Mormon folklore is a body of expressive culture unique to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) and its members. Mormon folklore includes tales, oral history, popular beliefs, customs, music, jokes, and material culture traditions.
Folklore vs. doctrine
In the LDS Church, folklore is usually distinguished from church doctrine, but there is no universal method of determining where doctrine ends and folklore begins. Most Latter-day Saints consider material in the scriptures of the church and joint statements of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to constitute church doctrine and policy. Any other part of the expressive cultural aspects of Mormonism may be legitimately classified as Mormon folklore.
"The first [issue I wish to discuss] is the spread of rumor and gossip (we have mentioned this before) which, when once started, gains momentum as each telling becomes more fanciful, until unwittingly those who wish to dwell on the sensational repeat them in firesides, in classes, in Relief Society gatherings and priesthood quorum classes without first verifying the source before becoming a party to causing speculation and discussions that steal time away from the things that would be profitable and beneficial and enlightening to their souls."As I say, it never ceases to amaze me how gullible some of our Church members are in broadcasting these sensational stories, or dreams, or visions, some alleged to have been given to Church leaders, past or present, supposedly from some person’s private diary, without first verifying the report with proper Church authorities."
"There is one thing that shocks me: I have learned, in some instances, that those who have heard of these rumors are disappointed when I tell them they are not so. They seem to have enjoyed believing a rumor without substance of fact. I would earnestly urge that no such idle gossip be spread abroad without making certain as to whether or not it is true.
"This is something that is recurring time and time again, and we call upon you holders of the priesthood to stamp out any such and to set to flight all such things as are creeping in, people rising up here and there who have had some 'marvelous' kind of a manifestation, as they claim, and who try to lead the people in a course that has not been dictated from the heads of the Church.
Examples of Mormon folklore
Folklore, including Mormon folklore, is dynamic rather than static, changing emphasis and details over time. Latter-day Saints pass on the group's cultural heritage from person to person and from generation to generation. These elements of heritage may not only be passed through written documents or formal instruction but may be found in stories and customs in both family and church settings. Tales learned at home or in a church function may later be repeated to others. Stories learned at home, in the LDS Family Home Evening or other family gatherings, may later emerge in family activities in the next generation.
In general, Mormon folklore may be presented in three broad categories:
- The spoken and written word: including songs, family stories, humorous tales, and contemporary accounts from missionaries and church leaders.
- Handicrafts and memorial items: including traditional tools and implements, holiday traditions, family keepsakes and scrapbooks, and a family Book of Remembrance kept in association with genealogical records.
- Unique Mormon activities: including Family Home Evening, youth dating practices, family celebrations of birth and baptismal dates, genealogical activities, and church and community celebrations of holidays such as Pioneer Day.
Tales and popular beliefs
The following are examples of tales and popular concepts from Mormon folklore:
- that Cain, the killer of Abel, is alive and wanders the earth, wearing no clothing but being covered by hair and that apostle David W. Patten encountered him once; and that reported sightings of Bigfoot can be explained by this story;
- modern encounters and assistance from one or more of "The Three Nephites", three Nephite disciples chosen by Jesus in the Book of Mormon, who were blessed by Jesus to "never taste of death; but ye shall live to behold all the doings of the Father unto the children of men..."
