– Der Her der Ernte geht!
und sammelt Garben
uns ein, die Starben! –
[The Lord of Harvests goes out
to gather in the sheaves,
Even of those who died!]
CHAPTER 1 – The Crisis of Faith
Anthropology is the study of Man; that is the literal meaning of the word translated from the Greek. The science; for it has, from its beginnings, aspired to the position of a science; – the science of Anthropology is a child of the nineteenth century, along with those other aspiring disciplines, psychology and sociology.
Anthropologists, particularly in the early days of the discipline, avidly sought out ‘primitive’ peoples and tribes, and assiduously studied their ways and customs, attempting to preserve their languages, artefacts, customs and beliefs. And to what purpose, one may ask.
The motives which drove the early Anthropologists were complex and many, but high on their list of priorities was a desire to understand their contemporary predicament through an understanding of a ‘simpler’ and ‘purer’ culture. Their own predicament was, of course a crisis of purpose and direction, which had been brought into focus by the recent speculations of Darwin , combined with the unprecedented development of the physical sciences, and their application to Western economies.
A crisis of purpose and direction is, in the final analysis a crisis of philosophy or faith, and therefore it was hardly surprising that these Anthropologists, and those who elaborated upon their research, were particularly intrigued by the myths and legends of the ‘primitive’ peoples whom they studied; in fact they were intrigued by ‘primitive’ belief at the very moment when their own beliefs were in turmoil.
Investigations into such ‘primitive’ beliefs included such influential works as Frazer’s ‘Golden Bough’ (1) and Freud’s ‘Totem and Taboo’ (2), and although it is probably significant to note that neither of these authors were, strictly speaking, anthropologists, they both aspired to use the most recent findings of that discipline in providing material for their writings.
Whilst Anthropology is an essentially ‘contemporary’ study, the purpose of the elaborations of authors such as Frazer and Freud, amongst others, was to extrapolate, retrospectively; in an attempt to discover in the past ideas which would facilitate an understanding of the problems of contemporary Western society.
(1) Sir James George Frazer OM,1854-1941. Born at Glasgow, he published the ‘Golden Bough’ in 1890. The book had a world-wide impact, both on academics and on writers and artists of the period, its influence filtering down into popular culture in the opening decades of the Twentieth Century. While, by present standards, much of Frazer’s methodology, and many of his opinions, have fallen into disrepute, there has been a reawakening of interest in his work in recent years.
(2) Sigmund Freud, 1865-1939. Born at Frieberg, Moravia, in Czechoslovakia, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, (which was dismantled after 1918). He was, in many ways, the creator of psychoanalysis. He published ‘Totem and Taboo’ in 1913, partly as an attempt to ‘explain away’ religion as a by-product of Oedipus Complex, one of his most well known concepts. It is a significant example of ‘armchair Anthropology’, which, over the years, has suffered a similar fate to Frazer’s ‘Golden Bough’.
This emphasis upon history was directly related to the nature of the crisis, which had been launched with Darwin’s (3), largely unintentional, and devastating, criticism of the then generally accepted Heilsgeschichte, or Christian view of history as the unfolding process of God’s salvation, as offered to man.
Darwin’s findings in the realms of Biology, by removing the initial Creationist premiss, effectively caused the contemporary stage in the historical process to lose its sense of moral certitude and meaning, rather in the manner that Nietzsche (4) had suggested in ‘Zarathustra’.
Freud, Jung (5), Frazer and others, however, were hoping to provide that meaning from man’s own history, whilst Nietzsche was trying to manufacture such meaning from his own concepts of the ‘ubermensch’ and ‘Eternal Recurrence’, which would stand as contemporary myths.
If one was unnerved by Darwin’s findings and rejected Christian, existentialist or psycho-anthropological responses, one could always aspire to the purest philosophical line, which at that time was represented by the followers of Hegel (6), such as Caird and Bradley. The problem with Hegel, however, was that few people could comprehend his clouds of metaphysical erudition, and therefore as hardly anyone understood what he was talking about, very few could take his option as a solution to the continuing crisis.
Whilst all this ‘ivory tower’ activity was being pursued by academics, the majority of main-stream Christians and many theologians, as well, had come to an accommodation with Evolutionary theory, and were willing to see such ideas be grafted, somewhat awkwardly onto the main corpus of Christian doctrine. At the same time Christian academics, such as Schweitzer (7) and Bultman (8), were making further concessions to contemporary Historical methodology by ‘de-mythologising’ much of Christian Scripture and tradition.
By the closing years of the century there was a continuing, but accommodating Christian tradition, which was accompanied by a new realisation and understanding of contemporary ‘primitive’ spirituality, which, it was considered, shed light on the spirituality of our own ancestors, and resonated with the classical inheritance, which was still so much a part of Western Civilisation.
In America, there was also a concern for the spiritual, although it was not on quite the same plane as that aspired to by European philosophers, scientists and academics. American spirituality had its roots in the Protestant Fundamentalism of the Founding Fathers, who sought refuge from persecution in the Old World. Their spirituality was not only Fundamentalist in the theological sense of the word, but also fundamental & earthy. It gave rise to Salem but also to a myriad diverging traditions, the most potent of which would return in triumph to the Old World.
(3) Charles Robert Darwin, 1809-1882. Born at Shrewsbury, England, the grandson of Erasmus Darwin, the naturalist. He published his ‘On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection’, in 1859, as a belated result of his experiences whilst aboard the survey ship ‘HMS Beagle’ between 1831 and 1836. His subsequent book, the ‘Descent of Man’, published in 1871, added fuel to the controversy regarding the apparent ‘scientific’ opposition to Biblical authority, and by inference, Christian values, as they were then expressed. Darwin’s views continue to cause controversy with today’s Creationists, who are opposed to Neo-Darwinism, which represents the current Evolutionary Theory, being an synthesis of Darwinism and Mendelev’s Genetics.
(4) Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, 1844-1900. Born at Rocken, Saxony, the only son of a Lutheran pastor, he subsequently taught Greek and Philology. He published ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’, his third major work, between 1883-1885. The main premiss of the book is that, for contemporary European man, ‘God is dead’, and that as this fact has deprived the world of moral and ontological meaning, it must be substituted by new and equally meaningful concepts.
(5) Carl Gustav Jung, 1875-1961. A Swiss psychiatrist, who was one of Freud’s most brilliant disciples and collaborators; they disagreed, in 1921, regarding the role of sexuality in the psychological development of the individual, and Jung went on to develop a Neo-Freudian theory, which lent heavily on the spiritual aspects of the individual’s development. His many books taking much of their material from contemporary Anthropological studies.
(6) Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, 1770-1831. German philosopher who held that the Universe is a manifestation whereby the Absolute Spirit realises itself through the World Historical Process. This process is typified by the three-fold development of thesis, antithesis and synthesis, known as the Hegelian Triad.
(7) Albert Schweitzer, 1875-1965. French theologian who wrote one main work, ‘The Quest for the Historical Jesus’. This work attempted to use contemporary historical methodology in studying the life of Jesus of Nazareth. The book was condemned by the Pope in 1917, in his Encyclical against Modernism, and the book subsequently became exceptionally influential in Protestant and liberal Christian circles.
(8) Bultman. A German contemporary of Schweitzer, Bultman is noted for having developed the concept of ‘de-mythologising scripture in response to the insights made available through the techniques of ‘Form Criticism’. Put simply, Bultman believed that the text of the bible revealed that many of the accounts it contained were folk-stories or myths, and that therefore to obtain the true Christian message such passages should be stripped away, or at least ignored.
The Mormon Story
In America, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Christian tradition, which was mainly Protestant in inspiration, was still strong and robust. ‘Doubt’, in the European sense, was almost unheard of, and the only opportunity for doubt, of any kind lay, in the individual’s choice with regard to the Christian sect to which he would owe allegiance. The moral order was firmly defined, and the existential crisis which was beginning to plague Europe had not reached the New World, and to a certain extent, in some strange way, it never would.
In Vermont, in 1820, Joseph Smith (1) received his first religious call, in the form of a visionary experience. Twenty years later, and just a few miles away, the Fox family were involved a series of strange experiences which were to form the first stirring of the modern Spiritualist movement.
Both the Fox sisters and Joseph Smith were, effectively, shamans, in a relatively modern, educated and technically advanced society. Strictly speaking, Anthropologists didn’t need to go to far off, primitive tribes, and historians and other academics had no need to peer into the dark recesses of time, in order to find living myths, and the footprints of the Gods; for while the mythology of the established Churches was crumbling, a new mythology was being created, in some part, out of the ruins of the old.
The story of the Mormons begins in 1805 when Joseph Smith Snr. and Lucy Mack Smith became the proud parents of Joseph Smith Jnr. The Smiths lived, at that time, in the town of Sharon, in Windsor County, Vermont. In the early eighteen-hundreds the Smith family moved from the Green Hills of Vermont to Palmyra, west of New York.
While the Smiths were firmly Christian in outlook, they were not attached to any particular church or sect, and they were searching, amidst a sea of conflicting views, for the true Church of Christ. They were, in fact suffering from a peculiar religious ‘anomie’, which was extremely prevalent, at that time, in that part of the United States.
In the Spring of 1820, Joseph Smith Jnr. was in the woods one morning, outside Palmyra, when he saw two shining figures. Smith believed that these two figures were God the Father and God the Son, and that while observing them he had heard the same words that were reported to have been spoken at the ‘Transfiguration’, described in the Gospels. In addition he was informed that none of the current Christian Churches, or sects, were legitimate, and that the truth would be revealed to him at a later date.
For the next four years Joseph Smith continued his life as a farm boy, until the 21st September, 1823.
On that night he was visited, in his bed room, by an entity calling himself Moroni, who gave him information which enabled him to to recover some inscribed gold plates, which were buried on the summit of a nearby hill called Cumorah.
A further four years, however, were to pass before he was permitted to recover these plates, and during these years Smith was to be instructed and prepared.
(1) Joseph Smith, 1805-1844. Born in Vermont, in the USA, Joseph Smith was the son of a poor farmer and consequently received little formal education. He is remembered as the founder of the marginally Christian sect, known today as the Mormons who have a world wide following of about 6,000,000.
In 1829 Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, a local schoolteacher, began the task of translating the plates. Financial assistance, essential for the performance of such an undertaking was supplied by Martin Harris, a wealthy local farmer with a religious bent. Smith, with the aid of two ‘stones’ found with the plates, translated the plates, from behind a curtain, while Cowdery recorded the words in longhand. The thin gold plates were inscribed, according to Smith, in ‘Reformed Egyptian’.
Harris, apparently took the plates to a certain Professor Charles Anthony, of New York, who examined them and issued a written statement, asserting that the inscriptions on the plates were in Egyptian, Chaldaic, Assyrian and Arabic and that the translation so far was an accurate one. He subsequently retracted and tore up this statement.
The document that resulted from Smith and Cowdery’s efforts was entitled ‘The Book of Mormon’ and was published in the Spring of 1830. Eleven witnesses, in total, swore affidavits to say that they had seen the gold plates from which Smith translated the ‘Book of Mormon’, although some of them retracted their statements at a later date. The plates in question were, on completion of translation, returned to Moroni, according to Smith; a section of them not having been allowed to be translated until some unspecified time in the future.
During the translation of the mysterious plates, in May of 1829, Smith and Cowdery had been visited by an entity, subsequently identified as John the Baptist, who had conferred upon them the Aaronic Priesthood (2), as they prayed by the banks of the Susquehanna River. A short time later, Smith and Cowdery were further initiated into the Melchizadeck Priesthood (3) by three entities, described as the Apostles Peter, James and John.
After the initiation into the priesthood, the Mormon story becomes rather more ‘run of the mill’. The sect grows, and because of its unorthodox beliefs, which include polygamy, is forced to set up its own separate community. Few people appear to want the Mormons as neighbours, and the new, and rapidly growing sect is forced to move, constantly, in search of a new home.
(2) Aaron. In the Old Testament, in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy Aaron is described as the elder brother of Moses. After God’s revelations to Moses, on Mount Sinai, Aaron was made responsible for the ritual activities of the Israelites, during their time in the desert, as first High Priest. All subsequent Jewish High Priests traced their descent from Aaron, but with the Hasmoneans, in the first century BC, who annexed the office and subsequently sold it to the highest bidder, the office lost all contact with the true Aaronic line. This was the main cause of both the Sadducees (who provided the later holders of the office) lack of popular support in New Testament times, and the creations of splinter groups such as the Essenes, who maintained that they were the legitimate Aaronic priesthood.
(3) Melchizadeck appears in the Book of Genesis, in the Old Testament, as a priest who blesses Abraham and offers a sacrifice of bread and wine. Because, according to the Bible, Abraham was the Father of the Jewish race, which includes Moses, Aaron, David etc., anyone with authority sufficient to give a blessing to Abraham must have a higher status than Abraham and his descendants, and therefore the Melchizadeck Priesthood must be superior to the Aaronic. For this reason Jesus is described in both Roman and Anglican ritual as being,’ a Priest, after [of the same] the order of Melchizadeck’.
In 1839 the sect established a community at Commerce, in Illinois. They re-named the community Nauvoo and by 1843 its population numbered sixteen thousand. Eventually Smith found himself in difficulties with the Law, accused of Treason by the Illinois authorities.
Now the Mormons had a martyr. Strangely, when the community, which was now on the move again, selected its new leader, they chose none of the founding members, who had seen the plates, but rather Brigham Young (4), who proceeded to take his flock to Salt Lake, in Utah, and there re-forge the Church of the Latter Day Saints into its present form.
One of the key questions which has exercised the minds of Christians since the first disputes of the Council of Jerusalem, in Apostolic times, is ‘what constitutes orthodox Christianity ?’. In the present era of professed Ecumenicism and burgeoning sects, this problem has become more pressing for committed Christians, although in the ranks of the non-committed few know the problem even exists. Undoubtedly it was the question which exercised Joseph Smith’s mind back in the eighteen-twenties, and if the question was put in more general, and not specifically Christian terms, it was, and is,the question haunting the minds of the greatest thinkers.
(4) Brigham Young, 1801-1877. Born in Vermont,in the USA, he joined the Mormon Church in 1832, and three years later was appointed an Apostle. He succeeded Joseph Smith in 1844, as leader of the Church.
Before the Beginning
Before the beginning, according to Joseph Smith, God possibly existed.
This is not, however, the God usually referred to by the Mormons. The God under consideration here is the ultimate, unfathomable Being from whom all existence, and existent beings presumably derive. Principal amongst those existent beings are the Gods, one of which is the Being, according to Smith that we usually refer to as God. Bearing only this initial revelation in mind, however, one notes, that a totally new light is cast upon practically all other Mormon pronouncements. There is more, however.
