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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Forgotten Messiahs: Arnold Potter, or "Potter Christ"

Arnold Potter, otherwise known as "Potter Christ"

The face of history is pockmarked by those who believe themselves to be prophets and Messiahs. Like pockmarks, some leave lasting scars while others fade and disappear with time. Arnold Potter, a self-declared Mormon Messiah of the late 19th century, is one such example of a prophet who had faded into obscurity.

Born in Herkimer County, New York, in 1804, Potter moved with his wife and children to Indiana where, four years later, the family was baptized into the Mormon faith by missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Five moths later, in April of 1840, Potter was ordained an elder of the faith by Mormon founder Joseph Smith. Potter and his family then settled in Sand Prairie, Iowa, where Potter was the presiding elder of the church.

In the following years, Potter traveled to Utah as a Mormon pioneer. By 1856, he had moved from Utah Territory to California. Later that year, Brigham Young called upon to serve as a missionary in Australia, leaving California for Australia on a ship named Osprey. Potter claimed that during his voyage, he experienced a supernatural event, whereby Christ entered into his body, and thus he became "Potter Christ, Son of the living God". While in Australia, Potter wrote a book which he claimed was dictated to him by angels (much like the Book of Mormon). Potter described his work as the book from which all people were to be judged at the Final Judgment.

Potter returned to California in 1857 where he soon gathered followers. This group then departed for Missouri, which was considered by Mormons as Zion. After a flood decimated Potter's homestead in the village of Saint Marys, he moved his family to Council Bluffs, Iowa. There he spent his days preaching on the streets in a long white robe. Even though his followers were few, they were devout, however, and "Potter Christ" led his group in weekly prayer meetings.

In 1872, during one of these meetings, Arnold Potter declared that the time had come for his ascension into Heaven. Followed by his disciples, Potter rode a donkey to the edge of a cliff. After a short speech he leapt from the edge, believing that he would ascend into Heaven. Instead, he fell to his death. His body was collected, cremated, and buried by his followers.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Is the Book of Mormon a Hoax? Part III

In our previous two installments examining the credibility of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of Mormonism, we presented readers with convincing evidence which seems to substantiate the popular belief among scholars that the Mormon religion is built upon a foundation of fraud and deceit.
In Part I of our examination, we explored the Spalding-Rigdon theory, which casts serious doubts on the "divine" origin of the Book of Mormon. There are numerous credible sources which offer compelling proof that the Book of Mormon was, in essence, plagiarized by an earlier work of fiction by an obscure author named Solomon Spalding.

In Part II, we examined dozens of depositions, testimonials and affidavits, sworn before respected judges, written by Smith's contemporaries. These men and women, who were neighbors and acquaintances of the Smith family, told their stories to 19th century newspaper editor and author Eber Howe, who published them in a 1834 book entitled "Mormonism Unvailed" [sic]. According to these witnesses, Joseph Smith, along with early Mormon leaders Martin Harris and Oliver Cowdery, were devious con artists, drunkards and frauds whose sole intent behind the Book of Mormon was to make money.

In this, the third installment of "Is the Book of Mormon a Hoax?", we will turn our attention away from eyewitness testimony and explore whether or not there exists any archaeological or scientific evidence which supports the Book of Mormon.

The Animal and Plant Species of the Book of Mormon

The events described in the Book of Mormon coincides with a time period beginning around 2500 BC and ending around 400 AD. By comparing the book with fossil records of the animals mention within the Book of Mormon, a pattern of anachronisms begins to emerge.

For instance, elephants are mentioned twice in the Book of Ether. While mastodons and mammoths existed in the New World, they became extinct toward the end of the last ice age, which occurred around 10,000 BC, or roughly seventy-five centuries before the events in the Book of Mormon even begin.

New World horses are mentioned eleven times in the Book of Mormon, yet there is no evidence that horses existed on the American continent during the time which the Book of Mormon takes place. The earliest evidence of horses in the New World dates to between 12,500 and 10,000 BC. Horses didn't appear in North America again until Cortés introduced them in 1519, some eleven centuries after the conclusion of the Book of Mormon.