- that on December 7, 1941, Japanese aircraft pilots attempted to bomb or strafe the church's Laie Hawaii Temple just prior to or just after the attack on Pearl Harbor, but were prevented from doing so by mechanical failures or an unseen protective force, and that the Japanese pilot who attempted to bomb or strafe the Laie Hawaii Temple was converted to the LDS Church after he saw a picture of the temple in the possession of Mormon missionaries in Japan;
- that Jesus was married, possibly to Mary Magdalene, Mary, sister of Lazarus, and/or Martha, and that Jesus may have been a polygamist and had children;
- the miracle of the gulls, in which the crops of early Mormon settlers in Utah Territory were saved from destruction by a vast flock of seagulls that ate swarms of Mormon crickets that were devouring the crops;
- that in designing the Salt Lake Temple, Brigham Young had the foresight to make space accommodation for future technological advancements such as elevators, air conditioning, and electrical wiring;
- that Negroes were neutral in the War in Heaven and that is why they were not allowed to hold the Mormon priesthood before 1978;
- that Māori prophets or chieftains, including Paora Te Potangaroa and Tāwhiao, predicted the coming of Mormon missionaries to New Zealand;
- that Tāwhiao accurately predicted the site of the 1958 Hamilton New Zealand Temple before his death in 1894;
- that a flash of lightning or other divine manifestation protected the body of Joseph Smith, Jr. from being mutilated by a mob after he had been killed at Carthage Jail;
- that those who persecuted the early Latter Day Saints and killed Joseph Smith, Jr. suffered physically and mentally later in their lives, with some meeting gruesome or particularly painful deaths;
- that in 1739 a Roman Catholic monk predicted that within 100 years an angel would be sent by God to restore the lost gospel to the earth and that the true church would be established in "a valley that lies towards a great lake";
- that today's youth were "generals" in the War in Heaven and that when they return to heaven they will be revered;
- that when speaking to the Latter Day Saints after the death of Joseph Smith, Jr., Brigham Young took on the appearance, voice, and mannerisms of Smith and that this was a sign from God that Young was to be Smith's successor;
- that the writings of the early Church Fathers conform better with Mormonism than with modern Christianity;
- that the global flood of Noah constituted the baptism of the Earth;
- that Orson Hyde, an early apostle of the church, was of Jewish ancestry and that for this reason it was he in 1841 that dedicated Palestine for the return of the Jews;
- that wearing temple garments affords physical protection, and that some wearers have survived car wrecks, floods, and other calamities unscathed thanks to the protective power of the garments;
- that Albert Einstein said that geologist and LDS Church apostle James E. Talmage was the smartest man he had ever met;
- that officials of the Roman Catholic Church support the LDS Church's efforts to build the Rome Italy Temple and that this support was forthcoming because of the church's support of Proposition 8 in California in 2008;
- that a geological feature in Millard County, Utah known as the "Great Stone Face" resembles a profile of Joseph Smith's face;
- that Del Parson's painting "Christ in Red Robe" was produced under the direction of church general authorities, who suggested how to make it more accurate, until it was deemed the closest resemblance of Jesus Christ.
The following are examples of predictions or prophecies that are part of Mormon folklore:
- that the church will one day reinstitute the practice of plural marriage;
- that the day will come that the United States Constitution will "hang by a thread" and that members of the church will be central in rescuing it and the United States from destruction; (See also: White Horse Prophecy)
- that after the Ten Lost Tribes return, they will assist in building the Temple of the New Jerusalem on the Temple Lot in Independence, Missouri. The tenth Latter Day Saint Article of Faith states that Mormons believe in the “literal gathering of Israel and the restoration of the Ten Tribes” (see House of Joseph (LDS Church));
- that God will restore the Adamic language.
Research into Mormon folklore
Alta S. and Austin E. Fife are generally recognized as the founders of research into Mormon folklore, a discipline that has expanded greatly since the couple’s initial work in the 1930s. Although previous and contemporary scholars had briefly addressed the issue, the Fifes expanded the field, both through their collection, now known as the Fife Folklore Archive, held at the Merrill-Cazier Library on the Utah State University campus in Logan, Utah. Their book on Mormon folklore, Saints of Sage and Saddle, was published in 1956. This book, according to folklorist Jill Terry Rudy, “remains the most complete book-length treatment of Mormon folklore” (144).
Folklorist William A. Wilson also specialized in Mormon folklore. According to Wilson, “the performance of folklore—whether it provides us with delight and amusement or causes us to fear and tremble—is one of our most fundamental human activities” (2006, 203). Wilson also explains that Mormon folklore often affirms the group’s beliefs that God speeds the right, a belief implying that people who do the Lord's work may receive divine protection; however, Wilson qualifies his claim by saying, “I am not foolish enough to argue that the [LDS] missionaries endure only because of their folklore. They endure primarily because they are committed to their gospel and convinced of the importance of their work. But that conviction is constantly bolstered and maintained by the lore they have created," and reaffirming that "the significance of folklore performance is that it helps them keep up the [good] fight” and endure to the end (2006, 218).
