Guest Post: Were the Lamanites Werewolves?

Today’s post comes from Siegfried Goodfellow and is reposted with permission. It’s bizarre, wonderful, and kind of brilliant.


Werewolves, Lamanites, and Grendel : Oh My!

an investigation into possible crosscurrents between

Germanic mythology and Mormon folklore

Germanic mythology provides a comparative perspective from which to take a fresh look at what the Book of Mormon has to say about the Lamanites, a tribe of difficult opponents who act as adversaries to the more virtuous Nephites. In particular, Germanic mythic documents about werewolves attest to a time in the beginning ages of this earth when human beings became corrupted and produced a race of half-men, half-monsters. This becomes our starting point for reexamining the nature of the Lamanites.

In Chapters 121 – 122 of De Origine Actibusque Gothorum, Jordanes tells us that a certain rex Gothorum, “King of the Goths”, repperit in populo suo quasdam magas mulieres, quas patrio sermone “haliurunnas” is ipse cognominat, easque habens suspectas, de medio sui proturbat longeque ab exercitu suo fugatas in solitudinem coegit errare. Quas spiritus immundi per heremum vagantes quum vidissent et earum se complexibus in coitu miscuissent, genus hoc ferocissimum ediderunt, quae fuit primum inter paludes, minutum, taetrum atque exile quasi hominum genus, nec alia voce notum nisi quod humani sermonis imaginem assignabat, “discovered in the midst of his people certain female sorcerors who in the ancestral speech are called “haljurunnas” [death-whisperers (ie., cursers)], and suspecting the presence of evil in them, he drove them out of the community, driving them into exile a long way off from his army, and forcing them to wander in the lonely wilderness. When foul and evil spirits saw them wandering through the wastelands, they mingled with their embraces in sexual intercourse, giving birth to ferocious offspring, who live especially in the swamps, adiminished, foul, offensive, ugly, swarthy, and poor (or emaciatedkind of human being, with different kinds of voices not recognizable unless one assigned it a certain likeness to human speech.” (Translation from my Alda Aldr, a thorough documentation of the “Ages of Men” compiled across Germanic mythic documents.)

The key word here is taetrum, meaning hideous, abominable, ugly, offensive, foul, shocking, loathsome, as well as minutum, meaningdiminished.

The great Norse eschatological poem Voluspa tells the tale of how an evil sorceress brought curses and enchanted men into the forms of monsters, disrupting the Golden Age at the beginning of time. Voluspa 22 : Heiði hana hétu, hvars til húsa kom, völu velspá, vitti hon ganda, seið hon hvars hon kunni, seið hon hugleikin, æ var hon angan illrar brúðar/ þjóðar, “Heid was she called, when she came to houses, that prophetess of fraudulent visions, she bewitched monsters/serpents/wolves, she enchanted whomever she could, she bewitched their minds with strife, ever was she the sweet-savor of ill women/nations”. Note how Jordanes’ account and Voluspa’s account naturally harmonize. In Voluspa, Heid has particularly warped “ill women”, while in Jordanes, there are female sorcerors who become responsible for producing foul offspring. In Voluspa, it speaks of the sorceress Heid enchanting whomever she could and bewitching them into wolves and other sorts of monsters, such that strife and conflict became their only way of life. Volsungasaga has an account of these kinds of werewolves.

Nú er það eitthvert sinn að þeir fara enn á skóginn að afla sér fjár en þeir finna eitt hús og tvo menn sofandi í húsinu með digrum gullhringum. Þeir höfðu orðið fyrir ósköpum því að úlfahamir hengu í húsinu yfir þeim. Hið tíunda hvert dægur máttu þeir komast úr hömunum. Þeir voru konungasynir. Þeir Sigmundur fóru í hamina og máttu eigi úr komast og fylgdi sú náttúra sem áður var. Létu og vargsröddu. (Volsungasaga 8.) “Now it happens that one time they were faring into the forest to win themselves wealth when they found a house and two men sleeping in the house with big golden rings. They had words of unshaping (ill fate : a curse) over them such that wolf-skins hung in the house over them. Every tenth day they were able to come out of the skins. They were the sons of kings. Sigmund and Sinfjotli went into the skins and were not able to come out, and followed that nature they had before, and they let out a wolf’s voice (howl).”