It may seem surprising that a religious leader and teacher, of the stature of Joseph Smith might be a little vague about the existence or nature of the Supreme Being, but this should, in fact, be understandable, taking into account the presumption that Smith’s original problem was, in truth, an existentialist dilemma, from which his revelations, apparently, released him. Smith was concerned about his future conduct and resulting destiny. He was searching for a ‘way’, rather than a ‘truth’.
His revelations, regardless of how bizarre we might find them today, were not speculative, but rather, thoroughly practical.
But to continue the narrative; one of the Gods in existence in the beginning was called Elohim (1), and he inhabits a planet which circles the star Kolob. Elohim is a spiritual being, a God, who has, however, a physical body in human form. This planet is also inhabited by a number of goddesses, who also posses physical bodies. Amongst other things, the God and goddesses indulge in sexual intercourse, which as with other beings, results in the birth of children. These children, however, are spiritual, not, apparently, having material bodies like their parents. This is, of course, the origin of the Mormon’s belief in the pre-existence of the soul, which was referred to previously.
The spirit children of Elohim are unable to become gods, like their parents, unless they have a material body, and have undergone a probationary period in that body. The bodies which are available to them, according to Smith, are the newly conceived foetuses resulting from the sexual activities of people on the planet Earth. Who then, one may ask, are the inhabitants of Earth ? It appears that Elohim, in the form of Adam, created Eve, whom he mated with, in order to create a race of material creatures who would bear the souls of His spirit children.
In order to successfully pass their period of probation in the material sphere, Elohim’s spirit children; that is us; must lead a moral life, be taught the means by which we can ascend through the planetary spheres, past the angelic guardians, to return to Kolob, and be eternally wedded (‘sealed’ in Mormon jargon) to our wives so that they may become goddesses with us. The Temple ceremonies, which were referred to previously are all designed to perform these functions.
(1) Elohim is a word of uncertain derivation and origin. The Semitic word ‘El’ is generally accepted by scholars to mean God, carrying ideas or power and might. Elohim, strictly speaking is the plural form of the word meaning Gods or spirits, although often, confusingly, in ancient texts it is used to represent the singular. The use of the name Elohim in the Bible is mainly restricted to narratives in the Pentateuch, (the first five books of the OT, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Numbers). It is significant that, although the word appears in source texts, it was not used in the King James Authorised version of the Bible with which Joseph Smith would have been familiar.
The position of Jesus in Smith’s scheme is, not surprisingly, a little different to that usually taught. According to Smith, Elohim came from the star system of Kolob and mated with a Jewish girl called Miriam, who subsequently gave birth to a son called Jesus (Joshua). Miriam was not married at the time, so no impropriety was involved, although she later married a man called Joseph.
Because Jesus was the result of the union of a God and a mortal he was, according to Smith, already divine, and therefore able to assist man in his search for the moral guidance needed to pass successfully through his Earthly probation. Jesus had a brother, however, Lucifer, who was intent on giving men divinity without the need for an Earthly probation. Elohim rejected Lucifer’s suggestion and the spirit children who had supported Lucifer were forced to become dis-incarnate entities who constantly opposed man, while the spirits who supported Elohim were permitted to enter human forms on earth, when the opportunity arose. Those spirit children who had remained neutral during the dispute were condemned to take the material forms of less evolved races, such as Negroes and other non-European peoples, who would not be able, because of their inferiority, to advantageously use their period of probation, (hence the restrictions on coloured people with regard to the Mormon priesthood).
It has also been taught, by at least two of Smith’s original Twelve Apostles Orson Pratt and Orson Hyde, that Jesus was married, polygamously, of course, and had three wives, Mary and Martha, sisters of Lazarus, and Mary Magdalene. It is suggested that the Marriage of Canna, found in John’s Gospel, is in fact an account of Jesus’ marriage celebrations.
While the foregoing brief account explains such matters as the implied pre-existence of the soul, mothers in heaven, certain Temple rituals, the impediments placed on coloured people regarding the priesthood, references to Mormons being ‘space men’, and the name Kolob, etc. it still leaves unanswered the question of the Genealogical Institute.
Mormons do not believe in infant baptism, and in that they rub shoulders with many other Protestant sects, most notably, of course, the Baptists (2). Such a view, while not shared by all Christians, is considered completely consistent with orthodox Christian teaching. The Mormons, however, believe that the dead may be baptised. Fortunately, they do not enact this belief literally, by exhuming corpses, but rather allow the living to stand proxy for the departed.
Researchers have indicated that Shakespeare, Beethoven, Queen Victoria and all the American Presidents amongst many others have been baptised posthumously. This, of course, is the reason for all those genealogical records, which lie, in their protective, holocaust-proof bunkers, in Little Cottonwood Canyon.
Smith’s scriptural justification for this teaching, as if any were needed after some of his previous doctrines, is to be found in the fifteenth chapter of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. Surprisingly, some might think, Smith appears to be correct in his interpretation of this remarkably straightforward passage of scripture; which opens up the awkward question of why the doctrine is not accepted by orthodox Christians when it is clearly an Apostolic teaching. To pursue questions like that, however, would open up such a can of worms that it is better to return to the Mormons, and the revelations of their ‘latter day’ prophet.
(2) Baptists are a Protestant sect or church originating in England in the Seventeenth Century, and founded by the Rev. John Smyth. The first Baptist church in America was founded on Rhode Island in 1639, by Roger Williams. Baptists conceive of the Church as a community of Saints (spiritual regenerates), and find all spiritual authority in the Bible. Their name derives from their belief that Baptism should be preceded by a profession of faith, and therefore may only be applied to those who have reached the age of reason.
The Message of Moroni
Ever since the ‘Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints’, (the Mormons), came into existence, the orthodox churches have attacked it and declared it to be not just another sect, but rather a non-Christian sect. The hatred of orthodox Christians was initially so great that all the evidence points to the probability that they conspired to murder Joseph Smith, in the hope that the infant sect would collapse. The question remains, ‘why were they so afraid of the Mormons, and why has this fear been subsequently tempered?’.
The Mormons, at the time of Joseph Smith’s death were powerful neither politically nor economically in national terms, and undoubtedly the aspect of this ‘new’ religion which the orthodox feared most was Mormon doctrine. Surprisingly, after all the fuss about visions and affidavits, it is not in the ‘Book of Mormon’ that the fundamental tenets of the ‘Latter Day Saints will be found, but rather in two obscure and practically unavailable books, ‘The Pearl of Great Price’, and ‘Doctrine and Covenants’, both by Joseph Smith.
The ‘Book of Mormon’, itself, running to over five hundred pages in paperback, is at best a weak caricature of the Old Testament, even to the extent of parodying the language of the King James Bible. The text purports to describe the history of a small group of Israelites, who left Palestine in about 600 BC and journeyed to America, where they existed until about 400 AD, when their civilisation finally collapsed.
Being a pastiche of the Old Testament, much of the work is primarily a record of this alleged people’s history, and is filled with endless genealogies, plots, conspiracies, betrayals and battles. Eventually the resurrected Christ appears in order to bring the Gospel to his other sheep. As in the Western hemisphere, Christ’s teachings appear to bring little help to his followers in the New World, who proceeded to wage war for two-hundred years, which finally results in their complete destruction.
Theological argument is not a strong point in this saga, and many of the teachings are simply rehashes of material from both the Old and New Testaments, often using the very same phraseology. Anyone reading the Book of Mormon, superficially, could easily think he was reading some little known piece of canonical Scripture, and it is on this basis that Mormons approach likely converts, with an aura of Christian respectability. A well turned out, ‘squeaky clean’ Mormon missionary will not stand on your doorstep and discuss the ‘Pearl of Great Price’, the ‘Doctrine and Covenants’ or the Temple Rituals (1), and may well deny all knowledge of them.
So what are these teachings, which upset orthodox Christians so much ?
The most well known; notorious even, is the Mormon teaching regarding marriage. All the leading Mormons, in the early days of the sect, practised polygamy. It is reliably reported that Brigham Young had sixteen wives, and one estimate even puts the total at twenty-seven. Joseph Smith was equally accused of having up to eighty four wives, although the accepted minimum is around thirty. The result of this is that, even today, family trees can be remarkably complex amongst even the most respectable of long established Mormon families.
(1) The first Temple was built in Kirtland, Ohio, and still stands today. The second Temple was the ill-fated Nauvoo Temple, destroyed by opponents of the sect. The third, and most well known Temple stands in the Main Square in Salt Lake City, Utah. It was begun in 1853 and was finally completed in 1892. Plans for this Temple were made two days after the Mormons arrived in Salt Lake Valley. The other main Temples are the St. George, the Logan and the Manti Temples, all in Utah. There are other Temples, many in different parts of the world, wherever there is a sufficiently large Mormon population. In addition to Temples, Mormons use chapels, which perform the same function as Non-Conformist churches.
Eventually, in 1890, the Mormon leadership made an agreement with the United States Federal Authorities, in which they undertook not to practice polygamy, whist retaining it as a ‘moral ideal’.
With this one concession, the Mormons gained an instant, if grudging, respectability, and most of their other doctrines and practices were allowed to be quietly swept under the theological carpet. Now Mormonism is on the decline, not because it is a scandal to other Christians, but rather because it is too respectable. Here and there, in the hill country around Salt Lake Valley, there are the odd few ‘oldsters’ still practising polygamy quietly, and there is at least one of the many splinter groups, which have formed sects from a sect, which advocate and openly practice polygamy. By and large, however, it is a dead issue, which is strange.
Perhaps the most pertinent question is why the Mormons practised polygamy in the first case. Most commentators cite the obvious reasons, which are that the Mormon community was short of men, and in addition, was anxious to increase its numbers as quickly as possible. Careful scrutiny of the census records of the period, however, shows, surprisingly, that there were more men in the Mormon community than women. So why polygamy ? The simple answer is that Joseph Smith was ‘told’ to institute the practise of polygamy.
One of the main reasons why orthodox Christians opposed Mormonism so violently was the fact that Smith espoused the doctrine of ‘continuing revelation’. The Christian Church, from earliest times, had taught that God’s revelation to the world, which had begun with Adam, ended with the death of the last Apostle. The ‘Deposit of Faith’ was complete and could not be added to. The result of this teaching was the emergence of ‘theology’, the medieval ‘Queen of Sciences’, which endlessly attempted to interpret and re-interpret the deposit of faith, as found in scripture and ‘the traditions of the Church’. Re-interpretation and comment, however, were all that were allowed. No new revelation was permitted.
Smith, however, considered himself an Apostle, having been empowered with the Melchizadeck priesthood, and therefore, in ‘these latter days’, prophecy and revelation had been renewed. It is, as a result, a fundamental doctrine of the Mormons that there is a continuing revelation from the Lord. One of these revelations, which, apparently, took place on the 12th July 1843, was the ‘re-institution’ of polygamy.
‘Re-institution’ may seem an inappropriate term, but in fact even the most cursory inspection of the Old Testament will reveal that polygamy was the norm among almost all of the the characters depicted in the Old Testament, and the practise was accepted by the Jews in Gospel times. The concept of ‘re-institution’, however, was not the complete story, and the greater part of the motivation for polygamy lay in Smith’s other teachings, which were of a somewhat less worldly nature.
If today you were to visit Little Cottonwood Canyon, twelve miles from down-town Salt Lake City, you would find, hidden in the granite walls of that canyon huge doors, cut into the living rock, which lead to vast, brightly lit, air conditioned, steel lined rooms, protected by fifteen ton blast proof doors. This is the Genealogical Centre of the Church of the Latter Day Saints; protected by steel, concrete and granite from all that the latter days may throw against it.
In these cavernous, echoing halls are kept, on microfilm, detailed information about your family, along with similar information about most families in Europe, America and beyond, going back, in some cases, for hundreds of years. The information about you, kept here, is probably more accurate and more detailed than that kept by your local council or the Registrar of Births Deaths and Marriages; after all, these records are not kept for tax or census purposes, but rather for the ‘Lord’.
In a similar vein to the re-institution of polygamy, the fundamental question with regard to the genealogical activities in Little Cottonwood Canyon is obviously, ‘why ?’.
Returning to Salt Lake City there is also the question of the Temple, standing solemnly beside the famous Tabernacle, after which the renowned Choir is named.
The Salt Lake Temple is not an outstanding piece of architecture, although, with its grey granite walls, many feet thick, it is monumental and moving, particularly when the sun glints on the golden statue of Moroni, atop the highest pinnacle.
It may come as a surprise to many, however, to realise that the Temple is not like most other great churches, temples or cathedrals in the world, which are often open to tourists and worshippers. There is no non-Mormon (2), living today, who has seen the inside of the Salt Lake City Temple (3). The Temple rites are absolutely secret and are only known to, and practised by, a small inner circle of the sect, for not all Mormons are permitted entry to the Temple (4). Not only are many Mormons excluded from the Temples, but, in addition people of coloured extraction, are not permitted to enter certain aspects of the Aaronic Priesthood, let alone the priesthood of Melchizadeck.
The key to Mormon teachings lies in the doctrine of continuing revelation. Whilst the ‘Book of Mormon’ was an obvious example of this doctrine, it contained little new theology, despite its remarkable claim that the Jews had colonised the Americas and Christ had preached in the ‘New World’ subsequent to his resurrection. In fact the ‘Book of Mormon’ almost seems to become somewhat of an embarrassment with the rising influence of Brigham Young, Kimball and Pratt, and the steadily declining influence, and in some cases expulsion, of the original witnesses to the plates.
Equally, as all of Smith’s writings were published under the control of Brigham Young, the authorship of some of the doctrines may be open to question, although as Young is looked upon as being an equal prophet to Smith, by Mormons, this may not be a pertinent question from a Mormon standpoint.
It has been pointed out that there are some thought provoking similarities between Mormonism and Freemasonry. Possibly the most obvious similarity is the secrecy that shrouds the inner activities of the two groups. The fact that, when Joseph was translating the tablets, Hyrum, his brother was deeply involved in Freemasonry, and that in 1842, two years before his death, Joseph Smith became a Master Mason, may be considered significant here.
(2) Mormons refer to non-Mormons as Gentiles, except for Jews, who are referred to as such.
(3) The same prohibition applies to all Mormon Temples. Temples which have been built recently are normally open to non-Mormons for a short period immediately after completion. Not all areas of the buildings may be inspected however. There are photographs of part of the interiors of the Salt Lake City Temple, and other older Temples, such as the Manti and Logan, which are published by the Mormons.
(4) Entry to a Temple for Mormons requires a written testimonial from their Bishop. In practise this means that less than 25% of Mormons are ever permitted to enter Mormon Temples, and that a tiny 6% regularly attend Temple services. This forms the inner elite of ‘true believers’.
While the Mormons are undoubtedly more seriously intentioned than Freemasons, they also share in common the fact that the outward façade they present to the world bears little resemblance to their inner reality, and that in this it may be suggested that both groups are guilty of dissembling.
Mormons are outwardly a Protestant (5) Non-Conformist sect, and are always assiduous in presenting a front of the utmost respectability in public, and it is this respectability, which has if anything, contributed to their current decline.
