this process within the beginning of his scriptural text the Book of Mormon. I follow with the visionary experiences of the three witnesses to the golden plates and a couple group settings where Joseph Jr. was able to produce visions on demand for the participants utilizing psychedelic substances. Finally, I turn to a conference address in 1867 by Joseph Jr.’s cousin, twenty-three years after Joseph’s death, which changes the theological emphasis on the content of spiritual experiences, an emphasis that persists through the modern LDS church.
In the shift to discussing the contemporary LDS church I look at the role of sacred objects within LDS theology and how psychedelics function as sacred objects in the past and contemporary church (as well as the recently founded church in the Mormon home state of Utah: The Divine Assembly). I also address the cultural dogma regarding spiritual experiences and embodiment.
The early Mormon church was an amalgamation of Native American lore, masonic musings, occult practices, folk magic, the cultural milieu, the religious environment of the Burned Over District, and Joseph and his family’s personal visionary experiences.2 Undergirding much of that for Joseph was his (and his father’s) quest for wisdom, to which I will return to in a moment.
The early Mormon cosmology was one engulfed in the otherworld. This otherworld was routinely accessed and explored. The experience of this otherworld, sometimes via psychedelics, shaped their epistemology and their reality. The history of Mormonism is riddled with visions, encounters with angels and demons, bodily contortions, attempts to raise the dead, and altered states everywhere. Much of this gets shrugged off as a weird cultural thing by LDS church members today if it is addressed at all. It seems weird because they, the early church members, not the present ones were navigating the otherworld.
As the LDS church has evolved and changed since Joseph Smith’s death, it has maligned many of the visionary and otherworldly experiences to the margins. The emphasis has been shifted from communal visions, co-creative revelations, and the building of a literal Zion community to individual belief and accountability. They have shifted from the self being the product of semiotic thinking, as Eduardo Kohn describes, to the self being the foundation of semiotic thinking.3 In the process, the LDS church has neglected the larger forest, the larger connection to the community around them.
Psychedelics are allowing people to return to that cosmology, a non-materialist otherworld of interrelations and visionary experiences, emphasizing the communal, interrelational nature of both human beings and the world around us. They are putting the spirit(s) back into the plants and into the world itself.4 They are emphasizing that humans play a role in co-creating our reality just as many of the early theological developments and revelations within Mormonism were co-revealed.
Joseph’s Quest for Wisdom
The Joseph Smith Sr. family existed within the milieu of the Second Great Awakening, Lucy Mack Smith, his wife, was partial to Methodism and later Presbyterianism while Sr. preferred to remain aloof after a brief stint with the Universalists.
The Smith family were also folk magicians. Joseph Sr. was a diviner and treasure seeker as was his son, who apparently had a natural gift for it.5 The Smith family was in possession of a series of magical parchments and other magical artifacts.
Joseph Jr. acquired his first seer stone around the age of 14, about the same time that he had his First Vision and over time acquired and used multiple other seer stones.6 Joseph would look into the seer stones to locate hidden treasure, missing objects, and other things.
Eventually he would obtain a set of golden plates, buried in the hill called Cumorah, on which was claimed to be the writings of a Jewish break-off from Israel who migrated somewhere in the Americas around 600 BC. In order to translate what was described as reformed Egyptian characters, Joseph would place a seer stone into a hat in order to block out the light, where he would “see” the translated characters in English and dictate them to his scribe. The wisdom the Smiths sought came through physical objects.
Joseph utilized physical objects as a means of “divining” the divine will, as a means of revelation. Central to Joseph Smith’s theology of revelation, perhaps based on his vast usage of seer stones, divining rods, and other magical tools, was the idea of a physical means for revelation. This is most clearly evident in one particular passage in the Book of Mormon:
And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls.7
For Joseph, the physical did not impede the spiritual, but rather was the route to the spiritual, a route to the visionary. Early on in Joseph Smith’s life, visions were something to be shared in and inherited. Joseph stepped into his father’s (Joseph Smith Sr.) quest for knowledge as found in Joseph Smith Sr.’s visionary experiences which Joseph Jr. enshrines in his scriptural text the Book of Mormon. First we’ll look at the visions of Joseph Sr. and Joseph Jr. after which we’ll look at the visions of their counterparts, Lehi and Nephi, in the Book of Mormon.
