Ep 187 – The Entheogenic Origins of Mormonism: A Working Hypothesis pt.2

On this episode, we continue reading through our recently published article in the Journal of Psychedelics Studies titled “The Entheogenic Origins of Mormonism: A Working Hypothesis”. In this segment of the paper, we discuss many candidate entheogens Joseph Smith may have employed in the early church as well as the symptomology commonly associated with these various candidates. Also discussed is Luman Walters, an occult mentor of Joseph Smith in the 1820s. We utilize the information established in the candidate psychedelics section to inform a discussion of the first-vision experience in the early 1820s. An entheogenic-lens offers an interesting view into certain passages in the Book of Mormon including multiple instances of death and rebirth symbology, easily interpreted as the common experience of ego-dissolution when using entheogens. Further, the therapeutic effects of mitigating PTSD and depression symptoms may have provided a unique allure to these plant medicines by Joseph, the entire Smith family, and the early Mormons.

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Today’s episode is part 2 of reading through The Entheogenic Origins of Mormonism: A Working Hypothesis. Part 1 constructed an overview of psychedelics in various occult and esoteric practices, the Smith family’s proficiency with manipulating various plant medicines, Joseph Smith’s fascination with ritualistic practices which often included entheogens, as well as a framework for a few candidate entheogens include amanita muscaria mushrooms, ergot fungi, and datura. Part 2 begins with various magical mentors of Joseph Smith, including Luman Walters who, after his brief affiliation with Mormonism, made his living from selling plants and herbs as medicine, gaining the label of physician and surgeon while operating his apothecary storefront. That section transitions into the many other botanical physicians Smith surrounded himself with throughout his ministry including Frederick G. Williams, Willard Richards, and John C. Bennett. The remainder of the paper dives deep into candidate entheogens, their psychoactive profile, effects, symptoms, and internally perceived effects. That basis of information is used to transition into the “first vision” experience of Joseph Smith in the early 1820s and what can be understood from his self-reported theophany when viewed through the psychedelic lens. This portion we’re reading on today’s podcast ends with the long-lasting and therapeutic effects of entheogens and why they may have had a certain appeal to Joseph Smith in light of his upbringing and childhood trauma. Of course, you’ll find a link to the entire paper in the show notes if you’d like to read along or read it for yourself. With permission from the Journal of Psychedelic Studies and the other authors of the paper, let’s get started.

Luman Walters, Occultist and eclectic physician

Mormon scholar and historian Michael Quinn (1998) reviewed the historical record about Luman Walters (1789–1860), who was an accomplished physician, preacher, and magician. Through his travels and scientific training in France, Germany, and Italy, Walters became an “eclectic” physician whose practices involved occult techniques that included the administration of medicinal herbs he processed in his well-stocked laboratory. Walters was an exceptionally qualified mentor. During Joseph Smith’s teen years and early twenties, Walters utilized his occult training as an astrologer and seer for treasure companies, one of which was a “fraternity” of rodsmen, with Joseph Sr. as one of the leading members. During this period, Walters was young Joseph’s “constant companion and bosom friend” and given Smith’s extraordinary level of intelligence, he readily received Walters’ teachings and eventually exceeded his skills as a conjurer and scryer (Cole, 1831).

Esoteric practice

Walters used a seer stone, conjuration, animal sacrifice, and likely a hallucinogen to occasion “interview with the spirit, supposed to have the custody of [a particular] hidden treasure” (Quinn, 1998). It was Walters who “first suggested to Joseph the idea of finding a book.” Occasionally, Walters could be found reading to a receptive audience from an “old book” in a language that only he could understand and prophesied that Joseph Jr. “was about to find ::: a history of hidden treasures” and a “record of the former inhabitants of America” (Cole, 1831; Morgan, 2014). Joseph Jr. was chosen as a treasure seer by the same company that had hired Walters, leaving him angry and resentful (Kane, 1995). Residents believed Walters’ mantle fell on the young Joseph. While acting as a seer for this company, Smith announced that he found golden plates containing a history of Amerindian ancestors, from which he subsequently “translated” The Book of Mormon. Smith used a seer stone to translate, and we hypothesize an entheogen; the use of the latter is suggested by reports of his frequent “intoxication” or “altered” appearance while translating. Luman Walters and Joseph reconciled because Walters was later reported to be a “disciple” of Joseph Smith in Kirtland, Ohio, suggesting Walters’ direct impact on Mormon visionary experience could extend into the early Kirtland period at least (Quinn, 1998, p. 131). Walters likely received his esoteric training, including alchemical-drug expertise while studying in Europe (see below). The esoteric physician’s involvement in Mormonism was confirmed by Brigham Young, one of Joseph Smith’s successors (Young, 1858). Joseph Smith’s alchemical-masonic amulet suggests Walter’s drug-alchemical influence in Smith’s early career (see below).

Medical practice

Walters’ medical practice fared much better than his seership duties. He secured his medical reputation by curing a child of severe “croup” after traditional physicians had, in despair, given up. Croup was “the common term for every affection of the windpipe,” stridor that produced a high-pitched crowing sound on exhalation. Porter (1826) notes that antiphlogistics (anti-inflammatories) were used by all physicians of the period, as were opium (Papaver somniferum) and Atropa belladonna and D. stramonium, both of which contain hallucinogenic anticholinergic alkaloids (Hartshorne, 1855). Operating his laboratory, Walters could isolate the active anticholinergic component of the Datura plant as an extract or a tincture. He would know the appropriate doses to treat: respiratory diseases such as asthma, cough-variant asthma, and to relieve pain from sciatica, menstruation, and cancer (Benich & Carek, 2011). Datura was well known, and “Indeed, so closely does it resemble belladonna, that even, in the intoxication which it produces, the same follies are committed.” The effects of this plant are well-known in some parts of Europe, and the plant was vulgarly called “Herbe aux Sorciers” (Thomson, 1832) and was “commonly connected with witchcraft, death, and horror” (Folkard, 1884). Walters undoubtedly used anticholinergics such as A. belladonna, D. stramonium, and Hyoscyamus niger as treatments and knew of their use as visionary substances. He may have also known the antidepressant properties of anticholinergic-facilitated experience and used these medicines to treat melancholy (Drevets, Zarate, & Furey, 2013). Further suggesting that Walters prescribed psychoactives is a statement in the following report in the Geneva (NY) Times,

“In the olden days, roots, herbs and vegetables were considered highly essential as medicine for nervous disorders by a number of physicians. Among the early physicians to use these ingredients in his prescriptions for nervous disorders was Dr. Luman Walters, a noted physician and surgeon who practiced in the village of Gorham over a half-century ago” (Anon., 1929).

Walters would have brought from Europe the medical and occult books from which he taught and perhaps loaned to the Smiths. Anyone with access to The Magus, such as Walters and the Smiths did, would read recipes describing hallucinogenic anticholinergics, or “herbs of the spirits” that could be smoked, used orally, dermally, or intravaginally. Ceremonial magicians in both Europe and America used visionary substances. Dale Pendell notes that included in John Porta’s book Natural Magick, published in 1558, “a number of recipes both for sleeping potions and madness potions, using stramonium (Datura), belladonna, and henbane. Natural Magick was an immediate best-seller” (Pendell, 2005, p. 244). Weirus includes “nightshade” in his visionary formula. Although nightshade can be a generic term for members of the Solanaceae family, including the Solanum genus of food plants such as tomato, potato, and eggplant, it could also be a term for highly toxic Bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara), or woody nightshade, with purple and yellow flowers and red ovoid berries (Evens & Stellpflug, 2012).

