Scriptures as Seer Stones

To me, the most interesting thing about the seer stone that Joseph used when translating the BoM is not that he used it but that it is really just a rock. From what I understand, if you or I were to pick it up, we couldn’t tell it apart from any other smooth rock of similar color. To be blunt, there’s just really nothing special about it in and of itself.

I am also intrigued by the idea that the seer stone played a role in Joseph’s development as a prophet. Bushman offers his theory about it in RSR, so go there for the details. Essentially, because of his folk magic background, somehow JS could focus his spiritual tuning using the stone, but as his abilities improved, he no longer needed the stone because he learned to tune his spiritual faculties directly in line with revelatory channels and without the stone. The stone was a tool that Joseph outgrew.

It seems to me that our reading of scripture is very similar. Any book of scripture is just a book. It’s just ink in the shape of words on a page. There’s nothing magical about it. No special revelatory ink just as the seer stone has no special chemical composition. And just like Joseph and the seer stone, what we get out of reading scripture is related to what we believe we will get out the process. I’m not saying that inspiration flashes cannot ever come whenever there is doubt, or that inspiration necessarily comes when there is faith. I’m just making a general claim as a starting point. What you get out of reading the scriptures usually depends on your faith in the process itself.

But what does this imply? First, not everyone will get the same thing out of reading the scriptures, just like we all wouldn’t get the same thing out of a stone. Joseph got revelations through a stone, but I probably never would even if I had the same stone. It’s just not the mechanism that generates inspiration for me.

Second, tremendous baggage can inhibit successful scripture reading just as it does stone gazing. If I don’t believe the stone will yield a revelation, it probably won’t. Similarly, if a person just doesn’t believe that scriptures will produce inspiration, then it’s very unlikely they will. So when I say baggage, I mean past experiences, opinions, and so on, that you bring to the scriptures when you read but that can also inhibit the inspirational flow. For example, my wife’s BoM and D&C baggage is pretty heavy because those books have so few women. She gets little or no inspiration from them. She prefers the OT and NT because they are just more inspirational for her.

Third, maybe it is possible to move beyond scripture reading like Joseph moved beyond the seer stone. What do you think of this idea? Perhaps people eventually move beyond the scriptures. For example, I just don’t imagine God reading scriptures. That said, I wonder if moving beyond the scriptures is pretty far off. At least, I don’t see it happening to me anytime soon. I think text has a clear advantage over stone as a revelatory tool. Text has a storyline and message with various levels of meaning, so it provides directional focus for the mind, which to me is the most tricky thing to control when it comes to receiving revelation. A stone just doesn’t give most people that sort of direction.

Fourth, if text is better than stone, then maybe there is something better than text. Sure you can say the HG is better. But is there some other concrete thing you can hold and interact physically with that is better than scriptural text?

32 comments for “Scriptures as Seer Stones

  1. Well the Book of Life may very well count as scriptures that God reads (and writes):

    And now I say unto you, all you that are desirous to follow the voice of the good shepherd, come ye out from the wicked, and be ye separate, and touch not their unclean things; and behold, their names shall be blotted out, that the names of the wicked shall not be numbered among the names of the righteous, that the word of God may be fulfilled, which saith: The names of the wicked shall not be mingled with the names of my people;

    For the names of the righteous shall be written in the book of life, and unto them will I grant an inheritance at my right hand. And now, my brethren, what have ye to say against this? I say unto you, if ye speak against it, it matters not, for the word of God must be fulfilled.
    (Alma 5:57-58)

    And further, I want you to remember that John the Revelator was contemplating this very subject in relation to the dead, when he declared, as you will find recorded in Revelation 20:12—And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.

