Mormon Visions and the Gift of the Holy Ghost





The Restoration, Holy Ghost and Visions:

Did Joseph Smith use psychedelics to facilitate visionary experiences?

Excerpts from Dr. Robert Becksteadm's essay "The Restoration and The Sacred Mushrooom"

From the LDS Church Ensign Magazine, April 1992, page 12:

"The dedication of the Kirtland Temple in March of 1836 represented the greatest spiritual outpouring in modern Church history. Joseph wrote that, shortly after the dedicatory prayer was offered, “Frederick G. Williams arose and testified that [during the prayer] an angel entered the window and took his seat between Father Smith and himself. David Whitmer also saw angels in the house.”"

"Later, “Brother George A. Smith arose and began to prophesy, when a noise was heard like the sound of a rushing mighty wind, which filled the Temple, and all the congregation simultaneously arose, being moved upon by an invisible power; many began to speak in tongues and prophesy; … and I beheld that the Temple was filled with angels.”"

"Of one of the concluding meetings, Joseph wrote, “The Savior made his appearance to some, while angels ministered to others, and it was a Pentecost and an endowment indeed, long to be remembered, for the sound shall go forth from this place into all the world, and occurrences of this day shall be handed down upon the pages of sacred history, to all generations.”"

According to the official web site of the LDS Church, in the spring of 1820, Joseph Smith offered a simple prayer that set into motion a series of events leading to the restoration of the true Church and the truth about life’s greatest questions.

But for many early LDS coverts, learning about truth was a second rank endeavor. Instead, seeking for a personal visionary experience was primary. According to LDS scholar, Richard Bushman, early Mormon converts were “seekers” whose

… greatest hunger was for spiritual gifts like dreams, visions, tongues, miracles, and spiritual raptures.
(Bushman, R. L. (2005). Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. p. 113, 147)

These early Church members sought direct experience with God and believed that Joseph Smith had the power to grant their desires. Confidence in their Prophet was not misplaced. Between 1830 and 1836, under the supervision of Joseph Smith, many early Mormon converts enjoyed heavenly visions and spiritual raptures. However, after Joseph’s death in 1844, the great visionary period of Church history came to an end.

Twenty years later, in 1864, members would ask Church leaders, “why it is that we do not see more angels, have more visions, that we do not see greater and more manifestations of power?”

The mystery seems to center around Joseph Smith himself. According to church historian Richard Bushman, it was Joseph Smith himself that connected converts to heaven by some power that he possessed, a power that remains a mystery to this day. (Bushman, R. L. (2005). Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. P. 560)

But is Joseph Smith’s spiritual power to connect converts with heaven really beyond our ability to investigate and understand?

Over the last 50 years Joseph Smith-like spiritual power has come under examination by an ever increasing number of anthropologists, religious historians, ethnobotanists and ethnomycologists. It now appears that spiritual power comparable to that of Joseph Smith can be acquired in the course of consuming visionary plants, mushrooms and cactus. Otherwise known as psychedelics and hallucinogens, when these visionary materials are taken in a religious setting, they are often referred to as entheogens. An entheogen is any substance, such as a plant or drug, taken to occasion a heavenly vision or spiritual rapture.

How important are entheogens to the world’s great religions? Robert C. Fuller, a leading historian and interpreter of American religious life writes that the use of entheogens

… is one of the most mysterious and important subjects in all religious history. Entheogens have figured prominently in the mystical practice of some of the world’s greatest civilizations. They have been widely employed4 in shamanic society and their use continues today throughout the world. They alter consciousness in such a profound way, that … their effects can range from states resembling psychosis to what are perhaps the ultimate human experiences, union with god or revelations of other mystical realities. (Robert C. Fuller. Stairways to Heaven: Drugs in American Religious History. Boulder, Colo.: Westview. 2000. as quoted in Stephen Hoeller, Misca-06)

Just how legitimate are visions and raptures occasioned by entheogens? Religious historian Huston Smith wrote that the use of entheogenic material is able to occasion an “experience that is indistinguishable from, if not identical with” those of religious mystics. (

For instance, in an article published in Life Magazine May 13th 1957, R. Gordon Wasson, the “father of ethnomycology”, reported the discovery of a divine mushroom that could easily occasion visions and ecstasies.

Wasson wrote,

On the night of June 29, 1955… I shared with a family of Indians a celebration of "holy communion" where "divine" mushrooms where first adored and then consumed. (

Wasson then reports,

Now I am seeing for the first time, seeing direct, without the intervention of mortal eyes … vistas beyond the horizons of this life, to travel backwards and forwards in time, to enter other planes of existence, even to know God. (Smith, H. (2003). Cleansing the Doors of Perception: The Relligious Significance of Entheogenic Plans and Chemicals. Boulder Colorado: Sentient Publications. P. 52)

In 1961, Huston Smith ingested peyote cactus and made a similar report.