In the early 1810s, Joseph Sr. had a series of visions that closely resemble datura experiences, and in the visions even encounters a tree with a startling resemblance to a datura tree:
“in which stood a tree, such as I had never seen before: it was exceedingly handsome, insomuch that I looked upon it with wonder and admiration: its beautiful branches spread themselves, somewhat, in the form of an umbrella; and it bore a kind of fruit, in shape, much like a chestnut burr, and as white, or whiter than snow: I gazed upon the fruit with considerable interest—presently the burrs or shells began to open, and shed their particles, or the fruit which they contained, which was of dazzling whiteness.”8
In the first of Joseph Sr.’s visions he was told by a figure within the vision that “you will find on a certain log, a box; the contents of which, if you eat thereof, will make you wise, and give unto you wisdom and understanding.”9 Joseph Sr. ate this fruit and was filled with a sense of happiness and love. After enquiring of the spirit guide as to the meaning of the fruit he was told it was the “pure love of God.”
Just shy of a decade later, Joseph Smith Jr. was confused about religion and seeking wisdom. He writes that one day he was reading the New Testament and one particular scripture, James 1:5, stood out to him. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God.” Joseph writes that he reflected again and again on that scripture concluding that “if any person needed wisdom from God, I did.”10 It was this desire for wisdom that drove Joseph to the grove where he ingested a substance in search of wisdom, just as his father did, which resulted in Joseph Jr.’s first vision.
Lucy Mack Smith, Joseph Sr.’s wife, reported that after Joseph Sr.’s first vision of the box containing wisdom, he “seemed more confirmed than ever in the opinion: that there were no order or class of religionists who knew any more concerning the Kingdom of God, than those of the world; or such as made no profession of religion whatever.”11 After Joseph Jr.’s first vision, he likewise came away with the outlook that none of the religions contained any more wisdom than another.
Thus Mormonism begins with a son stepping into the visionary quest of his father. Joseph Jr., like Nephi stepped into the vision that his father began/opened up. Just as the outset of Mormonism begins with this motif, so do the very first characters of the Book of Mormon enact this.
Lehi, the father figure, has a vision of what is called the tree of life. The vision of Lehi contains many similarities to the vision of Joseph Sr. including:
A desolate field representing the world (1 Nephi 8:4).
A river of water (8:13).
A narrow path (8:20).
An iron rod along the river (Joseph Sr.’s has a rope running along the bank of the river) (8:19, 24).
A tree with dazzling white fruit that was delicious (8:10–11).
Both Lehi and Joseph Sr. desire that their family should partake of the fruit also (8:12).
In both instances there is a spacious building filled with people mocking and scorning those who eat the fruit (8:26–27).
Both Lehi and Joseph Sr.’s families ignore the mocking (8:26-33).
The fruit represented the love of God (11:22).
The building represented the world (11:36; 12:18).
This story of the son seeking the father’s wisdom played out in the scriptural theology of the Book of Mormon where the father, Lehi (aka Joseph Sr.) has a vision where he is shown a “a tree whose fruit was desirable,” he goes and eats the white fruit, “it fill[s] [his] soul with exceedingly great joy,” and he wants his family to partake of it.12 Both Joseph Sr. and Lehi ate the fruit, they ingested a substance into their body which filled them with joy and love. It was fundamentally an embodied experience.
Afterwards Lehi’s son, Nephi (Joseph Jr.) wanted to know of the things his father had experienced and so he goes and asks God. Nephi was then shown the same vision as his father and wanted to know the meaning of it all. Nephi was told by the heavenly messenger that the fruit was the love of God, the thing “most desirable above all things.”13 Nephi’s vision extends much further than his fathers’ did. Nephi sees the future of the Jews, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon (of which he will write a part), and the dichotomy between the church of God and the church of the Devil (of which all churches other than God’s are a part of). Joseph Jr.’s vision quest for wisdom also went further than his father’s, culminating in him establishing God’s church.
This shared visionary quest becomes a quintessential to the experience of early Latter-day Saints. The process of revelation was communal. And it was enabled by the usage of psychedelic substances. This shared vision is particularly visible in the experience of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon.
The Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon
One instance of the use of psychedelics was likely to have been the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon. After Joseph Jr. had the first vision, his task was to obtain a set of gold plates which were said to contain the record of the remnant of the Jews in America. It took him several years to actually be able to obtain the plates after which he proceeded to translate the record into English.
