Home Page    LDS Series   LDS Subpages

 

 

Enchantment — Magic and Joseph Smith Money Digging Accounts  

Rich Kelsey

 

 

 Kolob

 

Several witness testimonies concerning a money digging operation involving Joseph Smith contained the word,

 

"enchantment."

 

Martin Harris used the word to describe why the money diggers gave up digging:

 

“… and then he [Joseph Smith] told them the enchantment was so strong that he could not see, and they gave it up.” (Joel Tiffany, Interview with Martin Harris, in Tiffany's Monthly, 1859, New York, p.163-164)

 

Joseph Smith had been hired by Josiah Stowell to help find buried treasure; his job involved looking into a seer-stone.

 

What Martin Harris meant by,

 

"... he could not see,"

 

was that at one point during the money digging operation, Smith claimed he could no longer see where the treasure was due to the evil spirit who had the treasure under its charge.[i]

 

What Harris said lines up with statements from Joseph and Hiel Lewis concerning what they witnessed while Joseph Smith was peeping for money in their neighborhood:

 

"Their digging in several places was in compliance with peeper Smith's revelations, who would attend with his peep-stone in his hat, and his hat drawn over his face, and would tell them how deep they would have to go; but when they would find no trace of the chest of money, he would peep again, and weep like a child, and tell them the enchantment had removed it on account of some sin or thoughtless word; finally the enchantment became so strong that he could not see, and so the business was abandoned." (The Amboy Journal, Amboy, Illinois, Wednesday, April 30, 1879, page 1.) 

 

On this subject Alva Hale [Emma’s brother] said:

 

"... Joe Smith never handled one shovel full of earth in those diggings. All that Smith did was to peep with stone and hat, and give directions where and how to dig, and when and where the enchantment moved the treasure." (Review of Mormonism: Rejoinder to Elder Cadwell, Amboy Journal (IL), June 11, 1879) 

 

Speaking of this seer-stone, Fayette Lapham recorded:

 

"... Joseph spent about two years looking into this stone, telling fortunes, where to find lost things, and where to dig for money and other hidden treasure." (Historical Magazine, p.p. 305-307)

 

Willard Chase substantiates what Mr. Lapham wrote:

 

"After obtaining the stone, he began to publish abroad what wonders he could discover by looking in it, and made so much disturbance among the credulous part of community, that I ordered the stone to be returned to me again.  He had it in his possession about two years."  (Mormonism Unvailed — Eber Howe's 1834 book, p. 241)

 

Enchantment Continued:

In Joseph Smith's day, it was believed that spirits who had charge over buried treasure could, cause the treasure[ii] to move from here to there, sink[iii] deeper into the earth, or disappear.[iv] LDS scholars explain that, while trying to obtain buried treasure, 

 

"... the treasure seekers staked out magical circles around the treasure. They used Bible passages and hymns, prayers and incantations, ritual swords and other magical items, or even propitiatory animal sacrifices to appease or fend off preternatural guardians of the treasure. Excavation usually commenced under a rule of silence. Should someone carelessly mutter or curse, the treasure guardian could penetrate the circle or carry the treasure away through the earth."(...Maxwell Institute, 2006)[v]  

 

Joseph Smith’s mother spoke of the family drawing “magic circles,” “abrac” — which is short for (abracadabra), and “sooth saying:”*

“Let not the reader suppose that because I shall pursue another topic for a season that we stopt (sic) our labor and went at trying to win the faculty of Abrac drawing Magic circles or sooth saying to the neglect of all kinds of business.” (Biographical Sketches… Smith, Lucy Mack, Liverpool, England: S. W. Richards. 1853) 

 

*(Magic circles are used to form a space of magical protection from an evil spirit. Soothsaying is the supernatural ability to perceive things, including what may happen in the future)

 

 

LDS author/scholar Richard Bushman used the word "enchantment" while describing the golden plates:

 

“The plates walk a fine line between magic and religion, between enchantment and disenchantment, between fraud and religious genius...  They make the claim that the supernatural has entered into the natural world.” (Presentation given at Utah State's Eccles Science Learning Center on March 22, 2012)

 

Perhaps Bushman chose the word enchantment because the golden plates exhibited many of the same qualities as buried treasure from early American folklore:

 

Smith’s mother Lucy explained:

 

“In the moment of excitement, Joseph was overcome by the powers of darkness, and forgot the injunction that was laid upon him.  Having some further conversation with the angel on this occasion, Joseph was permitted to raise the stone again, when he beheld the plates as he had done before. He immediately reached forth his hand to take them, but instead of getting them, as he anticipated, he was hurled back upon the ground with great violence. When he recovered, the angel was gone, and he arose and returned to the house weeping for grief and disappointment.” (Lucy Smith, Biographical Sketches, p. 347)

  

Willard Chase substantiated Lucy's account:

 

"... he [Joseph Smith] again stooped down and strove to take the book, when the spirit struck him again, and knocked him three or four rods, and hurt him prodigiously. After recovering from his fright, he enquired why he could not obtain the plates; to which the spirit made reply, because you have not obeyed your orders. He then enquired when he could have them, and was answered thus: come one year from this day, and bring with you your oldest brother, and you shall have them."  (MORMONISM, p.242)

