Was Joseph Smith the First Hippy?

The Restoration and the Sacred MushroomThe other day, I learned something that blew my mind: Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Latter Day Saints, otherwise known as the Mormon faith, may have been America’s first hippy.

Okay, the paper I read didn’t say it in quite that way, but it did make a very convincing case that Joseph Smith experimented with psychedelics (or entheogens) himself and slipped them into his early converts’ sacramental wine. As the paper says:

These early Church members sought direct experience with God and believed that Joseph Smith had the power to grant their desires. Confidence in their Prophet was not misplaced. Between 1830 and 1836, under the supervision of Joseph Smith, many early Mormon converts enjoyed heavenly visions and spiritual raptures. However, after Joseph’s death in 1844, the great visionary period of Church history came to an end.

Of course, it’s a big leap to suggest that the true source of their visions was a psychedelic plant, but the paper goes on to present so much evidence in support of the theory, it would be very hard to dispute. Rather than rewrite what it has to say, I’ll keep this brief and get to my point.

I took a look at the official version of Joseph Smith’s life and was told that as a young man, he heard so many conflicting versions of the story of Jesus, he didn’t know what to think. As he wrote later:

So great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was [ … ] to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong

He goes on to write that he prayed to God and God revealed the truth to him.

In the 1960s, I and many of my contemporaries were in the same boat Smith was in in 1820. Since our verbal prayers went unanswered, we turned to LSD and other psychedelics for answers. Unlike Smith, most of us didn’t keep the source of our revelations to ourselves, but, like Smith, some decided they were more enlightened than others and went on to become Western gurus, eventually trivialising or even denying their early experimentation with psychedelics.

After comparing the official version with the revelations of the paper, I formed my own “vision” of Joseph Smith. An idealistic young man, he bravely experimented with psychedelics at a time when no respectable Christian would. Wanting to share their wonders with others, he formed a church and slipped Datura into the sacramental wine whenever he got the chance. Unfortunately, the adulation of his followers went to his head and he became a self proclaimed prophet.

What if he had spilled the beans and actively promoted the use of entheogens? He probably would have been tarred and feathered. Nearly a century later, Frederick M. Smith, his grandson, openly advocated the use of peyote:

Interestingly, Joseph Smith’s grandson, Frederick M. Smith, president of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints participated in Amerindian peyote ceremonies. Shelby M. Barnes reports that President Smith experimented with peyote as early as 1913 and notes that President Smith … widely used [peyote] … [opening his mind] to the mysteries of human ecstasy as an essential element of religion… He was convinced that every human being had the potential to expand the limits of his or her mind.” Like his great grandfather, Joseph Smith Junior, President Frederick M. Smith felt that even the least Saint should have access to the heavenly realms. In 1919, President Smith encouraged others in the RLDS Church to use peyote in a controlled manner and defended peyote ceremonies from Federal intrusion.

That apparently didn’t catch on.

Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith

Personally, I think Joseph Smith and his grandson were on the right track. They used entheogens as sacraments. In the sixties, everyone was dropping acid like it was beer and relatively few got anything of lasting value out of it. I’ll leave it to you to come to your own conclusions. You can click on the image at the top of the page and buy the PDF from the source for two dollars or you can click the picture of Joseph Smith at left and read it for free. Be sure and check out the source material, too. There’s some really interesting stuff there.