Road to Carthage 3 - Voracity
On this episode, we examine debauchery and psychedelics in early Mormonism.
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
Try explaining the Mormon health code to skeptical non-Mormons; I dare you. This last weekend I had the opportunity to go camping with our quarantine buddies who’re fellow atheists but didn’t grow up in Mormonism. As we drank our mild drinks of barley and consumed some herbs in the season thereof, for a bit of entertainment we played the Book of Mormon musical soundtrack. After the first song they had dozens of questions about Mormon culture, praxis, and theology. We spent the rest of the evening doing this much to everybody’s amusement, especially yours truly. I always get a kick out of explaining deep Mormon stuff to people who know almost nothing about it.
Of course, at some point in the night, the conversation shifted to the Mormon health code, known as the Word of Wisdom. According to the Word of Wisdom, Mormons can’t drink hot drinks, which applies to coffee and tea because they have addictive caffeine, but not hot coco; they can’t drink cold coffee or cold tea because they’re brewed and have caffeine, but cold sugary soda with caffeine is acceptable because it isn’t brewed, even though it has caffeine. In the Word of Wisdom, mild drinks of barley are permitted, but beer is absolutely forbidden in Mormon culture. Wine of your own make is also permitted according to the text, but completely forbidden in Mormon culture. A largely vegetarian diet is encouraged and meat is only permitted sparingly when plant foods are out of season but most Mormons today are overweight with colons full of red meat. Also, tobacco is forbidden except for use on cattle and for rubbing on wounds, and this is one of the few things in Mormon culture that’s actually consistent with the text, but consuming herbs in the season thereof only refers to the seasonings you use on your steak and has nothing to do with herbal teas, medicinal plants, or therapeutic use of plants unless they’re in pill form from a doctor.
How do we explain these major inconsistencies from the word of wisdom’s text to modern practice? “We follow the guidance of modern prophets and the Word of Wisdom isn’t a commandment, it’s just wisdom.” This explanation only seems to confuse the uninitiated when they try to wrap their mind around it. Frankly, there are many teachings and practices in the modern church which don’t trace their roots to Mormon scripture, or if they do it’s often been changed so much so as to be nearly unrecognizable from the text. According to the text, Mormonism is socialistic, the Telestial kingdom is hell, great and spacious buildings are the very quintessence of evil, god is a singular eternal entity, black people can only go to heaven as slaves because of the curse, only the prophet has the powers of sealing, and guys need ten virgin wives to reach the highest level of the celestial kingdom. However, in modern Mormon culture, the Church is viciously capitalistic and probably the wealthiest religion in the world certainly in America, the Telestial kingdom is so good a person would kill themselves to get there, you can only get to heaven by doing special handshakes in one of the church-owned great and spacious buildings and the largest buildings in Utah are owned by the church, god isn’t so much the singular entity, but a member of the council of gods we can eventually join, black people can now go to heaven but they’re still cursed with dark skin, temple workers have the powers of sealing, and a guy gets excommunicated for practicing polygamy and excommunication means damnation. Truly, in order to learn about Mormonism, you’ll learn almost nothing about the modern practice by reading the standard scriptures. You have to be a member and attend for years before all the quirks and features of Mormon culture begin to come into focus.
And yes, it takes years. Mormons don’t cast their pearls before swine or teach the meat before the milk. New members can become very uncomfortable trying to learn these mannerisms and cultural interpretations of scripture because they’re playing bocce ball when everything in Mormonism is insider baseball. This insider knowledge trend is really highlighted when it comes to the history of the church. Information you learn in 7 hours of googling and reading or watching YouTube videos will teach you more Mormon history than decades in the church. An astute googler will have the upper hand on most lifelong members of the church in one afternoon.
With that in mind, today we’re going to focus on an aspect of Mormon history which gets relatively little attention. We hear in gospel doctrine class, seminary, and even in primary, the story of Joseph Smith refusing alcohol as a sedative for his leg surgery. This story is used as an example of how important it is to adhere to the Word of Wisdom’s prohibition on alcohol. Even Joseph Smith, before he was visited by the savior and heavenly father, knew how bad alcohol was, and then we talk about how the WoW came about and Emma’s disgust in cleaning up tobacco spit being the catalyst for the Word of Wisdom’s creation.
As is always the case when we learn little snippets of Mormon history in church, there’s always more to the story which renders these lessons completely untrue and reveals them to be the white-washed cult propaganda they really are.
As soon as we dig one layer beneath the surface of these stories, we find a long history of debauchery and intemperance by the prophet. I’ve also postulated on this podcast and with my co-authors on multiple papers that this intemperance became a structural and active ingredient in early Mormon spiritual practices.
We’ll start in the New York period of Joseph Smith’s life, and for this period I am going to work my way through all five volumes of historian Dan Vogel’s series of books called Early Mormon Documents. A huge thanks to long-time listener and supporter, Jay Mumford, for sending me this set early in my research career! All I’ve done is gone to the index of each volume and looked at the pages listed in the index for Joseph Smith’s use of alcohol. There are a lot of page numbers, and there are probably more than are actually listed in the index, because indexers miss things sometimes. But we’ll just work from the index, and that’s a place to get us started.
We could spend the entire episode talking just about Jo Sr.’s alcoholism. We already touched on this a few episodes ago so instead this is all about Jo and his church. Just keep in mind that alcohol abuse ran in the family. Joseph Smith Sr. was enough of a drunk that when he gave his son Hyrum a patriarchal blessing, it included the line, “Thou hast always stood by thy father, and reached forth the helping hand to lift him up when he was in affliction; and though he has been out of the way through wine, thou hast never forsaken him nor laughed him to scorn” (EMD 1:470). As Patriarch of the church and Patriarch of the Smith family, it’s clear Jo Sr. felt a certain guilt about his vices.
If we read deeper into the language there, the eldest brother Hyrum was the responsible adult of the household who picked up the slack for his alcoholic dad. By the way, it’s also interesting that the blessing implies that wine was his drink of choice, but I think this was just stylized biblical language. Most of the documentary evidence points to the Smiths drinking whiskey, cider, and beer. As we discussed a couple episodes ago, soon after the Smiths moved to New York, they started a pushcart business selling cake, cider, and beer. As a reporter described the family business after interviewing a bunch of Manchester residents in 1893, “On special days, at general musters, elections and political meetings, he turned out with the whole Smith family. They put their cheap merchandise on sale, with cakes, beer, hard cider and boiled eggs.” This same source goes on to say that Joe Jr. “was the chief vagabond of this New England gypsy family. Horses, whiskey, craft and story telling characterized his worldly career” (EMD 3:204).
This cake and beer sales business is only the tip of the iceberg. Let’s take a look at general statements by Smiths’ neighbors about them being drinkers, and then we can move to specifics for this period. One 1833 statement signed by 11 Manchester, New York neighbors says the Smiths “were not only a lazy, indolent set of men, but also intemperate” (EMD 2:19). In the lingo of the day, intemperate means they drank excessively, as opposed to the temperance movements working to abolish alcohol which wouldn’t be successful for another century after these statements were made. The term “intemperance” will come up a lot today. Another 1833 statement, signed by 51 residents of Palmyra New York, said the Smiths, and Joe in particular, “were destitute of moral character, and addicted to vicious habits” (EMD 2:49). The “vicious habits” they were referring to could mean an assortment of conduct but certainly included drinking. Joseph Rogers, who lived about 10 miles from Joe in Phelpstown but knew Joe and frequently visited Palmyra, said he “knew at least one hundred farmers in the twins of Phelps, Manchester, and Palmyra, N.Y., who would make oath that Jo Smith the Mormon prophet was a liar, intemperate, and a base imposter” (EMD 2:205).
In 1881, William Kelley interviewed Manchester, New York neighbor Mary Bryant, who “Says Smith was a drun[k]ard,” but she only knew this by neighborhood rumor; she never saw him drunk (EMD 2:83). In 1880, the Reverend Chester C. Thorne interviewed Manchester neighbor William Bryant, who had known Joe “to some extent” and said he “was a lazy drinking fellow, loose in his habits in everway” (EMD 2:169). Palmyra’s Presbyterian pastor Jesse Townsend, in an 1833 letter, said he had known Joe for ten years and considered him “a person of questionable character, of intemperate habits” (EMD 3:21, 25). A Dr. Williams, who moved to Palmyra in 1825 and whose reminiscences about the Smith are recorded in an 1854 book called The Californian Crusoe. He says that at age 20, Joe was notorious in the neighborhood “as a drunken, lying, and dissipated young profligate” (EMD 3:56).
For more specifics of Joe’s drunkenness, I’ll start with Orsamus Turner, who lived in Palmyra during his apprenticeship in the printing business in 1818 and 1819. His personal recollection of Joe was that “He used to come into the village with little jags of wood, from his backwoods home; sometimes patronizing a village grocery too freely.” Then Joe would sometimes come into the printing office and lounge around like an “inquisitive meddler.” They occasionally blackened his face with ink when he got in the way of their working the press (EMD 3:49).
In the 19th century, by the way, “groceries” were establishments that sold alcohol. So Turner is saying he remembers that Joe came to town, bought alcohol, and then lounged around in the newspaper office, meddling and asking questions. Then when he’d get too drunk, just like every college party, the printers would paint stuff on his face and probably had a howling good time doing it.
Notably as well, one of Jo’s chief sources of fun during this pre-Book of Mormon era was telling fortunes. If you’re a village fortune teller looking for information, hanging out in the local newspaper office and asking questions was the perfect place to get all the latest gossip for fortune telling.
Pomeroy Tucker, another printer who apprenticed in Palmyra starting in 1820 and lived there for the next 30 years, similarly said that Joseph Sr. used to bring loads of wood to town to trade for whiskey, and that the Smith boys “were frequently seen lounging about the stores and shops in the village.” During this period, the Smiths “were popularly regarded as an illiterate, whiskey-drinking, shiftless, irreligious race of people,” with young Joe the worst of the lot (EMD 3:67-69, 132).
Anna Ruth Eaton, who never met Joe but lived in the neighborhood later and knew many of his neighbors, wrote in her 1881 book The Origin of Mormonism that as a young man, “Joe never worked save at chopping bees and raisings, and then whisk[e]y was the impetus and the reward” (EMD 3:147).
Local historian Thomas L. Cook, in an 1830 book, tells an amusing story which he apparently heard from Lemuel Durfee, who owned the Smith family’s cabin and leased it to them in 1825 and 1826. As part of the Smiths’ payment for their lease, Joe worked for Durfee during the harvest. Cook writes of a humorous example of Jo’s intemperance getting the best of him.