Frederick G. Williams, Apothecary

One early convert to Mormonism living in Kirtland was a second-generation German immigrant named Frederick G. Williams. Born in October 1787, Williams took up the practice of medicine around 1816 after the death of his sister-in-law during childbirth. Williams gravitated towards Thomsonianism medicine and was frequently called an “herbal” or “vegetable” doctor. However, Williams (2012) did not limit his practice to herbal medicine; his skill set included setting fractured bones, suturing wounds, and treating burns, cholera, venereal disease, and delivering newborns (Williams, 2012, pp. 10, 15, 159, 162, 167). If Williams followed Samuel Thomson’s (1841) Materia Medica, which was in its 13th edition, he would have given enemas to assist with childbirth (p. 698), and if needed, given a tea consisting of raspberry leaves and “No. 2,” the later signifying the class of medicinal stimulants found in London and Edinburgh Dispensatories (p. 115). Since 1822, ergot of rye was thought “to be the most efficacious remedy in cases of protracted labor and excessive hemorrhage” and by 1838, was “was available in every dispensary in London” (Bauer, 1838, p.479). Favoring herbs himself, Smith had great sympathy for this branch of medical practice. Soon after his induction into the religion, Smith appointed Williams to the office of Second Counselor to the Prophet, Smith’s scribe, and printer for church publications. As a physician, Williams was “universally known through this country as an eminent and skillful man” saving Samuel Smith’s wife in childbearing and reviving the newborn child (Williams, 1972). Fellow physicians living in Nauvoo used ergot in the obstetrical practices and we have no reason to believe that Williams’ skills were any different.

Indian Mission

One aspect of Williams’ involvement in early Mormonism was his mission journey to proselytize to the Native Americans from late 1830–1831. Joseph Smith revealed to Oliver Cowdery and three other Elders they were to commence their missionary efforts to the Lamanite, as Smith called Native Americans Indians (Smith, 1833, p. 68) and scout the location for a satellite “stake” (or congregation) to be organized in Missouri. During this journey, the missionaries met Williams, and he joined the group to meet with, and proselytize to, the Natives near modern Kansas City, Missouri, in a Native settlement known as Kaw Township. For a botanically centric physician, an opportunity to meet with the so-called “Lamanites” and intermingle knowledge of herb craft and mysticism with the people who had been using American plants for millennia would have been an exciting prospect. Dr. Williams’ medical practice later reflects this newfound knowledge of “Indian medicine,” as evidenced by multiple advertisements Williams published in the Quincy Whig from 1839 to 1842 (Williams, 2012, p. 169). The overwhelming logistical constraints of supplying scores or hundreds of Mormons on multiple occasions with various plant medicines could have been satisfied by an experienced Thomsonian Botanical physician like Frederick G. Williams, with his herbarium. As evidence of their close fraternity, Joseph Smith named one of his children after Frederick G. Williams. Smith had a strong and previously unremarked tendency to draw physicians close to him and place them in positions of close confidence. Smith began his career as a seer with botanical physician Luman Walters as his mentor, and later made Frederick Williams one of his top two or three confidants. In the early 1830s, Smith ordained him his counselor in the newly organized First Presidency. In the early 1840s, he made physician Willard Richards an apostle and his private secretary. Also, around the same time, he made physician John Cook Bennett a counselor in the First Presidency and arguably his right-hand man and closest companion in the early 1840s.

Let’s break this down for a minute. The influence of John C. Bennett and Willard Richards on Joseph Smith in Nauvoo is quite notable. I, however, take a particular interest in Frederick G. Williams. We’ve discussed him a bit on this show and devoted an entire episode to just Williams when he passed away from our timeline. Not only was he an herbal physician with an herbarium on either side of his house, as noted by Eber D. Howe in Mormonism Unvailed, but he was also one of the earliest converts to the church, was a counselor in the first presidency, one of the first missionaries, the Kirtland temple was built partially on his land, and he was Joseph Smith’s scribe personally penning nearly 100 of Joseph’s revelations. This guy was always next to Joseph throughout the majority of Smith’s ministry. Also, when Joseph Smith moved to Kirtland in early 1831, Frederick G. Williams split his time between the Kirtland headquarters and Zion in Missouri. Due to being absent, somebody had to keep running his herbarium, and Joseph Sr. was given the job. Sr. continued to control the herbarium for most of the time they lived in Kirtland until the mass exodus to Missouri in 1838. Why is Frederick G. Williams so paramount to the Smith-entheogen theory? He seems like the guy. If Joseph Smith was facilitating visionary and mystical experiences using psychedelics, he alone could have scavenged or cultivated the necessary plants in the earliest days of the church. However, as the church grew, so did Smith’s daily duties and the time required to scavenge the forest for, or personally cultivate, enough plant materials would have grown pretty thin. Smith needed a regular supplier who could provide entheogenic materials year-round. So, Williams, who owned greenhouses on his farm right next to the temple was immediately elevated to the second-highest governing body in the church and Joseph Sr. takes over the greenhouse operation. Williams had the knowhow and land to provide the necessary plant medicines, as would have Joseph Sr., and the early Kirtland church suddenly had access to a nearly limitless supply of ecstatic and spiritual experiences. Nobody would dispute that of the visionary era of Joseph Smith Mormonism, Kirtland was the most visionary where these phenomena make the most frequent and incredible appearances and Smith seemed to have yet to learn that these practices are better conducted in secret. Also worth noting, Williams and his wife, Rebecca, were incessant record-keepers. Williams’s ledger books, while they don’t provide his recipes or standard practices, reveal a small window into what services and products he provided to the Mormons. In addition to sewing up Hyrum Smith’s arm after a wood-chopping accident, Williams provided medicine for all sorts of maladies. One of his products, of which he seems to have sold a lot in Nauvoo, was “bachelor’s delight”. What bachelors delight was is up for speculation but a few different classes of plant medicine could fit the criteria and would have come particularly in handy for Nauvoo polygamy. It could be as simple as a pain cure for venereal disease, or it could have been an aphrodisiac, abortifacient, or used to render a person’s sober faculties, inhibitions, or memory less effective. I’ll let you, dear listener, consider the purposes for those drugs. All said, Williams certainly is a crucial piece to the Smith-entheogen theory but it should also be noted that he wasn’t the only herbal physician in Mormon leadership and certainly not in the wider common membership. Williams’s age took a toll on him and he died soon after the exodus from Missouri to Nauvoo. By that time Joseph Smith had other botanical physicians in his closest circle including Willard Richards and John C. Bennett, who’s long been the focus of accusations concerning abortions in Nauvoo especially due to him owning a brothel in the city before the membership were fed up with him and his brothel and tossed the building into a ditch. For roughly 20 months, Joseph Smith and John C. Bennett were inseparable and even shared the same Nauvoo home for over a year, taking meals together, attending meetings together, preaching from the same pulpits, and riding around town in the same carriages together. Smith always had an herbal physician within arm’s reach.


The availability of entheogenic material to the Smith family and their ability to process and utilize it are foundational to our thesis of an entheogenic early Mormonism. Sources of entheogens available to the Smith family and other herbalists interested in divination, visions, and spiritual ecstasies included D. stramonium, A. muscaria variation guessowii, Psilocybe ovoideocystidiata, and C. purpurea. Moreover, with established trade networks extending into southwestern Texas, Smith Joseph Smith potentially had access to two additional entheogens, Lophophora williamsii and Incilius alvarius.

D. stramonium and H. niger

Two prominent members of the Solanaceae plant family were available in the areas the Smith family domiciled, D. stramonium (Jimson weed or Jamestown weed) and H. niger (Black henbane). The Drug Enforcement Administration (2013) reports datura plants growing wild, as ornamentals, and in herbal gardens throughout much of the United States from the northeastern states to Texas; and the USDA plant database shows both D. stramonium and H. niger growing in extensive areas across the entire Northeastern states and other areas in the country. Both plants contain the tropane alkaloid deliriants atropine, hyoscyamine, and scopolamine and are among the oldest medicines known to humankind (Sweta & Lakshmi, 2015); physicians used them since antiquity as effective medicinals in Eurasia (Alizadeh, Moshiri, Alizadeh, & Balali-Mood, 2014), and early post-colonial America (Ashe, 1808; Coxe, 1827, pp. 209–210). Datura, for example, was used for its analgesic, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, and antihelmintic properties (Soni, Siddiqui, Dwivedi, & Soni, 2012). Antithetically, 19th-century clinicians reported successfully treating a case of a chronic delusional state with a 10-day course of carefully prescribed D. stramonium (Sigmond, 1849). Magico-religious practitioners also used hyoscyamine and scopolamine since antiquity (Muller, 1998), primarily to facilitate visions and ecstasies during divinatory and shamanic healing ceremonies, religious rituals, and witchcraft (Busia & Heckels, 2006; Keller & Kane, 1967). Anticholinergics were also used as an anesthetic by the Greek physician, Pediacus Dioscorides (c. 40 – 90 AD), and noted by the Roman encyclopedist, Aulus Celcus (c. 25 BC – c. 50 AD). In the earliest attempts at general anesthesia, wine extractions of the bark of the root of mandrake, and the seeds of opium and henbane were used to cause “dead sleep” so the patient “not apprehend the pain” of surgery (Carter, 1996). The properties of datura were also well-known among colonials living in 18th-century Boston (Meyers, 2011, p. 40). During the 1676 rebellion by Virginia settlers, “hungry [British] soldiers consumed the plant and then hallucinated for eleven days” (p. 58). This same symptomology will return in 1830–1831 Kirtland.