I noted mounting tension in my body that turned into tremors in my legs … I [began] experiencing … the clear, unbroken Light... I was now seeing … with the force of the sun, in comparison with which everyday experience reveals only flickering shadows in a dim cavern… [I saw] worlds within worlds. (Smith, H. (2000). Cleansing the Doors of Perception: The Religious Significance of Entheogenic Plans and Chemicals. Boulder, Colorado: Sentient Publications. p. 10-11)

The result has been a maturing theory of entheogens and the origins of religion. In September 2006, Michael S. Hoffman summarized what is now believed by many to be the relationship between religion and entheogens. The entheogen theory of religion holds that the main origin and ongoing wellspring of religion is visionary plants… [such as] Peyote … Datura … and Amanita muscaria mushrooms. Visionary plants have been commonly used around the world throughout the history of religion and culture, including the various forms of Western Esotericism. (Michael S. Hoffman. Entheogenic Theory of Religion and Ego Death. September 24, 2006 Salvia Divinorum Magazine, Issue 4)

Greek and Christian mythic-religious systems often refer to visionary plants. (Ruck, Staples, & Heinrich 2001)

If entheogens can shed light on some of the world’s most important religions, including possibly early Christianity, is it possible that they may also shed light on the rise of Mormonism, America’s most successful religion? In order to address this question, it seems reasonable to consider the motive, opportunity and evidence to suggest that Joseph Smith employed entheogens to occasion heavenly visions and spiritual rapures.

What would motivate Joseph Smith to use entheogens?

One possible answer is that without entheogens, most visions and raptures come only after years of disciplined meditation or severe physical austerity.

Ake Hultkranz, retired professor of comparative religion explains that the popularity of entheogens … is partly due to the fact that visions are rendered easily accessible, and fasting, isolation, and self-torture are unnecessary. (Hultkrantz, A. (1967). The Religions of the American Indians. Berkeley, Callifornia: University of California Press. P. 153)

It is becoming apparent that meditation, fasting and religious ceremony are not the primary causes of visionary states and spiritual raptures but instead play a supportive role for the use of entheogens. Michael Hoffman notes Meditation, shamanic drumming, and liturgical ritual were developed as activities to do in the plantinduced [visionary] state, not as methods of inducing the [visionary] state in the first place. (Michael S. Hoffman. Entheogenic Theory of Religion and Ego Death. September 24, 2006 Salvia Divinorum Magazine, Issue 4)

In other words, if Joseph Smith employed entheogens, he met the requirement to place himself and early Mormon converts in the express lane to spiritual powers without the need for years of meditation, repetitive religious ritual or severe physical austerities.

Joseph Smith's Access and Training in Entheogens

How available were entheogens to Joseph Smith? In 1998, Richard Evans Schultes, former director of the Botanical Museum of Harvard University and the “father of ethnobotany” identified three culturally important entheogens available in the area Joseph lived and traveled: Datura plant, Amanita muscaria mushroom and peyote cactus.

mormon-visionC. Jess Groesbeck has shown that the model of Joseph Smith as a shamanic personality is a comprehensible way to understand and embrace Joseph’s life and work. (C. Jess Groesbeck. The Shaman’s Visions. Sunstone Symposium 1985; Joseph Smith And The Translation Of The Book Of Mormon, A Huichol Indian Parallel)

Algonquin Indian shamans inhabiting the region from the Atlantic seaboard running north through eastern and central Canada and south to the Ohio River are known to have used both Datura plant and Amanita Muscaria mushroom in their religious ceremonies. (

Since Jess Groesbeck has shown that many aspects of Joseph Smith’s visionary career is consistent with Amerindian shamanism, it is possible that Joseph Smith was mentored by an Algonquin shaman.

John Heinerman has demonstrated Joseph Smith’s interest in Thomsonian herbal medicine. Thomsonian medicine was inspired by early American root doctors using magical plants to occasion cures. According to Catherine Yronwode, “root doctoring” is an admixture of the hoodoo magical practices of African-American slaves mingled with the botanical knowledge of the Amerindian medicine man. (

Root doctors are known to have used the visionary Datura plant in their magical practices. (

A possible mentor for Joseph Smith in the use of Datura was Black Pete. Black Pete, an African-American was called a revelator and a chief suggesting that he was also a root doctor. Black Pete was initially from Pennsylvania and in 1825 may have met the young Joseph Smith digging for buried treasure. After leaving Pennsylvania, Black Pete became one of the earliest converts in Kirtland Ohio joining the Church in early 1831.

