When leaves start turning bright colors of amber and orange and occasionally the first snow falls, its that time of year again. At the end of October ghosts, ghouls, strange beings, and killers walk the streets. Kids laugh and candy is handed out as if grown on trees. You guessed it; Halloween has arrived.
I have to admit that Thanksgiving is a good day of rest and food while Christmas is exciting and special. Halloween on the other hand has its own pleasures. For once those who are imaginative and don’t see the world the same way as others can let loose. Dressing up and acting like a fool or other is just plain fun. With these thoughts having been expressed, I will be writing about two themes for this time of scares and spooks.
This first post is about ghosts and otherworldly frights. Mormonism is full of stories about angels leaving messages and spirits roaming the world. Despite or even because of that there aren’t too many ghost stories passed along in its history. Part of this could be the specific teachings related to the afterlife and those who hang around. There are only two reasons theologically recognized why a visitor from the other side of the veil of life is seen; to leave a message from the Lord or daemons tormenting mortals. There are plenty of stories about both.
One of the first Mormon stories in history is of an evil possession during the First Vision and an excorcism years later. Not many probably put the former in the catagory of ghost story, but it can fit into the genre. These are great starts for the subject of Mormon spooky tales.
Every Mormon knows that Joseph was troubled by the many Christian religions he saw around him and wanted to know the truth. He read from the Bible and concluded after reading James to ask the Lord what religion to join. After working to clear a field he went deep into the forest and prayed. Before the Divine manifistations, there was a struggle with an evil spirit:
After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was aseized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick bdarkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.
But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into bdespair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
It no sooner appeared than I found myself adelivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I bsaw twocPersonages, whose brightness and dglory defy all description, estanding above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!
Regardless of the powerfully religous ending from HC 1, this could come out of a Nathaniel Hawthorne story. The forest is filled with benevilant spirits where only the grace of God can save the possessed soul. A heart is purified while shadows and destruction vanquished.
Soon after the LDS Church was organized, Joseph Smith went to visit his friend Joseph Knight during the month of April. When he and a few others arrived, the son Newel Night became possesed by an evil spirit during spiritual conversations and prayer. Joseph expelled the demon as told in H of C v1 p82-3:
Amongst those who attended our meetings regularly, was Newel Knight, son of Joseph Knight. He and I had many serious conversations on the important subject of man’s eternal salvation. We had got into the habit of praying much at our meetings, and Newel had said that he would try and take up his cross, and pray vocally during meeting; but when we again met together, he rather excused himself. I tried to prevail upon him, making use of the figure, supposing that he should get into a mud-hole, would he not try to help himself out? And I further said that we were willing now to help him out of the mud-hole. He replied, that provided he had got into a mud-hole through carelessness, he would rather wait and get out himself, than to have others help him; and so he would wait until he could get into the woods by himself, and there he would pray. Accordingly, he deferred praying until next morning, when he retired into the woods; where, according to his own account afterwards, he made several attempts to pray, but could scarcely do so, feeling that he had not done his duty, in refusing to pray in the presence of others. He began to feel uneasy, and continued to feel worse both in mind and body, until, upon reaching his own house, his appearance was such as to alarm his wife very much. He requested her to go and bring me to him. I went and found him suffering very much in his mind, and his body acted upon in a very strange manner; his visage and limbs distorted and twisted in every shape and appearance possible to imagine; and finally he was caught up off the floor of the apartment, and tossed about most fearfully.
His situation was soon made known to his neighbors and relatives and in a short time as many as eight or nine grown persons had got together to witness the scene. After he had thus suffered for a time, I succeeded in getting hold of him by the hand, when almost immediately he spoke to me, and with great earnestness requested me to cast the devil out of him, saying that he knew he was in him, and that he also knew that I could cast him out.
I replied, “If you know that I can, it shall be done,” and then almost unconsciously I rebuked the devil, and commanded him in the name of Jesus Christ to depart from him; when immediately Newel spoke out and said that he saw the devil leave him and vanish from his sight. This was the first miracle which was done in the Church, or by any member of it; and it was done, not by man, nor by the power of man, but it was done by God, and by the power of godliness; therefore, let the honor and the praise, the dominion and the glory, be ascribed to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.