P. ovoideocystidiata

P. ovoideocystidiata (Figure 15) mushroom ranges from Rhode Island to Kentucky and is especially common in the Ohio River valley (Guzmán, Gaines, & Ramírez-Guillén, 2007). These mushrooms are usually harvested from April to mid-June but sometimes persist into late September or early November and have a farinaceous or flour-like taste, possibly making ground-up mushroom concealable in bread. Psilocybin-containing mushrooms have different pharmacology than A. muscaria and historically are a major entheogen in cultures worldwide. When ingested, psilocybin content of these mushrooms is dephosphorylated into the psychoactive compound psilocin, explaining why these fungi “have been exploited for their psychotropic effects since prehistoric times” (Guzman, 2009). Psilocybe species mushrooms are best known for their entheogenic use in pre-Columbian Mexico, where they were used at least the last 2,000 years. Psilocybe mushroom use extends back to 6000 BP in Europe and to 7000 BP in Africa (Ruiz, Piper, & Ruck, 2011).

Amanita muscaria

A. muscaria var. guessowii mushrooms, such as the one shown growing near Kirtland, Ohio in Figure 16, are widely distributed in the woodlands and forests of Northeastern America, where it is recognizable by its yellow to yellow– orange cap with remnants of the universal veil forming white scales and a skirt about its stem (Ostry, Anderson, & O’Brien, 2010). It fruits in enormous quantities, often attaining dinner-plate size, and can be found growing in a circle or “fairy ring” around its host tree. The fairy ring can be striking in appearance, especially as the mushroom matures and takes on a golden color, enhanced by the early morning or evening light (Heinrich, 2002, plate 36). The cap contains ibotenic acid and muscimol, with the more hallucinogenic and less toxic muscimol content increasing as the mushroom dries. A. muscaria may be the oldest entheogen known with some believing its use began after the “last Ice Age in the northern Eurasian forest belt [and] spread north following the retreating polar ice cap, approximately 11,000 B.P.” (HajicekDobberstein, 1995. p. 100) and used as an entheogen by Siberian shaman for millennia (Lee, Dukan, & Milne, 2018). Further, Indo-European speaking groups developed “a vocabulary pertaining to its shamanic use” followed centuries later by the “priests of the Vedic culture [who] sang hymns in praise of Soma the god, the sacred plant and the sacred drink pressed from the plant” (Ibid). It appears from the 2nd to the 9th-century CE among “Buddhist adepts ::: [who] may have been ingesting this mushroom” as an entheogen (Ibid). A. muscaria use appears in alchemy, Christianity, and among free and adept masons; we argue that it appears in the dreams and visions of the Joseph Smith family.

C. purpurea (ergot and mushroom)

The physicians Luman Walters, Frederic G. Williams, and John C. Bennett (see below) may have provided Joseph Smith with visionary ergot. In Figure 17, soft white sphacelia (tissue) is producing sugary or honey-tasting honeydew (Shelley, 1995). The darkly colored sclerotium in Figure 18, when mature, drops to the ground. When there is moisture, ergot on the ground germinates, forming mushroom-like fruiting bodies (stromas) with stipes and heads of various colors in Figure 19. The non-water-soluble ergopeptine alkaloids “were the agents responsible for the recurring plagues of ergotism known throughout European history” (Webster, Perrine, & Ruck, 2000, p. 8). The same alkaloids were used by physicians since the 16th century to stimulate uterine contraction to hasten childbirth, to stop post-partum hemorrhage, or to induce abortion (Scarborough, 1971). Use of ergot for these purposes included 1840s Nauvoo, Illinois where it was available to Mormon physicians. William Shelley (1995) argues that ergot use as an entheogen can be “traced through the Greco-Roman World, through the worship of Mithra and the Hebrew Scriptures into the activities of the early Christians and from there to the ‘hidden tradition’ of alchemy’” (Marshall, 1999). Water-soluble psychoactive alkaloids from C. purpurea (ergot) include ergonovine and methylergonovine (Webster et al., 2000, p. 2). These alkaloids are believed to constitute the kykeon elixir of the greater Greek Eleusinian mysteries (Wasson et al., 2008). Peter Webster argues that “Greek priests could easily have harvested enough ergot [0.5 kg] from the nearby barley fields [to serve] 1000 Eleusis participants” (Webster et al., 2000, p. 8).

“Hierophantic priests might well have discovered how to achieve partial hydrolysis of the most toxic alkaloids of C. purpurea, resulting in an extract of ergot containing a blend of psychedelic[s] ::: eliminat[ing] the toxic ergopeptine alkaloids, converting them to psychoactive ergine and isoergine ::: closely similar to the Aztec’s ololiuqui” (Ibid, p. 7), LSD, or psilocybin (Wasson, Kramrish, Ott, & Ruck, 1986).

The life cycle of ergot lends itself to allegory in esoteric Judeo-Christian as it does in spiritual alchemy and masonry. For instance, the manna which Moses said came from heaven tastes “like wafers [made] with honey” (Exodus 16:14, “KJV”), a description consistent with ergot’s honeydew stage. While undetected ergot infects bread and causes disease, water-soluble alkaloids can be added to bread, making it an entheogenic Hebrew sacrament. Consistent with entheogenic use of ergot, Moses tells the tribes of Israel that manna is “the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat” (Exodus 16:15), a theme echoed in the Christian era when Jesus says here is the “bread of life” (John 6:30, “KJV”). Figure 20 shows frame from the ca. 1200 Great Canterbury Salter, in Canterbury, England, titled “God Creates Plants” showing God with four mushroom-appearing figures below him; all five figures have uplifted hands seeming to mirror each other. This medieval salter reveals esoteric Christianity’s fascination with entheogenic mushrooms. In this figure, God appears to wear an A. muscaria cap showing its gill side down, while the left-most figure appears to be a stylized Psilocybe mushroom and the farright figure appears to represent the stromata of an ergot fungus sclerotium. The dark, purplish sclerotium in Figure 18 that has replaced a grain of rye will remain dormant for an extended time if harvested, or fall to the ground. The grounded sclerotium will eventually be moistened by rain or irrigation and produce stroma resembling tiny mushrooms in Figure 19, while Figure 21 is an enlargement of a stroma showing its yellowish-red stippled head comparable to the head of the rightmost mushroom figure in the salter frame. A Mason and early Mormon convert, John C. Bennett, was a practicing physician and obstetrician. There is circumstantial evidence that Bennett, accused of administering “medicine” to induce abortion, was familiar with the medical uses of ergot (Hedges & Smith, 2010). Luman Walters or Frederick G. Williams likely had the education and practical training to cultivate, harvest, and prepare the psychoactive materials associated with ergot for the Kirtland temple. Bennett would have been qualified to safely prepare visionary ergot as a ceremonial entheogen in the Nauvoo temple.

