Mormon folklore

Mormon folklore

Mormon folklore is a body of expressive culture unique to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) and its members. It includes tales, oral history, popular beliefs, customs, music, jokes, and other traditions.

The purpose of folklore is to promote values and experiences that apply to a culture at large, not just a specific family or small group. Folk history, says folklore specialist William A. Wilson, is "generated by the folk ... constantly re-created ... in response to their current needs and concerns, reflective of what is most important to them" ("Mormon Americana," 440). Relevant values within the Mormon culture can include personal sacrifice, gratitude, missionary work and courage as well as tales that support religious principles and beliefs.

Wilson said Mormon folktales often affirm the group’s beliefs that people doing the Lord's work may receive divine protection. "It's a rhetorical strategy designed to persuade the audience to accept a certain point of view or to follow a certain course of action."[1]


Folklore vs. doctrine

In the LDS Church, folklore is usually distinguished from church doctrine, but there is no universal method of determining where doctrine ends and folklore begins. Most Latter-day Saints consider material in the scriptures of the church and joint statements of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to constitute church doctrine and policy.[2] Any other part of the expressive cultural aspects of Mormonism may be legitimately classified as Mormon folklore.[3][4]

Leaders of the LDS Church have preached against the propagation of folklore and other rumors. In a 1972 general conference address, church president Harold B. Lee stated:

"The first [issue I wish to discuss] is the spread of rumor and gossip (we have mentioned this before) which, when once started, gains momentum as each telling becomes more fanciful, until unwittingly those who wish to dwell on the sensational repeat them in firesides, in classes, in Relief Society gatherings and priesthood quorum classes without first verifying the source before becoming a party to causing speculation and discussions that steal time away from the things that would be profitable and beneficial and enlightening to their souls.
"There is one thing that shocks me: I have learned, in some instances, that those who have heard of these rumors are disappointed when I tell them they are not so. They seem to have enjoyed believing a rumor without substance of fact. I would earnestly urge that no such idle gossip be spread abroad without making certain as to whether or not it is true.
"This is something that is recurring time and time again, and we call upon you holders of the priesthood to stamp out any such and to set to flight all such things as are creeping in, people rising up here and there who have had some 'marvelous' kind of a manifestation, as they claim, and who try to lead the people in a course that has not been dictated from the heads of the Church.
"As I say, it never ceases to amaze me how gullible some of our Church members are in broadcasting these sensational stories, or dreams, or visions, some alleged to have been given to Church leaders, past or present, supposedly from some person’s private diary, without first verifying the report with proper Church authorities."[5]

Examples of Mormon folklore

Folklore, including Mormon folklore, is dynamic rather than static, changing emphasis and details over time. Latter-day Saints pass on the group's cultural heritage from person to person and from generation to generation. These elements of heritage may not only be passed through written documents or formal instruction but may be found in stories and customs in both family and church settings. Tales learned at home or in a church function may later be repeated to others. Stories learned at home, in the LDS Family Home Evening or other family gatherings, may later emerge in family activities in the next generation.

In general, Mormon folklore may be presented in three broad categories:

  • The spoken and written word: including songs, family stories, humorous tales, and contemporary accounts from missionaries and church leaders.
  • Handicrafts and memorial items: including traditional tools and implements, holiday traditions, family keepsakes and scrapbooks, and a family Book of Remembrance kept in association with genealogical records.
  • Unique Mormon activities: including Family Home Evening, youth dating practices, family celebrations of birth and baptismal dates, genealogical activities, and church and community celebrations of holidays such as Pioneer Day.

Tales and popular beliefs

The following are examples of tales and popular concepts from Mormon folklore:


The following are examples of predictions or prophecies that are part of Mormon folklore:

Research into Mormon folklore

Alta and Austin Fife are generally recognized as the founders of research into Mormon folklore, a discipline that has expanded greatly since the couple’s initial work in the 1930s.[46] Although previous and contemporary scholars had briefly addressed the issue, the Fifes expanded the field, both through their collection,[47] now known as the Fife Folklore Archive, held at the Merrill-Cazier Library on the Utah State University campus in Logan, Utah. Their book on Mormon folklore, Saints of Sage and Saddle, was published in 1956.


