Monday, May 2, 2016
Mormonism and the Occult, article in The Borderland 1896
MORMONISM and the Occult, article in The Borderland 1896
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The Rev. H. R. Haweis is one of the most advanced clergy of the Church of England. He has always kept himself well up in all psychic subjects, and has not only preached on the phenomena of Borderland, but has repeatedly in the pulpit and on the platform expressed his belief in the reality of apparitions and other things of like nature upon which the clergy usually preserve a discreet silence, unless the phenomena in question are 1,900 years old. I therefore turned, naturally, to Mr. Haweis's notes of his 100,000 miles of travel to see if there was any trace of the psychic mind. I did not look in vain. In the first volume Mr. Haweis devotes sixty pages to a description of his visit to Mormonland. Mr. Haweis is very fond of the Mormons. It is a first love with him. From the first he tells us he believes that for so devoted and self-sacrificing a community, however objectionable their doctrine and practices, there must be extenuating circumstances. The more he studied the subject the more obvious this appeared to him, so it is not surprising when he crossed the Atlantic that he took every opportunity of interviewing the Mormon leaders. The result, as might be expected, confirmed him in his early bias in their favour. Mr. Haweis tells again the story of the struggles of the Latter Day Saints.
Joseph Smith, he says, the founder and prophet, although thirty-nine times arrested and imprisoned and tried on various charges, no matter how they might pick the jury, or how prejudiced might be the judge, they never could convict him, and never did convict him on any one occasion of any crime whatever. He was at last assassinated at the age of thirty-eight by a fanatical mob, without a hearing, without a sentence, and without a judge. Mr. Haweis, therefore, makes no apology for publishing a sympathetic estimate of a man whose ecclesiastical and political achievements were as singular as they were colossal, he had the courage of his opinions, and was not unwilling to lay down his life for them. Mr. Haweis's explanation of Mormonism is that Joseph Smith was a psychic, and that he really did see visions and hear voices from the invisible world, and that this clairvoyant faculty of his was largely responsible for the founding of the Mormon Church. Nay, he goes further, and maintains that he has no doubt that the Mormon Church is in reality a spiritualistic organisation, and that an elaborate system of spiritualism, which he compares to Julia's proposed bureau of inquiry where people may converse through well-accredited mediums with their departed friends.
The Mormon Temple, to which thousands of anxious inquirers annually resort from all parts of Uiah—some to be initiated into sacramental rites, others to be baptized for the dead, others to inquire into their present condition, to help or be bettered by them—is, I infer, amongst other things, the scene of a vast system of organised seances, conducted by rule and authority. Well, we may be of opinion that there is a real intuitive communion of saints, that the departed do influence us, that under some conditions they may even appear or be otherwise communicated with; but for all that we may not be prepared to accept the Mormon temple as a holy of holies and the Mormon mediums as the only inspired and infallible guides. Still it cannot be denied that the Mormons have had the wit and grace to appropriate that mystic and mediumistic element which lies at the root of all religious intuitions and observances, and the disappearance or discouragement of which throughout the orthodox Protestant churches since the Reformation gives every Roman Catholic, Salvationist, Swedenborgian, Christian Scientist, or Faith Healer, such a sustained and inevitable pull over the Established Church and her clergy.
This being the case it maybe worth while to summarize briefly from Mr. Haweis's pages some account of Joseph Smith and his visions. Joseph Smith was born in Vermont, in 1805. His parents were religious people, his mother was very psychic, was always seeing visions, dreaming dreams, singing psalms, and telling fortunes. When quite a lad Joseph Smith was much troubled by religious doubts, when coming upon the text, "If any man lack wisdom let him ask of God," he retired into the woods and asked of God. A vision then appeared to him. "I saw a pillar," he says, "of light above the brightness of the sun which descended upon me. I felt myself delivered from my enemy, the devil. Thereupon two angelic beings appeared to me and told me that all the sects were wrong, that the religion of Jesus was the only true one, and that the sects who called themselves by his name had departed from it." So began a series of revelations upon which the Mormon Church was afterwards founded. According to Smith's own account he was sent to visit the hill of Amorah, thirty miles from Rochester city, there he dug and found a stone box, in the box were certain gold plates, inscribed with Egyptian writing, also a curious jewelled belt or breast-plate, containing sacred crystals for divination purposes. Three years running he visited this hill, and the fourth year he removed the gold plates, and with the aid of the sacred crystals translated the Egyptian letters. Two professors of Colombia College, New York, are said to have certified that the writing was Egyptian, and the translation fairly correct, but their testimony appears to be oral, and no copy of their certificate is forthcoming. After the translation had been made an angel took away the gold plates, which were only seen by Joseph and three other witnesses. Mr. Haweis says the evidence as to the gold plates is very weak, but the alternative theory as to how Smith got hold of the story has been finally exploded, and there is now no explanation to account for the book of Mormon on the hypothesis of fraud. The book of Mormon professes to be the history of two great races, the Nephites and the Lamanites, who occupied the north and the south of America. Some time after the beginning of the Christian era, the Lamanites rebelled against the Nephites, but some great natural catastrophe overwhelmed them. Jesus Christ appeared shortly after his resurrection to the Nephites, and founded the Transatlantic Church of Christ. For two hundred years they kept the faith and flourished, but the remnant of the Lamanites grew strong and multiplied, whilst the Nephites lost the purity of their faith, and become degenerate, and were overwhelmed with great slaughter. Just as they were perishing from the earth the Nephite general and prophet, Mormon, committed the records of his people to the care of Moroni, his son, together with the divination crystals. These Moroni buried in a stone box in the hill of Amorah, in the year A.D. 420, where it remained until it was found by Joseph Smith, 1,403 years after. Seven years later Joseph Smith founded the Church in the state of New York, from which they were expelled by mob violence. Then they removed to Ohio, but from there also they had to go westward to Missouri, where their numbers rose to 1,200. Joseph Smith is said to have performed many miracles, to have cast out devils, to have healed the sick, and even to have raised the dead. The evidence as to these miracles does not seem to be very strong, but there is one story which appears to have some intrinsic evidence of truth. One day Joseph Smith received a visit from a man who refused to go away until he had worked a miracle there and then for his edification. Smith refused, but the man was obdurate and remained, whereupon Smith turned sharply round and said, "Will you be struck dumb, deaf, or blind, whichever you choose, you shall have it?" It is recorded, says Mr. Haweis, that the man beat a hasty retreat in the utmost terror.
