Mormon exorcism lore, with Stephen Taysom [MIPodcast #71]
This special episode is a tribute and homage to LORE, by Aaron Mahnke. If you haven’t already, you should check it out.
In 1888 a Mormon woman in the Southern States mission of the LDS Church requested a visit from the missionaries. She said she was possessed by the devil and asked the elders to help her by the laying on of hands. They were happy to comply and the evil spirit was summarily dismissed. Then things took a turn for the worse.
This, and other stories of Mormon exorcism are featured in this special edition of the Maxwell Institute Podcast. Learn more about the history of Satan as he was understood before, during, and after the life of Jesus, through Catholicism and the Protestant Reformation, to the days of Mormon prophet Joseph Smith and beyond.
No one has done more research on dispossession in Mormonism than religious studies scholar Stephen C. Taysom, associate professor in the department of philosophy and comparative religion at Cleveland State University. He is author of Shakers, Mormons, and Religious Worlds: Conflicting Visions, Contested Boundaries. He edited Dimensions of Faith: Mormon Studies Reader. His article on Mormonism and exorcism was recently published in the journal Religion and American Culture. It’s called “‘Satan mourns naked upon the earth’: Locating Mormon Possession and Exorcism Rituals in the American Religious Landscape, 1830-1977.”
BLAIR HODGES: Do you believe in ghosts? When I was seven years old I inherited a cheap plastic alarm clock from an older sibling. It wasn’t digital, it was the little square kind that requires you to set the alarm using a dial on the clock face. After tinkering with it for a while I set it on my little desk next to my bedroom door, all the way across the room from my bed, and forgot about it.
Forgot, that is, until it awoke me with a dull buzz at what must have been three o’clock in the morning or so. I was an excitable kid with an interest in ghosts and scary stories so I knew it would be crazy to try, myself, to walk across my dark room and stop the buzzing. Surely my mother would hear from my parents’ room down the hall and come to my rescue. I pulled my blanket over my head, plugged my ears, and tried to go back to sleep.
But there it was. Still buzzing. And maybe at this point alerting all the ghosts and ghouls in the neighborhood as to my whereabouts. I gathered up my courage and moved my blanket aside. Just them a figure walked into the dark room, over to the desk, and the alarm stopped ringing. I thought I recognized that white nightgown with flower print. Mom had come to the rescue at last, so I called out to thank her.
The figure turned and seemed to look at me. And then, it vanished.
I wasn’t a terribly superstitious kid, but I also wasn’t a hard-boiled skeptic. So in the morning I had to find out what really happened. At breakfast I thanked my mother for turning off the alarm clock during the night, and told her I was sorry it went off. I didn’t really know how to work it. Maybe she could teach me. Her answer wasn’t so helpful and she asked, “What alarm clock?” She had no idea what I was talking about.
You’re probably telling yourself “Huh, Blair’s mom must have been in the fog of sleep, and forgot she’d turned off the alarm.” Or maybe you’re thinking that the clock had a shutoff mechanism that kicked in after a few minutes, in addition to the little rectangular button protruding from the clock top. You might even tell yourself I made the whole thing up. All I can say is it is a true memory of mine. So think about your impulse to explain it away. Something inside you is working quickly to erase the sense that something like this could really happen. What an interesting reflex.
What are we supposed to do with supernatural tales like this? You might be entertained. You might be unsettled. Here’s the thing. If a story like this is true, maybe your fear is justified.
Latter-day Saint archives contain all of lore about times when the border between this world and the next becoming thin. A long-lost relative helps a genealogist discover an old family Bible listing the names and baptismal dates of family stretching back to the 1700s. A trio of ancient prophets traveling the world to help pave the way for missionaries, or maybe help change a flat tire on a lonely dusty road. These stories remind us of the connections between this world and the next. But not all of them bring on the warm fuzzies. Some can send a shiver down your spine. Not all spirits, as the stories go, are interested in helping you discover a long lost relative. Some just want you for your body. To possess it, that is.
I’m Blair Hodges. And this is the Maxwell Institute Podcast. Special edition.
[Music: Sten Erland Hermundstad, Waves]
HODGES: In the candle-lit world of Joseph Smith, devils and demons prowled the earth. Smith’s translation of the Book of Mormon had been available for purchase for less than a month when he legally organized The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Joseph Smith was the twenty-four-year-old founder and prophet of the church, and he quickly learned that there is, indeed, opposition in all things. He found himself in a showdown with the Devil.
JOSEPH SMITH: During this month of April, I, Joseph Smith, went on a visit to the residence of Mr. Joseph Knight. Mr. Knight and his family were Universalists, but were willing to reason with me upon my religious views and were—as usual—friendly and hospitable. We held several meetings in the neighborhood.
Among those who attended our meetings regularly was Newel Knight, son of Joseph Knight. He and I had many serious conversations on the important subject of man’s eternal salvation. We were in the habit of praying much at our meetings, and Newel had said that he would try and take up his cross and pray vocally during meeting. But when we again met together he rather excused himself, and so he would wait until he should get into the woods by himself and there he would pray.
Accordingly, he deferred praying until next morning, when he retired into the woods, where—according to his own account afterwards—he made several attempts to pray, but could scarcely do so, feeling that he had not done his duty, but that he should have prayed in the presence of others.
He began to feel uneasy, and continued to feel worse both in mind and body until, upon reaching his own house, his appearance alarmed his wife very much. He requested her to go and bring me to him.
I went and found him suffering very much in his mind, and his body being acted upon in a very strange manner. His visage and limbs distorted and twisted in every shape and appearance possible to imagine, and finally, he was caught up off the floor of the apartment and tossed about most fearfully.
After he had thus suffered for a time, I succeeded in getting hold of him by the hand, when almost immediately he spoke to me, and with very great earnestness requested of me that I should cast the devil out of him; saying, that he knew he was in him, and that he also knew that I could cast him out.
[Music: Sten Erland Hermundstad, Feel]
I replied, “if you know that I can, it shall be done.” And then, almost unconsciously, I rebuked the devil, and commanded him in the name of Jesus Christ to depart from him; when immediately Newel spoke out and said, that he saw the devil leave him and vanish from his sight.
