- D. Michael Quinn : Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (Revised and Expanded Edition) (link to Amazon). (4 hostile reviews from BYU studies)
- The Refiner's Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844 By John L. Brooke (link to preview).
- Essays: Joseph Smith: America's Hermetic Prophet, Joseph Smith and Kabbalah: The Occult Connection by Lance S Owens.
The King Follet Discourse itself presents a thoroughly Hermetic Christianity.
- The eternal nature of man
- The Doctrine of heavenly councils
- The Plurality of Gods
- Deification of Saints (theopoiesis or theosis)
- Temple ordinances
- The Celestial Kingdom
It is worth pointing out that Evangelical Christianity, rejects completely the notion of sacraments instead often asserting that there rituals are merely "ordinances", demonstrations of faith that have no supernatural effects what-so-ever. They can often be quite inconsistent in this view, but not withstanding Protestantism has been moving away from even the sacramental theology of Catholicism for its entire history. Such an ideology is needless to say hostile to introductions of more religious rites, and especially claims that such rites are claimed to be efficacious. There is no getting around this core disagreement between the Mormon church and Evangelical churches, but it is worth pointing out the core disagreement would be equally strong with the Catholic church. Phillip Lee's Against the Protestant Gnostics, points out that generation by generation modern Protestants adopt point after point after point of the Gnostic positions on where they disagreed with the Orthodox. There is no question that Gnosticism and Hermeticism looked at the world in fundamentally different ways, and still do today.
The 2nd generation of Mormons extended these ideas. Orson Pratt argued that all life, including vegetable life was infused with celestial spirit. Brigham Young asserted the divinity of Adam. God himself was viewed as interacting with the universe Hermetically:
Universal Matter Is Indestructible. Matter is eternal, that is, everlasting. Whether the various forms of matter may be converted one into the other, is not definitely known. Any such conversion would, however, leave the total quantity of matter unchanged. God, the supreme Power, can not conceivably originate matter; he can only organize matter. Neither can he destroy matter. God is the Master, who, because of his great knowledge, knows how to use the elements, already existing, for the building of whatever he may have in mind. The doctrine that God made the earth or man from nothing becomes, therefore, an absurdity. The doctrine of the indestructibility of matter makes possible much theological reasoning that would be impossible without this doctrine. John Andreas Widtsoe, Rational theology as taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day saintsand from this comes the a Hermetic doctrine of salvation:
Self-effort, the conscious operation of will, has moved man onward to his present high degree. However, while all progress is due to self-effort, other beings of power may contribute largely to the ease of man's growth. God, standing alone, cannot conceivably possess the power that may come to him if the hosts of other advancing and increasing workers labor in harmony with him. Therefore, because of his love for his children and his desire to continue in the way of even greater growth, he proceeded to aid others in their onward progress. John Andreas Widtsoe, Rational theology as taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day saintsSo the 2nd generation was continuing the themes of Joseph Smith's work, divinity of Adam is implied in Doctrine and Covenants 27:11; 116:1; 138:38, but made explicit in 1852. Now its interesting this is the same time that polygamy becomes institutionalized. That is, if we look at the Joseph Smith, Joseph and possibly a small number of leaders practice plural marriage, and often this involves little more than having sex with multiple woman as they continue to reside with their previous husbands. Sect leaders acting as "alpha males" and having sex with multiple female members is not out of the ordinary. Other leaders like Brigham Young are marrying widows who would be unlikely to find new husbands, essentially he seems to be primary funding and modeling a social security program.
What is out of the ordinary is the polygamy that starts in 1852, here you have 20-33% of the men in the church having 2 and quite often more wives. Humans produce male and female children in roughly equal numbers, polygamous households would create a massive shortage of marriageable women. I can see only 4 possibilities for how this would play out in practice:
- There is a wide age discrepancy men and their wives, men marry late women early. The problem with this scenario is that it creates a large number of middle aged widows, who naturally do not wish to remain chaste for life and a large number of men who until their 30s are getting their sexual activity elsewhere. This is basically the situation in the high middle ages, which I described in a defense against patriarchy part 5. We see no signs of this, in fact the whole reason Joseph is marrying women is because the church is so firmly opposed to extra marital sex.