L. williamsii (peyote)

During the period of Indian Removal beginning in 1830, Native Americans living east of the Mississippi River passed through Nauvoo on their way to their seasonal hunting grounds. Potawatomi delegations, also often including members of the Fox and Sauk nations, visited Joseph Smith between April 18 and August 28 of 1843 (discussed below). The purpose of these negotiations is not altogether clear to historians. However, as we will see, the negotiations probably involved Joseph Smith giving valuable and sacred property to the Potawatomi without apparent gain to Smith in return. We suggest that Joseph Smith may have negotiated with Native Americans for the delivery of peyote to Nauvoo for the Nauvoo temple endowment. Peyote (L. williamsii) in Figure 22 grows along the Mexican–Texas border and has been used in Native American magico-religious ceremonies for millennia (Bruhn, De Smet, El-Seedi, & Beck, 2002). “Indians regard the [peyote] as a panacea in medicine, a source of inspiration. Moreover, [it is] the key which opens to him all the glories of another world” (Stewart, 1974, 1987). In aboriginal time, the peyote cult was among the Uto-Aztecan tribes (Slotkin, 1955, p. 203), and perhaps even earlier “in the Mesoamerican and Greater Southwest cultural superareas” (Ibid, p. 204), and among “tribes adjacent to those of the United States: Pima, Opata, Jumano, Lagunero, and Coahuilteco” (Ibid, pp. 206–207). The diffusion of peyotism northeastward occurred in stages beginning to the “Old Peyote Complex” of Mexico before the Spaniards arrived in the 16th century, eventually culminating in the Plains Indian Peyote Religion in the late 19th century (Slotkin, 1955, p. 28; Troike, 1962). The map in Figure 23 shows the location of the peyote beds (dark gray) and the Indian tribes (light gray) who were practicing peyotism before 1800 (Slotkin, 1955, p. 207). When Joseph Smith sent Lyman Wight to Texas to establish Mormon colonies, he would have been in contact with both the source of peyote and Native Americans expert in its use. After the Spaniards took control of what is now Mexico in 1571, peyote cults were suppressed by priests of the Catholic Inquisition, who nearly eradicated peyote rituals. An Inquisition document of 1620 outlines Catholic opposition to the ancient Amerindian religion and its peyote sacrament:

“ ::: peyote has been introduced into these provinces for the purposes of detecting thefts, of divining other happenings and of foretelling future events, it is an act of superstition, condemned—as opposed to the purity and integrity of our Holy Catholic faith. The fantasies suggest the intervention of the Devil, the real authority of this vice” (Rudgley, 1993, p. 75).

Peyote cult recovery first took place among the Huichol (discussed below) and Tarahumara tribes. Peyote use among Mescaleros and Lipan Apache likely had its origin in the late 18th century with “the Apache making one ritual complex from features selected from the totality of the Mexican and Spanish religious and ceremonial life they knew” (Stewart, 1948, pp. 35–36). Also, Åke Hultkrantz (1997, p. 31) argued there are “reasons to assume that Mexican tribal Peyote ritualism constituted the transition to the Plains Peyote rite, and thereby to the modern Peyote religion” with intermediates being the Comanche, Kiowa, and Kiowa Apache. Further, there is evidence of peyote use by Lipan Apache in the 1770s. It would be naive to believe that Plains Indians shaman, medicine men, or doctors would not have been interested in peyote long before the establishment of Peyote religion. Why would Joseph Smith be interested in peyote that requires an overland journey of 1,300 miles through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Indian Territory before arriving in the peyote fields? We suggest that Smith heard of “aspects of peyotism” and its visionary properties as information made its way east, until in 1835, there were “European [peyote] cactus fanciers” (Slotkin, 1955, p. 208).

Typifying Native American’s feelings about peyote, Comanchero war chief Quanah Parker once spoke of the advantage peyote offered Native American religion over those in the United States:

The white man goes into his church house and talks about Jesus, but the Indian goes into his tipi and talks to Jesus” ::: [and the Indians received] “their inspiration from the Great Father, while the white man [received] his through the book they have.” (Hagan, 1995, p. 56)

Joseph Smith, who had promised converts visions of God, would have been naturally interested in the ceremonial use of peyote for Mormon rituals. Below we discuss evidence he sought to obtain peyote.

Incilius alvarius (Sonoran Desert toad)

One of the most dramatic religious experiences found in the “Tree of Life” dream accounts reported by Joseph Sr. and recorded in The Book of Mormon by Joseph Jr. may be facilitated by smoking parotid gland secretions of the Sonoran Desert toad (I. alvarius) shown in Figure 24 and found in the same general area as peyote (see Figures 23 and 25 below). According to Lyttle, Goldstein, and Gartz (1996),

“Bufo toad (and related genera) has held a place in humanity’s archaic consciousness since time immemorial. The earliest representations of Bufo toads (and toads generally) go back thousands of years. The appearance of toad-based artifacts is prehistoric were portrayed in ancient pictographs, paintings, and sculpture” (p. 268).

Secretions harvested from the parotid glands of I. alvarius are rich in highly entheogenic 5-MeODMT (Barsuglia et al. 2018; Griffiths, 2018). Evidence suggests that 5-MeO-DMT, harvested from I. alvarious, was an entheogen used by the Olmec, Mayan and especially the Aztec civilizations where “Aztec icons focus in great detail on the Bufo toad’s parotid glands, which contain substances that may be trance inducing” (Lyttle et al., 1996, p. 269). The I. alvarius in Figure 24 bears a striking resemblance to preColumbian stone toad effigies such as the toad effigy with the Mayan Sun-God carved on its back from Northern Guatemala or Southeastern Mexico, in Figure 26, and the stone pipe toad effigy from the Ohio Hopewell Culture in Figure 27.

Early critics of Mormonism linked magical toads with Joseph Smith. For instance, a neighbor of the Smiths, Willard Chase, reported that in 1827, Joseph Smith’s father related the following story: Some years ago a spirit had appeared to Joseph, his son, in a vision, and informed him that in a certain place there was a record on plates of gold ::: [and that] he must repair to the place where was deposited this manuscript ::: [Joseph Smith repaired to the place] opened the box, and in it saw the book, and ::: something like a toad (Howe, 1834, p. 242) The subsequent transformation of the toad described by Chase strongly suggests an entheogenic source for this vision. Further, in 1830, the year Joseph Smith finished his “translation” of the “plates of gold,” his occult mentor, Luman Walters reportedly possessed a stuffed toad (Quinn, 1998, p. 117), a common familiar of a conjurer (Ermacora, 2017). Walters, who traveled in Europe, would have known the toad’s magical and possibly hallucinogenic properties. According to Lyttle et al. (1996), the more “purely psychedelic applications of the Bufo toad had to do with the so-called toad stone, supposedly found in the head [parotid gland?] of the Bufo toad ::: In 1644 [France], Boetious de Boot, in his Parfait Joallier [Perfect Jeweler], described ‘the toad stone’ alleged ‘to exist in the toads head ::: another sure talisman for obtaining perfect Earthly happiness.’” The twice mentioned “toad” during the production of The Book of Mormon suggests the remote possibility that Smith employed a toad entheogen in its writing. Further, the happiness mentioned by Boetious de Boot is a significant sequela of many early Mormon visions discussed below. For Joseph Smith to have used toad 5-MeO-DMT, it would have had to been smoked or snuffed. Further, I. alvarius entheogen would have had to be transported from Southwest Texas (Figure 25) along existing Indian trade routes into the American Northeast (Tanner, 1996, see map by Sanderson Associates). Peyote, found in Texas (Figure 25), retains its potency (2% mescaline) over thousands of years (Terry, Steelman, Guilderson, Dering, & Rowe, 2006), while5-MeO-DMT retains its potency over a much shorter period. Although no literature indicated how long and at what temperatures, 5-MeO-DMT remains active, if it is like is cousin, N, N-dimethyltryptamine, its salts retain their potency significantly longer than when kept in solution. Presuming this entheogen remained active between harvesting, arrival in the Midwest, and use, a stuffed toad with 5-MeO-DMT could easily supply the needs of a magician or seer for a prolonged period or a small congregation of believers for a year. Further 5-MeO-DMT would be an attractive entheogen for Joseph Smith due to its immediate and profound antidepressant properties (Davis, So, Lancelotta, Barsuglia, & Griffiths, 2018). Had Joseph Smith known the features of entheogenic toad venom, he would have undoubtedly arranged for its procurement and transport to Nauvoo in the 1840s. Further, in 1844, Joseph Smith instructed fellow Mormons to settle the region surrounding the Rio Grande River. One follower, Lyman Wight (referenced below) went to Midwestern Texas to form the Mormon colony of Zodiac (Langford & Bandera, 2003), a site within easy traveling distance to both the peyote beds and the Sonoran Deseret Toad catchment area. Figure 25 also shows the area where the distribution of L. williamsii and Native American expertise in peyote sacraments and medicine overlapped with the proposed Mormon territory.

