Ep 188 – The Entheogenic Origins of Mormonism: A Working Hypothesis pt. 3

On this episode, we conclude reading through our recently-published paper in the Journal of Psychedelics Studies on psychedelics in early Mormonism. Parts 1 and 2 established the foundation for what will be discussed in this part 3. We examine entheogens in the early church, the Kirtland-era, and Nauvoo-era endowment practices. Joseph Smith sending missionaries to Texas is viewed through the psychedelic lens in attempting to acquire a steady supply of peyote. After Smith’s death, the sharp drop off of visionary experiences in factions of Mormonism is particularly noteworthy. Frederick M. Smith, grandson of Joseph, practiced use of peyote and even advocated for their use, serving as a direct influence on the early 20th-century psychedelic movement coming out of Harvard. Peyote and entheogen use in modern factions of Mormon-related religions also present some interesting ethical and legal questions. The paper is wrapped up with a conclusion after which we bring on a guest to discuss an event coming 19 April 2020.

Find the paper here:

“Bicycle day” event 19 April 2020 at Salt Lake City Library followed by a tour of Gilgal Gardens

Utah Psychedelic Society

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We’ve done parts one and two of reading through our recently-published paper, The Entheogenic Origins of Mormonism: A Working Hypothesis over the last two weeks. Part one established the background of entheogens in magic and occult ritualism as well as the Smith family’s world view. It also discussed herbalism in the Book of Mormon, the Word of Wisdom, and early Mormon sacramental rituals. Part two dove into the most likely candidate psychedelics used in early Mormon entheogen practices, discussed the symptomology of those plant medicines, and discussed how Smith could have come into possession of the knowledge and physical materials to employ these various entheogens. That basis of knowledge served as the foundation for discussing the first vision experience in the Sacred Grove, death and rebirth symbolism in the Book of Mormon, and the therapeutic effects of entheogens to treat trauma, depression, and PTSD for Joseph Smith and the early Mormons.

Now, for part 3, the prestige of entheogens in Mormonism. Today we examine entheogens in early Mormonism and what actually spurned this project in the first place. When it comes to entheogens in Joseph Smith’s life prior to the foundation of the church evidence is scarce and requires a synthesis of multiple disparate documents and suppositions based on what can be found in the dreams of Joseph Sr., the pages of the Book of Mormon, the first vision experience, and drawn together from the magic world view. However, in the early Kirtland-era of Mormonism, a wealth of ecstatic and visionary experiences can be drawn from to form a rock-solid foundation to explore psychedelics in early Mormonism. With that in mind, we’ll discuss early Mormonism under the leadership of Joseph Smith, the sharp, yet brief transition away from visionary Mormonism after transition of power to Brigham Young, and the legacy left behind. The paper ends with a discussion of another prophet of the patrilineal line of Smith family prophets, Fred M. Smith, prophet of the RLDS through the early 20th century, and we touch lightly on some other Mormon sects which overtly and directly employ entheogens to this day before reaching a short conclusion.

What do you say, listeners… are you ready to complete the spell? We’re in for a long one today but all this hard work will pay off at the end with a brief announcement.

Entheogenic ordinances

In early Mormonism, converts anticipated visions and direct face-to-face communication with God, but only in the context of Church ordinances administered by Joseph Smith. In 1832, Joseph Smith explained:

And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.— Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest; and without the ordinance thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh; for without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live. (Smith, 1833, Section 4)

Importantly, visions and ecstasies in early Mormonism are associated with ordinances involving the serving of bread and wine sacraments, and anointings of bodies with anointings; while the expected visionary Nauvoo temple endowment also features oil anointings but adds plucking fruit from tree branches. In June, Joseph Smith (1839, pp. 17–18) told trusted leaders:

God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what He will make known unto ::: the least Saint ::: for the day must come when no man need say to his neighbor, ‘Know ye the Lord; for all shall know ::: [he] will have the personage of Jesus Christ to attend him ::: and the visions of the heavens will be opened unto him, and the Lord will teach him face to face.

It is likely that models of Biblical visions, and esoteric-minded mentors guided Joseph Smith to ingest something crucial to his own visionary experience.
– Genesis 2:17 pointed to the need to eat the fruit of any tree in the garden to retain peace, happiness, and tranquility (possibly A. muscaria), but not the fruit of the tree of knowledge (possibly datura).
– Moses instructed Israel to eat manna that tasted like a wafer made with honey (Exodus 16:31).
– Ezekiel (3:1-3) eats a scroll that was as sweet as honey in Ezekiel 3:1, the consumption of a scroll or book tasted “as honey for sweetness.”
– John, in association with his vision in Revelations 10:10, eats an entheogen that tastes sweet but in “belly [it] was bitter.”
– Jesus said, “To him who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone” (Revelation 2:17, see also 10:9).

In each of these cases, the ingestion of some substance tasting bitter, sweet, or forbidden was transformative. Gastrointestinal upset is a feature of ergot alkaloids (Schiff, 2006), Psilocybe species, and A. muscaria mushroom ingestion (Beug, Shaw, & Cochran, 2006). Also, Smith expounded on the Revelation of St. John, explaining that “the little book which was eaten by John, as mentioned in the 10th chapter of Revelation” is understood to be “an ordinance.” In this statement, Joseph Smith informs converts that visions are associated with consuming a substance or the application of anointing oil during Mormon ordinance work.

What’s detailed in that portion of the paper is the dose, set, and setting formula. Joseph Smith fits well the mold of shaman who could program the minds of his parishioners days, months, or years ahead of their theophany such that the dosage would find a receptive mind to manipulate. He would tell them if they were holy and pure enough and attended to the proper ordinances, they would experience god, the heavens would be opened up, and they would commune with angels on high. This programming of the people while in their sober state of mind was the set part of the equation. The mindset must be programmed ahead of time. Some are more receptive of this programming, others more skeptical, but most are vulnerable to it. It should also be noted that once a person gives in to the programming, thereby surrendering their autonomy, the person doing the programming can facilitate all sorts of interesting phenomena with the control they wield over the person. Of course, this paper only touches on the entheogenic aspects of Mormonism, but you can easily see how such power can create legions of devoted followers willing to sacrifice everything they have to this newfound truth. Programming humans often follows a formula and Joseph Smith became more efficient and effective in his programming as his ministry progressed. In many ways, that was key to his charisma. Now, to the second aspect of setting. Set is the mindset going into the trip, whereas setting is what is happening during the trip. Smith was also very effective at creating a ritualism in the context of his Christian-magic programming which would help keep participants focused and tethered to what was going on around them, while simultaneously exploring other mental realms. One of the first things new users of psychedelics learn is that the experience can turn on a dime. It can go from being an incredible and mind-expanding experience to drowning in the depths of despair and feeling trapped in the darkest corners of their mind by just a single variable switching or just one dark thought entering their mind and infecting everything else. So, to combat this possible devolution into a bad trip, the variables of setting must be attended to. How does one create a conducive setting? Through repeatable ritualism, songs, prayers and meditation, a moving speech by a trusted leader punctuated by periods of quiet ambiance, warm candlelit rooms protecting the participant from the piercing cold outside, surrounding participants with friends and family going through the same experience, maybe even throw specific chants and characters acting out the creation myth everybody knows by heart and include physical contact with points of fellowship and handshakes. Then you end the whole experience with a quiet period of reflection where the participants can share their experience with loved ones who also went through it. All of these physical practices work in conjunction with the programming or mindset of the participant to facilitate a spiritual or mystical experience. Here’s a crucial detail, set and setting work best with a dose as well. However, a dosage isn’t necessary to achieve this heightened state of spiritual awareness or altered state of consciousness. That being said, a dosage allows the other variables to not be tuned so perfectly and still achieve the same end. This is why religious people will have spiritual experiences or see angels without ever having eaten any mushrooms. The set and setting variables can be tuned such that participants can enter altered states of consciousness. Where the dosage becomes important is the rate of success. You can have set and setting tuned perfectly with a group of 500 people and a few of them may experience what they consider theophany or some kind of mystical experience that impacts them for minutes, days, or years afterward. When you add a dosage into that perfect set and setting that rate of success skyrockets so instead of a few out of the 500 having a profound experience, 450 of them might have that life-altering spiritual experience which changes their lives, alters how they see the world, and lasts for years or decades. Or, if you add the dosage, set and setting don’t require as much attention and there can be more variability with still a high percentage of success. I’ll go ahead and preempt a criticism of the paper here and briefly deal with it. Critics of the Smith-entheogen theory may say that early visionary Mormonism was similar to many other religions of the time when we consider various visionary experiences. This isn’t very accurate because the meteoric rise in number of converts of the pre-European converts is staggering when compared with contemporary charismatic sects. Most of Smith market competitors at the time had a few hundred converts at their peak, not 15,000 as Mormonism did right before Smith’s death. Beyond that, seldom did these sects have such wide reports of ecstatic experiences. Speaking in tongues or swoonings, yes, but people chasing floating white orbs, thinking the temple was on fire, seeing angels and ancient apostles walking through the congregation, hallucinating swaths of Native American warriors which converted to the church while the person was just standing on a rock in a field, multiple instances of temporary paralysis, catatonic states that didn’t last minutes but hours or days, people doing backflips off chairs, dilated pupils, and myriad other symptoms are all very unique to Mormonism with respect to its comparative size. Either the Mormon visionary experiences were interchangeable and common with other sects of the day or they were unique and require naturalistic explanation. With all this talk of dose, set, and setting Joseph Smith was able to capture and utilize to his own ends, what was the result? Let’s continue.


As a budding prophet, Joseph Smith’s altered appearance was readily apparent to observers (see Sally Heller above), but with experience, his demeanor during visions did not so readily betray an altered state. Early Mormon converts, as novice prophets themselves, would experience altered states similar to those reported by Joseph Smith in his early visions. For instance, in an 1832 shared experience Joseph Smith and his first counselor, Sidney Rigdon alternately related what they saw in vision while others wrote the revelation down. As was the customary order of the priesthood at that time, Smith and Rigdon likely partook of the sacrament at the beginning of this meeting. After this vision, Sidney appeared pale and exhausted.