In those days it was customary to have whiskey, especially through harvest. When the country was new, fever and ague was quite prevalent among the new settlers, and to ward off this malady, nearly every family had a preparation they called No. 6 that was made of red peppers and other things that were powerful. Early one morning, while yet in bed, Joseph contemplated the coming day was going to be hot, and was fearful they might have fish for dinner as he had always heard that fish would make a man dry. With all this flittering before his imagination, and to ward off the coming danger of a sun stroke, he got out of bed, crept softly down stairs and across the old kitchen into the pantry, but unfortunately he tapped the wrong bottle and instead of getting whiskey, he took a good big swig out of No. 6, which nearly strangled him, and upon finding out his mistake, he rushed outdoors to the well and down went the bucket for water. Mr. Durfee, hearing the rumpus, got out of bed to find the cause of this tumult, and upon looking out of the window, saw the sainted Joseph strangling and black in the face, trying to drink water out of the old ‘oaken bucket that hung in the well’” (EMD 3:245).
Alcohol as a vector for herbal medicine is a subject we’ll be discussing extensively in a moment.
Dr. Alexander McIntyre, the Smith family’s favorite physician, said in a now-lost affidavit that we only have paraphrases of, that “Joe got drunk, stole sugar, got beaten for it, and told the doctor who dressed his bruises that he had a fight with the devil” (EMD 3:172). This probably happened sometime in the mid-1820s when the Smith family was known for farming maple sugar and making molasses. There’s a good chance that Joe stole the sugar for the purpose of mixing it with his booze, because as our next source shows, sugared cider was one of his drinks of choice.
Manchester, New York neighbor Barton Stafford said in an 1833 affidavit, “Joseph Smith, Sen. was a noted drunkard and most of the family followed his example, and Joseph Jr. especially, who was very much addicted to intemperance.” Sometime in 1827, Joe “one day while at work in my father’s field, got quite drunk on a composition of cider, molasses, and water. Finding his legs to refuse their office he leaned upon the fence and hung for sometime; at length recovering again, he fell to scuffling with one of the workmen, who tore his shirt nearly off from him. His wife who was at our house on a visit, appeared very much grieved at his conduct, and to protect his back from the rays of the sun, and conceal his nakedness, threw her shawl over his shoulders and in that plight escorted the Prophet home” (EMD 2:22-23).
So not only did Joe get so falling-down drunk that he started a fight and ended up half naked, but he had to be covered and escorted home by his new wife, Emma, thus establishing a long-running pattern of Emma cleaning up for Jo’s messes.
John Stafford told this same story to William Kelley in an interview in 1881. He said it was
Common then for any body to have drink in [the] field those days[.] one time Joe while working for some one one after he was married They had boiled cider[.] Joe came in with his shirt torn--his wife felt bad about it & when they went home She put shawl on him--had not been fighting--he was a little contentious but never saw him fight--known him to scuffle (EMD 2:87, 121).
So John Stafford wants us to know that Joe didn’t rip his shirt in a “fight,” just a drunken “scuffle.”
Several other members of the Stafford family told similar stories. Christopher Stafford said in an 1885 affidavit, my favorite year of all time because that year saw the first Benz Motorwagen internal combustion automobile, “Jo got drunk while we were haying for my uncle, Wm. Stafford; also at a husking at our house, and stayed overnight. I have often seen him drunk” (EMD 2:194). Cornelius R. Stafford said, “I have seen Jo in drunken fights; father and son were frequently drunk” (EMD 2:197).
Joshua Stafford told a story, which we quoted last episode, about Joe trying to borrow a horse so he could go dig up some treasure. Joe promised that he would let Stafford take his life if he didn’t return the horse. Stafford says Joe was “nearly intoxicated” during the conversation (EMD 2:28).
David Stafford said in an 1833 affidavit that Joseph Sr. was a notorious drunk and gambler, and that Joe Jr.,
very aptly followed his father’s example, and in some respects was worse. When intoxicated he was very quarrelsome. While at work one time, a dispute arose between us (he having drinked a little too freely) and some hard words passed between us, and as usual with him at such times, was for fighting. He got the advantage of me in the scuffle, and a gentleman by the name of Ford interfered, when Joe turned to fighting him. We both entered a complaint against him and he was fined for the breach of the Peace (EMD 2:56-57).
In fairness to Joe, we should also tell his side of this story. He said in 1842 that the Staffords had set their hog into the Smiths’ corn field, and Smiths’ dog protected the corn by biting off the hog’s ear. David Stafford and six other men shot the dog, and Joe attacked them and single-handedly beat up all six of them. Yeah… okay Jo… I’m sure that’s exactly what happened.
Around the same time he talked to John Stafford, researcher William Kelley also interviewed Hiram Jackway, who said that “Joe and his father got drunk once. . . . It was in the hay field; Joe and his father wrestled, and Joe threw the old man down, and he cried. . . . They drank cider. . . . They could walk, but they cut up and acted funny.” That was the only time Jackway remembered seeing them drunk (EMD 2:86, 114). Jackway later corrected himself in a statement given to John H. Gilbert, saying he recalled that the Smiths got drunk not on cider, but on whiskey (EMD 2:532).
Another family, the Saunders brothers, gave Kelley mixed reviews of the Smiths’ drinking. Orlando Saunders, who liked the Smiths and vehemently defended them, said that “everybody drank a little in those days, and the Smiths with the rest; they never got drunk to my knowledge” (EMD 2:103). His brother Benjamin Saunders agreed. “It was rulable for people to drink in those times[.] The Smiths were no worse than others, and not as bad as some, but they would take a drink. also in haying and harvest.” However, Benjamin said he never saw them drunk (EMD 2:137). The third brother, Lorenzo Saunders, said that “Them days people drank liquor everybody drank whiskey & the Smiths with the rest,” and he recalled a specific incident when Joseph Sr. was drunk in a tavern (EMD 2:157, 164).
If we simply rely on the correlated narrative that Jo refused alcohol at age 7 for his leg surgery, then skip over everything else by jumping to the Word of Wisdom in 1833, we could be under the impression that Jo was a temperate fellow. Coincidentally, 1833 is the year Prudence Crandall, a white woman, was arrested for conducting an educational academy for black women in Connecticut. History is fun. Yet, when Mormons learn that Jo ordered tobacco and wine a few hours before the shootout at Carthage, they’re amazed, especially considering the modern Mormon prohibitions on alcohol. Well, if we consider the statements of all these neighbors of the Smiths, both friends and enemies, the reality comes into focus. If there was just one statement as an outlier that Jo and the Smiths got drunk, we’d have little reason to believe it. But, because account after account demonstrates Jo’s love for the drink with remarkable consistency over decades, even showing different perspectives of the same story given by different people decades apart, no historian in their right mind could conclude Jo didn’t drink.
We have so many consistent statements. Why don’t we discuss that debauchery at the next level. The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw a massive shift in medicine administration methods. Plant medicines which are ingested by pills or injected into the bloodstream today were mostly infused in topical ointments and alcohol or teas in the centuries before. Yes, today we’re talking psychedelics in early Mormonism as I believe any proper treatment of Joseph Smith and early Mormonism requires. Jo’s overconsumption of alcohol requires an examination of what may have been in that alcohol, particularly when it explains all the angels and cool stuff gods the guy claimed to have seen.
This is a theory of Mormon origins that I’ve helped pioneer in a paper I co-authored with Robert Beckstead, Cody Noconi, and Michael Winkelman in the Journal of Psychedelic Studies. Long-time listeners of the podcast already know about this, but if you’re new to the podcast and you’ve never heard of this before, it’s my pleasure to introduce the Smith-entheogen theory to you. In the most simple terms, the Smith-entheogen theory is the idea that Joe’s and his followers’ visions, revelations, and religious experiences may have been the result of psychedelics.
First let’s define the term entheogen. It was initially coined by psychedelics researchers in the 1970s to describe any plant which facilitates a specific type of altered state of consciousness. Now it’s used to refer more to a process of using psychedelics rather than to the plant medicines themselves. Psychedelics can be used in non-entheogenic contexts, during which they’re often referred to as party drugs. Doing mushrooms with friends and watching a funny movie is taking psychedelics. Doing mushrooms after a period of fasting and meditation with a babysitter, face mask to block the light, relaxing music, and a debrief session afterwards is an entheogenic session, in which you’re using plant medicines to have a spiritual or mystical experience.
The clinical research on entheogens indicates they’re able to produce genuine mystical experiences that are indistinguishable from mystical experiences that occur spontaneously or within a religious context. Users may experience not only visions, but also a sense of union with God, transcendence of time and space, and connection with sacredness, complete dissolution of ego, a total breakdown of barriers delineating self from reality. In fact, entheogens have been used in spiritual rituals across the globe for thousands of years.
Now, there are two parts to the Smith-entheogen thesis. First, Joe using entheogens himself. The dude came up with some crazy stories and saw some cool stuff in the woods; if he were tripping we can not only explain, but replicate his experiences. Second, he may have been dosing people in order to get them to have spiritual experiences too. This is a long-time practice of shamans across cultures and centuries. Simply put, Joseph Smith founded a religion whose major selling point was the power of the Holy Spirit and personal revelation. Ask a Mormon today what’s unique about their Church, and they’ll say “modern revelation.” In early Mormonism, converts experienced dreams, visions, tongues, miracles, and spiritual raptures which are nearly absent from the church today. The power of psychedelics is a missing puzzle piece worth examination that’s been overlooked by Mormon history academics for as long as the field has existed and that’s largely because Mormons don’t do drugs and Mormons are also the majority of people who study Mormon history.
The evidence for chemical assistance points all the way back to 1823, when Jo saw his first angel. This is from Lu B. Cake, a historian who interviewed a lot of people from the South Bainbridge, New York area, where Joe lived for a while when he was employed by Josiah Stowell. Unfortunately we don’t know who told Mr. Cake this information, so I can’t confirm this story. Honestly, this may just be based on a creative misreading of Joe’s own official history. But Cake claims that on September 21, 1823-- the day that Moroni first appeared to Joe and told him about the golden plates-- “Joe got swore, lied and swindled, contrary to revelation. . . . Joe claims that while in bed this drunken September 21st, an angel came to him . . . Whether it was the angel, or alcohol, that gave Joe the inspiration, is the question; for although drunk on September 21st, yet on September 22d he claims that he found the plates in the place to which he was directed” (EMD 4:192-93).
I love that line: “Whether it was the angel, or alcohol, that gave Joe the inspiration, is the question.” Indeed it is the question, and this is a weighty question which stands at the center of the Smith-entheogen theory; I’m just glad a contemporary said it too. My point is, we can’t measure “God”. We can’t take one unit of God and put it in a vial to determine its effect on a thing. Any history which posits the variable of “God” into the hypothesis, or even carves out a place for God to be a possibility, isn’t history, it’s theology. Since ethical historians don’t have access to God when formulating models, naturalistic explanations must be found. You can put 10 milligrams of psilocin, lysergic acid, dimethyltryptamine, THC, or any other entheogen in a vial and measure its effects on a thing. You also get similar results among study participants with these variables when other variables are properly controlled for. Jo sees angels and gods, how does that happen? We can’t replicate his exact experience, but we can replicate the altered state of consciousness which causes people to hallucinate. Since first publishing and presenting on this topic at Sunstone in 2017, you’d be amazed how many people have walked up to me at subsequent conferences and said they’ve had their own sacred grove experiences with psychedelics. I know some of you are even listening to this right now, to you few wonderful folks I say don’t let the ground gnomes steal your treasure. I digress, back to Jo’s early life.
