Enchantment, Magic & Money Digging — Rich Kelsey

Enchantment, Magic & Money Digging — Rich Kelsey

Enchantment, Magic & Joseph Smith Money Digging Accounts:

Several witness testimonies concerning a money digging operation involving Joseph Smith contain the word, “enchantment.”

Martin Harris used the word “enchantment” to describe why the money diggers gave up digging:

“… and then he [Joseph Smith] told them the enchantment was so strong that he could not see, and they gave it up.” (Joel Tiffany, Interview with Martin Harris, in Tiffany’s Monthly, 1859, New York, p.163-164)

Joseph Smith had been hired by Josiah Stowell to help find buried treasure; his job involved looking into a seer-stone.

What Martin Harris meant by,

“… he could not see,”

was that at one point during the money digging operation, Joseph Smith claimed he could no longer see where the treasure was, because the spirit who had the treasure under its charge,[1] prevented Joseph Smith from seeing the treasure.

What Harris said lines up with statements from Joseph and Hiel Lewis concerning what they witnessed while Joseph Smith was peeping for money in their neighborhood:

“Their digging in several places was in compliance with peeper Smith’s revelations, who would attend with his peep-stone in his hat, and his hat drawn over his face, and would tell them how deep they would have to go; but when they would find no trace of the chest of money, he would peep again, and weep like a child, and tell them the enchantment had removed it on account of some sin or thoughtless word; finally the enchantment became so strong that he could not see, and so the business was abandoned.” (The Amboy Journal, Amboy, Illinois, Wednesday, April 30, 1879, page 1)

On this subject Alva Hale [Emma’s brother] said:

“… Joe Smith never handled one shovel full of earth in those diggings. All that Smith did was to peep with stone and hat, and give directions where and how to dig, and when and where the enchantment moved the treasure.” (Review of Mormonism: Rejoinder to Elder Cadwell, Amboy Journal (IL), June 11, 1879) 

Speaking of this seer-stone, Fayette Lapham recorded:

“… Joseph spent about two years looking into this stone, telling fortunes, where to find lost things, and where to dig for money and other hidden treasure.” (Historical Magazine, p.p. 305-307)

Willard Chase substantiates what Mr. Lapham wrote:

“After obtaining the stone, he began to publish abroad what wonders he could discover by looking in it, and made so much disturbance among the credulous part of community, that I ordered the stone to be returned to me again. He had it in his possession about two years.” (Mormonism Unvailed — Eber Howe’s 1834 book, p. 241)

Enchantment Continued:

In Joseph Smith’s day, it was believed that spirits who had charge over buried treasure could, cause the treasure [2] to move from here to there, sink [3] deeper into the earth, or disappear.[4] LDS scholars explain that, while trying to obtain buried treasure, 

“… the treasure seekers staked out magical circles around the treasure. They used Bible passages and hymns, prayers and incantations, ritual swords and other magical items, or even propitiatory animal sacrifices to appease or fend off preternatural guardians of the treasure. Excavation usually commenced under a rule of silence. Should someone carelessly mutter or curse, the treasure guardian could penetrate the circle or carry the treasure away through the earth.” (Maxwell Institute, 2006)[5]  

Joseph Smith’s mother spoke of the family drawing “magic circles,” “abrac” — which is short for (abracadabra), and “sooth saying:”

“Let not the reader suppose that because I shall pursue another topic for a season that we stopt (sic) our labor and went at trying to win the faculty of Abrac drawing Magic circles or sooth saying to the neglect of all kinds of business.” (Biographical Sketches… Smith, Lucy Mack, Liverpool, England: S. W. Richards. 1853) 

(Magic circles are used to form a space of magical protection from an evil spirit.  Soothsaying is the supernatural ability to perceive things, including what may happen in the future)

LDS author/scholar Richard Bushman used the word “enchantment” while describing the golden plates:

“The plates walk a fine line between magic and religion, between enchantment and disenchantment, between fraud and religious genius… They make the claim that the supernatural has entered into the natural world.” (Presentation given at Utah State’s Eccles Science Learning Center on March 22, 2012)