Beginning from when Joseph was first told of the existence of the gold plates to others, there was much debate as to whether or not there actually were gold plates. These debates have continued through modern times. It is important to note that while Joseph had the plates and while he was translating them, no one but he was allowed to see them. There was a barrier between himself and the plates, and the scribe to which he dictated to. Even after its completion, only a select few were allowed to view the plates.
The scholar Ann Taves took up the debate of the materiality of the gold plates in her 2014 article.14 This debate divides believers, non-believers, and scholars alike. Some claim the gold plates existed physically, others say Smith manufactured plates, and still others claim it was merely in dream or vision that witnesses encountered the plates. Taves concludes that the witnesses' testimonies should be taken as a testimony to their ability to see reality in the same way Joseph did, a supernaturally charged reality where angels created, transported, and withdrew the believed in simulation of the plates.15 The mechanism by which this shared vision likely occurred is via psychedelic substances given the suggestibility of these states, and the frequent overlays of a supernatural reality over ordinary reality. It is to the details of this experience to which we’ll next turn to.
Shortly after Joseph Smith completed the Book of Mormon he invited Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris to be “witnesses” of the gold plates, inviting them into his shared vision. Two particular facets of this experience are of note: First, that Martin Harris struggled to see the vision, and secondly David Whitmer’s claim that their eyes needed to be prepared before the vision occurred.
Martin Harris had struggled with doubt regarding the materiality of the plates asking for proof on multiple occasions prior to being one of the three witnesses.16 In March 1829, months prior to the visions of the three witnesses, Harris was told that if he would “humble himself in prayer” and “in the sincerity of his heart” then he would be granted his request. Joseph told Martin again on the day the experience was to be had that Martin had to humble himself before God and if Martin could do that, then he would be able to see the plates.17
Joseph and the three other chosen men entered the woods on the chosen day, agreeing to take turns praying. First Joseph prayed, followed by the prayers of the other three men. No vision. They tried again. Nothing. Martin at this point offered to leave, suggesting that he was the obstacle keeping the vision from occurring. The group, minus Martin, then prayed and before too long they had a vision of the sacred objects they were promised sight of.
After the vision concluded, Joseph went to find Martin who had wandered off in the woods. Martin and Joseph then prayed together and after much praying the two of them had the same vision that the group had seen without Martin.
It’s well established that the set and setting of a psychedelic experience affects the outcome. Martin had been primed to think that he was not worthy of the experience which, under the heightened emotional state found in using psychedelics, would impede one’s ability to have the desired outcome.18 An alternative explanation might be that whatever substance the witnesses had partaken was taking longer to metabolize within Martin’s body than the other two witnesses.
The second factor of note in this account is David Whitmer’s claim of the necessity of preparation for the vision to occur. In response to being questioned regarding the materiality of the gold plates David Whitmer reported that “I have been asked if we saw those things with our natural eyes. Of course, they were our natural eyes. There is no doubt that our eyes were prepared for the sight, but they were our natural eyes nevertheless.”19 In other words, the physical body was prepared for the vision.
The final sentence of Whitmer’s above statement suggests, in conjunction with Mormon scripture, that the witnesses had to have a transformation prior to the vision.20
The Book of Mormon mentions a scene where the twelve disciples of Christ in America were shown a vision of heaven. The account reports it was unclear if the disciples were in their body or out of their body during the vision, they could not tell. But what they could tell was that it seemed like there was a “transfiguration . . . they were changed from this body of flesh . . . that they could behold the things of God.”21
In a similar passage of Joseph’s revised version of the Bible he recounts a vision of Moses where “the glory of God was upon Moses, therefore Moses could endure his presence.” In this account Moses reports that it wasn’t his natural eyes that saw God, but rather his spiritual eyes because his natural eyes “could not have beheld; for I should have withered and died in his presence.” But Moses could see God because “his glory was upon me; and I beheld his face, for I was transfigured before him.” Moses, like Joseph’s first vision, reported that after the vision ended “he fell unto the earth. . . and it was . . . many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength.”22 In Moses’ account, Joseph Smith’s visionary accounts, and in the other accounts that will be presented in this paper the body beheld the most wondrous things (eating the delicious fruit, witnessing God, seeing the creations of the Universe, etc.) and the body also suffered the side effects of the visions. To quote one of the current LDS apostles, “The road to salvation [visions] always goes through Gethsemane.”23 Or, at least, the body must.
