The Genius Ritual

By March 14, 2014

Okay, my last post talked about the concept of the “genius”: guardian beings like angels.  Here I talk about a possible ritual that young Joseph Smith might have performed on the night of the Moroni visitation.  Michael Quinn argued that Smith may have performed some type of ritual on the night of the visitation.  After summarizing Quinn’s arguments, I present the following:

An additional piece of context for the Moroni visit was the statement from the neighbor that Smith was “born with a genius.”  Again, this was a Platonic notion that remained prevalent in grimoires.  According to Iamblichus, one of the important aspects of theurgical rites was to discover who your daemon was.[1]  Because the daemon or genius was so important to how people lived their lives, said Agrippa, it was vital “in the first place know thy good Genius.”  “The ancient magicians did teach an art to finding out the name of a spirit,” Agrippa explained further and then described a rite of casting letters onto some sort of astrological diagram. “By this art some of the Hebrew and Chaldean masters teach that the nature, and name of any genius may be found out.”[2]  Again, John Dee said that he had a “good angel” and toward the end of his life, Dee’s friend John Pontoys asked to Dee ask the angels who his “good angel” was.[3]  John Heydon, a seventeenth century English theurgist, said that by performing such a rite, he discovered “the name of my genius Malhitiriel, who had upon Earth familiarity with Elias.[4]

The third edition of Reginald Scott’s Discoverie of Witchcraft actually contained a ritual for invoking the genius, which contained some parallels to Smith’s Moroni visitation.  “First,” the third edition explains, “after the manner prescribed by Magicians, the Exorcist must inform himself of the name of his good Genius, which he may find in the Rules of Travius and Philermus; as also, what Character and Pentacle, or Lamin, belongs to every Genius.[5] The descendants of Smith’s older brother Hyrum possess a handful of items for theurgical purposes, including three lamens.  Quinn’s research on the Smiths’ lamens, particularly the “Holiness to the Lord” lamen, demonstrates that the diagrams on the lamen were meant to invoke angels and that the diagrams came from Scot’s Discoverie, Ebenezer Sibly’s A New and Complete Illustration of the Occult Sciences, the pseudonymous Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy, and Francis Barrett’s The Magus, which copied material from all these books.[6]  The logic of the Holiness-to-the-Lord lamen, however, seems to have been undergirded by the genius invocation rite in the third edition of Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft.

The Rules of Travius and Philermus were not extant, so whoever drew up the Holiness-to-the-Lord lamen would have had to rely on other information.  In the middle of the Holiness to the Lord lamen, there is a twelve-point star with the word Rafael written in the middle, with some kind of lettering written on the points.[7]  Again, the genius ritual said in order to “inform himself of the name of his good Genius,” one needed to the right “Character and Pentacle.”   Barrett’s The Magus had a picture of the same symbol; whoever composed the lamen may have believed that that symbol was the correct pentacle for Smith’s genius.[8]  Barrett also copied instructions from the Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy, which said, “And in the center of the lamen, let there be drawn a character of six corners; in the middle whereof, let there be written the name and character of the star, or of the spirit his governor, to whom the good spirit that is called is subject.”[9]  For Scot’s genius ritual, “The Magician must also perfectly be informed to what Hierarchy the Order the Genius belongs, and how he is dignified in respect of his Superiours and Inferiours; for this form of Conjuration belongs not to the Infernal or Astral Kingdom, but to the Celestial Hierarchy.”[10]  The composer may have believed that Smith’s genius was of the order of Raphael.

Because the genius was part of the celestial hierarchy, Scot’s third edition explains, “Great gravity and sanctity is herein required, besides the due observation of all the other injunctions, until the time approach wherein he puts the Conjuration in execution.”[11]  Many of the ritual descriptions emphasized the need for holiness and purity when performing the ritual.  In the same ritual that described how to make lamens similar to the Smiths’, the Fourth Book described a ritual where one should be “ritually disposed for many days to such a mystery”; the invoker should be “chaste, abstinent,” confessed, and fasting.[12]  In Smith’s description of the Moroni visit, he said that because of his rejection by the churches as a result of his vision,

