Church History
Seer Stones

“Seer Stones,” Church History Topics

“Seer Stones”

Seer Stones

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

oval-shaped stone

Seer stone belonging to Joseph Smith.

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

Related Topics: Book of Mormon Translation, Treasure Seeking, Joseph Smith’s 1826 Trial


  1. Exodus 8:5–6, 16–17; Numbers 21:9; 1 Samuel 4:3–6; John 9:6.

  2. Richard E. Turley, Robin E. Jensen, and Mark Ashurst-McGee, “Joseph the Seer,” Ensign, Oct. 2015, 51.

  3. James R. B. Vancleave, letter to Joseph Smith III in Lyndon W. Cook, ed., David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness (Orem, Utah: Grandin Book, 1991), 239–40.

  4. Early in the spring of 1830, Joseph gave Oliver Cowdery the seer stone used in translating the Book of Mormon. Phineas Young, who had helped reunite Oliver Cowdery with the Church in the late 1840s, obtained the stone from Cowdery’s widow, and in turn gave it to his brother Brigham Young. After Brigham Young died, one of his wives, Zina D. H. Young, obtained a chocolate-colored seer stone from his estate that matched descriptions of the stone Joseph used to translate the Book of Mormon, and she donated it to the Church (see Richard E. Turley Jr., Robin S. Jensen, and Mark Ashurst-McGee, “Joseph the Seer,” Ensign, Oct. 2015, 53).