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Women, Healers in LDS Temples

In the 19th and early 20th century, there are many examples Mormon women healers.  These women used to lay hands on the sick.  By what power did they do this?

GT: I remember as a priest growing up and having the lesson over and over:  priesthood is the power to act in the name of God.

Jonathan:  Okay.

GT: Okay.

Jonathan: That is a common definition.

GT:  A common definition. So, what I heard you say was that women in the 1800s especially, but even into the 20th century, healed both men and women, probably more women than men, but it happened with both genders. They healed by the power of God. But it’s a mistake to call that priesthood.  Is that correct?

Jonathan:  Yeah. So, using today’s definitions to describe historical practice doesn’t work.

GT: Okay.

Jonathan:  It just doesn’t work.

GT: So,  it’s hard to talk about then.

Jonathan: So it’s consequently challenging. Right? So, well then how do we talk about it?

Honestly, this was a fun and challenging conversation.  Stapley says that the term “priesthood” used today, while a definition is “the power of God”, priesthood also implies ecclesiastical authority.  Women can freely utilize “the power of God,” but since they don’t have ecclesiastical authority, it is a mistake to call the healing blessings they did “priesthood.”  For me, the terms “power of God” and “priesthood” were so synonymous, that I didn’t understand the distinction Stapley was making.  Check out how Jonathan clears up my misunderstanding.

He also gives us more information on baptisms for health, and temple healers.  I was not familiar with temple healers.  It turns out that women often fulfilled this (now defunct) practice of a temple healer.

Jonathan:  There are examples of people being baptized in the Kirtland era and being healed upon their baptism, but an actual healing ritual, a designated ritual, baptism for health occurs in Nauvoo. It’s designed to be, I think it envisioned as part of the temple. So, the temple is a place for healing, specifically Joseph Smith envisions it as a place where the sick would come and not only receive an endowment of power and create heaven, but also be physically healed. Baptism for health was an integral piece of that healing liturgy, but it is immediately and ubiquitously performed outside of the temple.

So in the rivers and wherever the Latter-day Saints go from that point forward, baptisms for health are common. As soon as the temples are built, there are regular days for baptisms for health. So, if you’re feeling unwell, you could make a pilgrimage to the temple. One of the temple healers could baptize you for your health.

GT: In the temple?

Jonathan: In the temple, and they kept records. In fact, the single most common temple ritual for many years in the 1880s was baptism for health. So there was more baptisms for health for the living. I should qualify that. The most common ritual for the living in the temples was baptism for health.

Early Mormon women anointed with oil and laid hands on the sick to heal.
Early Mormon women anointed with oil and laid hands on the sick to heal.

You should also check out our previous conversation where we talk about “cosmological priesthood.”  Check out our conversation…..

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Breaking Sealings: Who has the Power?

In a previous conversation with Dr. Bill Smith, we talked about how polygamous sealings were considered nearly permanent.  There are cases in which those can be broken.  After Joseph Smith died, Brigham Young claimed sole possession of the sealing power. Many apostles disagreed. How did it get resolved? Dr. Bill Smith explains in this interview. Does more than one man hold the sealing keys? And who is in charge of breaking sealings?  Is it just one man, or are there several people who can do it?

Bill:  I think that—opinions sort of vary with this but Brigham Young’s divorces where a sealing was involved, I think Brigham Young’s divorces that he granted were taken as dissolving the sealing.

GT:  Theological?  Ok.

Bill:  Which is in perfect harmony with the idea that sealing.  You could do it and you could undo it.

GT:  As prophet he had power to loose.

Bill: Yes, so that’s another big point in the discussion of the book is that in the revelation it’s very clear that only one person at a time has this authority to decide you can be sealed, you can’t be.  Or, you can engage in polygamy, you can’t, kind of thing.  This has all evolved onto a single person.  It even says historically, this is the way it has always been.  I don’t know how serious to take that, but it supports the idea that it’s really a one-man job.  So, who has the authority to decide?  This is a huge issue in succession.  Because obviously the guy who has this one-man authority is the guy to be in charge, right?

At one point, Joseph tries to separate his church presidency from his temple priest position as the one guy.  People don’t like this.  They are worried about it.  They don’t want to accept Hyrum as the church president and Joseph as saying.  Unfortunately, he is addressing a group, a very small group who is acquainted with his temple theology.  The people who aren’t are really upset by this.  “We don’t want Hyrum to be the prophet.  You are.”  He can’t be the prophet.

So, he takes it all back that afternoon.  But yes, he is really speaking to this idea of where things are, and I can’t go into the background here, but his sort of presidency of the High Priesthood sort of vaults him into the position of the one guy.  So, after he has died, after he is dead, the apostles weren’t in that tradition of High Priesthood. They weren’t in there at all.  They try to write themselves in at first, and then they say you can’t really do that.  It doesn’t work.  So, we have to a new tradition about this.