These visions are no easy feat. And an even harder task is providing visions after promising them. Joseph was able to do what many religious leaders are unable to do. He could produce these shared visions on demand.
Group Visions on Demand
Early Latter-day Saints were privy to visions on demand in a way that contemporary saints aren’t accustomed to. Joseph would announce the intention of having a group visionary experience and then would deliver on that promise. For example, in a meeting with Oliver Cowdery and Zebedee Coltrin, Joseph told them “Now brethren, we will see some visions.” Joseph laid down, stretched out his arms, and Zebedee and Oliver each laid down on his arms. The heavens gradually opened and Joseph guided them on a tour of God’s throne, where Adam and Eve were sitting.24 There are many such examples of these visions on demand produced by those who were around Joseph Smith at the time. Visions were intended to be both shared and embodied.
Early in the church’s history there were many such visions experienced during meetings. This is readily apparent in the June 3-4, 1831 conference. Joseph had said the day prior to the conference that “not three days should pass away, before some should see their Savior, face to face.”25 The following day, at the opening of the conference, he reminded those present of the promise made the day before. “He wished them not to be overcome with surprise when that event ushered in. He continued until by long speaking, himself and some others became much excited.” In other words, he spoke until the drugs kicked in.
One participant, Levi Hancock, reported that Joseph said
“Some of you must die for the testimony of this work” and he looked at Lyman White and said to him, "You shall see the Lord and meet him near the corner of the house and laid his hands upon him and blessed him with the visions of heaven." Joseph Smith then stepped out on the floor and said, "I now see God, and Jesus Christ at his right hand, let them kill me, I should not feel death as I am now."26
Multiple accounts then describe the bodily appearance of the fellow Joseph called forward. His
“legs inclining to bend, one shoulder elevated about the other, upon which the head seemed disposed to recline, his arms partly extended; his hands half clenched; his mouth half open, and contracted in the shape of an italic O; his eyes assumed a wild and ferocious cast, and his whole appearance presented a frightful object to the view of the beholder.”27
Joseph’s brother Hyrum, another attendee of this meeting, told Joseph that this was not of God. Joseph responded, telling Hyrum not to speak against it. Joseph then went about casting the evil spirit out of the man and it went into another, and another, and another. He explained to the men present that this was the devil revealed to them for the purpose of teaching them the tools of Satan, so that they could possess the knowledge and skill to manage him.28
Joseph not only was giving the early members guided tours of the otherworld, he was also giving them the bodily knowledge of understanding how, in his mind, the devil manifested. Other participants at this meeting also experienced the feeling of being bound and unable to speak, just as Joseph had experienced at the outset of his first vision. As a part of the revelatory process was the experience of what Joseph and other saints called the devil, which was a fundamentally embodied experience, most probably the side effects of psychoactive substances. Nevertheless, this physicality was a central aspect of the revelatory experience.
This physicality is further apparent in one of the aspects of Mormonism for which they have achieved a certain level of notoriety: the Word of Wisdom.
On February 27, 1833, Joseph revealed the healthcode by which many contemporary Latter-day Saints adhere by, the Word of Wisdom (D&C 89). In this code they are told that they should abstain from wine and strong drinks unless it was of their own make, that tobacco was not to be ingested in any way, and hot drinks were not for the body or belly. In addition to prohibitions it included prescriptive actions including “all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution & nature & use of man, every herb in the season thereof & every fruit in the season thereof.”29 Thus psychedelic substances, which at the time were all grown rather than synthesized in a lab, were ordained for human consumption.
What is even more interesting is that in addition to promising all the saints who followed this code “health in their navel and marrow to their bones” was also the promise that they “shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures.” Thus the abstaining from or consumption of physical substances would provide wisdom and hidden knowledge. The physical was the means by which to access the spiritual.
The Embodied Theological Experience
The reception of a revelation which is of particular theological and cosmological importance to Mormons was likely an experience facilitated by psychedelics. Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants, was a response to meditation and questions regarding John 5:29 by Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon. This section explains that all the hidden mysteries of God and the wonders of eternity will be known.30 It then elucidates that there are many worlds created by God and the inhabitants on these worlds are also sons and daughters of God. It describes the tripartite Mormon heaven detailing the glory of each of the kingdoms and the individuals residing within them.