I was left to all kinds of temptations, mingling with all kinds of society I frequently fell into many foolish errors and displayed the weakness of youth and the foibles of human nature which I am sorry to say led me into divers temptations to the gratification of many appetites offensive in the sight of God.  In consequence of these things I often felt condemned for my weakness and imperfections; when on the evening of the above mentioned twenty first of September, after I had retired to my bed for the night I betook myself to prayer and supplication to Almighty God for forgiveness of all my sins and follies, and also for a manifestation to me that I might know of my state before him.[13]

Not only were invokers supposed to be pure when they performed rituals, seers or scyers were generally supposed to be young virgins.[14]  Smith said his Moroni visitation occurred when he was seventeen, a time when he was both losing his youth and was in the throws of sexual maturity.  This state may have caused Smith to wonder if he still retained his seeing gift.  One of the Smiths’ lamens was specifically designed to aid a virgin in retaining his or her purity.[15]

As part of need for ritual purity, the Fourth Book also added that one needed “to separate himself as much as may be done, from all perturbation of mind, and from all manner of foreign and secular business.”[16]  If invokers were to avoid secular business, this may have been a reason why Lucy said, “let not my reader suppose, because I shall pursue another topic, that we stopped our labor.”  If these rituals called for avoiding “secular business” at the time of ritual, the Smiths may have occasionally done so.  Many of the Smiths’ neighbors accused the Smiths, Joseph Jr. in particular, of being lazy, though a number of Smiths’ friends and employers said he was a very hard worker.[17]  If Smith was to avoid secular business at times, this could explain this dichotomy.

These rites were to be performed so that the practitioner was prepared “when the day is come wherein the Magician would invocate his proper Genius.[18]  In a number of accounts, Smith said he was visited by Moroni on September 21st or 22nd.[19]  This was the time of the autumnal equinox and Quinn found instances of angel invoking on the equinox; but this does not seem to have been common.[20]  One of the descriptions of a ritual in the third of edition of Scot said, “In the Construction of Magical Circles, the hour, day, or night, and season of the year, and the Constellation are to be considered; as also what sort of Spirits are to be called.”[21]  As astrological considerations were important and since Raphael ruled Mercury, Quinn also noted that Mercury was the planet for several groups of days of the year including September 21-30.  This coupled with the fact that 1823 was Mercury’s year, September 21 or 22, 1823, was a good time to call upon angels associated with Raphael.[22]  The genius ritual then says, “He must enter into a private closet, having a little Table and Silk Capet, and two Waxen Candles lighted.”[23] Smith said Moroni appeared to him at his bedside.  The Smiths lived in a small cabin and had a number of children who would have shared bedrooms but Smith may have been allowed to pray privately; his family members who described the visitation did not say they or anyone else was in the room with Smith when Moroni appeared.[24]  Either way, Smith would construct holy buildings (temples) that, among other purposes, were sacred spaces with altars for the purpose of communing with holy beings (Chapter Four).

The genius ritual said the invoker also needed “a Chrystal Stone shaped triangularly about the quantity of an Apple.”[25]  Lucy said that the night her son returned home with the plates he also brought home with him two stones that he said were buried with the plates. “Upon examination,” said Lucy, she “found that it consisted of two smooth three-cornered diamonds set in in glass.”[26]  The invoker was then to bless the stone and other objects on the altar,[27] and then say the following prayer:

O thou blessed Phanael my Angel Guardian, voushsafe to descend with thy holy Influence and presence into this spotless Chrystal, that I may behold thy glory and enjoy thy society….  If ever I have merited thy society, or if my actions and intensions be pure and sanctified before thee, bring thy external presence hither, and converse with thy submissive Pupil, by the tears of Saints and Songs of Angles, In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, who are one God for ever and ever.[28]

That the invoker was to refer to his or her genius as “my Angel Guardian” again demonstrates that the idea of the genius and guardian angel overlapped.