 

Fayette Lapham gave a similar account, adding more details:

 

"Taking up the first article, he saw others below; laying down the first, he endeavored to secure the others; but, before he could get hold of them, the one he had taken up slid back to the place he had taken it from, and, to his great surprize and terror, the rock immediately fell back to its former place, nearly crushing him in its descent. His first thought was that he had not properly secured the rock when it was turned up, and accordingly he again tried to lift it, but now in vain; he next tried with the aid of levers, but still without success. While thus engaged, he felt something strike him on the breast, which was repeated the third time, always with increased force, the last such as to lay him upon his back. As he lay there, he looked up and saw the same large man that had appeared in his dream, dressed in the same clothes. He said to him that, when the treasure was deposited there, he was sworn to take charge of and protect that property, until the time should arrive for it to be exhibited to the world of mankind; and, in order to prevent his making an improper disclosure, he was murdered or slain on the spot, and the treasure had been under his charge ever since.

He said to him that he had not followed his directions; and, in consequence of laying the article down before putting it in the napkin, he could not have the article now; but that if he would come again, one year from that time, he could then have them. The year passed over before Joseph was aware of it, so time passed by; but he went to the place of deposit, where the same man appeared again, and said he had not been punctual in following his directions, and, in consequence, he could not have the article yet. Joseph asked when he could have them; and the answer was, 'Come in one year from this time, and bring your oldest brother with you; then you may have them.' During that year, it so happened that his oldest brother died; but, at the end of the year, Joseph repaired to the place again, and was told by the man who still guarded the treasure, that, inasmuch as he could not bring his oldest brother, he could not have the treasure yet." (HISTORICAL MAGAZINE, 1870, pp. 307-308) 

Fayette Lapham had heard the story directly from the father of Joseph Smith in 1830. Not only does Lapham's account agree on many details with the other early versions: Knight, Lucy Smith, as well as Chase; it tells us how the treasure [golden plates] came to be under [Moroni's] charge. And, bringing the right person, in early versions of the gold plates stories, was the central theme. 

 

Joseph Knight’s account spelled out:

● He took hold of the book, but this time he could not move it.
● Smith asked, “Why..?”
● He was answered, “You can’t have it now.”
● Smith asked, “When can I have it.”
● He was answered, “The 22nd day of next September if you bring the right person.”
● “Joseph says, ‘Who is the right person?’”
● “The answer was, ‘Your oldest Brother.’”
● “But before September came his oldest Brother died.”
(BYU Studies, Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History, Dean Jessee, 1976)

As mentioned, Knight's record also corresponds with what Fayette Lapham wrote:

"Come in one year from this time, and bring your oldest brother with you; then you may have them.' During that year, it so happened that his oldest brother died" (Fayette Lapham, Interview with Smith Sr.see entire account)

 

Testing the Spirits:

 

According to the Bible, God knows,

“the end from the beginning.” (Isaiah 46:10) 

 

Smith’s oldest brother Alvin died 10 months before,

"the 22nd day of next September."

 

If the spirit watching over the golden plates really was an,

"angel of the Lord,"


the angel should have known that Alvin could not possibly accompany Joseph to the Hill Cumorah the following year. Therefore, if an actual spirit did appear to Smith, what are the odds it was a messenger from God? One would think that after Alvin died, Smith himself would have realized that he was merely dealing with an evil spirit, once again. Alvin’s death over this period of time is no doubt one of the reasons early accounts of obtaining the golden plates are unknown to most LDS Church members. Knowledge of versions mentioning Alvin as the right person to bring, would certainly hinder those trying to maintain faith in the LDS Church.

 

Here is an interesting quote: 

"There is some evidence that his [Joseph Smith's] father was involved in treasure hunting, a common activity among poor New England farmers who hoped through the use of magic to discover buried money, and it was necessary for Joseph to extricate himself from the mistaken notions of that superstition." (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol.2, "History of the Church: c. 1820-1831, Background, Founding, New York Period Author: BUSHMAN, RICHARD L. Copyright © 1992 Brigham Young University")

 

Envision the fallout among members of the Church, if word got out that the Smith family believed in, 

"...the use of magic to discover buried money..."

and, they used that knowledge to re-evaluate the golden plates story.