The preaching of the strange new gospel was attended by continual riots, but, notwithstanding all the persecutions of the mob, their numbers increased, and whenever Smith could get a fair hearing from mob, magistrates, or senators, he always scored. Even the troops that were sent to arrest him were impressed by his dignity and serenity. On one occasion they fell at his feet and with sobs implored him to pardon them for carrying out their instructions, seeing plainly that he was a holy man. After having been expelled from no less than nine different counties, the Mormons left the state of Missouri and formed a new city in Nauvoo, on the Mississippi, with a charter from Congress. For a time they prospered, then persecution set in again. Smith, although backed only by a Mormon constituency, became candidate for the presidency of the United States. Mr. Haweis maintains that whatever objections may be taken to their doctrine of polygamy, they were persecuted much more for their virtues than their vices. They were Abolitionists before any one else in America, and they were absolutely opposed to the political corruption which prevails so largely in American politics. But the third cause why they were so detested was the fact that they were advanced spiritualists, believing in manifestations, in messages from the dead, and all that sort of thing was tabooed as humbug or denounced as diabolical. Both in this respect and in their abolitionist principles, they were in advance of their age and suffered accordingly. He was arrested with fifteen others for violating the Constitution in destroying the office of a newspaper which had attacked him; he was charged with high treason, but on the eve of the day on which they were to have been tried the jail was burst open by an armed crowd, and Smith and his companions were shot down and killed by the crowd. "Now," says Mr. Haweis, "was Joseph Smith an imposter?" He answers the question as follows:—
His career appears, it must be confessed, remarkably free from those stains of impurity which so often mark the lives of unprincipled adventurers. His administration at Nauvoo was brilliant, successful, and uncorrupt. The people beneath his rule were quiet, honest, and industrious. The general tone of morality in the city (matrimonial premises being granted) was sound if not elevated. These are stubborn facts, and if a religion is to be known by its fruits, it would be difficult to ascribe the faith and works of the Mormons to a totally impure source or a grossly immoral prophet.
Did Smith lie when he reported his vision—lie when he declared himself in possession of the golden plates? Did he, or the three witnesses, ever see angels or the plates in anything but a vision? When Smith dictated the translation by the aid of Urim and Thummim behind a curtain, was he entranced? Did he practise automatic writing, or believe himself moved to prophesy, or was he a conscious fraud all the time?
These are questions which it may be easier to answer favourably to Smith now than it would have been sixty years ago. Of late days, mainly through the energy of Mr. Stead, the Psychical Society, Dr. Charcot, and a crowd of hypnotists, as they are now called, we have become somewhat wearisomely familiar with the phenomena of trances, visions, apparitions and materialisations, clairaudience, clairvoyance, suggestion, automatic writing, faith healing, and Christian science. With the aid of these abnormal addenda of occult scence—now vouched for by Mr. Crookes, by Mr. Wallace, our oldest, and Mr. Oliver Lodge, our youngest scientist of first-class repute—it would, I think, not be difficult to make out a fair case for the integrity of Joseph Smith. Such an explanation would not, probably, satisfy the Saints, but it has at least the merit of clearing their prophet's character in the eyes of the outside world.
It is now, I suppose, evident that some people have remarkable visions, which, however subjective they may be in reality, appear to them at the time objective, as indeed do all dreams while they last.
It is also certain that by suggestion others can be got to see and feel what those in hypnotic rapport with them see and feel, and no one can read the life of Joseph Smith without strongly suspecting that those who were much with him began to see and feel verv much what he said or thought he saw and felt. The extraordinary and often half-paralysing fascination he exercised over everyone with whom he had the opportunity of conversing, may probably be referred, in a measure, to the same cause; indeed, at times, and with some people, we are all of us more or less mesmeric and hypnotised.
I myself am disposed to believe that Smith, finding himself subject to abnormal influences and in possession of extraordinary powers which he did not understand and could not always control, sometimes attempted miracles that failed, whilst at other times he succeeded. The effects reduced upon him by his visions, and the real powers he exercised, fully convinced him that he was an anointed prophet, and in possession of divine gifts. and being convinced himself he not unnaturally convinced others. The phenomenon is by no means rare, it is, indeed, of everyday occurrence. The phenomenal foundations of Mormonism, in fact, differ, if at all, only in eccentricity and device from the psychic phenomena which accompany all religious revivals from the days of the apostles to the Anabaptists of Munster and the Irvingite tongues.
Beyond this point we need not follow him. I have said enough to indicate the light which Mr. Haweis throws upon a very remarkable episode in the history of America. The psychic idea of Mormonism has not certainly, hitherto, received the attention which it would appear from Mr. Haweis's book it certainly deserves.
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