Women and Authority
Edited by Maxine Hanks
Mormon Women as “Natural” Seers: An Enduring Legacy
Ian G. Barber
 Within the last decade several important studies have documented the ministration of women in spiritual rituals during Mormonism’s first one hundred years.1 This research has also considered the licensing of these ministrations through Mormon theology, as well as the explicit appointment and ordination of women to priestly office.2 The withdrawal of official sanction by the Utah LDS church for women’s ministrations, a process spanning the later nineteenth to early twentieth centuries, has also been well documented.3
However, one aspect of Mormon women’s spirituality that has not been fully considered is the function of women as “natural” ministrants. Within Mormonism these “natural” and often mystical ministrations involved prophecy, visions, insight, dreams, visitation, healing, and exorcism. As a “natural” gift the call of a seer also incorporated elements of divination and the interpretation of unknown languages. Of particular relevance to this present discussion of women’s spiritual power, such “natural” gifts did not require church hierarchical appointment or priesthood ordination. Thus consideration of women’s “natural” potential as seers provides a context for understanding spiritual power beyond the boundaries of institutional license and formal church sanction.
In the folk-religious climate which nurtured Mormonism in early North America, a seer was an individual who held communion with divine powers, frequently through an instrument such as  a seer stone or “peep” stone.4 The Book of Mormon established the precedent of the seer and outlined the responsibilities of this call. The seer possessed a “high gift from God” and “a gift which is greater can no man have.” Within the Book of Mormon context, the gift was applied to the interpretation (or “translation”) of ancient records. Scripture also stipulated that “A seer can know of things which are past, and also of things which are to come, and by them shall all things be revealed, or, rather, shall secret things be made manifest, and hidden things shall come to light.” The text does not include pre-conditions for receiving this “high gift” other than appointment by God and the exercise of faith. (See Mosiah 8:13-18; 21:27-28; 28:11, 13-17; Omni 20; Alma 37:23-26; Ether 3:23-28).
As president of the High Priesthood, Joseph Smith was “a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet, having all the gifts of God which he bestows upon the head of the church.” These gifts, including that of seer, were also extended by appointment to Hyrum Smith (D&C 108:92; also 21:1; about Hyrum, see 124:94-95). Historical evidence also suggests that nonhierarchical and extra-priesthood exercise of the gift of seeing was reason for some institutional tension.5 Nevertheless, Joseph Smith taught in 1843 that the “white stone mentioned in Revelation 2:17, will become a Urim and Thummim to each individual who receives one, whereby things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms will be made known; And a white stone is given to each of those who come into the celestial kingdom” (D&C 130:10-11).
Church leaders in Utah clarified their understanding of seers. Brigham Young identified early Book of Mormon witnesses Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris as being among those “who have been natural seers and had many other remarkable gifts.”6 However, these men had fallen away, “principally because they had not sufficient humility.” Young admitted that he was not a prophet or seer as Joseph Smith had been, a comment John Taylor explained as “speaking of men being born Natural Prophets & seers.” “Many have the gift of seeing through seer stones without the Priesthood at all,” Taylor remarked.7 Another aspect of spiritual ability was the natural right to the priesthood of those in the “blood” line of scattered Israel. Early converts were considered “lawful heirs, according to the flesh … and the priesthood … must needs  remain through you and your lineage.” This natural right was distinguished from the culturally determined anointing and ordination of a priesthood call. Those not in the descent line had to be “designated … and found worthy, and anointed, and ordained.” (See D&C 68:15-21; 86:8-10; 87:9-10; Abraham 1:2-3, 26-27, 31; 2:9-11.) Heber C. Kimball also addressed the notion of a “natural” prophet, in connection with the rights of lineage. It is significant that he spoke of both men and women as such “Prophets & Prophetesses”: “He [Heber C. Kimball] said any man that was a prophet of God He was born a Natural Prophet. It was through a linage of Prophets. There fathers & mothers were Prophets & Prophetesses by birth through the Seed of Abraham. Theis was the case with Joseph Brigham & himself. [Their?] Fathers were prophets.”8
The exercise of the gift of seeing in early Mormonism often involved the use of a stone (or stones) (see Mosiah 8:13; 28:13-16; Alma 37:21, 23-24; Ether 3:1, 3-4, 6, 23, 28; 4:5). However, this essay interprets the experience of a seer as a broader mystical phenomenon and considers related spiritual ministrations as well, where instruments were not necessarily involved.