Perhaps Bushman chose the word enchantment because the golden plates exhibited many of the same qualities as buried treasure from early American folklore:

Joseph Smith’s mother Lucy explained:

“In the moment of excitement, Joseph was overcome by the powers of darkness, and forgot the injunction that was laid upon him. Having some further conversation with the angel on this occasion, Joseph was permitted to raise the stone again, when he beheld the plates as he had done before. He immediately reached forth his hand to take them, but instead of getting them, as he anticipated, he was hurled back upon the ground with great violence. When he recovered, the angel was gone, and he arose and returned to the house weeping for grief and disappointment.” (Lucy Smith, Biographical Sketches, p. 347)

Willard Chase substantiated Lucy’s account:

“… he [Joseph Smith] again stooped down and strove to take the book, when the spirit struck him again, and knocked him three or four rods, and hurt him prodigiously. After recovering from his fright, he enquired why he could not obtain the plates; to which the spirit made reply, because you have not obeyed your orders. He then enquired when he could have them, and was answered thus: come one year from this day, and bring with you your oldest brother, and you shall have them.”  (MORMONISM, p. 242)

Fayette Lapham had heard the story directly from the father of Joseph Smith in 1830. Not only does Lapham’s account agree on many details with the other early versions:

Joseph Knight, Lucy Smith, as well as Willard Chase tell us how the treasure [golden plates] came to be under [Moroni’s] charge.  And, bringing the right person, in early versions of the gold plates stories, was the central theme. 

Joseph Knight’s account spelled out:

● He took hold of the book, but this time he could not move it.
● Joseph Smith asked, “Why..?”
● He was answered, “You can’t have it now.”
● Joseph Smith asked, “When can I have it.”
● He was answered, “The 22nd day of next September if you bring the right person.”
● “Joseph Smith says, ‘Who is the right person?’”
● “The answer was, ‘Your oldest Brother.’”
● “But before September came his oldest Brother died.”
(Joseph Knight Recollection of Early Mormon History, Dean Jessee, 1976)

Joseph Knight’s account also corresponds with what Fayette Lapham wrote:

“Come in one year from this time, and bring your oldest brother with you; then you may have them.’ During that year, it so happened that his oldest brother died.” (Fayette Lapham, Interview with Smith Sr.)

Testing the Spirits:

According to the Bible, God knows,

“the end from the beginning.” (Isaiah 46:10) 

Smith’s oldest brother Alvin died 10 months before,

“the 22nd day of next September.”

If the spirit watching over the golden plates really was an,

“angel of the Lord,”

the angel should have known that Alvin could not possibly accompany Joseph to the Hill Cumorah the following year. Alvin’s death over this period of time is no doubt one of the reasons early accounts of obtaining the golden plates are unknown to most LDS Church members. Knowledge of versions mentioning Alvin as the right person to bring, would certainly hinder those trying to maintain faith in the LDS Church.

It probably wouldn’t help LDS Church membership either, if members found out that Smith’s father told Fayette Lapham:

“… that, when the treasure was deposited there, he [the large man] was sworn to take charge of and protect that property, until the time should arrive for it to be exhibited to the world of mankind; and, in order to prevent his making an improper disclosure, he was murdered or slain on the spot, and the treasure had been under his charge ever since.” (HISTORICAL MAGAZINE, 1870, p. 307)

This story of a treasure guardian watching over the golden plates is almost identical to what was recorded about a treasure guardian watching over treasure in Joseph Smith’s 1826 Glass Looking Trial:

“… he [Joseph Smith] discovered distinctly the two Indians who buried the trunk; that a quarrel ensued between them, and that one of said Indians was killed by the other, and thrown into the hole beside of the trunk, to guard it, as he supposed.” (1826 Glass Looking Trial, Jonathan Thompson Testimony, Miss Pearsall Account)

Obviously, the spirit of a dead Indian was not guarding a trunk full of treasure on Josiah Stowell’s property. Today we call such tales American folklore. Early accounts of the golden plates are along similar lines.