Is adultery grounds for breaking sealings?

Bill:  Adultery is a really touchy point within the revelation.  It’s a little bit confused.  Also, the whole thing is tied up in this idea where I mention in Matthew about the binding and loosing thing.  That is sort of Mark Staker’s thing about Peter, James, and John.  That’s connected in there.  So, the text is not perfectly clear.  That’s another point I try to make about the revelation.

Check out our conversation…..

After Joseph Smith died, Brigham Young claimed only he held the sealing power. Many apostles disagreed. Bill Smith tells how the issue was settled.

 

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Surprising Word of Wisdom Insights from an Apostle

One of Mormonism’s most well-known revelations is the Word of Wisdom.  Apostle Lachlan MacKay of the Community of Christ discusses the historical context of the Word of Wisdom.  It turns out that 19th century saints had no problem serving wine at weddings, and beer wasn’t forbidden.  While many of us have heard of Prohibition, Temperance, and strong drinks, did you know that alcohol was used for ritual cleansing in the Kirtland Temple?

Lachlan:  You get to Kirtland Temple and it expands a little bit.  They would do a ritual cleansing outside the temple in the schoolhouse behind the temple or sometimes in Joseph’s home, so with cinnamon whiskey and perfumed water, ritual cleansing.  Put on clean clothes.  Go to the third floor of the temple, anoint the head with oil, sealing or confirming blessing of that anointing and then feet washing downstairs.  That took weeks, so it’s not something you do in an afternoon.  They spent months or years in preparation for that.

The process took weeks, and through that process, they understood that they were then empowered by the Holy Spirit and could go into the world.  We wouldn’t allow our missionaries to go oversees until they had been endowed with power.  So even 1839, most of the members have left Kirtland.  There are new missionaries who were not there in the 1830s.  Joseph had them detour through Kirtland—Theodore Turley, John Taylor among them.  Brigham Young goes with [them] so that they can be empowered by the Holy Spirit, and only then could they sail to the United Kingdom.

GT:  Oh wow.  You also had mentioned they didn’t bathe everyday like we do now.

Lachlan:  Yeah, so I think that cinnamon whiskey would cleanse,[1] it would sterilize.  It would make them smell better, so it was purification physically, spiritually, in every way in preparation to go to the temple.

But that’s not all.  Lachlan also tells about his fear of having a Word of Wisdom cook during youth camps!

GT chuckles:  And then you also mentioned something about eating meat sparingly.  I think you said some people wouldn’t eat between Easter and, was it Thanksgiving?

Lachlan:  Thanksgiving.  Yeah, I know Community of Christ members, this would not be typical at all, but I do know members who would not eat meat between Easter and Thanksgiving, which meant that whenever I visited there was tuna noodle casserole {chuckles}, because they didn’t consider fish meat.  We do a lot of camps in Community of Christ, both as youth camps and family camps.  My greatest fear as a kid was having a Word of Wisdom cook:  not much meat, lots of whole grains, lots of fruits and vegetables. Now I spend a lot of time at camps, and my greatest fear is that we won’t have a Word of Wisdom cook.

What about the use of tobacco for cattle?

GT:  Ok.  There’s another reference that I wanted to mention.  In fact I was going to ask this in the class today but I didn’t:  the reference to tobacco.  It says for “for all sick cattle.”[2]  Tom Kimball was nice enough to send me a copy of Mormonism Unvailed, the first anti-Mormon book ever that Dan Vogel just recently put some awesome footnotes in there.  I do remember E.D. Howe, who was definitely an anti-Mormon, a little bit over the top.  It was kind of interesting to read that book.  One of the things that he made fun of was the Word of Wisdom.  He said, “well if you’re supposed to use this for sick cattle, what are you doing?”  {everyone chuckles}  [Joseph] didn’t prescribe that very well.  Do you have any idea what that reference was?

Lachlan:  I was just having a discussion with somebody who saw that it was often used for poultices,[3] maybe that’s the bruised part of the tobacco more than anything.  The cattle part, this might be highly speculative, but it’s one of the things I want to track down.  I was at the tow path on a canal in New Hope, Pennsylvania not long ago, reading an interpretive panel, and it talked about how the mules as they got tired would be given tobacco!  {chuckles}

Lach has a lot of other amazing insights!  Check out our conversation…..

Don’t forget to listen to our interview with Greg Prince on the Word of Wisdom, as well as our previous episode discussing why the Word of Wisdom led to James Strang’s death in Michigan.

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[1] D&C 89:7 reads, “And, again, strong drinks are not for the belly, but for the washing of your bodies.”

[2] D&C 89:8 reads, “And again, tobacco is not for the body, neither for the belly, and is not good for man, but is an herb for bruises and all sick cattle, to be used with judgment and skill.”

[3] a soft, moist mass of material, typically of plant material or flour, applied to the body to relieve soreness and inflammation and kept in place with a cloth.