As an early convert to Mormonism, Black Pete was described as "a chief man" who was "sometimes seized with strange vagaries and odd conceits." On at least one occasion Pete fancied he could "fly" and later recollections have him chasing "a ball that he said he saw flying in the air" or "revelations carried by a black angel." (Dialogue, Vol.12, No.2, p.24)

Black Pete was present during the Kirtland visionary period of early 1831 when the strange manifestations likely associated with Datura plant ingestion were particular pronounced. (Bushman, R. L. (2005). Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. P. 107, 131)

LDS Historians D. Michael Quinn and Lance S. Owens have shown that Joseph Smith incorporated elements of ceremonial magic and alchemy imported from Europe. (Bushman, R. L. (2005). Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. P. 107, 131)

Alchemists are believed to have employed the visionary Amanita muscaria mushroom in their occult practices and historian Lance Owens identifies a possible alchemical mentor for Joseph Smith by the name of Dr. Luman Walter. Owens explains:

Dr. Walter was a distant cousin of Smith's future wife [Emma] and a member of the circle associated with Smith's early treasure quests. By contemporary reports he was not only a physician, but a magician and mesmerist who had traveled extensively in Europe to obtain "profound learning"--probably including knowledge of alchemy, Paracelcian medicine, and hermetic lore. (Lance Owens 1994a.)

Opportunities to Administer Entheogens

Is there evidence to suggest that Joseph Smith gifted new converts with visionary experience by adding a visionary plant such as Datura to sacramental wine? According to LaMar Petersen in his 1975 book, Hearts Made Glad the answer is probably yes. (Petersen, L. (1975). Hearts Made Glad: The Charges of Intemperance Against Joseph Smith the Mormon Prophet. Salt Lake City, Utah: p. 90.)

Petersen noted a correlation in early Mormonism between the ingestion of sacramental wine and visionary experience. In the very first conference of the Church in June 1830 at Fayette, New York, Joseph Smith recorded

we partook together of the emblems of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ … and the Holy Ghost was poured out upon us in a miraculous manner many of our members prophesied, whilst others had the heavens opened to their view, and were so overcome that we had to lay them on beds, or other convenient places: among the rest was brother Newel Knight, who had to be placed on a bed, being unable to help himself. ... He saw the heaven opened, and beheld the Lord Jesus Christ seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high ... When bodily strength was restored to these brethren, they shouted `Hosannas to God and the Lamb,' and rehearsed the glorious things which they had seen and felt, whilst they were yet in the spirit. (Times and Seasons, Vol.4, No.2, p.22-p.23)

Heavenly manifestations occurred in a March 18th 1833 sacrament meeting held in Kirtland Ohio under the direction of Joseph Smith.

Bro Joseph … promise[d] that the pure in heart that were present should see a heavenly vision … after which the bread and wine was distributed by Bro Joseph after which many of the brethren saw a heavenly vision of the savior and concourses of angels, and many other things, of which each one has a record of what he saw. (LDS History of the Church, Vol I. p. 283., Kirtland High Council Minutes (December 1832–November 1837). P. 16-17)

In the afternoon of March 27th 1833, Ebenezer Robinson reported that after the administration of the bread and wine Frederick G. Williams bore record that a holy angel of God came and sat between him and Joseph Smith, Senior. (

A meeting in which visions were occasioned by the application of anointing oil, which can also be laced with entheogenic material occurred on January 21, 1836. Joseph Smith was anointed first and in turn he anointed several of the Brethren. Joseph reported that after the anointing, The heavens were opened upon us and I beheld the celestial kingdom of God, and the glory thereof, whether in the body or out I cannot tell… Joseph said that many of the brethren “saw glorious visions also. (Joseph Smith Journal, Jan. 21, 1836, in PJS, 2:157-58; Bushman, R. L. (2005). Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. P. 312,313)

Joseph Smith's 1833 "School of the Prophets" was also a place where fasting, wine and vision went together. One participant later described the visions during the School of the Prophets:

Apostle Zebedee ColtrinThe brethren always went fasting; they went in the morning, remained until about four o'clock in the afternoon, when each had a glass of wine and piece of bread, after the ancient pattern. At every meeting the washing of feet was attended to.

At one of these meetings after the organization of the school, [Spring 1833] when we were all together ... a personage walked through the room from east to west, and Joseph asked if we saw him. I saw him and suppose the others did and Joseph answered, "that is Jesus, the Son of God, our elder brother."

Another person came through; he was surrounded as with a flame of fire. He (Brother Coltrin) experienced a sensation that it might destroy the tabernacle as it was of consuming fire of great brightness. The Prophet Joseph said, "this was the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." I saw Him. And the sensation was so powerful that it thrilled through my whole system and I felt it in the marrow of my bones. The Prophet Joseph said: Brethren, now you are prepared to be the apostles of Jesus Christ, for you have seen both the Father and the Son.