What was that “nature”? finnur Sigmundur sjö menn og lætur úlfsröddu. Og Sinfjötli heyrir það, fer til þegar og drepur alla. …Og er Sinfjötli hefir eigi lengi farið um skóginn, finnur hann ellefu menn og berst við þá og fer svo að hann drepur þá alla. (Ibid.) “Sigmund found seven men and let out the wolfs-howl. And Sinfjotli heard that, and went at once and killed them all … And when Sinfjotli had fared but a short ways into the forest, he found eleven men and fought against them and it fared so that he killed them all.”

They are cursed with wolfskins out of which they cannot escape, which make them ferociously savage and bloodythirsty, able to kill dozens of men.

Now compare the account in the Book of Mormon to these unnatural werewolves, cursed to live in dark, wolfish skins. The Book of Mormon is claimed to be the collected chronicles of an offshoot of the Jewish people who left Jerusalem for America, but it was translated or transliterated or in some special way interpreted by Joseph Smith, a young man who was from a family of cunning men and treasure-seekers. In fact, the means with which he interpreted the gold or brass plates he claimed to have found was with a seer stone. We should therefore see this “translation” as more of a spiritual process akin to a scrying operation, that would have activated the archetypes implicit in his folkloric mind. As his folkloric cultural tradition ultimately came out of Europe, a Europe replete with werewolf tales, we must at least consider the possibility these may have formed unconscious archetypal backdrops to his spiritual interpretation process.

One will note the recurring descriptions of the Lamanites in bold below : they were cursed, they had a skin of blackness come upon them, they had dwindled in size due to unbelief, were considered loathsome, filthy, abominable, ferocious, bloodthirsty, wilderness-wanderers, who were greedy for riches gained through murder, robbery, and plunder, because they did not care to work for themselves to produce such wealth. All of this is due to their iniquity, their hardness of heart, and their evil-doing. However, despite all these characteristics, it was still prophecied that there was a chance for their redemption whereby in time they might lose their skins of blackness and become a blessed people.

It has heretofore been assumed that “skin of blackness” referred to a change in pigmentation and that therefore the Lamanites might be comparable to other races with darker skin, such as Africans or Native Americans. But anyone who has studied werewolf folklore knows that inevitably it is the donning of a wolf skin or pelt that brings about the lycanthropic change, and indeed, the idea of “shifting skins” is a common motif in shamanic journeys involving some form of shapeshifting into animals. A “skin” therefore does not by any means refer to the natural human epidermis, but may refer to a coat, a fur, a pelt, or some other covering, particularly of a charmed or magical variety. This is confirmed not only in explicit mythology, but even in the witch trials, where some persons believed to be werewolves were brought to trial, and they testified to their own beliefs in this regard, and how they felt compelled to go on killing sprees, whether this was of cattle or even human beings. It should be noted that Black Wolves, or Canis lycaon,can have extremely black pelts. When one considers how bloodthirsty and ferocious werewolves were considered to be folklorically, and how bloodthirsty and ferocious the Lamanites were considered to be, serious consideration should be given to the interpretation that the “skin of blackness” was nothing other than a werewolf pelt that deformed these people and their offspring into a cursed, lycanthropic race. Nevertheless, there was a possibility they could be restored to virtue.