- However, some Latter-day Saints have a more expansive conception of doctrine. For example, some believe that any statement made by the President of the Church constitutes doctrine. Others may extend this belief to statements made by an apostle or other general authority in a general conference of the church.
- Wilson, William A. (1992), "Folklore", in Ludlow, Daniel H, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan Publishing, pp. 518–520, ISBN 0-02-879602-0, OCLC 24502140
- The designation "folklore" does not imply that the tale or belief is necessarily "untrue".
- Lee, Harold B. (January 1973), "Admonitions for the Priesthood of God", Ensign.
- Letter by Abraham O. Smoot, quoted in: Wilson, Lycurgus Arnold (1904) , Life of David W. Patten, the First Apostolic Martyr, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret News, pp. 46–47, OCLC 4922706
- Whiting, Linda Shelley (2003), David W. Patten: Apostle and Martyr, Springville, Utah: Cedar Fort, p. 85, ISBN 1555176828, OCLC 51293310
- Kimball, Spencer W. (1969), The Miracle of Forgiveness, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, pp. 127–128, ISBN 0-88494-444-1, OCLC 20950
- Arave, Lynn; Genessy, Jody (2003-07-24), "Living in Utah: A guide to separate reality from myths", Deseret Morning News: A1.
- 3 Nephi 28:7[better source needed]
- Baldridge, Kenneth W.; Chase, Lance D. (2000), "The Purported December 7, 1941, Attack on the Hawai'i Temple"", in Underwood, Grant, Voyages of Faith: Explorations in Mormon Pacific History, Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, pp. 165–190, ISBN 0-8425-2480-0.
- Hyde 1854, pp. 81–82, 210
- Hyde 1858, pp. 259–260[clarification needed]
- Pratt, Orson (October 1853), "Celestial Marriage", The Seer 1 (10), p. 159
- Wilford Woodruff, Journal Entry 1883-07-22, reporting on a sermon given by Joseph F. Smith.
- Joseph Fielding Smith, Handwritten note responding to letter from J. Ricks Smith, 1963.[better source needed]
- Pratt 1880, pp. 276–277
- Smith 1869, p. 83
- William G. Hartley, "Mormons, Crickets, and Gulls, A New Look at an Old Story", in D. Michael Quinn (ed.) (1992). The New Mormon History (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books).
- Paul C. Richards, "The Salt Lake Temple Infrastructure: Studying It Out in Their Minds", BYU Studies (1996–1997).
- BYU NewsNet 100 Hour Board: Submission 10093, 2004-11-12.
- Stewart, John J. Mormonism and the Negro Salt Lake City, Utah:1960 Bookmark--This book discusses and then dismisses this common pre-1978 belief, which was regarded as contrary to Church doctrine that there were no neutrals in the War in Heaven
- Matthew Cowley, ""Maori Chief Predicts Coming of L.D.S. Missionaries", Improvement Era 53:696–698, 754–756 (Sep. 1950), reprinted in Matthew Cowley (1954, Glen L. Rudd ed.). Matthew Cowley Speaks: Discourses of Elder Matthew Cowley of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book) p. 200–205.
- Grant Underwood, "Mormonism and the Shaping of Maori Religious Identity", in Grant Underwood (ed.) (2000). Voyages of Faith: Explorations in Mormon Pacific History (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University) pp. 107–126.
- R. Lanier Britsch, “Maori Traditions and the Mormon Church,” New Era, June 1981, 38.
- LDS Church (1958), The Mormon Temple, Temple View, Hamilton, New Zealand: Bureau of Information, Zealand Temple, LDS Church, p. 13, OCLC 367545393, alt. OCLC 156001909
- Kezerian, Sandra L. (March 31, 2012), "Visiting our Family History Missionaries at the Archives", WellingtonNewZealandMission.blogspot.com
- N.B. Lundwall (ed.) (1952). The Fate of the Persecutors of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft) pp. 226–233.