These are our primary candidates of entheogens in this Smith-entheogen theory. We can demonstrate access to most of them and people moved around America and traded objects and commodities with surprising speed in the 19th-century. When I was introducing the paper in last week’s episode I said that we’re taking a bit of a shotgun approach, this is where that shotgun approach comes into play. We have our shining candidates of Datura and Amanita Muscaria, those would be our best arguments. However, with this paper we’re trying to put forward more good arguments instead of fewer best arguments. For example, the sonoran desert toad is pretty tough to demonstrate Smith could possibly have access to it beyond Luman Walters having a stuffed toad when he was Smith’s mentor and the possibility of the spirit guardian of the plates starting as a toad which transformed into an angel and threw Smith a few rods from the location of the entombed plates. There can be no mistake that Luman Walters had a heavy influence on Joseph Smith at this time and he represents the primary candidate for occult instructor who would have educated Smith on the occult uses of entheogens. This is primarily where the hexing herbs or witching ointments come into play. Datura, Henbane, Mandrake, Hemlock, most of these are nightshades but they all fall under the category of witching ointments or hexing herbs for their frequent implementation in esoteric practices. The occult philosophers of the day, Ebenzer Sibley, Francis Barret, Henry Cornelius Agrippa, all of these writers devoted extensive portions of their occult books to the use of herbs, all of which included something about these very specific plants with a very specific psychoactive profile. They could be smoked to aid in conjuration, prophecy, divination, spirit communication, and all these esoteric arts. They could be infused in a topical ointment for healings, or astral projection, inserted into the anus or vagina to fly through the celestial spheres unknown to uninitiated eyes. These plants were tools to see a world our mortal eyes can’t comprehend. Let’s talk briefly about peyote as well. Peyote has a fascinating history in European-American culture. It was harvested and sold across the nation throughout the majority of the 19th century largely via indigenous tribes. It has a fascinating medicinal profile with very few negative external symptoms both during the dosage effectiveness time space and after. Peyote likely only made its appearance in Smith’s psychoactive toolbox near the very end of his life as his meetings with Native Americans became more frequent from 1841 to 1844. He also commissioned various missionaries to make their way to Texas to scope out a location for a new Mormon settlement on the Rio Grande, which is the only place in America the peyote cactus grows. Lucian Woodworth returned from this mission with intel and a larger settlement expedition was planned at Smith’s direction and he tasked Lyman Wight with the task. Smith died in June of 1844 before Lyman Wight could carry out the mission, but Wight still created the Mormon settlement just north of San Antonio on the Pedernales River, which was only a week’s long journey to ride to the Rio Grande, harvest peyote buttons, and return to Zodiac which could then supply other Mormon settlements via the Pedernales to the Colorado River and over land from that point. We have no documentation stating explicitly that Wight’s mission to Texas had the intention of creating a peyote highway but the location and timing of Lyman Wight’s settlement mission sure present and interesting prospect when viewed through the Smith-entheogen lens. It is also notable that Joseph Smith’s grandson, Frederick M. Smith, who was prophet of the RLDS from 1915 to 1945, wrote his doctoral thesis on ecstatic and spiritual experiences which included and entire chapter on peyote. He was also a relatively frequent user of the psychedelic throughout his life. That’s getting a little ahead of the story because we flesh it out near the conclusion of the paper so let’s continue and get there when we get there.


We have discussed mentors for Joseph Smith, which we believe knew entheogens and employed them in his mentoring. Overwhelming childhood trauma suffered by Joseph Smith facilitated his formation as a shaman prophet of a successful new religion, enabling the use of entheogens to their maximum religious potential.

Unimaginable childhood trauma

Groesbeck (1990, 2004, 2005), a Jungian trained psychiatrist, has argued that the shamanic-healer archetype aptly describes Joseph Smith’s personality structure. Groesbeck, who studied with a Huichol shaman, agreed with Mircea Eliade (1964) that the shaman’s role and function depended on their techniques of facilitating ecstasy. According to Eliade, a shamanic healer’s abilities in ecstasy or trance, to enter “into contact with divine or semidivine beings” (p. 84) and to “consort with the dead with impunity” (p. 214), generally resulted from severe trauma during early life. This shamanic complex and its archetypal pattern result from a severe illness early in life and strenuous ordeals (Groesbeck, 1975, 1989). Joseph endured such an ordeal at age 7 when stricken with life-and limb-threatening osteomyelitis secondary to typhoid fever (Adams, 2013; Morain, 1998, 2013; Wirthlin, 1981). In a horrific and prolonged ordeal, the young Joseph Smith (1833) suffered multiple exquisitely painful surgical procedures without the benefit of anesthesia or sedation. One might get a sense of what this 7-year-old boy must have endured in a revealing revelation: I [God] command you [to] repent, lest I smite you ::: and your sufferings be sore. How sore you know not! How exquisite you know not! Yea, how hard to bear you know not! (Smith, 1833, p. 23) The appalling nature of young Joseph’s surgeries, documented by physician LeRoy Wirthlin, is incomprehensible except to those who have experienced them (Wirthlin, 1981). William Morain, a surgeon with a Mormon background, describes how the terror of such painful surgical assaults creates dissociative injuries within a child’s developing brain that become “an integral part of the psyche that can permeate all corners of [his] mind forever” (Morain, 2013). However, severe childhood trauma does not explain his ability to facilitate en masse visionary experience; and does not explain the anticholinergic symptoms associated with his own early visions and many early convert visions reported to have occurred between 1830 and 1831 as discussed below.


Joseph Smith Jr. had visionary experiences in his spiritual quests that display several specific features. Analysis of these accounts and the features of his experiences provide data to support the hypothesis he deliberately employed entheogenic substances.

1820: The first vision

At 14 (Smith, 1838) or 15 years of age (Smith, 1832), Joseph Smith Jr. embarked on a spiritual quest. Like the alchemical “philosophers” before him, one object of his quest was “wisdom” (Smith, 1838, 1843). Joseph Smith’s later revelation “the Word of Wisdom” reflects the view that taking the proper things into one’s body – avoiding addictants and using “every herb in the season thereof” would enable the seeker to “find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures” (D&C 89). Before he went into the grove in 1820 or 1821 to obtain wisdom, already three powerful precedents directed Joseph to seek wisdom through what he ate. First, he had a prototype for his quest in the story of Adam and Eve, who acquired wisdom by what they ate (Genesis 3:6, 22, “KJV”). Next, the search for wisdom had also been modeled for him by the Christian alchemists and Freemasons, who sought wisdom through the philosopher’s stone, the Bible’s “white stone,” and by partaking of the elixir, the “hidden manna” of the Book of Revelation, which also promised that “to him that overcometh” the gift to “eat of the tree of life” (Revelation 2:7, 17, “KJV”). Also, finally, the quest for wisdom was more immediately modeled for the young Joseph by the elder Joseph, his father, who had been instructed through prophetic dreams how he could gain wisdom. Here again, the model was that one could acquire wisdom by what one ate. Joseph Smith’s spiritual quest is a continuation of his father’s – a quest for Christ’s “primitive church” for temporal and spiritual salvation, and wisdom. Joseph Jr. reported that a quest for “wisdom” was his motivation for going to a grove of trees where, at the age of 15, he experienced his first vision (Smith, 1839–1841, pp. 2–3). In what Lucy Mack Smith similarly called Joseph Smith Sr.’s “first vision,” Joseph Sr. began a quest for wisdom and forgiveness of sins by journeying into a fallen wood. He was told, “eat,” of certain edible materials found on a fallen tree, and informed, “[this] will make you wise, and give unto you wisdom and understanding” (Smith, L. M., 1853, p. 57). It would be remarkable if the younger Joseph’s quest for “wisdom” were not informed by the visions of his father. Joseph Jr. should, therefore, have expected that to obtain wisdom, he also would need to “eat” something provided by God. However, where would he acquire the necessary entheogenic foods? Here again, his father’s vision showed the way. Joseph Jr. sought his visionary experience in the clearing in “early spring” (Smith, 1839–1841, p. 3), the precise time when plants would be sprouting and entheogenic mushrooms could begin to be harvested amid the dead timber. Joseph, a firm believer in providence, saw divine purposes in nature’s provision of various herbs and perceived God’s “hand in all things,” the minute details of life (D&C 59:21; 8,9:10–11; Bradley, 2019, pp. 186–188). After seeking a physical landscape for his own “first vision” quest for wisdom that actualized the dreamscape of his father’s “first vision” wisdom quest, what did Joseph intend to do when he arrived if not to follow the commandment given to his father in his vision, to obtain wisdom? Against the backdrop of the biblical Adam and Eve story, the Masonic-biblical promises of “hidden manna,” and the visionary commandment to his father to acquire wisdom by eating what God placed on the dead timber, Joseph Jr. was primed to perceive entheogenic plants and mushrooms at the culminating moment of his search for wisdom as a providence auguring that he needed to eat to obtain wisdom and of what he needed to eat to become wise. Another potential clue to what Joseph Jr. needed to eat to gain wisdom was the biblical description of it as the “hidden manna.” The original biblical manna, appearing in the story of Moses’s Exodus, was described in Joseph’s King James Bible (“KJV”) as round edible objects found on the ground in the morning (Exodus 16:13–15). If Smith expected the “hidden manna” to take a similar form, he would have found obvious candidates all around him in the spot where he sought wisdom, growing on and hidden under the fallen trees of his father’s clearing. Early in the spring morning, Joseph Jr. knelt under a canopy of oaks, birch, and hemlock, to petition God’s forgiveness of his sins. The accounts of the ensuing vision compiled by Mormon writer Eldon Watson (1983, see also Harper, 2002, 2016) reveal the problematic mentation and peripheral symptoms secondary to the onset of what Burkhart (2004) identifies as anticholinergic hallucinogen intoxication. At the onset of his theophany, Joseph (cited in Watson, 1983) reported he: – Saw all kinds of improper pictures; – [Was] seized upon by some power which entirely overcame [him]; – [Was blinded as] thick darkness gathered around [him]; – His tongue ::: cleaved to [the] roof [of his mouth] so that [he] could not speak; – He heard a noise behind [him] like someone walking towards [him]; – He sprang upon [his] feet and looked round but saw no person. – [Was] ready to sink into despair and abandon [himself] to destruction, not to an imaginary ruin but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world [with such] marvelous power as I had never ::: felt in any being (see also Harper, 2012).

