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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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The Strange Kirtland Temple Ownership Problems

Following the Kirtland Banking Crisis in 1838, Joseph Smith left town in the dead of the night.  The town of Kirtland was basically bankrupt.  Because of this, ownership of the temple was claimed by several people.  John Hamer and Lachlan MacKay will talk about Kirtland Temple ownership problems.  It’s a little bit like a soap-opera.   We’ll also hear an episode where people stormed the temple with guns and knives to try to take ownership of the temple.

Lachlan:  This is the one where Joseph Smith Sr. is at the pulpit on the west end.  The dissenters are concerned and hoping to take possession of the temple, and they stormed to the front with guns and knives drawn.  I think this is Oliver Huntington, one of the Huntington boys said, “Them that had chicken-hearts dove out the windows for safety.”

The police are called in to restore order.  They rush in and they knocked over a stove-pipe.  So I just imagine soot filling the room.  The best part is, after that chaos, they eject the belligerents and resume the services of the day.  {Everyone chuckles}

GT:  Really!  Wow.

Lachlan:  So I think that’s probably what you were referring to.

GT:  Yeah, it must have been quite a service!  {all chuckle}  We don’t talk about that in the LDS tradition very often.  I remember reading that somewhere and just going, “Wow!”

Lachlan:  I think one of them is even—they are walking from the front to the back, in some cases over the back of the pews, so stepping from pew-box to pew-box because the aisles are full of people, so they have to walk on the top of the pew-boxes to get up there.

We also talk about some other Mormon groups:  Strangites & Hedrickites and their involvement in Kirtland Temple ownership.  I also update our previous conversation with Dr. Richard Bennett about Brigham Young trying to sell the Kirtland Temple!  Was the Kirtland Temple turned into a sheep shed?  How did the Kirtland Banking Crisis affect ownership?  What else can we learn about the Kirtland Temple over the years?  Check out our conversation…..