- Same sort of age discrepancy as the first situation but with a small number of women with a large number of male lovers, essentially a prostitution culture. Again, given the opposition to extra marital sex this is unlikely. We have no record of anything like this.
- Effective polyandry. That would be a situation where the head of household marries a woman and shares him with his sons until they are old enough to establish their own households. This is not an uncommon human sexual arrangement, for example it is the norm still in Tibet (though in this case brothers share). But, there is 0 evidence for it being the norm in 1850s Utah.
- There was an over abundance of women. Given the Mormons were actively engaging in missions, if say 70+% of the recruits were female and they were losing even a small number of missionaries to apostasy, this would create a huge imbalance.
So the 2nd generation of Mormon leaders had a membership that was primarily composed of either the the children of the religious radicals that had followed Joseph in Kirtland, in Zion in Nauvoo or Spiritualist female converts. Every step Brigham Young took towards Hermetic Christianity would have been met with strong approval. The goal was integration and maintaining them within the church authority, "ministrations for the salvation and exaltation of the world can only be obtained by one holding the keys of the oracles of God, as a medium through which the living can hear from the dead." (Journal of Discourses, , 1:36, 1855). Brigham Young said:
"You are right," say I. Yes, we belong to that higher order of Spiritualism; our revelations are from above, yours from beneath. This is the difference. We receive revelation from Heaven, you receive your revelations from every foul spirit that has departed this life, and gone out of bodies of robbers, murderers, highwaymen, drunkards, thieves, liars and every kind of debauched character, whose spirits are floating a round here, and searching and seeking whom they can destroy; for they are the servants of the devil, and they are permitted to come now to reveal to the people. . . . That is the difference between the two spiritual systems—yes, this is the higher order of spiritualism, to be led, governed and controlled by law, and that, too, the law of heaven that governs and controls the Gods and the angels. (Brigham Young, "The Word of Wisdom—Spiritualism," JD 13:274-83, 281)
Second generation temples are simlarly Hermetic, Salt Lake City for examples has: Earthstones, Moonstones, Sunstones, Cloudstones, Starstones, a representation of the big dipper, clasping hands, all-seeing eye (the most fameous Hermetic symbol derived from the eye of Horus, from eye of Ra and before that the eye hieroglyph of the goddess Wadjet).
Third generation temples feature geometric shapes in a sort of toned down art deco style. The art is so de-personel except for a few details like the baptistry could be mosques.
Religiously a neo-orthodoxy starts which emphasizes the atonement of Jesus rather than traditional Mormon teachings. And moreover there is almost no progression towards Hermeticism. Mormons stop in this generation and from the 1950s outright reverse course. I suspect there are 3 reasons for this:
- The church is no longer being led by religious radicals, but rather conservatives. The leaders the 1880 church are not the sort of men who would have joined with a wild young prophet in Kirtland, even missionary efforts start to fall off.
- The membership is 4th generation and Mormons don't want the struggles of being outside the mainstream.
- The changes in Spiritualism have made Spiritualist bad recruits and at the same time Mainline Christianity is amenable to restoration. So the church needs to emphasize its similarities with mainline Christianity.
- The Spiritualism inside the church is becoming more threatening to the Mormon faith.
- The abolition of Christian Socialism. Mormons would no longer have a closed economy but engage the larder American economy.
- A generation later Mormons would abandon the People's Party (the Mormon party in Utah) and instead become Republicans and Democrats.
- Polygamy was abandoned.
- Rather than wanting distance from the American government the Mormon church worked hard to address the issues preventing Utah from becoming a state.
But (3) and (4) have not been raised, and I think it gives insight into why the Mormon church is becoming more mainstream. In 1877 Helena Petrovna Blavatsky bursts onto the religious scene with the immensely popular and influential Isis Unveiled. Isis Unveiled, transformed Hermetic Christianity and the spiritual movement. Up until then the movement had seen itself as restoring a better form of Christianity, peeling off layer after layer of dead traditions that pulled one away from the simple pure message of Jesus. Blavatsky threw down the gauntlet, the picture you see to the right is not Jesus, its Dionysus from hundreds of years before Christianity emerged. As we talked about briefly in the first part, Jesus emerged from dying reborn gods: Hermes Trismegistus and Sophia. Behind them stand: Adonis, Tammuz, Amun-Mir, Attis and back another layer Horus, the son of Isis, Isis unveiled as the mother of all faiths.