This was a co-visionary experience. Philo Dibble, who was present during this vision. Dibble reports that Joseph would narrate what he was seeing and Sydney would reply that he saw the same followed by Sydney describing his vision and Joseph saying he saw the same.31
At the conclusion of the vision Dibble reports that “Joseph sat firmly and calmly all the time in the midst of a magnificent glory, but Sidney sat limp and pale, apparently as limber as a rag, observing which, Joseph remarked, smilingly, ‘Sidney is not used to it as I am.’” Traversing the otherworld is a skill developed over time and with repeated exposure. After years of use, Joseph became accustomed to both the experience and the side effects, while Sidney was not. As Robert Beckstead et al. note this vision entailed a transformation of the body to experience the spiritual also called a “transfiguration” in Joseph’s theology.32
In the explanation of this very vision that Joseph and Sidney had, they wrote both that the body had to change but also that these things could not be understood without that change. First they note the ineffability of the experience “great and marvelous are the works of the Lord, and the mysteries of his kingdom which he showed unto us, which surpass all understanding.”33 Then they explain that “neither is man capable to make them known, for they are only to be seen and understood by the power of the Holy Spirit” following with the qualification that they must “purify themselves before him.”34 Doing so granted them “this privilege of seeing and knowing for themselves; that through the power and manifestation oft he spirit, while in the flesh, they may be able to bear his presence in the world of glory.”35
This experience shows that much of LDS theology was both esoteric and mystical in nature. The ideas and teachings weren’t merely things to be theoretically explored, but literally experienced. They were to both see and feel the mysteries and glory of God firsthand.
What each of these accounts shows is that for many of the early saints, while there was obviously preaching, thinking, and expounding on concepts in sermons, the ideas about reality, about the divine, and the otherworld were not just theoretical premises to be argued for or against. They were things to be experienced. And while there were many cases of the experiences that were restricted to the upper echelons of the religious leadership, there were also mass visionary experiences where many of the saints were able to participate in a drama played out with the otherworld.
In a similar manner, because the physical was a means for the spiritual, they had embodied experiences of the concepts they were to “believe” in. For example, in addition to experiencing the visions of heaven and the outpourings of the Holy Ghost, Joseph notes that Newel Knight under Joseph’s supervision:
felt his heart filled with love, with glory and pleasure unspeakable, and could discern all that was going on in the room, when all of a sudden, a vision of futurity burst upon him. He saw there represented, the great work which through my instrumentality was yet to be accomplished. He saw Heaven opened and beheld the Lord Jesus Christ, seated at the right hand of the majesty on high, and had it made plain to his understanding that the time would come when he would be admitted into his presence to enjoy his society for ever and ever.36
Just as in the June 3-4, 1831 meeting and in Joseph’s own first vision, the devil, manifesting as bodily reactions to the ingested substances, gave way to not only the visions of heaven, but the embodied manifestation of what heaven represented.
The Psychedelic Ritual Process
It is crucial to note that in none of these cases was Joseph Smith giving psychoactive substances out willy-nilly to his audience. No, these secrets were safeguarded and prepared by a few within the leadership of the early church. In the early years of his presidency, Joseph appeared to be less cautious with the administration of these substances. However, as he continued developing the church, rituals developed around these substances. These substances were an integral part of rituals and the rituals were the context and framework for the administering of these substances.
In the months preceding the Kirtland temple dedication, Joseph led the church leaders through an intensive visionary and revelatory process. Throughout the months of January and February 1836 “the brethren read Hebrew by day, and were washed, anointed, prayed, and beheld visions by night. . . ordinances and spiritual gifts filled the entries [of Joseph’s journal],” which, as historian Richard Bushman notes, suggests he was showing more concern with the rituals themselves.37
Notably, in the beginning of this process, Joseph first instituted a new ordinance “of washing our bodies in pure water.”38 Oliver Cowdery described this purification ritual in detail but makes no mention of any anointings nor spiritual manifestations. However, the following Thursday Joseph added in anointing with oil which they rubbed all over the anointed’s head and face. After instituting the anointing then the visionary experiences began. Joseph first began by anointing a small number of individuals, his inner circle and father, followed by the presiding bishops, the high councils, the apostles, and then the seventy.
