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Kingship and Seer Stones: A Comparison of European Regalia and LDS Scriptural Accounts of Oracular Objects
TitleKingship and Seer Stones: A Comparison of European Regalia and LDS Scriptural Accounts of Oracular Objects
Publication TypeUnpublished
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsCallister, Paul Douglas
KeywordsKingship; Liahona; Modern European History; Seer Stones; Urim and Thummim
Abstract
The Latter-day gospel embraces the Liahona, Urim and Thummim, and the associated seer stones (hereinafter, “oracular objects”).  The presence of such objects is necessary for any significant claim to authority– spiritual or temporal.  The real challenge is not accepting their reality but understanding their meaning and nature.   Both the European regal orb and the oracular objects have the same two functions: to provide knowledge and grant dominion.  With oracular objects, truth is coupled with power and authority to act.  Any investigation into the nature of oracular objects must address their dual modalities of truth and dominion.  
 
Borrowing from an intersections of academic fields, this article considers the geopolitical and institutional factors of the various milieu in which oracular objects present themselves, whether medieval Europe, the Book of Mormon, or Joseph Smith’s own time.  All of these factors bear upon what are known as “cognitive authority” of a society—both of which are key to understanding the multifaceted effects and meanings of regal orbs, seer stones, Urim and Thummim, and Liahona.  Cognitive authority has been described as “influence on one’s thoughts that one would consciously recognize as proper”  and “the act by which one confers trust upon a source.”   For our purposes, it may include those things (sacred writings, seer stones, orbs, and living prophets) that are accepted by society as authority.  Cognitive authority is derived from the concept of “social epistemology,”  which describes the sharing of a web of beliefs (more precisely ways of knowing) among a social unit or society.  
 
This article sorts through an array of evidence—art, historical scholarship, and scripture—to compare the European orb to the oracular objects in the scriptures and to cast light upon the dual nature of such objects.  The objective is not to prove the veracity of Joseph’s Smith seer stones or to establish that European regal orbs were in fact working “crystal balls,” but it is to understand how those initiated into the rites of European kingship thought about the orb and to compare that with how the Book of Mormon peoples experienced the sacred oracles.  To borrow from the gravestone of one of law’s finest historians, Fredric William Maitland:  “By slow degrees the thoughts of our forefathers, their common thoughts about common things, will have become thinkable once more”;   However, in this instance, we seek to understand our ancestors’ “uncommon thoughts” about “uncommon things.”

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