This appearance occurred about two or three weeks after the opening of the school. After the Father had passed through, Joseph told us to again take our positions in prayer. We did so, and in a very short time he drew our attention and said to us that Brother Reynolds Cahoon was about to leave us, and told us to look at him. He (Brother Cahoon) was on his knees and his arms were extended, his hands and wrists, head, face and neck down to his shoulders were as a piece of amber, clear and transparent, his blood having apparently left his veins. Upon the attention of the brethren being thus called to Brother Cahoon, the change seemed to pass away and Joseph said that in a few minutes more, Brother Cahoon would have left us, but he came to himself again. (Minutes, Salt Lake City School of the Prophets, October 3, 1883)

On March 30, 1836 during the dedication week of the Kirtland temple the Millennial Star reported that nearly five hundred brethren gathered in expectation of a spiritual Pentecost.

The bread and wine were then brought in… The Savior made His appearance to some, while angels ministered to others. (Millennial Star 15:726-728. See also Lamar Petersen, Hearts Made Glad, Salt Lake City Utah 1975, p. 124-125. See also

Elder Charles L. Walker recorded that when the brethren had … partaken of the Lord's supper, namely a piece of bread as big as your double fist and half a pint of wine in the temple … the Holy Ghost descend upon the heads of those present like cloven tongues of fire. ("Diary of Charles L. Walker," 1855-1902, excerpts typed, 1969, p.35.)

Church member Elder Zebedee Coltrin testified:

In Kirtland Temple, I have seen the power of God as it was in the day of Pentecost! and cloven tongues as of fire have rested on the brethren and they have spoken with other tongues as the spirit gave them utterance. I saw the Lord high and lifted up and frequently throng the solemn assemblies, the angels of God rested on the temple, and we heard their voices singing heavenly music. At another time when consecrating some oil, we saw visibly the finger of God enter the mouth of the bottle. (Minutes of High Priest Meeting, Spanish Fork, Utah, February 5, 1870)

Following consumption of sacramental bread and wine on the afternoon of April 3rd 1836, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery retired to the pulpit where a series of visions were opened to them including the appearance of Jesus Christ, Moses, Elias and Elijah. (History of the Church 2:434-435. See also Notes and Comments, BYU Studies, vol. 15 (1974-1975), Number 4 - Summer 1975 551.) D&C 110.

Then in a meeting on May 1st 1836, Times and Season's Editor, Elder Ebenezer Robinson, remembered

when we partook of consecrated bread and wine … some testified of having the visions of heaven opened to their view. (Ebenezer Robinson, “Items of Personal history of the Editor,” The Return, I (June, 1889), 88-91. As found in Lamar Petersen, Hearts Made Glad, Salt Lake City Utah 1975, p. 139. Also found at

Can untainted wine and pure anointing oil have occasioned heavenly visions or spiritual raptures of early Church converts? The answer is probably not. Alcohol related hallucinations only occur after years of abuse and abrupt withdrawal. Therefore visions associated with the ingestion of wine argue strongly for the surreptitious inclusion of an entheogen such as the visionary Datura plant.

Evidence of Dantra Use in Early Mormonism

What evidence is there that the plant Datura occasioned early Mormon convert visions rather than hypnosis, mass hysteria or spontaneous religious experience? Datura has been shown to be over 80 percent effective in creating a visionary experience whereas hypnosis is much less reliable, probably less than 10 percent. An even smaller percentage, likely less than 1 percent, will experience spontaneous heavenly visions. Datura would not only account for the high percentage of early Church converts having visionary experience following the ingestion of sacramental wine, but may also explain the accompanying untamed thoughts and behaviors that attended early Mormon sacrament meetings.

Lamar Petersen noted that the drinking of sacramental wine in the early days of the Church occasioned “unusual spiritual manifestations” of such a shocking nature they “impaired the image of the young Church among sober people.” (Hearts Made Glad, Salt Lake City Utah 1975, p. 79)

Isaac Morley FarmIn early 1831, sacrament meetings held at the Kirkland Ohio farm of Isaac Morley produced both visions and scandalous behavior. A Kirtland Ohio schoolteacher, Jesse Moss observed They partook of the Lords supper at night with darkened windows and excluded from the room all but their own till they got through and then opened the doors and called the outsiders in to witness a scene far exceeding the wildest scene ever exhibited among the Methodists. (J. J. Moss letter to J. T. Cobb dated Dec. 17, 1878. Found at

What were the wild scenes associated with early Mormon administration of sacramental wine?

Reporter Undisciplined Scenes
George A. Smith
Conference Address, Tabernacle Ogden City, on Tuesday, November 15, 1864

  • Unnatural distortions
  • Extravagant and wild ideas
David Whitmer
Found in Lamar Petersen, Hearts Made Glad, Salt Lake City Utah 1975, p. 81
  • Wielded the sword of Laban as expertly as a light dragoon
  • Acted like an Indian in the act of scalping
  • Slid on the floor with the rapidity of a serpent, sailing in boats to preach to the Lamanites.
Parley P. Pratt
Bushman, R. L. (2005). Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. p. 151
  • Swoons
  • Unseemly gestures
  • Cramps
  • Falling into ecstasies
Joseph Smith
History of the Church. IV (April 1, 1842), 580. Also see George A. Smith’s account of Joseph Smith description.
  • Members acting with insanity
  • Members immovable as if bound hand and foot in chains
  • Getting on the stumps of trees and shouting
  • Pursuing balls flying in the air and jumping off a cliff.

