Episode 29: The Occult in America and the Rise of Mormonism

Occult Book Cover

Author Mitch Horowitz discusses his book Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation and how these early ideas influenced the rise of Mormonism.

Mitch’s website: http://www.mitchhorowitz.com/
Mitch’s Book: Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation

Episode 29

32 comments on “Episode 29: The Occult in America and the Rise of Mormonism”

  1. Mary V. Reply

    Thank you. This podcast was extremely informative and interesting.
    I’m looking forward to reading the book. Mitch has given us such great insight to the historical connection of the Albany area and the rise of many religious demoninations, including Mormonism. It gave me a better understanding of Joseph Smith’s interest in treasure hunting and seer stones. Thanks again for this and all of your podcasts!

  2. Mary V. Reply

    Thank you. This podcast was extremely informative and interesting.
    I’m looking forward to reading the book. Mitch has given us such great insight to the historical connection of the Albany area and the rise of many religious demoninations, including Mormonism. It gave me a better understanding of Joseph Smith’s interest in treasure hunting and seer stones. Thanks again for this and all of your podcasts!

  3. Swearing Elder Reply

    This was one of your best podcasts so far. Great stuff. It’s amazing that Mormonism is not mentioned until half an hour into the episode and then isn’t the central focus of the remainder of the discussion and yet I feel so much more informed about early Mormon history. This is the kind of context that so much of Mormon history is lacking. How great that you got Mitch to visit Mormon Expression — this was a real treat.

  4. Swearing Elder Reply

    This was one of your best podcasts so far. Great stuff. It’s amazing that Mormonism is not mentioned until half an hour into the episode and then isn’t the central focus of the remainder of the discussion and yet I feel so much more informed about early Mormon history. This is the kind of context that so much of Mormon history is lacking. How great that you got Mitch to visit Mormon Expression — this was a real treat.

  5. John Dehlin Reply

    Dudes.

    A-M-A-Z-I-N-G

    Seriously. I DESPERATELY wanted to hear the 2nd hour (about the Occult and Joseph/the early church).

    Have ya’ll considered doing multiple hours and splitting them up into multiple episodes? That totally worked for me and MoSto…fwiw.

    Ya’ll freaking rule.

    John

  6. John Dehlin Reply

    Dudes.

    A-M-A-Z-I-N-G

    Seriously. I DESPERATELY wanted to hear the 2nd hour (about the Occult and Joseph/the early church).

    Have ya’ll considered doing multiple hours and splitting them up into multiple episodes? That totally worked for me and MoSto…fwiw.

    Ya’ll freaking rule.

    John

  7. Mike Reply

    The Jupiter Talisman is mentioned. I actually own a copy of it, I sometimes play with it while doing the podcast. Its a bogus story though:
    A silver “pocket piece” was bought by the Church from Charles Bidamon, the son of Major Bidamon, who was married to Emma Smith after the murder of Joseph. He said, “This piece came to me through the relationship of my father, Major L. C. Bidamon, who married the Prophet Joseph Smith’s widow, Emma Smith. I certify that I have many times heard her say, when being interviewed, and showing the piece, that it was in the Prophet’s pocket when he was martyred at Carthage, Ill.”

    Questions about the authenticity are really strong. First, Bidamon never said anything about the piece for fifty-eight years after Emma’s death to make his certification, which at the time of her death he was but merely a fifteen-year-old boy.

    Second, no such piece was listed in Joseph’s personal effects which were turned over to Emma. The itemized list of the contents of Joseph Smith’s pockets was pubished by the lawyer who collected the propeht’s personal effects. This listing is:

    “Received, Nauvoo, Illinois, July 2, 1844, of James W. Woods, one hundred and thirty- five dollars and fifty cents in gold and silver and receipt for shroud, one gold finger ring, one gold pen and pencil case, one penknife, one pair of tweezers, one silk and one leather purse, one small pocket wallet containing a note of John P. Green for $50, and a receipt of Heber C. Kimball for a note of hand on Ellen M. Saunders for one thousand dollars, as the property of Joseph Smith. – Emma Smith.”

    The so-called talisman was not in any way similiar to a coin, being larger and with symbols and Hebrew characters. Certainly not any coin of the realm.

    Third, Emma never once mentioned a talisman in any of the interviews every recorded. Since the claim was that the propeht carried this medallion, and Emma spoke of it often (according to Bidamon) it is strange no one else every heard about it.

  8. Mike Reply

    The Jupiter Talisman is mentioned. I actually own a copy of it, I sometimes play with it while doing the podcast. Its a bogus story though:
    A silver “pocket piece” was bought by the Church from Charles Bidamon, the son of Major Bidamon, who was married to Emma Smith after the murder of Joseph. He said, “This piece came to me through the relationship of my father, Major L. C. Bidamon, who married the Prophet Joseph Smith’s widow, Emma Smith. I certify that I have many times heard her say, when being interviewed, and showing the piece, that it was in the Prophet’s pocket when he was martyred at Carthage, Ill.”