Women as “Natural” Seers in the Nineteenth Century
As several historians have shown, a folk-mystical culture served as the setting for the foundational events of Mormonism.9 The spiritual gifts of women were a part of this early history. A seer by the name of Sally Chase was employed by treasure-seekers to locate Joseph Smith’s golden plates. Her employers were no doubt relying on a notion prevalent in the treasure lore of the area that “women seemed particularly prone to treasure dreams and particularly skilled at using seer-stones.”10 Smith was also required to bring a woman (his wife Emma) to the hill where the sacred golden record was hidden, before the plates could be retrieved.11
Mormon women seem to have operated as seers as early as the 1830s in Kirtland, Ohio. As S. F. Whitney recalled years later, “Mormon elders and women often searched the bed of the river [while in Kirtland] for stones with holes caused by the sand washing out, to peep into.” Whitney borrowed the stone of his sister-in-law,  the wife of early Mormon bishop Newel K. Whitney, to search for a lost medicinal cot on one occasion. She protested, saying “it was wicked to trifle with sacred things.”12 In sworn testimony William S. Smith also recalled that “a widow Petingail … had a vision” of a location where money had been buried. She pointed out the spot, and the location was dug.13
Contemporary evidence confirms these recollections. Hepzibah Richards of Kirtland wrote to her brother on 10 January 1836 that a musket ball shot into the window of a local house “at their daughter who sees in a stone” passed “very near her head.”14 In 1835 Bishop Edward Partridge described “a young girl” who could “see”: “This girl sees by the help of a stone. She told me she saw a seer’s stone for me, it was a small blue stone with a hole in one corner, that it was 6 or 8 feet in the ground … not far from the lake shore … on a hill, a tree growing near the spot.”15
According to family tradition, Elias Pulsipher also found a seer stone with two holes in it in Kirtland. Pulsipher’s daughter would use the stone to locate lost items. Her daughter also had use of the stone until once she asked to see Satan, a request which rendered the stone forever useless.16
An early missionary account in England suggests the respect and deference sometimes accorded women seers in Mormon culture by male priesthood holders. On arriving in Preston, England, Oliver B. Huntington noted that a certain woman in the place had prophesied successfully on the head of one of the missionary elders. Huntington visited with the woman and recorded:
Nothing in her did we discover contrary to the order of truth & righteousness, yet she like others who have had true gifts might look unwisely, and sometimes tell that which they do not know … She tells what she does by the Planates, from the person’s looks and moles … She would do just as the Prophet Joseph used to; look a person from head to toe … she said she was not a fortune teller; she would be mad in a minute if the word fortune was spoken.17
The woman predicted the futures of two elders traveling with Huntington. According to one of the elders, she looked in “a glass; like an egg, in which she saw, and told him many things concerning his wife, and my wife.” The elder claimed to be able to see in the stone the forests of America.
 Another prominent Mormon expressed familiarity with and acceptance of non-priesthood seers. Mary Ellen Kimball wrote of “Br Butterfields little boy” who “could see anything he looked for” through a seer-stone.18 This was proved by the boy’s description of William and Heber Kimball, who were away.
