Episode 107: Mormon Folklore

26 comments on “Episode 107: Mormon Folklore”

  1. Gail F. Bartholomew Reply

    Great pod cast.

    Your discussion of the difference between the way people really live and the way they think they believe they should live reminded me of the Dutcher films.

    I served my mission in southern California and when I saw Gods Army I thought he had captured something of mission culture that I had not seen before.

    When I hear Richard Dutcher interviewed on Mormon Stories he said that he thought that it would be easy to get actors because he would just have auditions at BYU. What he found that all those return missionaries were all trying to be what they saw in the Micheal McMlain Mormon movie genre. He ended up casting all none Mormons for the missionaries.

    Also my Mom does not like the movies because the “missionaries act horribly” and she hopes they really don’t act that way and if they do they should change.

    I love his movies for what they say about our culture.

  2. Matt Reply

    J. Golden Kimball was actually not an apostle, but a member of the First Council of the Seventy. It’s interesting that in the stories we hear, Kimball often is incorrectly referred to as an apostle, an adaptation that arose, perhaps, in order to make him harder to dismiss out of hand than if he were “only a Seventy”?

    • Arle Lommel Reply

      Matt, thanks for pointing that out. I wasn’t aware that he was never one of the twelve. I don’t know that calling him an apostle gave him harder to dismiss, but it would heighten the irony of his actions. In any event, J. Golden Kimball was easily the most popular church figure of his time, so it would make sense that in the folkloric versions that his status would increase to match the public regard for him.

      • Anonymous Reply

        As I was listening to this I thougth, “Wow, folklore in action! He’s been promoted in this unfaith-promoting story!” 😉

  3. brandt Reply

    I really liked this podcast, especially because it helps to define the Mormon Culture. I forgot who said it, but the concept of folklore used to validate a belief is totally true, and can be used in many ways. For example, J. Golden can be looked at as someone who is used to justify a certian behavior, because of his office and the stories abounding about him. Stories involving protection from temple garments can be used to validate a righteous living. But at the end of the day, the mundane stories are boring.

    I’m fascinated with missionary folklore, just because it’s such a unique mixture of a fraternity, the military, and a “Lord of the Flies” type atmosphere. it would be very interesting to see if folklore stories from fraternities and the military match up to missionary folklore at all. I’m also interested to find out which mission folklore stories are mission-specific, area specific (SE Asia, for example), and churchwide. I’m sure there are examples, but I got nothing as of right now.

    • Arle Lommel Reply


      One of the interesting things about folkloric materials is that they generally can be read multiple ways. So it’s not just that they authorize or validate belief, but the same stories often question at the same time. J. Golden Kimball at once upholds the hierarchy and also questions it. Trickster stories are especially good at that. (And J. Golden Kimball ones are pretty mild compared to many that I have heard from other traditions!)

      Regarding the issue of distribution you mention, there are distributions of all the sorts you list. For instance, the story about the dry cleaner that displayed missionaries’ garments in its display window and was then burnt down in an act of divine retribution is pretty widespread.

      Others are more confined, but circulate in regions. These are often passed on by RMs who know new missionaries going to the same country/area and let them know what’s going on. For example, if you go to Brazil, you would probably stories about other missions (like the the MP of one mission who was exed for encouraging sports baptisms in the 1990s).

      Others stories are much more specific. As an example, where I served there was a particular day called the “Donner Day” (I changed the name here), after an Elder Donner who, at about three quarters of the way through his planned mission time, told the mission president he’d had sex with a member girl in the baptismal font (or near it, depending on the version) and was sent home. (Note, I have no idea what actually happened, just what was retold.) The day he went home was called the Donner Day about five years after the fact even though the MP had requested that we not use the term. The Donner Day was celebrated by some as the point when you could officially be trunky, but I doubt anyone outside of my mission would have had a clue what we were talking about. (As it happened, after my mission I met Donner’s brother and just played totally ignorant about his story…)


    • Scroppa du Boppa Reply

      One of my favorite experiences with missionary folklore happened after my younger brother and I had returned from our missions. One afternoon my mother came into the kitchen and said that she had just finished talking to a friend of hers whose son was then serving a stateside mission. I had served in South America and my brother had served in Europe. The story goes like this:

      Two missionaries in had gone to a local laundromat on a P-Day. After they had finished doing their laundry and left, they inadvertently left behind one set of garments. The owner displayed the garments in the street-facing window and posted a sign that said something to the effect of: “This is the magical Mormon underwear.”

      A week later the missionaries return to see the garments displayed, retrieve them and leave.

      At this point my brother and I simultaneously say: “And then the laundromat burns to the ground.”

      My mom asks, “how did you know that story?” to the both of us, my brother asks, “how did you know that story?” to me, and I ask, “how did you know that story?” to my brother.

      • Glenn Reply

        Thank you for that — this just proves the point that folklore functions to validates the belief that Mormons should never go into laundromats.

        (Hang on… maybe that’s why I got the F)

  4. jason Reply

    In addition to IU and Memorial (mentioned early in the podcast), folks earn PhDs in folklore at Ohio State University, University of Louisiana, UC Berkeley and elsewhere. Its just that those programs work within a more complex framework of partner departments rather than being their own stand alone departments.

