quotes regarding Joseph Smith’s seerstone from The Refiner’s Fire

quotes regarding Joseph Smith’s seerstone from The Refiner’s Fire

All of the following comes from The Refiner’s Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844, by John L. Brooke. Page numbers will be [bracketed], and any further references given by Brooke to back up his statements will be in (parentheses).


The Smith’s spiritual world did not include organized religion, but it did apparently include treasure-divining. During the Mormons’ Kirtland, Ohio, years, Joseph Sr. would claim to have been divining for treasure for thirty years, presumably since the first decade of the century…. Divining was one way to wealth, commerce was another, and Joseph Sr. apparently tried them in quick succession at the turn of the century. Years later, both he and his son Joseph would be immersed in the lure of divining in the Palmyra region, and in the 1830s, as the Mormon church faced financial crisis in Kirtland, Joseph Jr. turned first to divining and then to banking. [139]

In addition to working the family farm and probably helping in the copper shop, a trade handed down among the Smiths from Topsfield days, Joseph joined his older brothers in working as a seasonal laborer, harvesting crops, building fences, and digging wells to build a cash reserve to cover the farm mortgage…. With that of his father, the influence of his peers and employers shaped Joseph’s fascination with divining for hidden things. [151] (Joseph Ketts, Rites of Passage: Adolescence in America, 1790-Present; Richard Bushman, Joseph Smith, 59, 82, 84; Larry Porter, “The Church in New York and Pennsylvania, 1816-1831,” in F. Mark McKiernan et al., eds., The Restoration Movement: Essays in Mormon History, 31; Willard Chase affidavit, in Rodger Anderson, Joseph Smith’s New York Reputation Reexamined, 120-6)

Joseph Smith learned divining lore from his father and also from Luman Walter, who lived to the north in the town of Sodus. Walter arrived in Ontario County some time after August of 1818, when he escaped from jail in Hillsborough County, New Hampshire, having been convicted of a charge of “imposing himself upon the credulity of people in this vicinity, by a pretended knowledge of magic, palmistry, conjuration, &c.”…. Just as Joseph Stafford {a Tiverton almanac writer, doctor, and fortune teller, who brought the divining culture to northern Ontario County. Joseph Smith lived on Stafford street, named for relatives of Joseph Stafford, in northwest Manchester [151]– jj} combined the occult with medicine and handed his knowledge down to subsequent generations, medical knowledge ran in {Walter’s} family, which included an Indian herbalist and a Thompsonian botanical doctor. The magical orbit of the Smith family in Ontario County was thus filled with influences running back to the various sectarian-occult traditions of the late-seventeenth-century migrations. [152] (Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism, 53-111)

Joseph Smith Jr. used three seer-stones during his divining years. He apparently found the first of these, described as “a whitish opaque stone,” in September 1819, by borrowing Sally Chase’s green glass; he found his favorite stone, a brown one, while he and his brothers were digging a well for the Chases in 1822. Sometime after 1825, while in the Susquehanna Valley, he was given a green stone by one Jack Belcher, a diviner and salt digger. [152] (Quinn, Early Mormonism, 38-41)

There are many accounts of Joseph Jr.’s gift with the seer-stone. In one story, Smith himself described his discovery of his first, white stone in mystical, even Masonic, terms. Looking in Sally Chase’s glass, he saw the stone a hundred and fifty miles away, buried under a tree. “It soon became luminous, and dazzled his eyes, and after a short time it became as intense as the mid-day sun.” Digging up the stone after an arduous journey, Smith related that he “placed it in his hat, and discovered that time, place, and distance were annihilated; that all intervening obstacles were removed, and that he possessed one of the attributes of Deity, an All-Seeing Eye.” If the stone that gave Joseph the “second sight,” perhaps bordering on the divine powers of the hermetic magus, this sight was put to mundane purposes. Pomeroy Tucker wrote that Joseph used the stone for fortune-telling and divining for stolen property; Martin Harris described Joseph’s divining for a lost pin in a pile of wooden shavings, with the stone and his face buried in “an old white hat.” William Stafford recounted going with the Smiths to dig for “two or three kegs of gold and silver” near their farmhouse; while Joseph Sr. laid out the ritual circles of hazel sticks and the central steel rod, muttered appropriate incantations, and “enjoined” the crew to silence, Joseph Jr. remained in the house, “looking in his stone and watching the motions of the evil spirit.” [152-3] (Quotations from Martin Harris interview, originally published in Tiffany’s Monthy V, May 1859, reprinted in Francis W. Kirkham, ed., A New Witness for Christ in America: The Book of Mormon, rev.ed., 2:377; and from William Stafford affidavit, in Anderson, Joseph Smith’s New York Reputation Reexamined, 144. Also see W.D. Purple’s reminiscences, Norwich Chenango Union, May 3, 1877, republished in Walker, ed., Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism, 333-4; Tucker, Mormonism, 20; and Walker, ed., Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism, 233)

By 1825 a well-defined group of participants in the Smiths’ money-digging ventures had emerged. According to Martin Harris, “There was a company there in that neighborhood, who were digging for money supposed to have been hidden by the ancients…. They dug for money in Manchester, Palmyra, also in Pennsylvania, and in other places.” Peter Ingersoll claimed that he “had frequent invitations to join their company, but always declined being one of their number.” But on one occasion he did join in working the mineral rod with Joseph Sr., being “at leisure” while his oxen were feeding. When the elder Smith challenged him for his skepticism, Ingersoll “thought it best to conceal my feelings, preferring to appear the dupe of credulity, than to expose myself to his resentment.” Family and neighborhood and broader peer group provided the recruits and an audience with varying levels of belief. [153] (Lists of the money-diggers are given in the Harris interview, in Kirkham, edl, New Witness, 2:377, and Tucker, Mormonism, 38-39. For Peter Ingersoll, see affidavit, in Anderson, Joseph Smith’s New York Reputation Reexamined, 134-8)