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Nine Moons » Blog Archive : Mormon Folklore, isn’t it great?! » Mormon Folklore, isn’t it great?!

Mormon Folklore, isn’t it great?!

Don - December 8, 2004

It never ceases to amaze me at how much Mormon Folklore there is out there. Why is that?

Do we have a need to “embelish” or even create stories to make us feel good, or is it to increase our faith? Some have been in the church for years (see the blog on the Sealed portion of the Book of Mormon).

Where do they come from, why and WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE ONE?

1 Comment »

  1. Oh, that’s a tuffy.
    Does seeing the St. Louis temple burning on the day it was dedicated count? I didn’t, but I did hear about it.
    Sister T | Email | Homepage | 12.08.04 – 2:32 pm | #

    I can’t wait to hear Bret’s comments on this one, considering his folklore research project from a couple years ago…

    Some of the best Mormon folklore involves any story of either the 3 Nephites or J. Golden Kimball, don’t you think?

    A personal favorite I remember hearing on my mission was of a couple of missionaries who went swimming. One of them happened to take a picture of his companion just as the companion jumped into the lake. When they later developed the film, what do you know but there was a dark, evil-looking image of a hand reaching up out of the water at the elder jumping in.

    I think we probably do have a need to create or embellish stories that help us feel good and increase our faith. But I also think a lot of our folklore is “innocent” — that is, most of us don’t go out there making up fabulous ficitonal stories and passing them on as pure historical truth. Most folklore is probably just stories that have been reshaped as different people retell them according to their own style, attitude, values, concerns, etc. From my humanities background, folklore in this light helps reveal much about a society — so I wouldn’t say it’s all bad. But it sure is funny sometimes!
    Amy | Email | Homepage | 12.09.04 – 9:19 am | #

    Doesn’t that stem from the saying that Satan will control the waters in the last days or something?
    Sister_T | Email | Homepage | 12.09.04 – 12:25 pm | #

    Sister T’s comment brings to light that Mormon folklore is almost always based on a true doctrine or principle. That’s probably why many of the stories are “believable”, or at least we want to believe they are the truth.
    Don | Email | Homepage | 12.09.04 – 1:50 pm | #

    Yeah, but where is the “doctrine” of Satan controlling the waters found? I enjoy swimming and have never been pulled under by a dark, evil arm. Or does the doctrine have the caveat “…for missionaries”? Many Mormons are around, on, or in the water for a great portion of their lives. I think it’s only the scaredy cats of water (hhmm Don hhmmm) that might still believe that one.
    Rusty | Email | Homepage | 12.09.04 – 3:25 pm | #

    Rusty,
    D&C 61 says that W.W. Phelps saw Satan on the waters. Vs. 4 describes dangers on the water, and vs 14 tell how God blessed the waters at first, but now He has cursed them. Vs. 19 says that the destroyer rides on the face of the water.

    So you had better start looking for that dark evil arm….it might get you.
    Don | Email | Homepage | 12.09.04 – 4:59 pm | #

    Yeah, I’ve read that before. But are we to take that as “don’t get close to water because Satan is near”? How literal can we take something like that? (I think this is a question for another post)
    Rusty | Email | Homepage | 12.09.04 – 8:01 pm | #

    Well, the notion of Satan controlling the water at least made great reading in OSC’s Alvin Maker series!! LOL

    Seriously, I think that Don’s comment about the underlying principles being true is right on. I think that we are truly “sheep” in the best sense of the word, and are quite trusting. I can’t say that’s a bad thing. But we do need to follow the Shepherd’s counsel to keep safe.
    Peggy Cahill | Email | Homepage | 12.09.04 – 8:41 pm | #

    How about the story of the kid with Downs Syndrome who got a patriarchal blessing and for a few minutes was completely lucid and had a story about having Downs to protect him on Earth from the temptations of Satan since he was one of the spirits who escorted Lucifer from Heaven when Lucifer was expelled.
    John | Email | Homepage | 12.09.04 – 9:10 pm | #

    I’ve been seeing tons of flyers on Mormon Folkore seminars over on campus. Maybe I should go and “enlighten” everyone afterwards. (although, it probably Would be interesting)
    Lauren | Email | Homepage | 12.09.04 – 9:25 pm | #

    I’ve heard that one!
    Sister T | Email | Homepage | 12.09.04 – 10:43 pm | #

    Water can’t be all that cursed, if we use it to get baptized in and to renew our covenants with at the Sacrament… right?…
    Amy | Email | Homepage | 12.09.04 – 11:54 pm | #

    John, I love those ones about the roles we had in the pre-mortal existence. One very famous great one is how in the next life spirits will hush when we tell them we lived in the time of President Hinckley… ooooooohhh, aaaaaaahhhhhhh.

    Speaking of baptism and water, one of the most profound posts I’ve read on a blog is on the symbolism of baptism and birth and the Atonement. It’s absolutely beautiful (and very insightful). You should read it here, thanks to Ebeneezer Orthodoxy and those Feminine Mormon Housewives.
    Rusty | Email | Homepage | 12.10.04 – 1:07 am | #

    Here I am, Amy!
    I wish I had more insightful and scholarly things to say but here goes…
    I need to get my actual essay back online so you can all read it. I had a VERY insightful time researching and writing it. A couple of good references I used that I would HIGHLY recommend for anyone wanting to better understand folklore and the role it fills in our lives should read Tristram P. Coffin’s “Folklore in the American Twentieth Century” (American Quarterly, Vol 13, issue 13. Winter, 1961, p. 526-533); Anything by Jan Harold Brunvand (esp. his book “The Choking Doberman and Other New Urban Legends”)
    With a little research one can find a LOT on Mormon folklore, especially at BYU (Where I got a lot of my sources) If anyone’s interested I can email them some more sources. Some good ones on missionary folklore, Three Nephites and Gadianton Robbers.