The scene was now entirely changed. For as soon as the devil had departed from our friend his countenance became natural; his distortions of body ceased; and almost immediately the Spirit of the Lord descended upon him, and the visions of eternity were opened to his view. He afterwards related his experience as follows:
NEWELL KNIGHT: I now began to feel a most pleasing sensation resting upon me, and immediately the visions of Heaven were opened to my view. I felt myself attracted upward, and remained for some time enrapt in contemplation, insomuch that I knew not what was going on in the room. By-and-by I felt some weight pressing upon my shoulder and the side of my head, which served to recall me to a sense of my situation, and I found that the Spirit of the Lord had actually caught me up off the floor, and that my shoulder and head were pressing against the beams.
JOSEPH SMITH: All this was witnessed by many, to their great astonishment and satisfaction, when they saw the devil thus cast out and the power of God and His Holy Spirit thus made manifest. So soon as consciousness returned, his bodily weakness was such that we were obliged to lay him upon his bed and wait upon him for some time. As may be expected, such a scene as this contributed much to make believers of those who witnessed it; and, finally, the greater part of them became members of the Church.
HODGES: With his feet firmly back on the ground, Newel Knight joined the Mormons officially, but not everyone was impressed with this account. A local newspaper reported satirically on the event:
PALMYRA REFLECTOR: The age of miracles has again arrived, and if the least reliance can be placed upon the assertions, daily made by the “Gold Bible” apostles, (which is somewhat doubtful,) no prophet, since the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, has performed half so many wonders as have been attributed to that spindle shanked ignoramus Jo Smith.
Jo’s greatest, as well as latest, miracle, as narrated by St. Martin, is his ‘casting out a devil’ of uncommon size from a miserable man in the neighborhood of the “great bend” of the Susquehanna. The whole family of spirits, who are said to have possessed the fair Magdalene, were mere children, when compared to the imp in question. Such was his malignant disposition that before Jo took him in hand, he had nigh demolished the frail tenement which had for a long time afforded him a comfortable shelter. He said “the flesh was about to cleave from my bones, the muscles, tendons et cetera. could no longer perform their different functions. The habitation of Satan was about to be laid open to the light of day, when the prophet interfered—went to prayer—and the demoniac had faith. The devil was routed, and nature resumed her accustomed order.
HODGES: That sarcastic account from the Palmyra Reflector newspaper appeared in June of 1830. It was printed years before Joseph smith’s account appeared. It’s clear that the Reflector didn’t take the account seriously, but the Latter-day Saints took it with utmost seriousness. Who are we to believe?
Before we try to answer that question, think about our urge to ask the question to begin with. Why do we want to know so badly? Stories like this are unsettling—a man possessed by the devil being lifted off the ground? It’s understandable why people rush to account for them, fitting them inside our neat boxes of belief—these accounts represent delusions, mental illnesses, or even straight up fraud. Others believe they provide anecdotal evidence for a real cosmic warfare between good and evil. Of course, most experts agree that you can’t scientifically prove stories about demon possession or exorcism.
But still, these stories are valuable to consider, whether you believe such things are possible or not. Stories of battles with evil from an unseen world can tell us a lot about the hopes and fears of our own hearts.
[Music: Kai Engel, Snowfall Intro]
HODGES: No historian of Mormonism has spent as much time thinking about Mormon exorcism as Stephen Taysom. He’s an associate professor in the department of philosophy and comparative Religion at Cleveland State University. Taysom sees Newell Knight’s story as just one more in a long history of demon possession going back to the time of Jesus.
The New Testament contains multiple stories of Jesus and his disciples casting out devils. The New Testament is a collection of stories and letters, it never lays out a systematized description of spiritual beings like angels and demons; they’re just taken for granted, like the weather patterns. And as the rain falls on the just and unjust, Christians shared a lot in common with non-Christians at the time, including their beliefs about demons. They seem to borrow as much from their pagan neighbors as from their ancient Jewish history.
Satan has an interesting history, for starters.
STEPHEN TAYSOM: If you look at Hebrew Bible, you can’t find any mention of a character that fills the same role that Satan does in the New Testament. Of course, “satan” is just a word in Hebrew meaning “obstacle, adversary” and it’s used various points in the Hebrew Bible. But with the possible exception of the book of Job, you don’t have a character that represents and embodies evil.
So sometime in the intertestamental period that idea emerged in second temple Judaism. That there was this being that somehow represented evil, a personification of evil. And the only reason we know that is because it shows up in the Gospels that we now know as the New Testament.
Now, of course, ancient Israelites believed in evil spirits—Solomon, you know, was famous as an exorcist. But in terms of Satan himself, that’s an idea that doesn’t emerge until we see Christianity coming out of it. And very early on, possibly because of their interaction with pagans and other people worship nature and so on, they developed deep ideas about demonology, the existence of evil spirits. They elaborated on this stuff in the Bible which, frankly, is pretty sparse. The Bible talks about exorcism, talks about demon possession, but doesn’t really elaborate on what Satan is.
HODGES: Then, after the New Testament is put together, Christians imagine Satan in new ways, including what he looks like.
TAYSOM: When I teach my class on the devil and evil in comparative historical perspective, the first day I ask my students to draw a picture of the devil and they all do it. And they all draw what you would expect, horns and tail, and fuzzy legs. And we discuss how they know that, and none of them know how they know it.
So we talk about those ideas but they come out of Christianity bumping into various—what they called—pagan religions. And so, you know, goats, you know, which is seen as evil that becomes part of Satan’s look. And so he develops that way and as time goes on, more and more things get attributed to him in terms of what it is he wants to do, and his general, you know, evil and nefarious ways. And so a lot of anti-Semitism is linked with devil lore, for example.
Then in this same period we get these stories about people who make deals with the devil and sell their soul. And so there’s a general rise in the importance of this figure in the religion generally that wasn’t present, necessarily, before the fourth or fifth century.
HODGES: As Roman Catholicism developed into the middle ages, Christian thought about demons and Satan kept up with the times. Exorcism was a hot topic during the period of the Middle Ages.
TAYSOM: And it’s during that period, the early modern period, very early modern period, where you see a lot of freelance exorcists going around. Now, there was an exorcistic element to the ritual of baptism in Roman Catholicism from very early date, but the actual going out and casting out spirits is something that started happening on a large scale as Catholicism moved through Europe in the middle ages.
HODGES: When Protestants began to break away from the Catholic church, they didn’t create new ideas about “Old Scratch” from scratch. They brought ideas about evil spirits and possession along with them. (Some Catholics would say the evil spirits carried the Protestants, of course!) So, like you’d expect from a Protestant, they didn’t just do exactly what the Catholics had been doing. Taysom told me they called their new dispossession rituals “Deliverance.”