The role of psychedelics in magic and occult traditions is a deep and treasured artifact of post-enlightenment history. Usage of these plant medicines dates back thousands of years to the Greek Classical era but the enlightenment brought about the advent of the printing press and libraries began to fill with books on the occult.
Many occult philosophy books carried guidance and instructions for the usage of psychedelics as entheogens, as well as noting other more nefarious purposes for which plant concoctions could be utilized. Henrich Cornelius Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy deals extensively with plant medicines. Throughout his work, Agrippa notes the power “an herb...with which magicians, drinking of, can prophesy.” Additionally, in Chapter 43 titled “Of Perfumes or Suffumigations; their Manner and Power,” Agrippa notes symptomology consistent with entheogenic sessions after suffumigating (smoking) certain herbs. They are cited as providing the user with the ability to prophecy, conjure various spirits with both auditory and visual hallucinations, as well as cause experiences of divine inspiration, all of which are listed “celestial gifts”. For example, Agrippa says,
“suffumigations...that are proper to the Stars, are of great force for the opportune receiving of celestial gifts under the rays of the Stars...[S]uffumigations are wont to be used by them that are about to soothsay or predict for to affect their fancy or conception; which suffumigations, indeed, being duly appropriated to any certain deities, do fit us to receive divine inspiration. So they say that fumes… doth make one to foresee things to come and doth conduce to prophesying… by certain vapors,... airy spirits are presently raised, as also thunderings and lightnings, and such things… So, they say, that if… henbane, and hemlock, be made a fume, that spirits will presently come together; hence they are called spirits’ herbs… the juice of hemlock and henbane,... makes spirits and strange shapes appear;”
The intoxication provided by these plant based preparations were obviously recognized as a powerful aid in magical operations and were clearly utilized as such by the average cunning-folk of antebellum America. Whether for conjuration of spirits as symptomatic of hallucination, or the general open minded effects conducing to “prophecy,” plant medicines were a functional variable of magical praxis.
By 1827, Jo was becoming steadily more steeped in these esoteric arts and traditions. If Joseph Sr. didn’t pass the relevant plant-manipulation knowledge to his son, Jo magic mentors like Luman Walters who made their living by selling medicinal potions. After Joe found or manufactured the plates, his drinking didn’t stop just because he got the plates and felt called as a prophet. Earlier I quoted Joe’s employer Barton Stafford about Joe getting into a drunken fight in the hayfield sometime after getting the plates. At the end of that account, Stafford goes on to say this: “As an evidence of his piety and devotion, when intoxicated, he [Joe] frequently made his religion the topic of conversation” (EMD 2:22-23). Quite a striking quote. Jo not only drank a bunch, but probably infused psychedelics into his whiskey, then he would expound on the mysteries of his personal god and the religion he was gestating at this time. This pattern would carry him comfortably into Kirtland, Ohio.
In December 1827 Joe moved to Harmony, Pennsylvania to work on the Book of Mormon translation there with Martin Harris as his scribe. In 1880, reporter Frederick G. Mather interviewed some Harmony, Pennsylvania residents about this period of Joseph’s life. According to the area’s residents, “Joe was in the habit of drinking liquor too freely for the founder of a religion, and perhaps he often mistook a hilarious condition for a very spiritual condition, and undertook to perform on a grand scale very much as other drunken men do without realizing the magnitude of his task and his own utter inability to perform it.” (EMD 4:154). This quote specifically describes a fascinating aspect of psychedelic use. The user has profound experiences but the sober observer only sees the person acting sporadic or speaking incoherently. It can become quite hilarious for the observer while simultaneously being the most mystically intense experience for the user complete with hallucinations perceived as angelic visitations.
Joe didn’t limit his drunkenness to when he was off the clock. Martin Harris, NSSM, one of the three witnesses and Joseph Smith’s scribe for this portion of the Book of Mormon translation, was once tried before a church court in Kirtland, Ohio for telling A. C. Russell that “Joseph drank too much liquor when he was translating the Book of Mormon and that he wrestled with many men and threw them &c.” Harris defended himself by saying that “he did not tell Esqr Russell that bro. Joseph drank too much liquor while translating the Book of Mormon, but this thing took place before the Book of Mormon was translated” (EMD 2:282-83). The high council let him off with a chastisement. We hear stories how Joseph Smith could wrestle any man and throw them, turns out he was wasted during a bunch of those fights.
Although Harris walked back his claim about Joe drinking during translation, the story is confirmed by Harmony, Pennsylvania constable Levi Lewis. He says “that he saw him (Smith) intoxicated at three different times while he was composing the Book of Mormon” (EMD 4:297). In fact, Martin’s retraction doesn’t say Joe wasn’t drunk during translation. It just says Joe didn’t drink during translation. The drinking happened beforehand. And Martin’s statement about Joe drinking “before the Book of Mormon was translated” is ambiguous. You could take it to mean that the drinking happened at an earlier stage of Joe’s life. Or, more likely, you could take it to mean that drinking happened right before some of their translation sessions. We know from Lemuel Durfee’s account which I read earlier in this episode that on at least one occasion, Joe drank whiskey first thing in the morning before a long day of work in the field. So why not before a long day of translation work? Lots of artists use plant medicines… or… you know… a bit of grandpappy’s ol’ cough medicine to put them in the creative state of mind.
Joe continued to drink recreationally, as well. John H. Gilbert, the Book of Mormon’s printer, remembered that during the printing, 23-year old Joe “was a lazy, good-for-nothing lout, chiefly noted for his capacity to hang around a corner grocery and punish poor whisky” (EMD 2:520). “Poor whiskey” here could refer to whiskey of one’s own make or extremely low quality whiskey made from “doctored alcohol” which means it was sometimes made with strychnine, tobacco juice, red pepper, other psychoactive plants, and tons of other nasty stuff, often downright poisonous. European settlers sold this stuff to Native Americans at insanely inflated prices who called it ishkodewaaboo which translates to firewater.
In 1830 we get our first evidence of Jo providing his early converts with a proper shamanic initiation in the form of the church’s first miracle. In his 1839 history, Jo describes how in early August 1830, Joseph Knight and his wife visited Joe and Emma’s home in Harmony, Pennsylvania so that Joe could confirm them. Confirmation is the LDS ritual which is supposed to convey the gift of the Holy Spirit, with all of its revelatory and miraculous power. This was a great opportunity for Jo to provide the mysteries of the ancients to a skeptical prospective convert. Importantly, Joe decided that before the confirmation ceremony, they should all sit down to take the sacrament together. So he went out to buy some wine.
But as Joe was on his way to buy the wine, an angel appeared to him and delivered a revelation which is now Section 27 of the Doctrine and Covenants. The revelation says in part, “it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament . . . Wherefore, a commandment I give unto you, that you shall not purchase wine neither strong drink of your enemies; . .. Wherefore, you shall partake of none except it is made new among you; yea, in this my Father’s kingdom which shall be built up on the earth.”
Jo returned to the house and, “Agreeable to this revelation we prepared some wine of our own make” (EMD 1:130). Now, several things to notice here. A lot of modern-day Mormons don’t realize that the Church’s current practice of water in plastic sippy cups for the sacrament isn’t the way things were always done. Nineteenth-century Christians drank actual wine during communion, and sometimes they drank a pretty good amount. Section 27 is part of the basis for using water, because it says it doesn’t matter what you eat or drink. But what the revelation actually suggests isn’t that you use water; it’s that you use “wine of your own make.”
It’s interesting that Joe somehow came up with some “wine of their own make” on such short notice. As far as I know, there’s no other evidence that Joe or his family made their own wine. But they did make their own homebrew of boiled cider, molasses, and water, as we heard earlier from Barton Stafford. When Joe says, “we prepared some wine of our own make,” what he actually means is, we used my own home-brew. And who knows what was actually in that bottle? Evidence we’ll discuss in a second makes such an accusation of dosed alcohol explicit.
During this visit to the Knight family Jo… you know what… I’ll just let the church tell the story for themselves from an Ensign article in January 1989.
“While there, [Joseph] challenged Newel Knight to pray vocally. In the attempt, Newel was attacked by an evil spirit that lifted him from the floor “and tossed him about most fearfully.” Neighbors gathered and then saw the Prophet command the devil in the name of Jesus Christ to depart. Newel felt great relief and gladly accepted baptism. (This exorcism was the first miracle performed in the restored church)”
It’s a little deeper than that as Jo actually reported it. “I went and found him suffering very much in his mind… and his body acted upon in a most strange manner. His visage and limbs [were] distorted and twisted into every possible shape and appearances, and finally he was caught up off the floor of the apartment and tossed about most fearfully… Knight was unable to speak during his convulsions.” Newel testified about the occurrence during one of the trials in 1830 when Jo was arrested in Colesville, “I felt myself attracted upward and remained for some time enwrapped in contemplation insomuch that I know not what was going on in the room. By and by I felt some weight pressing upon my shoulder and the side of my head; which served to recall me to a sense of my situation, and I found that the Spirit of the Lord had actually caught me up off the floor, and that my shoulder and head were pressing against the beams.”
Each of these are common descriptions of anticholinergic symptomatology. You take too much datura and this is what happens. You take more than this amount and you very well could die. The stuff about him levitating is what mystics have experienced for millennia in what we call today astral projection, the sense of leaving one’s body which can easily be induced via psychedelics and is also sometimes experienced during near-death experiences. Later testimonies from Newel, his father Joseph Knight Sr., and Martin Harris said they saw the devil come out of Newel once exorcised. Josiah Stowell at a later date said “he saw a devil as large as a woodchuck leave the man and run across the floor” while Newel’s dad at a later time said “he saw the devil leave the possessed and run off like a yellow dog.” I attribute these to either shared hallucinations not uncommon in mass dosings as we’ll see during the Kirtland Temple Dedication ceremony, or later misrememberings of the event. Regardless, Newel had a profound mystical experience perfectly explained by Jo providing him with a strong dosage. Before this experience he was skeptical, after his shamanistic experience with the prophet of god, he joined the church and remained a life-long member. Jo was in the process of developing a formula he would implement at larger and larger scales until restricted access to entheogens became a necessity.
