“Seer Stones,” Church History Topics
For millennia, many people throughout the world have accepted the idea that physical objects can be used for sacred purposes. The Bible affirms that God worked through objects such as the rod of Aaron, a brass serpent, and the ark of the covenant. Jesus later healed a blind man by applying spittle to the man’s eyes.1
The Book of Mormon describes a sacred purpose for specially designated stones. In one passage, the brother of Jared asked the Lord to touch 16 small stones, which were “white and clear, even as transparent glass” (Ether 3:1). After the Lord’s finger touched the stones, they provided light for the Jaredites as they journeyed across the ocean. Another verse speaks of sacred stones that “shall magnify to the eyes of men these things which ye shall write” (Ether 3:24).
In Joseph Smith’s day, some individuals claimed that they had a gift to “see,” or receive divine or supernatural messages, through seer stones. These beliefs came from the Bible and from European cultural traditions brought to early America by immigrants. Joseph Smith and his family accepted these beliefs, and Joseph occasionally used stones he located in the ground to help neighbors find missing objects or search for buried treasure.2
When Joseph Smith received the golden plates in 1827, he also received a translation instrument with them, “two stones in silver bows” used by “‘seers’ in ancient or former times” (Joseph Smith—History 1:35). This instrument was referred to in the Book of Mormon as the “interpreters.” During the translation of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith apparently used both of these instruments—the interpreters and his seer stone—interchangeably. They worked in much the same way, and the early Saints sometimes used the term “Urim and Thummim” to refer to the seer stone as well as the interpreters. The Prophet also received several of the revelations found today in the Doctrine and Covenants by means of these instruments of revelation.3 As Joseph became more experienced in spiritual matters, he eventually started receiving revelation without these aids.4