    You will discover in this quotation that the books were opened; and another book was opened, which was the book of life; but the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works; consequently, the books spoken of must be the books which contained the record of their works, and refer to the records which are kept on the earth. And the book which was the book of life is the record which is kept in heaven; the principle agreeing precisely with the doctrine which is commanded you in the revelation contained in the letter which I wrote to you previous to my leaving my place—that in all your recordings it may be recorded in heaven.
    (D&C 128:6-7)

    Now as regarding stones, we should hardly neglect the following:

    This earth, in its sanctified and immortal state, will be made like unto crystal and will be a Urim and Thummim to the inhabitants who dwell thereon, whereby all things pertaining to an inferior kingdom, or all kingdoms of a lower order, will be manifest to those who dwell on it; and this earth will be Christ’s.

    Then the white stone mentioned in Revelation 2:17, will become a Urim and Thummim to each individual who receives one, whereby things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms will be made known;

    And a white stone is given to each of those who come into the celestial kingdom, whereon is a new name written, which no man knoweth save he that receiveth it. The new name is the key word.
    (D&C 130:9-11)

  2. Remember those “magic eye” pictures so popular whenever that was (early 90s?), and how they either produced sounds of ‘Wow, that is so awesome!” or disgruntled mumblings of, “I don’t see anything.”

    Sometimes when reading scriptures, or reading anything that requires some focus, or a little mulling, a thought or a picture akin to the “magic picture” will begin to form, and if it can be held in mind long enough, it takes shape as a flash of understanding as visible as a Fourth of July firework. Don’t be correcting me with Independence Day–it doesn’t sound as good here ;-)

    I’m not alone here, I know you’ve experienced this–in meditation, in the fragile hours between slumber and full consciousness, even out on a walk in the woods. We all get different pictures by different means, and you can tell about yours and even hold it up to another’s nose and implore, “Look, see–it’s right there!” Yet they won’t see it. It may as well be a rock they’re looking at.

    Yes, I look forward to the time–perhaps not in this life–when we can call up fireworks whenever we please. Maybe then we’ll even be able to share with each other.

  3. “Any book of scripture is just a book. It’s just ink in the shape of words on a page.”

    I’m going to quibble with this. Unlike a seer stone that is just like any other stone, the scriptures are (before a reader encounters them) different from other texts in that they are (mostly) written under inspiration. But I agree with the rest of your thought: it is possible for that inspiration to be inaccessible to the person who doesn’t believe it is there.

  4. We could move beyond the scriptures if God revealed to us greater things than those contained in them. However, we are unworthy to even read what some of the scriptures say because we don’t have enough faith (Ether 4:7). While no one up until Moroni’s time had never had greater things revealed to him than the things which the brother of Jared saw (v. 4), I don’t think anything greater has ever been revealed to man than what was revealed to the Brother of Jared. I don’t think ever will be such things revealed until the resurrection.

    I agree somebody sometime has or will move beyond the scriptures. But when one is not even worthy of reading all of the scriptures, that seems pretty far off.

  5. As far as I know, every temple is dedicated for the express purpose of receiving revelation; among other things. That’s where I go when I really need to counsel with the Lord to solve some of the problems of life. If there is a more powerful tangible revelation tuner than that, I would like to hear about it.

  6. The Book of Life is a good reference. Of course, the question is how literal to interpret it. We cannot say God doesn’t read. But it does seem strange to me. We read for many reasons–knowledge, entertainment, inspiration, etc.–but God doesn’t need to read for those reasons, right? Same for the white stones and urim and thummim mentioned in D&C 130. We LDS don’t seem to talk much about that stuff much anymore.

    The magic eye reference seems like a nice comparison. It takes time to focus.

    Julie, couldn’t the seer stone have been made by God under inspiration? Maybe that gave it a special touch? I think you’re onto something if you say the meaning behind the words was from inspiration, and that it is tuning in to that meaning that consitutes the benefit of scripture study? But doesn’t that just bring me back to my point that to get to that meaning requires effort and faith.

    “I agree somebody sometime has or will move beyond the scriptures. But when one is not even worthy of reading all of the scriptures, that seems pretty far off.”