George A. Smith reported that members in Kirtland manifested unnatural distortions and extravagant and wild ideas.

David Whitmer said that members wielded the sword of Laban as expertly as a light dragoon, behaved like Indians in the act of scalping, slid on the floor with the rapidity of a serpent, sailed in boats to preach to the Lamanites.

Parley P. Pratt reported swoons, unseemly gestures, cramps and falling into ecstasies.

Joseph Smith himself noted manifestations of insanity, members becoming immovable as though bound hand and foot.

Joseph Smith reportedly was not present at these Kirtland meetings and disavowed the manifestations as being of a lying spirit. However, Joseph Smith’s own first vision story depicts similar strange thoughts and behaviors. Eldon Watson who harmonized Joseph’s nine accounts of the first vision notes the following aberrations from normal thinking and bodily function. (

Joseph’s tongue would not function, he heard strange sounds and sprang to his feet but saw nothing, he was seized upon and could not move, his vision was severely impaired, he saw all kinds of “improper pictures”, he believed he was going to be destroyed, he felt a peculiar sensation course through his entire body, he lost consciousness and awoke to find himself sprawling on his back and was unable to get up for some time.

Joseph Smith personified these strange manifestations as the actions of a being from the unseen world. This is consistent with Joseph’s analysis of the bizarre manifestations in 1831 Kirtland Ohio as being the responsibility of a lying spirit. However, Joseph would contradict this view in 1843 when he explained that evil spirits can neither manipulate the physical world nor occasion strange physical manifestations. Joseph explained to apparently worried Church members that if such a being was encountered and attempted to physically interact, nothing at all would be felt. (History of the Church 5:26749)

Rather than the devil being responsible for the peculiar manifestations attending the first vision and early Church convert visions, it is much more likely that Datura plant was involved.

Clinical Effects of Datura Correlation with LDS Visions

Clinical Effects of Datura Correlation with LDS Visions
Hallucinations (83%) Visions
Pupil Dilatation Blindness
Dry mucus membranes Dry mouth, can’t speak
Vasomotor instability Facial color changes (initially flushed, then white as blood pressure falls)
Delirium, paranoia (central stimulation) Unfounded fears, feeling of impending death, acting like or preaching to Indians, crawling,
wallowing, chasing balls flying through the air.
Muscle abnormalities(jerks, myclonic movements, choreoathetosis) Facial and body contortions, feeling bound
Unconsciousness (central depression) Coma
Onset: 1-4 hours Duration: 24-48 hours Experiences lasted hours to days.

As noted above, datura is over 80% reliable in occasioning hallucinations and visions. It also causes pupil dilatation and near blindness, dry mucus membranes making it difficult to speak; vasomotor instability with the face initially turning red then white as blood pressure falls; delirium including acting out inner visions and paranoid ideation; abnormal muscle movements including jerks and contortions and finally unconsciousness. Symptom onset is usually less than an hour and can continue for as long as two days.

The Independent Messenger published in Worchester, Massachusetts reported on May 27th 1831 that

Some [LDS Church members] lie in trances a day or two and visit the unknown regions in the meantime; some are taken with a fit of terrible shaking which they say is the power of the Holy Ghost. (Petersen, L. (1975). Hearts Made Glad: The Charges of Intemperance Against Joseph Smith the Mormon Prophet. Salt Lake City, Utah: p. 81.)

Mormon Jesus  VisionIn an early June 1831 Kirtland sacrament meeting, Joseph Smith alluded to possible mass visions and outright promised Lyman Wight that he would see Christ that day. Church historian Bushman explains what happened next:

Wight turned stiff and white, exclaiming that he had indeed viewed the Savior… Joseph Smith himself said, “I now see God, and Jesus Christ”… Then Harvey Whitlock … turn as black as Lyman was white… his fingers were set like claws. He went around the room and showed his hands and tried to speak, his eyes were the shape of ovals “O’s”… [Then] Leman Copley, who weighed over two hundred pounds, somersaulted in the air and fell on his back over a bench… [Similar behavior was manifested by] people all day and the greater part of the night. (Bushman, R. L. (2005). Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. P. 156-157)

In the Independent Gazetter published in Taunton, Massachusetts on January 11, 1833 it was reported that “in a few hours at a single meeting” there would be

shoutings, wailing, fallings, contortions, trances, visions, speaking in unknown tongues and prophesying. ... And we were frequently eye-witnesses to scenes of strange and unnatural conduct of Mormons, professedly under the influence of the spirit, that staggered the disbelief of the most stable and incredulous. (

John W. Gunnison who interviewed Church elders present during the 1836 Kirtland Pentecost reported that wine was administered