TAYSOM: The decision for them to move away from exorcism as a ritual really had everything to do with the politics of the Reformation, getting rid of what they saw as ostentatious manifestations of religion, particularly liturgically.
So the observance of rituals performed by priests was seen as being something that interfered with an individual’s relationship with God, and exorcism became part of this, what they called, “popish behavior.” And so they just sort of distanced themselves from it. But the folk believes continued around the notion of possession and exorcism. The way that they approached dispossession changed, however, from a formal ritual like you would see in Roman Catholicism to a process of fasting and prayer over the soul of somebody who was afflicted or obsessed or possessed.
HODGES: Latter-day Saints eventually took a similar posture toward Catholics that Protestants did. LDS apostle Bruce R. McConkie, for example, mentioned exorcism in his mid-twentieth century smash-hit book Mormon Doctrine.
TAYSOM: If you look in McConkie ‘s work he basically says there’s no such thing as an exorcism because that’s what Catholics do and it’s false.
HODGES: In this way especially, Mormons were descendants of the Puritans before them. The Puritans had the same worries about exorcism. They believed deeply in the power of evil spirits. They saw the Catholic church as rife with them! Not only that, but they feared Protestantism was being contaminated by Catholic thinking. The Devil isn’t going to cast out the devil so Catholic exorcisms weren’t going to cut it. They used things like fasting and prayer to get the job done. And surely you’ve heard something about their witchcraft phase. They rooted out people who’d made pacts with the devil in exchange for evil powers.
As Mormonism came on the scene, Taysom says they shared with broader Christianity “a belief in spirits and a belief that the boundaries between the human and spirit realm are permeable to these entities and can be penetrated by them.” So although they shared a common core of belief with Puritan and others, Mormons weren’t just carbon copies of those who came before them.
TAYSOM: In the religious world that Joseph Smith occupied, and in which he was trying to carve out space for himself, you had Roman Catholics who in the American context were actually becoming less and less interested in possession and exorcism. And then you had the evangelicals who, after the First Great Awakening and into the Second Grade Awakening, sort of took over dominance in the American religious mainstream. Evangelicals had various kind of a continuum of beliefs about what the devil was, what he could possess, you know? could he possess a body, could he afflict somebody? And primarily what you see in evangelical discourse in the nineteenth century around Joseph Smith’s time is the idea that the devil can afflict someone, hurt them, get in their way, cause problems for their conversion to Christ.
For Joseph Smith, he had a slightly more Catholic view of it, that the devil was in fact a being with physical power that could manifest itself not just in terms of distracting you from your thoughts or getting in the way of your conversion experience, but could actually physically assault you, as he reported in his First Vision experience.
HODGES: Evil powers made their presence known from the very beginning of Mormonism. Joseph Smith himself provides the description. When he was fourteen he was visited by God and Jesus Christ. But before they appeared, the powers of darkness attempted to thwart his mission. Joseph’s wrestle isn’t hidden today, but I’m not sure I would say it’s been heavily emphasized, either.
TAYSOM: Which is funny, because for me as a kid that was the most interesting part of it. I remember the movie that they used to show that included that. And there are some versions of the First Vision where he actually talks in more detail about hearing footsteps and standing up and seeing what’s there.
That kind of drops out, at least as a direct expression of the devil kind of messing with people.
HODGES: I remember that film too. It was produced in 1976, and a narrator quotes Joseph’s words from the officially canonized version of the First Vision.
JOSEPH SMITH—HISTORY: After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God.
YOUNG JOSEPH: “Our Father, which art in heaven”
[Noises in the grove, startling Joseph. Birds chirping, sound effects, etc.]
JOSEPH SMITH—HISTORY: I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction. At the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. [Link]
HODGES: A couple decades later the Church produced a new First Vision film, picking out pieces from the various accounts recorded by Joseph Smith and others. In one version of the new film, the evil presence is gone. Maybe it doesn’t play as well with today’s audiences.
TAYSOM: That kind of drops out, at least as a direct expression of the devil kind of messing with people.
JOSEPH SMITH—HISTORY: After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. [Music swells in angelic refrain] I saw a pillar of light…[Link]
HODGES: Of course, you can put Satan in the basement, but it’s hard to keep him there. In 2015 the Church not only produced a new film of the first vision, but they also formatted it for a newly constructed theater in the Church History Museum where you can be submerged into the story yourself, surrounded by a 240° circular screen. The evil presence is there, in surround sound.
JOSEPH SMITH [Combined accounts]: After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I cried unto the Lord for mercy. For here was none else to whom I could go to obtain mercy. It was the first time in my life that I had made the attempt to pray vocally.
Immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. My mind filled with doubts and all manner of inappropriate images. It seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction. But exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me, my mouth was open.
“Lord! Have mercy on me.”
And my tongue liberated. [Link]
HODGES: Not only is evil presence back, but the film includes more details about it from Smith’s accounts than any previous film I’ve seen to date. After being cast out of an earlier film, the evil presence returns.
Early Mormons didn’t talk about exorcism specifically, but they still had ways to deal with the devil and other evil spirits. What did Mormon prophet Joseph Smith think about these supernatural beings?
TAYSOM: Well, initially he was drawing heavily on Protestant thought and Christian thought more broadly, which was that the devil exists, he’s a personage, he was once in the presence of God, and that he represents evil on the Earth.
But Joseph Smith’s notions about the role of the body in God’s plan of salvation, as he called it, changed or elaborated a little bit on received notions about the devil. So he started to talk about Satan as somebody who was denied a body as a punishment and who sought to obtain bodies as part of his warfare on the souls on Earth.
[Music: Bruno Sanfilippo, Clar0scuro]
HODGES: Mormons are a people who believe in miracles. If I asked you what the first miracle of Mormonism was, what would you say? Joseph Smith’s first vision? Was that a miracle? Perhaps the translation of the Book of Mormon by a ploughboy prophet?
These events preceded the founding of the Church itself. So once the church was founded, what was the first miracle? An angelic visitation of apostles restoring priesthood keys? Visions during the dedication of the Kirtland temple of angels descending? Joseph Smith dated the first miracle much earlier, just after the church was officially legally established. Remember Newel Knight’s possession, when he rose off the floor and, in the midst of commotion, Joseph Smith cast the devil out? Joseph Smith himself described it like this, he said “It was the first miracle which was done in this Church, or by any member of it.”
To Smith, this power over cosmic enemies marked the beginning of the church’s public ministry. And why not? After all, one of the earliest recorded miracles of Jesus’s ministry was the Exorcism at the Synagogue in Capernaum.
You’ve already heard one account of the Newel Knight exorcism. Steve Taysom’s description is a bit less dramatic.
[Record scratch stops music]
TAYSOM: Joseph Smith was friends with the Knight family and had been for a long time. And there’s this famous story about how Newel Knight is thrown around the room—physically, bodily thrown around the room by the devil. And you know, he is possessed. The devil does this stuff him. Joseph Smith is called in and commands the devil to leave.
And in that case you’re getting a kind of hybrid of the Catholic notion—that a specific ritual has to be performed to cast them out, and in this case, the ritual involves touching—and the Protestant view which is the invocation of the name of Christ to get rid of the spirit. But also the whole Catholic idea and the Protestant folk ideas about the devil, the contortion of the limbs, levitation, all those things that had made it on to the Catholic diagnostic lists a couple of centuries earlier show up in the Knight exorcism.
HODGES: Even though the account of Newell Knight’s possession is right there in the official History of the Church, it’s not discussed very much in the Church today. In fact, I think most of them would be surprised to hear that Joseph Smith said it was the first miracle of the church.
Stephen Taysom has compiled a massive archive of LDS stories about demon possession. But levitation in particular doesn’t make many appearances at all. What do we make of a claim like this? That someone could be lifted off the floor? It may seem preposterous to you. The idea that an evil spirit could take over your body, make you do things. The magician David Blaine has a levitation trick, and you’ve probably seen footage of the stage production of Peter Pan, where the children fly through the air on thin wires. But real levitation?
[Music: Sten Erland Hermundstad, Hope]
It reminded Carlos Eire’s recent lecture during the Maxwell Institute’s Reformation conference. [Link] Carlos is a leading scholar of the Protestant Reformation, and he told the story of how the world became increasingly disenchanted through the Reformation.
If you find yourself doubting the possibility of the devil taking over Newel Knights body and making him float off the ground, congratulations, you’ve inherited a skepticism that was born during the Reformation. That’s when natural began in earnest to nudge the supernatural out of the bounds of respectable opinion. But even as many Protestants came to disbelieve in miraculous occurrences, other people, many Catholics for example, still experienced the miraculous.
For example, there’s the seventeenth century Catholic saint, Joseph of Cupertino. Carlos Eire related a remarkable story of this saint’s levitations. Here’s Carlos telling the tale, You’ll hear our Enlightenment-inflected audience at Brigham Young University laughing along right where you’d expect.
CARLOS EIRE: St. Joseph of Cupertino, the best known levitator or flyer in Christian history. And in case you’re also interested, patron saint of anyone who flies and patron saint of test takers. [Audience laughs] I’m serious, yeah! St. Joseph of Cupertino was a Franciscan who was very simple minded. As a matter of fact in his hometown, he was known as boca abierta, or open mouth. He was so simple-minded the Franciscan’s wouldn’t take him.
But eventually they do but he would go into ecstasies, being a good Franciscan and just about anything, including natural things. Again, natural, supernatural. One story told about Joseph Cupertino, someone cuts a pomegranate in half and he sees the inside of that wonderful thing and whoop! up he goes into ecstasy, levitates. And he would always make that sound, too, when levitating, or something like that. All you can read is he made a “whoop.” I guess it sounded like that.
Franciscans have to keep moving him to ever more remote locations because he’s such a distraction, so they moved him Ancona, but he’s near the Holy House of Loreto and he sees the Holy House of Loreto and that alone makes him levitate.
HODGES: It made me think of David Blaine’s street magic tricks, where he plays with angles and shadows to make himself appear to float. In some of the TV specials it seems he probably uses wires. There’s that skepticism again. But floating stationary in mid-air wasn’t all St. Joseph would do.
EIRE: He also flew from one end of the nave to the other in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, and in doing so converted a Lutheran prince who said, “Oh. they must be right!” [Audience laughter]
HODGES: Saint Joseph of Cupertino was a man who hovered in holiness between heaven and earth. Perhaps not yet ready for the angelic choirs above, but too good and simple for the corrupted earth at our feet. At least for a time.
I talked to Dr. Eire later that day I asked him what he made of such an incredible claim. “I’m a historian, a scholar,” he explained to me, so naturally I recognize such things seem impossible. Historians can’t prove something like this happened.” But then his voice lowered a bit, a smile spread across his face, and he said, “but you know, there are an awful lot of accounts of such things in the historical record. An awful lot.”
I don’t know if Joseph of Cupertino could float in the air, or if Newell Knight was raised up to the roof against his will. For Joseph of Cupertino and his fellow witnesses, it was the work of God. Newell Knight’s levitation seemed to be the work of the devil to Joseph Smith. A loss of bodily control, a loss of personal agency, such things would run counter to the theology Joseph restored, where personal choice and accountability play such a big role. But then the levitation took on a heavenly hue, again, hovering in a holy way above the earthy soil, but not so far into the heavens so as to lose sight of his fellow Latter-day Saints.
Who knows how Joseph Smith would have reacted to St. Joseph of Cupertino? The context suggests it’s something he may have been open to. Especially in the early years of Mormonism.
HODGES: The context. This is how scholars like Steve Taysom tend to talk about supernatural stories and experiences. The historical record can’t prove they happened. But the stories themselves tell us a lot about the people who tell them. What they feared. What they hoped. How they viewed the world. Stories like this, scholars like to say, perform “work.” [Music ends] As Taysom collected and then studied his impressive library of Mormon exorcism stories, he thought investigated them on multiple levels. He wanted to know about the practical work they do. The symbolic work they do. And the cultural work they do. You can take any miraculous story and investigate it on these levels; practical, symbolic, and cultural.
In Newell Knight’s case, the practical work is that Joseph Smith cast the devil out of Newel Knight. That was the basic claim. But it symbolized something greater. Its symbolic work provided evidence of Joseph Smith’s power, his calling from God. The cultural work is just as interesting.
TAYSOM: The cultural work that can be done is that’s where the scholars come in. That’s where our work is at. We sort of read these performances in their cultural context to see if there may be broader issues at play other than simply casting out the devil.
HODGES: That’s the practical level
TAYSOM: Or fighting between good and evil.