    Nice point Mark.

  7. “First, not everyone will get the same thing out of reading the scriptures, just like we all wouldn’t get the same thing out of a stone.”

    I love this point. I think the exciting thing about any text, let alone ones that were written under some inspiration, is that we as individuals can find very individual truths and insights.

    “Third, maybe it is possible to move beyond scripture reading like Joseph moved beyond the seer stone.”

    Provocative idea. I don’t know if it’s a matter of moving beyond anything else, but I think it is true that different people find inspiration in different ways. For some, praying to God may yield much more insight and inspiration than reading scriptures. For others, communing with the natural world may lead to feeling closer to God than either scripture reading or praying. And for even others, reading articles in the Ensign might resonate more spiritually and lead to more surety about how they should conduct their lives than any of the other methods mentioned.

    Bottom line IMO: different things work best for different people. Joseph really liked his rock, other people will like other practices to focus their minds and reach out to God.

  8. I’ve had times in my life where scriptures gave me a lot of inspiration. I’m now at a point in my life where rocks are the sources of more insight than are the standard works. Thus, I find your insight comforting that Joseph used stones at a particular point in time, and that his tools for inspiration changed over time.

    Mark Bulter, do you think it’s possible that the Earth already has Urim and Thummin qualities, which may be why many prophets find inspiration as they seek communion with God in natural spaces?

  9. It\’s important to remember that in his earlier years, Joseph, like many of his neighbors, felt that the stones had special properties and conferred power. Perhaps this is not unlike the feeling that many Christians (including Mormons) have that their holy books are imbued with sacred power. How many of us have resorted to bibliomancy when seeking divine guidance?

    I know that Joseph\’s inspiration manifested in different ways. Sometimes it was more methodical and mundane (like the multiple edits of the text what would become certain D&C sections), but I imagine that the seer stones were used for visionary experiences (treasure seeking?) or creative outpourings (like the revelation of the text of the Book of Mormon, and early D&C revelations). When I think of these sorts of revelatory experiences in my own life, they tend to center on giving priesthood blessings, extemporaneous public speaking in religious settings, and bursts of creative writing. Sometimes revelatory thoughts will flow through my mind as well, when I am thinking about a topic.

    For me, the focus of inspiration is less an object (like the scriptures or a seer stone) and more an occasion (like blessing my wife when she is in need of comfort) or a seed thought (a worry, or a project, or a quote). Perhaps reading verses of scripture verses can be like planting the seed that grows into divine inspiration.

    I wonder if the oil used in blessing the sick is not unlike Joseph\’s seer stone?

  10. Pilgrimgirl, I suppose that is a possibility, but my understanding is that when a world is celestialized it is somehow used to view or gain knowledge with regard to a *lower* order of kingdoms, the ones that presumably trail us in our tracks, and which possibly our spiritual descendants will someday inhabit (cf. D&C 130:9-10)

    My understanding of why altars are naturally constructed in high and remote places, is there they are the most free from the pollution of the world – spiritual pollution in particular, and also because a mountain is a metaphor for the kingdom of heaven, which is a high and holy place (cf. Isaiah 14:12-14, 57:15)

  11. Michael (#8),

    In my opinion, yes the kingdom of heaven does use books and records, but the whys and wherefores would probably regarded as heresy by those attuned to theological absolutism.

    Now as far as the scriptures are concerned, newer, more explicit elaborations of the mysteries of the kingdom would be nice, but there is an abundance of material in the scriptures we have about exceedingly fundamental and particularly LDS doctrines whose semantics have hardly been touched in public discourse.