… that had been consecrated, and declared by the Prophet to be harmless and not intoxicating. This… produced unheard of effects, if we may credit the witnesses of these proceedings. Visions, tongues, trances, wallowings on the ground, shoutings, weeping, and laughing, the outpouring of prophecies… these, and other fantastic things, were among 'the signs following' at Kirtland. (Leut. J.W. Gunnison: The Mormons, or, Latter-Day Saints (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Col.: 1852, 107 as found in Lamar Petersen, Hearts Made Glad, Salt Lake City Utah 1975, p. 133)

Joseph Smith’s standard response was to attribute foul manifestations to the adversary while the heavenly manifestations were attributed to God. But a more reasonable explanation may be that the visionary effects of Datura plant are frequently accompanied by rather unnerving physical and psychological side effects.

Some witnesses of these events came to the conclusion that the sacrament had been laced with a drug. On January 6, 1831, a letter to the editor in the Palmyra Reflector accused Joseph Smith of legerdemain. (Palmyra Reflector, 6 Jan. 1831) Legerdemain means the practice of using “psychology, misdirection and natural choreography in accomplishing a magical effect.” In other words, Joseph Smith was being accused of using the sacrament as misdirection for the surreptitious administration of a visionary substance. In 1843, Henry Caswell wrote of “a pretended sacrament” associated with manifestations of power in early LDS meetings. (Henry Caswall, Prophet of the 19th Century, p. 63)

After witnessing several LDS sacrament meetings in Kirtland Ohio, Jesse Moss “became fully satisfied the wine was medicated” and one night attempted to steal a bottle but was caught. Immediately after his attempt was discovered, Moss made a public statement about how with drugged wine “angels could be manufactured & strange wonders made to appear in the night”. (J. J. Moss to James T. Cobb, Dec. 17, 1878)

A member of the Church by the last name of McWhithey was reportedly present during the 1836 Kirtland temple dedication week. Obviously disgruntled, McWhitney complained that the wine consumed was actually "mixed liquor” and that “the Mormon leaders intended to get the audience under [its] influence” so that visions experienced were believed to be of “the Lord's doings.” (Demming, Naked Truths (April, 1888), pp. 2-3. As found in Lamar Petersen, Hearts Made Glad, Salt Lake City Utah 1975, p. 135)

The connection of wine with fits of psychotic thinking and strange physical manifestations attending heavenly visions and spiritual raptures argues strongly in favor of the covert inclusion of the visionary Datura plant in the sacramental meal and anointing oil administered by Joseph Smith.

Amanita Muscaria Mushroom

What about Joseph Smith’s own use of entheogens? As noted, the psychotic thinking and peculiar physical manifestations attending Joseph’s first vision are compatible with Datura plant ingestion. But another entheogen most likely was the intoxicant involved.

The Amanita muscaria mushroom may be one of man's oldest entheogens. According to Dan Merker, an academic with a background in religious history, an entheogenic laced sacrament existed in a Judaeo-Christian context. (Merkur, D. (2000). The Mystery of Manna: The Psychedelic Sacrament of the Bible. Rochester, Vermont: Park Street Press.)

Clark Heinrich suggests there is evidence to believe the Amanita muscaria mushroom may have played a role, along with ergot fungus related to LSD, in occasioning the visions reported by Old Testament prophets as well as being employed in some early Christian Eucharist celebrations. (Clark Heinrich. Magic Mushrooms in Religion and Alchemy. Park Street Press, Rochester Vermont 2002. See also

However, these entheogens were not administered openly, but covertly within a more benign substance such as wine and anointing oil. To maintain secrecy, descriptions of Amanita muscaria mushroom use were cloaked in allegory and metaphor.

The Amanita muscaria mushroom, because of its changing form; its symbiotic relationship with pines, oaks and birch trees; and its profound visionary effect makes itself amenable to mystical personification and simile. A few examples of the Amanita Muscaria mushroom in various stages of life underneath its host trees are shown above. In its newborn state, it takes on the appearance of a small dazzling white stone or particle; then a woolly lamb, a constellation of sun, moon and stars, a brilliantly colored ground fruit; a winged bird adorned with a string of pearls around its neck; a sun disk radiating light in all directions; a gold plate upon which is found strange writing and a serpent hanging on a pole. According to those who have consumed this fruit, the visionary state it produces occasions an endowment of divine knowledge and celestial love.

This 13th century Christian fresco from France shows an Amanita muscaria mushroom as the tree of knowledge with Adam on the left and Eve on the right. Notice the tree’s umbrella shaped branches bearing white particles analogous to the veil remnants on the caps of three Amanita muscaria mushrooms shown to its right. Also, in the Christian fresco, the gold plates covering Adam and Eve’s nakedness match the golden color of an aged Amanita muscaria mushroom. Finally, the snake hanging on a pole in the Christian fresco corresponds to a dying Amanita muscaria mushroom that also has an appearance of a snake hanging on a pole.