Smith was brought up in a totally Christian milieu, in which the Bible was the central literature of his society, and Darwin was yet to make is voyage on the ‘Beagle’. His religious thinking, therefore, while it was creative and innovatory, could not form itself into anything other than a semblance of Christian iconography. Smith’s original, and initiatory, visionary experience he interpreted as being a manifestation of the ‘Father’ and the ‘Son’, complete with a quotation from the Gospel, although, strangely and significantly, his subsequent experiences, revolving around the discovery of the plates, were communicated by the non-Biblical Moroni. A later vision, which was also witnessed by Cowdery, by the banks of the the Susquehanna River, involved an entity who was identified as the Biblical figure, John the Baptist, while a subsequent encounter, in which Oliver Cowdery was also involved, suggested that three of the original Apostles, Peter, James and John made contact with the founders of the new sect.
The setting for Smith’s early revelations, with the exception of Moroni, was, therefore, essentially Christian, and the ‘translation’ of the plates, by Smith, produced a document that was decidedly scriptural in style, particularly with its references to the risen Christ preaching in the New World. In addition, practically all of Mormonism’s early converts were Christians who saw Smith’s revelations as the ‘restoration’ of the Gospel. This concept of ‘restoration’ is pivotal to Mormon evangelism, and as been much stressed during the church’s life.
The publishers of Robert Mullen’s, book ‘The Mormons’, tell us in their blurb that the book ‘fully answers all the questions that have ever been asked about Mormonism’. This is a typical stance, here being taken by an author who states that he is not, himself, a Mormon, although the book is a continuing eulogy to Smith, Young and the Saints in general. There are, though, in the book, two lacuna which reveal a little of the truth. In referring to the British Temple, built at Lingfield, south of London, and dedicated in 1958, Mullen refers to the building as the headquarters for ‘higher religious teaching’, and then proceeds quickly to a long and highly approving description of the Hyde Park Chapel.
If this higher religious teaching is only available to the most fervent Mormons, then there obviously is something further to be revealed.
Part of that something is to be found in a poem quoted in that same book. The poem, by the Mormon poet, Eliza R Snow, although mediocre poetry, is worth quoting almost in full, as it is pertinent to our investigations.
(5) Protestants consist of a number of Churches who initially broke away from the Roman Catholic Church during the 16th Century, in a process known as the Reformation. Subsequently these churches divided further into various groups or sects, which have continued to fragment.
The original break with Rome was caused by discontent of both laity and clergy with the church hierarchy’s abuse of its privileges and power, combined with theological doubts concerning the nature of the sacraments and authority within the Church. The most significant reformation thinker was undoubtedly Martin Luther, who was able to bring together the forces of social discontent, rising nationalism, and an increasing desire for personal autonomy, in the creation of a new church. Subsequently Europe was divided into a Protestant North and a Catholic South, and a similar situation arose in the New World.
‘O, MY FATHER’
O, my Father, thou that dwellest in the high and glorious place;
When shall I regain thy presence, and again behold thy face?
In thy holy habitation, did my spirit once reside?
In my first primaeval childhood, was I nurtured by thy side?
For a wise and glorious purpose thou hast placed me here on earth;
And withheld the recollection of my former friends and birth.
Yet oft-times a secret something whispered,”You’re a stranger here”;
And I felt that I had wandered from a more exalted sphere.
I had learned to call you Father, through thy spirit from on high;
But until the key of knowledge was restored, I knew not why.
In the heavens are parents single? No; the thought makes reason stare.
Truth is reason; truth eternal tells me I’ve a mother there.
When I leave this frail existence – when I lay this mortal by,
Father, mother, may I meet you in your royal court on high?
A cursory reading of the poem would indicate that it is a typical example of a popular nineteenth century genre of sentimental religious poetry, which has long since gone out of fashion. Mullen, enigmatically, suggests the poem deserves careful reading, and yet, one short paragraph later has given an explanation of the poem which may be summarised as; ‘the Lord’s purpose is one of goodness and joy which requires man’s active co-operation’.
At the beginning of the nineteen-sixties Perry Como introduced a group of new, young singers, during his popular television show, and they later became his regular guests before appearing in shows of their own. They were all brothers, sang, and called themselves the Osmonds. Eventually one of the brothers, Donny, shot to fame and stardom, becoming for some years a ‘teen idol’. Gradually tastes changed and the group faded into comfortable and wealthy obscurity. At the height of their success the group produced one record album which, compared to their others, was an instant flop. Musically it was one of the highlights of an interesting era, but our concern is with, what are referred to in the business as, ‘the lyrics’. The Osmond brothers were Mormons, and in their record album, ‘The Plan’, they hoped to alert their young fans to the moral and existential crisis which they believed was developing as the ‘last days’ approached. It should be noted, incidentally, that at this time, when the ‘cold war’ was at it’s hottest, the Mormons had, along with many other religious groups, become decidedly Millennial (6).
(6) Millenarianism, also referred to as Chiliasm (from the Greek), is the belief that Christ will return to Earth and reign for a thousand years. This view is based upon the literal interpretation of Scriptural passages such as Revelations Ch. 20 and other Apocalyptic works, such as the book of Daniel. The Mormons have, at various times given emphasis to this view, which also forms a fundamental element in the teachings of the Seventh Day Adventists, and the Jehova’s Witnesses.
The most revealing text, from the lyrics of ‘The Plan’ is a song called ‘Before the Beginning’;
Before the Beginning
Before the beginning, we were living Oh so far away from here,
We called it home, but didn’t stay,
We knew that we could leave one day, and cry.
Before the beginning, we were willing to lay aside who we had been,
And take a chance to slip away, or make it back to home one day.
In the beginning we’d be living, as we would be, He once was,
To look at Him, to look at me, and think some day
Like Him I’ll be.
Perhaps even more revealing, from the song, ‘Goin’ Home’:
I’m a space man, from a different land,
I gotta get back home.
Hidden away on the album sleeve is the music publisher’s name; Kolob Music Co. And where was the music recorded ? Kolob studios, of course. Surprisingly, nowhere in the lyrics is Christ’s name, or Joseph Smiths name mentioned, although the record had the wholehearted approval of the Church’s highest authorities. Perhaps this was an aborted attempt by the Mormons to ‘come out of the closet’.
Returning to the first poem, and ignoring the religious sentimentality, careful scrutiny shows that two fundamental, but decidedly strange ideas, form the basis of the work. The first is that the soul has existed before birth.
‘In thy holy habitation, did my spirit once reside?
In my first primaeval childhood, was I nurtured by thy side?
For a wise and glorious purpose thou hast placed me here on
And withheld the recollection of my former friends and birth.
Yet oft-times a secret something whispered, “You’re a stranger
And I felt that I had wandered from a more exalted sphere.’
The doctrine of the ‘pre-existence of souls’, is by no means unique to Mormonism, although it should not be confused with re-incarnation (7). It should be pointed out that the doctrine of pre-existence is not considered to be compatible with orthodox Christian teaching, and therefore the fact that the Mormons hold to this belief is one of the reasons why they are attacked so vehemently, even today by certain Christian denominations.
(7) Re-incarnation is the doctrine that the soul or spirit may enter another human or animal body after death. Widely accepted as a pivotal doctrine of most Eastern religions, such as Jainism, Hinduism and Buddhism, and it is also widely believed by many religiously non-committed individuals in the West. The doctrine is also found in the teachings of Ancient Greek Philosophers including Pythagoras & Plato, and has been believed by various Christian sects, such as the Gnostics and their spiritual descendants, the Cathars.
Most ordinary people, however, would probably consider arguments over the merits of the doctrine of pre-existence an example of theological nit picking. The second idea, contained in the poem, though, would probably draw a stronger reaction from most people.
‘In the heavens are parents single? No;
‘the thought makes reason
Truth is reason; truth eternal tells me I’ve a mother there.
When I leave this frail existence – when I lay this mortal by,
Father, mother, may I meet you in your royal court on high ?’
It is clear from the text, that the idea is being presented that we have a heavenly mother. This is not, of course the Catholic concept of Mary, the Mother of the Church, or the Mother of Christians, for all ‘Romeish Doctrine’ was an anathema to Smith and his followers. Equally the poem is not alluding to a mother or, possibly grandmother, who has preceded us in death. The unequivocal meaning of the passage is that there is a feminine God, and not in the manner that some contemporary Christian feminists wish to refer to God as Father/Mother, in a bizarre attempt to transfer sexual equality to divine spheres. Put more bluntly, the poem is referring to God’s wife, and this immediately puts Mormonism beyond the pale, with regard to any orthodox Christian acceptance.
The libretto from ‘The Plan’, clearly restates the pre-existence theme, but also contains the very enigmatic verse;
‘Before the beginning we’d be living, as we would be, He once was,
To look at Him, to look at me, and think some day
Like Him I’ll be.’
This is accompanied by a superscription on the album cover which reads; ‘As man is, God once was – As God is, man may become.’
Ignoring the convolutions of the lyrics, it appears that the statements are practically identical, and may be seen to propose a relationship between divine and human nature which is far from the almost infinite gulf religions usually present. If God was once like us, and we will be like God, where does this fit in with the mediation of Christ (8), or for that matter, what role does Christ play, if any.
As I stated earlier, the Mormons present a Christian façade but are, it appears, dissembling. But why ?
Finally we have the reference on the Osmond’s album to Kolob Studios and Kolob Music Company. Just a made up company name, perhaps ?
Well, in fact; no. Kolob is the name of a star system, ‘Oh so far away from here’. Its not referred to in its true guise in the lyrics of ‘The Plan’, and you can look as hard as you like in the ‘Book of Mormon’, and you won’t find it. Equally, you would probably get a blank look from your Mormon missionary on the doorstep, if you mentioned it to him, (it’s always a him, by the way; in fact two hims).
The next question is,’How does all this fit in with God and his wife, and pre-existence ?’ Perhaps, like the Osmonds, we should go back to ‘before the beginning’ for our answers.
(8) The mediation of Christ is a doctrine subscribed to by practically all Christian denominations. It basically states that the nature of both Original and actual sin, (Original sin is the sin committed by Adam & Eve, and actual sin is the sins people commit during their lives), is sufficient to distance man totally from God, and that it is only through Christ acting as mediator, by virtue of his atoning death that man can hope to restore his relationship with God.
To the average Christian, agnostic or atheist, who together undoubtedly make strange bedfellows, the ideas of Joseph Smith generally seem strange, and even repellent. To academics, well versed in the history of religion and philosophy, however, those ideas create a fascinating puzzle, full of loose ends and strange correspondences.
As I have already suggested, Mormonism is only superficially Christian. This ,however, may be seen as an oversimplification. Rather, Mormonism should be seen as a poorly constructed synthesis of two very different traditions.
The first tradition is that of Protestant Christianity. This derives from Smith’s background, as a child and young man. In the early eighteen hundreds the Eastern seaboard of the United States was alive with revivalist movements, and fundamentalist enthusiasm, much of it of a millenial nature. It must be remembered that we are speaking of a time without modern media, communications or entertainment, when most people lived in isolated, self sustaining communities. For the majority, education was minimal, and although literacy rates were remarkably high, considering the lack of formal education, the number of books readily available was limited, and of course an authority and significance, unimaginable today ,was then granted to Holy Scripture.
That the Smith family were imbued with this Protestant tradition is undeniable, considering the fact that it was well known that the family was waiting on a revelation regarding which of the many competing sects was the true church of Christ. Religion was a fundamental question to be answered, for people then, in the same way that politics and economics has become a fundamental topic for people now. Equally, the religious question should not be thought of as being the same then as it is for many people now. In Smith’s day the religious question was not a matter of choosing between a large number of competing, but completely separate, religious traditions, such as Islam, Christianity, Buddhism etc. or, for that matter deciding on the existence or non existence of God. The religious question, in Smith’s time, was simply a question of finding the true interpretation of scripture. There was only one possible religion; Christianity. There was only one scripture; the Bible, and to doubt the existence of God would have meant social ostracism, and the imputation of insanity or possession (1). The only other tradition, active at that time and in that place, which could aspire to any religious stature was Freemasonry, with which, it appears, both Joseph and Hyram were involved, during the period that Joseph formulated the bedrock of Mormon doctrine.
The Christian Protestant tradition is, as I have already stated, evident in the front the church presents to the world, particularly in its missionary activities. It is a tradition that also appears with regard to the entities who brought the initial communications to Smith and later Cowdery. They were identified, in order of appearance as God the father, Jesus, John the Baptist and Peter, James and John, the Apostles. The only figure to break this succession of scriptural figures is, of course, Moroni, faithfully reproduced on the top of the pinnacle of the Salt Lake Temple. Moroni, however, although not appearing in canonical scripture, is, in the book of Mormon, placed in a pseudo-scriptural setting, parodying the Authorised version.
(1) Smith was convicted by the local civil authorities for ‘scrying’ in 1826, [see footnote 30]. Scrying is a form of divination, which involves using a speculum, i.e. a mirror, crystal ball, bowl of water, or some other reflective surface. All forms of divination are condemned by orthodox Christians, and the fact that divination was an indictable offence demonstrates the strength of orthodox Christian feeling to be found in such communities at that period.
The priesthood, both of Aaron and Melchizadeck, whilst bearing few similarities to their progenitors, at least contain a scriptural aura, along with the inclusion of Baptism. The book of Mormon itself, whilst claiming to present what most observers consider to be an unlikely, and un-historical narrative, at least adorns itself with scriptural trappings, to the extent of Christ preaching, in a manner similar to that presented in the Gospels. In all these aspects one can see Joseph Smith being true to the tradition he had been imbued with as a boy. On their own they create a picture of just another eccentric Protestant sect.
The other ‘side of the coin’, though, is very different. The question arises; where have all these references to Kolob, Elohim, polytheism and interstellar communication and travel come from ?
Today such ideas are the common currency of UFO cultists and protagonists of ‘New Age’ philosophies. In the early eighteen hundreds, whilst there were a considerable number of reports of UFOs in the north eastern USA, they were not seen in the context of extra-terrestrial UFOs, and there was no New Age philosophy, but only the strong Christian tradition, already referred to. Smith seems to be a prophet ‘out of time’, creating a story which would be understandable in today’s cultural milieu, but which appears, remarkably, to receive no support from the culture of his own time. Inevitably, this speculation must bring us back to the entities who communicated with Smith, by his own account, and who provided him with the ‘plates’.
To consider, first, the ‘plates’; it seems unlikely that Smith could have had the golden plates of Moroni manufactured within the community where he lived, even if they were not made of gold. Secondly; it is difficult to deny their existence, considering the affidavits signed by eleven individuals, who stated, unequivocally that they had seen and handled the plates. Granted, three of the witnesses were related to Smith, one being his father, and that subsequently some of the witnesses retracted their statements; although those retractions took place in an atmosphere of feuding and schism. It should be noted that, in the end, though, all the signatories declared the truth of their statements on their death-beds. If the plates did exist, and were not manufactured contemporaneously and in that locality, then the question remains regarding their origin.