An observer reported: “Joseph sat firmly and calmly all the time in the midst of a magnificent glory, but Sidney sat limp and pale, apparently as limber as a rag, observing which, Joseph remarked, smilingly, ‘Sidney is not used to it as I am’” (Dibble, 1892; for a description of this vision, see Smith, 1835, pp. 225–231; Woodward, 2012). Joseph Smith’s and Sidney Rigdon’s account of this vision was added to the Latter-day Saint canon as Doctrine and Covenants, currently Section 76. This vision entailed a physical change, elsewhere called “transfiguration,” a change that converts would experience in their own bodies in connection with priesthood ordinances, if they desired to see God and Heaven. According to Smith, such a transformation of the body was needed so that “while in the flesh, they may be able to bear his presence in the world of glory” (D&C 76:117–118; Moses 1:11, 31). Smith taught that Mormon ordinances and “transfiguration” were prerequisite to visionary experience. Partaking of an entheogen would account for the physical symptoms experienced by Sidney Rigdon and other early Mormon converts and also account for the “transfiguration” phenomenon. Early Mormons were led to understand that distressing bodily symptoms following sacraments and anointing were nothing to fear but instead to eagerly anticipate. Early Mormon converts prepared for entheogenic Church ordinances in several ways. Many of the most ardent early Mormon converts joined Mormonism after hearing of convert visions and after reading The Book of Mormon, which itself has multiple allusions to entheogenic experience. These allusions, we argue, prepared converts to experience similar entheogenic interactions with Heaven and divine beings. Among the significant exhortations Joseph Smith gave on this topic did not have so much to do with personal worthiness as it did by a willingness to participate in the ordinances and loyalty to the Church and himself. If a member remained loyal, Smith in effect guaranteed their personal and immediate success in accessing Heaven and angels and receiving revelation themselves. Smith’s promise that converts would see God and experience visions, dreams, and ecstasies would occur in receiving sacraments and endowments. The settings where sacraments were received were initially nature-based, followed by private homes; and later shifted to specially constructed temples incorporating mystical symbols, including symbols utilizing esoteric and masonic imagery. For instance, labyrinths, gonfalons, spirals, and squares within squares adorned the Kirtland temple. Even more mysterious, unquestionably alchemical-masonic symbols decorated the Nauvoo temple. Further, Joseph Smith himself was the trusted guide for ceremonies, prayers, and singing; and when necessary, Smith managed problematic entheogenic experiences. By following this entheogenic protocol, Joseph Smith facilitated an unprecedented number of “on demand” religious visions and ecstasies.

Three witness’ visions

The type and quality of visionary experience among Mormon converts was similar to that experienced by Joseph Smith, including the replication of the troublesome symptomology reported by Smith. Converts receiving visions containing doctrine and commandments that contradicted that of Joseph Smith, however, were tightly controlled by him and non-binding on the Church (Smith, 1835, p. 181). In July 1829, shortly after Joseph Smith completed his work on the text of The Book of Mormon, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris accompanied Joseph Smith in prayer and Cowdery, Whitmer, and Smith, and then separately Harris and Smith, experienced visions of an angel descending from Heaven and showing the golden plates and other artifacts associated with The Book of Mormon, a testimony they never recanted even when ridiculed. However, considerable controversy raged in the 19th century and today about whether the witnesses saw the plates in a physical, sensory way (with “natural eyes”) or in an altered, visionary state (with “spiritual eyes”). One witness, Martin Harris, equivocated on whether the experience was “natural” or “spiritual.” Further light was shed on the experience by another witness, David Whitmer: “I have been asked if we saw those things with our natural eyes. Of course, they were our natural eyes. There is no doubt that our eyes were prepared for the sight, but they were our natural eyes nevertheless” (Vogel, 2003). Of particular interest to this discussion is David Whitmer’s statement that: “our eyes were prepared for the sight.” In 3 Nephi 28 found in The Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith~~’s~~ reveals that the physical body must change, or “transfigure” to see spiritual things or else they would die (Moses 1; 3 Nephi 28). From Whitmer’s testimony, it appears that The Book of Mormon witnesses were informed by Joseph Smith either directly or in the form of The Book of Mormon passages that symptomology precedes visionary experience. The Three Witnesses and Mormon converts alike were aware of the biblical precedent involving Adam and Eve eating the “forbidden fruit.” Another precedent involved the practice of receiving communion, in which ordinary food and drink received an Apostolic blessing leading to those present at the visionary Christian Pentecost to appear intoxicated. The telling of Joseph Smith Sr’s. entheogenic dreams and the entheogenic accounts in The Book of Mormon would also have provided yet another precedent. All of these precedents, and others discussed in this paper, placed in the immediate backdrop of their vision, provided “emotional immunization” from fear and embarrassment secondary to the troublesome entheogen-related physical and emotional symptomology preceding their visionary and ecstatic experience.

1830: New York visions

Joseph Smith promised converts visions, but only in Mormon “ordinances” and in the presence of Church leaders. In the first conference of the Church held on June 9th of 1830 in Fayette, New York, organizing his Church, Smith formalized the instructions to “oft” partake of the sacrament. Of this meeting, Joseph Smith wrote:

::: we partook together of the emblems of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ ::: Much exhortation and instruction were given; and the Holy Ghost was poured out upon us in a miraculous manner many of our number prophesied, whilst others had the Heavens opened to their view, and were so overcome that we had to lay them on beds, or other convenient places: Among the rest was Brother Newel Knight who had to be placed on a bed, being unable to help himself. By his own account of the transaction, He could not understand why we should lay him on the bed, as he felt no sensibility of weakness. He felt his heart filled with love, with glory and pleasure unspeakable, and could discern all that was going on in the room, when all of a sudden, a vision of futurity burst upon him. He saw there represented, the great work which through my instrumentality was yet to be accomplished. He saw Heaven opened and beheld the Lord Jesus Christ, seated at the right hand of the majesty on high, and had it made plain to his understanding that the time would come when he would be admitted into his presence to enjoy his society for ever and ever. When their bodily strength was restored to these brethren, they shouted, “hosannas to God and the lamb” and rehearsed the glorious things which they had seen and felt, whilst they were yet in the Spirit. (Smith, 1843, pp. 41–42)

The relationship of the symptomology associated with this visionary experience highly suggests Joseph Smith’s surreptitious use of entheogenic material in the Mormon sacrament ordinance. Further, symptomology associated with Mormon visionary experience likely results in charges of medicating or doctoring the wine. Seeming to deflect this criticism onto those making the charges, Smith warned members in August 1830 they should not “partake” of wine “except it is made new among you” (Smith, 1835, p. 27). As he will do again in 1833, and in 1836 (see below), Joseph seems to suggest that any wine he administers during Mormon ordinances will be new wine, consecrated, and non-intoxicating.

1830–1831: Kirtland, Ohio, charges of intemperance

When Joseph Smith arrived in Kirtland, Ohio in 1831, converts had experienced visionary sacraments similar to that witnessed in New York. How did these Mormons, having not met Joseph Smith, institute an entheogenic sacrament? Mark Staker (2009, pp. 19–26) in his “Hearken, O Ye People” contextualizes the episode in 19th-century African American worship practices and the enthusiasms of the Second Great Awakening. However, there are reasons to believe that “wild enthusiasms” associated with early Mormon visionary meetings were more than just such reflections. For instance, a medically trained school teacher, Jesse Moss, who knew the nature of religious enthusiasms, reported that Mormon enthusiasms far exceeded those of the Methodists. A more likely possibility for early Mormon wild enthusiasms is one of the four Mormon missionaries who visited Kirtland and departed before the onset of the Mormon excesses described below. Mormon missionaries, including Frederick G. Williams (see above), stopped in Kirtland on their way to Independence, Missouri. In Kirtland, they converted most of Sidney Rigdon’s Campbellite congregation, including Isaac Morley and Peter Kerr.

Unusual manifestations

In his book, Hearts Made Glad: The Charges of Intemperance Against Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet, author Lamar Petersen noted during the early days of the Church there were “unusual spiritual manifestations” associated with the drinking of sacramental wine, behaviors of such a shocking nature it “impaired the image of the young Church among sober people” (Petersen, 1975, p. 79). According to Moss (1913), a medically trained school teacher in Kirtland, Ohio, offered testimony that Mormons,

took what was called the sacrament up at the [Isaac] Morley house. They were in the habit of turning everybody out of the door when they partook of the bread and wine, putting blankets up at the windows, shutting off the sight from without ::: then [later] they opened the door and let us all come in again. [The] poor-house in Portage County, Ohio, where there were half a dozen insane and idiotic persons, was the best comparison of anything to the scene that night. And if I had had my cloak on, I would have stolen the wine and carried it home to see whether it was drugged or not. (p. 384)

William S. Smith, testifying after Moss, supported the recollections of Mr. Moss:

I have attended the meetings at Mr. Morley’s. ::: in the house I have seen young men and women seemingly unconscious, and the folks said they had lain so for two days and they were there on their beds, and nobody tried to prevent us looking at them, but we were not allowed to go into the room. (Ibid, p. 888)

On another occasion, Moss concluded that Mormon sacrament meetings “exceeded the wildest scene ever exhibited among the Methodists” and instead “became fully satisfied the wine was medicated,” even attempting to secure a bottle for testing but was unsuccessful (Moss, 1878). Petersen also noted that “the catalepsy could, of course, have been induced without the aid of wine [but the scene was] reminiscent of the first conference of the Church a year earlier at Fayette, New York.” That Moss indicated that Mormon enthusiasms exceeded that of the Methodists and lasting 24–48 hrs, strongly support~~ing~~s this conjecture of Smith including psychoactive substances in the sacraments. Joseph Smith arrived in Kirtland, Ohio after the incidences discussed above but in time to preside over the June 6th, 1831 Elders conference. According to Levi Hancock (1858, p. 90) who was present as this meeting:

Joseph put his hands upon Harvey Whitlock and ordained him to the high Priesthood he [Whitlock] turned as black as [Lyman Wight] was white his fingers was set like Claws he went around the room and showed his hands and tried to speak his eyes were in the shape of Oval O’s. Hyrum Smith said Joseph that is not God. Joseph said do not speak against this. (Ibid)

It is likely that Joseph Smith, had considerable experience with entheogens, is not concerned with the chaos they create, and is reluctant to attempt to intervene. However, Joseph’s brother was not convinced:

I will not believe ::: unless you inquire of God and owns it. [At this] Joseph bowed his head, and in a short time got up and commanded Satan to leave Harvey, laying his hands upon his head at the same time.” ::: [Then] Copley, who weighed over two hundred pounds, somersaulted in the air and fell on his back over a bench. Wight cast Satan out of Copley, and Copley was calmed. The evil spirit, according to Hancock, was in and out of people all day and the greater part of the night. (Ibid)

Taken together, the events of the 1830 and 1831 conferences strongly suggest entheogenic influence and compares well with Joseph Smith’s earlier entheogenic-facilitated early visions (Smith, 1830, pp. 276–267, 324–325).