  5. jason Reply

    In addition to IU and Memorial (mentioned early in the podcast), folks earn PhDs in folklore at Ohio State University, University of Louisiana, UC Berkeley and elsewhere. Its just that those programs work within a more complex framework of partner departments rather than being their own stand alone departments.

    • Glenn Reply

      thanks Jason — and I’ll bet there are probably more career paths than just Dr. Demento 🙂

      Is it something that you are studying as well, maybe in connection with an American Studies, or Communications and Cultures, or Cultural Anthropology, or English department or some other frameowork? let me know — i’d like to hear about it.

      • mormon_truther Reply

        Bob West (a.k.a. Dr. Demento) was also the voice of Barney the dinosaur. So when your career as a parody music show host fizzles out…

    • Glenn Reply

      Ha ha Brian — well, if you are the Brian I think you are, you saw Tom and I back in august when we chatted a bit at the sunstone thing, so you know that he and I are friends and I was just kidding around with him here. For the record, I don’t think Tom is “wrong” about his definition of myth. Tom’s way is the way that “myth” is used in everyday speech — the myths about this, the myths about that — he has the entire english-speaking world on his side. What Tierza, Arle, and I were talking about and laughing about was this elitist Ivory tower definition of myth as “a sacred narrative” with all the other characteristics that distinguish it from a legend or a folktale. It is useful when classifying stories in an academic setting, but outside of that narrow context….

      hang on… did I just hear Tom sigh????

  6. gripe Reply

    Glenn! It took twenty minutes or more before you guys got off of defining folklore! I get it already. Please, two minutes, this is what folklore is and where you can study it, now on to MORMON topics. Sorry to rant, but focus a bit, please.

    • Glenn Reply

      fair enough — thanks for the comment — it’s one of those things in retrospect I agree with — I don’t think its a lack of “focus” though — I was following an outline and was building toward something — I think what you are saying is that you wanted me to skip past all that mumbo-jumbo and just get to the good stuff — the stories. Is that right?

      • Carson N Reply

        I think there was a lot of high level, abstract discussion about what folklore is at the beginning that assumes you know much of the sharper edges that differentiate it from other disciplines. It would be as if I had gathered a couple of computer science friends together and defined “computer science” in some high-level, all-encompassing way such as “problem solving” in order to cover all of our bases so as to not get pigeonholed into an overly narrow definition like “programming” that the hoi polloi would typically ascribe. “Problem solving” would work for us because we know the context of the subject and what counts as a “problem” to be solved with computer science, but it would just confuse a general audience, making it sound like we live in our own little world. Which we do, of course.

      • gripe Reply

        I wasn’t let down at all. All of the podcasts are great and this one was no different, I like to let loose with both barrels sometimes. I would like to hear some more of these tales fleshed out again in detail with a follow up podcast someday. It does mormons good to hear their origin mythology is no more relevant to outsiders than native american myths or asian folklore are to mormons.

      • Renixx Reply

        Glenn, That is exactly the way I felt when I listen to the podcast. I still enjoyed it though, just not as much as I thought I was going to.

  7. Chris Reply

    I loved this podcast – one of my favorite things is to eavesdrop on a esoteric conversation I don’t fully understand. I learn more, and I get a feel for what the language is. I didn’t think the beginning was too long at all – you could have left mormonism out of it totally and I’d have been a happy listener. You guys have so much passion for something I know nothing about, and it was fun to be a fly on the wall. Excellent podcast.

    • Glenn Reply

      Thanks Chris. I like that sort of thing too. Still, there are so many examples of mormon folklore — we could have given more of those. I used to have a website from ’97-’03 that had tons of examples people would send in of missionary folklore — I could have used some of those. My favorite was the missionaries who decided to travel outside of their mission boundaries — totally against the rules — and when they stopped at a random gas station, the pay phone rang, so they picked it up, and it was their mission president telling them to get back to their apartment where they belonged or keep on heading back home to their families. Now that is what I call being lead by the spirit! So I wish I would have shared more stories like that. But, you know, there is always some degree of retrospect “I wish I woulda said this…” when listening back to these things. Live and learn. It’s why I think we all really value the listener feedback and the format of “the discussion continues…” and the whole reason John set it up this way in the first place. So thanks again Chris. I’m glad you liked it.

  8. Allenw Reply

    Part of the folklore of the J Golden stories is to describe his activity as a youth during which he picked up his language. GAs today would never come from that background.

  9. Anonymous Reply

    When the conversation came to the subject of number frequency in nature, it got me thinking about examples of the number 3 in nature.  Here are a few:

     1) All the carbon atoms in Adenine (one of the components of DNA) form three bonds with other atoms.  Same for Guanine, Thymine, and Cytosine.
     2) The Tuatara has a third photoreceptor (eye)
     3)  The three-toes sloth has, well, three toes
     4)  Heavy water has three particles in its nucleus
     5)  Lithium has three electrons
     6)  There are lots and lots of other examples in nature, too.

    The question came up whether the Book of Mormon has been subjected to analysis regarding number frequency in the text.  I know of at least one such analysis.  It shows with high confidence that the Book of Mormon is a fraud.  Here’s the link:


    Duwayne Anderson
    Author of “Farewell to Eden: Coming to terms with Mormonism and science”

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *