28 July 2012

Joseph: The Diviner

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer, 2003, Excerpts

Joseph was born on December 23, 1805, in the Green Mountains of Vermont. His father, Joseph Smith Sr., was a tenant farmer, perpetually on the lookout for his main chance, who had lost all his money a short while earlier in a failed scheme to export ginseng root to China. An earnest, good-natured kid with a low boredom threshold, Joseph Junior had no intention of becoming a debt-plagued farmer like his father, toiling in the dirt year in and year out. He spent long hours reflecting on the nature of the divine, pondering the meaning of life and death, assessing the merits and shortcomings of the myriad competing faiths of the day. Gregarious, athletic, and good-looking, he was a natural raconteur whom both men and women found immensely charming. His enthusiasm was infectious. He could sell a muzzle to a dog.

The future prophet’s spiritual curiosity moved him to explore far and wide on both sides of that blurry line, including an extended foray into the necromantic arts. More specifically, he devoted much time and energy attempting to divine the location of buried treasure by means of black magic and crystal gazing, activities he learned from his father. Although “money digging,” as the custom is known, was illegal, it was nevertheless a common practice among the hoi polloi of New England and upstate New York.

His career as a “scryer” – that is to say, a diviner, or crystal gazer – was launched. Soon his necromantic skills were sufficiently in demand that he was able to command respectable fees to find buried treasure for property owners throughout the region. By 1825, his renown was such that an elderly farmer named Josiah Stowell came from Pennsylvania to meet Joseph, and was so impressed by the encounter that he hired the twenty-year-old to travel with him to Susquehanna Valley to locate, with his peep stones, a hidden lode of silver rumored to have been mined by the Spaniards centuries earlier.

Although Joseph had applied himself to scrying with vigor, dedication, and the finest tools of his trade, it seems that he had been unable to find Stowell’s silver mine. Nor, in fact, during the previous six years he had worked as a money digger, had he ever managed to unearth any other actual treasure. When this had come to light, a disgruntled client had filed a legal claim accusing Joseph of being a fraud. The trial, and the raft of bad press it generated, brought his career as a professional diviner to an abrupt halt.

Scrying Stone

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