William's Reviews > Early Mormonism and the Magic World View

Early Mormonism and the Magic World View by D. Michael Quinn
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's review
Jan 07, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: mormon-studies

The 1998 edition of Michael Quinn's book provides two different narratives: the intentional one (a historical perspective on folk magic in early Mormonism) and the unintentional one (an on-going response to his critics in the text and footnotes).

Michael Quinn first published this book back in the late 80s, and several critics attacked his work -- primarily LDS apologists/polemicists. The irony here is that Michael Quinn sees himself as a believer in and an apologist for the LDS faith. He does not, however, equate that stance with hiding or glossing over historical truths. Even so, ever since he was excommunicated (one of the infamous September Six bunch), along with coming out as a gay man, he has become a target for LDS apologists (primarily the folks at FARMS). In his text and notes in the 1998 edition, he responds to all the criticism his first edition received, and ... I have to confess ... it's wildly entertaining. I nearly had as much enjoyment reconstructing the the back-and-forth debates between Quinn and his criticis as I did reading the book itself. It was a lot of fun. Watching his critics attack him is like watching a pack of lapdogs snapping at his heels. His work is clearly superior to the work of his critics, and I can't help but wonder if they attack him out of jealousy, as much as any other motive.

As far as the book itself is concerned, Quinn's scholarship is without peer. Anticipating detractors, he dumps all his references in the footnotes to support his conclusions. It would be tempting to ignore them, but it would be a mistake to do so. They are filled with commentary and insights that can be quite helpful and enlightening.

Having been raised LDS, I was surprised to learn how little I knew about Joseph Smith's involvement with folk magic. For instance, I didn't know the Smith family had magic parchments, talismans, a magic ceremonial dagger, various kinds of peep stones (I knew of one or two, but not the extent of them), Lucy's palm reading and peep stone use, and various other direct connections to books about the occult (not Satanic occult, but folk magic occult). The book also fleshed out events I knew about, but didn't fully understand. For example, I knew Joseph Smith and his family had been involved in "money digging," but I didn't realize how elaborate rituals in folk magic were associated with this practice (one person would look into a seer stone and identify the location of hidden treasure -- the role that Joseph Smith Jr often adopted -- and then the moneydiggers would use rods and/or ceremonial knives to draw magic circles around the location where the hidden treasures were laid -- this was to bind any guardian spirits watching over the treasure, and to prevent the treasure from shifting underground to a new location). It was really quite interesting.

For anyone who wants to understand the context of early Mormonism, this is a great book to read. They never teach this stuff in Sunday School.
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Reading Progress

January 7, 2009 – Shelved
March 5, 2009 – Shelved as: mormon-studies
Started Reading
May 3, 2009 – Finished Reading

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