Mormonism, Moroni, and Madness
The details of the account vary, depending on the age of the recording of the tale. In the first recording of the event in 1832, Joseph describes seeing a bright light and seeing a single being from Heaven proclaiming his sins forgiven. Three years later in 1835, the details would change. Joseph later described seeing not a single angel, but a host of angels. It is not until 1842 that the official rendition of the story, according to the Mormon Church, would appear; that of Joseph seeing God the Father and God the Son. However, according to the biographer Brodie, Joseph recorded having seen the Father and Son as early as 1834.
It should be noted, at this point, that several other people in the wake of the local revivals recorded having similar experiences. In 1816 Elias Smith wrote that he was greatly distressed because of his sin. He fell and was pinned to the ground by a timber that he had been carrying. At this point he saw a bright light, and amidst the light he perceived the Lamb of God. In 1825 Billy Hibbard recorded an event that happened to him in 1782, describing similar distress over his sin. He went away in secret, and during his prayer he says he saw both Jesus and God the Father seated in heaven. In 1815, Eleazer Sherman also described distress over his sin. He heard a soft voice and was given a vision of Jesus. Even the evangelist Charles Finney had the familiar experience in 1821. Finney went out to a grove of trees to pray. There he saw a bright light, after which he surrendered his heart to Christ.
Though certainly similar to other accounts and common to religious seekers of the time, Joseph’s account contains some telling details. In the 1834 account, Joseph describes seeing a “pillar of light.” He describes having “anxieties,” being “seized upon by some power,” that his tongue was bound, that a “thick darkness gathered around,” and that he was “doomed to sudden destruction.” After this, he describes seeing the bright light and being delivered by the beings.
Initial onset of schizophrenia in men usually occurs between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five. With an initial experience as an early teen and a much more serious experience at the age of twenty-one, Joseph Smith certainly fits within the range of schizophrenia onset. In an interview with Elyn Saks, a law professor at the University of Southern California and a person who deals with a high functioning form of schizophrenia, she describes her onset of psychosis occurring at the age of sixteen. In her description she says the “houses were getting weird” and were sending her messages. Indeed, additional personal accounts of schizophrenic onset recorded on Schizophrenia.com include accounts of a similar nature to that of Joseph’s first experience.
As early as 1820, neighbors of the Smith family recalled the Smith’s treasure hunting activities. This was not an uncommon practice of the time. Legends about pirate treasure abounded in the western New York region. Prominent of these is the legend of Captain William Kidd. Captain Kidd visited the area in the late 1600’s, but just prior he could be found off the east coast of Africa. He stayed there for some time, visiting various places, among them the Comoros Islands whose largest city is called Moroni. Captain Kidd had a disagreement with one of his crew and killed him by striking him with an iron bound bucket. Facing mutiny, Kidd fled the coast of Africa, seeking a new location to hide his treasure.
Captain Kidd left the coast of Africa and eventually found his way to New England soil. He was arrested in 1690 in New York City and brought to London. In 1701, Kidd was convicted and executed for crimes of piracy and for the murder which he had committed off the coast of the Comoros Islands. Kidd had buried treasure near Long Island which was recovered by authorities.
Tales flourished about Kidd’s traversing across New England, leaving a trail of buried treasure in his path. With Kidd’s infamy in the area, no doubt most residents would have been familiar with all his pirate crimes.
It is well noted that the Smith family had financial troubles. They had to move from their original homestead and settle in a new location. Even that did not end their financial woes. Joseph, Sr. began the practice of leading his family out to search for buried pirate treasure. As has already been noted, this wasn’t an uncommon practice, and he probably got the idea from members in the community who did the same. Indeed, there were some who attempted to make a living from treasure hunting. Joseph, Sr. hoped to find something of value that could ease his family’s financial problems.
A friend of Joseph, Jr. found a stone on one such treasure hunt that the two of them went on together as older teens. Joseph took the stone and claimed he could see beneath the ground with it. Stone gazing was one of the familiar superstitious practices of the area and Joseph followed the standard method and incantation for doing so. He would place the stone in his hat and put the hat over his face in order to block out all light. At that point he would gaze into the stone and see hidden things around them. Joseph claimed to see all kinds of buried treasure, but he also saw guarding spirits around the treasure. Because of the perils of digging up such supposedly guarded treasure, the two never made any significant discovers using the stone.
Joseph’s claims to be able to find treasure using the stone found the ears of some professional treasure hunters. They hired him to locate a specific treasure, which he did. But as before, this treasure was guarded. According to Joseph, who watched the treasure from above the ground, each time the diggers would get close to it the treasure would slip deeper into the earth. These treasure hunters disbelieved Joseph’s claims and took him to court for fraud and disturbing the peace. Joseph was found guilty on both of these charges. Supporting this conviction is Joseph’s own confession to his father-in-law, in which he admitted to being a fraud and promised to cease from stone-gazing.
Joseph’s stone-gazing activities amount to a dynamic change in his social behavior. He encouraged the idea and even defined his friendships by his ability to find treasure. Joseph’s stone-gazing became known in the community and he did nothing to discourage the rumors, even though he later admitted to being a fraud. This is important because changes in social behavior are one of the key symptoms for onset of schizophrenia.
Posted on December 6, 2011, in Angels & Demons, My research journey, Nonfiction, Publications, Special Knowledge, Theology and tagged angel, book of abraham, book of mormon, Bridge Whitton, captain kidd, comorah, crazy, demon, hopewell indians, indian, joseph smith, keven newsome, kinderhook, ladder day saints, lds, lucy smith, mental health, mental illness, mormon, mormonism, moroni, pearl of great price, prophecy, psychosis, psychotic, Robert Wiley, schizophrenia, treasure. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.