Similarly, in the time of Scyld (the great patriarch of the Teutonic folk, so named for that he proved a shield or protection to his people, particularly through his creation of a law code), Saxo Grammaticus reports (in Book One of his Gesta Danorum, History of the Danes) that there were people who had degenerated, becoming morally depraved and wild (perditam), and who had lost their sense of restraint and self-control through idle or luxurious habits, whom he caused to regrasp their virtue and worth through painstaking, industrious working of the land. (Idem perditam et enervam vitam agentes continentiamque luxu labefacere solitos ad capessendam virtutem rerum agitatione sedulus excitabat.) The type of man indicated here is further described when Saxo says in his time there were observed in the land complures … fortitudinis pugiles, “many fighters of great strength”, whom Scyld was forced to meet in single combat. Indeed, Scyld’s career as a young man was inaugurated when he confronted a gigantic bear and was able to wrestle and bind him with his belt, and Saxo tells us this was considered an augury of the course of his entire life. It may very well be that this was no natural bear, but the first encounter with one of these were-animal types bewitched by Heid. The robbers and fighters he meets up with in his career thus fall into this category. What’s significant is that in Saxo’s account, like in the Book of Mormon, there is some kind of hope envisioned for these people. Scyld puts them to work, obviously as thralls — also described as loathsome and ugly and strong in Rigsthula — so that they can “grasp their virtue” through this worthy work, and we can see that the account that they had lost their sense of self-restraint through luxurious or idle habits matches what the Book of Mormon says, which is that the Lamanites turned to robbery and plunder because they had inordinate greed for riches, but were unwilling to work for them. The natural remedy would be to put them to work, to get them back in the habit of being productive individuals. Just as the Lamanites seem to pass their curse onto their children — yet this can be countered and overcome by virtue — so unfortunately the first generation of werewolves were unable to purge themselves of their foul nature, for there continued recidivism. Saxo says Primus rescindendarum manumissionum legem edidit, servi, quem forte libertate donaverat, clandestinis insidiis petitus, “(Scyld) was the first to annul to the law of manumission that he had (originally) spread out, when a thrall, whom he had by chance given his liberty, attacked him in a secret ambush.” In other words, Scyld had provided for these thralls working off their crimes to be eventually freed, but seeing that recidivism made those so freed to continue in their assaults and plots, he had to annul that plan for the time being. However, he did try to heal them of their deformations and injuries. Aegros fomentis prosequi remediaque graviter affectis benignius exhibere solebat, “He was in the habit of bringing solace to the sick and infirm, and to giving medicines to the seriously impaired out of his bounty.” As Saxo also attests that Scyld paid off people’s debts out of the communal treasury, it may be that this included the debts wracked up by fines for criminal behavior, and this could have been part of his original manumission program. Healing was possible, obviously, but it might take more than one generation. Similarly, over time, the Lamanites might be able to be missionized to become more virtuous.

This does not require us to posit that the Lamanites were literally werewolves within the context of the story — although given the presence of Giants and other creatures in the Old Testament, I think we should not dismiss this possibility too quickly — but may have been a wolfish people who might as well have been werewolves, and who therefore could be spoken of in the metaphoric terms of a werewolf, having a pelt of blackness thrown over them. In Old Norse, outlaws were called vargs, wolves. While at one point in the distant past, this may actually have matched folkloric beliefs about lycanthropy, at the time we encounter it in the literature, it certainly had more of a metaphoric content. Similarly, if Norse/Germanic mythology tells us there was a time when people became werewolves, does this require of us to think of this in literal terms? Of course not. It makes a better action adventure story that way, and mythology thrives on translating metaphorical or spiritual truths into action adventures that people can enjoy, particularly because such imagery is more striking and tends to stay in the memory, but the important point about Scyld’s time in the ancient days is that people started acting more greedy, ferocious, and bloodthirsty towards each other, such that they were acting like wolves. (And is it possible that just as Jordanes speaks of the “diminishment” of these corrupted men, and Rigsthula speaks of the thralls as if they were almost humpbacked, and The Book of Mormon describes the Lamanites as “dwindled”, that the word might be an unconscious creative neologism from “the lame man”, ie., men wounded by their sins? I put this forward as creative speculation rather than serious assertion.)

Another theory that had some circulation in Joseph Smith’s day, particularly amongst Baptists, was the so-called “two seed” or “Serpent-seed” theology, an idea that went back to the Gnostics, and is attested in some Kabbalistic writings(The Zohar also propagates this “two seed” or “serpent seed” theology. “On the side of Cain are all the haunts of the evil species; from the side of Abel comes a more merciful class, yet not wholly beneficial – good wine mixed with bad.”), but was championed by Daniel Parker in the early to mid 1800s. Parker was a Primitive Baptist who formed an offshoot sect, the “Two-Seed-In-The-Spirit” Predestinarian Baptists. This theology held that Eve “received the Serpentine nature” in Parker’s words when she gave into his temptation to eat of the fruit. This reception of the “Serpentine nature” actually included “the Serpent’s seed”, the “seed of Satan”, that competed alongside and within her with the “Elect seed”. Parker, in his “Treatise on the Two Seeds”, from which these quotes are taken, compared Eve with Mother Earth. Just as Mother Earth was made by the curse to produce thorns and thistles, poisonous matters, alongside her beautiful green coat of spring, with all her nutrifying grains and fruits, so Eve carried tares or thistles within her seed as well. He posits, basing himself on 1 John 3 : 12, where it says that Cain “was of that wicked one”, that Cain was the offspring of the Serpent seed, whereas Abel was the offspring of Eve’s own nature, and therefore of the Elect. He argues that there is a “manifest enmity between the two seeds”, which is enacted in Cain’s killing of Abel. He calls upon Jesus’ parable of the tares and the wheat as referring to these two different seeds in humankind when Jesus says, “the good seed are the children of the kingdom, but the tares are the children of the wicked one.” Thus, Satan had brought “forth a set of beings” who were “directly from the fountain of iniquity”. Through this, Satan had “engraved his image in their hearts”, an interesting statement, as Adam and Eve had originally been created in God’s image, and thus with God’s image engraved in their hearts, so to speak. But here appears a competing image written right on the heart. Parker argues that these two seeds do not manifest abstractly as two competing qualities, but actually incarnate as two different kinds of people, the Elect and the Non-Elect, and those who have inherited Satan’s seed – for there is a strict dichotomy here separating the two, as one inherits one or the other — are prone to idolatry, whoredom, and the sword, due to “the Serpent’s fury”. He references Genesis 5 : 1-3, where Cain is not listed amongst the “generations of Adam, in the day God created man”, and this list is after a genealogy of Cain is listed, implying that these are two different lines.