Anticholinergic toxidrome

Had Joseph been taken to a local physician of the period during the initial phase of intoxication, the diagnosis of poisoning with a member of the Solanaceae family, such as Black Henbane (H. niger) or D. stramonium would have easily been made (“Communications”, 1811; Copland, Darwall, & Conolly, 1826, pp. 422–423; Jonasson & Afshari, 2016; Thornton, 1811, pp. 55–61; W, 1833). Similar clinical features can also present with poisoning by the A. muscaria mushroom (Burkhart, 2004, p. 691; Cahill, 2003; RolstonCregler, 2017). Ibotenic acid (pantherine and agarine) and muscimol are among the active components of A. muscaria, substances that with powerful effects on the central nervous system. Although tropanic alkaloids are not present, the signs and symptoms of poisoning with the fly agaric are called “mycoatropinic,” and they resemble those produced by D. stramonium, A. belladonna, and H. niger (Satora, Pach, Butryn, Hydzik, & Balicka- lusarczyk, 2005). The symptoms Smith experienced related to those of the anticholinergic or mycoatropinic toxidrome were: hypertension and hyperthermia, agitated hallucinations, delirium and strange mental states, slurred speech, tremors, coma, and occasionally seizures, tachycardia and dysrhythmias, dry and flushed skin – especially the face-dilated pupils, mydriasis, and blurred vision, and dry mouth. These symptoms constitute one of five basic toxidromes (Omar, & Foxworth, 2014). Features of the anticholinergic toxidrome in Joseph’s accounts of his first vision include being rendered “blind as a bat” (mydriasis, blurred vision), “mad as a hatter” (altered mental status, delusional paranoia, and hallucinations), and “dry as a bone” (dry mucous membranes), and a duration of intoxication lasting several hours or more. Paralysis associated with D. stramonium is also reported (Anon., 1811). Young Joseph either understood the sublethal, visionary dose or was lucky, since coma and death may ensue in severe poisonings of D. stramonium (Le Garff, Delannoy, Mesli, Hédouin, & Tournel, 2016) and A. muscaria (MikaszewskaSokolewiczi, et al., 2016). From Eldon Watson’s (1983) textural harmony of Joseph Smith’s first vision, we learn that just as Joseph was anticipating ego dissolution and imminent death, a “light appeared to ::: gradually descending towards him” until he was “surrounded by a brilliant light” creating “a peculiar sensation throughout his whole system” and causing “his mind” to be “caught away from the natural objects with which he was surrounded; and he was enwrapped in a heavenly vision.” In the vision, Joseph’s profound sense of guilt was assuaged as an angel appeared (the Lord) and assured him that his sins were forgiven. Then, “when I came to myself again,” Joseph explained, “I found myself lying on [my] back looking up into Heaven ::: without any strength ::: [but with a] mind in a state of calmness and peace, indescribable.” Joseph added, “my Soul was filled with love and for many days. I could rejoice with great Joy, and the Lord was with me.” Table 1 compares the relationship between Smith’s symptomatology and those of the anticholinergic syndrome. Joseph Jr.’s description of his first vision is profoundly personal and unlikely to have been manufactured due to embarrassing symptoms diagnostic of anticholinergic intoxication he later attempted to hide or contextualize. Further confirming that Joseph was in a visibly physically altered condition after his initial recovery from the visionary state, he reports that upon his reentry into his family home, his mother asked him, “What is the matter?” (Smith, L. M., 1853, p. 133). Similar symptoms also appeared during Mormon convert visionary experience when Joseph Smith founded his Church in 1830 (referenced below). The positive symptoms associated with Joseph’s vision also suggest the known antidepressant effects of scopolamine (from D. stramonium or Black Henbane) or possibly muscimol from Amanita muscaria. Scopolamine “produces rapid and significant symptom improvement in patients with depression” (Witkin et al., 2014), similar to the afterglow phenomenon of classic entheogens (Maji´c, Schmidt, & Gallinat, 2015). A feature of Smith’s “first vision” experience that cries out for explanation is its stark tangibility and experienced veridicality. He emerged from his experience of the demonic and the divine convinced of the actuality of the beings he had encountered: “But exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction, not to an imaginary ruin but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world who had such a marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being ::: I had actually seen a light and in the midst of that light I saw two personages, and they did, in reality, speak unto me” (Smith, 1839–1841, p. 4). Smith either found himself bound by an “actual being” and then “actually saw” a light, or there were neurophysiological changes in his brain and body that facilitated their perception. Even if Smith is understood to have encountered external spiritual forces, one would have to explain what physiological changes facilitated his ability to physically engage with entities that cannot usually be seen or felt. Entheogenic D. stramonium explains how Joseph Smith perceived his engagement with spiritual forces as an actual physical encounter. A high dose of psilocybin would have provided the mind-opening, cosmological, transformative, and disintegrating/reintegrating aspects of the experience, while D. stramonium would have given the experience of another reality, initially in the grips of a terrifyingly, physically real evil being. Unbeknownst to Joseph Smith, as for the mythical Adam and Eve, eating the “forbidden fruit” entailed an experience of evil in tangible form (Satan/the serpent) to obtain wisdom – that is to experience the “deepest abyss” besides “commune with God” (Smith, 1977, p. 137). Smith also acted the part of an alchemist transmuting or “transfiguring” his physical state to enable himself to find wisdom through the visionary experience of both good and evil, Satan and God. It is also possible that Joseph Smith used P. ovoideocystidiata or another species of psilocybin-containing mushroom, although this is less likely than an anticholinergic entheogen based solely on the symptomology. We mention the possibility of P. ovoideocystidiata use here because this mushroom can be found from Rhode Island to Kentucky and is especially prevalent in the Ohio River Valley (Allen, Gartz, Molter, & Sihanonth, 2009; Guzmán et al., 2007), where it grows on wood debris, especially along rivers, streams, and wet valley areas such as the Sacred Grove. The Sacred Grove hosts a great variety of fungi, besides A. muscaria due to it residing in a small valley of seasonally wet and cooler terrain. On two visits to the Sacred Grove before the conception of an entheogenic origin of Mormonism, one author (RB) found abundant mushrooms of several varieties, including one in Figure 28. The photographed mushroom in the sacred grove appears suspiciously like a Psilocybe species mushroom in Figure 29; unfortunately, no field-testing for the typical blue reaction to pressure was conducted.