Domesticated sheep and goats are also mentioned; yet sheep weren't introduced to the Americas until the second voyage of Columbus in 1493, and goats also didn't appear until the 15th century. Similar anachronisms also appear in the Book of Mormon pertaining to pigs and cattle. Barley is mentioned three times in the Book of Mormon, and wheat is mentioned once, yet the introduction of barley and wheat to the New World didn't occur until 1492.

Artifacts and Relics

The Book of Mormon contains two accounts of chariots being used in the New World, yet the wheel was unknown to inhabitants of the Americas until the age of Columbus.

Scimitars are mentioned ten times in the Book of Mormon. Unfortunately, the word "scimitar" wasn't even coined until around 450 AD. Steel swords are also mentioned numerous times. To date, no remnants of these weapons have been discovered by archaeologists in the New World.

The Book of Mormon also states that a compass was used by Nephi around 600 BC; yet, the compass was invented in China around 1100 AD. Like steel swords and scimitars, ancient compasses have never been found in the Americas.

In the Book of Mormon, it is stated that the Jaredites specifically avoided windows for lighting in their ships because the windows would be "dashed in pieces" during the ocean voyage [Book of Ether 2:22-23]. However, transparent glass wasn't invented until the 11th century AD.

Genetics and DNA

Mormon apologists point to the above anachronisms and argue that the archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon may still be out there, it just hasn't been found. There may be some merit in this explanation since, after all, nobody believed that the legendary ancient city of Troy existed until it was dug up in 1866. However, these Mormon archaeologists can put their shovels and maps aside because modern science has provided us with the definitive answer whether or not the Book of Mormon is true- in the form of DNA testing.

The truthfulness of the Book of Mormon rests on one central claim, which is that the Hebrews came to the New World, where they later became the indigenous peoples we have labeled Native Americans. The book claims that the Native American populations are descended from the Lamanites, who lived in ancient Israel 2,600 years ago. If this is so, then people of both Hebrew and Native American ancestry should share certain genetic traits.

Studies have shown that Native Americans share genetic Y-chromosome polymorphisms with Siberian Asians. One such study examined the C→T transition at nucleotide position 181 of the DYS199 locus- a genetic "signature" found in all five Native American populations that were studied. The same polymorphism was found in two of nine native Siberian populations, the Siberian Eskimo and the Asian Chukchi. As a control, researchers examined the DYS287 Y Alu polymorphic element insertion and an A→G transition at DYS271, both commonly found in Africans, but found neither African allele in any of the Native American or native Siberian populations. Thus, we can rule out the possibility that indigenous Americans originated in Africa.

A subsequent study examined major groups of Native American founding populations. Haplotype M3 accounted for 66% of male Y-chromosomes and was also found associated with native populations from the Chukotka Peninsula of Siberia, located across the Bering Strait from Alaska. The second major group of Native American Y-chromosomes, haplotype M45, accounted for approximately 25% of male lineages. This haplotype is also found in the Lower Amur River and Sea of Okhotsk regions of eastern Siberia. The remaining 5% of Native American Y-chromosomes were of haplotype RPS4Y-T, which is also found in the Lower Amur River region of Siberia. These data suggested that virtually all Native American male lineages are the result of one or two major Siberian migrations.

Dozens of similar studies have reached the same conclusion: Native Americans can trace their lineage back to east Asia; thus no Native Americans share genetic markers with Hebrews or Jews.