  1. ^ Mike Wennergren (6 October 2007), "Folklore plays role for LDS", Deseret News,,5143,695216121,00.html 
  2. ^ However, some Latter-day Saints have a more expansive conception of doctrine. For example, many believe that any statement made by the President of the Church constitutes doctrine. Others may extend this belief to statements made by an apostle or other general authority in a general conference of the church.
  3. ^ William A. Wilson, "Folklore", Encyclopedia of Mormonism (New York: Macmillan) 2:518–520.
  4. ^ The designation "folklore" does not imply that the tale or belief is necessarily "untrue".
  5. ^ Harold B. Lee, "Admonitions for the Priesthood of God", Ensign, Jan. 1973.
  6. ^ Letter by Abraham O. Smoot, quoted in Lycurgus A. Wilson (1900). Life of David W. Patten, the First Apostolic Martyr (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret News) p. 50 (pp. 46–47 in 1993 reprint by Eborn Books).
  7. ^ Linda Shelley Whiting (2003). David W. Patten: Apostle and Martyr (Springville, Utah: Cedar Fort) p. 85.
  8. ^ Spencer W. Kimball (1993, 3d ed.). The Miracle of Forgiveness (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft) ISBN 0884944441, pp. 127–128.
  9. ^ Lynn Arave and Jody Genessy, "Living in Utah: A guide to separate reality from myths", Deseret Morning News, 2003-07-24, p. A1.
  10. ^ 3 Nephi 28:7
  11. ^ a b Kenneth W. Baldridge and Lance D. Chase, "The Purported December 7, 1941, Attack on the Hawai'i Temple", in Grant Underwood (ed.) (2000). Voyages of Faith: Explorations in Mormon Pacific History (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press) ISBN 0842524800, pp. 165–190.
  12. ^ Hyde 1854, pp. 81–82, 210
  13. ^ Hyde 1858, pp. 259–260
  14. ^ Orson Pratt, The Seer 1:159.
  15. ^ Wilford Woodruff, Journal Entry 1883-07-22, reporting on a sermon given by Joseph F. Smith.
  16. ^ Joseph Fielding Smith, Handwritten note responding to letter from J. Ricks Smith, 1963.
  17. ^ Pratt 1880, pp. 276–277
  18. ^ Smith 1869, p. 83
  19. ^ William G. Hartley, "Mormons, Crickets, and Gulls, A New Look at an Old Story", in D. Michael Quinn (ed.) (1992). The New Mormon History (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books).
  20. ^ Paul C. Richards, "The Salt Lake Temple Infrastructure: Studying It Out in Their Minds", BYU Studies (1996–1997).
  21. ^ BYU NewsNet 100 Hour Board: Submission 10093, 2004-11-12.
  22. ^ Stewart, John J. Mormonism and the Negro Salt Lake City, Utah:1960 Bookmark--This book discusses and then dismisses this common pre-1978 belief, which was regarded as contrary to Church doctrine that there were no neutrals in the War in Heaven
  23. ^ Matthew Cowley, ""Maori Chief Predicts Coming of L.D.S. Missionaries", Improvement Era 53:696–698, 754–756 (Sep. 1950), reprinted in Matthew Cowley (1954, Glen L. Rudd ed.). Matthew Cowley Speaks: Discourses of Elder Matthew Cowley of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book) p. 200–205.
  24. ^ Grant Underwood, "Mormonism and the Shaping of Maori Religious Identity", in Grant Underwood (ed.) (2000). Voyages of Faith: Explorations in Mormon Pacific History (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University) pp. 107–126.
  25. ^ R. Lanier Britsch, “Maori Traditions and the Mormon Church,” New Era, June 1981, 38.
  26. ^ LDS Church (1958). The Mormon Temple (Hamilton, NZ: LDS Church), p. 13.
  27. ^ N.B. Lundwall (ed.) (1952). The Fate of the Persecutors of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft) pp. 226–233.
  28. ^ N.B. Lundwall (ed.) (1952). The Fate of the Persecutors of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft) pp. 292–352.
  29. ^ Jacob Spori, "True and False Theosophy", Juvenile Instructor, 28:672–674 (1893-11-01).
  30. ^ Paul B. Pixton, "'Play It Again, Sam': The Remarkable 'Prophesy' of Samuel Lutz, Alias Christophilus Gratianus, Reconsidered", BYU Studies, 25:3 (1985) pp 27–46.
  31. ^ "Pres. Packer refutes quote", LDS Church News, 2001-04-28.
  32. ^ Hyde 1877, p. 58
  33. ^ Lynne Watkins Jorgensen, "The Mantle of the Prophet Joseph Passes to Brother Brigham: One Hundred Twenty-one Testimonies of a Collective Spiritual Witness", in John W. Welch (ed.) (2005). Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations, 1820–1844 (Provo and Salt Lake City, Utah: BYU Press and Deseret Book) ISBN 0842526072 pp. 373–480.
  34. ^ Michael T. Griffith (1996). One Lord, One Faith: Writings of the Early Christian Fathers as Evidences of the Restoration (Bountiful, Utah: Horizon) ISBN 0882905759
  35. ^ Pratt 1880, p. 323
  36. ^ Hyde did dedicate Palestine for the return of the Jews, but "careful investigation has uncovered no evidence" of Hyde's reported Jewish ancestry: Lynn M. Hilton and Hope A. Hilton, "Orson Hyde", in Allan Kent Powell (ed., 1994). Utah History Encyclopedia (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press).
  37. ^ Hank Stuever, "Unmentionable No Longer: What Do Mormons Wear? A Polite Smile, if Asked About 'the Garment'", Washington Post, 2002-02-26, p. C1.
  38. ^ James P. Harris, "A Place for Every Truth: The Einstein Rumor", Sunstone, April 2008, p. 33.
  39. ^ Memorandum to Personnel of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion, "Circulation of Inaccurate Information on Rome Italy Temple", The Church of Jesus of Latter-day Saints, 2009-12-07.
  40. ^ Bruce R. McConkie (1966, 2d ed.). Mormon Doctrine. (Salt Lake CIty, Utah: Bookcraft) p. 578.
  41. ^ Young 1854, p. 15
  42. ^ Kimball 1856, p. 216
  43. ^ Harold B. Lee, Conference Report, April 1942, p. 87.
  44. ^ Joseph Fielding Smith, Conference Report, April 1950, p. 159.
  45. ^ Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Report, April 1963, p. 113.
  46. ^ "Utah History Encyclopedia".,AUSTIN&ALTA.html. Retrieved 2011-05-29. 
  47. ^ "FOLK COLLECTION 4: No. 1: Series II: Vols. 10-18: The Fife Mormon Collection: Manuscript Sources". Retrieved 2011-05-29. 


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