Parker insists on this dichotomy to the point that he argues that missionary activity amongst the Non-Elect is useless, as they cannot be turned. He even considers every sect not of the Baptists to be of the Non-Elect Serpent Seed! So in this particular theological twist, Parker is different from either the Book of Mormon, or Scyld’s enthralling of the werewolves, because both of the latter believed in the possibility of redemption. But the condemnation of the multiple sects against the one true sect Parker does share in common with Joseph Smith, who, confused by the multiple denominations, sought out what might be the true teaching. It’s significant to note that in contrast to Parker, in Smith’s material, the “bad seed” are very much redeemable.

But this tradition did not originate with Parker, as it had sunk down such deep folkloric seeds as to find reflection in the Beowulf poem, where Grendel is spoken of as being of Cain’s kindred. Beowulf, 100-114 oð ðæt án ongan / fyrene fremman féond on helle / wæs se grimma gaést Grendel háten /maére mearcstapa sé þe móras héold / fen ond fæsten fífelcynnes* eard /wonsaélí wer weardode hwíle /siþðan him scyppend forscrifen hæfde / in Caines cynne þone cwealm gewræc / éce drihten þæs þe hé Ábel slóg / ne gefeah hé þaére faéhðe ac hé hine feor forwræc / metod for þý máne mancynne fram / þanon untýdras ealle onwócon / eotenas ond ylfe ond orcnéäs / swylce gígantas þá wið gode wunnon/ lange þráge, “Until one began to commit crimes, a fiend from hell, a cruel and fierce enemy called Grendel, a nightmare wanderer in the desolate borderlands, he who held the moors, fen and fortress, dwelling of the monster-kindred, that joyless man guarded for a time, since him fate had cut out dooms, in Cain’s kindred ; that death he avenged, eternal Lord, when he slew Abel, he didn’t exult in their feud, for he banished him far away, fated for his crime from mankind ; from thence terrible offspring all sprung forth, etins and elves and sea-monsters, in other words giants who struggled against God a long time.” Although the official story in the Bible states that all of Cain’s offspring were killed in the flood, oral stories and folklore for a long time alleged that some of them survived, and we can see here especially in this Old English tradition, that the drowned giants of Cain’s kindred were transformed into sea-monsters. Other traditions have Noah’s son Ham inheriting much of this legacy (and therein lies a terrible tale of slavery and seeking justification in old stories), such that Old Irish glosses on the Bible have the Formorians — the monstrous opponents of the fairy-like Tuatha de Danaan — being either the descendants of Ham or of Cain. These represent attempts to graft old heathen lore into a new Christian context. But you see the theme of the “bad seed” of Cain being passed down in the form of these monsters and men-become-monsters.

(*See Voluspa 51 : fara fíflmegir með freka allir, “fare all the sons of the monster/fool with the wolf”, and it is said that Byleist’s brother — Loki — travels with them. In fact, he’s steering the ship. Fiflmegir may here mean “sons of the fool”, the fool being Loki. They are either Loki’s sons or his grandsons, if it means sons of the monstrous wolf ; in any case, they are in Loki’s kin and related to the Wolf. If they are children of Fenris, they are indeed in a Werewolf clan. Fiflmegir in Voluspa and fifelcynnes in Beowulf are thus identical, and all related to Fenris, who by his very name, lurks in the fens and swamps. There is a gloss on fifel that translates to “marine monsters”, which would be a good word for these monsters of the swamps. It would also connect nicely to the subaltern but authentically folkloric tradition that the Sons of Cain who survived the flood had transformed into sea-monsters.)