    For example:

    And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
    (Romans 8:17)

    For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.
    (2 Cor 1:5)

    For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren,
    (Heb 2:11)

    Therefore, thus saith the Lord unto you, with whom the priesthood hath continued through the lineage of your fathers—For ye are lawful heirs, according to the flesh, and have been hid from the world with Christ in God—
    Therefore your life and the priesthood have remained, and must needs remain through you and your lineage until the restoration of all things spoken by the mouths of all the holy prophets since the world began.
    Therefore, blessed are ye if ye continue in my goodness, a light unto the Gentiles, and through this priesthood, a savior unto my people Israel. The Lord hath said it. Amen.
    (D&C 86:8-11)

  12. Thank you, Tea. I suppose Mark Twain was right when he said that all ideas are second hand, consciously or unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources!

    Plus, your link has introduced me to a new site, which I’m taking some time to explore.

  13. Joseph #7. Your temple reference is so appropriate for this conversation. Some people are inspired in temples. Others are not. I’m glad that I am.

    Caroline #8. “I think the exciting thing about any text.” This sounds like another implication of the point I’m making. Words on a page that we can find meaning in–whether in scriptures or not. But for religious purposes, the meaning should be divine.

    Pilgrimgirl #10. “I’m now at a point in my life where rocks are the sources of more insight than are the standard works.” Could you elaborate?

    John #11. “Perhaps reading verses of scripture verses can be like planting the seed that grows into divine inspiration.” Sounds like Alma 32. The seed is the word. Can you develop this comparison of the stone with oil?

  14. Here is another opinion by Wilford Woodruff. It’s a gift you have or you don’t have.

    “Brigham Young in saying that He did not profess to be a prophet seer & Revelator as Joseph Smith was, was speaking of men being born Natural Prophets & seers. Many have the gift of seeing through seer stones without the Priesthood at all. He had not this gift [of using seer stones] naturally yet He was an Apostle & the President of the Church and Kingdom of God on Earth”. (Wilford Woodruff Journal, 5:550).

  15. Marc D. #17. So would you say that some people have the gift of getting meaning from reading scriptures while others do not?

  16. Michael, great post.

    As for moving beyond the text, I think Joseph is right about the temple being a step higher. I am inclined to think that God is merciful enough that the scriptures will open themselves to almost any person that sincerely and humbly seeks after enlightenment that way. I feel the same way about prayer. But I don’t know for sure.

    I wonder where the Liahona and Urim and Thummim fit into all this. There was a lot of excitement about Joseph’s seer stone, but since we already accepted the idea of the U&T and the LIahona it is hard to get too excited about yet another seer stone. To me, the Liahona seems like sort of a dynamic version of the scriptures, in that the text changed according to what they needed and the instrument was explicitly useless without faith and diligence.

  17. I don’t have a lot of time to study the scriptures, being a mom of four small ones. But I feel that I take the scriptures with me in my heart, and I often think about them as I’m going about my day. I read them enough when I was younger that even though I don’t remember the exact wording, I remember the principles they teach, so I can review and cross-reference them in my mind.

    I won’t go so far as to say that I don’t need to read scriptures (after all, memory fades) but I just don’t feel I need to constantly consult “the manual”; I’ve had enough experience making my spiritual life go that I’ve internalized a lot of it.

  18. I wonder if the purpose of the oil in administering to the sick is similar to the purpose of Joseph’s peepstone. The oil has no magical or supernatural properties (although I’m sure there are those who feel differently). Other types of blessings don’t require similar props. So why consecrate the oil and require a separate anointing portion when blessing the sick and afflicted?

    Perhaps one of the purposes is for us to “focus our spiritual tuning.” Compared to other blessings (baby, callings, confirmation), there’s a real sense of invoking divine power to transform the physical, natural world. There’s greater pressure to be in tune to the Spirit. Perhaps the consecration and anointing of the oil is there to remind the priesthood holder of the bridge between the supernatural and the natural and to help him to focus, to give him confidence that the power to heal is coming from outside of him?

    You know, this whole stone/oil/scripture as focus makes me think of Dumbo’s feather. Anyone else make that comparison?