Let’s talk about Kirtland, the entheogenic empire of early Mormonism
A crucial piece of evidence for Mormons being dosed with drugs comes from Kirtland in December 1830 or January 1831. Super interesting factoid, 1831 is the same year Michael Faraday publicly demonstrated the electric transformer and generator. As a little background here, Joe had sent some missionaries West in 1830; that was Oliver Cowdery, P-Cubed Parley Parker Pratt, John Whitmer, and Zyba Petersen. These guys converted Hingepin Sidney Rigdon’s congregation of Baptists in Kirtland. As soon as they arrived, a bunch of charismatic stuff started happening, including people acting like Natives under the influence of the Holy Spirit. For instance, they acted out sailing in canoes and scalping people. During these prayer meetings, participants experienced visions, and people spoke in tongues, and received revelations, and so forth. This all started just a few months before Jo himself got to Kirtland. I speculate that this small group of hand-picked missionaries were trusted with the keys of the priesthood and were dosing participants during such meetings.
There was a guy named Jesse Jasper Moss who attended one of these prayer meetings, and he gives us a strong piece of evidence for people being dosed. Soon after the missionaries arrived and converted the Kirtland church,
They began to have visitations of angels among them. I was suspicious of these angels from the first. When they partook of the sacrament they always did so at night. In preparation for this they would exclude everybody from the room but the leaders and would then hang up blankets and quilts at the windows. When all was ready they would open the doors and let the people in. I determined to stay through one of their services of the sacrament, so a friend and I went to meeting with that intention. He went to sleep just before the time to exclude the people, and I became possessed of a deaf-and-dumb devil and they could not make me understand anything. After a time they decided to leave us alone and go on with their ceremony. My companion awakened and we saw the whole performance. I became satisfied that their power was in the wine, so I tried to steal a bottle, and would have succeeded if I had been wearing the cloak I usually wore.
Moss explains that he “was fully satisfied that the wine was medicated,” and the miracles ceased once he started talking about his suspicions and told people how close he had come to stealing the wine.
A couple years after moving to Kirtland, Joe received an important revelation on February 27, 1833. It’s called the Word of Wisdom, and it gives guidance on things like diet and substance use. It’s currently canonized as Mormon scripture in Doctrine and Covenants Section 89, and in fact, the Word of Wisdom is so important today that your Bishop asks you every year about how well you’re following it, and if they’re not satisfied with your level of observance, then they don’t let you into the temple. That, however, is the modern interpretation of the WoW, with many departures from the actual text itself.
It should be noted that the WoW didn't just come out of thin air. A lot of people at this time were coming up with ideas on diet restrictions, cleanliness, and overall good living. Sanitariums were just now starting to trend in the burned over district and elsewhere, and Ellen G White, Alexander Campbell, William Miller, and a lot of other people pushing good living, or diet restriction that were just on the verge of becoming popular. Dietary advice was a common topic of discussion in the time the Word of Wisdom was born out of. In many ways these health and diet codes were also quite revolutionary because the hygiene and diet of Americans in the 19th century was appalling. Meals of pure meat and carbs washed down with beer, whiskey, or coffee, never drinking water, and bathing once a month or less, 5 people sharing a bed and getting terrible rest every night; we’ve come a long way from our smelly and unhealthy past.
But there was also another pressure: Joe’s wife, Emma. according to Bloody Brigham Young in the Journal of Discourses, volume 12,
When they assembled together in this room after breakfast, the first they did was to light their pipes, and, while smoking, talk about the great things of the kingdom, and spit all over the room, and as soon as the pipe was out of their mouths a large chew of tobacco would then be taken. Often when the Prophet entered the room to give the school instructions he would find himself in a cloud of tobacco smoke. This, and the complaints of his wife at having to clean so filthy a floor, made the prophet think upon the matter, and he inquired of the Lord relating to the conduct of the Elders in using tobacco, and the revelation known as the Word of Wisdom was the result of his inquiry.
Emma was mad at her husband because she had to clean up the floor of the School of the Prophets that was covered in nasty ol' tobacco spit, reeking of spitoons and pipe smoke. It took the wisdom and persistence of his wife to make Joe ask God about how bad tobacco is for you.
Let’s read through some of this revelation. It begins,
A Word of Wisdom, for the benefit of the council of high priests, assembled in Kirtland, and the church, and also the saints in Zion. To be sent greeting; not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation and the word of wisdom, showing forth the order and will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days. Given for a principle with promise, adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints.
This is a really important point. Joe appeased Emma by receiving this revelation, but he still left himself plenty of wiggle room to use whatever substances he wanted. The revelation very explicitly says, this is just a recommendation, not a commandment. It’s so weird that the Church today not only treats this as a commandment, but in fact treats it as one of the most important commandments!
On the subjects of alcohol and tobacco, the revelation says,
That inasmuch as any man drinketh wine or strong drink among you, behold it is not good, neither meet in the sight of your Father, only in assembling yourselves together to offer up your sacraments before him. And, behold, this should be wine, yea, pure wine of the grape of the vine, of your own make. And, again, strong drinks are not for the belly, but for the washing of your bodies. And again, tobacco is not for the body, neither for the belly, and is not good for man, but is an herb for bruises and all sick cattle, to be used with judgment and skill.
So the revelation recommends against wine, strong drink, and tobacco. It also goes on to say hot drinks aren’t good for you and that you should eat meat sparingly, except in winter. However, wine “of your own make” is allowed for the purpose of taking the sacrament. The revelation also goes on to commend “all wholesome herbs”-- next time you’re at a party and somebody busts out a baggy of really dank bud, tell them that’s some wholesome herb you got there -- and all grains, including grain-based “mild drinks” like beer. Weird that Mormons today consider beer to be against the Word of Wisdom, when the revelation explicitly states beer is cool. You also won’t find modern Mormons taking the part about meat very seriously. Even the leadership of the church themselves are “cafeteria Mormons” selecting only the morsels they want to follow for completely arbitrary reasons.
A notable convert in Kirtland, one of the earliest, bears consideration here. When the first group of missionaries passed through Kirtland on their way to Missouri to preach on Native reservations, one of their first converts was a guy named Frederick G. Williams, or Freddy Willey as we call him. Eps 25, 135, 188.
Frequent use of entheogens requires a steady supplier of plant materials. When membership numbers were relatively small and spread out (1830-32), supplies could have been coordinated by Joseph Smith personally with little difficulty. However, as membership grew in Kirtland and Jo’s daily activities increased in number and complexity, a rising need for a steady supply of plant materials would have increased in correlation with membership numbers.
A number of the early church heirarchy (including the Smiths, Cowdery, and Whitmer families in particular), were deeply invested in the study of pharmaceutical medicine, folk herbcraft and the utilization of so-called ‘spirituous liquors.’ (Brooke, John (1994) The Refiner’s Fire: The making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844. Cambridge University Press. Quinn, D. Michael. (1998) Early Mormonism and the Magical World View.” Salt Lake City, Utah. Signature Books.) Frederick G. Williams was a Thomsonian herbal physician practitioner. Born in Oct 1787, Williams took up the practice of medicine around 1816 after the death of his sister-in-law during childbirth. Williams gravitated towards Thomsonian medicine, and was frequently referred to as an ‘herbal’ or ‘vegetable’ doctor. Upon his induction into the religion, Williams was appointed to the office of Second Counselor to the Prophet, having been practicing herbal medicine for over a decade and a half.
In 1834, that’s the same year Dmitri Mendeleev, the guy who created the periodic table of elements was born, the first “anti-Mormon” book was published under the title Mormonism Unvailed [sic] by Eber D. Howe. (Listeners can hear the entire audiobook with commentary on the patreon feed). Howe attributed the WoW exemption carved out for “herb[s] in the season thereof” to Frederick G. Williams’ influence on Jo. Howe even obliquely referenced Freddy G. Willey’s herbarium on either side of his Kirtland home while disparaging his “communion with spirits from other worlds”.
“We are next told that every wholesome herb, God ordained for the use of man!! and we should infer that the writer or the recording angel had been inducted into the modern use of herbs, by the celebrated Doct. F. G. Williams... in Kirtland. F. G. Williams is a revised quack, well known in this vicinity, by his herbarium on either side of his ho[u]se; but whether he claims protection by right of letters[,] patent from the General Government[,] or by communion with spirits from other worlds, we are not authorized to determine...(Howe, Eber. (1842) The History of the Saints; Or an Exposé of Joe Smith and Mormonism. [With a Portrait of the Author.] Leland & Whiting.)”
Another aspect of Williams’ involvement in early Mormonism was his mission journey to proselyte to the Native Americans from late 1830-31. The same missionary troop who converted Williams and Rigdon’s Kirtland church were told to commence their missionary efforts and preach “on the borders by the Lamanites [Native Americans]” (Book of Commandments, 1833) and scout the location for a satellite arm or “stake” to be built in Missouri. During this journey the missionaries met Williams and he joined the group to meet with, and proselyte to, the Natives in modern Kansas City, Missouri, in a Native settlement known as Kaw township, Missouri. For a botanically-centric physician, an opportunity to meet with the so-called ‘Lamanites’ and intermingle knowledge of herbcraft and mysticism with the people who had been using American plants for millennia would have been an exciting prospect. Dr. Williams’ medical practice would later reflect this newfound knowledge of “Indian medicine” from this missionary trip.
During Williams’ mission trip to the Native Americans, the Smith family took control of his farm as their primary source of income. Freddy kept track of expenditures and rent under Joseph Smith’s name. By 1834, Jo had run up a gluttonous bill of $4,613 owed to Williams for land and farming implement use among other things. (Williams, 2013) The exact items which ran such a high bill are not listed. Reasonably, $2,000 would have been in rent for the property, but we can be certain that a bill over $4,600 has plenty of room to include plant medicines which were frequently being used by Smith in the early Mormon religious practices. The debt was forgiven when a revelation was given, but never recorded, that all Mormons should “forgive all debts,” a commandment to which Williams apparently complied willingly.
In the medical ledgers of Dr. Williams, specific ailments and the prescribed cures are not listed. However, the number of visits and total billings are listed alongside the names of the respective patients. Jo and Hingepin Sidney Rigdon have the highest bills for medicine purchased from Williams, they were his most lucrative clients. (Williams, 2013)
An 1835 Kirtland-area newspaper ran an advertisement for Williams’ medical practice listing various ailments and frequent Thomsonian cures for said ailments. Portions are reproduced as follows:
F. G. Williams,
DR. WILLIAMS respectfully informs his old patrons and the public generally—that he keeps constantly on hand
DR. SAMUEL THOMPSON’S VEGETABLE
M E D I C I N E,
In all its variety, and will furnish to those who may favor him with their attention, at his residence, unless otherwise employed…
N E R V E P O W D E R.
One of the most useful remedies for cramps of the stomach, and debility of the nerves; it is also good in hysterical, and hypochondriacal affections, and convulsions: it may be taken in all cases with perfect safety, without producing the least unpleasant sensation, or any deleterious effects upon the system. [emphasis added] (Times, 1835)
Williams had been a practicing ‘vegetable’ or ‘botanic’ physician for nearly two decades by this point. A botanic physician with Williams’ level of expertise would know how to produce such nerve powders without “unpleasant sensations or any deleterious effects,” however, the inverse is also true. Williams would have been well-acquainted with how to produce medicine with said intoxicating effects as well.