HODGES: The symbolic level. But when Joseph Smith later identified it as the first miracle after the church’s organization, the narrative performed the cultural work of calling attention to the ongoing warfare he expected the saints to encounter, calling their attention also to the power God gave them to overcome the evil one. Scholars can approach any tradition and history looking for cultural work.
TAYSOM: There are lots of cases in European history in particular, where scholars pay a great deal of attention to the kinds of cultural work that’s being done. So the case of Nicole Aubrey, for example, in France is one that deals with the ability of women to have a voice in a male dominated culture, and they do that through a possession, and it gives them a chance to be listened to and heard in a way that they’re not when they’re speaking in their own voice.
So those are the kinds of things scholars are looking for. And when I talked about the various cases in my Mormonism and exorcism article—and I mean there are hundreds of others I could use, the collection was massive that I generated—I’m trying to find a cultural explanation, some cultural work. But it’s not exhausted. Other scholars can look at it and find different things going on.
HODGES: Historians can detect some of the cultural work by paying attention to the way stories sometimes change over time.
[Music: Sten Erland Hermundstad, Dreams]
HODGES: Consider another Mormon exorcism story. The Pomfret Branch in New York. You see, Joseph Smith was not the only Mormon exorcist at work in the 1830s. In 1839, the same year that Smith recorded his exorcism of Knight for his official history, a newly baptized sixteen-year-old Latter-day Saint named Lorenzo Brown participated in a very dramatic series of exorcisms.
Lorenzo and his family and a handful of other members of the LDS church were part of very small and isolated branch in Pomfret, New York along the shores of Lake Erie. The branch met at the home Lorenzo was growing up in, where they witnessed many gifts of the spirit together like miraculous healings and speaking in tongues. By the time they joined the LDS Church they had a nice collection of miraculous family lore. Lorenzo once told the story of how his grandfather predicted the day, hour, and minute of his own death. Then there was Lorenzo’s father, Benjamin Brown, who was drying his clothes by the fireplace one night when an angel appeared and instructed him not to join any church yet, because, the angel said, the true church was about to be restored.
Benjamin and his family and close friends joined the Mormons shortly thereafter, forming this little branch. Tongues, prophecies, and angels weren’t the only miracles they witnessed together. Benjamin recorded an affidavit, complete with the signatures of other witnesses to the event, of a startling battle with dark forces.
Here’s Benjamin’s affidavit.
BENJAMIN BROWN: On this day passed a marvelous scene before the Elders of Israel. We were called to cast out Devils, which had entered Sister Crosby. After praying and fasting seventeen hours, by the power of the Holy Ghost one was cast out which was seen and felt, for he attacked all of us. Shook me on the side and in the face. Seized Brother Moore on the arms, which made them sore for some time. The Devil was seen in the room and at length he entered into Brother Melvin with such power that it seemed as he would be pressed to death. He could not speak but made signs. We laid hands on him and cast it out in the name of Jesus Christ. When he came out he came snarling like a dog.
We cast out thirty-seven in a variety of forms and noises, some like dogs, cats, hogs, pigs, and snakes. These was seen by many of the saints and heard. And the room became darkened like a mist and the smell was like brimstone, and more filthy. It affected our eyes so that we had to wash them. Also our mouths, much affected. Some heard noise like thunder and saw lightening. Some were punched in the face, others in the arms, others heard him gnash with his teeth. So this was many witnesses both men and women in the Lord Jesus Christ.
TAYSOM: Again, the symbolic and practical work is basically what it always is, which is there’s an evil spirit—or in this case the devil but it’s basically good versus evil, right? The devil is cast out and they use the priesthood to which they had been recently ordained. The man in the community who was recently ordained with the priest and they use that to cast out the devil.
HODGES: That affidavit wasn’t the only time Benjamin Brown talked about the frightening encounter.
TAYSOM: In the later telling of it, it’s much simplified. A lot of the folk elements, for example the identification of the devil manifesting as certain animals which was a big part of the first account are dropped, and it becomes more clearly about maintaining priesthood order.
HODGES: What might explain the differences in these accounts, one from 1839, the other from 1853? Why did the animals drop away but the importance of priesthood authority became even more central?
TAYSOM: Broadly speaking, it’s the ongoing confrontation between the LDS Church in Utah and the American government. Primarily over the issue of polygamy and sort of secondarily over the issues of the mixture of church and state, too much Mormon power and so forth. And there was this heavy emphasis during those years of the need for Latter-day Saints to kind of respect priesthood authority, maintain order within their own world, so that they could successfully challenge the sort of incursions that were happening both legally, militarily in the late 1850s from the so-called Gentile world.
HODGES: By the 1850s, Taysom says, casting out evil spirits had become solidly tied to the Melchizedek priesthood—but not to any particular office within that priesthood. An elder could presumably control an evil spirit as well as the president of the church, with the requisite preparation and faith.
Speaking of elders, Mormon missionaries were far more likely than other church members to report cases of possession and exorcism.
[Music: Bruno Sanfilippo, Piano Textures 3 V]
HODGES: In 1888 a Mormon woman in the Southern States mission requested a visit from the missionaries. She was possessed by a devil, and asked them to help by the laying on of hands. They were happy to comply, and the evil spirit was summarily dismissed. Things were following the typical script. Or more accurately, they were helping to write the Mormon script. Variations on a theme.
TAYSOM: Exorcism, particularly if you look at the European context, the Catholic context, everybody in the performance agrees on what the script is, okay? So there’s a script for how possessed people behave and there’s a script for how the dispossession is going to be carried out.
In the Mormon context, particularly in the early years where they’re getting converts, the script for how to be possessed isn’t fixed. So it shifts all the time. And so she’s bringing with her whatever her background was about what being possessed meant.
She’s performing this oracular function. She claims she could see the future and she was initially telling them things like, if you cross this foot bridge, you’re going to fall off and hurt yourself, and they didn’t listen to her and then one of them fell off in her leg. And then she would predict things about, you know, a child would be sick and then get better. And so she had this kind of reputation as this oracular kind of priestess.
HODGES: A priestess. In Mormonism, only men have been ordained to the priesthood, but early LDS women were known to speak prophecies, speak in tongues, even bless and heal the sick. So even here she was following what Taysom calls “the script.”
But then she went off script. She told the elders she was receiving divine revelations in their behalf.