There was a report of this by Abner Cole in the Reflector newpaper soon after with lots of sarcasm. Newel Knight apparenly wrote of this himself, although I couldn’t find any copy. It is considered the “first miracle” performed in Mormonism by Priesthood Power.
Another famous “ghost story” told in LDS History is by Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner at BYU in 1905:
I want to say to you as I said before that Joseph said if I was faithful, I should see greater things than the angel. Since then I have seen other persons, three came together and stood before me just as the sun went downâ€”Joseph, Hyrum and Heber C. Kimball. It was prophesied that I should see Joseph before I died. Still, I was not thinking about that. I was thinking about a sermon I had heard. All at once I looked up and they stood before me. Joseph stood in the middle in a circle like the new moon and he stood with his arms over their shoulders. They bowed to me about a dozen times or more. I pinched myself to be sure I was awake, and I looked around the room to see where I had placed things. I thought I would shake hands with them. They saw my confusion and understood it and they laughed, and I thought Brother Kimball would almost kill himself laughing. I had no fear. As I went to shake hands with them, they bowed, smiled and began to fade. They went like the sun sinks behind a mountain or a cloud. It gave me more courage and hope than I ever had before
This reminds me of the Vision that Brigham Young had of Joseph Smith when he was worried about leading the Saints in Utah. It was perhaps reported in a dream, although visions can be interchangeble, that Joseph Smith was seen going here and there for unknown reasons. Brigham caught his attention long enough to ask him what was going on and was given the response lots of missionary work kept him busy. When Brigham Young asked advice for leading the Church, Joseph Smith said to keep close to the Holy Ghost and he will know what to do in any situation. At that Joseph Smith left. (couldn’t find the source).
There is another unsusbtantiated story that has become mythological about calling up the great Gadianton who caused some havoc. There was a medium who claimed to contact the dead. An Elder decided to check the man out and see for himself the rumors. During the process of showing his powers, the man asked who the audience wanted to hear from. Probably feeling a bit mischevious the Elder asked for Gadianton.
Unaware of what the request meant, the man called out to this evil name. He was then lifted up and thrown violently against the wall. Whatever spirit had been called beat the man up before leaving. The man asked in complete shock who Gadianton was to bring such powerful force. This story apparenly was told by Bruce R. McConkie and tied to Joseph Fielding Smith, although again no found source.
The above and other possession and ghost stories can be found at Mormon Matters from a few years ago. There are more Mormon connections to ghost and haunting stories. Utah is actually full of places considred haunted. There is a bookstore in Ogden, the old Utah County Jail, a private home in Holladay, workers camp of Dove Creek in Promontory Point, and The Brigham Young Forest Farm House where ex-wife Ann Eliza Webb is supposed to hang out. The most famous ghost is the first grave digger ever employed by Salt Lake City, John Baptiste who was banished on an island for stealing form the dead. The most famous haunted place is The Capital Theater recently retolled in Paranormal Witness on Syfy ( Sci-Fi) channel. Another show on that same channel, Ghost Hunters, had a Mormon founding member. His comment that talking about ghosts in church is not accepted to this day has me scratching my head because there are all kinds of mission tales about paranormal encounters.
I can’t leave this subject without telling my own ghost stories, although nothing related to Mormonism. My first encounter was when I was a teenager and a sick crying younger brother woke me up. The hall light was on, but my room remained dark and in shadows. Two of these shadows resembled a man sitting on the toy chest and another leaning on the end of my bed as if in prayer. They didn’t move and I closed my eyes to pull the sheets over me. A waking dream perhaps.
My second story is about a house that my friend lived while attending college. It was a known haunted house in the area that students rented. At first nothing was told me, but I noticed some strange things. My first night a dark shadow hung over the closet and I felt a bad presence. Later on I heard sounds in the kitchen and I went to check out who had woken up, only to find no one around the first floor and then not remembering anyone coming down. One morning when I was visiting I stepped into the shower minding my own business. Everyone living there had gone to classes. Suddenly the wide open door leading to the room where I slept slammed shut hard. It made me jump and I quickly finished getting ready for the day. Part of me accepts it as haunting and the other mere coincidences. No where else have I ever had similar experiences.
What about your stories?