Though Lucy said that Smith received the stone with triangles later, Smith had other seer stones at the time of the Moroni visit.  Smith said that Moroni appeared in his room by the foot of his bed, but as Smith left any mention of his seer stone out of all of his narratives, his use of his seer stone was a possibility in this case, especially since a number of acquaintances said that Smith used the stone for numerous activities including finding where the plates were buried.[29]  The genius ritual then said that the practitioner should stare into the stone for a while and that he or she would eventually start seeing images.  After fifteen minutes of seeing images, the invoker would see his or her genius “in the very same apparel and similitude that the person himself is in.”  Smith said Moroni “had on a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness….  His hands were naked and his arms also a little above the wrists.  So also were his feet naked as were his legs a little above the anckles.”[30]  The instruction for the genius ritual didn’t say how to dress, but a number of other rituals described in the Discoverie said to where a black robe over a white garment.[31]  The ritual described in the Fourth Book said to wear “a long garment of white linen, close before and behind, which may cover the whole body and the feet, and girt about you with a girdle.” “You must not enter into the holy place,” the instructions continued “unless it first be washed, and arrayed with a holy garment; and then you shall enter into it with your feet naked.”[32]  These instructions, coupled with the instructions of the genius prayer and the importance Dee’s garden vision (that was similar to Joseph Sr.’s) placed on holy clothing, indicate that Smith himself may have been dressed as he described Moroni.  Smith had those initiated into his temple rite at Nauvoo dress in white robes as part of the ceremony, and when the initiates reached the holiest room they were told to “take off your shoes, ‘the place on which you stand is Holy Ground.’”[33]

After the genius appeared in the glass, he would give “instructions unto the Exorcist how to lead his life and rectifie his doings.”[34]  Martin Harris said that the angel told Smith “he must quit the company of the money-diggers.  That there were wicked men among them.  He must have no more to do with them.  He must not lie, swear, nor steal.”[35]  Lucy said that when Moroni told her son about the plates, he added “you cannot get it until you learn to keep the commandments of God For it is not to get gain.”[36]  In his 1839 account, Smith said that Moroni told him “that Satan would try to tempt me (in consequence of the indigent circumstances of my father’s family) to get the plates for the purpose of getting rich.  This he forbid me.”[37]  Smith said he then underwent a four-year process of preparing himself to receive the plates.  Lucy recorded that her son came home late one evening, “seemingly much exhausted he was pale as ashes.”  Upon inquiry, Smith told his father, “I have received the severest chastisement that I ever had in my life.”  Smith explained further that the angel “says I have been negligent that the time has now come when the record should be brought forth and that I must be up and doing that I must set myself about the things which God has commanded me to do.”  Smith was happy to report that “I know what course I am to peruse an[d] all will be well.”[38]  Like the genius was expected to do, the angel told Smith “how to lead his life and rectifie his doings.”

The description of the genius ritual concluded, “But especially (which is the proper work of the Genius) he will touch his heart and open his senses and understanding, so that by this means, he may attain to the knowledge of every Art and Science, which before the opening of his Intellect was lockt and kept secret from him.”[39]  Not only did Smith later teach that knowledge was salvific, but Lucy also said that that angel told her son that the plates were “not to get gain But it is to bring forth light and intelligence which has been lost from the Earth.”[40]  Thus the Moroni story as told by Smith and his mother paralleled the genius ritual in Scot’s third edition in many ways, lending support to the Smiths’ neighbor’s claim that Lucy said her son had been “born with a genius.”

These similarities demonstrate ways in which Platonic concepts had influenced and mixed with folk rites and how people like the Smiths used them.  Though such rituals relied on books that the Smith’s probably didn’t own, in the words of Johannes Dillinger, “The true expert did not necessarily own the book or all the books needed for a treasure hunt.  However, he did know which books were best and where to find them.”[41]  In the words of Owen Davies, “The Neoplatonic discourses on the angelic and spiritual hierarchies contained in the Arbatel, Heptameron, Book Three and Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy, and the Steganographia, and the keys they provided to direct celestial communication, appealed to the prophetic and revelatory aspects of Protestant theology.”[42]  The similarities between the Smiths’ description of the Moroni visit and the genius prayer in Scot, suggests that the Smiths felt this way.[43]


[1] Iamblichus, De Mysteriis, 9.5.