Negative publicity

A letter to the editor of Palmyra Reflector, published in January 1831, accused Joseph Smith of legerdemain. Since this term referred then, as now, to “Sleight of hand; a deceptive performance which depends on dexterity of hand; a trick performed with such art and adroitness, that the manner or art eludes observation” (Webster, 1828), its use in this context may reflect ongoing accusations that Joseph Smith was manipulating the sacramental wine. Sacramental wine was not the only possible carrier for an entheogen enhancing early Mormon sacramental experience. We have noted the entheogenic potential of ergot-infected rye, possibly mixed with the sacramental bread, like that which may have induced preternatural experiences in the life of Joseph Smith’s great grandfather Samuel Smith. As we will see in discussing Mormonism’s 1840s Nauvoo, Illinois period, ergot-infected rye was widely used as a medicinal remedy in Joseph Smith’s day and may also have lent itself to more spiritual uses. Complaints about Mormon enthusiasms drew the attention of the nation’s newspapers. For instance, in the September 1831 edition of the Vermont Gazette (Bennington, Vermont), published a letter to the editor reporting: “Some [Church members] lie in trances a day or two and visit the unknown regions in the meantime; some are taken with a fit of terrible shaking which they say is the power of the Holy Ghost” (Kirkham, 1959). A trance lasting 24–48 hrs is highly suggestive of D. stramonium intoxication (Bryson, 1996, p. 673; Wiebe, Sigurdson, & Katz, 2008). The Independent Gazetteer (Taunton, Massachusetts) reported on January 11, 1833 that during Mormon meetings there would be “shoutings, wailing, fallings, contortions, trances, visions, speaking in unknown tongues and prophesying” (Morgan, n.d.). Also, Henry Caswell (1843, p. 63) wrote of “a pretended sacrament” associated with manifestations of power in early LDS meetings. A pretended sacrament, although not stated explicitly, suggests drugged wine. So vociferous were Mormon critics that local Church leaders became alarmed and complained to Joseph Smith of similar undisciplined scenes. Table 2 summarizes what was reported by church leaders. Although Joseph Smith chastised Isaac Morley in whose house many of the sacrament meetings occurred, Smith failed to acknowledge their similarity to his own first 1820 vision of God, his 1823 visions of an angel and golden plates, and the 1829 scrying visions while translating The Book of Mormon. Similar problematic scenes beset meetings Smith conducted. At Kirtland sacrament meeting in 1831, Joseph Smith suggested imminent mass visions and promised Lyman Wight he would have a vision of Christ. Mormon historian, Richard Bushman, explains what happened next:

“Wight turned stiff and white, exclaiming he had indeed viewed the Savior::: Joseph himself said, ‘I now see God and Jesus Christ’ ::: Then Harvey Whitlock ::: turn as black as Lyman was white ::: his fingers were set like claws. He went around the room and showed his hands and tried to speak, his eyes were the shape of ovals “O’s” ::: [Then] Leman Copley, who weighed over two hundred pounds, somersaulted in the air and fell on his back over a bench ::: [Similar behavior was manifested by] people all day and the greater part of the night” (Bushman, 2005, pp. 156–157).

These experiences, likely following the administration of the sacrament with Joseph present, are difficult to explain absent some toxidrome, yet easy to explain in the presence of one, and are strikingly similar to those described in Smith’s own first vision and those that took place in early Kirtland, possibly under the direction of Peter Kerr, a former slave known as “Black Pete” in early Mormon literature.

Peter Kerr

According to Mark Staker (2009), after the missionaries left Kirtland later in 1830, 55-year-old Peter Kerr (“Black Pete”) acted as “a revelator” and “a chief man” to a small Mormon community in Kirtland, Ohio, until Joseph Smith arrived in early 1831 (pp. 77, 79). Kerr was raised by a mother whose religious tradition was the syncretic African-Muslim religious tradition of what is now the Ivory Coast. When enslaved, she lived along the Monongahela River in western Virginia where Peter was likely raised in an ecstatic religious fusion of African, Baptist, and Methodist ideas that included “interacting with the spirit world, dancing in fire, and speaking in tongues” (p. 11). It is therefore likely that Kerr had exposure to African folk magic, conjure, and root medicine and knowledge of D. stramonium. According to Catherine Yronwode, “root doctoring” mixed African magical practices with American Indian herbal medicine. Further, “most medical herbs also have magical uses, so urban conjures were able to take advantage of the medical industry’s commitment to herb purity and specificity” (2002). Among the visionary materials used by Native Americans was jimson weed or D. stramonium (see Schultes, 1975), a substance also used in African medicine (Hamby, 2004, pp. 39, 54). According to Staker (2009, p. 34), Kerr was “among those brought into the Reformed Baptist movement in early 1828” and not until late 1830, a period of nearly 3 years, that he converted to Mormonism and “was recognized as a ‘revelator’ among them” (Ibid, p. 119). If Kerr was solely responsible for the entheogenic-infused enthusiasms in early Mormonism, why didn’t the same enthusiasms appear after he joined the Reformed Baptists in 1828? It seems more likely that one of the missionaries noted that like Joseph Smith, Kerr was a “charismatic with a distinctive religious perspective” (Ibid, p. 3) and concluded he was the logical choice to minister to converts’ spiritual needs. As Staker states, “Kirtland’s religious enthusiasm was similar in so many ways to the religious world Black Pete knew that it is unlikely it developed as an independent experience” (Ibid, p. 171). It would have been surprising, given Kerr’s background and the likely promptings of at least one Mormon missionary, had he not utilized D. stramonium in his visionary syncretism. For several months, Kerr (like Joseph Smith would do later when he arrived in Kirtland) introduced converts to entheogenic facilitated visions and spiritual ecstasies bringing many into the nascent Church. Further, like Smith’s use of datura, Kerr’s administration of this anticholinergic entheogen was problematic, leading to an embarrassed Church and accusations of medicated wine. In 1833, Joseph Smith blamed the enemies of the Church for the medicated wine. In an 1833 revelation, it was advised, “in consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days ::: your sacraments ::: should be wine, yea pure wine of the grape of the vine of your own make” (Smith, 1835, pp. 207–208).

Prejudice and secrecy

Joseph Smith’s surreptitious use of entheogenic material was a closely guarded secret for obvious reasons. Although the ingestion of such substances was not illegal in the 19th century, their use was discouraged by withering ridicule. In a telling passage of The Book of Mormon, Joseph psychologically prepared early converts for the ridicule they might face and primed them to embrace it. This persecution incorporated, into The Book of Mormon that associates an entheogenic tree and the hostility of his neighbors, “And after they had a tasted of the fruit, they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them” (Smith, 1830, p. 20). Smith even faced strong opposition from his family. In a family gathering: Joseph Sr. began to speak of the discovery and translation of The Book of Mormon. At this, [his cousin] Jesse grew very angry, and exclaimed, “If you say another word about that Book of Mormon, you shall not stay a minute longer in my house, and if I can’t get you out any other way, I will hew you down with my broad ax” (Smith, L. M., 1853, pp. 154–156). Although Jesse’s heart eventually softened and he reconciled with his cousin, such prejudice against the visionary, magico-religious practices of Joseph Smith Jr. required that he make considerable efforts to conceal his selective use of entheogens.

Concealment seemed to be the next method of using entheogens in early Mormonism. Frequent use of entheogens in this religious context can become very unpredictable very quickly. Upon the foundation of the church, Joseph Smith constantly spoke of personal revelation and the early members having their own personal connection with the divine. Each person was to receive prophecy and revelations for themselves. Unfortunately, for a budding religious leader, this idea is paradoxically associated with top-down control. If everybody receives their own revelations, why do they need Joseph’s? The first conflict resulting from personal revelation of members competing with Smiths came in the form of Oliver Cowdery and Hiram Page receiving their own revelations. Smith instructed Oliver Cowdery that he could preach by way of revelation, but anything he wrote was merely words of wisdom. He also instructed Cowdery to confront Hiram Page about the revelations he’d written and burn those revelations and crush the seer stone Page had used to receive the revelations. So, how does a shaman seeking to provide spiritual inspiration and personal revelation to a growing church keep the people looking to him as the prophet? This helps to explain Smith’s growing hierarchical system within the church and the expanding leadership in general. More offices were invented, the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods were divided, quorums were formed, presidencies and councils were formed and Smith’s own revelations stated explicitly and repeatedly that he was the only prophet who could receive revelations for the whole church and would continue to do so until he was removed for transgressions, at which point he’d appoint his own successor. No longer would average members be allowed to attend the closed-door prayer meetings wherein entheogenic sessions would create revelation and visions of angels and deity. Those privileges were reserved only for those who could be trusted and had somehow demonstrated loyalty. Now, to see the face of god or witness Smith talking with god, a person had to prove themselves willing to keep the secrets and mysteries of the kingdom within them. We can obviously see how this played into the increased secrecy during the Nauvoo era, especially when polygamy as a variable is added into the mix. However, during the Kirtland-era, the church was far more campy and fun as the general membership had yet to undergo the collective trauma associated with the Missouri-Mormon war of 1838. These evolving collectives of increased secrecy were a much-needed security system to balance entheogens and personal revelation with the control structure of the church and keep the standard parishioners in proper check. That is, until the greatest entheogenic event in all Mormon history, the dedication of the Kirtland temple, known as the Mormon Pentecost.