What is remarkable about this early Christian pictographic simile of the Amanita muscaria mushroom is its resemblance to the dreams of Joseph Smith Sr. and the early visionary experiences of Joseph Smith Jr.

In 1802, Joseph Smith's father, Joseph Sr., gathered and crystallized more than $3,000 worth of ginseng to sell in China. (Richard Bushman, 2005a. p. 18.) Ginseng, although not a major entheogen, was “attributed with secret and magical powers”. (Richard Evans Schultes, A. H. a. C. R. (2001). Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing, and Hallucinogenic Powers. Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press.)

The ability to crystallize ginseng shows that Joseph Sr. was able to work with psychoactive material, changing it into a stable, storable form that could be administered at a later time.

In 1811, Joseph Sr. reportedly had two dreams that are very suggestive of the Amanita muscaria mushroom.

In the first dream, a spirit led Joseph Sr. to a box on the ground containing an entheogenic material. Of the box, the spirit said the contents of which, if you eat thereof, will make you wise, and give unto you wisdom and understanding. (Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet and His Progenitors. Lamoni, Iowa: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1912, reprinted 1969. P. 57-58.)

In the next dream, Joseph Sr. was led to a tree whose “branches spread themselves somewhat like an umbrella” and released “particles … of dazzling whiteness” which fell to the ground. When he partook of fruit lying on the ground, he experienced something “delicious beyond description”. Then Joseph Sr. with his family “got down upon [their] knees, and scooped [the fruit] up, eating it by double handfuls”. (Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet and His Progenitors. Lamoni, Iowa: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1912, reprinted 1969. P. 57-58.)

In 1830, Joseph Smith Jr. published the Book of Mormon, which contained another version of his father’s entheogen related dreams. In an early chapter of the book, those who held onto the rod of iron ultimately “fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree” which represented the love of God. It is not a far stretch to think that a single entheogen is being described in these three related dreams.

The points where the three dream stories appear to represent the Amanita Muscaria mushroom are:

    1. the umbrella shape of the tree branches,
    2. the brilliant white particles on the branches, appearing to fall to the ground arguably appearing as small brilliant white stones
    3. the fruit that must be gathered from the ground, not plucked from the branches of the tree as would be expected
    4. a fruit that can either be eaten fresh or dried and stored for later consumption
    5. a magical fruit able to occasion visions and raptures bestowing divine wisdom and heavenly love

The Amanita muscaria mushroom not only fits the images depicted in the Smith dreams, it also has the capacity to reproduce the early visionary experiences reported by Joseph Smith.

The 1832 account of the first vision, written 12 years from when it reportedly occurred, had undoubtedly already undergone significant revision. The core event was arguably an experience of physical heaviness, visual darkness, an awe-inspiring light from above, a voice out of heaven, an experience with the unfathomable Godhead and feelings of unspeakable joy.

Contemporary visionary experience occasioned by entheogens show remarkable similarity to that of Joseph Smith. For instance, a few years ago, after ingesting the Amanita Muscaria mushroom in the context of a Christian sacramental meal, Clark Heinrich reports a Joseph Smith-like first vision. Heinrich writes

I felt like I weighed thousands of pounds and could no longer sit up … in the midst of a great darkness and a great silence, the heavens opened above my head. In an instant I was flooded with light from above, light of the utmost whiteness and splendor that quickly dissolved everything in its glory. The bliss I had experienced prior to this new revelation now paled to insignificance in an immensity of light that was also the purest love. As the truth of the situation dawned on me the word "FATHER" resounded in this heaven of light and I was taken up and absorbed by the unspeakable Godhead. (Clark Heinrich. Magic Mushrooms in Religion and Alchemy. Park Street Press, Rochester Vermont 2002)

The similarity of Heinrich’s vision to that of Joseph Smith’s is remarkable including immobility, darkness, light appearing from above, a voice out of heaven, an experience with the Godhead and the feeling of indescribable joy. James Arthur reports that the Amanita muscaria “mushroom is also a symbiotic with the Birch tree, the trees which were in the Sacred Grove”.

On another occasion in which Amanita muscaria mushroom was ingested in a sacramental setting, Heinrich reported an experience reminiscent of the February 16, 1832 joint vision of Joseph Smith and Sydney Rigdon. This singular vision was manifested as they read from the Book of John. Similarly, Heinrich and a friend partook of the sacred Amanita Muscaria sacrament, opened the Bible to the Book of John and reported having a singular spiritual experience.