Smith’s story, as we already know, was that he dug them up from a hill called Cumorah, the supposed site of the last great battle between the Lamanites and the Nephites (2), according to the book of Mormon. As the history of the book of Mormon is not supported by any evidence available to researchers and historians, it is reasonable to believe that the plates need not have been old, and in fact may have been placed at Cumorah contemporaneously, for the purpose of Smith discovering them. The question then arises as to who placed them there.
The only person with knowledge of the location of the plates was Moroni, the non-Biblical entity referred to earlier. The problem, however, with this solution is that we are thereby forced to accept, to some degree, the reality of Moroni, and by inference, the other entities that Smith claimed to have seen.
(2) The Lamanites and the Nephites were the two nations which, according to the ‘Book of Mormon’, had formed from the original group of Jewish migrants which had travelled to America about 400 BC. Despite the fact that the resurrected Christ appeared to his people in the New World and preached to them, these two nations eventually began a war against one another, which lasted for 200 years. The Nephites were totally destroyed, Moroni being the last of their number, and the Lamanites declined culturally, and eventually evolved into the American Indians, subsequently encountered and subjugated by European colonisers.
The alternative option, however, is to accept that all the bizarre revelations, which Smith received, came from the mind of a poorly educated farm boy. Some commentators would point out, however, that both Hiram and Joseph Smith were involved in Freemasonry, and the teachings and rituals of the ‘craft’ may account for the non-Christian element in Mormon teaching.
Because of the essentially secret nature of Freemasonry, there has always been a certain amount of doubt and confusion about its teachings and practices. From the most generally accepted accounts, though, there is little evidence that ‘run of the mill’ Masonry had any influence on the Smith brothers. Royal Arch Masonry, however, which is the form of Masonry which goes beyond the Third Degree of ordinary Masonry, may have some tenuous links with Mormonism.
Royal Arch Masonry appears to have originated around the middle of the eighteenth century, the first recorded Lodge being the Stirling Rock Royal Arch Lodge, in Scotland, in 1743. There are records existing that indicate that a Royal Arch Lodge existed at Fredericksberg, Virginia in 1753, so that by the early eighteen hundreds Royal Arch Masonry would have been sufficiently established on the East Coast of the USA for Joseph and Hiram Smith to been aware of its existence. As Royal Arch Masonry is only available to Master Masons, Joseph Smith could only have become a Royal Arch Mason after 1842, two years before his death. Any information, therefore, concerning the rituals and teachings of Royal Arch Masonry could only have come from Hiram Smith, Hyram’s colleagues in Masonry, who may also have known Joseph, or books available to Joseph detailing such rituals and teachings. Now the oaths and resulting penalties associated in Freemasonry with revealing the secrets of the craft are sufficiently well known not to require repeating. It is, therefore, very unlikely, particularly at that time, that Joseph Smith would have had access to, or knowledge of the doctrines of Royal Arch Masonry.
It is worth noting however that Royal Arch Masons were aware of the name Elohim, as a title for God, although they did not use it in their rituals. Additionally, the main concepts of Royal Arch Masonry centre around events associated with, and descriptions of the Jerusalem Temple (3), and Mormonism is pervaded with the necessity of Temple ritual. Equally Mormon Temple ceremonies involve the wearing of robes, as do some Royal Arch ceremonies, unlike ordinary Masonic ritual. Mormons also wear ‘aprons’, during Temple ceremonies, as do Masons, but unlike Masonic aprons, which represent the stone masons working dress, Mormon ‘aprons’, usually embroidered with green fig leaves, represent man’s primaeval fall, and awareness of sin.
(3) The first Jewish Temple was a portable structure, described in detail in the books of Exodus and Leviticus, in the Old Testament. Basically it was a Tent designed to accommodate the Ark of the Covenant and other associated ritual objects, such as the altar of incense etc. The Ark was, and maybe is, a mysterious object, partly a receptacle for the Tablets of the Law, ‘graven by the Hand of God’, and partly a Throne, upon which the Shekina (Glory) of the Lord would descend, and from which the voice of God would speak to His High Priest. Anyone, other than the High Priest, who touched the Ark would be instantly killed, and for that reason the priests carried the Ark, when it was transported, on long poles, which slotted along its sides. David, the Jews first King wished to build a permanent Temple for the Ark but, because of his sinfulness, was not permitted to by God. The task was left to his son Solomon. A detailed description of the building is given in First Kings and Second Chronicles. This, the First Temple, was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC. Prior to the destruction, the Ark was hidden, probably in the Judean Hills, where it may still await discovery.
The Second Temple was was built after the Jews returned from their exile in Babylon in 537 BC. Because the Ark was never recovered, the Holy of Holies lay empty, and over the years, particularly during the Hellenistic, Seleucid and Hasmonean eras, the Temple gradually decayed. In 19 BC Herod, the Roman client King of Judea, pulled down the Second Temple and began building the Third, and last, Temple. Work on the Temple continued until 64 AD. In 70 AD the Temple was finally destroyed by the Romans.
In the original Jewish Temple, and the two rebuilt Temples, the Holy of Holies was separated from the remainder of the building by a veil. In similar fashion, Royal Arch Masonry has rituals involving a veil, and a dividing veil was a prominent feature of the Mormon Temple at Nauvoo, and all subsequent Mormon Temples.
Fascinating as these correspondences are, though, they are not really significant when one considers that the creators of Royal Arch Masonry and Joseph Smith were working from the same source material, namely the various scriptural descriptions of the Jerusalem Temple.
We are still left, then, with the question of the source of Joseph Smiths strangely non-Christian doctrines. These doctrines, of course, are not unique to Mormonism. All the specifically non-Christian doctrines which Smith taught are to be found, initially, in Gnosticism.
Gnosticism is a religious and philosophical system whose origins are difficult to identify. The system contains elements which derive from the religious beliefs and practices of the Ancient Egyptians, as well as the Jews and other ancient Semitic groups.
The word Gnosticism derives from the Greek word gnosis; meaning knowledge. The main thrust of the Gnostic argument was that salvation could only be attained by possessing a certain secret knowledge. Like Joseph Smith, who was seeking an answer to his existential dilemma, so also, Gnosticism offered to the people of the Ancient World answers to similar dilemmas. Both Gnosticism and Mormonism offer salvation through knowledge of the divine plan, rather than through a relationship with the divine being.
One of the problems in describing Gnosticism is the simple fact that it is probably the most amorphous of all religious philosophies. The most widely known form of Gnosticism is Christian Gnosticism, and while orthodox Christians have always condemned it as a heresy, many commentators would suggest that so called ‘orthodox’ Christianity is in fact a product of Christian Gnosticism, created by the ‘apostle’ Paul (4), who was, himself, steeped in Gnostic and Hellenistic religion and philosophy. It has therefore been argued that, if Jesus of Nazareth had returned to earth any time since the end of the First Century AD he would have had great difficulty in recognising the Christian Church as having any connection with the teachings and ideas which he espoused.
True Gnosticism existed long before the existence of that Jewish sect, which broke away from Pharisaic tradition, under the influence of the Apocalyptic teachings of one Jesus of Nazareth, and which was later known as Christian Church. Gnosticism, in its original form was, undoubtedly, the result of the immense social and cultural upheavals caused by the creation, and subsequent disintegration of the vast Hellenistic Empire created by Alexander the Great.
Whilst Gnosticism answers an existential need, it also provides a speculative metaphysic of some considerable complexity. Gnosticism itself may be clothed in the trappings of almost any culture; its elements bearing the names and symbolism redolent of that particular place and time, whether it be Egyptian, Greek, Syrian or some syncretic amalgam of all or some.
(4) Saul of Tarsus, who, after his conversion to Christianity changed his name from the Hebrew, Saul, to the Roman, Paul, was the son of a wealthy Jewish family. He had received a Pharisaic and Classical education, which resulted in him being familiar with both Jewish Gnostic inspired literature and Classical philosophy, including that of Plato and the Stoics. Although referred to as an ‘Apostle’ by the church, he was not, strictly speaking entitled to that appellation, which was only given to those who had ‘known Jesus in the flesh’, and had been chosen by him at the beginning of his public ministry. Paul, undoubtedly, changed the ‘Followers of the Way’, as they were known, from an Apocalyptic Jewish Sect into members of a Hellenistic Mystery Religion.
Gnosticism is essentially monotheistic, although initial and cursory inspection might not immediately reveal this. All Gnostic systems posit the existence of One Supreme Being, usually conceived of as ‘unknowable’, if that is not a contradiction in terms. Being ‘unknowable’ this Ultimate Being is, seemingly, utterly divorced from material reality, which is brought into existence by a being, or beings, either created by, or emanating from the Ultimate Being.
This creative being is known as a Demiurge, from the Greek for craftsman, and is the equivalent of the non-Gnostic’s concept of God. The Demiurge or Demiurges, if the system requires a plurality, creates the Universe and all other existent beings.
Between the Demiurge, sometimes also known as the Logos, and man lie numerous other beings, who act as guardians, maintaining a necessary separation between the human and the Divine. These Guardians are usually referred to as Aeons, and they are generally allotted, one to each planetary sphere, between the earth and the Heaven of the Demiurge. In addition to the Aeons there are Guardian Spirits for each of the Races of Man, and other Guardians for each of the Nations.
At a lower level there are Elemental Spirits; that is entities comprising of only one of the four elements, Earth, Air, Fire and Water, unlike human beings, who are composed of an equal mixing of all the elements. The lesser forms of the elementals are considered to act on behalf of the Demiurge, creating and maintaining the various aspects of creation, according to their elemental natures, i.e. earth spirits with regard to vegetation, water spirits with regard to the seas, rivers and lakes etc.
This rather involved metaphysical structure sets the scene, but the crux of the matter lies in the Gnostic teaching about salvation; the existential relationship between the Cosmos and Man.
Man’s origins are held by Gnostics to lie in the Heaven of the Demiurge or Logos (5). This idea echoes the doctrine of the Theory of Forms, proposed by Plato in the ‘Republic’, and in certain other of the ‘Dialogues’. From this perfect world man descends through the planetary spheres, into the world of imperfection and matter. Man’s life is held to be a probationary period, and when it ends, if the divine spark of the spirit is still viable, it will attempt to return, through the planetary spheres, to its original home. The planetary spheres, however, are guarded by the Aeons (6), who will not permit the ascent of the soul. The ‘Gnosis’ consists, therefore, apart from the metaphysic presented so far, in the signs and passwords which will enable the soul to pass the guardians of the spheres. Each planetary sphere constitutes a heaven, or more precisely a celestial realm, and while on earth, the degree of an individuals initiation will indicate the highest sphere to which he can ascend after death. Salvation is, therefore, not an absolute, but is rather dependant on the level of Gnosis achieved in life.
(5) Logos is a Greek word translated variously as ‘word’, ‘speech’ or ‘reason’. The term was used by numerous Greek philosophers to describe the universal principle of reason, which they believed resided in man. The Hellenised Jewish writer, Philo, introduced the word into Gnostic terminology when he referred to the Logos as God’s agent in creation, and an intermediary between God and Man. The most well known use of the term is to be found in the prologue to the Fourth Gospel. John’s Gospel derives much of its flavour from Gnostic thought, which was very prevalent at the time. In John’s Gospel Jesus of Nazareth is referred to as the Logos, thus wresting him from his Jewish origins and re-creating him as a Gnostic Demiurge.
(6) Because of the limitations of their astronomy, the Ancients only recognised seven planetary spheres, or heavens. Paul of Tarsus, in his ‘Second Letter to the Corinthians’ states that a man was ‘caught up into the third heaven’, that is the third planetary sphere. This passage demonstrates how Gnostic ideas had thoroughly infiltrated the Early Church by the middle of the First Century, and even today we have the popular phrase ‘seventh heaven’, which derives from the ancient Gnostic tradition.
This is undoubtedly a powerful and influential system, which informed almost all Classical religion and philosophy, and by way of the Seleucid hegemony of Palestine in the Second Century BC, influenced the Hasidim, and subsequently the Essenes and Pharisees, and through them the evolving Christian Church. Despite the fact that Gnosticism was repeatedly condemned by the Christian Church, by the very fact that the antecedents of the Church, in the form of the Jewish sects previously referred to, were riddled with Gnostic thought it was inevitable that some Gnostic ideas were to become part of the common currency of Western culture. In addition the rediscovery of Classical learning, after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, a process usually referred to as the Renaissance, brought a second stream of Gnostic ideas into the West, in the form of Neo-Platonism (7) which formed the basis of many later Occult investigations and developments.
It is easy to see the connections between Joseph Smith’s ideas and the Gnostic system. Both see the Ultimate Being as ‘outside creation’. Both posit the existence of a Demiurgic creator God, with ‘special responsibility’ for this planet. Many of the Mormon Temple ceremonies involve the ritual revealing of esoteric signs and passwords which will enable the aspiring Mormon to pass through the planetary spheres in order to reach the seventh Celestial Sphere which contains the star Kolob and the celestial realm of Elohim. Smith also taught a plurality of ‘Gods’. and this, again, is consistent with Gnosticism.
Is Mormonism, then, just another resurgence of that ancient ‘heresy’ Gnosticism ? Orthodox Christians would say ‘yes’, while strongly denying that their form of Christianity had any Gnostic elements in it at all. Apart from the latter proposition, they would undoubtedly be right; Mormonism is an awkward amalgam of Protestant Christianity, Americanism and Gnosticism. The Protestant element is easily accounted for by reference to Smith’s religious and cultural environment.
The Americanism is evident in the spurious ‘history’ of America provided by the ‘Book of Mormon’. Such a phenomena is well known in situations where a national identity has been suddenly acquired, rather than developing over the centuries. Germany is an example. The creation of a German nation demanded a German identity, which people like Wagner were eager to provide. Yeates performed a similar service for the Celts. Unlike Smith, however, Wagner and Yeates had a legitimate mythology to develop. Smith’s tales of ancient America, unfortunately do not bear scrutiny, probably because Smith himself did not have the imagination or depth of learning which would be required for such a daunting task.
Finally, the Gnostic element raises a fundamental question. It is difficult enough, today, to obtain material detailing the belief and philosophy of the Gnostics. Much of this information has only become available during the present century as a result of excavations such as those at the Wadi Qumran and Nag Hammadi, and the subsequent translation and resulting interpretation of the documents found. Such information was definitely not available to Joseph Smith, who was then living in the little town of Palmyra, in New York State in the eighteen-twenties.
(7) Neo-Platonism was a philosophical and religious system which, for intellectuals, rivalled Christianity between the Third and Fifth Centuries. Expounded most eloquently by Plotinus, it derived its initial ideas from the writings of Plato, and added to them other elements, mostly of Gnostic origin. Primarily a speculative and contemplative system, it fell into decline with the collapse of the Classical world following the Barbarian invasions.