Joseph was carefully guiding and facilitating their experiences and was not pleased when his instructions were not followed. In one such instance he had separated the quorums each into different rooms with strict instructions on how to proceed. One quorum differed and when requested to “observe order” the elders responded that “they had a teacher of their own & did not wish to be troubled by others.” Joseph’s displeasure resulted in “this quorum lost their blessing in a great measure,” and a “cloud of darkness” filled the room.39
Joseph, like the facilitators of the Eleusinian Mysteries, was in the business of replicating specific experiences. In smaller numbers he could personally guide those he was with through the experience in accordance with his theological vision, however as the church grew and more individuals needed access in order to solidify the theology, a strict ritual system was developed to produce a structured experience. Joseph, as other religious leaders who utilized psychedelics, understood long before psychedelic therapy realized just how important the set and setting were to an experience. One could also say that Joseph was attempting to find a direction from a shape, he was attempting to build a framework to help individuals connect with the shape or form of a particular visionary experience. He was helping people make the leap from smoke to a previously unseen fire causing the smoke to use an analogy from Eduardo Kohn.40
Of this period of time, Richard Bushman highlights that Joseph’s method of bringing people to God differed than other evangelicals at the time. Instead of convicting people of their sins to humble them before God, Joseph would wash, anoint, bless, and minister to them.41 However, Joseph didn’t only minister to them, he would guide them on visionary tours of the heavens. Instead of bringing people down, he would literally raise their spirits to the heavens.
The Visionary Kirtland Temple Dedication
The culmination of the intense ritual period Joseph placed the leaders of the church through was the dedication of the Kirtland temple and the surrounding ritual events between March 27 and March 30, 1836. This communal event is notable in that there are dozens of accounts from participants over the period of the dedication who reported manifestations of the sacred. Participants wrote and recalled that many people spoke in tongues and prophesied, many saw “glorious visions” and heard a rushing wind through the building, and many angels and messengers appeared to participants.42 These visionary experiences were coupled with accounts of severe sickness and drunkeness as to be expected from psychedelic usage.43
Joseph continued to refine his rituals until his death in 1844. Soon after his death the Latter-day Saints were forced to leave the home they had built in Nauvoo and left for what is now known as Utah.
See Robert Beckstead, Bryce Blankenagel, Cody Noconi, and Michael Winkelman, “The Entheogenic Origins of Mormonism: A Working Hypothesis,” Journal of Psychedelic Studies 3 no. 2 (2019): 212-260.
See D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic Worldview (Signature Books, 1998); Cheryl L. Bruno, Joe Steve Swick III, and Nicholas S. Literski, Method Infinite: Freemasonry and the Mormon Restoration (Kofford Books, 2022); Dan Vogel, Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet (Signature Books, 2004).
Eduardo Kohn “Forest Forms and Ethical Life,” Environmental Humanities 14:2 (July 2022): 407-408.
Early Mormons viewed plants, the earth, the moon, and the sun among other things as having spirits and some agential capacity.
See Vogel, Joseph Smith, 10, 12.
Michael Hubbard Mackay and Nicholas J. Frederick, Joseph Smith’s Seer Stones (Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2016): 29.
Alma 37:7, emphasis added. Also of interest is that the standard dose of LSD is a very small amount, 100 micrograms and DMT is measured in milligrams.
"Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1845," p. 54, The Joseph Smith Papers, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/lucy-mack-smith-history-1845/61
"Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–1845, Page , [miscellany]," p. , [miscellany], The Joseph Smith Papers, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/lucy-mack-smith-history-1844-1845/245
Joseph Smith History 1:7-12.
"Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1845," p. 54, The Joseph Smith Papers, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/lucy-mack-smith-history-1845/61
1 Nephi 8:9-16.
1 Nephi 11:1-23.
Ann Taves, “History and the Claims of Revelation: Joseph Smith and the Materialization of the Golden Plates,” Numen 61 (2014): 182–207.
Taves, “History and the Claims of Revelation,” 204-205.
This was in large part due to the social pressures he was under from his wife and others because he had invested a significant amount of money in helping Joseph complete the translation.
Richard Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling: A Cultural Biography of Mormonism’s Founder (Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 78.
Martin’s chastisement at the hand of both God in March 1829 and Joseph the day of the experience share resemblance to Joseph’s severe chastisement at the hand of the angel Moroni before getting the plates and the Brother of Jared’s chastisement prior to enlisting the help of Jesus to provide light for ships via stones. See Ether 2:14; See also Taves, “History and the Claims of Revelation,” 194.