Mormon women operated as seers following the settlement of Utah. Sometime around 1849 George D. Grant urged “that Sister Hamilton consult her Peep stone” to locate a missing boy. “Uncle Brigham [Young] demurred,” John R. Young recalled, “but finally yielding to our Pleading Consented.” Sister Hamilton “shielded her face with the sacred stone, and soon said ‘I see him fall into the Creek, just below the grist mill.’” Actually, the boy had been lured away by another boy with the promise of watermelon. “After this I had no faith in Sister hamilton nor her Peep stone,” John Young concluded.19 A “peepstone” recovered during construction of the Logan temple was also reportedly used by a woman to locate missing livestock and other items.20
This tradition can be traced into the church’s later nineteenth-century diaspora. An autobiographical account from Alberta suggests the general acceptance of women seers. Harriet Maria Carter Thomas remembered that as a young girl in her teens, “there was a lot of talk about Peep-stones.” “If you found your Peep-stone,” Harriet recalled, “you could look into it and see your future.” On one occasion while visiting a friend, Harriet looked through her collection of “rocks and curious stones” and was struck by a “beautiful creamy stone.” Assuming that this was her own “Peep-stone,” Harriet took the stone home and looked into it. She saw nothing at first, but then she remembered it had been said “that all would be dark at first, but if you looked long enough it would clear and then you could see your future”:
Well, I had it up to my eye, with both hands cupped around it, so that no light could get in. At first it was all dark, and then gradually it cleared, and I could see a room. Hanging in the centre of this room was a beautiful, bright chandelier, and at the far side was one door. As I looked for a few seconds, this door opened, and in came a very tall man. He walked to the centre of this room, under the chandelier, so that I could see every feature of his face clearly and distinctly. Then he smiled at me and made a sweeping bow, and the scene was gone.21
 Harriet believed she had seen the man she would eventually marry.
Several parallels with these American accounts are the experiences of a New Zealand Maori woman converted to Mormonism near the close of the nineteenth century. According to family members, Wetekia Ruruku Elkington of Ngati Koata and Te Ati Awa was a “visionary woman.” As a young woman, Wetekia had a dream in which she saw the wings of a bird flying across the sky transformed into a book. She heard a voice proclaiming in Maori: “O house of Israel how oft have I gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not … I will gather you as a hen gathereth her chickens … if ye will repent and return unto me.” At a tangi (funeral ceremony) soon after, Wetekia saw a copy of the Book of Mormon brought by a visiting family. Wetekia recognized it as the book in her dream and informed her father, who arranged for the Mormon missionaries to visit their settlement, “where the whole pa [settlement] was baptised.” In a further dream Wetekia was also shown her future husband and was told “that this was the man she would marry.”22
From Caution to Reproof: The Demise of “Natural” Female Seers
Institutional tension often accompanied the revelations of these natural seers, who posed a potential challenge to the authority and order of the official church. Thus from the very infancy of the Mormon movement the exercise of Joseph Smith’s charismatic power caused tension among his small community of followers.23 For example, in 1830 Smith’s authority was challenged by Hiram Page’s revelations concerning church order and the building of Zion, revelations received through a stone. Smith thereafter recorded a revelation affirming that he alone was “appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church,” since God had given Smith “the keys of the mysteries, and the revelations which are sealed” (D&C 28).24 In 1831 a number of revelations was received by a Mrs. Hubble. These revelations attracted the favorable interest of some Mormon leaders and resulted in another communication through Smith, warning the church to reject “revelations or commandments” which had not come through “him whom I have appointed” (sec. 43).25
Tension between charismatic and official revelation continued during the early stages of the church’s growth.26 In 1842 the official Mormon press decried the statements of a young Mormon revelator who claimed “the gift of seeing” through a stone. A pointed concern was also raised in 1842 as to the exercise of such spiritual gifts by women.27
The work of natural seers was not perceived as a direct challenge to the operations of local and general authorities in Utah, but there is evidence of institutional wariness. In 1858 Mary Ellen Kimball recorded that a “Mrs Rushton” “visited with us to day” and brought a seer stone with her which had wide use. “A great many people can see in it. It has many different sides to look through and it is held between the eye and the light.” The response of Heber Kimball is enlightening: “Mr Kimball remarked that those were sacred things & to be used only by the priesthood and when used by others were often led a stray.”28
This cautious approach to charisma apparently hardened by the turn of the century. In 1900 Apostle Anthon Lund noticed the case of a man who had prophesied that a sick woman would be healed to fulfill a mission. The man was told by the authorities that he had no right to make such a prophecy and that a mission call should come from the “right source.”29 In the following year at a temple meeting of the presiding authorities, mention was made of a “brother” who was “going about and administering” as well as a “brother” who had talked in tongues. The consensus seemed to be that if such persons came to the front and gained influence, “even the apostles will [be] put in the background.”30
That this change affected women as seers is apparent in the pointed reaction of Brigham Young, Jr., to a woman in Denmark in the 1890s, from whom several Mormon missionaries claimed to have received revelations. Such a woman might have been accorded some validity in earlier generations of Mormonism, as Oliver Huntington’s missionary experiences suggest, but this was no longer the case. Young called these manifestations delusions and claimed that the woman’s visitors “which fought for possession of her were angels of darkness.”31 The whole scheme was but a plan of the adversary  to gain control of the Saints and thwart the work. All revelations, Young affirmed, would come instead through God’s established authority.