I picked up a Bible from the bookshelf, opened to the Book of John, and started reading aloud. What I had before considered ridiculously partisan prose and poetry (fiction really) was now revealed in a whole new light. It became for us an [Amanita muscaria] initiation document, speaking the living truth directly to us through the mists of the centuries, uncovering layer after layer of meaning artfully hidden in the text. We understood it all; all the references, all the metaphors, all the hidden wisdom… It was as though God had manifested from the book and was addressing us directly. And we couldn't have been happier. (Clark Heinrich. Magic Mushrooms in Religion and Alchemy. Park Street Press, Rochester Vermont 2002)

The Amanita muscaria mushroom may also have played a role in Joseph’s account of the Book of Mormon’s origin. This sacred mushroom appears in the autumn of each year coinciding with Joseph’s annual visits to the Hill Cumorah.

Importantly, Joseph told his wife and his mother that he hid the gold plates in an oak and birch tree. Interestingly, Amanita muscaria mushroom grows at the feet of both trees. The sacred mushroom is born underneath a tree as a small “pure brilliant white stone” which is then transformed into a woolly lamb, then a brilliant red fruit; a constellation of sun, moon and stars and finally a gold plate upon which appears to be written strange hieroglyphs. On the left is a freshly picked shiny gold Amanita muscaria mushroom in its potent entheogenic form. The photo on the right is a collection of dried gold Amanita muscaria mushrooms that retain their entheogenic potency for up to a year. The psychedelic component of Amanita Muscaria can be easily extract by soaking it in water, which turns a faint wine color from rosy red to faintly golden.

A comparison of a photo of an Amanita Muscaria mushroom on the left with hieroglyphics from an Egyptian manuscript shows remarkable similarity. Amanita muscaria may also have occasioned Joseph’s interest in translating. In a recent study conducted in Britain, ingestion of Amanita Muscaria mushroom stirred a member of the test group to spontaneously translate an unknown language.

It also appears that Joseph may have been inebriated while composing the Book of Mormon. Martin Harris told A.C. Russell in 1834 that Joseph Smith was frequently intoxicated while translating. (Church History Chronology, Feb 12, 1834) It is possible that Joseph was not intoxicated as much with wine as with Amanita Muscaria mushroom.

In addition to replicating aspects of Joseph Smith’s visions and providing an allegorical story of gold plates upon which was written reformed Egyptian, a visionary mushroom is able to provoke Joseph Smith-like millennial zeal. In a 1962 experiment, visionary mushrooms were served to fifteen volunteers. As the entheogen began to take effect, one volunteer declared that he had been chosen by God “to announce to the world the dawning of the Messianic Age, a millennium of universal peace”. (Smith, H. (2000). Cleansing the Doors of Perception: The Religious Significance of Entheogenic Plans and Chemicals. Boulder, Colorado: Sentient Publications.101 – 103)

Is it too far-fetched to think Joseph Smith Joseph Smith would go in the woods to find mushrooms and have visions? Some accounts given by faithful church members come close to this possibility, like this one recounted by a church apostle:

The party consisted of Presidents Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Oliver Cowdery and myself [Zebedee Coltrin]. ... Joseph seemed to have a far off look in his eyes, or was looking at a distance and presently he, Joseph, stepped between Brothers Cowdery and myself and taking us by the arm, said, "Let's take a walk." We went to a place where there was some beautiful grass and grapevines and swampbeech interlaced. ... Brother Joseph then said, "Now brethren, we will see some visions." Joseph lay down on the ground on his back and stretched out his arms and the two of us layed on them. The heavens gradually opened, and we saw a golden throne, on a circular foundation, something like a light house, and on the throne were two aged personages, having white hair, and clothed in white garments. They were the two most beautiful and perfect specimens of mankind I ever saw. Joseph said, "They are our first parents, Adam and Eve." Adam was a large, broad-shouldered man, and Eve as a woman, was a large in proportion. (Minutes, Salt Lake City School of the Prophets, October 11, 1883.)

In conclusion, as Richard Bushman noted, it was Joseph Smith himself that connected early Mormon converts to heavenly visions and spiritual raptures by a power that he, himself possessed. (Bushman, R. L. (2005). Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. P. 560.)

It is to the mystery of Joseph Smith’s spiritual power that this presentation has addressed itself. This presentation has theorized that the main origin and ongoing wellspring of Joseph’s spiritual power was his skilled utilization of the visionary Datura plant and the sacred Amanita muscaria mushroom. In the administration of these entheogens, Joseph Smith was able to gift his followers with access to God and spiritual dimensions without the years of fasting, isolation, and self-torture employed by other mystic and spiritual leaders.

If the entheogen theory of the rise of Mormonism proves to be correct, it is probable that if Joseph Smith had lived to complete the Nauvoo temple, the visionary experiences surrounding its dedication would have eclipsed those of the Kirtland Pentecost in both glory and power.

Further, there is reason to conjecture that if Joseph Smith had lived to be 85 as he speculated he might, members would not have been asking in 1864 “why it is that we do not see more angels, have more visions, that we do not see greater and more manifestations of power?”

>> Main Menu

Top of Page | Home Page | Mormon Biographies | E-Mail

Copyright ©, all rights reserved.
Terms of Use