David Whitmer, interview with Nathan Tanner, Jr., Letter to Nathan A. Tanner, 17 February 1909, typed copy, LDS Church Archives; cited in Dan Vogel ed., Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 2003), 5:170.
In another account David Whitmer suggested this as well. He said “Of course we were in the spirit when we had the view, for no man can behold the face of an angel, except in a spiritual view, but 'we were in the body also, and everything was as natural to us, as it is at any time. Martin Harris, you say, called it ‘being in vision.’ . . . A bright light enveloped us where we were, that filled [the woods as] at noon day, and there in a vision or in the spirit, we saw and heard just as it is stated in my testimony in the Book of Mormon.” This, along with other accounts of the experience, suggest the psychedelic and transfigurative nature of the experience. David Whitmer, to Anthony Metcalf, 2 April 1887 cited in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 5:193.
3 Nephi 28:15.
Moses 1:2-11. There are also theories that Moses was utilizing a psychoactive substance to facilitate his visionary experiences. See Benny Shanon, “Biblical Entheogens: a Speculative Hypothesis,” Time and Mind 1 no. 1 (2008): 51-74; Chris Bennett and Neil McQueen, Sex, Drugs, Violence and the Bible (Forbidden Fruit Publishing, 2001).
Jeffrey R. Holland, For Times of Trouble (Deseret Book, 2012).
Salt Lake School of the Prophets: Minute Book 1883, ed. Merle Graffam, (Salt Lake City: Pioneer Press, 2000), 102-103. Franklin D. Richards Journal Oct. 11, 1883; Wilford Woodruff Journal, Oct. 11, 1833. Devery S. Anderson, Salt Lake School of the Prophets, 1867–1883 (Signature Books, 2018).
Ezra Booth, Ohio Star 2 (November 3, 1831): 3.
Levi Hancock, Autobiography, Typescript, Harold B. Lee Library Special Collections, Brigham Young University. http://boap.org/LDS/Early-Saints/LHancock.html
Ezra Booth, Ohio Star 2 (November 3, 1831): 3.
Levi Hancock, Autobiography, Typescript, Harold B. Lee Library Special Collections, Brigham Young University. http://boap.org/LDS/Early-Saints/LHancock.html
"Revelation, 27 February 1833 [D&C 89]," p. [113-14], The Joseph Smith Papers, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-27-february-1833-dc-89/1
Philo Dibble, “Recollections of the Prophet Joseph Smith,” Juvenile Instructor, 27 (1892). Dibble also reported firstly that he “saw the glory and felt the power but did not see the vision.” In other words, he saw the visual changes that occur after ingestion of a psychoactive substance, he felt the incredible sensations, and while he saw things, he did not see the particular vision that Joseph and Sydney were privy to.
Robert Beckstead, Bryce Blankenagel, Cody Noconi, and Michael Winkelman, “The Entheogenic Origins of Mormonism: A Working Hypothesis,” Journal of Psychedelic Studies 3 no. 2 (2019): 212-260, 214.
D&C 76:117-118; Moses 1:11, 31.
"History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834]," p. 42, The Joseph Smith Papers, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1838-1856-volume-a-1-23-december-1805-30-august-1834/48
Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 313.
"History, 1838–1856, volume B-1 [1 September 1834–2 November 1838]," p. 695, The Joseph Smith Papers, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1838-1856-volume-b-1-1-september-1834-2-november-1838/149
"History, 1838–1856, volume B-1 [1 September 1834–2 November 1838]," p. 702, The Joseph Smith Papers, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1838-1856-volume-b-1-1-september-1834-2-november-1838/156; Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 314.
Kohn, “Forest Forms and Ethical Life,” 415.
Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 314.
Leonard J. Arrington, "Oliver Cowdery's Kirtland Ohio 'Sketch Book,'" BYU Studies, Volume 12, (Summer 1972), 426; Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886), 9:376, 11:10; Benjamin Brown, "Testimony for the Truth," Gems for the Young Folks (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1881), 65; Truman Angell, Autobiography, Our Pioneer Heritage, Writings of Early Latter-day Saints, 198; Millennial Star 15:726-728; Minutes of High Priest Meeting, Spanish Fork, Utah, February 5, 1870; Ebenezer Robinson, “Items of Personal history of the Editor,” The Return, I (June, 1889), 88-91.
Some critics argue it was merely alcohol poisoning which is factually extremely unlikely, but a full treatment of that claim is beyond the scope of this paper.