1833: Kirtland, Ohio School of the Prophets and the Mormon Pentecost

In 1833, visionary endowments associated with washings, anointings, and sacramental wine during sessions of the “School of the Prophets.” For example, in a March 1833 meeting of high priests, “Bro Joseph ::: [gave] a promise that the pure in heart that were present should see a heavenly vision ::: after which the bread and wine was distributed by Bro Joseph after which many of the brethren saw a heavenly vision of the savior and concourses of angels and many other things” (Roberts, 1902). During this period, on-demand visions again suggest the administration of an entheogen. Mormon elder Zebedee Coltrin reported Joseph Smith confidently promising Coltrin and Oliver Cowdery, “Now brethren we will see some visions,” after which Smith verbally guided them through a trip to heaven, where they saw Adam and Eve seated on a golden throne that looked like a celestial lighthouse (Anderson, D. S., 2018). Between 1833 and 1836, we have no reported visions such as seen in New York or early Kirtland period. The embarrassment to the Church and various accusations surrounding Mormon visionary experience necessitated a change in venue. Smith would build a temple to house convert visions before the next series of reports of drugged wine would emerge.

The spiritual outpouring associated with the dedication of the Kirtland Temple in March and April of 1836 was called the Mormon Pentecost, the equivalent to the early Christian Pentecost that was also accused of alcohol intoxication. Visionary experiences during this period are linked, we argue, to the administration of bread and wine sacraments and oil anointings. Although not exhaustive, these remembrances are pertinent to the question of entheogen-infused Mormon ordinances and visionary experience. The Kirtland temple endowments created a sacred space decorated with labyrinths, gonfalons, spirals, and squares within squares (Howlett, 2014) and a prolonged ceremony that included a day of fasting and the “reenactment of the Passion narrative and Pentecost” (Olaiz, 2014) that included the washing of feet and anointing the head with holy oil. In the evening, the fast was broken with a communion of bread and wine as a “reenactment of the Last Supper” followed by a ceremony that “mimicked the high point of Christian redemption ::: they stayed up all night ::: a re-enactment of Gethsemane” (Ibid). In serving the wine, Joseph Smith explained, “the wine was consecrated, and would not make them drunk ::: they began to prophesy, pronouncing blessings upon their friends” (Harris, 1841, p. 32). With increasing confidence in his entheogenic sacraments, Joseph Smith enabled hundreds to received visions during the dedication ceremonies of the Kirtland temple, but only if willing to participate in the Mormon ordinances. Smith’s exuberance, however, was tempered as the manifestations of anticholinergic toxidromal symptoms led, once again, to accusations of drugged wine. For instance, a Church member with the last name of McWhitney complained that the wine consumed in the temple ordinances was actually “mixed liquor” and that “the Mormon leaders intended to get the audience under [its] influence” so visions experienced were believed to be of “the Lord’s doing” (1888, p. 135). John W. Gunnison interviewed the Church elders present at the 1836 Kirtland Pentecost and reported: “Wine was administered ::: that had been consecrated and declared by the Prophet to be harmless and not intoxicating. This::: produced unheard of effects, if we may credit the witnesses of these proceedings. Visions, tongues, trances, wallowings on the ground, shoutings, weeping, and laughing, the outpouring of prophecies ::: these and other fantastic things were among ‘the signs following’ at Kirtland” (Gunnison, 1852, p. 107) Even though descriptions of visions and ecstasies associated with entheogenic sacraments and anointings at the Kirtland temple were inspirational and stirring, problems developed almost immediately. Soon afterward accusations of adultery beset Joseph Smith as did challenges to his leadership, a Mormon war in Missouri, and the failure of the Kirtland Anti-Bank society. These catastrophes would occupy Smith’s attention and prevent him from creating an environment suitable for entheogen administration. It would not be until ~~the~~ Smith had established the City of Nauvoo, formed the Nauvoo Legion to protect him and the Saints, and completed a new temple would he again promise mass visionary experience.

This paper is understandably light on sources surrounding the Kirtland Temple dedication for a few reasons. Primarily length. The paper as it stands is already near 50 pages and covers a massive swath of history from pre 1800 to current. Some stuff had to be cut and the Kirtland Temple dedication could easily be summarized as previously read and much of the information is quite repetitive when compared with many other entheogen session in the early church which have been discussed extensively in the paper up to this point. Secondly, the information is already out there and anybody familiar with Mormon history has at least a passing knowledge of the dedication ceremony and the phenomena experienced there. For those unfamiliar with Mormon history, the summary we included was plenty sufficient. And, thirdly, the information concerning the actual set and setting of the Kirtland Temple is enigmatic. We know washings and anointings happened and we know some form of a passion narrative took place, however, the ceremony wasn’t very well-documented and the record contains much more of the results than the process. However, that isn’t an issue when we enter Nauvoo as the process of the endowment was introduced and is relatively well-documented from insiders and outsiders, providing a deeper well of documentation from which to pull and make our case that these ceremonies were crafted for the primary purpose of set and setting to harness spiritual and mystical experiences when the dosage was added.


In 1841, Joseph Smith laid the cornerstone of a new temple in Nauvoo, Illinois, and in May of 1842, Smith taught a lengthy Masonic-like initiation rite to trusted leaders. The purpose of the training was to prepare for the dedication of the temple (Smith, 1977, p. 237). Since the temple was not completed and likely not wishing to repeat the embarrassment associated with the open access to the Kirtland visionary period, there were no visions during this initial endowment, and there were none promised. However, the expected endowment planned for the completed Nauvoo would eclipse those of the Kirtland Pentecost. Smith explained,

I spent the day ::: instructing them in the principles and order of the Priesthood, attending to washings, anointings, endowments ::: by which anyone is enabled to ::: come up and abide in the presence of the Eloheim ::: [as] soon as they are prepared to receive, and a proper place is prepared to communicate them, even to the weakest of the Saints [see D&C 89:3]; therefore let the Saints be diligent in building the Temple. (Smith, 1977, p. 237)

The Edenic tree

The organization and context of the anticipated Nauvoo endowment provide for the covert administration of entheogenic anointings and sacraments, although for this endowment, the sacrament included partaking of the fruit from the tree in the Garden of Eden. Following purifying ceremonies of washing and oil anointing, a “new name” was given to initiates, who were informed was connected with Christ’s promise in Revelation 2:17 of a “white stone” (Van Dusen, 1847). Then, fruit representing the forbidden fruit of “the tree of knowledge of good and evil” was plucked from the tree and eaten by the initiate. The Nauvoo endowment would avoid the problems of mass entheogenic visionary experience by conducting initiates in small groups within the seclusion of the temple. Receiving this sacred food also fulfilled the other promise of Revelation 2:17 – that they would be given “to eat of the hidden manna.” Their initiation followed both the pattern of alchemical freemasonry with its entheogenic elixir and philosopher’s stone and the pattern set by Joseph Smith when he ate of “hidden manna” and acquired his “white stone.” Following this, the initiates engaged in an interactive entheogenic journey through the fall of Adam and the redemption of man by Jesus Christ after which they would pass through a curtain into a beautifully decorated celestial room and the presence of God (Buerger, 2001; Hyde, 1857). We argue that to fulfill his promise of coming into the presence of God in the Nauvoo temple, Joseph Smith would have offered:
1. An overall sense of the holy and a mindset of sacredness.
2. An impressive and uplifting multistoried edifice with esoteric symbols inside and out and multiple special purpose rooms.
3. Trusted attendants to guide initiates through each aspect of the ceremony, to prompt attendees should they experience confusion and provide assurance if distress occurs, and
4. An entheogen that would not produce the indecorous symptoms and outside criticisms such as the Church experienced during the visionary Kirtland period.

After receiving the new name, an entheogenic anointing, and ingesting Edenic fruit, converts basked in emotional and physical safety designed to provide spiritual experiences of such consequence it would enhance the joy of living and provide comfort during periods of struggle.

Nauvoo Entheogen

The procurement of an entheogen for the Nauvoo temple would not be as easy as harvesting datura seeds found growing in the surrounding countryside and used as ornamentals in some gardens. Because of the Kirtland experience, datura as an entheogen would draw unwanted attention. And gathering enough entheogenic mushrooms for the rapidly increasing Church population, at time around 10,000, was not practical. However, several physicians in positions of Church leadership would have known about the medical use of ergot in obstetrics and could easily extract ergot’s water-soluble entheogenic component. In Nauvoo, ergot was readily availability, easy to hide, and of high potency making it an ideal entheogen for burgeoning Church population. However, by 1842, two important physicians in the Mormonism, Luman Walters and John C. Bennett, became disaffected with Joseph Smith and a third, Frederick G. Williams died. Another physician, Williard Richards, may have been able fill these vacancies, but in 1843, the malpractice trial of doctor William Brinks may have persuaded Joseph that an ergot-derived entheogen could become very problematic. A year before the 1843 trial, Dr. Brinks treated a female in labor suffering from severe pain and fever. When he treated her with ergot to hasten delivery, her womb “lacerated or ruptured” (Dinger, 2016, p. 85). In his defense, Dr. Brink explained, “I gave her ergot ::: nothing but what any physician would do” (The Joseph Smith Papers, 1842–1844). However, Dr. Samuel Bennett, a traditional doctor, testified against Dr. Brink, stating that he “should not have administered ergot ::: its effect on the uterus [is] to expel the contents of the uterus [or] to produce delivery,” but ergot caused increased intrauterine pressure, rupture, and permanent disability (Dinger, 2016, p. 85.) The case was high drama and 3 months later, Joseph Smith me~~e~~t with Native American leaders in what appear to be negotiations for a safer, more effective entheogen – peyote.


During the period of Indian Removal beginning in 1830, Native Americans living east of the Mississippi River passed through Nauvoo on their way to their seasonal hunting grounds. Potawatomi delegations, including members of the Fox and Sauk nations, visited Joseph Smith between April 18 and August 28 of 1843 (discussed below). The purpose of these negotiations is not altogether clear to historians. However, as we will see, the negotiations probably involved Joseph Smith giving valuable and sacred property to the Potawatomi without apparent gain to Smith in return. We suggest that Joseph Smith negotiated with nearby Native Americans for the delivery of peyote to Nauvoo for the Nauvoo temple endowment.

Quest for a new entheogen

There were several groups of Native Americans living on the American Prairie in the early 19th century, any of which could have provided for the transport of peyote from South Texas. Joseph Smith has had dealings with the Prairie groups of the Potawatomi, Fox, Sauk, and Delaware (Lenape), with Smith sending missionaries to the Mahican, Sioux, and other Indian peoples residing in Wisconsin and Canada (Jensen, 2012; Mahas, 2017; Walker, 1993). Further, although few Indians joined Mormonism, there were “many among the Shawnees” who believed in Smith’s mission (Byron, 1993).