Grendel lives on nicera mere, “in the sea-monsters’ sea”, in a fenfreoðo, “marshy sanctuary”, wód, “wading”, of móre under misthleoþum, “over the moors under the misty shelters”. Being of the fens and swamps, he in turn connects to the foul, offensive offspring of the Heliurunna witches spawned in the swamps in Jordanes’ account. In fact, Beowulf speaks of “death-whisperers” or “hel-runes” in direct relation to Grendel, attesting to a linguistic continuity, but not a conscious allusion, to the Heliurunnas in the Jordanes’ text. Beowulf 161 – 165 : seomade ond syrede sinnihte héold / mistige móras men ne cunnon / hwyder helrúnan hwyrftum scríþað. / Swá fela fyrena féond mancynnes / atol ángengea oft gefremede, “He [Grendel] hung about and plotted, and in perpetual night held the misty moors ; men do not know whither death-whisperers (helrunan) go when they wander. So many crimes that foe of mankind, the terrible lone-walker, oft committed.” Here we have the swamps, the runes of hel, the predatory relationship. Fens or swamplands have specific implications in Germanic myth, because that is where the Great Wolf, or the Werewolf of Werewolves, the Fenris Wolf, gotten on Loki by Angrboda-Gullveig (Heid) comes from, and for which he is named. His name might be translated “Wolf of the Swamp”. This in turns connects to folkloric werewolf activity, because people accused of being werewolves in the witch trials, who openly admitted to a self-belief in this regard, spoke of having to pass through some kind of wetland to go down into hell on their ecstatic journeys. That wetland might be a swamp or a river or even a sea, but the idea of there being a wet place that must be passed through in a journey between worlds is common to many of these testimonies. Grendel’s mother is spoken of in the Beowulf poem in ways very reminiscent of Heid, and probably represents either the same figure in a different guise, or a very similar cognate figure, and thus Grendel by association is drawn into the circle of beings around Fenris, and thus takes part, at least by proxy, in the werewolf phenomenon.

And like a wolf, Grendel is extremely bloodthirsty and violent. He’s a mánscaða manna cynnes, “terrible scather of mankind”, grim ond graédig, “grim and greedy”, réoc ond réþe, “savage and terrible”, capable of seizing and preying upon thirty men at a time — just as the werewolves in Volsungasagahave the ability to take out dozens of opponents at once. He is wælfylle, “full with the abundance of slaughter”, and skilled in gúðcræft, “war-craft”. Hegefremede / morðbeala máre ond nó mearn fore, “committed disastrous murder, and never regretted it”, for faéhðe ond fyrene wæs tó fæst on þám,“feud and crime was too strong with him”. Beowulf 151 – 156 : Grendel wan / hwíle wið Hróþgár heteníðas wæg / fyrene ond faéhðe fela misséra, / singále sæce sibbe ne wolde / wið manna hwone mægenes Deniga, / feorhbealo feorran, féa þingian, “Grendel contended a long while against Hrothgar, inflicting enmity, crimes and feuds for many years [in fact, over ten years!], continuously fighting, he willed no kindness with any man of Danish kin, nor withdrew from life-harm, nor settled with payment.”

Grendel fits hand in glove with Jordanes’, Saxo’s, Voluspa’s, and Volsungasaga’s traditions, the bloodthirsty savage from the wolfish fens who partakes of a corrupted lineage. This folkloric strata continued at the peasant level through European history, as the witch trials concerning werewolves continued to attest. Often invoking the wolf pelt, such men who believed themselves werewolves saw themselves as subject to this transformation for various lengths of time, which subjected them, whether good or not — because some werewolves claimed to be on the side of good (which might connect them in archaic days to Odin’s wolves rather than Heid’s wolves) — to various ferocious behaviors, particularly attacking cattle and other domestic animals. All of this forms a matrix out of which it is possible Smith unconsciously drew upon when he was interpreting the material that eventually became The Book of Mormon.