As a result of these inaccuracies and anachronisms, most reputable scientific bodies have distanced themselves from the Book of Mormon. in a 1998 letter to the Institute for Religious Research, the National Geographic Society wrote that "society does not know of anything found so far that has substantiated the Book of Mormon". A similar stance was taken more than a decade earlier by the Smithsonian; in the 1980s, rumors began to circulate in the LDS movement that the Smithsonian was looking to the Book of Mormon to guide archaeological research. The Smithsonian fired back with a scathing letter which not only refuted these claims, but listed several reasons why they believed that the Book of Mormon was "historically unlikely". The letter, in part, read:

"The Smithsonian Institution has never used the Book of Mormon in any way as a scientific guide. Smithsonian archeologists see no direct connection between the archeology of the New World and the subject matter of the book." ("Statement Regarding the Book of Mormon," Smithsonian Institution, Spring 1986)

The Verdict

If we were to examine Mormonism in the same manner which the judicial system examines defendants, a jury would have to conclude that, based on the evidence, the entire religion is guilty of being a sham. Part I of our examination presented circumstantial evidence which insinuates that the Book of Mormon was likely based upon an earlier work of fiction by Solomon Spalding. Part II presented witness affidavits from 80 individuals who were acquaintances of Joseph Smith, all of whom swore before a judge in good standing that Smith and his partners were, in essence, nothing more than 19th century con artists and flim-flammers. And finally, Part III of our examination presented DNA evidence as well as historical evidence which argues against the validity of the Book of Mormon. To use a chess analogy, not only has Mormonism been put in check, but in checkmate as well. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Forgotten Messiahs: Joanna Southcott and Shiloh

In the annals of human history there have been hundreds of self-proclaimed prophets, prophetesses and Messiahs. Most are dismissed by the public and soon forgotten. However, others are remembered for centuries; some for leaving an enduring legacy, and others for their sheer delusional insanity. Joanna Southcott, a self-described religious prophetess from England who lived during the 18th century, is a shining example not only of the latter, but of human gullibility in general.

Raised in the village of Gittisham in Devon, England, Joanna was the daughter of a farmer and was brought up in the Church if England. However, in 1792, at the age of forty-two, Joanna become convinced that she possessed supernatural powers. She began writing down prophecies, before convincing herself that she was the woman spoken of in Revelation 12:1–6, who gives birth to a son who would become the ruler of all nations.

Southcott began writing letters to the English clergy, condemning them for their indifference to the needs of the poor. As a champion of the poor, her local fame grew when her predictions regarding the crop failures and famines of 1799 and 1800 were fulfilled. In 1801, emboldened with self-righteous confidence, Southcott used up her life savings to print 1000 copies of the first part of her book, "The Strange Effects of Faith; with Remarkable Prophecies (Made in 1792)". Of course, anyone could print a book claiming that predictions made a decade earlier had come to pass, but, nonetheless, her book attracted the attention of Richard Brothers- another self-described prophet who was, at the time, at the peak of his popularity.

The following year, Brothers, along with master engraver William Sharp, convinced Joanna to move to London, where they provided her with lodgings and promoted her work. In London, Joanna attracted several followers, who began to refer to themselves as Southcottians. Between 1801 and 1814, Southcott published sixty-five pamphlets, and by one conservative estimate, a total of 108,000 copies of her works- which combined apocalyptic visions with homespun wit and wisdom- were published and circulated from 1801 to 1816, making Southcott one of the most popular writers of her time. In fact, Charles Dickens refers to Mrs. Southcott at the beginning of "A Tale of Two Cities".

Amid vicious public attacks on her character, Joanna fled from London to Bristol where, in 1814, she announced that she was about to become the mother of Shiloh, the name given to the second incarnation of Christ. This revelation was made explicit in Southcott's "The Third Book of Wonders, Announcing the Coming of Shiloh" (1814), and "Prophecies Announcing the Birth of the Prince of Peace" (1814). At the time of her pregnancy, Joanna was sixty-four years of age and professed to be a virgin. A prominent physician examined her and announced that Joanna was indeed showing signs of pregnancy. The date of October 19, 1814, was fixed for the birth, but once November came and Shiloh had not arrived, she was ridiculed mercilessly by the press. On November 12, Southcott married John Smith, a close friend and former steward to the earl of Darnley, who offered himself in the role adopted father to the new Messiah. The marriage was to be annulled if Shiloh failed to appear; however, Southcott died December 27, at 38 Manchester Street in London. Her followers retained her body for four days, in the hope that she would be raised from the dead. They agreed to its burial only after it began to decay.