The Potawatomi

The Potawatomi were an Algonquian-speaking Eastern Woodlands group related to the Ojibway, discussed in relation to D. stramonium and A. muscaria. However, with the Indian Removal Act of 1830, “the Potawatomi were removed in two groups: The Prairie and Forest Bands from northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin went to Council Bluffs in southwest Iowa, and the Potawatomi of the Woods (Michigan and Indian bands) relocated to eastern Kansas near Osawatomie” (Bassett, 2016). Peyote “was used in ancient times in Mexico, spreading from the Rio Grande Valley and taking hold on the Plains [the American Prairie] as early as the 1840s” (White, 2011, p. 178). Peyotism existed among Native American shaman and medicine people for centuries and was likely used by Potawatomi and other Plains Indian shamans before they formally adopted the Peyote Religion in the 1890s (Stewart, 1987, p. 93). The Potawatomi passed through Nauvoo on their way to and from their hunting grounds in Iowa territory (Smith & Edwards, 1972) and could have served as an early bridge between the Indians of the Southwest (e.g., Comanche-Osage) and Joseph Smith for the delivery of peyote to Illinois for the Nauvoo temple. Prairie Potawatomi began actively trading peyote imported from South Texas at least by 1870 (Schaefer, 2015) and perhaps even earlier (Howard, 1962). In August 1841, a large group of Fox and Sauk Indians, including 100 chiefs, visited Nauvoo in 1841 (Appanoose-Biography, n.d.) with their leader, Chief Keokuk, forming a personal relationship with Joseph Smith and his wife, Emma. Emma exchanged recipes for herbal medicines with the wife of Chief Keokuk (Newell & Avery, 1994, p. 278). During the spring and summer of 1843, three delegations of Potawatomi traveled to Nauvoo primarily to ask Joseph Smith “for assistance and advice in their struggles with white Americans” and in April 1844, eleven Potawatomi Indians visited Smith again “seeking help to avoid losing their land” (Council of Fifty, 1844–1846). Joseph Smith had a significant number of Native American contacts during the Nauvoo period, any of which could have provided for the delivery of peyote to Nauvoo; we feel it was most likely with the Potawatomi. Besides this encounter, there were additional meetings between Joseph Smith and the Potawatomi. According to LDS Church Historian Jay Todd (1968), in June 1843,

Several of the Potawatomi Chiefs called to see the Nauvoo House and Temple ::: Nauvoo was a prominent spot for Indians and was called by them Quashquema ::: [and] Indian burial grounds abounded in the area.” However, not finding Joseph Smith present, the Potawatomi explained, “They were not free to talk, and did not wish to communicate their feelings until they could see the great Prophet.” (Ibid) They returned in July and told Smith, “We have talked with the Great Spirit, and ::: the Great Spirit has told us that he had raised up a great Prophet ::: We will now wait and hear your word.”(Ibid) After Smith spoke, Smith had an ox killed for them and they were given fresh horses for their journey home. (Ibid)

During one of the several visits of Potawatomi to Nauvoo, Joseph possibly gave the Potawatomi captain a significant portion of the Egyptian papyri from which he “translated” a work of scripture said to have been written by the hand of the Biblical Abraham (Todd, 1969). These papyri were from a larger collection purchased by Joseph Smith in 1835 for $2,400 (Gee, 2007; Remini, 2002, p. 105). The value of these papyri was significant since $2,400 in 1835 represents nearly $70,000 adjusted to 2019 value. It is a mystery why Smith would give away such valuable papyri when he anticipated showing them on display for a fee, and also anticipated translating the “Book of Joseph” from the same collection of papyri (Larsen, 1992). The gesture is striking. Was Smith negotiating for access to Native entheogens? Such negotiation is suggested by the timing of these interactions with the Potawatomi, Fox, and Sauk, beginning within weeks of the discrediting of ergot in the Brink trial, by Smith’s inordinate “gift” to these representatives, and by earlier exchanges of herbal information between the Smith family and the family of the local Sauk chief Keokuk. Acquiring Native American entheogens could have fueled a new and more profound spiritual Pentecost in the endowment to be given in the Nauvoo temple, scheduled for completion in 1845–1846.

Lyman Wight

Joseph Smith’s vision was for Mormon colonies to span the globe, with Independence, Missouri being the center of a worldwide kingdom of God. After the Mormon War of 1838, Smith moved the center of the kingdom to Nauvoo, Illinois but still sought to establish colonies adjacent to Indian Territory in areas such as California, Oregon, Minnesota, the Great Basin, and Texas (The Joseph Smith Papers, 1842–1844, pp. 55, 170, fns 46–47). Smith’s emissaries also negotiated for the Neueces strip (Figure 30) in deep south Texas, an area extending from Corpus Christi down the coast to Brownsville, then westward between the Rio Neueces and the Rio Grande River. Lyman Wight, having experienced an entheogenic vision of Christ as documented above, became a reliable friend of Joseph Smith and resolutely carried out his orders, including being part of a Mormon pinery colony in Wisconsin. Joseph Smith used such colonies, flung out from the Church’s central hub at Nauvoo, to acquire resources for the main body of the Church. The Mormon colony in Wisconsin, between 1841 and spring 1845, floated timber to Nauvoo amounting to “1.5 million board feet of milled time, more than two hundred thousand shingles, and a large number of miscellaneous logs, barn board, and timbers” (Clark, 1997–1998, p. 67). In February 1844, Lyman Wight, in conversation with local Wisconsin Native Americans, concocted a plan to form a joint Mormon–Indian colony in Texas. Wight wrote to Smith requesting permission for himself and the Native Americans to travel to Texas to initiate such a colony (Figure 31). Smith agreed, and Wight was ordered “to take a small colony to Texas and make smooth and ready the path for a major migration of the L.D.S. church to Texas” (Banks, 1945; Johnson, 2006, p. 5). However, given the Mormon emphasis, since 1829, on building settlements near Native American lands, and given that the initial colony idea proposed by Wight was to be a Mormon–Indian colony, it seems highly probable, if not nearly inevitable, that Woodworth would have entered into contact with Native Americans there. Joseph Smith aimed to establish colonies to procure resources for the body of the central hub of the Mormon community at Nauvoo. What resource was the planned Texas Mormon–Indian colony intended to provide? Texas was a keystone to peyotism; peyote grew in abundance in Southwest Texas, especially along the Texas–Mexico border and the Rio Grande River, with an active peyote trade that only abated in 1959 (Morgan & Stewart, 1984). In this expedition, Joseph Smith may have attempted to plant a Mormon–Indian colony in the heart of peyote country, where his colony could harvest thousands of peyote buttons, just what the thousands of Nauvoo saints would need if peyote was the entheogen used in the completed Nauvoo temple. Did Joseph Smith know he was planting his prospective colony where Mormon colonists could acquire peyote? Smith’s evident use of entheogens, his need for them to replicate the Kirtland Pentecost, the timing of the Texas negotiations shortly after other potential entheogens and sources of entheogens faltered, his intention to involve Native Americans in his scheme, his pattern of planting colonies to supply resources from the local environment, and his choice of the peyote environs suggest to us his intention to use his Texas colony to supply peyote. In addition, tangible, artifactual evidence exists indicating that Joseph Smith knew and was interested in the peyote trade and had contacted a peyote trade network of Native Americans through intermediaries, or directly from the anticipated Texas Mormon colony, or both. A sacred stone found among Smith’s belongings, which we will call “the peyote stone,” is that artifactual evidence.

Joseph Smith’s Peyote Stone

Among Joseph Smith’s possessions during his death was a finely tooled sandy-colored seer stone (Figure 32), unlike any other he used for scrying (Quinn, 1998, pp. 246–247, Figure 10). The stone is smooth in texture with a hole through the center surrounded by eight smaller indentations of alternating sizes where the central flower and tuffs of the peyote button have been cored out. It is comparable to the eight-lobed peyote button in Figure 33. The coin-like ridged circular edge of Smith’s stone not seen on the peyote button signifies the visionary nature of peyote. The alternating sizes of the indentations on this stone are somewhat similar to the peyote button and are comparable to the alternating size of the tufts in Figure 33, an eight-lobed Plains Indian peyote pouch (Figure 34) currently displayed in the Plains Indian Museum in Cody, Wyoming (see Hultkrantz, 1997, p. 6). The nomadic aboriginal peoples of the American Plains included the Lipan Apache, Tonkawa, Comanche, Kiowa, Otto, Osage, Arapaho, Sioux, and Pawnee, bordered on the northeast by the Ojibway, Potawatomi, Sauk, and Fox. Most of these groups were relocated, westward into Plains Indian territory following the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and interacted with Joseph Smith (Walker, 1993, pp. 6–7). For instance, by the 1840s, the Potawatomi had been resettled west of Nauvoo, Illinois, within the cultural boundaries of the Plains Indian groups, providing an opportunity for the transmission of information about peyote to Joseph Smith. According to Omer Steward (1974), “The Lipan Apache Indians in the vicinity of Laredo, 1760 to 1850s, learned of the properties of Peyote and the ritual for its use from Coahuiltecan-speaking Carrizo and Tonkawa and in turn taught Peyotism to the Comanche and Kiowa” (p. 211), their northern allies by 1830 (p. 215). A possible route for the spread of peyotism toward the northeast from Texas proposed by Steward (pp. 215–216) and included in the report by R. A. Smith (1961) states,

“The demand for Mexican livestock, captives, and plunder increased after American commissioners made treaties of amity and trade with the Indians of the South Plains in the 1830s. The Comanche and Kiowa consequently stepped up their predatory raids below the Rio Grande ::: Their deepest penetrations of Mexico put the Indians at points a thousand miles straight south of their home range in Kansas and Oklahoma ::: One can suspect the warriors might also have learned about and experimented with the little spineless cactus, peyote, which grew in the area.”

The intricate patterning on Joseph Smith’s peyote stone in Figure 32 above may be a Native American stone gorget such as the stone in Figure 35 belonging to David Whitmer one of the three witnesses to the angel and golden plate and used as a seer stone. Native American gorgets, worn around the neck as signs of goodwill or an indication of status, and Smith’s peyote stone, although of Native American origin, is not typical of a Native American gorget. Instead, it is similar to the pre-Columbian stone whorl from Mixtec, Mexico, shown in Figure 36. Joseph Smith’s stone appears to be a Native American visionary peyote stone effigy. Similarly made pre-Columbian visionary stone effigies appear to represent the I. alvarus toad in Figures 35 and 36. Further, the Native Americans of the Lower Pecos region of southwest Texas have a history of ritual peyote use and the manufacture peyote effigies extending back 5,000 years (Powell, 2017; Terry et al., 2006). Peyote has tufts of “hair” on each of its lobes and a central flower that if removed, leave a corresponding number of depressions. Native art, such as the peyote pouch in Figure 31 depicts peyote by the several circular depressions or tufts, often five or eight, surrounding a central circle or hole. The representation can further be stylized in native art by showing the tufts or depressions as alternating in size around the button as in Figure 32. An examination of Joseph Smith’s stone shows precisely this same stylization. The stone consists of a central circle surrounded by eight circular depressions arranged in an alternating pattern of large-small-large. Joseph Smith’s peyote stone in Figure 32 above bears a striking resemblance to Figures 37–39 (frames from a video produced by DiezyMedia in 2007). In Figure 37, the transfixed, partially transformed shaman is holding a smooth-edged cactus, but in Figure 38, the shaman’s eye is wide open, and reflecting a partial transformed eight-lobed peyote button that had five lobes in Figure 37. In Figure 39, the consumed peyote button has further undergone entheogenic transformation amidst “spiritual light” pouring from its scalloped edges. In comparison, a reduced image of Joseph Smith’s peyote in Figure 40 favorably compares to the visionary portrayal of the Huichol peyote button reflected in the shamans eye in Figure 41. Figure 41 shows the shaman in spirit and endowed with new powers. While ownership of the peyote stone transferred to his heirs after his death, how this curious stone came to Joseph Smith is unknown. Quinn (1998, pp. 246–247) speculated this stone, which was one of the seer stones Brigham Young had mentioned Joseph finding at Nauvoo on the banks of the Mississippi. However, considering the information above, it is likely a tooled stone that was hand-tooled by a Native American familiar with peyote. Joseph Smith owned other hand-tooled Native American stones used for divination, as other early Mormons did, each one tooled by a Native American (Quinn, 1998, p. 247). For instance, the Whitmer family, followers of Joseph Smith from the 1820s, used two hand-tooled Native American gorgets with holes bored into them as seer stones (Quinn, 1998, Figures 11–13). Further, research conducted on these stones by Mormon scholars aside from Quinn has uniformly identified them as tooled by Native Americans (Ashurst-McGee, 2000, p. 165; Murphy & Baca, 2016, p. 707). The peyote stone broadly resembles Native American gorgets but has a more intricate representation carved into it, and compares well to Native American representation of peyote.

Lyman Wight, Mission to Texas

Joseph Smith’s vision was for Mormon colonies to span the globe, with Independence, Missouri being the western hub a worldwide kingdom of God, Jerusalem being the eastern hub. After the Mormon War of 1838, Smith moved the center of the kingdom to Nauvoo, Illinois along with his converts; simultaneously, he attempted to establish colonies adjacent to Indian territory in areas such as California, Oregon, Minnesota, the Great Basin, and Texas (The Joseph Smith Papers, 1842–1844, pp. 55, 170, fns 46–47). The purposes of these colonies were twofold: (a) expand the Kingdom of God until it filled the earth and (b) provide a place where, if another Moron War were to break out, the Mormons could find protection. How did Joseph Smith acquire a peyote stone? Given that peyote was grown at the Texas–Mexican border, and Joseph Smith sent a scouting-and-negotiating team to south Texas to establish a Mormon–Indian colony on the Rio Grande, it represents one of two possible modes by which the peyote stone traveled from the hands of a peyotist in Texas to those of Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, Illinois. In 1844, Smith sent a Mormon expedition to persuade Sam Huston to allot lands then disputed by the Texans and the Mexicans. These lands included the entire Neueces strip (Figure 30) extending from Corpus Christi down the gulf coast to Brownsville, then westward between the Rio Neueces and the Rio Grande Rivers encompassing the northern reaches of peyote inhabitation. Just weeks after the Texas expedition party’s return, Smith tasked Lyman Wight to establish a Texas colony, gave him a seer stone, and told him he would need this stone to receive revelation pertaining to his colonization work (Johnson, 2006, pp. 30–31). The stone Smith gave Wight was a seer stone, but not the peyote stone he retained until his death. With the single exception of giving Oliver Cowdery his brown seer stone in 1829, Smith is not reported to have given anyone else such a stone until he gave this one to Wight in April 1844. This unique action on Smith’s part and its timing are both readily explainable if the negotiating party delivered the peyote stone to Smith in Nauvoo. Also noteworthy is that Joseph Smith gave Lyman Wight not just any seer stone but specifically a white stone. We have noted above that the “white stone” has a place in Joseph Smith’s biography, biblical interpretation, and theology. Drawing on Jesus’ promise in Revelation 2:17 (“KJV”), the young Joseph Smith had searched for a “white stone” to use in scrying. This biblical promise of receiving a “white stone” also included the promise of receiving “the hidden manna to eat,” a promised gift that appears to have materialized for Smith as A. muscaria mushrooms or datura in the family’s “sacred grove.” Since Smith’s own experience of becoming a seer included obtaining a “white stone” used to find entheogenic “hidden manna,” Smith’s bestowal to Wight would have been only a halfway-boon had he stopped there. Joseph Smith’s instructions to Lyman Wight on how to be a seer on the same pattern as Smith would have included instructions on using “hidden manna” as an entheogen to facilitate Wight’s experience of second sight. Some researchers have concluded that the “manna” in Judeo-Christian scripture was a psychoactive variously identified as a water-soluble extract of ergot (Merkur, 2000) and the A. muscaria mushroom, also known to some as the white stone. (Allegro, 1970; Irvin, 2009). Such a reading was known in early Christianity judging by the number of works of art featuring the A. muscaria and psilocybin-containing mushroom (Brown & Brown, 2016; Merkur, 2014; Rush, 2011). Joseph Smith, if he had not learned it from a mentor, had his own experience with entheogens, which would have led him conclude that entheogens were used in Judeo-Christian religion. It would be reasonable to believe that Joseph Smith would want to transmit his entheogenic knowledge to a trusted friend who had successfully ingested entheogens. Lyman Wight had responded well to the administration of an entheogen in 1831 when he “turned white” and “saw the Savior” (Hancock, 1858, p. 90) and remained a loyal friend to Joseph Smith even after Smith’s death. It seems apparent that Wight’s experience and loyalty resulted in Smith’s gift of a white stone to locate entheogens in Texas. Apparently successful, Wight would have visions of Smith himself, years after the latter’s death (Blythe, 2014; see also Johnson, 2006). Wight could easily carry 20,000 peyote buttons weighing 60 pounds to Joseph Smith in Nauvoo.

Let’s pause again before getting into the next section. That was a long chunk of reading but all the points were interconnected and illustrate Smith’s seemingly endless pursuit of safe, reliable, and at-will attainable entheogenic experiences. Smith’s legacy was cut short before he could create the second Mormon Pentecost at the dedication of the Nauvoo Temple. Had he not been assassinated in Carthage, American and Mormon history would be largely different today and the wealth of information used to form the Smith-entheogen theory may have been far more extensive and decades longer in availability. Only speculative fictional history and thought exercises leave us in a place where we could formulate a timeline for Smith that would see him to old-age being prophet for decades longer. Would he have moved the church to Texas once the Nauvoo Charter was revoked and Lyman Wight had established a colony there? Would he take the Mormons to the Great Basin as Brigham Young did after Smith’s death? Would he have removed them all the way to the Pacific Northwest Oregon territory and expanded the Mormon theocracy into Canada? We simply can never know what Smith’s life and legacy would be today had he been able to retain his mantle of prophet for years after 1844. What does seem clear is the sharp drop-off of visionary Mormonism in his absence, which may be the strongest piece of inferential evidence available to the Smith-entheogen theory. The visionary and ecstatic era of Mormonism requires naturalistic explanation. The almost complete absence of those same visions and ecstasies after his death equally require naturalistic explanation. Psychedelics used in entheogenic context explain both of these remarkable phenomena. I’ve said this many times on the podcast and I believe it bears repeating. Historians simply don’t have access to the divine lest they drift into the territory of theology. A person can posit that the visionary trances experienced by Smith and many early Mormons are due to some endowment or influence of an almighty force, but that can never be demonstrated or repeated, therefore it cannot be reasonably postulated as an operating factor within any historical model. God gave Joseph Smith revelations isn’t history. Joseph Smith claimed to receive revelations from god is history. The early Mormons enjoyed the love and blessings of god because they were so spiritually inclined and led by the one true prophet of this dispensation isn’t history. The early Mormons were the recipients of psychedelic plant medicines administered through sacramental and anointing rituals in an entheogenic context which resulted in ecstatic and mystical phenomena is history. At the end of the day, all the Smith-entheogen theory boils down to is a proposition; is it reasonable to assume, and therefore historically plausible, that psychedelics were used in early Mormonism to facilitate visionary experiences replete throughout contemporary documentation? If the answer to that question is yes, then psychedelics require a seat at the table as much as any other model of early Mormon history postulated by any other historian. Let’s wrap this up with an exploration of entheogens in Mormonism after Smith’s death.


The end of visionary and ecstatic Mormon can be causally associated with the death of Joseph Smith. Only a few of the many Mormon schisms that successors organized proved to be visionary. Those are visionary Mormon-Native American syncretisms that use peyote as an entheogen. Only one of Smith’s descendants is reported to have used entheogens to facilitate spiritual growth and wished to introduce it as a general form of religious worship.

Death of Joseph Smith

Friction between Mormonism and their Missouri neighbors increased to the breaking point, and war broke out with Joseph Smith barely escaping with his life and the body of Mormons moving north in Illinois (Baugh, 2000). After fleeing Missouri, Smith established a new city that he called Nauvoo, the Beautiful along the eastern banks of the Mississippi River. Anticipating continued contention with non-Mormons, Smith formed a theocracy with political and military branches (Hansen, 1960, 1967). After Mormons deserters published an inflammatory first issue of the Nauvoo Expositor, Joseph Smith as the mayor of Nauvoo and general of the Nauvoo Legion ordered the destruction of the press.

Schismatic Mormonism

Within a century following the death of Joseph Smith, Mormonism splintered into over 200 schisms that collectively boast worldwide membership of over 16 million. The largest Mormon denominations are The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, The Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), and groups collectively called Fundamentalist Mormons who still practice polygamy (Shields, 1982). The leaders of these schisms each claim to be the legitimate heir to Joseph Smith, and prophet leader of their only true Church. Each schism attempts to maintain Mormonism as it was under Joseph Smith’s leadership, including teaching his doctrine, believing his revelations, build temples, and performing his ordinances. For instance, in 1846, Brigham Young conducted temple endowments in the Nauvoo temple, as he understood Joseph Smith intended, including oil anointing, and raisins plucked from an Edenic tree (Buerger, 2001). However, to the disappointment of many, no religious visions or spiritual ecstasies were reported.

Return of the Egyptian Papyri

In winter 1846 as Brigham Young led the first contingent of Mormon’s westward out of Illinois and across the Mississippi River and into Iowa where they camped. While there, a Potawatomi Captain inexplicably presented Brigham Young with “two sheets of the Book of Abraham [papyri]; also, a letter from their ‘Father’ Joseph Smith, dated 1843, and a map of their land by W. W. Phelps” (Todd, 1968, p. 40). Had Joseph Smith arranged for the Potawatomi captain to deliver peyote to Nauvoo and exchanged a peyote stone for Egyptian papyri as a token of their bargain, then the return of the papyri following Smith death solves the mystery.

Successors’ negative views of visionary symptomology

Joseph Smith told early converts to expect somatology associated religious visions and spiritual ecstasies. To prepare converts for the entheogen-facilitated spiritual manifestations and associated symptomology, Joseph Smith (1839, pp. 18–19) explained:

It is more powerful in expanding the mind, enlightening the understanding, and storing the intellect with present knowledge, of a man who is of the literal seed of Abraham, than one that is a Gentile though it may not have half as much visual effect upon his body; for as the Holy Ghost falls upon one of the literal seed of Abraham, it is calm and serene; and his whole soul and body are only exercised by the pure spirit of intelligence; while the effect of the Holy Ghost upon a Gentile, is to purge out the old blood, and make him actually of the seed of Abraham. That man that has none of the blood of Abraham (naturally) must have a new creation by the Holy Ghost.

Therefore, stark was the difference between the many visions reported in early Mormonism and lack of similar reported after Joseph Smith’s death, which distressed members inquired of their leaders. Mormon Apostle George A. Smith responded to these concerns in an 1867 discourse in Salt Lake City:

The question has often arisen among us, why it is that we do not see more angels, have more visions, [and] do not see greater and more manifestations of power? (Smith, 1867, p. 10)

What followed is revealing. Apostle Smith recalled that in 1836, a filled Kirtland temple with over four hundred men of the priesthood, most of whom witnessed,

great manifestations of power, such as speaking in tongues, seeing visions, administration of angels. Many individuals bore testimony that they saw angels, and David Whitmer bore testimony that, he saw three angels passing up the south aisle, and there came a shock on the house like the sound of a mighty rushing wind, and almost every man in the house arose, and hundreds of them were speaking in tongues, prophesying or declaring visions, almost with one voice. (Ibid)

Then, Apostle Smith diminished the value of these experiences when he noted that,

A number of them who manifested the greatest gifts, and had the greatest manifestations have fallen out by the way side, you look around among us and they are not here ::: . But where you find men who have turned away, and have got terribly afflicted with self-conceit, you will find those, who, on that occasion and similar occasions, received great and powerful manifestations, and when the spirit came on them it seemed to distort the countenance, and caused them to make tremendous efforts in some instances. (Ibid)

Reflected in George A.’s next remarks is the post-Joseph Smith Mormon attitude regarding public religious manifestations and spiritual ecstasies. Speaking favorably of non-visionary post-Smith “revelation” by inspiration, George A. spoke of faithful converts,

who received the knowledge of the things of God by the power of his spirit, and sought not after signs and wonders, and when the spirit rested upon them seemed to produce no visible demonstration. (Ibid)

George A. Smith knew there was a significant change in convert’s visionary and ecstatic experience following the death of Joseph Smith. Direct and personal experience with angels and God gave way to revelation described as inspirational manifestations. As discussed above, in every case involving entheogen use in early Mormonism, a change in mental and emotional state was apparent to non-intoxicated observers both inside and outside the Church. That cessation of observable symptomology associated with post-Joseph Smith spiritual experience and the lack of visions and ecstasies reported by his successors provide persuasive evidence that Joseph Smith made use of entheogens. Even more noticeable are the many contemporary reports of entheogen-facilitated visions and ecstasies echoing those of Joseph Smith and early of Mormon converts. The cessation of convert and leadership visionary and ecstatic experience following the death of Joseph Smith may partly inform the observation of Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University, Harold Bloom (2007) when he observed, “I am puzzled by the current Salt Lake City hierarchy. If there is any spiritual continuity between [Joseph] Smith and Gordon B. Hinckley [a Prophet and Utah successor to Joseph Smith], I am unable to see it. No disrespect is intended by that observation.” If “placebo sacraments” replaced those infused with entheogens in early Mormonism, the spiritual discontinuity between Joseph Smith and his successors noted by Hard Bloom is readily accounted for and easily explainable.


More than any other American religion, Mormonism has spawned several forays into entheogenic sacraments. We start with Joseph Smith’s grandson, Frederick ~~G~~M. Smith.

Frederick M. Smith

The evidence reviewed above that Joseph Smith kept a Native American peyote stone as a sacred possession, attempted to locate a colony in peyote country, and intended to offer his followers peyote in the temple to facilitate their experience of God puts us in a better position to now to address a question we raised early in the paper. Like his grandfather Joseph Smith, Frederick M. Smith (1875–1946) manifested a precocious openness to entheogens, particularly peyote. As shown by Emma’s letters and oral transmission of information to her children and grandchildren about the entheogenic-potent herbs jimson (datura) and lobelia, information about entheogens was passed on from Joseph Smith Jr’s generation not through his Church but within his family. Joseph’s family was also heirs to his hand-tooled seer stone in a peyote button. After his death, the stone remained in possession of his widow Emma, who passed it on to her second husband, Lewis Bidamon. The stone eventually came into the possession of Lewis’s illegitimate son Charles Bidamon. Frederick ~~G~~M. Smith, born in 1874, is likely to have seen the stone as a child and would have known it by reputation at the least. As the stone passed beyond the Smith family and eventually to collector Wilford C. Wood, any oral lore passed along with the stone within the Smith family failed to be transmitted with it further, and the stone was known only as one of Joseph Smith’s seer stones, with no other information about its provenance or significance. However, just because the stone’s representational significance was unknown to those who later sold and bought, it does not mean this significance was unknown to the Smith family. Joseph Smith family’s cross-generational legacy of a peyote stone and oral traditions about entheogenic herbs, and possibly about the stone itself, makes it unsurprising that Frederick M. Smith would have been exceptionally open to using entheogens, including peyote. Joseph Smith’s revelations were the “bed-rock” of Mormonism and Frederick “wanted to understand the [revelatory] process,” a subject he explored in The Higher Powers of Man (1918), with an entire chapter devoted “to the wonders of peyote” (Tommasini, 1997, p. 83). In this work, Frederick discussed the usefulness of peyote as an aid to spiritual development, reverberating his previous entheogenic experiences, experiences “he did not dare to chronicle” (Tommasini, 1997, p. 83). Frederick wrote, “Ecstasy has played an important role in human affairs, particularly the religious, and it is scarcely stating the matter fairly to hold that it is always associated with the pathological. Ecstasy is the central experience of religious experience usually associated with mysticism” (Smith, 1918). Frederick learned “the rituals and powers of peyote” while pursuing his PhD in psychology. When Frederick visited Texas on vacation, “he observed Native American Indians who ate [peyote] ::: [and] Catholic converts, who [drank it as a tea] for communion” (Tommasini, 1997, p. 83). Frederick believed the use of peyote in a spiritual setting was not a violation either of the spirit or the letter of his grandfather, Joseph Smith’s 1833 dietary revelation known as the “word of wisdom” (Smith, 1833, pp. 207–208). “Frederick did not believe that peyote was technically, a drug. To him it was a natural substance, an ancient means to tap one’s inner power derived from hallucinogenic cactus [as Frederick put it, is] ‘neither injurious nor habit-forming’” (Tommasini, 1997, p. 83). Frederick introduced peyote to Virgil Tomson (1896– 1989), an American composer who played a significant role in creating an “American Sound” in classical music. Smith gave Virgil “five bumpy little buttons less than an inch across and hard as wood and suggested that he chew them up before he went to bed” (Ibid). Virgil described his experience: “The effect, full visions complete in color and texture as a stage set, began slowly to appear before my closed or open eyes. Then came more rapidly ::: Each one, moreover, had a meaning [and] could have been published with a title; and their symbolisms or subjects::: constituted a view of life not only picturesque and vast, but just as clearly all mine and all true” (Tommasini, 1997, p. 84). Virgil introduced S. Foster Damon, an academic and poet specializing in the mystic William ~~Black~~Blake, and “who reported on the similarity of Blake’s art to Peyote visions” (Piper, 2016). Frederick, Virgil, Damon, and others belonged to a “Harvard psychedelic circle” who were engaged in the exploration of peyote spirituality (Piper, 2016). Damon was profoundly affected by his peyote experiences and subsequently penned articles titled, The Evidence for Literal Transmutation and Symbols of Alchemy (Ibid). In Symbols of Alchemy, Damon (1922) argues that “To the alchemists, ‘Gold,’ the most perfect in the metalline world, stood for Man, the perfect product of creation” and to “‘to make gold,’ actually meant to make (or materialize) a human being” (p. 79). Damon also discussed “The Elixir of Life” stating it was called such “because of the way it [by a chemical process] manifested itself ::: since by its means, the afterworld could be reached.” Further, “each alchemist used a new term [for the Elixir] every time he could think of one” (p. 81). Damon argued that Alchemists kept their secret by means of symbols and “frankly confessed that they deliberately confused their symbols” because it “was a matter of life and death for these men to keep their secret: one hint, and they with all their colleagues would have been massacred” (Ibid, 79, emphasis added). We have argued that Joseph Smith’s intentionally obscured entheogen for the same reason. Frederick Smith represents a rare confluence of many factors discussed in this paper. He was the patrilineal grandson of Joseph Smith, the prophet of the Reorganized Mormon church (1915–1946), a classically trained psychologist, and his doctoral thesis extensively discussed and advocated for using the entheogen peyote in religious settings. And if Frederick Smith’s engagement with psychedelics and the “Harvard psychedelic circle” (Piper, 2016) reverberated in family traditions of his grandfather Joseph Smith’s engagement with psychedelics, then Joseph Smith may himself have exerted an indirect but positive influence on the unfolding of psychedelic culture in the United States. One might think such was the case since the next “Harvard psychedelic circle” included Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil who played a significant role ushering in a “New Age” for America (Lattin, 2011). Contemporary scripture in the Community of Christ establishes Joseph Smith’s original, historic goal of universal prophethood as one of the faith’s immediate priorities. Revelations issued by Community of Christ prophet presidents Grant McMurray and Stephen Veazey and accepted by the Church into its Doctrine and Covenants (Community of Christ, 2007) who proclaim that participants in the Community of Christ are called “to be a prophetic people” and to “live prophetically” (Section 162:2c, 8c; 164:1). With its heritage of two early prophets who used and promoted entheogens as a potent means for living out this age-old vision, the Community of Christ is perhaps uniquely positioned among restorationist and liberal Christian denominations to leverage entheogens to become “a prophetic people” as Joseph Smith envisioned.