We talk a lot about the Kirtland Temple Dedication ceremony as being the entheogenic crux of Smith’s ministry but we can’t ignore the signals present in his self-reported visionary experiences. For anybody who’s had an ego-dissolution level of entheogenic experience, they can certainly empathize with what Smith reported as happening during his vision experience. Many will argue about what he actually saw during the vision as the reported spirit conjurations vary from account to account. It initially appears as an angel, then legion of angels, then the face of God, then god the father and Jesus Christ in corporeal form. These details are incidental when viewed in the larger context of hallucinatory experiences as the physiological symptoms are relatively consistent throughout and most detailed in the latest account. Smith claimed he was physically pinned by a being, his tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth, his vision was blurred, a pillar of white, he woke up lying on his back and enfeebled by the experience. All of these are very common symptoms of witching ointment intoxication. Every detail in his accounts can be explained by him eating Datura seeds or some red-capped mushrooms which grow prolifically in that area of New England. Did the first vision happen in 1820? 1821? 1823? Did he see angels, god, or god and Jesus? These questions only matter within the belief system and historical narrative of the correlated church’s claim. Frankly, when viewing these claims and historical discrepancies through an entheogenic lens, none of those questions really matter because the two points of consistency throughout the various accounts are the time of year, the autumnal equinox, and the self-reported symptoms which perfectly match anticholinergic symptomology. What’s more, entheogen use can help to explain the discrepancies in the self-reported vision. Entheogenic hallucinations are inherently squishy and hard to remember, but leave a truly remarkable impact on the mind of the user. The term ineffability is best to describe what is perceived when proper dose, set, and setting variable are adhered to because the experiences defy description. Smith clearly had a life-changing experience, what we might call theophany, in that grove, but when he tried to describe it to eager questioners years after the fact, details of the vision become blurry and timelines become vague, while the gravity of the experience still retains its weight. Ask anybody to describe their trip immediately after it happens and they won’t have the words. Ask them a year after, they might have figured something out but words will still escape them. Ask them 20 years down the road and they’ll remember how profound the experience was, but still will struggle to find words. Few people have been able to apply words to these incredible experiences. I would recommend to you listeners to watch a lecture or media appearance by Terrence McKenna. He uses incredibly loaded spiritual language to describe the experiences and his voice has the ability to lull the viewer into a trance, but few others have I ever seen or read such profound and accurate descriptions of these experiences which transcend religious creeds and simplistic biblical terminology that confined Joseph when relating his experiences to different people and different times in his life.

Entheogenic replication of Smith’s first vision

Many examples of entheogenic experiences are reported in peer-reviewed literature and on the internet that bear a striking similarity to those of Joseph Smith. For example, religious historian Huston Smith initiation into “ultimate reality” was occasioned by a psilocybin-containing mushroom. Huston reports:

What the day accomplished, ::: was to enable me for the first time to experience the respective levels of the Chain [of Being], all the way to its top. The dominant effects of the experience were two: awe (which I had known conceptually as the distinctive religious emotion but had never before experienced so intensely) and certainty. There was no doubting that the Reality I experienced was ultimate. That conviction has remained. (2001, p. 126)

In the same year (1961), Huston ingested peyote cactus and reported: “I noted mounting tension in my body that turned into tremors in my legs ::: I [began] experiencing ::: the clear, unbroken Light. I was now seeing ::: with the force of the sun, in comparison with which everyday experience reveals only flickering shadows in a dim cavern ::: [I saw] worlds within worlds” (2000, p. 11). Smith concluded that using entheogenic substances can occasion an experience with a form indistinguishable from those of the experiences of religious mystics. Heinrich (2002, pp. 201–203) ingested A. muscaria as the entheogenic facilitator and reported:
– I felt like I weighed thousands of pounds and could no longer sit up.
– [In] a great darkness and a great silence, the heavens opened above my head.
– The bliss I had experienced prior to this new revelation now paled to insignificance in an immensity of light that was also the purest love.
– The absolute profundity of the experience cannot be denied, neither can be adequately expressed, though one is moved to try.

Huston’s and Heinrich’s entheogenic reports reveal the core features of Smith’s earlier vision: an experience of physical heaviness, visual darkness, an awe-inspiring light from above, a voice out of heaven, experience with the unfathomable Godhead and feelings of unspeakable joy.

Joseph Smith’s actual first vision

His “actual first vision” and a vision of a divining instrument, a “seer stone,” initiated Joseph Smith’s career as a visionary scryer. Mormon historians connected this seer stone vision, in which Smith saw “a small stone :::[which] became luminous, and dazzled his eyes, and after a short time it became as intense as the mid-day sun,” with his theophanic “first vision,” linking the visions conceptually and placing them in roughly the same time frame (Bradley, 2010; Purple, 1877). Smith’s understanding of his white seer stone as the white stone of Revelation 2:17 also connects it with the white stone of Hiram Abiff and, therefore, the “hidden manna” mentioned in the Masonic degrees and thought to have been administered in the more esoteric versions of those degrees. It was from underneath of the acacia sprig, believed to be an entheogenic symbol in masonic lore, that Hiram Abiff’s remains and “jewel” were reportedly excavated (Bernard, 1829). Conflating “jewel” and “white stone,” Smith may have conceived of Hiram Abiff’s body and “white stone” being recovered together from under the tree. The acacia marking the burial site of Hiram Abiff’s body and “jewel” is understood in freemasonry as a “tree of life” (referenced below). Joseph Smith reported excavating under a tree to find his white stone, recalling the excavation of Hiram’s white stone under the acacia tree. After recovering this stone, Joseph Smith placed it in the darkness of his hat, looked into it, and discovered that he had acquired “one of the attributes of Deity, an All-Seeing Eye” (Bradley, 2010; Purple, 1877) reflecting another probable occasion on which he ate from an entheogenic plant. Joseph Smith, eating from such “tree of life” anticipated The Book of Mormon’s descriptions of an entheogenic “tree of life,” discussed below.

1823 Indian visions

Joseph Smith’s next vision in 1823 is notable for the post-vision weakness and its ancestral Amerindian content. The many ancestral Amerindian tumuli found and excavated in New York and Ohio undoubtedly fascinated the young Joseph, as did the widely held belief that Amerindians were the remnants of Lost Tribes of Israel. However, as he had 3 years previously, Joseph’s vision was preceded by fervently asking forgiveness of his sins. When the vision opened, a brilliant light appeared; and in the light, Joseph claimed that he saw an angel, identified as an ancestral Amerindian, with whom he spent the entire night. “I discovered a light appearing ::: until the room was lighter than at noonday, when immediately a personage appeared at my bedside, standing in the air::: his whole person was glorious beyond description, and his countenance truly like lightning. The room was exceedingly light ::: When I first looked upon him, I was afraid. [And he] said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent” (Smith, 1830, front piece). Following these visions, Joseph arose to work on the family farm but on meeting his father in the field, “found [his] strength so exhausted as to render [him] entirely unable” to labor.


Several lines of evidence in The Book of Mormon suggest Joseph Smith’s awareness of psychedelics and their effects. The Book of Mormon functioned as sacred scripture and acted as a psychopomp for early Mormon converts seeking direct and personal experience with God under the influence of entheogenic material. Consistent with this view, Mormon Jungian psychiatrist Groesbeck (2004) argues for The Book of Mormon as “symbolic history.” We suggest that passages in The Book of Mormon and other early Mormon sacred writings guide spiritual experiences as outlined by Leary, Metzner, and Alpert (1964) in discussing the Tibetan Book of the Dead – to establish a setting for predisposing early Mormon converts to direct and personal experience with God through spiritual ecstasies. Another aspect of the set and setting of early Mormon visionary experience is Joseph Smith himself – as the archetypal shaman. Leary et al. (1964) emphasize the need for “a trusted person ::: to remind and refresh the memory of the voyager during the experience.” Smith was that trusted person. Herbs, although not frequently mentioned in The Book of Mormon, are highly endorsed as medicines explicitly and entheogenic substances implicitly. For instance, The Book of Mormon speaks of the “excellent qualities of the many plants and roots which God had prepared to remove the cause of diseases” (Smith, 1830, p. 353). We argue here that Smith, in The Book of Mormon, intended to reference not only the treatment of bodily diseases but also maladies of the soul. While traditional herbs may be useful for treating ailments relating to the body, it is the entheogenic herbs that lift the mood and relieve despair, as demonstrated after partaking of unusual fruit described in Joseph Sr.’s entheogenic dream discussed above and in The Book of Mormon tree of life allegory discussed below. Also, in The Book of Mormon, Smith associates the use of herbs with symptomatology such as
– death-like experience lasting days rather than hours,
– symptoms resulting in sensations of tongue swelling,
– sensations of motions,
– taste of light,
– enlightenment, and
– mood elevation.