By this time the Southcottian movement had over 100,000 followers, although most of them soon lost interest and abandoned the movement. The Panacea Society, founded by Southcott follower Mabel Barltrop in 1919, was formed in order to protect and preserve a sealed wooden box of Southcott's prophecies, known as Joanna Southcott's Box, with the instruction that it be opened only at a time of national crisis, and then only in the presence of all 24 bishops of the Church of England.

Barltrop adopted the name "Octavia" and believed herself to be the Shiloh of Southcott's prophecies. By the 1930s, the Southcottian movement numbered less than one hundred; the last member of the Panacea Society, Ruth Klein, died in 2012.

In 1927, psychic researcher Harry Price claimed that he had come into possession of Joanna Southcott's Box and arranged to have it opened in the presence of the Bishop of Grantham. The opened box was found to contain only a few odds and ends, among them a lottery ticket and a horse-pistol. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Remembering William Mumler: The Pioneer of Ghost Photography

Most of us have seen photographs allegedly depicting ghostly apparitions, yet few of us are familiar with the name William H. Mumler. It was Mumler who is credited with the invention, and subsequent popularity, of spirit photography. While Mumler might not be a household name, you have perhaps encountered some of his work- such as the above picture which famously shows the "ghost" of Abraham Lincoln standing behind his widowed wife, Mary Todd Lincoln.

While Mumler's photographs have long been proven to be hoaxes, there is a certain ethereal beauty about his work. Unfortunately, his hoaxer reputation overshadowed his abilities as a photographer and has robbed him of the worldwide fame he enjoyed in the years following the Civil War, when he capitalized on the large number of Americans who had lost relatives in the conflict.

Mumler was a silversmith in Boston when he stumbled upon the process for creating spirit photographs. Despite having a minimal knowledge of the art, he quickly became one of the world's most famous photographers, sought out by politicians, captains of industry and the upper crust of society. In 1869, Mumler was brought before the court on charges of fraud (P.T. Barnum famously testified against him), but Mumler was acquitted. Nonetheless, the bad publicity ruined Mumler's business and he died penniless fifteen years later.

Today, there is a renewed interest in Mumler's work, even though there is nothing supernatural about it. Mumler may not have been the first person to photograph a genuine spirit, but he was the first to say he did, and for that reason there has been a resurgence in collecting and cataloging his work.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The 10 most hauntingly beautiful grave markers in the world

Whether it's a simple slab of granite, a towering marble spire, or an elaborate angelic sculpture, most of us have a desire to leave behind some sort of monument after we die, if for no other reason than to prove to passing generations that our lives held some sort of meaning; to say "we were here". Perhaps it's a tribute to our own egos, or perhaps it's an innate desire not to be forgotten, but whatever the reason may be, we have been marking our final resting places for centuries and will continue to do so for centuries more.

Yet, out of the millions of graves which mark the final resting places of our loved ones, only a select few are exquisite enough to create a lasting impression upon those who view them. The following are ten of the world's most hauntingly beautiful grave markers.

10. Julio Ruelas (Montparnasse Cemetery, Paris, France)

Ruelas (1870-1907) was a Mexican-born artist who died from tuberculosis at the age of 38. The sculpture is a work by Arnulfo Domínguez Bello.

9. Theodore Prendergast  (Bonaventure Cemetery,Savannah, GA)

Known simply as the "Papa's Sweetheart" grave to residents of Savannah, this loving tribute from a mother and father to a seven-year-old boy can thaw the heart of even the most callous individual.