In 1918 Apostle Lund, now a counsellor in the First Presidency, recorded that a Mrs. Fordyse, who “tells fortunes by cards and finds lost articles by a peepstone,” had been banned from temple ordinance work as a result.32 From the brief description, it seems this woman differed little from the seer in Preston, England, whom Huntington and other Mormons had patronized in 1846 or even from Sister Hamilton, who Brigham Young had (albeit reluctantly) allowed to “see” for a lost boy. It appears that official tolerance for the autonomous operation of seers was now at a low ebb. In the April general conference for 1921, Charles Penrose of the First Presidency stipulated:
Sisters, it is not your right to organize meetings either for the sisters or for the brethren in your respective wards without the regulation and permission of the presiding authorities of the ward. Some sisters not very far from this spot used to meet together, relate visions, speak in tongues and had a glorious time, and the president of the stake was appealed to as to the right to do that. He said, “Sisters, you must not hold any meetings of that kind unless you get permission from the bishop,” and they have never asked permission of the bishop nor held such meetings since that time. What does that show? It shows that they were not acting under proper authority.33
This concern with “proper authority” and ecclesiastical control was heightened by challenges from individuals who claimed special authority or dispensation to practice plural marriages after the practice had been officially withdrawn.34 It is perhaps no coincidence that President Penrose’s remarks are part of a sermon responding critically to the claims of independent polygamists and special revelation.
Concern over religious control was not the only factor behind the erosion of hierarchical tolerance of seership and revelation. The natural, mystical world had been undermined by a more general cultural challenge to quasi-magical expressions as Mormonism adjusted to a modern, industrial world view. Mormon historian Thomas G. Alexander summarizes both perspectives:
 the church leadership clearly wanted religious manifestations to come within recognized lines of priesthood authority and within doctrinally defensible limits. Second, the reconstruction of Latter-day Saint doctrine which had taken place following the lead of Talmage, Widstoe and Roberts, while addressing the reconciliation of church doctrine with scientific theory, had brought supernaturalism into question.35
Female Seers in Cross-Cultural Perspective
A larger cultural perspective on the question of woman seers is useful. Sherry Ortner has argued for a broad cross-cultural perception of women as closer than men to the disorder of nature and by extension to mystical phenomena.36 Such cultural interpretation has often focused on the female body and its functions and women’s association with the “lower” domestic order.37 Ortner’s view of the universality of a female-nature interpretation has stimulated vigorous anthropological debate, and other researchers have claimed that the close linking of women and the nature-spirit world cannot be sustained universally in all cultural contexts.38
Yet an association of women and a spirit-nature world may still apply to Mormonism. Indeed Ortner usefully articulates the western biological reductionist view of women and children, which achieved particular prominence in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century speculation about the role of nature, society, and men and women.39 As Alan Taylor has remarked, “A black skin, female gender, and adolescent age were all marks of powerlessness in the early Republic and one or some combination of the three often characterized seers.”40
Some associations between women and the spirit-nature world are suggested in the nineteenth-century Mormon world view. Joseph Smith identified the earth as “the mother of men,” whose lament was heard and recorded by the prophet Enoch. Enoch was “high and lifted up, even in the bosom of the Father and Son of Man.” From this vantage point he looked down upon the earth: “and he heard a voice from the bowels therof, saying, Woe!, woe! is me, the mother of men! I am pained, I am weary, because of the wickedness of my children! When shall I rest, and be cleansed from the filthiness which has gone out of me? When will my creator sanctify me, that I may rest and righteousness for a season abide upon my face?” (Moses 7:48) The identification of the earth with a living, feminine  principle was explored further in Utah, where Apostle Heber C. Kimball argued that the earth brought life forth, just as a woman “must be alive to produce life.” Kimball reinforced this concept with the use of conception and fertilization motifs.41 Such rhetoric can only have strengthened the popular association of women with “natural” spiritual gifts.