The problem for restorationist Christianity is the layers are the onion. Everything is pagan if you go back far enough, religious debates are more than anything else about which pagan gods to follow in their modern forms. I suspect the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, like all Hermitic Christians, were shook by Blavatsky. I think the 3rd generation of church leaders, saw where their fellow travelers a few steps ahead had gone and lost their nerve, they began to doubt in a truly profound way Joseph Smith's vision in 1820 and where it led, and froze in their tracks. And from there started to regress slowly back to the Evangelical mainstream.
Moreover just as the dynamics of missionary activity and membership had encouraged the 2nd generation in building towards Joseph's vision the dynamics of the Isis Unveiled moved things in the opposite direction. The new Spiritualists stopped being Hermetic and became Gnostic with groups like Theosophy and Christian Science being the mainstream. Gnosticism, with its deep suspicion of any temporal leadership especially religious leadership and its profound individualism would have run counter to everything the church would desire in recruits. Spiritualists from the late 1870s on, would have been terrible missionary candidates, very difficult to integrate after their baptism. Finally, because the church had recruited heavily among Spiritualists it had deep problems in preventing this new anti-authoritarian Spiritualism from infecting the church. Quite simply the bridge no longer served its purpose.
At the same time, mainstream Christianity was itself going through a quest for Christian primitivism. What would become Liberal Christianity was fermenting in every mainstream denomination. The idea that the creeds were an artificial barrier to understanding the scriptures, was no longer a radical idea. Moreover, a critique that the bible was not the inerrant word of God, but rather an inaccurately transmitted creation of church was becoming more mainstream. Why go after a niche when the broader public was available?
The next hundred years would be a time of the LDS more and more and more integrating into the mainstream of America and trying to make the Mormon faith seem absolutely mainstream. But the membership appears to not share that goal and has held on to the revelations of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. When McConkie's Mormon Doctrine was pulled Sandra Tanner commented on the radio (link)
I believe the main reason McConkie’s “Mormon Doctrine” was taken out of print was due to its candid discussion of LDS doctrines that the church is now trying to hide. Such teachings as God once being a man, his wife–Heavenly Mother, and Jesus being the literal, physical son of God are just a few of the doctrines that are being minimized in current manuals. If the LDS Church felt “Mormon Doctrine” presented a faulty compilation of their doctrines, why haven’t they issued an authorized compendium of their beliefs? Mormons often say to me, “That’s not official doctrine” as though there was some place to look up the official teachings. Where is the official systematic theology of Mormonism?And that leads us to where we are today. A church leadership intent on mainstreaming a radical form of Christianity. A constant tug of war between the goals of restoration of the primitive church, and a desire to acceptance. Arguably repeating the very mistakes that led to the great apostasy (see part 2 on the orignal death of Hermetic Christianity).
Bad Romance is a phenomenal exposition of what Mormons would call the estates of progression and atonement. Like Song of Songs it uses sex as a metaphor, for the relationship with God, which generally makes conservatives uncomfortable, though Mormons I suspect less so given a theology in which God is a father in a more literal sense. I'd challenge any Mormon to watch the video, which opens with the scratched star (link to this symbol from the DC temple), moves right on to birth in spirit vs. birth in flesh, talking in the mirror reflecting the relationship between spirit and flesh in prayer, birth in water (Eve) in innocence...her flashing the all-seeing eye and not see obvious material for a dozen sermons? What other church with millions of members and a missionary culture has a symbology tied to their theology that incorporates this symbolism? Who else can explain in a Christian context what those visuals mean? This is a slow-ball they should have been able to hit out of the park.
And this video isn't uniquely rich. Judas presents salvation where the Lady Gaga character rejects Jesus choosing Judas instead fails to be saved and becomes the Whore of Babylon in Revelations. Just about any Christian could present the theology in those verses but only the Mormon and Catholic churches have a semiotics rich enough to explore the accompanying visuals, and the Catholic church lacks a missionary culture. I'm not suggesting a theology book based on Lady Gaga for Mormons, I suspect the amount skin shown makes her a problematic source, but rather the fact that the number one musical act to come along in a long time is preaching their message and they won't take advantage is depressing.