  19. John — I have become more convinced over time from my reading of Mormon history that consecrated oil does have special properties but Geoff J. over at New Cool Thang has written some interesting stuff about the Dumbo’s feather theory here and in terms of healing here.

  20. Re #3: My strongest experiences along those lines happened on my mission. The words seemed to come right off the page, and I understood exactly what the writer meant, etc. I haven’t had an experience that comes close since I finished my mission twelve years ago. I really miss that.

  21. John #22. Seems like continuing your line of thinking would suggest that using oil (or a stone) could also become a crutch that holds someone back if his/her faith and confidence is tied only to the object. As in Dumbo’s feather, which was a crutch until Dumbo had his breakthrough moment.

    Frank #19. Seems to me like the U&T and Liahona could be discussed just like the seer stone for my purposes. I mean, what if God gave JS or Nephi a small wooden box with wood shavings said they were magic shavings that operated on faith so that if you really concentrated you could see the answers to all your questions formed via the wood shavings (kind of like spaghettios). Years later a BYU carpentry prof gets access to the 1st Pres vault, studies the shavings, determines that they’re just regular wood shavings, and gets a nice BYU Studies publication that gets him tenure.

    I think one of the more fundamental issues behind my original post is the nature of faith. Faith is a psychological as well as spiritual thing. When the Lectures on Faith say that faith is a power, I interpret it as something, like confidence and desire, that must come from within the individual. This can be a gift or a developed skill. As JS’s confidence grew, he left the instruments behind. Eg, He didn’t use the U&T, seer stone, or plates at all at the end of his BoM translation, instead just dictating, fully confident in his abilities.

    I’m sure this sort of conversation has problably been discussed many times on the bloggernacle so I won’t say more at this point. But it seems to me that confidence in God, oneself, and the very PROCESS of obtaining revelation are all necessary for the regular type of revelation that JS received. Once that confidence grows, one’s confidence in various processes can evolve.

  22. Mike,

    Yes, I think the Liahona explicitly says that one must have faith to make it work. I’m just not sure that there is any sense in which one “moves beyond” the Liahona to get to text. It just is not clear that scriptures are bigger or better than a Liahona.

    As for the psychology of it, how is this different than faith? Eyring spoke about this a while back as it relates to priesthood leaders. If you don’t believe they have the power, it may be that they cannot help you (or something like this).

  23. Though it is still text, and is “scripture” (small “s”) to the recipient, a patriarchal blessing is something you can hold and read to bring personal revelation.

    There are several aspects to the question of “things that can be used to bring revelation.”

    One is a thing used as a “lens”, such as Joseph’s stone or the Urim/Thummin.

    Another thing about text is that text can denote and connote, and have shades and variations of meaning. The Holy Ghost can deliver to us what the text denotes and connotes and the shades/variations depending on what we are ready to receive.

    A second thing about scriptural text is that it can put us in a place/attitude/frame-of-mind where the Holy Ghost can give us other information that is only tangentially, or not at all, related to the actual text we are reading.

    Other objects that either convey meaning or put us in a frame of mind to receive revelation are places and people, both of which have spirits. Several places in Ecuador conveyed feelings and ideas to me beyond the 3-dimensional physicality of those particular times and conditions. Those feelings/ideas are then raw materials that the Holy Ghost can use to inform, instruct and edify.

    The light or radiation of our actual personal spirit also transmits information about our past, our present condition, and our future potential. Patriarchs often pick up on this and address it in the blessings they give, or use it to open themselves to receive and say what the Lord wants said to the recipient.

    The gift of discernment is not so much a penetrating power on the part of the person who has the gift, but rather the ability to receive and understand that which the other person’s spirit is radiating or giving off. When working off what someone else is projecting, the gift allows the discerner to perceive what the other person is thinking or did or experienced, and to perceive what the other is capable of in the future. The Holy Ghost can then use that information as raw material to inform, instruct and edify the one with the gift. And, usually, the one with the gift is then equipped to serve and uplift the other.