    Questions about the authenticity are really strong. First, Bidamon never said anything about the piece for fifty-eight years after Emma’s death to make his certification, which at the time of her death he was but merely a fifteen-year-old boy.

    Second, no such piece was listed in Joseph’s personal effects which were turned over to Emma. The itemized list of the contents of Joseph Smith’s pockets was pubished by the lawyer who collected the propeht’s personal effects. This listing is:

    “Received, Nauvoo, Illinois, July 2, 1844, of James W. Woods, one hundred and thirty- five dollars and fifty cents in gold and silver and receipt for shroud, one gold finger ring, one gold pen and pencil case, one penknife, one pair of tweezers, one silk and one leather purse, one small pocket wallet containing a note of John P. Green for $50, and a receipt of Heber C. Kimball for a note of hand on Ellen M. Saunders for one thousand dollars, as the property of Joseph Smith. – Emma Smith.”

    The so-called talisman was not in any way similiar to a coin, being larger and with symbols and Hebrew characters. Certainly not any coin of the realm.

    Third, Emma never once mentioned a talisman in any of the interviews every recorded. Since the claim was that the propeht carried this medallion, and Emma spoke of it often (according to Bidamon) it is strange no one else every heard about it.

  9. Randall Reply

    Awesome podcast. I like Dehlin’s idea. 2 hours would have been even better. Thought the same thing about the stages of faith podcast. But hey, who am I to complain. Thanks for all you guys do.

  10. Randall Reply

    Awesome podcast. I like Dehlin’s idea. 2 hours would have been even better. Thought the same thing about the stages of faith podcast. But hey, who am I to complain. Thanks for all you guys do.

  11. Michael Carpenter Reply

    Mitch and Amy, thank you so much for taking the time to do this episode. I really enjoyed it.

  12. ozpoof Reply

    I can’t see how a gay man who has relationships with men, can possibly be “worthy” to have any calling in a ward, unless the relationship is utterly non-physical.

    The ward Mitch attends appears to be in apostasy. This isn’t Mormonism.

    • Richard of Norway Reply

      I agree but I think Mitch made it clear that he is not currently having sexual relations with men. That is a thing of the past. For now at least.

      • Oz Poof Reply

        I’m sorry. I missed that point. Mitch did say that the Bishopric were not interested in pursuing whether or not gay (or straight) individuals were obeying the law of chastity, but would leave this up to the conscience of the individual. I’m not sure how that would work if one partner confessed and the other didn’t. I’m not sure it would work in a worthiness interview either.

        I got the feeling throughout this interview that what is being practiced in some Bay Area wards isn’t Mormonism. It’s a splinter group that is being used as a test case by SLC. That just affirms to me that Mormonism is not divinely inspired. Mitch’s claim that the church has been lead by the actions of grassroots campaigners contradicts the official doctrine of the church; that it is being led by Christ through inspired leadership. A true believer in the LDS church would not claim Christ needs to be leaned-on before he reveals truth. I don’t believe Christ was behind the priesthood ban. It was wrong. It don’t believe Christ was behind its removal.

        So much of LDS doctrine has been wrong. Would a church led by Christ wait for social norms to change before standing up for what is right? No.

        As a gay man I simply can’t understand how anyone who accepts they were born (created) gay can come to terms with current and past LDS policy on homosexuality. The church was clearly wrong, and still is today when they reject gay marriage and ask gay people to remain non-sexual beings for life.

        Mitch, is the church led by Christ or not? Are church leaders inspired? If they are, perhaps there really is no place for gay people in Mormonism. If they aren’t, the church is a lie.

        • Gail_F_Bartholomew Reply

          Who is to say it is not the church that is in apostasy for condemning gay relationships? There really is no good evidence that God condemns homosexual relationships either in the scriptures or in modern revelation. Remember Christ never condemns homosexuality, nor the ten commandments, nor the Book of Mormon, nor the D & C, nor the Pearl of Great Price. The only places in the scriptures we can find condemnation of homosexuality is the writings of Paul and Leviticus. We as the church reject almost all of what Paul says about sexuality. He claims that you can serve God better if you remain unmarried for instance. Given that you must be married to be a bishop or many other leadership callings, it seems that we do not believe that God was with Paul when he said this. Also, he claimed that the only reason to get married is if you can’t keep your pants on. Given our teaching that the only way to head to the highest degree of glory in the here after is to be married, I would guess he screwed the pootch on this one too. So given his record on the topic of sex I am not inclined to give him much credit on this one. By the way he also said women should not speak in church. I am not sure I buy this one either. Now when it comes to Leviticus the only thing that I can find in that book that the church still teaches as doctrine is a few times where one or another of the ten commandments are quoted, other than that I find things that if anyone would try to preach or heaven forbid do in church today they would likely not just be excommunicated but physically removed and rested. Now you may be saying that we have the Proclamation on the Family, and we do, but I challenge you to tell me anything in that document that says anything against homosexuality or homosexual relationships. Besides I have a very hard time finding any of the brethren referring to it as scripture or doctrine. Now Mr. Poof can you help me understand why even if Mitch was involved in a physical relationship with a man that it would make his ward out of line with what God would want?