[2] Agrippa, Three Books of Occult Philosophy, 528, 547.  Agrippa added, “The Platonists say that Socrates perceived his Demon by sense indeed, but not of this body, but by the sense of the ethereal body concealed in this: after which manner Avicen believes the angels were wont to be seen, and heard by the prophets: that instrument, whatsoever the virtue be, by which one spirit makes known to another spirit what things are in his mind, is called by the apostle Paul the tongue of angels” (530).

[3] Dee, True and Faithful Relation, sect. 2:44.

[4] Quoted in Paul Kleber Monod, Solomons Secret Arts: The Occult in the Age of Enlightenment (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), 73, emphasis in original.

[5] Scot, Discoverie of Witchcraft, 483.

[6] Quinn, Magic World View, 104-14.

[7] Quinn has a picture of the lamen in Magic World View, fig. 50.

[8] The picture of the star in is Francis Barrett, The Magus (London, 1801) facing page 2:106. Quinn compares the images in Magic World View, figs. 79 and 80.

[9] Henry Cornelius Agrippa [pseud], The Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy, trans. Robert Turner, ed. Donald Tyson (1655, reprint; Woodbury, Minn.: Llewellyn, 2009), 97.  Barrett’s reprint of these instructions is in Magus, 2:94.

[10] Scot, Discoverie of Witchcraft, 483.

[11] Scot, Discoverie of Witchcraft, 483.

[12] Agrippa [pseud], Fourth Book, 95-96.  Such rules were common for these rituals.  Scot, Discoverie of Witchcraft, 344, 347, 479.

[13] Smith, Manuscript History, 1:63.

[14] Dillinger, Magical Treasure Hunting, 152; Michael Bailey, Magic and Superstition in Europe (Lanham, Maryland: Rowen and Littlefield, 2007), 101; Monod, Solomons Secret Arts, 296.

[15] Quinn, Magic World View, 114.

[16] Agrippa [pseud.], Fourth Book, 96.

[17] Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 232-33, 48.  Daniel Hendrix recalled that Lucy “always declared that [Smith] was born with a genius, and did not have to work.  ‘Never mind about my son Joseph,’ said she one day when my employer had rallied her upon her heir’s useless ways, ‘for the boy will be able some of these fine days to buy the whole of Palmyra and all the folk in it.  You don’t know what a brain my boy has under that old hat.’”  “Origen of Mormonism,” in Early Mormon Documents: 3:212.

[18] Scot, Discoverie of Witchcraft, 483.

[19] Smith, History, 1832, 1:29 says September 22; Smith, Manuscript History, 1:63, says September 21.

[20] Quinn, Magic World View, 141, 154.

[21] Scot, Discoverie of Witchcraft, 480.

[22] Quinn, Magic World View, 113.

[23] Scot, Discoverie of Witchcraft, 483.  The Fourth Book described rituals with similar practices. Agrippa [pseud], Fourth Book, 96.  John Dee also had private rooms set aside for their angel communications, one of which he referred to as a “goodly little Chappel.”  Dee, True and Faithful Relation, 388, 409, 445.

[24] Lucy described the visit in her “Preliminary Manuscript,” 1:289-90.  Her published account quoted her son’s account.  Smith’s brother William gave a brief description in an interview with James Murdock, printed as “The Mormons and Their Prophet,’ Congregational Observer (Harford, Conn.) 2 (3 July 1841): 1 in Early Mormon Documents, 1:478.  How exactly Smith proceeded on the night of the visitation is speculative, but the many similarities that the Smiths’ descriptions had with Scot’s genius ritual suggests that that ritual may have been a guide.

[25] Scot, Discoverie of Witchcraft, 483.

[26] Smith, Biographical Sketches, 1:328-29, emphasis mine.

[27] Stephen Clucas notes that these private theurgical rites imitated Catholic rites.  Clucas, “Regimen Anomarum et Corporum,” 118.  Blessing objects on the mass altar was a medieval practice.  Lynn Thorndike, A History of Magic and Experimental Science: During the First Thirteen Centuries of Our Era (New York: Columbia University Press, 1923) 2:391-92.  Joseph Sr. was said to have blessed treasure-hunting objects in the Mormons’ Kirtland temple and Wilford Woodruff, then president of the LDS church, later blessed Joseph Jr.’s seer stone in a temple in Utah.  Quinn, Magic World View, 243, 265.