The necessity of Emma Smith’s involvement in retrieving the gold plates deserves further elaboration within this context. The guardian of the record had previously instructed Joseph to bring various men to the hill. However, each time Joseph was frustrated in carrying out the guardian’s instructions. Finally he was instructed to take his wife with him. With Emma’s presence, “the powers of enchantment … which held the hidden treasures of the earth” were finally broken, and Joseph successfully retrieved the golden plates.42
Given the more general cultural link between women and children as closer to the natural order, it is significant that children as well as women are often found as seers in the earliest events and texts of Mormonism. In the Book of Mormon, Jesus blessed little children in ancient America and angels “came down and encircled those little ones about … they did loose their tongues, and they did speak unto their fathers great and marvelous things, even greater than he had revealed unto the people.” Also “they both saw and heard these children; yea, even babes did open their mouths and utter marvelous things” (3 Ne. 17:23-24; 26:14, 16).
The “young girl” who operated as a seer in Kirtland has already been mentioned. On 9 September 1845 Nauvoo resident Hosea Stout “went with Br Harmon & Horr to see a boy look in a ‘peep stone,’ for some money which he said he could see hid up in the ground.”43 Perhaps the best account in early Utah concerns William Titt, a young orphan who worked with a seer stone so that he could find lost property and tell people how their kinsfolk were—“even in England.” However, the devil would also make false appearances to Titt to keep the truth hidden.44 Mary Ellen Kimball journalized: “Br Butterfields little boy … looked [in a seer stone] for he then looked for an ear ring which was lost said he saw it in city creek & thought he could get it …”45
As these examples suggest, a pattern of linking the gift of seeing and those perceived as closer to the nature-spirit world can be  identified within the nineteenth-century Mormon context. However, early Mormon texts also suggested that faith and prayer were sufficient means to obtain spiritual manifestations. Thus Joseph Smith’s canonized remarks in Nauvoo emphasized that all people through faith could possess a seer stone. The Book of Mormon stipulated that a seer stone operated according to the power of faith (Mosiah 8:13-18).
That such universalism could be reconciled with a notion of natural susceptibility to the spiritual world can be seen in a report to The Young Woman’s Journal about “temple workers.” Lucy Bigler Smith was reported to have “mighty power … gained through long years of fasting and prayers in the exercise of her special gift.” This gift included the ability to minister to and heal the sick, perform miraculous healings, and give blessings as her “words of inspiration and personal prophecy flowed like a living fire.” It was also acknowledged that “this gift is still with her.”46 By contrast, Frances E. Brown acknowledged “no particular or open manifestations by dreams or visions” in her temple work, other than “an influence working with me.”47
In short, the “special gift” with which some individuals might be blessed could be strengthened by the power of faith, while not all women (or children) could be expected to be necessary recipients of such gifts. Some men could, and did, function as natural seers in Mormonism,48 and it is beyond this essay to consider whether there was a conceptual link to the world of nature in each instance. Yet a relatively large number of nineteenth-century women and children functioned as seers and divine healers. It may be that the perception of a “natural” female spirituality contributed to the official tolerance of such practices.
The Legacy of Women Seers
Within contemporary Mormonism, the exercise of female spiritual power has now been subsumed to the male hierarchy, and the Female Relief Society has been placed firmly under the organizational control of the male priesthood. Yet while any officially condoned expression of spiritual autonomy has ended, the experience of individual revelation continues to be encouraged for women  as much as men.49 Accounts of seer-like visions by women occasionally still circulate at a folk level in Mormonism and are sometimes even shared in monthly testimony meetings. But generally these experiences are restricted to the events of initial conversion, personal safety and protection, or to the fulfillment of priesthood-directed responsibilities and assignments. The accent in such experiences is on the individual’s personal needs rather than a more general ministry within the larger community.
Certainly this contemporary situation is understandable. Spontaneous spiritual ministrations pose a serious challenge to structured religious authority.50 In this context, male authority structures maintain order by deemphasizing ties to a spiritual world of nature. It is hardly surprising that the LDS church has increasingly suppressed women’s exercise of the gift of seeing over time, along with other related spiritual ministries. However, Mormon teachings still define women largely in terms of maternity, domesticity, and the biological imperative—the world closer to nature.51 Indeed in order to erect boundaries against the forces of secularization, the contemporary church has emphasized the role of woman as mother and nurturer, explicitly deploying the nature/culture dichotomy. Women are thus considered to have a nature more “spiritual” than men.52 At a folk level this perception sometimes surfaces as a justification for the nineteenth-century practice of polygamy (women are advantaged spiritually, so more women will reach heaven than men, necessitating polygamy in a marriage-centered eternity) and for restricting priesthood office to men (since women are naturally more spiritual and need no priesthood office, which men receive as compensation).
Ironically, the marginalization of women in the Mormon church and suppression of female spiritual ministrations has recreated the cultural situation which encouraged charismatic gifts—including the gift of a natural seer—among nineteenth-century women. Michelle Rosaldo has discussed this principle in society at large. Since women must “work within a social system that obscures their goals and interests,” they are “apt to develop ways of seeing, feeling, and acting that seem to be ‘intuitive’ and unsystematic—with a sensitivity to other people that permits them to survive.”53 In other words cultural conditions tend to align women with emotion and intuition and thus reinforce natural spirituality.
 The legacy of women’s spiritual gifts in the Mormon tradition still operates to produce for a significant minority of Mormon women a positive and powerful expression of natural female spiritual power. For example, Betina Lindsey, appealing to historical precedent, has called upon Mormon women to reaffirm their right to exercise the charismatic gift of healing.54 In 1987 I also spoke to several Mormon women in Utah who give predictive and healing blessings, some employing mechanisms such as crystals, auras, and cards. Some of these women also explore cosmic and terrestrial imagery, with a particular emphasis on the Mormon doctrine of female deity. It is easy to note direct parallels between such practices and the earlier activities of Mormon women seers.
For the contemporary debate over women’s exercise of spiritual power and authority in Mormonism, this legacy of nineteenth-century women seers takes on an added significance when one considers the affirmation from the Book of Mormon (Mosiah 8:15-16): “And the king said that a seer is greater than a prophet. And Ammon said that a seer is a revelator and a prophet also; and a gift which is greater can no man have, except he should possess the power of God.”
Ian G. Barber has submitted his Ph.D. thesis in anthropology, “Culture Change in Northern Te Wai Pounamu,” to the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand. He currently lives in Wellington, New Zealand.
1. Thomas G. Alexander, Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890-1930 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986), 290-98; see also Linda K. Newell, “A Gift Given, A Gift Taken: Washing, Anointing, and Blessing the Sick among Mormon Women,” Sunstone 6 (Sept.-Oct. 1981): 16-25; “Gifts of the Spirit: Women’s Share,” in Sisters in Spirit: Mormon Women in Historical and Cultural Perspective, eds. Maureen Ursenbach Beecher and Lavina Fielding Anderson (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986), 111-50.