Of particular note concerning Williams’ practice and involvement in Mormonism is his essential role at various times the Mormons were in desperate need of medical attention. After the Mormon exodus to Illinois in the wake of the Missouri-Mormon war of 1838, Williams established his medical practice in Quincy, IL and published over two dozen ads announcing some details of his practice.
F. G. WILLIAMS—Indian and German
Who distinguishes disease by an examination of the urine... he will always apply vegetable medicine which are perfectly free from all those deleterious effects which are always the result from the use of mineral medicines.(Quincy Whig, 1839 in Williams, 2013)
The overwhelming logistical constraints of supplying scores or hundreds of Mormons on multiple occasions with proper and safe psychedelics would have been satisfied with an experienced Thomsonian Botanical physician like Frederick G. Williams with his own herbal gardens on property adjacent to the Kirtland Temple. This may serve to explain motives behind his promotion to the third-highest office in the Church. Additionally, as evidence of their close fraternity, Joseph Smith named his own child after Frederick G. Williams.
There were those that clearly felt threatened by Freddy’s quick and steady rise to Mormon prominence. Some of the medicines he was administering were declared anathema by Lyman Wight, a high-ranking and militant confidant of Jo. Another high-ranking Mormon, John Corrill, entered a complaint against Wight for the declaration, Jo stepped in.
John Corrill entered a complaint against Lyman Wight, for teaching that “all disease in this church is of the devil, and that medicine administered to the sick is of the devil; for the sick of the church ought to live by faith.”... The president decided that it was not lawful to teach the church, that all disease is of the devil,... and if there are any who believe that roots and herbs, administered to the sick, and all wholesome vegetables which God has ordained for the use of man; ...if there are any among you that teach that these things are of Satan, such teaching is not of God. (Vogel, 2015)
Wight must have understood the side-effects of some roots and herbs to make a declaration that “that medicine… is of the devil”. While the vast majority of the entheogenic sessions were beneficial and positive, Mormons had plenty of difficult experiences as well (otherwise ‘bad-trips’) resulting in myriad terrifying exhibitions. Eps 59, 60.
With increased membership and diversity of attendees in Mormon spiritual experiences, the need for a steady supply of psychedelics also increased. Freddy G. Willey, and his knowledge of how to harvest, cultivate, and extract these crucial plant medicines, provides the most rational supplier for the steady increase in demand with growing membership numbers. Williams continued to be a prominent member of the Church and a Thomsonian botanical physician until his death in 1842 at the age of 54. His son, Ezra G. Williams, continued the practice of medicine in the absence of his deceased father from that time forward. (Williams, 2013)
The completion of the Kirtland Temple in January 1836, the same year the Alamo fell, provided the perfect culmination of all Jo’s mystical and esoteric pursuits up to that point. The temple had taken about 3 years and about $40,000 to build, which is about 1.1 million in 2020 money. Its completion was a big deal, and Joe was ecstatic. On January 23, he held a meeting in the temple to ordain his father, Big Daddy Cheese, as patriarch of the church. Being ordained into this office required a blessing ritual, during which all the men of the presidency gathered around BDC and anointed his head with oil, and blessed him. After all the presidency did this, BDC stood up, and returned blessings to all of them, including Joe.
Big Daddy Cheese and the other members of the First Presidency all laid their hands on Joe’s head and pronounced blessings upon him. And then, according to Joe in his History of the Church (2:380-81), he had a vision. “The heavens were opened upon us, and I beheld the celestial kingdom of God, and the glory thereof, whether in the body or out I cannot tell.” Among other things, he saw the gate of heaven, the flaming throne of God, the biblical patriarchs, and his dead brother Alvin. He also saw his apostles doing missionary work in distant lands, including William McLellin in the South and Brigham Young in a Southwestern desert. Brigham was standing “upon a rock in the midst of about a dozen men of color, who appeared hostile. He was preaching to them in their own tongue, and the angel of God standing above his head, with a drawn sword in his hand, protecting him, but he did not see it.”
I’m sure Bloody Brigham was happy to hear Jo’s vision that he would be protected in his raging bigotry by an angel with a drawn sword .
Now, this could just be Jo lying as he frequently did, saying he had an experience that he didn’t really have. But, if we consider the influence of psychedelics, the picture comes into greater focus because Joe wasn’t the only one who saw things that day. Here are some more lines from the next few pages of the History of the Church. Let’s see if we can’t tease out a pattern.
Many of the brethren who received the ordinance with me saw glorious visions also. Angels ministered unto them as well as to myself. . . . My scribe also received his anointing with us, and saw, in a vision, the armies of heaven protecting the Saints in their return to Zion, and many things which I saw. . . .The Bishop of Kirtland with his Counselors, and the Bishop of Zion with his Counselors, were present with us, and received their anointing’s under the hands of Father Smith, and this was confirmed by the Presidency, and the glories of heaven were unfolded to them also. . . . Hyrum Smith anointed the head of the President of the Councilors in Kirtland, and President David Whitmer the head of the President of the Councilors of Zion. The President of each quorum then anointed the heads of his colleagues, each in his turn, beginning at the oldest. The visions of heaven were opened to them also. Some of them saw the face of the Savior, and others were ministered unto by holy angels, and the spirit of prophecy and revelation was poured out in mighty power.
So these guys were each anointed in turn, and after being anointed, and they each had visions, at least according to Joe. And then the next day it happened again, with even more people in the room. Listen to this:
In the evening we met at the same place, with the Council of the Twelve, and the Presidency of the Seventy, who were to receive this ordinance [of anointing and blessing]. . . After calling to order and organizing, the Presidency proceeded to consecrate the oil. We then laid our hands upon Elder Thomas B. Marsh, who is President of the Twelve, and ordained him to the authority of anointing his brethren. I then poured the consecrated oil upon his head, in the name of Jesus Christ, and sealed such blessings upon him as the Lord put into my heart. . . He then anointed and blessed his brethren from the oldest to youngest. . . The heavens were opened, and angels ministered unto us. The Twelve then proceeded to anoint and bless the Presidency of the Seventy, and seal upon their heads power and authority to anoint their brethren. The Heavens were opened unto Elder Sylvester Smith, and he, leaping up, exclaimed: “The horsemen of Israel and the chariots thereof.” The gift of tongues fell upon us in mighty power, angels mingled their voices with ours, while their presence was in our midst, and unceasing praises swelled our bosoms for the space of half-an-hour.
The term “consecrated oil” I believe is a codeword for oil which contained the keys to the kingdom of gods, psychedelics. These guys are getting anointed, and then they’re seeing heaven, and angels, and chariots, and speaking in foreign languages they’ve never learned. In all, there are 14 references to anointing with oil, and 26 references to visions or seeing things in just these few pages of the History of the Church, all in just a 2-day period. Historian Alex Baugh has compiled over 70 such instances in just the first 7 years of the church’s existence. This is a striking pattern. Almost every time Joe was anointed with this “consecrated oil” on his head, the heavens opened up, and he had visions and heard god speaking. Almost every time somebody else was anointed in the same way, and had this same oil put on their head just like Joe, they saw visions, and angels, and heaven opened up to them. Topical oils are fantastic vehicles for psychoactive plant medicines, especially when poured over the head.
One thing we need to keep in mind is that the public perception of drugs that we have today is wildly different than how drugs were perceived back in the early 19th century. Drugs didn’t carry the taboos and stigmas of today. For many users, they were just god’s gift to bring you enlightenment. Agrippa’s standard-bearing Three Books of Occult Philosophy circa 1533 states, “God himself, who being unchangeable, distributes to every one as he pleaseth… All virtues, therefore, are infused by God”. A person would go walking through the forest and pick up some psilocybin, or cut the tops off cactus and refine them into a powder, or infuse them into alcohol or some oil, and imbibe to speak with God, or see angels, prophecy, or connect with the holy spirit. Simple as that. It wasn’t a schedule one drug that the person would go to jail for having, it was just one of god’s many gifts that help us get closer to him or understand his mind. It may sound degrading to Joe and friends to think that they were just tripping whenever they came up with revelations, but that’s only because of the negative stigma that drugs carry today. When we consider all aspects and possibilities of Joe using entheogens to come up with revelations, suddenly we have naturalistic explanations for this particularly visionary era of early Mormonism.
Also, it’s not like Joe didn’t have access to drugs like this. He wasn’t snorting Columbian cocaine that he used church funds to buy a kilo of off his guy, this oil was likely from a plant found locally in the forests of New York and Ohio or cultivated in Freddy G. Willey’s herbarium. I’m up in Seattle and it’s fungus country up here. Anybody can go walking through the forest, especially in September, and find a couple caps of magic mushrooms, they’re everywhere. Joe, likely, had ready access to a psychedelic oil, whether by his own findings, or from a local salesperson that was making the oil to sell. Jo spent a lot of time playing in the woods near his homes growing up in New England, where mushrooms and all sorts of psychedelic plants grow. When I was in Palmyra presenting on the Smith-entheogen theory at JWHA last September I found a ton of different mushrooms and even a belladonna plant, a member of the nightshade family and powerfully psychedelic, in the sacred grove. Some of the mushrooms were even guarded by a toad, he was a friendly little treasure guardian who didn’t mind being patted on the head. Ep 176.
There were even more of these sorts of visions a few months later, at the dedication of the finished Temple on March 27, 1836. The dedication service for the Kirtland temple was held in the main chapel area of the temple. It was 8 hours long, and there are stories floating around of angels and spirits flying through the building during the service, and all kinds of miraculous events. In the morning, anywhere from 250 to one thousand people gathered in the temple. Joe had encouraged everybody to fast the night before.
According to Joe’s own account of this event in History of the Church 2:428,
Brother George A. Smith arose and began to prophesy, when a noise was heard like the sound of a rushing mighty wind, which filled the Temple, and all the congregation simultaneously arose, being moved upon by an invisible power; many began to speak in tongues and prophesy; others saw glorious visions; and I beheld the Temple was filled with angels, which fact I declared to the congregation.
According to Oliver Cowdery’s Kirtland, Ohio sketch book,
The Spirit was poured out--I saw the glory of God, like a great cloud, come down and rest upon the house, and fill the same like a mighty rushing wind. I also saw cloven tongues, like as of fire rest upon many, (for there were 316 present,) while they spake with other tongues and prophesied.