8. Vlasta Burian (Vysehrad Cemetery, Prague, Czech Republic)

Burian (1891-1962) was a Czech actor, singer, comedian and director. Known as Král komiků ("King of Comedians"), Vlasta Burian was the Czech equivalent of Charlie Chaplin or Groucho Marx. He died after giving his last performance from pneumonia; his grief-stricken wife died nine weeks later. His gravemarker is symbolic of the time he spent in a prison labor camp after being wrongfully accused of collaborating with Nazis during WWII; Burian was officially exonerated of all charges in 1994.

7. George & Grete McCann (Woodlawn Cemetery, Elmira, NY)

Most visitors to Woodlawn Cemetery immediately head for Mark Twain's grave, but it's the grave of George McCann and his wife that usually attracts the most attention. Interestingly, even though Grete died at the age of just 32 in 1872 and George lived to the age of 76, the artist managed to disguise the age difference. The water stains seem to lend perpetual tears to the otherwise smiling faces, creating a stirring monument.

6. Vaslav Nijinsky (Montmartre Cemetery, Paris, France)

Russian ballet dancer and choreographer of Polish descent, Nijinsky (1889-1950) is regarded as the greatest male dancer of the early 20th century. The statue, donated by Serge Lifar, depicts Nijinsky as Stravinsky's puppet, Petrushka.

5. Laurence Matheson (Mount Macedon Cemetery, Victoria, Australia)

“Asleep” is name of sculpture on the marble gravemarker of art collector Laurence Matheson (1930-1987), sculpted by artist Peter Shipperheyn at the request of Matheson's widow. Matheson was the one responsible for giving Shipperheyn his first "big break" as a sculptor, and "Asleep" is the artist's everlasting tribute to his benefactor.

4. Johnny Morehouse (Woodland Cemetery & Arboretum, Dayton, OH)

In the 1860s there was a boy named Johnny Morehouse. One day, as the five-year-old was playing near his home by the edge of the Miami & Erie Canal, he accidentally fell into the canal. His faithful dog jumped into the water and tried to rescue him. Even though the dog managed to pull the boy out, Johnny died. After the burial, the dog refused to abandon grave, staying by it morning, noon and night. To this day, visitors to Woodland leave gifts at the foot of the grave for both the boy and his faithful dog. And if that doesn't tug your heartstrings, you ought to see a cardiologist.

3. Matthew Robison (Salt Lake City Cemetery, Salt Lake City, UT)

Born with severe disabilities on September 23, 1988, Matthew was only given hours to live. However, in spite of unimaginable odds, Matthew managed to live ten and one-half years, his courage and eternal optimism inspiring everyone he met. Thanks to his incredibly stirring gravemarker, Matthew Robison will continue to inspire for centuries to come.

2. Ada (Lone Fir Cemetery, Portland, OR)

Ada Smith was just 6 years old when she died in 1885, and very little is known about her, which is perhaps fitting for Lone Fir Cemetery, which is home to over ten thousand unmarked graves. While there are thousands of angel statues scattered throughout Victorian-era graveyards, few are as mesmerizing as this statue, carved by an unknown artist.

1. Emelyn Story (Protestant Cemetery, Rome, Italy)

William Wetmore Story was one of the most influential American sculptors of the 19th century. His sculpture of Joseph Henry stands in front of the Smithsonian, and his statue of Chief Justice John Marshall stands before the Supreme Court. However, he is perhaps best known for "Angel of Grief", a heart-rending masterpiece that marks the grave of his wife, Emelyn.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Is the Book of Mormon a Hoax? Part II

Back in 2012 we published an article entitled "Is the Book of Mormon a Hoax?", in which we fully explained the Spalding-Rigdon Theory, whose supporters believe that the Book of Mormon was, in essence, plagiarized by early Mormon leader Sidney Rigdon, from a fantasy novel written years earlier by an obscure author named Solomon Spalding.

Naturally, such a controversial article resulted in a deluge of reader email and even though it's been a few years since we first published the article, we continue to receive feedback about our Mormonism-as-a-hoax stance. As a result, we decided it was time to post a follow-up article, in order to provide readers with further evidence that Mormonism is not a religion, but a money-making scheme originated by Joseph Smith and his cadre of frauds and hucksters.

