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

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

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

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

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

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 and practices that we learn from our parents, our friends, our coworkers, and other associates. We all have folklore. It influences how we react to, and interact with, our environment, the people we encounter, and the ideas to which we are introduced. It affects how we greet someone new to us, and how and what we choose to celebrate or revere or fear. It is integral to everyone’s behavior, whether they realize it or not, and it is an aspect of each group with which they associate.

Without awareness of this informal culture that surrounds each of us, it is difficult to understand the many events affected by it. the formal history of a place or people generally depends heavily on documents— legal documents, business documents, newspapers, and others. Personal writings, such as letters and diaries, are also important sources for historians, but even these may not give a complete and accurate picture of what people are thinking when they act. the historians in this book have plumbed other resources—student collections of folk stories, online chat groups, oral histories—in addition to the more conventional ones. the ideas in these alternative sources are more ephemeral, but they have been . . .

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