It may be that these two strands of mythic tradition, the Germanic and the Mormonic, may have no inherent relation to each other, although again attention should be given to the connective tissue of folklore as inherited by a cunning-man family such as the Smiths in the possible unconscious and archetypal interpretation of the plates Joseph Smith was working with ; but in any case, even if there is no inherent relation, it may still very well be that at an archetypal level, these two strands illuminate each other and fill each other out. Instead of being seen in racial terms, the Lamanites ought more constructively to be seen as a lineage of men who gave themselves over to the monstrous, and suffered from terrible deformities, but whom, in time, hold a promise of redemption. Similarly, the thralls in Norse tradition represent the remnant of a group of people transformed to werewolves who became predators upon their fellow tribespeople, and who the great archetypal lawgiver Scyld made to work off their crimes, and who may, someday, be finally redeemed of the inner traces of their original curse. The themes of corruption, recidivism, and eventual hopes of restoration run throughout the long arc of these stories.

Here are the attestations in the Book of Mormon :

1 Nephi 12:23: “And it came to pass that I beheld, after they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people, full ofidleness and all manner of abominations.”

2 Nephi 5:24: “And because of their cursing . . . they did become an idle people, full of mischief and subtlety, and did seek in the wilderness for beasts of prey.”

Enos 1:20 : “And I bear record that the people of Nephi did seek diligently to restore the Lamanites unto the true faith in God. But our labors were vain; their hatred was fixed, and they were led by their evil nature that they became wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, full of idolatry and filthiness; feeding upon beasts of prey; dwelling in tents, and wandering about in the wilderness with a short skin girdle about their loins and their heads shaven; and their skill was in the bow, and in the cimeter, and the ax. And many of them did eat nothing save it was raw meat; and they were continually seeking to destroy us.”

Mosiah 10:12: “They were a wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, believing in the tradition of their fathers. . . .”

Alma 17:13–14: “And it came to pass when they had arrived in the borders of the land of the Lamanites, that they separated themselves and departed one from another, trusting in the Lord that they should meet again at the close of their harvest; for they supposed that great was the work which they had undertaken. And assuredly it was great, for they had undertaken to preach the word of God to a wild and a hardened and a ferocious people; a people who delighted in murdering the Nephites, and robbing and plundering them; and their hearts were set upon riches, or upon gold and silver, and precious stones; yet they sought to obtain these things by murdering and plundering, that they might not labor for them with their own hands.”

Helaman 3:16: “And they have been handed down from one generation to another by the Nephites, even until they have fallen into transgression and have been murdered, plundered, and hunted, and driven forth, and slain, and scattered upon the face of the earth, and mixed with the Lamanites until they are no more called the Nephites, becoming wicked, and wild, and ferocious, yea, even becoming Lamanites.”

Mormon 5:15: “And also that the seed of this people may more fully believe his gospel, which shall go forth unto them from the Gentiles; for this people shall be scattered, and shall become a dark, a filthy, and a loathsome people, beyond the description of that which ever hath been amongst us, yea, even that which hath been among the Lamanites, and this because of their unbelief and idolatry.”

2 Nephi 5 : “20 Wherefore, the word of the Lord was fulfilled which he spake unto me, saying that: Inasmuch as they will not hearken unto thy words they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord. And behold, they were cut off from his presence.

21 And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.

22 And thus saith the Lord God: I will cause that they shall be loathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities.

23 And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing. And the Lord spake it, and it was done.

24 And because of their cursing which was upon them they did become an idle people, full of mischief and subtlety, and did seek in the wilderness for beasts of prey.

25 And the Lord God said unto me: They shall be a scourge unto thy seed, to stir them up in remembrance of me; and inasmuch as they will not remember me, and hearken unto my words, they shall scourge them even unto destruction.”

1 Nephi 12:23: “And I beheld, after they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people.”

2 Nephi 30 : “6 And then shall they rejoice; for they shall know that it is a blessing unto them from the hand of God; and their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a pure and a delightsome people.”

Jarom 1 :6 : “And they were scattered upon much of the face of the land, and the Lamanites also. And they were exceedingly more numerous than were they of the Nephites; and they loved murder and would drink the blood of beasts.”

Jacob 3 : “5 Behold, the Lamanites your brethren, whom ye hate because of their filthiness and the cursing which hath come upon their skins, are more righteous than you; for they have not forgotten the commandment of the Lord, which was given unto our father—that they should have save it were one wife, and concubines they should have none, and there should not be whoredoms committed among them.

6 And now, this commandment they observe to keep; wherefore, because of this observance, in keeping this commandment, the Lord God will not destroy them, but will be merciful unto them; and one day they shall become a blessed people.