That the Gnostic element was the product of his own imagination is equally unlikely. We have already noted that the ‘Book of Mormon’ is a dull, and almost unreadable pastiche of the Old Testament, probably as much the work of Cowdery as of Smith. Undoubtedly, as stated before, there were ‘plates’, but whether Smith and Cowdery were able to translate (8) them with any accuracy, if at all, remains an open question. This would indicate that Smith’s ability as a creative theologian and philosopher was at the level one would expect from a relatively uneducated, provincial farm boy. And yet the most significant part of Mormon doctrine is an almost ‘blow by blow’ recreation of fundamental Gnostic beliefs, with an unknown star system added in for good measure.
Equally, the Gnostic elements were absolutely contrary to everything that Smith had been brought up to believe from childhood. These elements preached a pagan polytheism as opposed to a Christian monotheism; an immoral and sinful polygamy as opposed to a Christian monogamy and a heretical ‘salvation through knowledge’ as opposed to the Protestant teaching of ‘justification through faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice’. How Smith, a believing and committed Christian, came, in the first instance, to conceive of these ideas, and to subsequently disseminate them is an outstanding enigma.
Fundamentalist Christians would undoubtedly suggest that Smith had been taken over by ‘the Deceiver’. A similar, but less extreme solution would be that this may have been a case of clairvoyance or ‘channelling’.
Something or someone appears to have been using Smith to convey certain, somewhat strange, ideas. The obvious choice is, of course, Moroni. Undoubtedly, like most other contacts and ‘spirit guides’, ‘Moroni’ was a suitable identity for the intelligence that was making contact, and it was an identity which Smith could subsequently work into his Biblically influenced, turgid tale of pre-colonial America.
If this is the solution to the strange case of Joseph Smith; American farm boy turned Prophet, High Priest, Author, Mayor and Military leader (9), and finally Martyr, then it joins Smith to an ever growing band of individuals who had been guided, changed, used or abused; and whose influence has, on occasions, changed the course of history.
(8) Smith maintained along with the the plates buried at Cumorah were two stones, which were called ‘Urim’ and ‘Thummin’, and a breastplate. These stones were apparently used by Smith to enable him to translate the plates. When Smith translated, he did so from behind a curtain, and therefore we have no knowledge of how he used the stones, or to what use, if any, the breastplate was put. Significantly, no mention of the stones or the breastplate is made in the affidavits relating to the plates. It is interesting to note that in 1826, Smith was convicted and imprisoned for a short time for ‘glass looking’; scrying, in other words. Apparently he claimed to have a magic stone which, when he peered at it, showed him where money or treasure was hidden. Oddly, this is one year before he claimed he recovered the plates, stones and breastplate from Cumorah, while it is three years after his initial discovery of them.
The stones were not, surprisingly, an invention of either Moroni or Smith. There is evidence for such stones having actually existed. The stones are first mentioned in the book of ‘Exodus’ and are described as stones, worn on the shoulders of the High Priest, as part of the harness supporting the ‘Breastplate’ bearing the twelve stones or jewels,which supposedly represented the Twelve Tribes of Israel. These two stones were believed to indicate the will of God by emitting light. The last occasion on which they were seen was during the Seleucid period, and there is documentary evidence that independent Greek witnesses saw the stones emit a substantial light on that occasion. Subsequently, the stones ceased to function, indicating that the Lord was no longer prepared to speak to his people. It was generally believed that this was because of the failure of the Aaronic Priesthood, and this was held to be a major cause of the crisis in the Jewish religion which brought about the development of such sects as the Pharisees, Essenes, and the followers of Jesus. The stones, which formed part of the Temple Treasure, were seized by the Romans in 70 AD, when they destroyed the Temple, and were taken back to Rome, with other items from the Temple treasury. At this point the stones disappear from history. Smith and the Mormons offer no explanation as to how they became buried in the Hill at Cumorah.
(9) Smith became Mayor of Nauvoo, and at the same time was Lieutenant General of the Nauvoo Legion, which he used to suppress opposition to his view; an action which resulted in his arrest by the State Authorities and subsequent lynching.
Examples of Mormon Temples
The Spirits Awake
The title of this chapter is a combination of parts of two book titles. Both of these books are practically unobtainable today, despite having been exceptionally influential in their own times. The fist book is ‘The Myth of the Twentieth Century’ by Alfred Rosenberg (1). The other book, equally influential when published, yet hardly read now is Houston Stewart Chamberlain’s (2) ‘The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century’.
The ‘myths’ which we shall consider now, however, do not yet correspond in detail to those of which Rosenberg wrote, for, of course, we are still in nineteenth century of Chamberlain.
To rejoin our story we must return to New York State, a mere ten miles from where Joseph Smith was born, at about the time when Joseph Smith’s career was reaching its violent climax.
The Fox family lived in a small town called Hydesville, a small town near Rochester, that was almost identical to town in which Joseph Smith had been nurtured. James D Fox,was a poorly educated, Methodist farmer, barely scraping together a living, who occupied a small wooden framed house with his wife, Margaret and their two daughters, Margaretta, aged 14 and Kate, aged 12. The previous tenant of the house, Michael Weekman, had suffered from odd, unexplained noises, and when the Fox’s moved in they were similarly effected. They thought little of it, however, until, one night in March,1848, Kate suggested that the noises should imitate the rhythms of her clicking fingers. Much to the family’s surprise the knocks followed suite, giving every sign of independent intelligence. It was not long before a code had been established, and the rapping phenomena had indicated that it was controlled by the spirit of a certain Charles B Rosma, who had been murdered in that very house some five years earlier.
In a very short time the girls became local celebrities, and were the subject of much speculation and investigation. One important fact that was noted was that whenever the sisters were absent from the house, no phenomena occurred. It was decide, therefore to separate the girls; Kate stayed with here elder sister, Leah, in Rochester, and Margaretta stayed with her brother, David, in Auburn. The phenomena, however, occurred in both the houses at which the girls were staying. Surprisingly, a haunting phenomena, as opposed to a poltergeist phenomena, began at the Fox’s home in Hydesville. Awful gurgling noises and the sound of a body being dragged across the floor terrified James and Margaret Fox, and were witnessed by their neighbours and friends. It was not until 1904 that a wall in the cellar of the house collapsed, and the remains of a body were discovered along with certain items associating it with Charles Rosma. Eventually the Fox family moved to Rochester, but manifestations of the phenomena continued. It was after the move that the spirits proclaimed their message that the Age of the Spirits had dawned, and it was from this time that Spiritualism itself became truly established.
(1) Alfred Rosenberg, 1893-1946. He was born in Russian Estonia and had fought in the Russian Army in the First World War. In 1917 he left Russia for Germany and settled in Munich where he became an associate of Dietrich Eckart and joined the occult organisation, the ‘Thule Gesellschaft’. He became the official ‘philosopher’ of the Nazi party, both before and after Hitler’s rise to power, publishing ‘The Myth of the Twentieth Century’ in 1930.
(2) Houston Stewart Chamberlain. Born in 1855, he was educated abroad. At the age of twenty-seven he moved permanently to Germany. His reputation was made through his major publication, ‘Die Grundlagen des Neunzehnten Jahrhunderts’ [‘The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century’], which sought to encourage a belief in the superiority of the Aryan Race.
It was not until 1888, when the Fox sisters were in their fifties, and both widowed, that they publicly admitted that they had caused these loud knocking noises, or raps, with their toe joints, and for many commentators, both then and now, this has marked the case as fraudulent, and not worth further investigation. The fact that they received $1,500 for making this statement, and that, at the time, both sisters were in considerable debt as a result of their heavy drinking does cast a certain amount of doubt upon their statement. The sisters subsequently said that this had only occurred occasionally, in response to the impossible demands for displays of phenomena which were being made upon them, at that time, by numerous investigators. All other examples of such rapping, they declared, were entirely genuine.(3)
Here we have a similar situation to the withdrawal of Testimony, by Cowdery and others, as a result of intense feuding and schism within the newly created Church, with regard to Smith’s plates, and the subsequent re-avowal of their original position. A little bit of mud always sticks, and has, in both cases, caused continuing problems when attempting to reach an unbiased, yet critical assessment of these matters.
Notwithstanding the doubt over the veracity of the Fox sisters, the North Eastern seaboard of the USA was subsequently deluged with para-normal manifestations, as the story of the Fox sisters spread. It was during this time that the traditional form of spiritualist seances evolved; tables moving musical instruments being played by unseen hands, objects moving or appearing from nowhere. The spirits, it appeared, were sensitive to light, and therefore most seances were held in either complete darkness, or were dimly illuminated by phosphorus covered sheets or slates. The opportunities for fraud, of course were endless. In the Rochester area alone over one hundred mediums set themselves up in the space of one year,1850. A little later the elder Fox sister, Leah, introduced the phenomena of spirit materialization, which was to be the source of much investigation and controversy, which would eventually bring spiritualism into general disrepute.
The Fox sisters had by now taken to touring, somewhat like a vaudeville act, and in Buffalo they were seen by two brothers by the name of Davenport. When they returned home from the seance they too began to experiment with table turning, and eventually became more famous than the Fox sisters.
The contents of the messages received by the sisters, the Davenports and many others, unlike Smith’s communications from Moroni, were unremarkable; some would say trite, apart, that is, from the spirits demand that a new religion of spiritualism be founded, and spread throughout the world. The general consensus was that they were receiving communications from spirits of the dead, who appeared to be mainly concerned with providing some indication of the continuance of identity after death.
About twenty years later, after the Fox sister’s initial experiences, the American Civil War occurred.
Within four years, approximately six hundred and eighteen thousand soldiers killed, along with a considerable number of civilian deaths, Spiritualism, as communication with those who had ‘passed over’ was now called, became an essential solace for many of those left grieving.
As the century progressed, literacy, cheap books, and improvements in communications, combined with the decay of traditional communities and values, as people moved into the more affluent cities, speeded the dissemination of new ideas, including Spiritualism. Soon the spiritualist ‘Gospel’ was spreading across the Atlantic to Britain and Europe, as Ouija boards, planchettes, table-turning and seances became fashionable and ‘smart’.
(3) As the Fox sisters were restrained in every way when communicating with spirit entities, it provides an interesting and informative experiment to try and produce loud knocking or rapping sound by moving ones toe joints. The author and publishers, however, cannot beheld responsible for any injury readers may sustain whilst attempting to reproduce such phenomena.
In 1882, in England, the Society for Psychical Research was set up by Myers and Sidgwick, with the intention of scientifically examining the claims of Spiritualists. Among those who investigated, and subsequently became converted, was the eminent scientist, William Crookes (4), and the famous novelist, Sir Arthur Connan Doyle (5).
Whilst Nietzsche was announcing that God was dead, the ‘spirits’ were waking, and were on the march in countless church halls, suburban sitting rooms, and even in the salons of the rich. The New century was bringing with it new phenomena and a awareness, the origins of which were shrouded in mystery. What the ‘spirits’ told them most people took at face value, like sleepwalkers, stepping into the unknown.
(4) Professor William Crookes OM, Fellow of the Royal Society, President of the British Association of Science, 1832-1919. British scientist, known for his discovery of the element Thallium in 1861, the radiometer in 1875 and the vacuum tube, used in x-ray technology and the precursor of the cathode ray tube, which forms the essential component of televisions and VDUs. He was awarded the Order of Merit in 1910.
(5) Sir Arthur Connan Doyle, 1859-1930. Born in Edinburgh,he later qualified as a doctor, and served in South Africa during the Boer War. He is most well known for his Sherlock Holmes books, the first of which appeared in 1887. He also wrote adventure stories, along with early examples of the science fiction genre.
In 1917 Doyle was involved in an investigation of a number of photographs which claimed to show images of ‘fairies’.The photos had been taken by two young girls, using a ‘Midg’ camera. The plates were developed by their father, who was an amateur photographer. The material was sent to the ‘Kodak’ laboratories in London. Whilst the company was not prepared to state that the photos were genuine, they equally were unable to find any evidence of fraud. Critics of the photographs have pointed out that the fairies in the picture appear to be wearing contemporary fashions and are similar to depictions of fairies appearing on certain advertising material which was popular at that time. As recently as 1970, however, the Wright sisters have maintained that the photographs were genuine.
Perhaps the strongest evidence for their authenticity is to be found in the blurring of the extremities of certain figures, which indicates that they are in movement, as the figure’s positions would suggest. Whilst such an effect would be easily produced with today’s sophisticated air-brush, or computer techniques, it would be virtually impossible to create in 1917. As with many of these phenomena, we have a juxtaposing of absurdity, as in the fashionable appearance of the fairies, contrasted with the unexplainable, in terms of the apparent genuineness of the figure’s apparent movement, and we are left, unable to judge one way or another. In 1922, Doyle published ‘The Coming of the Fairies’ [London; Hodder and Stoughton], which describes the circumstances surrounding this baffling case, and contains reproductions of the photographs in question.
Helena Hahn was born in the Ukraine on 12th August, 1831, about ten years after Joseph Smith had his first brush with Moroni. Her father was Colonel Peter von Hahn, & her mother, Helena de Fadeef was a well known novelist & daughter of Princes Elena Dolgorukov. Helena’s mother died when she was eleven & she was thereafter brought up in her grandmother’s house. She was an exceptional child, learning Greek & Latin from her grandmother. She painted & played had an above average talent at the piano. As a young girl, she also reported being able to see various entities and indulged in ‘automatic writing’.
She was married to Nikifor V Blavatsky, an Imperial Civil Servant, in her late teens. Blavatsky was middle-aged and the marriage, which was never consummated, soon ended. Shortly after the marriage Helena left him and, with her father’s financial support, made her way around Europe, acting as a paid companion for successive wealthy ladies. In 1851 she was in London, at the Great Exhibition, & it was at this time that she first met the mysterious ‘Master Morya’, in Hyde Park of all places. Subsequently she claims to have developed powerful mediumistic powers and later met the renowned American spiritualist medium Daniel Douglas Home. As a result of his encouragement and advice she decided to travel to America.
In 1873 America was still an under-populated continent, the white Americans having efficiently exterminated, with a few exceptions, the native population. The American Government was calling out for people to emigrate, and there were many, like Helena, who were only too willing to heed the call, to settle in the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave’.
After a short while she found her feet, meeting, and shortly afterwards, marrying a newspaper reporter called Colonel Henry S Olcott. After two years of marriage, feeling that she was now financially secure, she set about establishing the Theosophical Society, with Olcott’s money. Success was slow in arriving. Two years later, however, she published ‘Isis Unveiled’ (1), which she declared had been produced by automatic writing, and as a result of the book’s astounding success, Theosophy took off.