          • Oz Poof

            The LDS church opposes sex out of marriage. Since the LDS church also opposes same sex marriage, and does not recognize those SS marriages performed civilly, it therefore opposes any sexual contact between men.

            LDS church leadership says Mitch’s ward is out of line with God because that ward is not in line with LDS doctrine and LDS leadership. Since the LDS leadership are those who decide doctrine (through inspiration supposedly), and Mormonism functions as a top-down organization, any ward that decides they can let certain behaviors slide because they don’t agree with the position of church leaders is in apostasy.

            If the LDS church is lead by inspired men who are advised by Christ himself, THEY say Mitch’s ward is in apostasy because that ward opposes the leadership of the Mormon church. If the church leadership is wrong on this matter, their credibility as Christ inspired men of God is doubtful.
            If you consider the huge number of things LDS church leadership has been wrong on now and in the past, it’s incredible that anyone can possibly believe the LDS church is true, let alone a gay may who has been told all his life by these people that he is evil and chose his sexuality. Either the church is true or it isn’t. There can’t be doctrines that are inspired of God but which are wrong.

            Gay people KNOW for a fact that these men are not inspired.

            As with so many LDS members who can’t agree with LDS doctrine or policy, Mitch is not living as a Mormon, yet he still calls himself a Mormon and claims to believe in Mormonism. If you disagree with Mormon doctrine and policy you admit the church is not led by inspired men.

            Perhaps Mormonism is not in line with what God wants. Then perhaps Mitch is correct in his beliefs and actions (turning a blind eye to certain “sins”). You can’t believe in Mormonism as the true church while failing to abide with LDS church policy and doctrine. If it’s true, follow the brethren. If it’s a lie, get out.

          • Gail Bartholomew

            Oz,
            Man alive this is a very black and white way to look at the world. Yes there are church members that look at the church like this, but it seems pretty sad way to make life choices. If goodness is only goodness if it rides with perfection, how would someone choose to be friends with someone, or what company to work for, or what romantic partner to be with, or what country to pledge elegance to. Any mistake someone made would mean they were not a true friend. Any time a partner neglected to share some detail would make them untrue. I have chosen to work for a company that provides housing for adults with developmental disabilities. I chose this company because it believe it gives good care for the clients and it is good to its employees. I have worked here for 6 years during this time I have seen the company make choices that in my opinion do not serve clients and are not good for the employees. I still love working here even though it is not perfect. By the same token to say that unless everything the church does is obviously straight from the mouth of God than there for it is faults seems a stupid way to decide whether to continue your involvement. Not that I don’t think there are good reasons to discontinue one’s involvement, but this is a very poor method and to be broadly applied it through out your life would make you friendless, homeless, and completely untrusting of any institution or person that you may have the opportunity to put your trust in.

          • Oz Poof

            Your friendship analogy would be different if that friend claimed they were inspired of God and everything they say is correct and should not be questioned. Any “friend” like that should be avoided like the plague.

    • Amy Blosch Reply

      yes. he was very clear abt this. his last relationship ended well over a yr before his calling and his is currently single and abstinent.
      but your anger is noted.

  13. Hodjaz Reply

    I’m so completely puzzled and confused by this interview. I think there is a huge disconnect. Since when was being called as Executive Secretary considered being called part of a Bishopric? Never. Look it up in the handbook. Bishopric’s are a bishop and two counselors who are High Priests. As a leader we called people to that position to reactive them typically. I do not mean that to insult anyone but isn’t that common knowledge? I think so. I’m just left thinking wow really, as I know the position of homosexuals and the leaders of the church are diabolical opposed. Many are fighting hard to change that and paying high prices. This one leaves me thinking someone is being used by the church and isn’t quite aware of it. Sorry for the direct statement but… I know your likely a good dude Mitch whether your part of the LDS PR machine or not, and I’m thinking are.

    • Shawn S Reply

      I’ve been an executive secretary twice, and both times it was expressed by the Stake President who called me that I was part of the bishopric. The second time they called me, the bishop even knew that I was gay.

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