7 Behold, their husbands love their wives, and their wives love their husbands; and their husbands and their wives love their children; and their unbelief and their hatred towards you is because of the iniquity of their fathers; wherefore, how much better are you than they, in the sight of your great Creator?

8 O my brethren, I fear that unless ye shall repent of your sins that their skins will be whiter than yours, when ye shall be brought with them before the throne of God.

9 Wherefore, a commandment I give unto you, which is the word of God, that ye revile no more against them because of the darkness of their skins; neither shall ye revile against them because of their filthiness; but ye shall remember your own filthiness, and remember that their filthiness came because of their fathers.”

Alma 26 : “ 23 Now do ye remember, my brethren, that we said unto our brethren in the land of Zarahemla, we go up to the land of Nephi, to preach unto our brethren, the Lamanites, and they laughed us to scorn?

24 For they said unto us: Do ye suppose that ye can bring the Lamanites to the knowledge of the truth? Do ye suppose that ye can convince the Lamanites of the incorrectness of the traditions of their fathers, as stiffnecked a people as they are; whose hearts delight in the shedding of blood; whose days have been spent in the grossest iniquity; whose ways have been the ways of a transgressor from the beginning? Now my brethren, ye remember that this was their language.

25 And moreover they did say: Let us take up arms against them, that we destroy them and their iniquity out of the land, lest they overrun us and destroy us.”


all translations by me

The Other Side of Rain

“Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like.'”

– C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed


Last summer, a childhood friend of mine took her own life.

Earlier that year, she had found me on Facebook, and shortly thereafter she showed up at a reunion of old friends in Los Angeles, driving several hours to join the party. Prior to that gathering, I hadn’t seen her for decades, and I was thrilled at the opportunity to catch up and reconnect.  And then, just a few months later, she was gone.

I was thinking about her on June 17, 2015 when a man joined a prayer group at that the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina and then proceeded to open fire on the people who had welcomed him with open arms. Nine people were killed, and many more injured, because they were kind to a vicious stranger who hated and murdered them because of the color of their skin. At the time I heard the news, I was in North Carolina teaching a training program to juvenile offenders, all of whom were black. The day of the shooting, we didn’t talk about much else. And the bitter irony of people reaching out to heaven as they were murdered by a devil did not go unnoticed.

I’ve never seriously doubted the existence of God. I find atheism ridiculous. And as I’ve watched a number of people wrestle with elements of Mormon history and disagreements with current church leadership, I’ve also never seriously considered leaving the Church. The Mormons are my people and my tribe, and, overall, I think the Church, even with all its flaws, is a force for great good in the world. In addition, I find solace in its unique doctrines that I can’t find anywhere else.

Yet I still wrestle with doubts, although they don’t seem to be the same flavor of doubts over many of the things I see others doubting. I’m not wondering if there is or isn’t a God, or if my faith is a fraud, or any of that kind of stuff. My deepest doubt/fear/faith struggles are more like C.S. Lewis’s question – is this what God is really like?  Actually, my doubts take that question one step further –

What if God is a jerk?

What if God is, in fact, a “respecter of persons” who plays favorites?  What if he only answers the prayers of people he likes? What if God has revealed inconsistent and contradictory things to people over the course of history just because he can? Because this often feels like the kind of world where God operates in that kind of capricious manner.

There’s a variation on that theme that I’ve considered, too – not Jerk God so much as Incompetent God. He wants to love everyone, but he’s not really as omnipotent or omniscient as he claims to be. Although, really, that would make him both Jerk God and Incompetent God, as he would be making false claims about his perfection, which is a jerky thing to do.

If you read that and panic that I’ve gone off the deep end, please know that while this is a dark place that my doubts occasionally take me to visit, that isn’t where I live. I’ve experienced God’s love both directly and through the inspired efforts of others, and I’m not willing to surrender to nihilism just yet.

Still, while I was holed up in a motel in North Carolina, thousands of miles from home, lonely, and wallowing in the bleakness of the world, I did write a song about all this. Unlike 99% of my back catalog, it’s not the least bit goofy. It addresses my friend’s suicide, the shooting in South Carolina, and my “God is a jerk” fears. It doesn’t have any real answers, but I felt better having asked the questions.

Anyway, I think the song isn’t going to change the world, but it might be worth a listen. I’ve named it after my late friend, but for public consumption, I prefer to call it “The Other Side of Rain.”