Oto Church of the First-Born and the Native American Church (NAC)

The Mormon-Indian-peyote syncretisms began in 1914 with the incorporation the Oto Church of the First-Born, the predecessor to the Native American Church (Rigal-Cellard, 1995). According to Weston La Barre (1938), early Plains Indian peyote “rites diffuse[ed] from the Kiowa-Comanche ... [to] the Oto Church of the First-born ::: and its successor, the Native American Church.” In their Churches, the Oto met to see the “faces of their dead relatives” and the Osage met “to see the face of Jesus” (Ibid). The Oto Church of the First-born was found by Jonathan Koshiway (La Barre, 1938), the first Native American syncretism to seek legal incorporation. Koshiway was a missionary for the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saint, now the Community of Christ and later “met with Kiowa and Arapaho to found the Native American Church” (Rigal-Cellard, 2004). The Oto Church of the Firstborn likely represents Koshiway familiarity with the Mormon concept of the “Church of the Firstborn,” and its visionary nature as described in Mormon scripture. Joseph Smith (1844) explained that Mormon’s who were faithful and obtained the ordinances,

have the privilege of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, to have the heavens opened unto them, to commune with the general assembly and Church of the Firstborn, and to enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant” (pp. 101–102; also see Collier, 1977).

Probably, Koshiway viewed peyote as the key to commune with the heavenly Church described by Joseph Smith.

The Peyote Way Church of God

The next Mormon-Native American-peyote syncretism, The Peyote Way Church of God (PWCG), was founded by Reverend Immanuel Pardeahtan Trujillo in 1979 and is based in Willcox, Arizona (Rigal-Cellard, 2004). In 1948, before founding the PWCG, Rev. Trujillo (50% San Carlos Apache) joined the NAC. However, Trujillo became dissatisfied with the NAC because it limits membership and peyote sacrament to “genuine Natives” who can prove at least 25% American Indian ancestry, and their spouses regardless of race. Trujillo’s objection arose when, “William Russell, Apache Roadman for the NAC. Rev. Russell and Rev. Eugene Yoakum. .. [taught] Trujillo about the Spirit Walk and instilled in him the non-racist nature of the Holy Sacrament Peyote” (Peyote Way Church of God, n.d.). Preferring not to limit peyote sacraments to Native Americans, Trujillo left the NAC in 1966. The PWCG “strictly adheres to the creeds of the L.D.S. Church” (Rigal-Cellard, 2004). According to Rigal-Cellard, “Anne Zapf, the President of the Church from 1985 to 1993, became a Mormon while in college and helped Trujillo settle the Church and ::: a fairly high number of Natives of the region belong to the L.D.S. Church” (Ibid). Shields (1982, p. 221) goes further stating the PWCG descends from Joseph Smith’s Mormonism. The PWCG believes that Joseph Smith’s “Word of Wisdom” (D&C 89) provides for their peyote sacrament (Murphy, 1994a, 1994b). Furthermore, the bylaws of the PWCG published in 1981 permit it to: “To grow, obtain, steward, protect and defend the Holy Psychedelic Sacrament of Peyote and its religious use; and to regulate the distribution of this Holy Psychedelic Sacrament to other members of this and other churches that use a psychedelic as their Holy Sacrament.” In its mission to offer peyote sacraments to non-Native Americans, the PWCG ran into legal difficulties. In 1991, one leader, Brother Bill Stites, was arrested by federal officers for felony possession of peyote found in his car (Rigal-Cellard, 2004). The legal challenges to the NAC offering peyote sacraments to non-Native Americans faced by the PWCG would bleed into the legal woes of the next Mormon-Native American-peyote syncretism, the Oklevueha NAC (ONAC).

James Warren “Flaming Eagle” Mooney

James Warren Mooney, a former Mormon, is the founder of the controversial ONAC that openly provides peyote ceremonies for people without Native American descent. Mooney reports being told in 1988 by Oklevueha Chief and Medicine Woman Little Dove he was a descendant of both Osceola, the Seminole Indian chief, and the famed ethnologist James Mooney (1861–1921); these genealogical attributions would become a center of controversy. James Warren Mooney, then a Mormon and successful businessman, was given to understand that he was called to carry Native American plant medicine to non-Indians, the particulars of which he was instructed to decide for himself (L. B. Buford, personal communication, May 6, 2019). In 1994, after a lengthy period of training with various Native American medicine people including Guadalupe Rio de la Cruz, a Huichol Medicine woman, Mooney, conducted NAC peyote sacrament ceremonies without regard to race. In 1997, Mooney founded the ONAC and in 2000 was excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 2001, Mooney’s home and new Church was raided by local law enforcement officials. In these places of worship, according to Mooney, they seized peyote amounting to over thirty pounds, representing about 10,000 dried peyote buttons. Mooney and his wife, arraigned on charges of “a dozen counts of drug trafficking and one count of racketeering,” faced life in prison (Gehrke, 2001). The State of Utah contended that Mooney was not covered by the Federal Religious Peyote Exemption (21 C.F.R. § 1307.3) because he was not of Native American descent, nor a member of a federally recognized tribe. The trial resulted in James’ and his wife Linda’s conviction on multiple felony counts related to what was alleged to be a criminal enterprise based on distributing peyote within the context of their religious services. In 2003, the Mooney’s appealed the trial court’s decision to the Utah Supreme Court who: “Reverse[d] the trial court’s decision ::: the federal regulation does not restrict the exemption to members of federally recognized tribes. We therefore rule that the exemption is available to all members of the Native American Church” (State of Utah, 2004). Following this decision, the Utah District Attorney attempted to convince the federal government to prosecute James and Linda on similar charges related to peyote sacrament. The question in the government’s case against James Mooney was his claimed Native American descent. Unexpectedly, government-certified genetic testing revealed Mooney’s ethnicity: 58% European, 35% Native American, and 9% Sub-Saharan African. (Certificate of Ancestry, 2005). After 6 months of investigation by United States Federal Attorneys and Federal Investigators, the case against James Mooney resolved when the Mooneys entered into a plea agreement. In conversation with one of the authors, Mooney believes that ONAC worldwide membership top well over 10,000.


In this paper, we have reviewed the historical and psychopharmacological data that Joseph Smith employed entheogens in religious ordinances, facilitating many early Mormon visions and ecstasies. Gaining proficiency over time, Smith dealt with troublesome entheogen-related symptomology and “difficult trips” by encoding them, along with entheogenic visions and ecstasies, in his published teachings and revelations. The reproduction of biblical prophetic and apostolic experience and the antidepressant effects of entheogens in early Mormonism contributes to an understanding of Joseph Smith’s charisma and the spectacular rise of his Church – it continues to do so if only in story. If organized religion is to remain relevant in our post-modern, Internet-informed, and ecopsychologically sensitive world, it must come to grips with what cognitive and neuroscience have to say about religious experience as natural phenomena and entheogens as near-universal facilitators of that experience.

Much more can be, has been, and will be, said about entheogens in Mormonism. A tacit implication of the final sections discussing religions connected to Mormonism using peyote and the conclusion is that factions of Mormonism may have a legal case to legalize peyote or other entheogens for religious sacramental use. Obviously, saying such in an academic paper can raise plenty of concerns and was therefore only implied, but the point remains. If Joseph Smith used entheogens in his religious practices prior to those plant medicines being prohibited, a legal case could be made outside of Native American religions to use entheogens within a religious context. Even more obvious, however, is the cultural and religious prohibition on anything of this sort in the vast majority of Mormon factions. A cultural and societal shift must occur before such propositions may ever begin to be entertained. It is, in my opinion, a fascinating aspect of this paper and an interesting thought-exercise at the very least.

That’s it. That’s our paper, recently published in a special issue of the Journal of Psychedelics Studies. This was read with permission from the journal and other authors of the paper and you’ll find a link to the full paper with images, tables, and author bios in the show notes as has been the case for all three of these episodes. I know this has been a long episode, but we have one more thing to help us through the afterglow of this journey we’ve taken together. Let’s debrief.

I’ve been researching and presenting the topic of psychedelics in Mormonism for a bit over 3 years now. In that time, I’ve been met with a number of people who are interested in the topic and ask something along the lines of, “have you ever done your own personal research in psychedelics?” or “so where can I get some?” My answer to these questions is always that I’m merely a researcher who calls things like I see them. I can’t answer those questions, but what I can recommend you do is read. Read a lot because the resources are plentiful. Once you’ve read a lot and done your own research on psychedelics, find a local foraging or psychedelics society because there are hundreds across the nation. Information and community are the keys to successfully exploring altered states of consciousness. Joining us on the line today is one of the founders of the meetup group Utah Psychedelic Society to tell us a bit about the organization and promote an upcoming event on bicycle day 2020. Logan, thanks so much for joining us today.

First off, tell us a bit about Utah Psychedelic Society.

What can first-time attendees expect when they finally decide to pull the trigger and come to an event?

Tell us what’s going on this upcoming bicycle day, April 19th, 2020.

Where can people find information about the event?

Where can listeners learn more about Utah Psychedelic Society?

Thanks so much for joining us.

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