 

It probably wouldn't help LDS Church membership either, if members found out that Smith's father, speaking of the large man guarding the golden plates told Fayette Lapham:

 

"... that, when the treasure was deposited there, he was sworn to take charge of and protect that property, until the time should arrive for it to be exhibited to the world of mankind; and, in order to prevent his making an improper disclosure, he was murdered or slain on the spot, and the treasure had been under his charge ever since." (HISTORICAL MAGAZINE, 1870, p. 307)

 

This was the same type of yarn which was recorded in the 1826 trial:

 

"… he [Joseph Smith] discovered distinctly the two Indians who buried the trunk; that a quarrel ensued between them, and that one of said Indians was killed by the other, and thrown into the hole beside of the trunk, to guard it, as he supposed." (1826 Glass Looking Trial, Jonathan Thompson testimony, Tuttle account)

 

 

Obviously, a dead Indian was not guarding a trunk of treasure back in 1825; today we call such tales early American folklore. Early versions of Joseph Smith's golden plates stories are along similar lines. Here is one more example:

 

"Our recollection of the precise language may be faulty, but as to the substance, the following is correct:
He said that by a dream he was informed that at such a place in a certain hill, in an iron box, were some gold plates with curious engravings, which he must get and translate, and write a book; that the plates were to be kept concealed from every human being for a certain time, some two or three years; that he went to the place and dug till he came to the stone that covered the box, when he was knocked down; that he again attempted to remove the stone, and was again knocked down; this attempt was made the third time, and the third time he was knocked down. Then he exclaimed, 'Why can't I get it?' or words to that effect; and then he saw a man standing over the spot, which to him appeared like a Spaniard, having a long beard coming down over his breast to about here. (Smith putting his hand to the pit of his stomach) with his (the ghost's) throat cut from ear to ear, and the blood streaming down, who told him that he could not get it alone; that another person whom he, Smith, would know at first sight, must come with him, and then he could get it." (The Amboy Journal, June 11, 1879, p.1)

 

That last quote was from Joseph and Hiel Lewis, who were neighbors of Joseph Smith and sons of the Rev. Nathaniel Lewis. Their account matches elements in the story Smith's mother told, it matches what Smith's father said, and what other relatives, neighbors and associates recounted back in the day. Yet, it doesn't come close to matching accounts of Moroni's visits with Joseph Smith published by the LDS Church today; and for good reason. If Joseph Smith's real history were ever made known, millions of Latter-Day Saints would abandon the faith.

 

 

For more information on this subject:

 •  Joseph Smith Money Digging Accounts 

 •  Chase Account

 •  Peter Ingersol Account

 •  Joseph Knight Account

 •  The Amboy Journal 

 •  Fayette Lapham Account 

 

 

LDS SERIES     LDS ARTICLE SUBPAGES



Endnotes:

 

[i] "He [Joseph Smith Sr.] also revived, or in other words, propagated the vulgar, yet popular belief that these treasures were held in charge by some evil spirit...” (THE REFLECTOR February 1, 1831)

 

[ii] "Mr. Thompson, an employee of Mr. Stowell, was the next witness. He and another man were employed in digging for treasure, and always attended the Deacon and Smith in their nocturnal labors. He could not assert that anything of value was ever obtained by them. The following scene was described by this witness, and carefully noted: Smith had told the Deacon that very many years before a band of robbers had buried on his flat a box of treasure, and as it was very valuable they had by a sacrifice placed a charm over it to protect it, so that it could not be obtained except by faith, accompanied by certain talismanic influences [something believed to have magical powers]. So, after arming themselves with fasting and prayer, they sallied forth to the spot designated by Smith. Digging was commenced with fear and trembling, in the presence of this imaginary charm." (1826 Trial, Purple account, Jonathan Thompson Testimony)

 

[iii] “Thompson says that he believes in the prisoner's professed skill; that the board which he struck his spade upon was probably the chest, but, on account of an enchantment, the trunk kept settling away from under them while digging; that, not withstanding they continued constantly removing the dirt, yet the trunk kept about the same distance from them.” (1826 Trial, Tuttle account)

 

[iv] “The utmost silence was necessary to success. More than once, when the digging proved a failure, Joe explained to his associates that, just as the deposit was about to be reached, some one, tempted by the devil, spoke, causing the wished-for riches to disappear.” (Lippincott's Magazine, August, 1880 / narrative from the book: Mormon Origin, William Alexander Linn, Hackensack, N. J., 1901)

 

[v] “For the most part, the quest for buried wealth and its associated belief system have slipped away into a forgotten world. Though strange to us today, treasure-seeking beliefs probably influenced hundreds of thousands of Europeans and thousands of early European Americans. Many early Americans believed that treasures had been secreted in the earth by ancient inhabitants of the continent, by Spanish explorers, by pirates, or even by the dwarves of European mythology. Treasure hunters usually looked for caves and lost mines or dug into hills and Native American mounds to find these hidden deposits. A legend, a treasure map, or a dream of buried wealth initiated the hunt. Local specialists were enlisted to use their divining rods or seer stones to locate the treasure. To hide from the scrutiny of skeptics and the notice of other treasure seekers, they worked under the cover of darkness. Gathering at the designated spot, the treasure seekers staked out magical circles around the treasure. They used Bible passages and hymns, prayers and incantations, ritual swords and other magical items, or even propitiatory animal sacrifices to appease or fend off preternatural guardians of the treasure. Excavation usually commenced under a rule of silence. Should someone carelessly mutter or curse, the treasure guardian could penetrate the circle or carry the treasure away through the earth.” (Moroni as Angel and as Treasure Guardian, Mark Ashurst-McGee, FARMS Review Vol. 18 - 1 p.p. 34-100, Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, 2006)