TAYSOM: But then she starts talking about how one of them is going to take her as a plural wife. Of course, this was during the period when polygamy was still being practiced and it wasn’t unheard of for missionaries to bring back wives. Their main concern when they heard about this, though, was how to get her back without running afoul of the law because this was during the period of the raid where, you know, polygamists were sort of driven underground, leaders were in hiding. So they wrote a letter, you know, they had the audacity to write a letter to Wilford Woodruff and ask him what they ought to do, how to get her back, because she had said they were going to marry her, one of them was going to marry her, and so they had to figure out a way to get her back. [laughs] They didn’t have much—They acted like they didn’t have much choice. So Woodruff was not pleased with this. And instead of replying to them, he wrote back to the mission president basically asking him what kind of a circus he was allowing to be run down there.
HODGES: [laughs] Yeah, he said to “give them a severe rebuke.”
TAYSOM: Yeah. So the mission president came and paid him a visit and in fact rebuked them. And then at that point is when the mission president decided that she must have been possessed at some point. He said, well, they exorcised her once but then evil spirits must have come back. And that’s what accounted for her supernatural abilities and also for her desire to attach herself to these missionaries.
HODGES: You see, there was one more catch in this story.
TAYSOM: She was actually married and had three or four children.
HODGES: The mission president, echoing Wilford Woodruff’s alarm, diagnosed the possession with that in mind. Family and gender dynamics played a large role. Here’s what the mission president reported:
MISSION PRESIDENT: The object of this evil spirit was to get these elders to commit adultery with this woman. They had no right to receive revelations through this or any other woman. If the Lord had anything to reveal to them, pertaining to their duties, it was their privilege to receive the revelation. The elders are not sent out here to get wives, they are sent to preach the Gospel; and strictly commanded to let women alone. These elders debased their priesthood in making it subject to the Devil, through this woman. This was a married woman, and had three children, which alone should have been sufficient for the elders to know that they were being deceived.
HODGES: If the object was to discredit her, why not just accuse the woman of lying? That’s harder to do when she’s already proven her ability to prophecy so accurately. But perhaps there was something more to it in this story. We can only speculate about the story’s cultural work.
TAYSOM: It’s hard to know for sure. But my reading of this is that it’s sort of shot through with gender tensions. So the fact that this is a woman who is claiming revelation, very much in vain that men claimed revelation for plural marriage. You know, this is a common thing going all the way back to Joseph Smith was that they would say God told me you’re to be my wife and the discussion would ensue there. But she was claiming this, kind of reversing it, and I think that was one of the main reasons the mission president had a problem with it, and then Wilford Woodruff had a problem with it.
Obviously an adjunct problem to that was the fact that polygamy was becoming more and more problematic, and that the missionaries weren’t really supposed to be doing that. But I don’t think you can discount the fact that we’re dealing with a woman’s voice here. If this were a man, I think things would have worked out slightly differently. But it’s interesting that in world context the vast majority or reported cases of possession are women.
HODGES: Mormons continued to share stories of possession and exorcism into the twentieth century, and they haven’t even completely dried up in the present. But the archive thins out significantly over time. The supernatural seems to keep giving way to the natural, the demon haunted world seemed to become less demon-haunted.
A sociologist named Michael Cuneo who specialized on the subject said by the 1960s “exorcism was all but dead and forgotten.” But like I said earlier, you can put the devil in the basement, but that doesn’t mean he’ll stay there. Exorcism came back in a big way during the 1970s.
If you’re listening with children present, now might be a good time to have them go do something else. Listener discretion is advised. Exorcism surged in popular imagination in the year 1973. What was going on?
THE EXORCIST TRAILER (1973)
NARRATOR: Somewhere between science and superstition there is another world. The world of darkness. [Screaming, possession sounds.] Nobody expected it. Nobody believed it. And nothing could stop it.
PRIEST: There are no experts. You probably know as much about possession as most priests. Your daughter doesn’t say she’s a demon, she says she’s the devil himself.
MOTHER: I’m telling you that that thing upstairs isn’t my daughter! And I want you to tell me that you know for a fact that there’s nothing wrong with my daughter except in her mind! You tell me you know for a fact that an exorcism wouldn’t do any good. You tell me that!
NARRATOR: The one hope. The only hope. The exorcist. [Link]
HODGES: The Exorcist was a smash hit. It had been based on a novel by William Peter Blatty.
TAYSOM: But the novel was actually based on a real occurrence, a real claimed exorcism that occurred in the 1940s that Blatty had found out about as a student at Georgetown University, and he researched it and then he novelized it into what became as extremely famous film.
Now, a little bit of background. Before this, Roman Catholics had, in the American context, done everything they could to distance themselves from exorcism. It had been part of anti-Catholic lure, deep American history, that Catholics were superstitious, that they engage in all these strange rituals, basically they weren’t Protestant enough obviously. So as they became more and more kind of mainstream Americans, they dropped away from this. There weren’t very many exorcists working in America at the time this film came out.
When the film came out, it revolutionized everything. All of a sudden everybody wanted in on the exorcism business. And this is where we see the birth of these “deliverance ministries.” So Protestant churches, you know, sort of store front churches, whose only purpose is to deliver people from evil spirits. Roman Catholics get more interested in exorcism again. They start up the training center for exorcist at the Vatican.
Now, the reason that it happens in the seventies. Cuneo speculates that it’s this period of real unrest in the United States. The sexual revolution is happening. The Vietnam War is winding room. We have this revolution in mores. And so the book focuses on this young, pre-adolescent girl who sort of becomes obscene, and there’s some symbolism there and the idea that Cuneo draws out is that Americans were trying to deal with youth culture and all of these sort of attendant transitions. And The Exorcist resonated with Americans because of those themes.
HODGES: Catholics and Protestants weren’t the only ones with stories to tell in the wake of The Exorcist. In fact, one of the most interesting stories in Taysom’s archive of Mormon exorcisms happened in 1977 and it features current Latter-day Saint apostle M. Russell Ballard. Taysom tells the tale.
[Music: Fabrizio Paterlini: My Piano, The Clouds]
TAYSOM: Well, so this story I found, it’s the only one in the collection that isn’t a strictly a first-person narrative. This one is from the journal of Leonard Arrington who was at that time serving as church historian. He was invited to someone’s home in Salt Lake City and there was a gathering there and Elder Ballard was there. At that time, Ballard had just finished serving as a mission president in Eastern Canada and he was very soon to be called, or had already been called, I can’t remember, to the First Quorum of the Seventy.