In this installment, we will delve into historical accounts and explore the lives of early Mormon leaders, supported by affidavits given by those who actually knew Joseph Smith, Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and other leaders of the LDS movement. The following information comes from an 1834 book, "Mormonism Unvailed" [sic], written by Eber D. Howe.

Howe, the founder of Ohio's Painesville Telegraph newspaper, was one of the first critics of Mormonism, and his book created such a stir that leaders of the LDS movement rushed to publish their own sensationalistic pro-Mormon "tell-all" books, often using the same title in a blatant effort to confuse readers. For instance, after Howe's 1834 critique of the LDS movement came "Mormonism Unveiled" by Orvilla S. Belisle (1855), "Mormonism Unveiled" by William Warner Bishop (1882), and "Mormonism Unveiled" by E.S. Goodrich (1884). Belisle's work claimed to be the "official" biography of Joseph Smith, Bishop's work claimed to be the official biography of Mormon martyr John Doyle Lee, and Goodrich's work centered around Salt Lake City crime statistics, in a bizarre effort to show that polygamists are much better behaved than everyone else.

Eber D. Howe

Howe's expose of Mormonism contained affidavits from 80 personal acquaintances of Smith and Martin Harris (one of the "Three Witnesses" who claimed to have seen the angel presenting the Golden Plates). All of these acquaintances lived in New York's Wayne and Ontario counties, the birthplace of Mormonism. Howe begins his book by debunking Harris' prophecies, since he probably figured that the best way to begin his debunking of Mormonism as a whole was by debunking one of the church's central prophets.

Harris had his prophecies printed up and posted on the wall of his office. One of Harris' prophecies stated:

"Within four years from September 1832, there will not be one wicked person left in the United States; that the righteous will be gathered to Zion, and that there will be no President over these United States at that time". On his wall was also posted a prophecy stating: "I do hereby assert and declare that in four years from the date hereof, every sectarian and religious denomination in the United States shall be broken down, and every Christian shall be gathered unto the Mormonites, and the rest of the human race shall perish. If these things do not take place, I will hereby consent to have my hand separated from my body".

Needless to say, none of his prophecies came to pass, and Harris never went through with his promise to have his hand chopped off.

Martin Harris: The prophet who wasn't.

Martin Harris was often a source of embarrassment for Joseph Smith, who would've distanced himself from Harris were it not for the fact that Harris was Smith's primary financial backer; it was Harris who mortgaged his own farm in order to pay $3,000 to E.B. Grandin for publishing the Book of Mormon. Harris insisted that he get to keep 100% of the book's profits until he was reimbursed.

The following summarizes the witness affidavits presented in Howe's book:

1. Smith and his family were employed in the common 19th century practice of "fortune digging". A favorite scam of gypsies and witches of the era, fortune diggers would approach farmers and offer to reveal to them (often with the aid of a divining rod) the location of treasure that was buried on their property-- for a large sum of money. The fortune-digger, of course, would be long gone by the time the gullible farmer finished digging his hole.

David Stafford, a neighbor of the Smiths, wrote: "It is well known that the general employment of the Smith family was money digging and fortune telling. They kept around them constantly a gang of worthless fellows who dug for money nights and were idle in the day time. It was a mystery to their neighbors how they got their living."

2. Smith and Harris were once overheard admitting that the Book of Mormon was a hoax. According to Abigail Harris, she heard Martin Harris remarking to his wife Lucy: "What if it is a lie? If you will let me alone, I will make money out of it."

3. Smith and Harris had been seen spending a lot of time together right before the Golden Plates were found. The two men were familiarly known in their neighborhood as the "Golden Bible Company", and they were regarded by citizens of the community as a lying, indolent set of fellows, in whom no confidence could be placed. According to some, Smith's reputation was so bad that he should not be believed even when under oath.