These symptoms, in our view, demonstrate that Smith encoded his entheogenic knowledge ~~encoded~~ in The Book of Mormon.

Death and rebirth symbology (ego death)

Mormon historian Don Bradley (2019) interprets that Joseph Smith’s first vision is an initiation or endowment transforming an unaccomplished young man from an improvised family into religious royalty as a seer and prophet. We argued here that Smith’s first vision, facilitated by an entheogen, corresponds to similar royal entheogen-infused death and rebirth initiation rituals. Knight and Lomas (1996) explain:

The new king would have undergone ‘death’ by means of a potion administered to him by the high priest in the gathering of the inner group of the holders of the royal secrets. This drug would have been a hallucinogenic that slowly induced a catatonic state, leaving the new king, as inert as a corpse. (p. 145)

An entheogenic initiation of this nature would change the thoughts and feelings previously held by the new king. Two Book of Mormon narratives reflect entheogen-infused royal initiation rites discussed by Knight and Lomas. In the first narrative, after being chastised for unrighteousness,

[The King] fell unto the earth, as if he were dead ::: for the space of two days ::: under the power of God ::: and the light which did light up his mind ::: had infused such joy into his soul (276-7) [and similarly, the Queen then arose and] ::: cried ::: O blessed Jesus::: [clasping] her hands, being filled with joy. (pp. 278–279)

In the second narrative, the son of a Prophet King unprepared to succeed him on the throne is reprimanded by his father. In this account, the son reported:

I fell to the earth; and it was for the space of three days and three nights, that I could not open my mouth; neither had I the use of my limbs::: I [thought] that I could ::: become extinct both soul and body ::: [after three days and three nights] I cried within my heart, 0 Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, ::: and when I thought this, ::: I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more. And 0, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain. (pp. 324–325)

These remarkable narratives in The Book of Mormon parallel the first-vision accounts given by Joseph Smith supporting the thesis that his first vision was an entheogen-infused initiation. In his first vision,
1. Smith felt profound guilt and shame associated with his sin (Smith, J., 1832, p. 6),
2. He was in mortal fear of “sudden destruction” (Smith, J., 1839–1841, p. 3),
3. When Smith came to himself, he “was sprawling on [his] back and it was some time before [his] strength returned” (Smith, J., 1842, p. 748).
4. Afterward, he had feelings of “calmness and peace, indescribable” (Pratt, 1840, p. 7).

We suggest that more than coincidence, Joseph Smith’s first vision, The Book of Mormon death and rebirth accounts parallel Knight and Lomas’ entheogen-infused royal initiation rite. It seems reasonable to conclude that Smith’s experience and The Book of Mormon accounts were related to esotericism and entheogens.


One feature of visionary experiences reported in The Book of Mormon, synesthesia (the stimulation of one sense modality provoking sensation in another) strongly suggests the effect of an ingested entheogen. In The Book of Mormon, Joseph informs the convert that after ingesting the seed of the fruit of the tree, they should expect it to feel “swelling” within the chest closely followed by “swelling motions.” After the onset of the swelling motions, Smith informed converts to expect the appearance of light that “enlightens the understanding” so the “mind doth begin to expand,” i.e., experiences the desired psychedelic properties of the seed. This mind expansion is accompanied, according to Smith, by the taste of light suggesting the phenomena of psychedelic associated synesthesia: “when you feel these swelling motions ::: it beginneth to be delicious ::: ye have tasted this light” (Smith, 1830, pp. 315–316). Two examples will be most relevant here: Lehi’s dream of the tree of life and Alma’s parable of a seed that grows into a tree of life. Joseph Jr. inserts into The Book of Mormon a vision of an Edenic tree its fruit, and upon ingesting it, the profound experience of the love of God – nearly identical to his father’s Edenic vision in 1811 (Smith, 1830, pp. 18–21). Another probable reference to synesthetic bodily symptoms in the text of The Book of Mormon appears in a parable by the prophet Alma comparing God’s word to a seed. The parable describes the cultivation of a plant from seed, ultimately to a full-grown tree revealed to be, like Lehi’s, “a tree of life” bearing fruit.

Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me. (Smith, 1830, p. 315)

The effects of cultivating this seed expand the mind, enlarge the soul, stimulate the taste of light, and produce inexpressible joy and happiness. In these passages, Joseph Smith encapsulated the very meaning of the current meanings of “psychedelic” and “entheogen.” More importantly, at least as far as Joseph Smith is concerned, the reader of The Book of Mormon is invited in this passage to experience the same psychedelic or entheogenic enlightenment, synesthesia, and transformation as he had.

Mood elevation

Descriptions of the visionary dreams of Joseph Smith’s father, and his first vision, his Indian visions, and early Mormon visions in Kirtland Ohio (discussed below) manifest mood-elevating properties. The mood-elevating effects of entheogens are well established: eventually, they will be one modality of managing treatment-resistant depression (see articles in Winkelman & Sessa, 2019). The antidepressant effects of psychedelic experience suggest motivational salience for entheogen use throughout history and specifically in the Smith family to facilitate visionary experience and as antidepressants. La Barre (1947) observed that Native American peyote use in religious confessionals provided a primitive form of psychotherapy. Similarly, the mood-elevating sequelae of Joseph Smith’s use of entheogens in early Mormon rituals and confessionals was practical psychotherapy for early Mormons; and likely unconscious salience for conversion to Mormonism and convert resilience during the hardships of Mormon diasporas.

That’s where we’ll leave off this section of reading through our paper from the Journal of Psychedelic Studies titled The Entheogenic Origins of Mormonism: A Working Hypothesis. I know these episodes have been relatively long when compared to our historical timeline episodes, but the topic is obviously quite dense and requires this much detail to begin to introduce such massive concepts. In many ways, this paper attempts to bring to fields of academia together where they’ve scarcely been conjoined before. The field of Mormon history is a rich and exciting field of academia, as is psychedelics research, but the two fields rarely have any shared ground upon which to cooperate. We feel the primary purpose of this paper is to introduce an interdisciplinary approach to Mormon history. Psychedelics researchers rarely study Mormon history and the same is true of the inverse, which we feel is a disservice when the founding documents of Mormonism can help explain entheogenic origins to many world religions with less available documents and the field of psychedelics can help explain previously inexplicable aspects of early Mormon history. There is shared ground where these fields can coexist, it just takes a sizeable treatise to do it. Therefore, I apologize if this isn’t what you come to this show for and you’re bored with the topic or it just isn’t up your alley of interest. For those of you still here, there’s still much more to discuss and the third episode of reading this paper will be the longest yet as the show script is already 4 pages longer than these previous two episodes. However, part 3 will dive into the nitty gritty of Kirtland-era visionary Mormonism, the evolution in Nauvoo, and the legacy left behind by this entheogenic religion before finally drawing a short conclusion calling on more historians and scholars to seriously consider this aspect of Mormon history and conduct their own research to add to the overall Smith-entheogen theory which is largely in its infant stages right now. I’ll also say thank you to those of you who are listening all the way through these episodes. My being able to put these out on the Naked Mormonism feed has allowed not only time to travel to visit family during the holidays, but opened up time to do other research into Mormon Money in light of the recent revelations concerning Ensign Peak Advisors and the church stockpiling $100b. So, if you want Mormon history but aren’t as interested in psychedelics, I’d encourage you to check the latest episodes of the Glass Box Podcast to scratch that itch and understand the recent media outrage in a deeper context. Thank you for listening.

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