    Lauren,
    Really?! Is there going to be a recording of the seminar or anything like that I can get my hands on. I wish I could go to that!

    Folklore really is a needed part of our society and a valuable part of our history. If nothing else I’ve learned more about myself and about the society I live in by studying it. I think we learn a lot by researching stories and finding out the truth in/about them. It has value just in that respect.
    Bret | Email | Homepage | 12.10.04 – 2:40 am | #

    My favorite folklore experience!

    Even with all the good and insight folklore brings, it is indeed quite funny at times and we should always be careful.

    My favorite was doing interviews with fellow students concerning stories they’d heard. From at least 2 people I got the story of the old lady who converted to the church who went to get her patriarchal blessing. In that blessing she was told that she would have joined the church many years earlier if a certian young man had been worthy and gone on his mission.
    Not two weeks after I turned in my paper our stake president in stake conference told the EXACT same story as a lesson to us and that he knew it was true becuase he knew so and so who knew the so and so, etc…!!!
    Gee…just discussing this again makes me want to research and right on the subject again!
    Bret | Email | Homepage | 12.10.04 – 2:45 am | #

    “My best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with the girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night. I guess it’s pretty serious.”
    Sister T | Email | Homepage | 12.10.04 – 12:51 pm | #

    I LOVE that Ferris Bueller quote! Probably because it is sooooooo true!!
    Angela | Email | Homepage | 12.11.04 – 12:09 am | #

    You know, some of those stories are actually true. Take this story:
    There was a missionary in Texas that was murdered by a serial killer, who put his body through a meat grinder. (When they arrested the murderer, they found the Elder’s watch, and watches of all the people that he had killed and ground up.)
    The spirit of the murdered Elder then appeared to his at that time inactive Father, told him what happened, and told him that he needed to break the news to his mother gently (the parents were divorced), which the dad then did, but the news still threw the mom into a nearly devastated state. Now, if I’d said that I heard that story from a friend of a friend of the family, you might tell me it was a Mormon legend. But I didn’t. I heard it from the guy’s mother and twin sister (who was my best friend for years). We were visiting teaching companions, and walking partners as well, and I know for a fact this happened. How do you know that all the so-called “legends” are false?
    Peggy Cahill | Email | Homepage | 12.11.04 – 12:10 pm | #

    Peggy,
    I hope your last statement is not referring to me. If so, I apologize for sounding that way.
    I agree. The term “folklore” does not necessarily mean “not true” in any respect. I would rather say that folklore means an historical account with embellishments. Or, as possibly what your case states, unexplainable or unprovable content.
    Bret | Email | Homepage | 12.11.04 – 2:43 pm | #

    If anyone wants to see a bunch of Mormon Myths exposed, go here.
    Rusty | Email | Homepage | 12.12.04 – 1:30 am | #

    I use to love those stories but now I try not to give them any weight. If they’re true then they’re usually very personal and may not need to be shared. If they’re false then they absolutely don’t need to be shared. The problem is that despite how much I love the church we have people, even there, that may not understand that these are fictional stories or embellished. To them, they can become a real part of their testimony and that is a precarious position because now their testimony has sand in it’s foundation instead of entirely being based on rock.

    (Sorry, I’m in primary so this analogy works for me.)
    Jennifer | Email | Homepage | 12.12.04 – 10:12 pm | #

    Bret, no of course, when I said “you” I didn’t mean YOU. I just have heard the Mormon Folklore thing in so many places and have had to wonder over and over again why people dismiss these stories out of hand. Perhaps I should have said How do WE know they are not true? I mean, the story that I related sounds pretty wild, I know, but I also know for a fact that it is true.
    Just a thought, that’s all. Sorry if I sounded like I was singling you out!
    Peggy Cahill | Email | Homepage | 12.13.04 – 4:41 pm | #

    Peggy,
    No problem. I really didn’t think you and I wasn’t offended anyway. Does my definition make sense? It’s very generalized, I know, but I don’t have the time or space to extrapolate. So I hope it works.

    Jennifer,
    If these people’s testimonies are built on faith promoting stories of any kind (whether true or not), I would be nervous for them. A testimony should be built on knowledge (pure knowledge of the spirit) of the doctrines of the gospel. That is what the true church of Christ has over other churches is that our doctrines are true and the only way by which man can come unto God. All churches have faith promoting stories but not all are built on sound doctrine. Just this one
    Bret | Email | Homepage | 12.13.04 – 10:52 pm | #

    I did a post on this a little while ago at United Brethren and also used the link to the Shields website. My favourite is that the Del Parson red robe pic of the Saviour id the most accurate – this was followed up and is NOT true (thankfully for me as I never really liked the picture)
    Rebecca | Email | Homepage | 01.06.05 – 6:18 pm | #

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