No one else’s account of the event was quite as sensational as Smith’s or Cowdery’s, but people did apparently speak in tongues and see visions. George A. Smith claimed in Journal of Discourses 11:10 that David Whitmer saw three angels walk up the aisle, although Whitmer himself described the ceremony as a “grand fizzle” and said there was no visitation that day. George A. Smith had a habit of making things up, so maybe he’s not credible on this. More credible is Truman Angell’s autobiography, which says Frederick G. Williams “rose and testified that midway during the prayer an holy angel came and seated himself in the stand.” Joseph Smith then explained that the angel was none other than the resurrected apostle Peter, “come to accept the dedication.” Also, according to Benjamin Brown in his article "Testimony for the Truth," “hundreds of Elders spoke in tongues.”
I have to ask, was this so epic because the Spirit of God was coursing through the halls of the temple, or was it because another spirit was coursing through everybody’s veins? The wine of Jo’s own make being consecrated with the keys seems to explain a few other accounts and here are just some of them that didn’t make it into the Church’s official histories. According to William Harris, when the attendees broke their fast by eating bread and drinking wine, Joe
encouraged the brethren to drink freely, telling them that the wine was consecrated, and would not make them drunk. . . . they began to prophecy, pronounce blessings upon their friends, and curses on their enemies. If I should be so unhappy as to go to the regions of the damned, I would never expect to hear language more awful, or more becoming the infernal pit, than was uttered that night.
Alfred Morley said he had heard many Mormon attendees
say that very many became drunk....The Mormon leaders would stand up to prophesy and were so drunk they said they could not get it out and would call for another drink. Over a barrel of liquor was used at the service.
Isaac Aldrich said his brother, Seventies’ president Hazen Aldrich, described the dedication as a “drunken pow-wow.” Stephen H. Hart said a Mormon named Mr. McWhithey told him
The Lord's Supper was celebrated and they passed the wine in pails several times to the audience, and each person drank as much as he chose from a cup. He said it was mixed liquor and he believed the Mormon leaders intended to get the audience under the influence of the mixed liquor, so they would believe it was the Lord's doings. . . . When the liquor was repassed, Mr McWhithey told them he had endowment enough, and said he wanted to get out of the Temple, which was densely crowded.
Remember, everyone had fasted before this ceremony. And we all know what happens when you drink mixed liquor or consecrated sacramental alcohol on an empty stomach. It is also notable that in occult and religious traditions prior to these visionary manifestations that fasting is an integral piece. Shamans who lead people through psychedelic journeys today will often encourage attendees to fast before taking the journey. William McLellin pointed this out in a July 1872 letter:
some partook so freely, on their empty stomachs, that they became drunk! I took care of S[amuel] H. Smith in one of the stands so deeply intoxicated that he could not nor did sense anything. I kept him hid from the crowd in the stand, but he vomited the spit-box five times full, and his dear brother [Don] Carlos would empty it out of the window.
In a couple other letters McLellin reiterated this story, and emphasized that the “endowment of power” the Saints had expected to receive turned out to be “a farce.” “No display of power from God was given. A[l]l the power given was the power of man.” If we read this through an entheogenic lens, this is McLellin, Professor Bill in our timeline, stating outright that whatever the attendees experienced that day had a naturalistic explanation.
The dedication ceremony of the Kirtland Temple truly was a remarkable occurrence in early Mormonism. Held up as faith-promoting manifestations of angels and god by believers today, rationalized in different ways by historians as group hallucinations and shifty record-keeping, yet I think it’s the perfect example staring us right in the face where psychedelics were clearly present in the early church. Sometimes the easiest answers are hiding in plain sight.
According to the Smith-entheogen theory, Jo liked his psychedelics to help with prophecy and conjuration of spirits, but he also didn’t mind a bit of rudimentary partying that alcohol provides.
Even though Joe explicitly said in the Word of Wisdom that it wasn’t a commandment, the Church voted to take a covenant to follow it, which functionally made it one. Joe, however, wasn’t really on board with the covenant the Church made, and he continued to drink recreationally. This caused some problems in the Church. For instance, on August 19, 1835, the Kirtland high council held a disciplinary hearing for Almon W. Babbitt on charges that included "not keeping the Word of Wisdom." Babbitt defended himself by saying "that he had taken the liberty to break the Word of Wisdom, from the example of President Joseph Smith, Jun., and others, but acknowledged that it was wrong." That’s according to the History of the Church (2:252).
Just how intense was Joe’s recreational binge-drinking during this period? Well, this is from an affidavit by a guy named G. B. Frost, published in John C. Bennett’s 1842 expose of Mormonism, which patrons can hear the whole thing with my commentary:
On or about the middle of June, 1837, I rode with Joseph Smith, Jr. from Fairport, Ohio, to Kirtland. When we left Fairport, we had been drinking pretty freely; I drank brandy, he brandy and cider, both together; and when we arrived at Painesville, we drank again; and when we arrived at Kirtland, we were very drunk. . . . About the last of August, 1837, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and others, were drunk at Joseph Smith Jr.’s house, all together; and a man, by the name of Vinson Knight, supplied them with rum, brandy, gin, and port wine, from the cash store; and I worked in the loft, over head. He, Joseph, told Knight not to sell any of the rum, brandy, gin, or port wine, for he wanted it for his own use. They were drunk, and drinking, for more than a week.
Essentially, Jo considered his own word of wisdom revelation to be more like guidelines than actual rules. Welcome aboard the red carbuncle, dear listener, with captain Jo Bar Bossman at the helm.
I don’t have a ton of information about Joe’s use of intoxicants in Missouri in 1838, because he wasn’t there for very long. But we do know that although the Mormon government had banned the sale of alcohol in Caldwell County, Smith opened a hotel and tavern in Far West, a business he would revive in Nauvoo. In June 1838, the same year John Wilkes Booth was born, the Far West high council had to remind Smith's family that there was a ban on the sale and consumption of "ardent spirits in the place.” According to the council’s minute book, Joe complied with the request to stop selling liquor, at least above the table.
Joe had similar kinds of problems in Nauvoo, Illinois. In February 1841, just a month after Hong Kong was ceded to the British commonwealth, Joe’s left-hand man John C. Wreck-It Bennett took his office as mayor. Bennett was a teetotaler, and in a speech to the city council, he urged the council in no uncertain terms to “prohibit and suppress” all businesses that sold alcohol in the city. The city council took his advice, and in the History of the Church (4:293) we can read the ordinance they passed, “that all persons and establishments whatever, in this city, are prohibited from vending whisky in a less quantity than a gallon, or other spirituous liquors in a less quantity than a quart, to any person whatever, excepting on the recommendation of a physician.” Breach of the ordinance was punishable by up to a $25 fine.
Nauvoo Mormonism experienced an influx of temperance advocates, chief of which was John C. Bennett, who became fast friends with the prophet. The Mormons were already known to be a temperate sect and the majority didn’t oppose a temperance bill proposed in 1840 by Bennett. Deliberating over the bill during a Church Conference, Jo carved out an important exception.
In the discussion of the foregoing bill, I spoke at great length on the use of liquors, and showed that it was unnecessary, and operates as a poison in the stomach, and that roots and herbs can be found to effect all necessary purposes. (History of the Church vol 4:299; read History of Joseph Smith & The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints vol 4:293, Vogel, Dan, Smith-Petit Foundation, 2015)
Publicly, liquor in Nauvoo was tightly controlled by the city government. Medicinal liquor infused with bitters or herbs, however, enjoyed an exemption from abolition. The disparity between public abolition of liquor and private usage among Mormon elites was occasionally noted by those unaware of the approval of medicinal liquor, vs. public opposition to recreational usage of the same spirituous beverages.
During a mission trip in 1839, Brigham Young and George A. Smith travelled the countryside and boarded with fellow brethren in the covenant. During a particular stay, both Smith and Young were suffering from illness and carried with them medicinal liquor infused with bitters which didn’t escape comment from a Mormon named ‘Father Draper’.
When we went into the house, Brother George A. Smith dropped on to the hearth a bottle containing some tonic bitters, which the brethren had prepared for us because of our sickness. At this Father Draper was very much astonished, and said "You are a pretty set of Apostles, to be carrying a bottle of whiskey with you." We explained to him what it was; this appeased his righteous soul, so that he consented to have us stay over the night. (emphasis added http://www.boap.org/LDS/Early-Saints/MSHBY.html)
The brethren ‘preparing their own tonic bitters’ must not have been out of the ordinary for Bloody Brigham.The exercise of divine healing throughout Mormon history may not be attributable to the supernatural for historians, but to the bitters infused in medicinal tonics and consecrated topical oils employed throughout its entire 19th-century history.
For drinkers like Joe who lived in Nauvoo, this prohibition ordinance wasn’t too onerous. They could always just go across the river to Montrose to buy their booze. Token anti-Mormon ThomASS Sharp noted in his paper, The Warsaw Signal, on July 14, 1841 that Joe was known to go on benders:
Even the Prophet himself, although a seeming devotee of the temperance cause, is a better friend to Bacchus than to any other God; except, perhaps, Plutus [(The god of wealth)]. We have heard of three sprees of his in the last ten months. In the first he appeared amongst his followers, and offered to prove the truth of his mission by a miracle—which was to clime a hickory pole sixty feet high, with the bark off, heels upward. The second was on board the steamer Nauvoo, in her excursion to Bloomington last fall. On this occasion his holiness drank whiskey until he found himself on his back, feeling upwards for the ground. So says our informant. The third, was last week. On this occasion it does not appear that Jo. was exactly drunk: but it seemed strange to see the Prophet of the Lord, at the head of a champaigne party, crying lustily, “take away the empty bottles, and bring on the full ones.” verily our modern Prophet is the very beau ideal of a pious Christian! How abstemious! How self-denying! But this is none of our business—we will not turn preacher, however much the occasion may require it.’
In another article on July 21, Sharp noted that Bennett and Smith had visited Warsaw, and inside their carriage was a decanter containing some kind of alcohol. According to Sharp, “half a mile from town, the Prophet and suit halted, and took a regular swig—doubtless by way of inspiration.”
It’s not clear if Joe was buying his booze in Montrose or getting it some other way, but here’s one possible way he might have gotten it. In enforcing the city ordinance, the Nauvoo Legion busted up several Nauvoo grog shops. As both lieutenant general of the Legion and chairman of the city council’s for regulating “spiritous liquors,” Joe was in a position to decide what was done with the alcohol seized from these shops. Not long after this, Jo would have his own bar in the Nauvoo Mansion.
Meanwhile, Joe also started working to roll back the Church’s covenant to treat the Word of Wisdom as a commandment. In November 1841, he preached a sermon at the Nauvoo Temple Lot in which he said that “what many people called sin was not sin,” and he specifically used the example of Noah getting drunk in the Bible and his son Ham laughing at him. In this story Noah is the drunkard and Ham is the temperance advocate, but God takes Noah’s side, not Ham’s. Ham and all his descendants get cursed. Implicitly, anyone who criticizes Joe for getting drunk is going to be cursed like a modern-day Ham. Plenty of bible passages can be mined for anybody looking for a debauchery-filled lifestyle.