The published aim of the Society was the study of hidden wisdom or knowledge; what the Greeks would have called Gnosis. The Olcotts, not satisfied with the success which Theosophy had generated in America, set sail, lock, stock and barrel, in 1878, for India. In India they met, surprisingly perhaps, with an even greater success than that which they had achieved in America. Everything went very well until 1884 when Richard Hodgeson was sent by the Society of Psychical research to look into Madame Blavatsky’s claims. The whiff of fraud and scandal, resulting from the investigation of Madame Blavatsky’s more extravagant claims, forced her to return to Europe, where she settled in London, spending her remaining years labouring to complete her final work, ‘The Secret Doctrine’. Shortly after its completion, in 1891, she died of heart disease, at the age of sixty.
Madame Blavatsky’s life, like Joseph Smith’s, was not entirely edifying, and we will find this a recurring factor in the lives of many of the individuals described in this study. Her significance and importance lies in her writings and teachings, rather than in her personality, which was not attractive. Her two main claims to fame are the books published in 1877 and 1888, respectively. The first, previously mentioned, was ‘Isis Unveiled’ followed ten years later by ‘The Secret Doctrine’.
(1) Isis is a goddess of Egyptian origin. She is said to be the daughter of Geb and Nut, [the Earth and Sky], and the sister of Osiris, whom she later married. When Set dismembered Osiris, his brother, Isis searched for this dismembered pieces, and, with the help of Anubis, the God of Embalming, re-animated Osiris. Horus, the son of Isis, subsequently avenged his posthumous father’s death, by killing Set. Osiris was worshipped as God of the under world in classical times, but Isis became the centre of a Gnostic Mystery religion, eventually taking on the aspects and powers of many of the Ancient Gods.
Both are massive works, revealing an amazing breadth of vision, often cogently and at times elegantly expressed. The works belie their author, unlike Smith’s work, which, despite its remarkable substance, is always coarse and lacking in intellectual fines.
Unlike Smith, Madame Blavatsky made no attempt to accommodate Christianity into her thought. Her teaching was influenced by Eastern thought and, of course, Gnosticism, and espoused the doctrines of re-incarnation and karma. In addition, however, she maintained that non-material occult forces existed which the initiated to control would be able to control by virtue of the ‘secret knowledge’ which she taught.
One of her main preoccupations was centred round the belief that certain highly evolved beings existed now, on earth, and could be contacted. These were referred to as the ‘Hidden Masters’; nine in number. Madame Blavatsky, of course, claimed to be in touch with these beings, namely ‘Master Morya’ & ‘Koot Hoomi’, and it was over these claims that the accusations of fraud were initially made. As in the case of Joseph Smith, and also many of the later cases we shall consider, Madame Blavatsky was initially the recipient of penetrating and accurate information, which she claimed originated with these ‘Hidden Masters’, and for which there are few rational explanations. Her books, for example, like Smith’s revelations, go far beyond her own intellectual powers and ability. As in many other cases, however,in time, she appears to have been abandoned by whatever or whoever was providing her with this additional perception and inspiration. With only her own powers to fall back on, she was easy prey for her enemies, although in her case this did not result in a lynching, but rather in her credibility suffering a serious decline.
With regard to man’s origins, Madame Blavatsky taught that there had been five previous Root Races, and that the Aryans are the purest of the Fifth Root Race, while the Negro is the most debased. The Jews, she claimed were a degenerate link between the Fourth and Fifth Root Races. Finally, she suggested that the Races of man were, at various times manipulated by beings from the stars. Whilst much of her Hindu inspired teaching failed to gain a prolonged acceptance, her occult teachings about race were to become remarkably influential as the years passed.
After Madame Blavatsky’s death the Theosophical Society was taken over by Anna Kingsford and Edward Maitland, and then later taken over by Annie Bessant and C W Leadbeater. The last two managed to conjure up a modern-day messiah, in the person of Jiddu Krishnamutri, who eventually felt obliged to ‘blow the whistle’ on the whole affair by repudiating his role, with the result that the movement was discredited and suffered a further decline from which it has never fully recovered.
While all these ideas can easily be dismissed as so much ‘mumbo jumbo’. there are correspondences between Blavatsky’s teachings and those of Joseph Smith. It may, of course, be argued that Madame Blavatsky spent some time in New York City, close to the birth place of Joseph Smith. While that is true, it should be noted that by the time Madame Blavatsky had arrived in New York, Mormonism, and every living Mormon,had been forcibly removed from New York State at least thirty years previously. The Mormons, at the time of Madame Blavatsky’s short sojourn in America were thousands of miles away in Utah, in self imposed exile. Equally few books on Mormonism, if any, were published in the Eastern States, and those that may have been would have made little reference to the secret Temple doctrines which Theosophy, in some strange way, shares with Mormonism.
That there are links between the two systems is beyond doubt, although those links cannot be shown to exist in any cultural or academic manner. Were Koot Hoomi, Morya & Moroni linked in any way ? Were Blavatsky & Smith snared by the same intelligence ? If they were they were not the first & undoubtedly not the last.
The Rise of the Occult
Theosophy was but one manifestation of the continuing growth of interest in the occult which developed throughout the nineteenth century. The occult teaching of Madame Blavatsky was inspired, to some degree, by the religious philosophies of the East, but there was an Occidental tradition as well, which had an even greater level of correspondence with the resurrected Gnosticism of Joseph Smith.
The Occidental tradition has its origins in the remnants of Gnostic teaching which had survived the destruction of the Classical world, combined with the traditions from the Jewish Kabala (1), Medieval ceremonial magic and the rituals of Freemasonry. This tradition was revitalized by Alphonse Louis Constant; better known as Eliphas Levi.
Levi was a failed Catholic Priest, who later became a left-wing journalist, before turning to the Occult. In 1852, through an association with a mysterious individual called Wronski, who claimed to be of the Polish nobility, he became involved in the study of ceremonial magic. In 1856 he completed the publication of ‘The Ritual and Doctrine of High Magic’, which was followed later by ‘The Key of the Mysteries’ and ‘The History of Magic’. His writings were studied in France particularly, where they had an important influence on the emergence of ‘fin-de-siecle’ culture, but were also read widely in the rest of Europe and England, in translation. Levi died in 1875, two years before the publication of Madame Blavatsky’s ‘Isis Unveiled’.
In England, the most vociferous exponent of this new dawn of the occult was the writer, Bulwer-Lytton. Born in 1803, in London, he was publicly honoured for his services to literature by being raised to the Peerage, as Baron Lytton of Knebworth. Not surprisingly, he was a friend of such respectable Victorian figures as Charles Dickens and Benjamin Disrelli, and pursued a highly successful literary career, until his death in 1873. Like Joseph Smith, he was a Master Freemason, but in addition he was also a member of the English Rosicrucian Society (2).
Among Lytton’s works was ‘The Haunted and the Haunters’, in which he paid homage to Eliphas Levi, portraying him as a master of the occult arts. Probably Lytton’s most famous work, however, which was a best-seller in England, was ‘The Last Days of Pompeii’, but this was by no means his most significant book. In terms of influence, ‘The Coming Race’ far outclassed ‘The Last Days of Pompeii’, and had a far greater following, in translation, in Germany rather than England.
(1) The Kabala, (also spelt Kabbalah and Quabalah etc.), is a system of Jewish ceremonial magic which received its most elaborate exposition during the Middle Ages, although its origins lie in the Gnosticism of the last centuries of the pre-Christian era. It teaches that there are ten levels of reality, (seven of which correspond to the Gnostic planetary spheres). The lowest of these levels is the Earthly or material plane. The planes are inter-related, and these relationships are referred to as ‘The Tree of Life’, because their diagrammatic representation brings to mind a schematic representation of a tree. By ritual it is possible to focus the consciousness and will to the extent that a path from the lowest level to the highest may be undertaken, which will awaken in the aspirant those powers to which we have previously referred.
(2) The Rosicrucian Order has its origins in Germany in the Seventeenth Century. The first document relating to this teaching was first circulated in 1610, and was subsequently published four years later under the title ‘The History of the Fraternity of the Meritorious Order of the Rosy Cross’. For a long time the Order was mainly associated with the alchemical search for the ‘universal solvent’ the ‘universal panacea’ and the means of transmuting base metal into gold. The rituals of Rosicrucian Masonry, however, have always contained elements which were strongly associate with the Gnostic and Kabbalistic traditions. It is generally accepted that Rosicrucian teachings have contributed considerably to the development of Freemasonry, and in Lytton’s time the ‘Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia’, founded by Robert Wentworth Little in 1865, was one of the most eminent of the ‘additional degrees’ open to those who had reached the highest degree in speculative craft Masonry. This ‘higher’ order of Masonry provided most of the members of the breakaway movement, known as the ‘Golden Dawn’.
Shortly before Lytton’s death Germany became a single political entity, as a result of the machinations of Prince Otto von Bismarck, the ‘Iron Chancellor’. German intellectuals were eager for a national and cultural identity, which was understandable, but in addition they were looking for a new spiritual dimension upon which to base their rising nationalism.
‘The Coming Race’ describes the discovery of a subterranean civilisation ruled by ‘supermen’; who bear an uncanny resemblance to Madame Blavatsky’s ‘Hidden Masters’ and the supernatural beings encountered by Joseph Smith. The superhuman beings, in Lytton’s book, are described as having developed a super-normal psychic power, known as the ‘vril’, which enabled them to produce phenomena which would normally be described as miraculous. The upshot of this was that this race would eventually take over the Earth.
The word ‘Vril’ is, in fact, an ancient Sanskrit word used to describe the enormous energy which can be made available as the result of the awakening of certain dormant faculties in man. The main ingredient that is required to do this, apparently, is a certain esoteric ‘knowledge’. Whether or not Lytton’s account of the ‘Vril’ was, in his own mind, fictional, the concept was taken up by many occultists in Germany and had far reaching effects. The main protagonist of this concept in Germany was Karl Haushofer, the celebrated professor of Geopolitics, of whom we shall hear further.
Lytton’s stories about the coming race, along with Blavatsky’s doctrine of the ‘Hidden Masters’ had their effect in England, as well as Germany. In the late eighteen hundreds, two gentlemen, who were interested in the occult and Freemasonry,, were Dr. Woodford and Dr. Wynn Westcott, a London coroner. These two respectable gentlemen mysteriously acquired some manuscripts which, they maintained, described certain magical rituals. Along with the manuscripts came the name and address of a certain Anna Sprengel, of Nurnberg. (3) The manuscripts were written in a strange script, which a half-century before would have probably been described as ‘Reformed Egyptian’. Westcott wrote to Anna Sprengel, who replied, informing him that the rituals were associated with a magical group, in Germany, calling itself ‘Die Goldene Dammerung’ (4). Apparently Anna Sprengel, in 1888, authorised Westcott to set up an English branch of the ‘Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn’ in London. At the same time Westcott contacted Samuel Liddel Mathers (5), a somewhat eccentric occult scholar to assist him in fleshing out the contents of the Nurnberg documents to enable them to be used as practical rituals.
(3) Nurnberg (Eng. Nuremberg), a city in Bavaria in southern Germany. The city was immortalized by Richard Wagner in ‘Die Meistersingers’, and was subsequently considered to be the spiritual home of Nazism, being the location of the Party Rallies, which were held there from 1933 until 1938.
(4) This name has always been translated into English as ‘The Golden Dawn’ but it should be noted that ‘dammerung’ can be equally translated as ‘twilight’. A more unequivocal word for ‘dawn’ would have been ‘tagesanbruch’.
(5) Samuel Liddel ‘MacGregor’ Mathers, was born in 1854, the son of a clerk. On leaving school, he became a clerk in his father’s footsteps. At the age of twenty three he became a Freemason, rapidly rising through the craft’s degrees. Through his interest in Masonry he met Wyn Westcott and William Woodford, who introduced him to the Rosicrucian Order.
As with Smith’s ‘tablets’, it is reasonable to accept that the cipher manuscripts existed, as many reputable individuals affirmed that they had seen and handled them. The cipher, however was supposedly cracked by Westcott, or Mathers, or, possibly both of them. How much of the documents they were able to translate, however, is open to question. It is equally possible that Smith was unable to translate the Moroni ‘plates’, and relied on Cowdery’s inventiveness for the stories of pre-colonial America whilst obtaining his doctrines from the mysterious Moroni. Equally Mathers claimed to be in contact with the ‘Hidden Masters’ who may well be the source of the more profound teachings which Mathers ascribed to the ‘Golden Dawn’ manuscript.
In 1891, somewhat conveniently for Westcott and Mathers, Anna Sprengel died, and all contact with the Order in Nurnberg, mysteriously, ceased. Six years later Westcott resigned his position in the order and Mathers became the undisputed leader of the ‘Golden Dawn’ in England.
Despite its impenetrable secrecy, the Order flourished, establishing Temples in Edinburgh, Bradford, Weston-super-Mare and, of course London. Surprisingly, people from all walks of life joined the order, including many individuals of considerable eminence. Such members included W B Yeates (6), Peck (7), Gerald Kelly (8), Moina Bergson (9), Bram Stoker (10) and Arthur Machen (11), along with many lesser luminaries of the time. Among those who were more single minded in their pursuit of the occult were George Cecil Jones, Allan Bennett and, of course, Aleister Crowley.
The ‘Golden Dawn’, in its original charter, had received, according to Westcott and Mathers, only the first five grades of the Order. These were supposedly described in the Nurnberg manuscript. Apparently there were four further grades, which the parent order in Germany refused to hand over. As all communication with the order in had Germany ceased, the ‘Golden Dawn’, in England underwent a crisis, as the rank and file members drifted away in their disappointment.
Faced with the possible dissolution of the order, Mathers was forced to act. In 1892, at a general meeting of the order, Mathers announced that, as a result of certain magical operations, he had been able to contact, not the celestial guardians as expected, but instead the ‘secret chiefs of the Third Order’. Mathers described these secret chiefs in some detail.
To begin with, they were superhuman adepts. They were able to appear in ordinary human form, and therefore either possessed material bodies or were capable of manifesting indistinguishable counterfeits. Mathers stated that he had communicated with them in their ‘human’ form, but on most occasions they had manifested themselves on the Astral Plane.
(6) William Butler Yeates, 1865-1939. Irish poet and leader of the Celtic Revival, of Anglo-Irish descent, he was born in Dublin, the son of a lawyer, turned artist. In 1917 he married Georgie Hyde-Lees, a medium. He was a member of the Irish Senate from 1922-1937, and was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1923. Yeates, himself, eventually became Master of the London Temple.
(7) The Astronomer Royal of Scotland.
(8) Subsequently knighted, he was appointed President of the Royal Academy.
(9) Daughter of the French philosopher Henri Bergson, who was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1928.
(10) Bram Stoker, 1847-1912. Irish novelist who is best remembered for the horror story, ‘Dracula’
(11) Author of ‘The Great God Pan’ and the mysterious ‘Angels of Mons’.
When they had appeared to him on the Astral Plane manner he described them as appearing in symbolic form, with robes and regalia. He made it clear that they were beings of immense power, capable of causing those in their presence to experience feelings of intense physical depression combined with a sense of suffocation and difficulty in breathing.