4. Ronald W. Walker, “The Persisting Idea of American Treasure Hunting,” Brigham Young University Studies 24 (Fall 1984): 438-42; D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1987), 36-38, 51.
7. In Scott G. Kenney, ed., Wilford Woodruff’s Journals, 9 vols. (Midvale, UT: Signature Books, 1983-85), 5:550; Young’s unwillingness to claim the “natural” prophetic gift was offset by the endowment apparent in his counsellor Heber C. Kimball. See Kimball’s remarks: “How many times I have heard it—’We believe what brother Brigham says, and we believe this and we believe that; but here is brother Heber,—he is a kind of wild, kind of enthusiastic; he is full of visions and wild notions.’ … I do not profess to be a Prophet. I never called myself so; but I actually believe I am, because people are telling me that I am” (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [Liverpool: Latter Day Saint's Book Depot, 1855-86], 5:176 [hereafter JD]).
8. See sermon of Joseph Smith, in Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., The Words of Joseph Smith (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1980), 4; Wilford Woodruff’s Journal 5:74.
9. Walker, “American Treasure Hunting”; Dean C. Jessee, “New Documents and Mormon Beginnings,” Brigham Young University Studies 24 (Fall 1984): 397-428; Marvin Hill, “Money Digging Folklore and the Beginnings of Mormonism: An Interpretative Suggestion,” Brigham Young University Studies 24 (Fall 1984): 473-88; Alan Taylor, “Rediscovering the Context of Joseph Smith’s Treasure Seeking,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 19 (Winter 1986): 18-28; Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View.
10. Taylor, “Smith’s Treasure Seeking,” 20. See also Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and his Progenitors for many Generations (Liverpool: Published for Orson Pratt by S. W. Richards, 1853), 108-09; Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, 38.
13. Public Discussion of the Issues Between The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and The Church of Christ [Disciples], Held in Kirtland, Ohio, Beginning February 12th, and Closing March 8th, 1884, Between E. L. Kelly … and Clark Braden … n.d. (St. Louis: Christian Publishing Co., and Kansas City: J. H. Smart & Co., n.d.), 389.
21. B. W. Johnson, “Harriet had a peepstone,” in “Looking at Alberta Mormon Women,” Unpublished paper read to the Canadian Mormon Studies Association Conference, University of Lethbridge, Alberta, May 1990, 6-7, 8.
22. J. Hippolite, “Wetekia Ruruku Elkington 1879-1957,” in The Book of New Zealand Women. Ko Kui Ma Te Kaupapa, ed. C. MacDonald, M. Penfold, and B. Williams (Wellington, New Zealand: Bridget Williams Books, 1991), 205.
37. Ibid. For example, Lois Paul wrote of midwives in the Guatemalan highlands having “sacred connection with supernaturals” in the birthing process. These women also view menstrual blood as conferring a mystical power which could be used for protection from men if necessary.
38. See, for example, essays in C. P. MacCormack and M. Strathern, eds., Nature, Culture and Gender (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980); S. B. Ortner and H. Whitehead, eds., Sexual Meanings: the Cultural Construction of Gender and Sexuality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981).
The following examples provide some sense of the substance of the debate. While witches are exclusively female in the Massim area of New Guinea, male witches predominate in much of the New Guinea high country. In Kwoma society, Bowden has observed that women “because of their sex” are thought to be “incapable of performing magic,” so that no woman “could aspire to be a sorcerer or an expert in any other branch of ritual knowledge.” See M. Strathern, “No Nature, No Culture,” in MacCormack and Strathern, Nature, Culture and Gender, as well as the various essays in Sorcerer and Witch in Melanesia, ed. M. Stephen (Carlton, Victoria, Australia: Melbourne University Press in association with La Trobe University Research Centre for South-West Pacific Studies, 1979), the quote here is from R. Bowden, “Sorcery, Illness and Social Control in Kwoma Society,” ibid., 190.
39. M. Bloch and J. H. Bloch, “Women and the Dialectics of Nature in Eighteenth-century Thought,” in MacCormack and Strathern, Nature, Culture and Gender; L. J. Jordanova, “Natural Facts: A Historical Perspective on Science and Sexuality,” in ibid.