Mormons are gong to have a culture conflict with any modern Hermetic Christianity. But putting the problems aside, we live in a a time when youth are losing all interest in churches and retention is terrible, there is one major church in the United States and possibly the world with the resources, missionary culture, understanding and theology to fill this gap, a desire to relate to God expressed Hermetically. The Mormon church has the ace of trump for the millennial generation. But as we discussed above over the last 100 years rather than embrace their Hermetic aspects the Mormon church has been losing their distinctives: these videos are the temple imagery acted out.
The Mormon church was founded by a man with no official station who used divination to arrive at new revelations and understandings of the scriptures. Was that a legitimate activity? The church still claims prophetic powers, though rarely uses them. Judaism, Islam and Orthodox Christianity all claim the time of revelation is over and now all we can do is study the existing revelations and draw meanings. Christian mysticism allows for personal insights but argues that drawing doctrinal conclusions is illegitimate. In the 21st century does the Mormon church want to be the sort of place it was in the 19th century or the sort of place the 19th century Mormons were fleeing?
Back in the 1950s there was a move within the Seventh Day Adventist church to eliminate the few remaining distinctives that prevented them from being seen as orthodox, to join the Evangelical mainstream. The book Questions on Doctrine, was a series of answers to questions that toned down Adventist beliefs, getting them to just barely qualify. In their case it was being driven by their academics who wanted to be able to speak and not just attend Evangelical conferences. The Adventist membership reacted strongly, in their mind if they had wanted to join an Evangelical church they would have. And today I still don't see 7th Day Adventists invited to Evangelical conferences as speakers, Evangelicals still detest Ellen White.
For the Mormons, they could throw out 90% of their distinctives and still not be where the Adventists were in the 1950s. Ellen White wrote commentaries about the bible, Joseph Smith wrote (translated) his own bible. Ellen White shifted the theological focus of salvation from Romans to Hebrews with its heavenly sanctuary, Brigham Young redefined heaven. The unique characteristics of the Mormon church are what make it so special. The Mormon church should play to its plentiful strengths, it should happily identify as Hermetic Christians.
- An article by the Maxwell institue critical of Owens research: (link)
- A Catholic / Mormon dialogue on Lance Owen's paper (part1, part2)
- One Eternal Round the Hermetic Vision, an article by Hugh Nibley (very well regarded Mormon theologian) on the Hermetic / Mormon comparison and connection.
- A hostile but insightful article from James White where he talks about this tension (link to 1st of 10 parts)
- Review of Refiner's Fire by BYU professors: Daniel C. Peterson, William J. Hamblin, and George L. Mitton. A hostile apologetic arguing for supernatural origins of Mormonism vs. Brooke's theory of natural origins.
- Joseph Smith, The Gift of Seeing, a discussion about the use of seer stones
- The best seller Pagan Christianity by Barna and Viola, and the house church movement show that the language or restoration, the goal is shared, the language is frequently used.
- Parallel versions of the King Follet Discourse
- Michael Homer Spiritualism and Mormonism: Some Thoughts on Similarities and Differences
- Some original sermons on Spirit rapping from the Journal of Discourses
- In the 1860s a Spiritualist faction broke off from the Mormon church, primarily over political issues called the Godbeite movement. Short introduction, detailed context.
- The accusations tying Mormonism directly to demonic occult activities are common and unfounded. Here is an example of a refutation of a specific accusation, refuted by an anti-Mormon evangelical missionary, showing that the borrowing went in the reverse direction (Mormon to Wiccan not visa versa).
- A discussion on booktalk, that's just started about Christ in Egypt which is sort of a modern version of Isis Unveiled.
- Mormon neo-Orthodoxy Chapter 5, a discussion of the movement within Mormonism to make it compatible with Pauline theology.
- A discussion of polygamy and lesbianism between sister wives at the start of A Revised History of Homosexuality & Mormonism, 1840-1980.