For early Mormon writers, their growing materialist theology brought several theological problems for their rationalistic minds to solve. Placing God within a physical body that takes up physical place perceivably posed threats to God’s omnipotence, omniscience, and, especially, omnipresence. Thus, many were left to determine how a godhead composed of three personages could be everywhere at the same time and have power over everything in the universe. The answer, at least for the Pratt brothers, was a redefinition of the Holy Ghost.
“One personage of the Holy Spirit could not be in two or more places at the same instant,” Orson Pratt reasoned, “for such a condition is absolutely impossible, for any one person, being or particle.” To counter this, Orson proposed a two-part definition of the Holy Spirit—a “holy tandem,” if you will. Beyond being seen as “a Holy Being who constitutes the third person of the Trinity,” it must also be considered as “an inexhaustible quantity of pure living, intelligent, powerful Substance, diffused through all worlds in boundless space, and capable of filling myriads of tabernacles, and consequently, of assuming their forms.” Thus, in this rational apostle’s mind, the best analogy for understanding the Godhead is one of different containers of water: “The oneness of the Godhead may be in some measure illustrated by two gallons of pure water, existing in separate vessels, representing the Father and Son, and an ocean of pure water, representing the Holy Ghost.” This provided the Godhead a way to be all-powerful and all-present with the expansive nature of the Holy Spirit.
The Father and Son govern the immensity of creation, not by their own actual presence, but by the actual presence of the Spirit…The persons of the Father and Son can be in heaven, and yet, through the agency of the Spirit, act upon the earth. An omnipresent person is impossible, but an omnipresent substance, diffused through space, is not only consistent, but reasonable.
Parley Pratt picked up on this idea in his theological magnum opus. But Pratt takes it even a step further, not even mentioning the Holy Ghost’s presence as a “personage,” but only as a “divine substance or fluid.” He wrote that “this substance, like all others, is one of the elements of material or physical existence,” but it “is widely diffused among the elements of space.” It works under the control of “the Great Eloheim” serving as the moving act behind all intelligences. It is “omnipresent by reason of the infinitude of its particles, and it comprehends all things.” Summing it up as “the attributes of the eternal power and Godhead,” this description seems to come closer to a material version of the Holy Ghost in the Lectures on Faith than to Joseph Smith’s Nauvoo theology.
When writing about the role of ordinances, Parley spoke again on the nature of the third “member” of the Godhead. He explained that this divine “substance” could be imparted “by touch, or by the laying on of hands,” where the holy element could naturally flow from one person to another, reasoning that it “is as much in accordance with the laws of nature, as for water to seek its own level; air, its equilibrium; or heat, and electricity, their own mediums of conveyance.” The only difference between this spiritual transfer and an electric charge, is that the former is conditional upon the worthiness of the recipient. Thus, for both Parley and Orson, to possess the Holy Spirit meant that your body literally contained this divine substance.
This was also how the Pratt brothers dealt with miracles and spiritual gifts. God could perform miracles, they reasoned, because his spiritual substance could penetrate all matter and than manipulate it to do God’s bidding. All spiritual gifts, whether it be tongues, prophecy, revelation, or healing, occurred because the individual had an added amount of the Holy Spirit that could perform the task necessary. Even the remission of sins came as a result of “the purifying qualities of the Holy Ghost, which, like fire, consumes or destroys the unholy affections of those who are made partakers of it.”
Such an approach is necessary, however, because of the Pratt brother’s strong belief in physical and eternal laws. While many contemporary Protestants argued for a rational theology where God and religion could be understood through common senses, these Mormon theologians took this idea to its apex by proposing a God who must find a way to navigate within these natural laws. The Holy Spirit, he explained, doesn’t obey laws “passively and blindly,” but rather “voluntarily and understandingly” because it is aware of its surroundings. In his pamphlet Great First Cause, he even went so far as to claim that this divine substance incorporates all of the eternal boundaries. Thus, the Pratts’ God not only follows infinite laws, but in a way possesses them, taking the principle of Baconian to an extent that it would have made Francis Bacon even blush.
 Orson Pratt, “The Holy Spirit,” in Orson Pratt, A Series of Pamphlets, 50. There is some debate as to when this pamphlet was first written, some claiming it is 1852 while others say it is 1857 (the masthead says 1852, but there is some suspicion that it is back-dated–mostly because it seems to be quoting from things that first appeared in 1856). This is only significant for those of us who are entranced by influence debates: if it is the earlier date, then Parley is probably taking most of his “spiritual fluid” rhetoric from Orson; if it’s the later date, then it’s probably the other way around. But, for the sake of this post, it really doesn’t matter.
 O. Pratt, “The Holy Spirit,” 56.
 Orson Pratt, Absurdities of Immaterialism, or, A Reply to T. W. P. Taylder’s Pamphlet, entitled, “The Materialism of the Mormons or Latter-Day Saints, Examined and Exposed (Liverpool: R. James, 1849), 25.
 O. Pratt, Absurdities of Immaterialism, 30.
 Parley P. Pratt, The Key to the Science of Theology: Designed as an Introduction to the First Principles of Spiritual Philosophy; Religion; Law and Government; As Delivered by the Ancients, and as Restored in This Age, For the Final Development of Universal Peace, Truth and Knowledge (Liverpool: F. D. Richards, 1855), 39-40.
 P. Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology, 96-97.
 See Orson Pratt, “Spiritual Gifts,” in O. Pratt, A Series of Pamphlets, 65.
 O. Pratt, “The Holy Spirit,” 58.
 Orson Pratt, Great First Cause, or the Self-Moving Forces of the Universe (Liverpool: R. James, 1851), 16.