- N.B. Lundwall (ed.) (1952). The Fate of the Persecutors of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft) pp. 292–352.
- Jacob Spori, "True and False Theosophy", Juvenile Instructor, 28:672–674 (1893-11-01).
- Paul B. Pixton, "'Play It Again, Sam': The Remarkable 'Prophesy' of Samuel Lutz, Alias Christophilus Gratianus, Reconsidered", BYU Studies, 25:3 (1985) pp 27–46.
- "Pres. Packer refutes quote", Church News, 2001-04-28
- Hyde 1877, p. 58
- Lynne Watkins Jorgensen, "The Mantle of the Prophet Joseph Passes to Brother Brigham: One Hundred Twenty-one Testimonies of a Collective Spiritual Witness", in John W. Welch (ed.) (2005). Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations, 1820–1844 (Provo and Salt Lake City, Utah: BYU Press and Deseret Book) ISBN 0-8425-2607-2 pp. 373–480.
- Michael T. Griffith (1996). One Lord, One Faith: Writings of the Early Christian Fathers as Evidences of the Restoration (Bountiful, Utah: Horizon) ISBN 0-88290-575-9
- Pratt 1880, p. 323
- Hyde did dedicate Palestine for the return of the Jews, but "careful investigation has uncovered no evidence" of Hyde's reported Jewish ancestry. See: Hilton, Lynn M.; Hilton, Hope A. (1994), "Hyde, Orson", in Powell, Allan Kent, Utah History Encyclopedia, Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, ISBN 0874804256, OCLC 30473917
- Hank Stuever, "Unmentionable No Longer: What Do Mormons Wear? A Polite Smile, if Asked About 'the Garment'", Washington Post, 2002-02-26, p. C1.
- James P. Harris, "A Place for Every Truth: The Einstein Rumor", Sunstone, April 2008, p. 33.
- Memorandum to Personnel of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion, "Circulation of Inaccurate Information on Rome Italy Temple", The Church of Jesus of Latter-day Saints, 2009-12-07.
- Arave, Lynn (May 9, 2010), "Does the Great Stone Face really resemble the Prophet Joseph?", Deseret News
- Jackson, Dave (April 2005). "The Artist: Del Parson". Desert Saints Magazine (Las Vegas, Nevada: Ellis Ink, Inc.) 5 (4): 12–13. Retrieved 2012-11-20.
- "LDS Hoaxes and Myths". Scholarly & Historical Information Exchange for Latter-Day Saints. Retrieved 2012-11-20.
- "ID#: 46490". 100 Hour Board. BYU NewsNet. July 21, 2008. Retrieved 2012-11-20.
- Bruce R. McConkie (1966, 2d ed.). Mormon Doctrine. (Salt Lake CIty, Utah: Bookcraft) p. 578.
- Young 1854, p. 15
- Kimball 1856, p. 216
- Harold B. Lee, Conference Report, April 1942, p. 87.
- Joseph Fielding Smith, Conference Report, April 1950, p. 159.
- Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Report, April 1963, p. 113.
- John S. Robertson, "Adamic Language", Encyclopedia of Mormonism.
- Wilson, William A. (1994), "Fife, Austin and Alta", in Powell, Allan Kent, Utah History Encyclopedia, Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, ISBN 0874804256, OCLC 30473917
- "FOLK COLLECTION 4: No. 1: Series II: Vols. 10-18: The Fife Mormon Collection: Manuscript Sources". Library.usu.edu. Retrieved 2011-05-29.
- Allred, David A. Representing Culture: Reflexivity and Mormon Folklore Scholarship. Thesis. Brigham Young University, March 2000.
- Fife, Austin E. and Alta S. (1956), Saints of Sage and Saddle: Folklore Among the Mormons, Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, OCLC 387682
- Hyde, Orson (October 6, 1854), "The Marriage Relations", in Watt, G.D., Journal of Discourses Delivered by President Brigham Young, His Two Counsellors, and the Twelve Apostles, and Others 2, Liverpool: F. D. Richards, pp. 75–87.