So, he tells the story of a woman who was possessed in the mission field, and the missionaries try and cast out the evil spirit, and they don’t know if it’s the devil or not. They just think it’s an evil spirit. They tried to cast it out. It doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. She goes on a temple trip and they report that when she’s in the temple everything is fine. But as soon as she gets out of the temple she starts to manifest this again. And the sources, Arrington’s journal is not clear about what Ballard said her symptoms were at that time in the earliest phase of the possession. But they just say they couldn’t get rid of it.
So Elder Ballard hears about this and travels to where the woman is, and as soon as he gets there, according to the account, the woman starts to react violently. And Ballard for some reason instructs the stake president, who is also there, to lay his hands on the woman and cast the devil out. And Ballard diagnoses her as being possessed by the devil himself during this process. So the state president does it and it works, but only for a minute.
So the missionaries did it, it didn’t work at all. The stake president does it, the devil leaves the woman for a moment and then supposedly comes back in, and then Elder Ballard says “well, I’ll have to take over.” And so he takes over and lays his hands on her and this takes about thirty minutes of him—I think he says he’s having a discourse with Satan, obviously through the woman’s voice, until finally he succeeds in casting the devil out.
And then he interprets this story for his audience by saying that clearly, the reason that he was able to do it was the devil had to respond to the highest church authority in the region.
Now, there’s nothing in the earlier history of exorcism in the LDS Church to indicate that the position of authority somebody held had any bearing at all on the ability to cast out evil spirits. The Melchizedek priesthood was the primary vehicle for that, and anyone who held the Melchizedek priesthood was seen as being more or less equal in their ability to pronounce a healing blessing or cast out an evil spirit.
But here you’ve got, in his account, a sensitivity apparently on the devil’s part to hierarchy and that he was apparently sensitive to the highest church authority that could conveniently present himself. Because obviously if we follow this logic through, the devil would only leave people if the president of the church cast him out. So here, in the way that Ballard is imagining the devil, and the way that he’s changing the Mormon imagination, the devil is responding to this increased bureaucracy by respecting it, essentially, which really reflects the expansion of the Mormon hierarchy during the 1970s, the advent of the First Quorum of the Seventy and the kind of increasing standardization that put priesthood office and the keys of authority somewhat in competition with priesthood itself as a power.
HODGES: The Exorcist and the correlation movement? Could that explain Elder Ballard’s experience? Could it explain it away? Taysom says it really isn’t that simple.
TAYSOM: Any kind of cultural influence question is really difficult, unless someone says, you know, “I read this and then I started to behave in this way,” which people tend not to say.
HODGES: [laughs] Right.
TAYSOM: And ideas get transmitted through culture in a wide variety of ways. No, I don’t imagine Elder Ballard to be sitting around, you know, up nights reading The Exorcist or you know, going to see it while he was a mission president or whatever. I’m sure that didn’t happen. But those ideas get out into the culture and the expectation of what the devil is going to do—those are all influenced by culture.
HODGES: The devil himself even, perhaps, influenced by culture.
HODGES: Elder Ballard may have emphasized the LDS Church’s hierarchy in his encounter with an evil spirit in 1977. But the experience itself seems to have slipped through the correlation cracks. The Church’s official Handbook of Instructions contains detailed descriptions of LDS ordinances and rituals, like baptism, priesthood ordination, and blessing the sick. Casting out evil spirits, however, has no official ritual standing within Mormonism.
In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Mormon leaders spoke openly about possession and exorcism, but there is no prescribed exorcism ritual. There’s no official way to diagnose a demoniac. In a religion that has become as highly centralized and allows as little room for ritual innovation as Mormonism does, Steven Taysom says it is unusual to find something like this that’s both practiced and not officially prescribed.
HODGES: Despite official silence on the subject, Mormons have a long, and continuing, history of casting out evil spirits. The stories that we’ve talked about today of Mormon exorcism are each included in an article Taysom published in the journal Religion and American Culture. The article is called “‘Satan mourns naked upon the earth’: Locating Mormon Possession and Exorcism Rituals in the American Religious Landscape.” His archive of stories was far too large to cover in one article, though. Most stories were left on the cutting room floor.
[Music: Chad Lawson: Nocturne in A Minor]
TAYSOM: There was one story that I wish that I could have included from the early twentieth century that occurred in Southern Idaho near Pocatello. And this was a case where a woman had joined the Church but she had ties to—she was from the South and she had ties to kind of charismatic tongue speaking denominations in her background. And she became possessed. And her possession was interesting because the stake president was having her go to doctors. He wasn’t sure if this was medical or spiritual, what to do about it, and so they had multiple exorcisms performed on her over a lengthy period of time.
And the conversations that the spirits would have—because the devil was there but also other spirits, and the more she learned about Mormonism, the more the spirits seemed to learn about Mormonism. So she learned about work for the dead and she learned about, you know, degrees of glory, and so the spirits were talking about how they had witnessed others of their kind—and so here she was talking to people who had lived and had died and were in what Mormon’s called “spirit prison” and she talks about, or the spirits inside of her were talking about how they had seen their friends disappear, ascend into a paradise.
And so she has these conversations, you know, in the voice of the spirits with the people who are sort of sent to watch over her and make sure she doesn’t hurt herself. That case goes on for a very long time and it has so many nuances to it that I just couldn’t include it. But it was the most important one that didn’t make it into the article.
HODGES: In my own experience as a Latter-day Saint I’ve only rarely heard possession and exorcism stories here and there. But to be honest, it’s never played a large part in my own life of faith. Taysom traced mentions of the devil in LDS General Conference sessions. Talk of demons fades away, but the devil is still around, although LDS leaders tend not to dwell on him.
When James E. Faust was an apostle in 1987 he delivered perhaps the last extended conference talk on the devil. [Link] Faust seemed a bit wary about such public discussion, though. He starts things off with a joke before issuing a warning and a justification for talking about the devil at such length.
JAMES E. FAUST: You may have heard the story, and it is a story, of the disruptive, noisy boys in a Sunday School class who were asked by their exasperated teacher why they bothered to attend Sunday School. One of the more impudent boys replied, “We came to see you perform a miracle.”
The teacher walked slowly over to the boy and menacingly responded, “We don’t perform miracles here, but we do cast out devils!”
For some reason I feel impressed to speak today against the devil and his angels—the source and mainspring of all evil. I do so prayerfully, because Satan is not an enlightening subject.
