(This continues a series of posts about reconstructing the Mormon/Christian narrative. Please read this introductory post first, if you haven’t already, before continuing.)
Who was Joseph Smith Jr. (1805-1844)? He’s been quite an enigma both within and outside of Mormonism since his death. Many Mormons see him as a deeply gifted prophet of God, in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets like Isaiah, Ezekiel, and even Moses. He recorded and published new scripture, the Book of Mormon, just like ancient prophets. Many Mormons revere him as someone who restored Christianity in its purity, even the original Christian church and true gospel of Jesus. They believe he received true priesthood authority from God to perform real saving rituals, ordinances, and act as a “high priest” to bring others into the presence of God.
Abstract: Joseph Smith’s activity in bringing forth the Book of Mormon can be viewed as a project of alchemy, which was influenced by his affiliation with treasure digging, the folk magic worldview, the Hermetic tradition,1 as well as his many mystical spiritual experiences. I suggest he initially sought to bring the “gold plates” of his visions into material reality, and in the process discovered the true “gold” was within himself, the elusive Philosopher’s Stone.Continue reading “The Book of Mormon as Literary Alchemy: Joseph’s Magnum Opus and the Philosopher’s Stone”
This morning I came across a quote in an excellent essay by Daniel Christian Wahl, frequently attributed to the renowned modern theoretical physicist Albert Einstein. Wahl did not misquote him, but it seems to be often misquoted when cited in full. It is this:
A human being is a part of the whole, called by us “Universe”, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.
I suggest that the translation of the Book of Mormon was Joseph Smith’s alchemical Magnum Opus, or “Great Work,” a transmutation of his own base desires for materialistic gold and treasure into the highest spiritual realizations of human atonement in God consciousness, and a realization or awakening of eternal life in his Self, even theosis, which he continued to preach for the rest of his life. His revelation of the Book of Mormon is similar to the ancient Buddhist tradition of tertöns who reveal terma texts through inner mystical union. Continue reading “The Book of Mormon as Terma, and Joseph Smith as Tertön”