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Between Pulpit and Pew

Between Pulpit and Pew: The Supernatural World in Mormon History and Folklore

W. Paul Reeve
Michael Scott Van Wagenen
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 243
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  • Book Info
    Between Pulpit and Pew
    Book Description:

    Cain wanders the frontier as a Bigfoot-like hairy beast and confronts an early Mormon apostle. An evil band of murderers from Mormon scripture, known as the Gadianton robbers, provides an excuse for the failure of a desert town. Stories of children raised from the dead with decayed bodies and damaged minds help draw boundaries between the proper spheres of human and divine action. Mormons who observe UFOs in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries find ways to explain them in relation to the church's cosmology. The millenarian dimension of that belief system induces church members to invest in the Dream Mine, a hidden treasure that a would-be heir to Joseph Smith wraps in prophecy of the end times. A Utah version of Nessie haunts a large mountain lake. Non-Mormons attempt to discredit Joseph Smith with tales that he had tried and failed to walk on water. Mormons gave distinctive meanings to supernatural legends and events, but their narratives incorporated motifs found in many cultures. Many such historical legends and beliefs found adherents down to the present. This collection employs folklore to illuminate the cultural and religious history of a people.

    eISBN: 978-0-87421-823-7
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Foreword
    (pp. vii-x)
    Elaine Thatcher

    It is significant that historians, whose work is to gather facts to chronicle and interpret the past, have chosen to better understand the history of Mormons in Utah by looking at their folklore, including their expressions of the supernatural. This interdisciplinary approach, combining the methods of history and folklore studies, adds a new and useful dimension to Mormon studies. Some historians might have viewed these legends as peripheral to the main story of the church and its members, but here we see that they help fill out and give form to the story.

    Folklore is the informal web of beliefs...

  2. 1 Between Pulpit and Pew: Where History and Lore Intersect
    (pp. 1-16)
    W. Paul Reeve and Michael Scott Van Wagenen

    In 1995, astronomer Carl Sagan wrote the best-selling book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. According to Sagan, the modern world could yet be set free from its enduring state of ignorance through the rejection of irrational belief and the acceptance of the scientific method.¹ Indeed, he touched upon an enduring, fundamental conflict between the superstitious mind and the critical mind. Scientists such as Sagan claim that with perfect knowledge, all phenomena in the universe may be explained through natural laws. The limits of our understanding, however, have always created a vast unknown territory, which innately...

  3. 2 A Mormon Bigfoot: David Patten’s Cain and the Conception of Evil in LDS Folklore
    (pp. 17-39)
    Matthew Bowman

    In the spring of 1835, while serving a mission in Tennessee and staying with the family of Abraham O. Smoot, a future stake president in and mayor of Salt Lake City and Provo, the LDS apostle David W. Patten, claimed to have seen Cain. Lycurgus Wilson’s 1900 biography of Patten reprinted a letter Smoot sent to Joseph F. Smith in 1893, reporting Patten’s claim that while riding his mule back to Smoot’s home he

    met with a very remarkable personage who had represented himself as being Cain who had murdered his brother, Abel . . . I suddenly noticed a...

  4. 3 “As Ugly as Evil” and “As Wicked as Hell”: Gadianton Robbers and the Legend Process among the Mormons
    (pp. 40-65)
    W. Paul Reeve

    On a spring day in 1874, carpenter Charles Pulsipher busied himself putting the finishing touches on a new home in the town of Hebron in southwestern Utah. Things were likely calm and pleasant as Pulsipher went about his work in this small Mormon ranching community, rooted in the south end of the Escalante Desert in Washington County. Suddenly William McElprang, the young man under Pulsipher’s charge, changed all that. McElprang “started in an instant run across the lot, jumped the fence and went up the mountain like a wild man.” Pulsipher sprinted after him, “but it was not in the...

  5. 4 Raising the Dead: Mormons, Evangelicals, and Miracles in America
    (pp. 66-96)
    Matthew Bowman

    The power to raise the dead was among the gifts Christ gave his twelve apostles. The Gospel of Matthew records that he “commanded them, saying, Go . . . and as ye go, preach, saying ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils; freely ye have received, freely give.’” Later, Paul asserted that these promises of miracles were not mere rhetoric. However, neither were they to be marveled at, for Paul scoffed at Agrippa’s doubt, asking “Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should...

  6. 5 Singular Phenomena: The Evolving Mormon Interpretation of Unidentified Flying Objects
    (pp. 97-124)
    Michael Scott Van Wagenen

    For all of its modern-day resonance, the above narrative is not a description of a human-alien encounter from the twenty-first century. Instead, this is an 1841 article from Times and Seasons, the official newspaper of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Purported to be the visionary dream of a “believer in the scriptures,” the account placed the author in the presence of an alien being who inquired about the Christian faith practiced on Earth.

    The teeming multitude presented the extraterrestrial visitor with so many contradictory doctrines that he turned away from them in disgust. The anonymous writer was...

  7. 6 A Currency of Faith: Taking Stock in Utah County’s Dream Mine
    (pp. 125-158)
    Kevin Cantera

    In May 2007, a crowd assembled in the convention hall at the veterans’ center in Spanish Fork, Utah, for the Relief Mine Company’s annual stockholders’ meeting. An almost festive air preceded the official meeting, as about one hundred people gathered, investors in the company who had come to hear the annual financial report on the 113-year-old mining venture. Chatter and laughter filled the hall; conversations sprang up where they had left off at last year’s stockholders’ meeting. The majority of stockholders were older people from the surrounding area in southern Utah County, where the Relief Mine is located. A handful...

  8. 7 A Nessie in Mormon Country
    (pp. 159-167)
    Alan L. Morrell

    In the August 3, 1868, edition of the Deseret Evening News, the Bear Lake Valley correspondent Joseph C. Rich noted:

    All lakes, caves and dens have their legendary histories. Tradition loves to throw her magic wand over beautiful dells and lakes and people them with fairies, giants and monsters of various kinds. Bear Lake has also its monster tale to tell, and when I have told it, I will leave you to judge whether or not its merits are merely traditionary.¹

    The twenty-seven-year-old son of Mormon apostle Charles C. Rich further explained that the local Indians believed in a “monster...

  9. 8 Walking on Water: Nineteenth-Century Prophets and a Legend of Religious Imposture
    (pp. 168-212)
    Stanley J. Thayne

    “The Biblical statement from John 4:44, ‘A prophet hath no honor in his own country,’ is certainly true of Joseph Smith.”² So spoke Charles J. Decker, town historian of Afton, New York, during a lecture sponsored by the Presbytery of Susquehanna Valley in 1977, nearly 150 years after Smith had left the area. Like most of the prophet-leaders who rose out of the millennial fervor of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Joseph Smith faced frequent persecution and was regarded by most of the general population as a fraud.³ Naturally, in reaction to his prophetic claims there developed a wealth of...