Joseph Smith’s early story of being visited by (Moroni), started out as a bleeding ghost, a man who was “slain on the spot, and the treasure [golden plates] had been under his charge ever since.”
Magic World View:
In Joseph Smith’s day, it was believed that spirits who had charge over buried treasure could, cause the treasure to move from here to there, sink deeper into the earth, or disappear. 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.” (Mark Ashurst-McGee: Moroni: Angel or Treasure Guardian? LDS Maxwell Institute, 2006)
Witness Testimony From Joseph Smith’s 1826 Glass Looking Trial:
“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. 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. In a few feet from the surface the box of treasure was struck by the shovel, on which they redoubled their energies, but it gradually receded from their grasp. One of the men placed his hand upon the box, but it gradually sunk from his reach. After some five feet in depth had been attained without success, a council of war against this spirit of darkness was called, and they resolved that the lack of faith, or some untoward mental emotion, was the cause of their failure.
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 spot, 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.
What a picture for the pencil of a Hogarth! How difficult to believe it could have been enacted in the nineteenth century of the Christian era! It could have been done only by the halucination of deseased minds, that drew all their philosophy from the Arabian nights and other kindred literature of that period! But as it was declared under oath, in a Court of Justice, by one of the actors in the scene, and not disputed by his colaborers … ” (JOSEPH SMITH, THE ORIGINATOR OF MORMONISM HISTORICAL REMINISCENCES OF THE TOWN OF AFTON by W. D. Purple)
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)
Joseph Smith’s History With Bleeding Ghosts:
I, [Lewis] with Joshua McKune, a local preacher at that time, I think in June, 1828, heard on Saturday, that Joe Smith had joined the [Methodist] church on Wednesday afternoon, (as it was customary in those days to have circuit preaching at my father’s house on week-day). We thought it was a disgrace to the church to have a practicing necromancer, a dealer in enchantments and bleeding ghosts, in it. So on Sunday we went to father’s, the place of meeting that day, and got there in season to see Smith and talked with him some time in father’s shop before the meeting. Told him that his occupation, habits, and moral character were at variance with the discipline, that his name would be a disgrace to the church, that there should have been recantation, confession and at least promised reformation. That he could that day publicly ask that his name be stricken from the class book, or stand an investigation. He chose the former, and did that very day make the request that his name be taken off the class book. (The Amboy Journal, June 11, 1879, p.1)
A Bleeding Ghost Guarding Treasure:
Joseph Smith’s father told Fayette Lapham about the dead man guarding the golden plates:
“… he was murdered or slain on the spot and the treasure had been under his charge ever since.” (Money-Digging Folklore and the Beginnings of Mormonism: An Interpretive Suggestion, Marvin S. Hill, BYU Studies, p. 480) see image below:
This was the same type of yarn which was recorded 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, Tuttle account)
“… as he supposed.”
reveal that what Joseph Smith said about treasure guardians was a common theme in his day. Consider the implications: Early versions of the golden plates stories are along similar lines.
Another Example of a Bleeding Ghost:
“He said that by a dream he was informed that at such a place in a certain hill, in an iron box, were some gold plates with curious engravings, which he must get and translate, and write a book; that the plates were to be kept concealed from every human being for a certain time, some two or three years; that he went to the place and dug till he came to the stone that covered the box, when he was knocked down; that he again attempted to remove the stone, and was again knocked down; this attempt was made the third time, and the third time he was knocked down. Then he exclaimed, ‘Why can’t I get it?’ or words to that effect; and then he saw a man standing over the spot, which to him appeared like a Spaniard, having a long beard coming down over his breast to about here. (Smith putting his hand to the pit of his stomach) with his (the ghost’s) throat cut from ear to ear, and the blood streaming down, who told him that he could not get it alone; that another person whom he, Smith, would know at first sight, must come with him, and then he could get it.” (The Amboy Journal, June 11, 1879, p.1)
That last quote was from Joseph and Hiel Lewis, who were neighbors of Joseph Smith and sons of the Rev. Nathaniel Lewis. Their account matches elements in the story Smith’s mother told, it matches what Smith’s father said, and what other relatives, neighbors and associates recounted back in the day. Yet, it doesn’t come close to matching accounts of Moroni’s visits with Joseph Smith published by the LDS Church today; and for good reason. If Joseph Smith’s real history were ever made known, millions of Latter-Day Saints would abandon the faith.
Articles of interest:
■ Nephi or Moroni, or Someone Else? — Rich Kelsey
■ “Moroni” as a Treasure Guardian — Rich Kelsey