[28] Scot, Dicoverie of Witchcraft, 484.  Neoplatonic theurgist likewise attempted to invite gods to inhabit statues.  In the words of Gregory Shaw, “The theurgist did bring the gods down into the world, but he did so at their command and to fulfill their will…. Making the soul an embodiment or actualization of their will.” Gregory Shaw, Theurgy and the Soul: The Neoplatonism of Iamblichus (University Park: Pennsylvania State University, 1995), 187.

[29] Ashurt-McGee, “Pathway to Prophethood,” 286.

[30] Smith, Manuscript History, 1:63.

[31] Scot, Discoverie of Witchcraft, 471, 476.

[32] Agrippa [pseud.], Fourth Book, 96; Scot, Discoverie of Witchcraft, 347, also talked about wearing “cleane white cloathes.”

[33] Mr. and Mrs. McGee [Increase Van Deusen], The Mormon Endowment; A Secret Drama, or Conspiracy, in the Nauvoo Temple, in 1846 (Syracuse: N. M. D. Lathrop, 1847), 9; Catherine Lewis, Narrative of Some of the Proceedings of the Mormons; Giving an Account of Their Iniquities (Lynn Mass.: The Author, 1848), 10.

[34] Scot, Discoverie of Witchcraft, 484.

[35] Martin Harris interview in Tiffany’s Monthly (May 1859) in Among the Mormons, 31.

[36] Smith, “Preliminary Manuscript,” 1:290.

[37] Smith, Manuscript History, 1:66.

[38] Smith, “Preliminary Manuscript,” 1:324-25.

[39] Scot, Disoverie of Witchcraft, 484.

[40] Smith, “Preliminary Manuscript,” 1:290.

[41] Dillinger, Magical Treasure Hunting, 93. Argues Owen Davies, “While there is no evidence that the Smiths and their followers owned copies of Scot, Sibly, or Barrett, there is little doubt that the Smith parchments were used for overly magical protective purposes, and were derived primarily from Scot and Sibly.” Owen Davies, Grimoires: A History of Magic Books (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 149.  Quinn asserts that the Smiths likely had mentors for their rituals, either Justus Winchel, who was involved with the New Israelites or Luman Walters, or both. Magic World View, 116-24.

[42] Owen Davies, Grimoires: A History of Magic Books (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 53.

[43] Though Davies did not include Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft in the above list, he said elsewhere that it was “the most influential vehicle for the dissemination of high magic to a wider audience.  Davies, Popular Magic, 125.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. I’ve looked up a bit about lamens, but could you say a little more about what they are, how they are/were used, and how common they were in Joseph Smith’s time?

    Comment by Sharon — March 16, 2014 @ 4:09 pm

  2. I don’t know a whole lot about them other than what I say here. Grimoires would give instructions on how to design them and such books were circulating among cunning-folk in the early nineteenth century. Barrett’s the Magus, which had one of the same symbols as was on the Smiths’ lamens, was printed in the early nineteenth century.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — March 16, 2014 @ 8:33 pm

  3. Davies talks about “Lamenism” in conjunction with cunning folk, which I had to reread as it sounds like something to do with the Book of Mormon. Cunning folk were much more textual than those in the charmer/blesser traditions, who existed primarily on oral tradition. Cunning folk generally took their ques from 200 year old writings of the elite of the time. Society had generally moved on, but that textuality was manifest in the continued use of the lamens, and other quasi-astrological texts.

    I found this series interesting, Steve. As it relates to cunning folks, Davies talks a lot about the three main activities: healing the sick, finding what is lost (including treasure), and making predictions. Other various activities included conjuration, miracle working, love magic, and anti-witch activities. As it relates to the early church, some of these activities appear to me to be taken directly from a biblical context (healing and miracle working), but there are some clear translations of cunning folk culture into the formal Christian liturgy: finding what was lost >> Urim and Thummim. It sounds like you are arguing that Moroni’s visitation was a conjuration that was translated into an angelic ministration, becoming the pattern for successive visits. Do you think this selective translation of folk culture had to do more with those aspects with which JS was more associated with than a conscious selection?