It is interesting to not that Joseph Smith records in the ‘Pearl of Great Price’ that, after Moroni’s visit to him he was overtaken with extreme lethargy and was unable to do any work on the following day. Equally, mediums who conduct spiritualist seances usually suffer from a period of physical and mental exhaustion after establishing contact with dis-incarnate entities.
The general meeting, to which Mathers made the announcement regarding his contact with the ‘secret chiefs’, voted overwhelmingly that the rituals which Mathers claimed had been revealed to him should be accepted, and so the ‘Golden Dawn’ was able to continue along a path which, it seems, was now being dictated to it from some other source.
Eventually Yeates, Mathers and Crowley clashed and the Order split up into a number of warring factions, riven by scandal and lack of leadership. Its influence faded after the turn of the century, and it was cast away by those who had created it. The question remains, however; who created the ‘Golden Dawn’, which heralded in the golden twilight ?
The Aiwas Manuscript
Possibly the most famous, or rather infamous member of the ‘Golden Dawn’ was Aleister Crowley.
Crowley was born in 1875, at Leamington Spa, in Warwickshire. It was a surprisingly prosaic beginning for someone who was later to be dubbed ‘the wickedest man in the world’.
His father was a wealthy brewer, who also owned numerous ale houses around London. Despite the fact that he had made his fortune from drink, Crowley’s father, and the whole family, for that matter, were members of the Plymouth Brethren, a Christian sect which campaigned vociferously for ‘temperance’, in other words, total abstinence from alcohol (1). Because of the family’s considerable wealth, and despite the reputation of the Brethren for frugality, Crowley was spoilt as a child, while at the same time he rebelled against the stultifying morality of his elders, particularly after the death of his father in 1887.
After a succession of private tutors he eventually went to Cambridge, where he began to write poetry, somewhat in the ‘neo-pagan’ style of Swinburne. On leaving Cambridge he travelled in Russia and northern Europe, taking up professional chess and also mountaineering, which he later pursued in the Alps and the Himalayas. His real interest, though was magic.
In 1898, while on a climbing holiday in the Alps, Crowley met a certain Julian L Baker. On his return to London Baker introduced Crowley to George Cecil Jones, who told Crowley about the ‘Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn’, which had been established ten years earlier. Crowley, subsequently joined the order and made rapid progress through the various grades. Shortly after Crowley became involved with the Order, a long running dispute between Mathers and Yeates erupted, and Crowley took Mather’s part. The argument caused irreparable damage to the Order, which proceeded to fragment in bitterly opposed factions. In response to the collapse of the ‘Golden Dawn’, which Crowley had hoped to lead, he set up his own magical Order in 1907; the ‘Argenteum Astrum’; the ‘Silver Star’.
Three years earlier, Crowley had married Gerald Kelly’s sister, Rose. Theirs had been a whirlwind romance, followed by an equally hectic tour of the Orient. Whilst in Egypt, Crowley and his wife spent a night in the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid at Gizeh. Exhibiting his usual recklessness, he proceeded to read the introductory invocation from the ‘Goetia’. According to Crowley, this resulted in the windowless chamber being filled with a pale lilac phosphorescence, which Crowley identified as the ‘astral light’. No further manifestations occurred however, and by Crowley’s standards the incident could hardly have been described as a success.
On their return journey, the ‘honeymooners’ returned to Egypt, renting a flat in Cairo. There they spent many happy hours conjuring up sylphs and other such entities. By this time Rose was showing signs that she had mediumistic powers, regularly drifting into trance-like states.
(1) The Plymouth Brethren were founded in 1827 by the Reverend John Nelson Darby, in Dublin. They are extreme Protestant Fundamentalists, believing in the absolute truth of scripture. They are violently opposed to gambling, drink, any form of entertainment or frivolity, and condemn any sexual activity not associated with procreation or within the bounds of matrimony. In 1848 the movement split into ‘Open’ and ‘Close’ brethren. The ‘Close Brethren’ do not allow themselves any contact with those outside their sect. Crowley’s father belonged to the ‘Open Brethren’.
In these states she kept repeating a message, presumably from some spirit entity, indicating that Crowley had ‘offended Horus’. Initially, Crowley did not put much store by these manifestations, but when Rose insisted that he should invoke ‘Horus’, and proceeded to describe to him the form of the invocation, Crowley changed his mind.
Rose took Crowley to the Boulak Museum, close to their flat, and showed him a stele, on which was an image of the God Horus, along with certain pertinent inscriptions. Rose, in a state of trance, told Crowley that ‘they are waiting for you’, and, as a result, Crowley became convinced that the ‘Secret Chiefs’ were attempting to contact him. He therefore proceeded to make the appropriate invocation on the night of March 19th, 1904. Rose acted as the mouthpiece of the God and informed Crowley that ‘the Equinox of the Gods’ was imminent, bringing with it a new epoch in human History. Much to Crowley’s satisfaction he was also told that he had been chosen as the intermediary between the Gods and mankind.
According to Rose these messages came from an entity called Aiwas. The final message, mediated via Rose, told Crowley to go to his study, at midday, on the 8th, 9th and 10th of April and write down all that he heard. Crowley obeyed and the results of those sessions in his study emerged as ‘The Book of the Law’ (‘Liber al vel Legis’).
The book takes the form of a long prose-poem, which has been variously described as a literary masterpiece; a pathetic Swinburnian fin-de-siecle parody, and most points between.
The origins of the work are, not surprisingly, also the topic of considerable debate and dispute. The most obvious view is that Crowley, seeking to outmanoeuvre Mathers, and all other prominent occultists, for that matter, decided to cobble together some of his own ideas, passing them off as a definitive communication from the ‘Secret Chiefs’ or ‘Unknown Supermen’.
This would undoubtedly account for the considerable similarity between the purple prose of Aiwas, and the equally mannered poetry which Crowley had been publishing, unsuccessfully, since his youth.
This assessment, however, does not fit in with the odd fact that Crowley lost the ‘Aiwas Manuscript’ soon after he had ‘written’ it, and on recovering it, at a later date, proceeded to loose it again. The fact that this happened a number of times, along with written evidence, from Crowley, that he was both embarrassed and disturbed by the Manuscript’s contents, appear to weaken this initial argument.
A less jaundiced view suggests that ‘The Book of the Law’ is, in fact, a product of Crowley’s subconscious, and that Aiwas is a mask behind which Crowley can hide. Such a view would imply that subconsciously he was still afraid of censure from his Puritanical superego, created in the course of his Plymouth Brethren youth, and it was for this reason that the manuscript mysteriously ‘disappeared’ on a number of occasions.
This argument is persuasive; but still leaves a last, and possibly least welcome proposition. This view would suggest that such an entity as Aiwas existed, indeed may still exist. Equally such a proposition would suggest that this entity telepathically communicated with Crowley, in a similar manner to which it would have communicated with Rose, and communicated to Crowley certain ideas which, because they would have to pass through Crowley’s thought processes, would, inevitably, be expressed in terms of Crowley’s own inimitable style.
In contrast to many biographers of, and commentators on Crowley, there are some who would suggest that the contents of ‘The Book of the Law’ are far from commonplace or trite. The central themes are remarkably fresh, and have about them the ambience of a New Age, the ‘Age of Horus’ which Aiwas so emphatically ushers in.
That that ‘New Age’ looks to many of us, now, like a faded sepia vision is no fault of Crowley’s, for in its time his vision, the vision of Aiwas, would lead to a public outcry which would charge Crowley, in all seriousness, with being the ‘Wickedest Man in the World’, whilst politicians and generals, responsible for the pointless slaughter of millions, would be feted and honoured the world over.
To what extent did the revelations of Aiwas have any bearing upon, or correspondence with the revelations given by Moroni to Joseph Smith, or the spiritualist revelations of the Fox sisters or Madame Blavatsky’s messages from ‘the Nine’ ?
Smith’s revelations came encoded in Biblical pastiches; the Fox sisters received messages which were as trite as the gossip of teenage girls; Madame Blavatsky’s ‘Isis Unveiled’ is, antithetically, ‘veiled’ in Oriental philosophy and Crowley is given a message from Aiwas which is particularly suited to the dawning new age. Each message partakes, not surprisingly, of its time and its herald, but within each there runs a similar theme.
The most surprising correspondence between the Aiwas manuscript and Joseph Smith’s teachings is the Egyptian connection. The Gnosticism which pervades Smith’s Temple doctrines and Freemasonry is mirrored in the equinox of the Gods which refers to Osiris, the brother of Isis, and Horus. Both systems involve Gnostic symbolism. Equally the deification of man, and the overturning of certain accepted moral values are to be found both in the teachings of Smith and the teachings of Aiwas.
The message of Aiwas, while clothed in flowing language and metaphor, was sufficiently ‘contemporary’ to be able to be presented in a series of ‘headlines’ or ‘slogans’ which Crowley would continue repeating, until the end of his life, and which would then re-emerge in the counter-culture of the Sixties.
The Equinox of the Gods was the end of one age, the Age of Osiris, the resurrected God; and the opening of the New Age of Horus, the son of Osiris. Horus (Horos) is represented as a falcon or hawk, or as a young man, dressed in a white loincloth, with a falcon’s head. He is the God of the sky, and is also often given Solar attributes. Horus is not, as some commentators have suggested, a God of war. The throne of Egypt, upon which the Pharos of the many dynasties sat, was known as the Horus Throne, the back of which took the form of a huge golden falcon, representing the power and might of Egypt and her ancient Gods.
This new age required a new morality which Aiwas carefully enunciated. The first precept of this new age was, ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law’. What thou wilt, here stands for the ‘true will’, and is not, as has often been thought, a libertine’s charter. The problem, of course, lies in establishing what is the ‘true will’, and it would perhaps make, at this point, an interesting exercise for the reader.
The second commandment of the new age is, ‘Love is he Law, Love under Will’. Often, probably wilfully, misinterpreted by both the guardians of morality, ever since Crowley penned the words, and the proponents of ‘free love’ from the sixties onwards, this commandment, too, requires greater discipline than one might imagine.
The will referred to, again. of course, is the ‘true will’, and love is the creative principle, and not simply its physical expression.
The third ‘slogan’ is not a commandment but rather an affirmation. ‘Every man and every woman is a star’. It is interesting that Crowley published this statement at the very time that the concept of the media ‘star’ was coming to birth. The affirmation indicates that every human being is unique, holding within themselves the vast, divine potential of the ‘true will’.
Aiwas concluded with the contention that ‘the word of Sin is Restriction’. Once again, this is a statement that can easily be misconstrued. According to Crowley it means that no restrictions should be put upon the ‘true will’.
These, then, are the instantly accessible teachings of the Aiwas manuscript. The document, however, is long and complex, and much of it is given to prophetic pronouncements, describing the collapse of the Osirian Age in a frenzy of unimaginable bloodshed and destruction, as there is an almost Nitzschean transvaluation of values before the dawning of the new age of freedom. Not surprisingly, the document also affirms the reality of magic, the existence of spiritual entities and the existence of the ‘Unknown Supermen’, of which Aiwas is one. The book denies the values of equality, democracy and the existing system of morality and values, and in particular, is rabidly anti-Christian. That, in itself, was sufficient, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, to bring public censure and condemnation upon the presumed author, Crowley.
It was not until 1909 that Crowley was willing to give the manuscript serious consideration, as by then, to the astute, the event of war, as prophesied by Aiwas, was slowly becoming a faint possibility. As there had been no war in Europe since 1871, and peace had been accompanied by unprecedented technical and scientific progress, to the vast majority, the prophesies of ‘The Book of the Law’ were as absurd as its morality, but Crowley probably knew better. Aiwas certainly did.
By 1912, Crowley was still searching for a way of spreading the teachings of Aiwas, and in that year he became involved with the ‘Ordo Templi Orientis’; the ‘Order of the Temple of the East’, usually known by the abbreviation OTO. In Crowley’s time the Order was headed by an eccentric German, Theodore Reuss (2). The Order had originally be founded by Karl Kellner, who had since died, and Reuss was his successor.
Reuss visited Crowley in London in 1913, and proceeded to accuse Crowley of revealing, in his published works, the secrets of the Ninth Grade of the OTO. Crowley hastened to point out that he had not, as yet, been initiated into the ninth grade, and that therefore it would have been impossible for him to have made such revelations. In the ensuing discussion it appeared that Crowley’s teachings about the sexual nature of some aspect of magic, which had appeared in his recent publication, ‘The Book of Lies’, exactly mirrored the rituals of the Ninth grade of the OTO. The fact that Crowley appears to have come to an identical understanding, through his own efforts, undoubtedly points to the remarkable abilities of that much maligned individual. Equally such an understanding might have been communicated to him from some other source, possibly Aiwas; Crowley does not say.
(2) Reuss was a journalist, music hall singer, and a member of the German Secret Service.
The upshot of Crowley’s meeting with Reuss was the establishment of a branch of the OTO in England, under Crowley’s control, while at the same time Crowley’s work became widely known and influential amongst German Occultists. Undoubtedly, if the Great War had not intervened, Crowley would have attempted to turn the OTO into a vehicle for disseminating the ‘truth’ of the ‘Book of the Law’. The War, however, which Crowley had long anticipated, and Aiwas had prophesied put paid the Crowley’s plans, along with plans, and the lives of many others.
Early in his life, while still studying at Cambridge, Crowley visited Russia; St Petersburg, as it is now, once again, known, which was then Russia’s capital. He had, it appears, some rather vague and romantic notions about entering the Diplomatic Service, and thought the Russian capital might make an interesting spot from which to launch his career. Few people would consider the city, once known as Lenningrad, with it food shortages and grey bureaucrats, as particularly romantic today.
In Crowley’s time, in 1897, however, it was the capital of a vast, mighty and mysterious Empire. Ensconced in the elegant, white and gold Winter Palace, surrounded by his inscrutable Cossack guards, was Nicholas Romanov, Tsar of All the Russias, Supreme Autocrat; and around him was his glittering court, presided over by his beautiful German wife, the Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna, formerly princess Alix of Hesse.
The vast Empire, over which the chain smoking, indecisive Tsar (1) ruled, was made up of many races and cultures. Germanic and Slavic peoples in the West, Moslems in the South and Mongols in the East. As for religions, there were Russian Orthodox Christians, Catholics, Protestants, Moslems, Buddhists, Animists and, of course, the Jews. The Empire was also like a veritable time machine. In Moscow and St Petersburg one could hear all the latest gossip from Europe, in the salons of the wealthy, whilst the proletariat worked ceaselessly in the new factories, producing consumer goods on the endless production lines. In the countryside, though, one could find serfs tied to the land, and using farming methods from the Middle Ages. Cities like Samarkand and Bokhara still existed in a world of a ‘Thousand and One Nights’, whilst in the East the Mongol and Tartar hordes still rode the frozen Steppes, and shamans drummed themselves into oblivion.