After this sermon, the High Priests Quorum and Quorum of the Twelve met together and agreed that “a forced abstinence was not making us free,” but rather had placed the Church “under bondage with a yoke upon our necks.” And just like that, the Word of Wisdom officially stopped being a commandment for the Church. It wouldn’t be until the Prohibition era in the early 20th century that the Word of Wisdom became heavily enforced.
Later in the Nauvoo period, Joe often recorded himself drinking in his journals or in the History of the Church. For instance, on May 3, 1843 he “drank a glass of wine with Sister Janetta Richards, made by her mother in England.” On January 29, 1844, “Capt[ain] White of Quincy was at the Mansion last night and this morning drank a toast.” On June 1, 1844, Joe “Drank a glass of beer at Mooessers.” On June 27, 1844, “Dr. Richards uncorked the bottle, and presented a glass to Joseph, who tasted.”
After he replaced Bennett as mayor, Joe also loosened up the city’s regulation of the sale of alcohol. On March 10, 1843, “Joseph decided that he had no objection to having a brewery put up by Theodore Turley.” Joe also had a bar in his own house, as recorded in History of the Church 6:111: “Be it ordained by the City Council of Nauvoo, that the Mayor [Joseph Smith] of the city is hereby authorized to sell or give spirits of any quantity as he in his wisdom shall judge to be for the health and comfort, or convenience of such travelers or other persons as shall visit his house from time to time.” It seems like Joe finally took the reins and took back control of both the Church’s and the city’s alcohol policy from the teetotaler wing of the Church.
Wreck-it Bennett, however, requires a deeper examination here beyond just the alcohol prohibitions he pushed through the Nauvoo city council. He, just like Freddy G. Willey, was an herbal physician who had some training in obstetrics. Many allegations float around Nauvoo about Bennett performing abortions to keep polygamy secret. Bennett also ran a brothel in Nauvoo and if you run a brothel without birth control your business practices are pretty short-sighted. These rumors are so salacious that you hope they aren’t true, but so prevalent that you can’t help but think they might be true. We’ve discussed them on the show ep 141. But facets of polygamy is another aspect of herbal medicine which bears discussion here.
Of specific note during the Nauvoo era of Mormonism was the increased practice of polygamy. A tenet previously reserved for Jo exclusively while the Mormons occupied Ohio and Missouri, Nauvoo provided a safe haven for Mormon elites to begin taking additional wives as well. When the Mormon aristocracy finally controlled the government and city courts, illegal and nefarious conduct became the norm. A great deal of conflict arose as a result of rumors of adultery gripping the new Mormon settlement. Jo took anywhere from 33-48 wives before his death, dependent upon what sources and historians are given more credibility as well as what criteria are used to determine marriage sealings. We’ll discuss polygamy more in a coming episode of this series but we’ll round out today’s episode with a brief discussion of herbal medicines associated with polygamy. This is going to get pretty dark but it’s an aspect of coercion and abuse that deserves the light of day.
A wholly undiscussed aspect of Mormon polygamy revolves around the possible use of so called love philters to acquire wives and abortifacients to conceal the results.
First, let’s talk about the love philters. As occult historian Thomas Hatsis observed, “Otherwise known as a love philter, a poculum amatorai (literally ‘love cup’) was both a stupefacient and an exciter that ‘impair[ed] the senses and stirs within...apparitions and frenzied loves.’”(Hatsis, Thomas. p14) These love philters are an often addressed topic in the same occult source material that was used by the Smith family for their money digging operations, and the combined ingredients of such potions often illicit mind-altering effects similar to that of MDMA or Ecstacy. The clandestine application of these love philters would have produced pliable and willing participants to polygamous unions, who had otherwise proven to be objectionable and opposed to such practices. Additionally, evidence for these entheogenic applications, as well as the often necessary abortifacients which were then used to effectively cover-up the inevitable side effects of the love philters is a subject unexplored by any Mormon historians.
Joseph Smith in particular was noted for sometimes forcibly coercing his more obstinate prospective wives with threats of vengeful angels wielding swords, should the unions not proceed as decreed by Jo. One of these women, “Zina D….told of Bro. Joseph's remark in relation to the revelation on celestial marriage. How an angel came to him with a drawn sword, and said if he did not obey this law he would lost his priesthood; and in the keeping of it he, Joseph, did not know but it would cost him his life.” (Hales, Brian C. Joseph Smith's Polygamy: History 2:190. Originally quoted in "The Prophet's Birthday," Deseret News, January 12, 1881, 2.) Not only would this story provide a horrendously effective set and setting for later proposals, but provided the addition of love philters, such pre-programmed hallucinations would have undoubtedly assured these women eventually relenting to Smith's advances. Of his 33-48 polygamous wives, many were already married to other church officials (in one case Zina B. Huntington was even seven months pregnant) (Clark, Kim. Sword-Wielding Angels & Stolen Innocence. 2014), and at least seven were teenagers at the time their ‘celestial marriage’ to Joseph Smith. To reiterate, Jo could tell a young woman he wanted to marry that an angel appeared to him with a drawn sword and commanded them to be sealed, dose them with a love philter, and the programming he provided would manifest as an apparition of sorts to the young woman.
As a case study, I offer the words of Lucy Walker, a teenage victim of Joseph Smith. She details how Jo began to target her, then teach her about the concept of celestial marriage, she denied him, then Jo blessed her that she would receive the confirmation of the spirit that celestial marriage was of god and Jo was indeed a prophet of that same god. Lucy apparently received this confirmation late at night with a very incredible experience which could have easily been the result of a love philter or psychedelic. During the time she describes here, Lucy’s mother had recently died and her father was in the eastern states on a mission for Jo. I’ll let Lucy speak for herself from 1888, the same year Kodak was founded and California got its first seismograph.
In the year 1842, President Joseph Smith sought an interview with me, and said: “I have a message for you. I have been commanded of God to take another wife, and you are the woman.” My astonishment knew no bounds. This announcement was indeed a thunderbolt to me. He asked me if I believed him to be a prophet of God. “Most assuredly I do,” I replied. He fully explained to me the principle of plural or celestial marriage. He said this principle was again to be restored for the benefit of the human family, that it would prove an everlasting blessing to my father’s house, and form a chain that could never be broken, worlds without end. “What have you to say?” he asked. “Nothing.” How could I speak, or what could I say? He said, “If you will pray sincerely for light and understanding in relation thereto, you shall receive a testimony of the correctness of this principle. I thought I prayed sincerely, but was so unwilling to consider the matter favorably that I fear I did not ask in faith for light. Gross darkness instead of light took possession of my mind. I was tempted and tortured beyond endurance until life was not desirable. Oh that the grave would kindly receive me, that I might find rest on the bosom of my dear mother. Why should I be chosen from among thy daughters, Father, I am only a child in years and experience, no mother to counsel [she died in January, 1842]; no father near to tell me what to do in this trying hour [he was on a mission to a warmer climate to help his health]. Oh, let this bitter cup pass. And thus I prayed in the agony of my soul.
The Prophet discerned my sorrow. He saw how unhappy I was, and sought an opportunity of again speaking to me on this subject, and said: “Although I cannot, under existing circumstances, acknowledge you as my wife, the time is near when we will go beyond the Rocky Mountains and then you will be acknowledged and honored as my wife.”
He also said, “This principle will yet be believed in and practiced by the righteous. I have no flattering words to offer. It is a command of God to you. I will give you until tomorrow to decide this matter. If you reject this message the gate will be closed forever against you.”
This aroused every drop of Scotch in my veins. For a few moments I stood fearless before him, and looked him in the eye. I felt at this moment that I was called to place myself upon the altar a living sacrifice–perhaps to brook the world in disgrace and incur the displeasure and contempt of my youthful companions; all my dreams of happiness blown to the four winds. This was too much, for as yet no shadow had crossed my path, aside from the death of my dear mother. The future to me had been one bright, cloudless day. I had been speechless, but at last found utterance and said: “Although you are a prophet of God you could not induce me to take a step of so great importance, unless I knew that God approved my course. I would rather die. I have tried to pray but received no comfort, no light,” and emphatically forbid him speaking again to me on this subject. Every feeling of my soul revolted against it. Said I, “The same God who has sent this message is the Being I have worshipped from my early childhood and He must manifest His will to me.” He walked across the room, returned and stood before me with the most beautiful expression of countenance, and said: “God Almighty bless you. You shall have a manifestation of the will of God concerning you; a testimony that you can never deny. I will tell you what it shall be. It shall be that joy and peace that you never knew.”
Oh, how earnestly I prayed for these words to be fulfilled. It was near dawn after another sleepless night when my room was lighted up by a heavenly influence. To me it was, in comparison, like the brilliant sun bursting through the darkest cloud. The words of the Prophet were indeed fulfilled. My soul was filled with a calm, sweet peace that “I never knew.” Supreme happiness took possession of me, and I received a powerful and irresistible testimony of the truth of plural marriage, which has been like an anchor to the soul through all the trials of life. I felt that I must go out into the morning air and give vent to the joy and gratitude that filled my soul. As I descended the stairs, President Smith opened the door below, took me by the hand and said: “Thank God, you have the testimony. I too have prayed.” He led me to a chair, placed his hands upon my head, and blessed me with every blessing my heart could possibly desire.
The first day of May, 1843, I consented to become the Prophet’s wife, and was sealed to him for time and all eternity, at his own house by Elder William Clayton.
Lucy added a few notable details in another account which was reported secondhand. In this version she adds an angel to the mix, the fact that she was living in the Smith home, and that she had this angelic manifestation after eating dinner, providing a window for her to have been surreptitiously drugged by the prophet.
I went to live with Joseph Smith’s family as a maid and after I had grown up, Joseph asked me if I would marry him. I felt highly insulted and he said that if I wanted to know whether the principle was true, I could go to God and find out. One night after supper I went out into the orchard and I kneeled down and prayed to God for information. After praying I arose and walked around the orchard and kneeled again and repeated this during the night. FInally as I was praying the last time, an angel of the Lord appeared to me and told me that the principle was of God and for me to accept it.
Lucy was 17 when this happened, Jo was 38. Notably, Jo’s personal herbal physician, second counselor in the presidency, and namesake of one of Jo’s sons, Frederick G. Williams, included in his medical ledger book charges for men in Nauvoo for one of his remedies called “bachelor’s delight”. According to Freddy G. Willey’s biographer, a descendant by the same name, “Although the reference is veiled in a euphemistic phrase, Doctor Williams, it would seem, treated some patient (or patients) for venereal disease, which he listed as “Bachelor Delight” in his medical ledger, page 33. There are a total of twenty-five separate billings, totaling $41,87, which was paid off on August 1, 1839, with the notation “Sundries to balance.”” The biography then goes on to list Thomsonian medical cures for venereal diseases including syphilis, but he doesn’t describe exactly how he made the jump from Williams’ ledger book calling a cure “Bachelor Delight” to it being a cure for venereal disease, it is merely his assumption. I postulate that love philters, certain plant medicines acting as stupefacients, or excitors would fit the bill just as easily with the same amount of speculation. Prior to his death in 1842, Freddy Willey could have provided Jo with the necessary plant medicines to function as date rape drugs or visionary psychedelics which would provide the sought-for spiritual confirmations of angels commanding plural marriage like Lucy Walker and others like her experienced.