It is not good practice to become intrigued by Satan and his mysteries. No good can come from getting close to evil. Like playing with fire, it is too easy to get burned: “The knowledge of sin tempteth to its commission” said Joseph F. Smith. The only safe course is to keep well distanced from him and any of his wicked activities or nefarious practices. However, Brigham Young said that it is important to “study evil, and its consequences.”
HODGES: James E. Faust was never one to leave things on a sad note. His conference address included admonitions that Mormons today are still familiar with, even if they don’t recall exactly where they heard them. Admonitions intended to give us a leg up on the adversary.
FAUST: However, we need not become paralyzed with fear of Satan’s power. He can have no power over us unless we permit it. He is really a coward, and if we stand firm, he will retreat. The Apostle James counseled: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). He cannot know our thoughts unless we speak them. And Nephi states that “he hath no power over the hearts” of people who are righteous (see 1 Ne. 22:26).
[Music: Bruno Sanfilippo, Clar0scuro]
HODGES: Before we go, there’s something you’re still probably wondering about. I hinted at it a little earlier when I asked Carlos Eire what he thought about the accounts of levitating saints. What are we supposed to do with these stories? Are they real? How would historians even assess that question? I couldn’t complete an interview with Steve Taysom without asking for his take.
Historian Brian Levack points out that demon possession is a methodological landmine for historians. Did you hit any of those as you were going along, Steve?
TAYSOM: Well, no because he hit them first and I was able to avoid them.
HODGES: [laughs] He cleared the field.
TAYSOM: Yeah, I mean it’s one of those things where you have to be—The landmines he’s talking about are really…Cn you separate in account from your analysis of the account? And if you can master that, you can say, “okay, this is what they say happened. Now let’s apply several different modes of reading this event, or the account of the event,” then you’re able to avoid the landmines and getting trapped into, you know, “did this happen,” for example, or debating whether or not the devil is real, or what can the devil do.
Those are all questions that insiders are asking as insiders. As a scholar of religion, I’m acting as an outsider trying to read these events for whatever kind of broader cultural information I can gleam from them. And that’s the kind of land mine he was talking about, I think. So I didn’t trip on them, although I did run into a lot of people who wanted to know, you know, if I could do an exorcism.
HODGES: That’s cool. [laughs] Can you?
TAYSOM: I’ve never tried it. I suppose there’s a first time for everything! I’ve never seen a possessed person that I know of. So, no my article is not a practical article. It’s not a “how-to.”
HODGES: Of course, ProfessorTaysom’s students aren’t always comfortable with the way he brackets the question about whether evil spirits exist or really possess people’s bodies. Theyr’e not comfortable, either because they think he should openly declare it is all real, or because they’re scared that he might verify its reality.
TAYSOM: I had a woman in one class get quite angry with me because I was talking about these cases, you know, as I was talking about the development of the idea of the devil, and as it gets elaborated over time throughout the intertestamental period and in the New Testament. And she said, “well, you’re acting like the devil doesn’t exist.” And I said “well, I’m not concerned with that question right now, we don’t have any, you know, scholarly evidence one way or the other for that. We’re not talking it.” And she said, “well, we do have scholarly evidence because if Jesus said it, it’s true.”
I get that kind of reaction which, you know, sort of stops the class. I have to kind of reboot it a little bit and get them back on track. And occasionally some of the films I show frighten people. I’m surprised at how, given the fact that young people of college age today seem to be inured to almost anything because they’ve been exposed to so much. They are still very easily frightened [laughs] by discussions of the devil. And so in the era of trigger warnings and so on, I do have to warn them at the beginning of the class that we’re going to talk about some scary things in here, because that’s the point of the class is to talk about how people have imagined evil so that they could fight it in a symbolic fashion. And once they understand that that’s what we’re doing, they calm down.
HODGES: And isn’t that sort of how it works? Once we understand something, we can work to take control of the situation ourselves. But it’s when things feel out of control. That’s what can really frustrate us. Or it can even scare the devil out of us. Figuratively speaking, of course.
HODGES: This special Halloween episode of the Maxwell Institute Podcast was written and produced by me, Blair Hodges. As I researched the subject matter to prepare for this episode, you might say something possessed me to try something a little bit different this time. For those of you who didn’t already recognize it, style and format of this episode is a tribute to Aaron Mahnke’s popular award-winning podcast Lore. If you haven’t heard of Lore, I recommend checking it out. Aaron Mahnke draws on non-fictional accounts, folklore, to give you a scare and make you think. Lore was recently turned into an original series on Amazon Prime, as well.
Music was created by Bruno Sanfilippo, Kai Engel, Sten Erland, Chad Lawson, and Fabrizio Paterlini.
My thanks also to Steve Taysom, whose research was obviously indispensable to this episode. Taysom is an associate professor in the department of philosophy and comparative Religion at Cleveland State University. He’s the author of Shakers, Mormons, and Religious Worlds. His article on Mormonism and exorcism was recently published in the journal Religion and American Culture. It’s called “‘Satan mourns naked upon the earth’: Locating Mormon Possession and Exorcism Rituals in the American Religious Landscape, 1830-1977.” Christopher Blythe’s research on exorcism and Mormonism provided some useful background, as well. Ardis Parshall did some investigating for me down at the Church History Museum, tracking down the devil in her spare time.
The voice of Joseph Smith was provided by Jeremy King. Morgan Davis provided the voiceover of Newell Knight. Morgan was an appropriate enough choice—he’s a direct descendant of Newell Knight. Carl Griffin provided the voice of Benjamin Brown, and Brian Hauglid provided the voice of the mission president. The sarcastic editor of the Palmyra Reflector was none other than Philip Barlow.
You can watch Carlos Eire’s Reformation conference presentation on the Maxwell Institute’s YouTube channel. It includes some fascinating portraits of Saint Joseph of Cupertino levitating through the air.
We’ll be back next time with another regular episode of the Maxwell Institute Podcast. If you’ll excuse me, I think I hear an alarm clock buzzing in the next room.
This episode is a tribute to and homage of LORE, by Aaron Mahnke. If you haven’t already, you should check it out. Voice actors on this episode include: Jeremy King, Morgan Davis, Philip Barlow, Carl Griffin, and Brian Hauglid.
The views expressed here and in Maxwell Institute publications are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Maxwell Institute, Brigham Young University, or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” (D&C 88:118)