Across this vast Empire passed commerce and armies, Imperial officials and the odd tourist, and holy men. The ‘time warp’ that was Russia still allowed for spiritual adventurers and the merely insane to exist beside ‘normal’ society.
As Crowley, and others, have pointed out, throughout history individuals have gone away, often upon a journey, and usually into some inhabited region, and have later returned changed. Often these people were nobodies; people with ordinary jobs, little status and average education. On their return they may establish nations, write books, found religions or reform society. People are captivated by them, and in some cases worship them. Moses, Jesus, St. Paul, Mohammed and Gutama Siddhartha are just a few of the most famous examples. Joseph Smith was alone in the woods, Madame Blavatsky travelled across the the endless Russia plains, and Crowley received enlightenment in the deserts of the Sahara. Gregory Efimovich, ‘Rasputin’ wandered the Steppes and the cities of Russia and helped to destroy an empire.
Born sometime during the 1860s, Grigory Efimovich Rasputin was born in the village of Pokrovskoe, near Toblosk, the illiterate son of a poverty stricken peasant. Rather than work on the land, as a serf, he became a monk. This gave him the freedom he needed; serfs weren’t allowed to travel outside their village without their master’s permission. During his wanderings something happened to him. He believed he had been touched and possessed by God. In retrospect, one might ask; which God ?
(1) On the day of his accession, in 1894, ‘Nicky’ confided to his brother-in-law, Grand Duke Alexander, that he knew nothing of the business of ruling.
Soon he developed a reputation for healing, and he became widely known as a Holy man. In the West a voracious and openly expressed sexual appetite is not the usual attribute of a man of religion, and Church of England vicars interfering with choirboys, or American Evangelists resorting to prostitutes is usually frowned upon. Crowley’s sexual athleticism, in like mode, was responsible for much of the censure he suffered during his lifetime. In Russia, however, a rampant sexuality was considered, by many people, to be evidence of spirituality rather than its antithesis. In fact Gregory Efimovich’s nickname, Rasputin, means ‘dissolute one’ and was given to him as a sign of approval, rather than censure.
That Rasputin had super-natural powers is beyond dispute. Even in the few photographs that exist of him, his eyes burn through the page in a hypnotic stare.
Apart from healing and sex he was able to consume staggering quantities of Vodka with which his fawning admirers endlessly plied him. In addition he prophesied future events, both mundane and profound. Significantly he foretold the coming destruction of the Romanovs and the cataclysm of fire and blood which was soon to sweep Europe. He also foretold his own down fall.
In 1905 Rasputin arrived in St Petersburg, his reputation preceding him. St. John of Cronstadt and the Grand Duke Nicholas Nicolaievich provided both ecclesiastical and aristocratic acceptance, and it was not long before Rasputin’s name was brought to the attention of the Tsarina.
Although the Tsarina was deeply religious, having converted from Protestantism to the Russian Orthodox Church on her marriage to Nicholas, it was not Rasputin’s religious teaching which interested her, but rather his ability to heal.
Her son, the Tsarevich, Alexis, had been born with the genetic disease haemophilia. This disease, endemic among the royal families of Europe, while only effecting males, is inherited from the female side. It is caused by a lack of the blood-clotting agent, Factor VIII, which is normally present in the body, and cause uncontrollable bleeding, often internally, which is particularly painful when occurring around the joints. While the missing chemical can now be supplied in the form of injections, at the turn of the century, its existence was unknown, and doctors were unable to successfully treat the condition. Individuals who suffered from this condition often failed to survive beyond young adulthood, and the Tsarevich’s prognosis was, therefore, poor.
Having dismissed the doctors, who were unable to treat the condition with anything other than platitudes, the Tsarina had resorted to prayer and faith-healers. Having decided that the latest candidate, a French healer, was unable to alleviate her son’s worsening condition, the Tsarina turned to Rasputin in desperation. Amazingly, while he was unable to completely cure the Tsarevich, he was able to control the symptoms sufficiently for the boy to begin to lead a normal life. The Tsar and Tsarina were overjoyed. Their son, Alexis, was well and the succession was, apparently, assured. The Empire was safe (2).
The Tsarina’s gratitude was boundless and Rasputin could have had almost anything he desired. Undoubtedly he did accept gifts from the Imperial family, and from the noble and the wealthy who flocked to him to be healed and to hear his teachings and prophecies, but, like a true holy man, he was not greedy, except, perhaps when it came to Vodka and sex.
(2) In 1917, with the war going badly for Russia, the Tsar was forced to abdicate. When the Bolsheviks toppled the Kerensky Government and took power, in November of 1917, they transported the Imperial family to Ekaterinberg where the entire family was shot, in July of 1918.
The real reward he sought, like so many, was power. Now power, or powers, he undoubtedly had; but the power he sought was the power over empires. It was an odd weakness for an illiterate peasant, and for this reason, much to the Ochrana’s disgust, he couldn’t be ‘bought off’.
Rasputin’s teachings were not complex, although they were controversial. His main contention was that in order to receive God’s grace it was necessary to sin and subsequently repent. The forgiveness of God was, for Rasputin, essentially God’s mystic grace of redemption. As most of Rasputin’s sins were those of the flesh, it is possible to see a connection between his teachings and the sexually orientated ‘magick’ of Crowley, along with Joseph Smith’s doctrine regarding ‘celestial marriage’. Whilst Rasputin’s teachings may seem scandalous today, it should be remembered that the fringes of Russian religiosity held some unusual attitudes, including Rasputin’s doctrine, which attracted a considerable acceptance as it derived from ancient tradition, and doctrines sufficiently extreme as to espouse the wholesale castration of male devotees. Equally the Anna-Baptists in Germany, certain Christian Gnostic, and Buddhist and Hindu sects were known to encouraged a similar attitude towards sin and repentance.
Rasputin’s other main belief was in the God given right of the Tsar to rule as supreme Autocrat, untrammelled by the interference of the Duma or any other liberal institutions.
Rasputin’s politics were not in accord with the oncoming tide of events. Regardless of his ‘powers’ he still only had a peasant’s intellect. He was, however, astute enough to realise that the one thing the Tsar could not risk was war.
Strangely enough, at the very moment when the Tsar was most in need of Rasputin’s advice, Rasputin was in hospital, recovering from an assassination attempt in Pokrovskoe, which had occurred at the same time as the successful attempt on the life of Franz-Ferdinand. If Rasputin had been at his master’s side, at that time,it is unlikely that Nicholas would have instigated the mobilisation which made the Great War inevitable. Rasputin did manage to send a telegram to his sovereign, but this was as nothing compared to his own presence. And so war could not be averted. In such manner do the Gods use and judge those whom they ‘favour’ with their attention.
Two years into the war, unable to tolerate his interference in the affairs of state any further a group of nobles, close to the throne, assassinated Rasputin. Undoubtedly, though, the hand of God still touched him. In the event it required arsenic sufficient to kill a dozen men to merely incapacitate him. Panicking, his assassins shot him repeatedly yet unsuccessfully. It was only by immersing him in the freezing waters of the Neva, and finally forcing him beneath the ice, that they were able to kill him. It was a lot of trouble to go to over a man who’s influence on history had been immense, but who was by then a superfluous character on a doomed stage.
There was another individual in Russia, at the time, who merits our attention. George Ivanovitch Georgiades was born in Alexandropol on the Shiraki Steppe. It is open to some debate as to whether the town was in Armenia or Georgia. His father was Greek and his mother was Armenian.
Early in his childhood it was recognised that he was a boy of remarkable intelligence and ability. Although his father was a carpenter, and had little money to spare for his son’s education, the Dean of the Cathedral at Kars took the young Georgiades, now nicknamed ‘Gurdjief’, under his wing, and provided him with a first class education (3).
(3) For sometime Gurdjieff trained in a Russian Orthodox seminary with Joseph Vissarionovich Djugashvili. Not surprisingly, Djugashvili later changed his name to Stalin, meaning ‘steel in Russian.
Like Rasputin, Gurdjieff decided to travel. An account of his wanderings is given in his book ‘Meetings with Remarkable Men’. According to Gurdjieff, his wanderings were on a far more epic scale than Rasputin’s. They take in Egypt, the Sudan, Abyssinia, Palestine, Crete, Persia, Afghanistan, India, Tibet, Siberia and, of course, Europe. Apparently, if we are to believe his written accounts, these journeys lasted for over twenty years.
One question that remains unanswered is how he was able to pass through all theses frontiers and countries so easily. Travel at the turn of the century was not as easy or simple as it is today. In the areas of the world where Gurdjieff was travelling there were few tourists, if any, and it was necessary to have a good reason for travelling if one wished to avoid the attentions of the local police or military. We know that the British authorities in New Delhi, in India, maintained an intelligence dossier regarding his activities, and that in 1900 he was probably held by the Darjeeling police for questioning. It is almost certain that he had some connection with the Ochrana, and other areas of the Imperial Russian Government, and that in this way he not only had the necessary papers, but also the finances to support such a mammoth undertaking (4).
Regardless of what the original purpose of his journeys had been, when he came back from them he was a changed man.
Whether that change had occurred in the King’s chamber of the Great Pyramid, which he too, like Crowley, had visited, or whether it occurred in the silent wastes of the Steppes or the Olympian chill of the high passes of the Himalayas, in Tibet, or perhaps in the wilderness of Sin we shall never know. Regardless, he returned, as so many have returned, with the power to heal, to read the thoughts of others and project his own thoughts; a desire to teach, to write and a certain sense of invulnerability which afflicts almost all whom the Gods touch.
On his return he set himself up in St Petersburg but was soon forced to flee as first the War, and then the Bolshevik Revolution, disrupted the society around him. He settled, finally, in France, at Fontainebleau. There disciples flocked to him. Among them was Crowley, although he didn’t stay long. Fontainebleau was ‘not big enough for the both of them’, so Crowley left to pursue his own aims. Perhaps Gurdjieff’s most brilliant disciple was Piotr Demianovich Ouspensky, who was originally a scientist, and who, therefore, always approached Gurdjieff’s ideas from a more logical viewpoint as evidenced by his most famous work, ‘Tertium Organum’.
There has been much speculation regarding Gurdjieff’s links with German occultists. Gurdjieff, it appears, visited Germany on a number of occasions, and after the Russian revolution considered settling there. Through his travels in the Orient, and his links with Eastern occult organisations it is also almost certain that he had close links with Professor Karl Haushofer, the eminent Orientalist and Geopolitician. It is, after all, odd that such an eccentric, anti-authoritarian, and ‘racially impure’ individual, living in Paris during the occupation, would have been so studiously ignored by the German authorities. Undoubtedly Gurdjieff’s insistence on achieving an ‘awakened’ state found strong echoes in Volkisch occult circles, and in the teachings of Crowley, which were influential in Germany during the inter-war years.
(4) It is suggested by certain commentators that Gurdjieff had audiences with the Tsar, which would have put him on a par with Rasputin.
Gurdjieff’s system of thought bears little resemblance to Rasputin’s simple peasant faith. The ‘system’ and ‘method’ which Gurdjieff taught was as complex and torturous as his books. The system quite consciously borrowed many of its ideas from Gnosticism and other ancient Near Eastern traditions, including the Essenes (5) and the Sufis (6), and although claiming to be allegorical, there are constant references, in ‘Beelzebub’s Tales’, to interplanetary travel and contacts between earth and extra terrestrial entities. Gurdjieff also teaches of the existence of ‘higher beings’, responsible for the ordering and guiding mankind, along similar lines to the ideas proposed by Smith, Blavatsky, Bessant, Lytton, Mathers, Crowley etc.
That Gurdjieff was a man of his time is evidenced, not only by his by his concept of man being basically a machine, but also by his development of ‘sacred dances’ as an essential part of the process of ‘awakening’, which may be seen as a reflection of the then fashionable interest in movement and dance pioneered by such individuals a Diagalev (7), Nijinsky (8) and Isadora Duncan (9). His doctrine that work brings freedom, while not being new or original, was also of the time, having its echo in the SS motto ‘Arbeit macht Frei'(10).
In many ways Gurdjieff’s teaching can be seen to be a summation or a synthesis of much that had gone before. It is, undoubtedly, the most syncretic of all the teachings that we have so far encountered, and that is probably the very reason why Gurdjieff has had such a profound influence on intellectual and artistic thought in the present century. Its syncretic nature has, however, for many, been its downfall. Being all things to all men it is a system, much like Theosophy, from which one may pick and choose; a sort of supermarket of the occult. Because some of its concepts are based on little known actuality, though, it can be dangerous to shop without due care, as many have discovered.
Having survived two World Wars, Gurdjieff’s sense of invulnerability, in the end did him no good, and his reckless driving around Paris and Fontainebleau precipitated a number of near fatal crashes, which hastened his end. On the 29th October 1949 George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff died, taking the many secrets of his strange travels, and his connections with some of the great and infamous, with him to the grave.
(5) The Essenes were a Jewish sect which arose, in the First Century BC, in response to, what they considered to be the abuse of the Jewish priesthood by the Hasmoneans, the Hellenised rulers of Palestine at that time. Whilst claiming to be ultra-orthodox, they gradually became influenced by Greek and Near Eastern beliefs, and developed a complex syncretic theology which became one of the basis of Gnosticism and the Kabalistic traditions of the Middle Ages.
(6) An offshoot of Islam, which is strongly affected by Gnostic influences, and lays great store by personal religious experience and intuition.
(7) Sergei Pavlovich Diagilev, born in Russia in 1872, he was responsible for bringing contemporary Russian dance to the West.
He encouraged the talents of artists such as Pavlova, Nijinsky, Stravinsky and Prokofiev.
(8) Vaslav Nijinsky, born in Russia in 1888, he became the world’s greatest male dancer, branching out into choreography at the height of his career.
He was renowned for the ‘slow vault’ which gave a genuine impression of defying the laws of gravity.
At the peak of his career he suffered a ‘nervous breakdown’ and spent the remaining years of his life in the belief that he was a re-incarnation of the suffering Christ.
This disturbance abated in old age, and he died in 1950.
(9) Isadora Duncan, born in 1878, in America, she was a self taught dancer who travelled to Europe and made her name in Russia, which was receptive, at the time, to new concepts of dance. She toured ceaselessly, teaching and setting up schools of dance. It was her aim to recreate the dance of Ancient Greece, which she believed would bring about spiritual renewal. She died in a freak car accident in 1927
(10) ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’; literally ‘work makes free’. On the orders of SS Reich Fuhrer Heinrich Himmler this sign was placed over the gateway of all detention camps maintained by the SS.
It is strange to reflect that at one of the most critical times in world history two great world Empires were to some extent in the hands of mystics, who were not entirely themselves; men who had been infiltrated by some thing or some one. Men whose influence was abnormal and beyond the confines of accepted thought. In Russia there was Rasputin and possibly Gurdjieff, and in Germany we find Houston Stewart Chamberlain.
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