Mormons and witchcraft

Wiccan pentacleAs the most sacred holiday for witches is upon us, I thought I would write a little of what I know about the intersection between Mormonism and witchcraft. First, let me state the obvious, that Mormons are not witches, and most Mormons probably don’t think much about witchcraft. In fact, most Mormons would probably be horrified to see me comparing Mormonism with witchcraft. Like Mormonism, witchcraft is a much maligned religion, but one that I greatly respect and admire for their nature-based and environmental theology. Comparing Mormonism to witchcraft is not as preposterous as it might at first seem, given that I understand that in predominantly-Mormon Utah, the majority of witches are former or sometimes even current Mormons. Evidently, there is something within witchcraft that appeals to a certain rare segment of Mormons or former Mormons.

The diverse pagan traditions we call witchcraft have been around for a very long time. It mostly had died-out by the 19th century, but in the early 20th century it experienced a rebirth in the form of Wicca and various related denominations, who tried to reconstruct the pagan faiths based on old traditions and records. At the time Joseph Smith founded Mormonism in 1830, the witchcraft theology had basically disappeared. But some of the magical elements of these traditions were carried forward in the form of folk religion practiced by believing Christians. Joseph Smith was part of that magical culture, though he was by no means a witch. He was, really, no different than countless of other rural Christians who practiced folk magic.

Though he did not think of it as witchcraft, Joseph Smith was not unfamiliar with things like spells, talismans, curses, and magic divining stones. For example, Smith used a “seer stone” to translate the Book of Mormon. Smith referred to this stone, and similar stones, by the biblical phrase “Urim and Thummim.” Smith taught that in the far future, residents of the glorified crystal earth would each receive such a stone whereby they will be able to know “things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms” (D&C 130:10). Smith, like countless others of his era who lived close to the earth and relied in part upon the cycles of nature for their survival, also evidently believed in astrology. One of Smith’s early revelations indicates that he also believed in dowsing. Smith’s connection to the magical practices of his era are fully explored in the groundbreaking but controversial work Early Mormonism and the Magic Worldview, by D. Michael Quinn (1998, Signature Books, ISBN 1560850892). These magical practices were still part of Christianity, not withcraft, but they represent a common folk tradition between the two faiths.

In addition to the magical elements of early Mormonism, there are superficial similarities between Mormonism and witchcraft on a theological level. Most practitioners of witchcraft recognize at least two gods, the Moon Goddess and the Horned God. Mormons, in addition to recognizing the male Christian Father, also recognize a Heavenly Mother. Thus, both traditions recognize male and female deities. But the theological similarities between Mormonism and witchcraft are rather superficial. Though heterodox in relation to traditional Christianity, Mormons came from that tradition, are still part of it, and have been working hard to find common ground with it. Though not trinitarian, Mormons still believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit of Christianity. Some Mormons believe that the Heavenly Mother is the Holy Spirit, but beliefs are varied. (See this 1980 Sunstone Magazine article for an overview of the Mormon Heavenly Mother doctrine.)

None of this is to say that Mormonism, especially modern Mormonism, is anything at all like witchcraft. But there are enough superficial similarities that Mormons ought to be sympathetic to witches. As much as I favor Mormon dialogue with traditional Christianity, I would also be on board for some sort of Mormon-witch dialogue.

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