Now let’s talk about the role of plant medicines used as abortifacients. Jo had over 30 wives with whom he probably had many sexual experiences, but no verifiable descendants came from these women. Allegations arose from multiple sources that John C. Wreck-it Bennett was performing abortions in order to keep the polygamy concealed. When conflict eventually arose between Jo and Wreck-it Bennett, Bennett published an exposé of Joseph Smith and the Mormons, making accusations concerning polygamy and what was called “spiritual wifery”. Patreon exclusive feed and eps 120-134. After much deliberation, affidavits were taken in Nauvoo claiming Smith to be a pious and pure religious leader, while Bennett was hypocritically derided for his unchristian-like conduct with women. The line between spiritual wifery and celestial marriage was born out of the necessity of differentiating between Jo’s god-sanctioned polygamy and Bennett’s sexual exploits, although the systems were functionally the same. Jo’s brother, and patriarch over the Church, Hyrum sidekick-Abiff Smith, provides interesting logistical details into how polygamy was kept secret with the help of Bennett.
… several females who testified that John C. Bennett endeavored to seduce them, and accomplished his designs by saying it was right; that it was one of the mysteries of God...that it was perfectly right to have illicit intercourse with females, providing no one knew it but themselves...also stating that he would be responsible for their sins, if there were any, and that he would give them medicine to produce abortions, provided they should become pregnant. (History of the Church vol 5:71; read History of Joseph Smith & The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints vol 4:293, Vogel, Dan, Smith-Petit Foundation, 2015)
Bennett’s familiarity with medicine wasn’t limited to healing or obstetrics.
One of these witnesses, a married woman that he attended upon in his professional capacity whilst she was sick, stated that he made proposals to her of a similar [adulterous] nature; he told her that he wished her husband was dead, and that if he was dead, he would marry her and clear out with her; he also begged her permission to give him [her husband] medicine to that effect; he did try to give him medicine, but he would not take it. (ibid, p. 71)
Bennett and other herbal physicians close to Jo had the knowledge base necessary to provide chemical and surgical abortions, poison men they wanted “put out of the way,” and treat expected venereal diseases attendant with the amount of sex was going on in Nauvoo. If Wreck-it Bennett didn’t have expertise in these fields, he’d be a terrible brothel owner. Another contemporary expose from Joseph H. Jackson, details how Jo “had only to tell certain of his spiritual wives, that such a man had been in the Missouri war, and that he should be put out of the way, and his property and money consecrated to the use, of the church; then said he, it is damned easy for them to got into his good graces, and to mix a white powder with his victuals, and put him out of the way.” Ep. 161.
The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, published Primitive Physick Or an Easy and Natural Method of Curing Most Diseases in 1761, complete with numerous powerful herbal recipes, 7 decades before Thomsonian ‘vegetable medicine’ entered the medical lexicon and people became Thomsonian physicians like White-out Willard Richards, Freddy G. Willey, and others close to Jo. Obviously considered of great importance due to the recipe being the first listed after the introduction was “daily a Decoction of Lignum Guaiacum” (Primitive Physick, Wesley, John, p. 29, 9th ed. 1761, Strahan, London and Westminster) which was to be administered in order to induce abortions. Additionally, the popular and widely accessible Culpepper's Herbal cites a number of contemporarily popular abortifacients such as the pennyroyal, tansy, and rue, stating in the case of tansy that, “when served in wine, tansy would ‘procure woman’s courses.’” ( Brodie, Janet Farrell. Contraception and Abortion in Nineteenth-Century America. Cornell University Press, 1997. p43.) Ebenezer Sibly, the same author of Occult Sciences which was used as source material for the Smith family money digging toolkit, also worked as a botanical illustrator, providing the picture plates for contemporary editions of Culpepper’s Herbal. Sibly even kindly provided sections of the herbal as an appendix to his book on the occult. Clearly equipped with ample means and knowhow, family planning has interesting and well established roots in Victorian and Antebellum Mormon history. Ep 141.
In whatever capacity love philters and abortifacients may or may not have been employed in Nauvoo Mormonism, the knowledge and expertise existed. Whether Jo himself was familiar with and utilizing this controversial part of coercive and discrete herbal medicine, or one of the other herbal physicians in leadership roles better fits the position, the evidence available today exhibits that usage of these plants was not only commonplace, but possibly a necessary component of Nauvoo polygamy. If I’m not stating myself clearly enough, I posit that Jo used date-rape drugs and psychedelics to coerce women into sexual relations with him, who he’d then force to have chemical and surgical abortions in order to keep polygamy secretive.
Like I said, we had to take a step into that darker side of plant medicines because that’s where it fits into this series and it’s a subject that deserves study, exploration, and expansion, because it’s uncomfortable and very disturbing. If we don’t confront history that challenges our ideas and convictions, we fall into telling the same stories the same way and nobody learns anything new.
Now, to a larger point to round out this third episode of our Road to Carthage series. Because he made his life about religion and expounding on theology, the nature of god, and expanding Christianity to include many proprietary elements, Joseph Smith is often a person regarded as larger than life. He was a flawed man but still the prophet of god. His sins were because he was a man, but the gospel he restored itself is perfect. Because of the position in which he placed himself, the stories we find of his conduct viewed as sins through our presentist lens require explanation or justification within the Mormon world view. To what extent his sins influenced his revelations seems to be a prickly subject. Did Jo’s libido factor into his revelation about polygamy? Did Jo’s penchant for land and business speculation factor into his revelations about the United Order and the Mormons forgiving debts? Did his white supremacy factor into the racist elements in the Books of Mormon, Moses, and Abraham? These are foundational questions which challenge the very concept of god and god’s influence on Joseph Smith’s claimed scriptures. If we can’t disentangle the man from the revelations he claimed came from god, why do we have any reason to believe the revelations actually DID come from god? Thus, we’re left with pathetic and thought-stopping platitudes like the man was flawed but the gospel is perfect.
This is inherently flawed logic for a couple of reasons. First, it views Jo’s conduct through a presentist lens and places value judgments based on our current systems of morality and religious tenets. Modern Mormonism forbids all alcohol consumption but Jo’s entire legacy is marked from binge to binge and he was drunk during the gunfight that killed him. People viewed alcohol differently in the 19th century than we do today and to impose our system of beliefs or morality on them is a broken way to study history. Second, the element of divine influence can never be demonstrated. Any historical theory which claims the intervention or influence of God is theology, not history; leaving us with a flawed man and a gospel which isn’t perfect so much as proprietary. Third, the proposition of forming a religion is, at best, an amoral proposition. When a believer looks at Joseph Smith’s legacy, they must weigh his perceived sins in the balance of the moral good of restoring the perfect gospel to the earth, the most righteous and moral act any person could do with consequences extending from eternity to eternity, hinging on that pivotal first vision experience in 1820. For a non-believer, or a skeptic like yours truly, forming a religion is almost always an immoral and self-serving act; meaning we don’t weigh Jo’s perceived sins on a balance scale with restoring the one true gospel so much as we see it within the larger context of religious leaders forming their religions for self-aggrandizement and narcissism.
The crucial flaw in this logic is belief in the untestable, unprovable, and unverifiable. When we strip away the belief component, what we’re left with is materialism… naturalism, skepticism without any access to the divine. A postmodern view of a dude who told everybody he speaks for god who would stop at nothing to build the strongest and most vast and sweeping religious empire the world has ever seen.
With a skeptical approach to the proposition of god or the divine, we need naturalistic models to understand and inform Mormon history as well as the life and times of a man who’s seen as nearest perfection as humans can get for millions of people across the globe. Simply put, artifacts within Mormon history that have most often been attributed to god require explanation within the natural world. When Jo said he saw angels and deity, and dozens of his contemporaries claim the same, we need historical models to explain it. When we know Jo had like 3 dozen wives, we need historical models which account for sex to explain why he doesn’t have any living descendants from those nonconsensual encounters. When we see that Jo kept a cabal of esoteric-minded herbal physicians within arms reach at all times, we need to consider if there might be a historical reason for that beyond the simple idea that they were devoted and loyal converts. When we see a pattern of debauchery and concomitant visionary experiences with Jo and his early church, we must search for historical models which incorporate these many variables into a larger umbrella theory.
For those, and many other reasons, I believe a powerful missing key to the kingdom of Mormon history is psychedelics and plant medicines broadly. How did Jo experience theophany in the sacred grove? Plants. How did so many early Mormons see god and angels? Plants. How did Jo come up with such expansive and fascinating theology? Plants. How could Jo produce seemingly on-demand visions and revelations for his closest followers who believed until the day they died? Plants. How did Jo convince dozens of women to have sex with him? Plants… and a bit of charisma… that’s the case with all of these but that’s because every good shaman is charismatic. How did Jo keep his sex empire from actually multiplying and replenishing the earth? Plants. How did Jo put his enemies out of the way without raising suspicion? Plants again. How did Jo produce seemingly miraculous healings with nothing more than a prayer and some consecrated oil? Plants in that oil.
And, to draw an even finer point on everything we’ve discussed today. Why has this theory never been explored in depth at the academic level before? Because Mormons don’t do drugs. As of now, there’s a single book from the 1970s, written by a general authority at the time, about Jo’s drinking habits, which never even explored the possibility of psychedelics as part of that debauchery. Hearts Made Glad; it’s a wonderful little book, less than 300 pages and it has various poetry peppered throughout the pages, making the endnotes a complete nightmare, but it’s important foundational work for the drinking habits of Joseph Smith. It wasn’t until 2007 that somebody with medical training actually wrote an academic paper on psychedelics in early Mormonism, titled Restoration and the Sacred Mushroom by Robert Beckstead. Then, in 2017, Cody Noconi and I built on Beckstead’s work and presented Revelation Through Hallucination; A Treatise on the Smith-Entheogen Theory at Sunstone, resurrecting a theory that lay dormant for a decade. Then, Cody Noconi, Robert Beckstead, Michael Winkelman, and myself, compiled our collective research and published it in the Journal of Psychedelics Studies on June 1, 2019. Eps 186-188. With setting apart enough time, the mindset of perseverance, and probably a large dose of luck, I’ll be compiling all this information into a book that will help to unlock a complicated aspect of the Mormon history kingdom.
I want to share so many more stories, but I’ve already drained enough glasses writing these 33 pages of script so let’s call it a night.
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