4. The wife of Martin Harris testified that he is both a cruel man and a liar, who often beat her. Harris later threw her out of the house. She also accused him of having an affair with a Mrs. Haggard.

5. Smith once confessed to making up the entire story about the Golden Plates in an effort to make money, telling one witness: "When it (the Book of Mormon) is completed, my family will be placed on a level above the generality of mankind."

6. Many facets of Mormonism can be traced back to Smith's father, whose own kooky beliefs may have influenced his son. One neighbor of the Smith family, Peter Ingersoll, stated that long before the Book of Mormon was printed, Smith's father told him  that camels roamed the wilds of the New World, and how a mysterious pre-Columbian "Golden Bible" was found in the hollow of a tree in Canada containing the history of North America.

7. Smith liked to play practical jokes on his family. According to Ingersoll, Smith once told his parents that he had found a "golden Bible", much like the one his father believed had been found in Canada. "I've got the damned fools fixed," quipped Smith to Ingersoll, "and will carry out the fun". Smith then attempted to persuade a man named Willard Chase to build a chest to store his imaginary "golden Bible". Chase would have no part of it, so Smith built the chest himself. Ingersoll's deposition was sworn before Judge Baldwin of Wayne County.

8. Parley Chase, a neighbor of the Smith family, stated: "I was acquainted with the family of Joseph Smith, Sen., both before and since they became Mormons, and feel free to state that not one of the male members of the Smith family were entitled to any credit, whatsoever. They were lazy, intemperate and wirhtless men, very much addicted to lying."

9. Several of Howe's witnesses accuse the Smith family of stealing their farm animals.

10. Stated David Stafford: "I have been acquainted with the family of Joseph Smith, Sen., for several years, and I know him to be a drunkard and a liar, and to be much in the habit of gambling. He and his boys were truly a lazy set of fellows, and more particularly Joseph, who very aptly followed his father's example, and in some respects was worse." Stafford then relates a story of a fistfight with a drunken Joseph Smith, which resulted in Smith being fined by the local magistrate for disturbing the peace.

Barton Stafford also corroborated these claims, referring to the senior Smith as "a noted drunkard", and implying that the so-called prophet Joseph Smith was an even bigger drunkard than his father. Stafford then relates a story about another drunken brawl involving the founder of Mormonism, in which Smith has his shirt torn from his body. Stafford's own wife covers the prophet with a shawl and escorted him home.

11. Joshua Stafford, a neighbor to the Smith family for two years, stated that the Smith family told "marvelous stories about ghosts, hob-goblins, caverns, and various other mysterious matters". Interestingly, the very word Mormon is the Anglicized form of the Greek word Mormoo, which translates into "hob-goblin".

12. Even the scholar who translated the mysterious writing from the Golden Bible- Professor Charles Anthon- concluded the tablets were a hoax. Early versions of the Book of Mormon stated that the mysterious language, known as "Reformed Egyptian", was first deciphered by Professor Anthon. When Anthon learned that his name was being attached to the Book of Mormon, he went ballistic, penning a letter to Eber Howe on the 14th of February, 1834, which read:

Dear Sir- I received this morning your favor of the 9th inst. and lose no time in making a reply. The whole story about my having pronounced the Mormonite inscription to be "reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics" is perfectly false. Some years ago, a plain, and apparently simple-hearted farmer, called upon me with a note from Dr. Mitchell of our city, now deceased, requesting me to decypher, if possible, a paper, which the farmer would hand me, and which Dr. M confessed he had been unable to understand. Upon examining the paper in question, I soon came to the conclusion that it was all a trick, perhaps a hoax.

Anthon requested that his letter be published immediately in the event that his name was mentioned again "by these wretched fanatics".