    Also, it has been a long time since I have looked at these materials. I seem to remember Mark AM arguing that Moroni appeared and commanded JS to look in his stone to find the plates. Are you arguing that rather, JS looked in his stone to find Moroni?

    Comment by J. Stapley — March 17, 2014 @ 3:41 pm

  4. Thanks for the comments, J. It’s in these instances where we have to be particularly mindful of the vocabulary we use. For instance, it terms of your statement “It sounds like you are arguing that Moroni’s visitation was a conjuration that was translated into an angelic ministration” I would say that to the invoker, these are not different things. “Translation” only occurred in terms of how JS presented it. That is, JS left out details (generally) that would invite scorn (like the seer stone). But what I want to stress in the chapter in which this section appears is the fundamental religious nature of these invoking acts. The fundamental purpose of invoking one’s genius (if that’s what JS was doing) was to understand one’s holy calling better. Keith Thomas and Davies really stress that the cunning folk and their clientele saw these gifts as divine.

    In terms of Moroni and the stone, my larger point is to point out the similarities between JS’s (and Lucy’s and others) description of the Moroni visitation and the genius ritual in Scot. I sort of try to avoid making statements about “what really happened” when discussing JS’s theophanies. But that can lead to ambiguity. So I guess I would just point out that many of the invoking rituals in Scot conclude with a demon/fairy/angel going into a stone/crystal, and that’s kind of interesting, I think. The fact that JS totally left out the seer stone from his accounts leaves open a number of possibilities, it seems. But trying to make definitive statements about what really, exactly happened seems to be a bit outside the scholar’s ability.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — March 18, 2014 @ 4:20 am

  5. That said, it is not my intent to argue that the Moroni visit wasn’t real.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — March 18, 2014 @ 9:33 am

  6. Thanks Steve. I totally agree that the various practitioners viewed this as entirely Christian, or as some have said, the context for even the most non-Christian of these folk rituals is explicitly Christian. Still aspects of these rituals get integrated into the Church teachings and practice, albeit often in very esoteric ways. My question was more about what you thought was the driver for the integration of certain aspects of this folk culture into the church, but not others. I’d be interested in your thoughts.

    Comment by J. Stapley — March 18, 2014 @ 10:10 am

  7. Okay, that helps me understand better. It’s a very complicated issue though. I start by arguing that Joseph Sr. found much that would valuable in cunning-folk religiosity and it seems that he hoped that his special son would … fulfill certain expectations. Like see with a seer stone and other things. So Joseph Jr. inherits these expectations. But he does his own sifting between the legitimate and illegitimate (but we kind of have to guess at that). Either way, JS’s “partiality” toward Methodism suggests a willingness to pull away from both of his parents religiosity. The Methodist preacher’s rejection of his vision moves him back toward his father.

    Ultimately, JS believed that through inspiration he had the ability to to pull truth out of error and this applied to Protestant churches, the Bible, Masonry, and folk Christianity. Why he would pick certain parts of those traditions and not others would seem to be related to the revelations he received. He definitely had certain motivations: restoring the power, truth, and rituals that he believed had been lost to Christianity. I argue that he believed there were remnants of all these things in various traditions and writings available to him. But ultimately, JS configured them in the way that he believed God wanted him to.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — March 18, 2014 @ 10:35 am

  8. At the same time, some practices fall into a kind of grey area, like the seer stones. There really important but JS sort of keeps the quiet and scrying doesn’t become an accepted practice of the church.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — March 18, 2014 @ 10:41 am

  9. …and scrying doesn’t become an accepted practice of the church.

    At least in the long term (grin).

    And thanks for the responses. This was really helpful to me to better understand how your are framing all of these issues.

    Comment by J. Stapley — March 18, 2014 @ 11:06 am

  10. Steve, J., fascinating stuff.

    Comment by wvs — March 18, 2014 @ 11:23 am

  11. Agreed with J. This is helpful in seeing how your dissertation is shaping up. Thanks for the series!

    Comment by Ryan T. — March 20, 2014 @ 7:09 am


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