If Joseph Smith’s real history were ever made known, millions of Latter-day Saints would abandon the faith.[6]

Other articles of interest:

Nephi, Moroni, or Someone Else? — Rich Kelsey

■ Joseph Smith Stone In Hat Routine — Rich Kelsey

Joseph Smith on Trial — Rich Kelsey

Full Article Index / LDS SERIES


[1] “He [Joseph Smith Sr.] also revived, or in other words, propagated the vulgar, yet popular belief that these treasures were held in charge by some evil spirit …” (THE REFLECTOR February 1, 1831)

[2] “Mr. Thompson, an employee of Mr. Stowell, was the next witness. He and another man were employed in digging for treasure, and always attended the Deacon and Smith in their nocturnal labors. He could not assert that anything of value was ever obtained by them. The following scene was described by this witness, and carefully noted: Smith had told the Deacon that very many years before a band of robbers had buried on his flat a box of treasure, and as it was very valuable they had by a sacrifice placed a charm over it to protect it, so that it could not be obtained except by faith, accompanied by certain talismanic influences [something believed to have magical powers]. So, after arming themselves with fasting and prayer, they sallied forth to the spot designated by Smith. Digging was commenced with fear and trembling, in the presence of this imaginary charm.” (1826 Trial, Purple account, Jonathan Thompson Testimony)

[3] “Thompson says that he believes in the prisoner’s professed skill; that the board which he struck his spade upon was probably the chest, but, on account of an enchantment, the trunk kept settling away from under them while digging; that, not withstanding they continued constantly removing the dirt, yet the trunk kept about the same distance from them.” (1826 Trial, Jonathan Thompson Testimony, Miss Pearsall Account)

[4] “The utmost silence was necessary to success. More than once, when the digging proved a failure, Joe explained to his associates that, just as the deposit was about to be reached, some one, tempted by the devil, spoke, causing the wished-for riches to disappear.” (Lippincott’s Magazine, August, 1880 / narrative from the book: Mormon Origin, William Alexander Linn, Hackensack, N. J., 1901)

[5] “For the most part, the quest for buried wealth and its associated belief system have slipped away into a forgotten world. Though strange to us today, treasure-seeking beliefs probably influenced hundreds of thousands of Europeans and thousands of early European Americans. Many early Americans believed that treasures had been secreted in the earth by ancient inhabitants of the continent, by Spanish explorers, by pirates, or even by the dwarves of European mythology. Treasure hunters usually looked for caves and lost mines or dug into hills and Native American mounds to find these hidden deposits. A legend, a treasure map, or a dream of buried wealth initiated the hunt. Local specialists were enlisted to use their divining rods or seer stones to locate the treasure. To hide from the scrutiny of skeptics and the notice of other treasure seekers, they worked under the cover of darkness. Gathering at the designated spot, the treasure seekers staked out magical circles around the treasure. They used Bible passages and hymns, prayers and incantations, ritual swords and other magical items, or even propitiatory animal sacrifices to appease or fend off preternatural guardians of the treasure. Excavation usually commenced under a rule of silence. Should someone carelessly mutter or curse, the treasure guardian could penetrate the circle or carry the treasure away through the earth.” (Moroni as Angel and as Treasure Guardian, Mark Ashurst-McGee, FARMS Review Vol. 18 – 1 p.p. 34-100, Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, 2006)

[6] “In this emergency the fruitful mind of Smith was called on to devise a way to obtain the prize. Mr. Stowell went to his flock and selected a fine vigorous lamb, and resolved to sacrifice it to the demon spirit who guarded the coveted treasure. Shortly after the venerable Deacon might be seen on his knees at prayer near the pit, while Smith, with a lantern in one hand to dispel the midnight darkness, might be seen making a circuit around the pit, sprinkling the flowing blood from the lamb upon the ground, as a propitiation to the spirit that thwarted them. They then descended the excavation, but the treasure still receded from their grasp, and it was never obtained.” (Appendix: William D. Purple [People v. JS])