    Just as the psychology of a group of people is different from that of an individual, or changes when people combine in groups, so does the combined spiritual effect. I noticed this at a stake priesthood meeting when the combined spiritual effect of a few hundred righteous men singing a hymn washed over me like a wave and spiritually lifted me up. It was a feeling I had not experienced during the opening hymns of our ward’s priesthood meetings.

    I recently attended a cultural event of a local ethnic/immigrant group when they hosted a singer from their native country. Just sitting in the auditorium before the performance, I picked up on a “group spirit” that I have not experienced before with WASPs. The Holy Ghost used that to teach me some things pertaining to them as a group, and some ways in which I could or should interact with them and serve them in the future.

  24. I find that where there is repetition, there is revelation. The scriptures, the temple, my patriarchal blessing, the sacrament prayers — these are all onions with many different layers that have been revealed to me. I think that is also the value in the repetition in scripture study, for example, in Sunday School, and in hearing basic, fundamental truths. I think often, in those “basic” things, we can actually learn “mysteries” as the Spirit teaches us. No wonder we are encouraged to study our scriptures daily, to attend the temple regularly, etc. I love the fact that there is ALWAYS something to learn in the gospel. It’s a neverending onion.

  25. As a new convert I must say all this makes me NERVOUS. The missionaries portrayed Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon buy sitting at a table with the plates right there ect… using a god given set of stones that were mentioned at least eight times in the Bible. Now to find that Joseph Smith had a history of diving rods, seer stones, objects used in occult practices and VERY different from the unim and thummin mentioned in the Bible makes me feel as if the church might be built upon an unstable foundation. When I first heard about all this and began researching it I was so sure that the persons telling me were exagerating. Now Im not so sure and my Faith has been more than a little shaken. How are we to know how much of what we read and hear about him and the early church founders is true?

  26. How are you to know anything is true Mary? Why is one method of traslating superior to another? Either it was of God or it wasn’t, and only one person can tell you for certain whether it was of God or not: God.

    In other words, don’t believe what anyone else tells you. Check the sources yourself and pray. A lot.

  27. mary: Most of the teachers in the church are not professional historians so their grasp of the past while generally reliable on the big picture is not always reliable in the details. This is doubly true of missionaries. Given that we have a lay clergy, including those at the very highest levels (the members of the 12 for example, are not professionally trained ministers or historians) this is really not all that surprising when you think about it. If you have found that some of what you have been told about the early history of the church is not accurate in every detail, the chances are is that it was NOT an issue of deception, but simply of people telling the story of the Restoration in light of their own imperfect understanding. There are, however, many many members of the church who are well aware of these issues and remain faithful members of the church, who have spiritually worked through these issues while retaining a testimony of both the Book of Mormon and the Restoration. That fact is not a bad starting place for beginning your own investigations. As for discovering the details of church history, this is something that people can literally spend their entire lives learning. Deciding what is or is not reliable is often difficult, particularlly for the earliest periods, were we lack many contemporary sources. For example, virtually every document — pro or anti — we have about Joseph Smith’s pre-1830 life, for example, was written after the fact; sometimes decades after the fact. This is true even of accounts by participants. For what it is worth, some of the earliest contemporary documents on the Book of Mormon can be found in your scriptures — the testimony of the three witnesses and eight witness and D&C 9.

    As for the translation of the Book of Mormon, I still think that the best thing that I have ever read on it is Richard Bushman’s _Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism_.

  28. Mary,

    I believe that the seer stones Joseph Smith used functioned very similar to the biblical Urim and Thummin. I think it is hard to distinguish what makes one set of divining aids occultic and another set God inspired.

    I took a stab at addressing these questions and others recently at M*, if you are interested.

    See: and my comments.


    Have you read Mark Ashurst-McGee’s master’s thesis? I think in some respects it surpasses the analysis made in _JS and the Beginnings of Mormonism_ .

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