A perception linking spiritual susceptibility and biology has also been suggested for medieval Christian Europe. E. C. McLaughlin has summarized the contemporary explanations of medieval commentators as to why more (female) witches than (male) warlocks were accused in Europe: “Women are by nature lacking in intellect. They are weaker, more easily misled by the devil, more superstitious, endowed with greater sensitivity to the supernatural than men, and women have a natural tendency toward the sins of the flesh”; “Equality of Souls, Inequality of Sexes: Women in Medieval Theology,” in Religion and Sexism: Images of Woman in the Jewish and Christian Traditions, ed. R. R. Ruether (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1974), 255.
M. Nelson has pointed out that “the witch was preeminently female because of her special association with birth and the cycle of nature.” Yet this purported susceptibility of women to spiritual powers was not entirely negative. Thus Judith Brown has cited data from medieval society crediting nuns with valid supernatural experiences in mystical union with the angels or Christ. See M. Nelson, “Why Witches Were Women,” in Women: A Feminist Perspective, ed. J. Freemen (Palo Alto, CA: Mayfield Publishing Co., 1975), 347; J. C. Brown, Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986).
40. Taylor, “Smith’s Treasure Seeking,” 20. It has been argued that non-European racial characteristics were also perceived as heightening susceptibility to a lower, spiritual-mystical order of nature; this view was consistent with Enlightenment views of the “natural” (i.e. nature-oriented) society of “savage” peoples; see Ian G. Barber, unpublished paper read to the Sunstone Symposium, Salt Lake City. For Mormons this racial category principally concerned native Americans and Polynesians, who were viewed as lineal descendants of scattered Israel. To the extent that the perception of a nature association did characterize early Mormonism, the imposition of structural racism (and sexism) in systems of subordination and control becomes explicable, given the fear that evil powers might manipulate these susceptible individuals to the larger detriment of society.
45. Kimball, 22 May 1858; also see entry for 23 May 1858. It is interesting to note that children also drew upon the power to heal. Levi Hancock’s children heard the devil telling their mother that she would be healed from her six-year convalescence if she would but deny the work of God. The mother resisted, and in the interim “the children heard the Conversation reached upon the bed and laid hands on their mother & the Devill departed at an instant [sic]“; Utah Stake General Minutes, v. 10 [1855-60], LDS archives. Ten-year-old William B. Wright related: “Once when Pa and I were on the range, he was sick and I laid my hands on his head and prayed for him and the Lord healed him”; Juvenile Instructor 33 (1 Nov. 1898): 738. And in 1908, the Manti North Ward Relief Society heard the second hand account of a sick woman unsuccessfully administered to by an elder in the absence of her missionary husband. Her little son afterwards “came and put his hands on her head and said ‘O God make my mamma well.’ And she was immediately relieved from pain” (7 Dec. 1908).
46. “Temple Workers,” Young Woman’s Journal 4 (Apr. 1893): 299, 306. In an important address to the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo on 28 April 1842, Joseph Smith instructed the sisters on “the necessity of every individual acting in the sphere allotted him or her.” Women are also understood to have exercised these gifts as a result of their proximity to priesthood and its powers. In 1842 Joseph Smith referred to “those set apart to administer in that authority which is conferr’d on them,” an ordination frequently repeated with the re-establishment of Female Relief Societies in Utah; Ehat and Cook, Words of Joseph Smith, 115.
51. Vella N. Evans, “Women’s Image in Authoritative Discourse: A Rhetorical Analysis,” Ph.D. diss., University of Utah, 1985; Rex Cooper, Promises Made to the Fathers: Mormon Covenant Organization (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1989); Newell, “Gifts of the Spirit,” 140-42; Carolyn M. Wallace, “The Priesthood and Motherhood in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” in Gender and Religion: On the Complexity of Symbols, eds. Steven Harrell and Paula Richman (Boston: Beacon Press, 1986), 120.