Fifty-one of the eighty witnesses cited by Howe signed the following statement, which was published in his book:

Palmyra, Dec. 4, 1833

We, the undersigned, have been acquainted with the Smith family, for a number of years, while they resided near this place, and we have no hesitation in saying that we consider them destitute of that moral character, which ought to entitle them to the confidence of any community. They were particularly famous for visionary projects, spent much of their time in digging for money, which they pretended was hid in the earth; and to this day, large excavations may be seen in the earth, not far from their residence, where they used to spend their time in digging for hidden treasures. Joseph Smith, sen., and his Joseph were, in particular, considered entirely destitute of moral character, and addicted to vicious habits.

So is the Latter Day Saint movement a true religion or a hoax? The evidence, by an overwhelming margin, indicates that the "Golden Bible" was pure 19th century hoaxery at its finest.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Witchcraft in Alaska

Killisnoo, Alaska, as it appeared in 1899.

The indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest have played an important role in Native American folklore, from Chinook tales of monsters such as the Sasquatch-like Skookum and the humanoid sea monster of the Inuits named Qalupalik. A tribe inhabiting southeast Alaska, known as the Tlingit, has also played an important role in the folklore of the Pacific Northwest.

The Tlingit tribe, like many other indigenous tribes, holds a strong belief in magic and witchcraft. In 1915, a peculiar case evoking memories of Salem, Massachusetts, came before the court in Juneau, centered around allegations of witchcraft and sorcery. The strange case of Mary Moses- or Klantosh, as she was known to her tribe- could've been the last official "witch trial" in North American history had the District Attorney been able to find a law that was broken by the witch in question- a blind man who was said to be able to fly and transform himself into a duck.

The following comes from a newspaper article from November 11, 1915.

Juneau, Alaska, Nov. 11.-- That witchcraft still exists among the natives of Alaska, was brought out in the United States District Court before District Attorney J.A. Smiser here. A complaint of the practice of witchcraft among the natives of Killisnoo was made some time ago to W.G. Beattie, superintendent of native schools for Alaska. An investigation in the Killisnoo village led Superintendent Beattie to bring a number of the tribe to Juneau for examination by District Attorney Smiser, with the result the witch was found, but no law could be found on which to base a complaint against him.

From the testimony of the witnesses examined before the District Attorney the story of the witchery centers around a blind man, his fifteen-year-old daughter and her grandmother. For several months the blind man has been announcing himself as a witch and has claimed responsibility for practically all the deaths that have occurred in the village of Killisnoo for the past five years.

According to the story of the little native girl, Mary Moses, or Klantosh, as her Indian name is, the first time she knew that her father was a witch was one night a "long time ago" when she was awakened in her sleep and felt cold. She called her father and asked for more covers, which he brought, and while covering her over, she says, he told her for the first time that he was a witch and that he wanted her to learn to be one too in order that she might carry on his work when he died.

In order that she might learn the secrets of the practice she said her father told her she must visit with him an old graveyard across the bay. Mary stated her father told her to take hold of his foot and in a moment they "flew" across the channel to the cemetery. While there she said they were able to look through the earth down into the graves and could see the bodies in them. After wandering about the graves for a time her father transformed himself into a white duck and on his back she says she rode back across the channel. Mary told the District Attorney that that night she learned many things about witchcraft.

The girl's story was told with straight-forwardness and without contradiction and the reason she said she wanted something done with her father was because she feared he would kill her grandmother with witchery. The child's mother is dead and she is apparently very fond of her grandmother, and is evidently sincere in her fear of her father's powers.

The only charges against her father are based upon the firm belief that he is a witch and in that connection he is accused of being responsible for everything in the way of misfortune which has happened in the Killisnoo Indian village. In the eyes of the law, Mr. Smiser says, it does look a little like hypnotism, but nothing tangible has occurred which can be reached by law.

In his remarks before the District Attorney, Superintendent Beattie said: "The question of witchcraft is one of the most difficult problems we have to handle among the natives. The existence of witches is a certainty with them, and there is absolutely no possibility of convincing them that there are no such things as witches. It isn't stubbornness on their part, it is simply and sincerely their belief that there are among their tribesman persons who have power to cast a spell over others on their number."
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