- Hyde, Orson (1857), "Man the Head of Woman—Kingdom of God—The Seed of Christ—Polygamy—Society in Utah", in Watt, G.D., Journal of Discourses Delivered by President Brigham Young, His Two Counsellors, and the Twelve Apostles, and Others 4, Liverpool: S. W. Richards, pp. 257–263.
- Hyde, Orson (April 5, 1877), "Prayer the Medium for Blessing—Practical Morality Establishes Confidence—The Prophet Joseph Manifest in Brigham—Age Prevents Effort, but when Behind the Vail, Freedom from Obstruction is our Opportunity", Journal of Discourses Delivered by President Brigham Young, His Two Counsellors, and the Twelve Apostles, and Others 19, Liverpool: William Budge, pp. 57–60.
- Kimball, Heber C. (September 6, 1856), "Union of the Priesthood—Salvation of the American Nation—Punishment of the Saints’ Enemies, etc.", Journal of Discourses, Delivered by President Brigham Young, His Two Counsellors, The Twelve Apostles, and Others 5, Liverpool: Asa Calkin, pp. 213–220.
- Pratt, Orson (June 20, 1880), "The Gathering of the Saints—Their Sufferings—Ancient Predictions Fulfilled—Crickets and Their Miraculous Destruction—Crops Saved—Desert Made Fruitful—God’s Kingdom in the Mountains—Its Future Destiny—The Coming of the Lord", Journal of Discourses By President John Taylor, His Counselors, The Twelve Apostles and Others 21, Liverpool: Albert Carrington, pp. 272–280.
- Pratt, Orson (August 1, 1880), "Introductory Remarks—Heaven and Earth to Pass Away—Not Annihilated—Heaven and Earth not Created from Nothing—Materials—Eternal Materials Under the Dominion of Laws—Central and Orbital Forces—Compound and Elementary Substances—Earth in the Beginning—No Mortality, then Known, on This Creation—The Fall—The Earth’s Baptism in Water—Its Baptism in Fire—Its Baptism by the Spirit..Its Justification—Its Sanctification—Its Purification—Its Thousand Years’ Rest, etc.", Journal of Discourses By President John Taylor, His Counselors and Others 21, Liverpool: Albert Carrington, pp. 319–331.
- Smith, George A. (June 20, 1869), "Historical Discourse by President George A. Smith", Journal of Discourses, Delivered by President Brigham Young, His Two Counsellors, The Twelve Apostles, and Others 13, Isleton, London: Horace S. Eldredge, pp. 77–87.
- Rudy, Jill Terry (2004), "Mormon Folklore Studies", in Stanley, David, Folklore in Utah: A History and Guide to Resources, Logan: Utah State University Press, pp. 142–52, ISBN 978-0-87421-588-5
- Wilson, William A. (2006), Rudy, Jill Terry, ed., The Marrow of Human Experience: Essays on Folklore, Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, ISBN 0-87421-653-2, OCLC 70251152
- Wilson, William A. (January 1995), "Folklore, a Mirror for What? Reflections of a Mormon Folklorist", Western Folklore 54: 13–21, JSTOR 1499908.
- Wilson, William A. (1995), "Mormon Folklore", in Whittaker, David J, Mormon Americana: A Guide to Sources and Collections in the United States, BYU Studies monographs, Provo, Utah: BYU Studies, p. 437-454, ISBN 0842523154, OCLC 30892941.
- Wilson, William A. (Winter 1989), "The Study of Mormon Folklore: An Uncertain Mirror for Truth", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 22 (4): 95–110
- Young, Brigham (July 4, 1854), "Celebration of the Fourth of July", Journal of Discourses, Delivered by President Brigham Young, His Two Counsellors, The Twelve Apostles, and Others 7, Liverpool: Amasa Lyman, pp. 9–15.
- Wennergren, Mike (2007-10-06), "Folklore plays role for LDS: Professor says stories affirm values, beliefs", Deseret News