In The Cavity of a Rock

In The Cavity of a Rock
Father Lehi

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Near Death Experiences, Angelic Visitors The Maya, Hopi And The Book of Mormon

Ammon preaching to King Lamoni
The inspiration behind this blog post was based off of an article written by Mark Alan Wright out of the Studies in the Bible and Antiquity ( According to Their Language, unto Their understanding": The Cultural Context of Hierophanies and Theophanies in Latter-day Saint Canon, Mark Alan Wright Studies in the Bible and Antiquity: Volume - 3, Pages: 51–65 Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, 2011.)  In his article he proposed that the prophets rooted in the Book of Mormon after being well established in the New World (presumably Mesoamerica) received their callings in a different manner than those prophets who were still influenced by the Old World or Jerusalem (namely Lehi and Nephi and Jacob).  The manner that the New World prophets received their callings was to be overcome by the spirit and falling to the earth similar to a near death experience only to be spiritually reborn and come out of the coma like scenario prophesying of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Now this process may seem different or foreign to modern readers but as Mark states, “to the Nephites, living in an ancient Mesoamerican setting, falling to the earth as if dead is pregnant with meaning. Modern Western culture would classify such episodes as near-death experiences, but an examination of the specific cultural context in which the Book of Mormon events likely took place provides a more nuanced understanding of this obscure practice.”

Mark goes on to say, “Ethnographic work among traditional societies has shown that holy men of various types—broadly referred to as shamans—commonly receive their calling near-death experiences. Anthropologist Frank J. Lipp notes in reference to modern Mesoamerican shaman-priests called curanderos (curers or healers): "Divine election occurs within a context of some physical or emotional crisis," such as "a severe, chronic, or life-threatening sickness." While in this state they have a vivid dream where "the individual is informed by a spirit being," such as an angel, that "she or he will receive the divine gift to cure illnesses." The healing process is often aided by the prayers and ritual actions of another curandero on behalf of the critically ill individuals. Once recovered, the newly called shamans possess a power and authority that is recognized by the members of their community because of their shared cultural language. According to Lipp, "During the initiatory dream vision the individual may experience temporary insanity or unconsciousness," and it is through this near-death experience that "he or she is reborn as a person with shamanic power and knowledge." 

The Book of Mormon is full of examples of individuals who experience these near death/healing/voice of warning experiences.  The first example that we encounter is with Alma the younger and the sons of Mosiah.  They had been opposing the church and causing contention and their fathers had been praying for some sort of an intervention considering Alma’s father was a prophet and Mosiah was a king in the land.  They (Alma the younger and the sons of Mosiah) experienced a visitation from an angel and were threatened with destruction, Alma fell to earth and became so weak that he could neither speak nor move his hands (Mosiah 27:19). After Alma's helpless body was carried back to his home by his friends (who had also fallen to the earth but were not the focus of the angel's rebuke and therefore quickly recovered), Alma's father rejoiced, acknowledging the Lord's hand in what had transpired. What his father did next is significant: "He caused that the priests should assemble themselves together; and they began to fast, and to pray to the Lord their God that he would open the mouth of Alma, that he might speak, and also that his limbs might receive their strength" (Mosiah 27:22). These priests were acting in their capacity as curanderos, or healers. Alma was healed, not just physically, but spiritually as well. His exquisite and bitter pain was replaced by exquisite and sweet joy (Alma 36:21). He clearly linked his physical healing with his spiritual healing when he declared, "My limbs did receive their strength again, and I stood upon my feet, and did manifest unto the people that I had been born of God" (Alma 36:23). 

There are many more examples of this in the Book of Mormon another is that of Zeezrom who was "scorched with a burning heat" that was caused by "the great tribulations of his mind on account of his wickedness" (Alma 15:3) and his fear that Alma and Amulek "had been slain because of his own iniquity" (Alma 15:3). Last but not least Mark points out the experience of Ammon one of the sons of Mosiah saying, “Ammon appears to have fallen to the earth more than any other individual in the Book of Mormon. His initial conversion experience occurred when the angel rebuked him and his brothers along with Alma (Mosiah 27:12). As discussed above, he fell to the earth again when King Lamoni and his wife were converted (Alma 19:14) and once more when he was overcome with joy as he and his brothers chanced upon Alma in the wilderness (Alma 27:17). In his Mesoamerican context, Ammon's experiences—rather than being viewed as a sign of physical weakness or perhaps a case of spiritual hypersensitivity—would actually have imbued him with more spiritual potency as a holy man. Among the modern Tzotzil Maya of Chamula, for example, "the ability to cure illnesses of increasing severity is dependent upon the number of times the shaman has lost consciousness in a trance." 

The Hopi Sun Chief Don C. Tayalesva
What I would like to add is that the same practice was had among the Hopi who are descendents of the Olmec, Maya and Aztec civilizations who had migrated north into what is now southwest United States.  In the autobiography of Don C. Talayesva edited by Leo Simmons called “Sun Chief” Don speaks about his near death experience that was given him as a voice of warning from his guardian spirit lead him to what the Hopi call the House of the Dead.   Don described the experience like this.

 "Then I saw a tall human being standing by my bed in Katcina costume.  He was well dressed in a dancing kilt and a sash, was barefoot, and wore long black hair hanging down his back.  He had a soft prayer feather (nakwakwosi) in his hair and carried a blue one in his left hand-blue being the color which signifies the west and the home of the dead.  He wore beads and looked wonderful as he watched me.  When the nurses brought food, he said, “My son, you had better eat.  Your time is up.  You shall travel to the place where the dead live and see what it is like.” I saw the door swing slowly back and forth on its hinges and stop just a little open.  A cold numbness crept up my body; my eyes closed; and I knew I was dying.  The strange human being said, “Now, my boy, you are to learn a lesson.  I have been guarding you all your life, but you have been careless.  You shall travel to the House of the Dead and learn that life is important.  The path is already made for you.  You had better hurry; and perhaps you will get back before they bury your body.  I am your Guardian Spirit (dumalaitaka).  I will wait here and watch over your body; but I shall also protect you on your journey.” 

In his journey Don saw and was chased by Masau’u the god of Death. Apparently this was a scare tactic according to his guardian Katcina spirit to make him live a better life.  Upon coming out of the experience he states, “The head nurse said, “Sonny, you passed away last night, but did not cool of quite like a dead person.  Your heart kept on beating slowly and your pulse moved a little, so we did not bury you.”  When he explained this to Chief Tewaquaptewa he was advised that his journey was true as it had happened to others.  His mother had a similar experience and his grandfather prophesied that he would become an important man in the ceremonies.    

Apparently the act of having a near death experience or vision upon the sick was a very common form of humbling, teaching and calling someone to become a servant of the Lord.  As can be seen this was practiced among the cultures of Mesoamerica and their relatives cultures such as the Hopi.  When looked upon in these ancient contexts we once again bring better understanding of Nephite and Lamanite practices to our modern comprehension and the Book of Mormon continues to shine.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Jaredite Barges and Noah's Ark Revisited Thanks to Recent Findings

Below is an interesting article about a 4000 year old Mesopotamian (modern day Iraq) tablet about the size of a common cell phone written in cuneiform that shares some insights on Noah's ark. It was brought to Irving Finkel curator of the British museum by a man who advised his father had acquired it in the middle east after World War II.  It advises that the ark would have been a round vessel called a coracle as well as giving instructions for the loading of the animals two by two.  Those who are familiar with the story of the Jaredites and their traveling's to the new world in the book of Ether in the Book of Mormon in round dish shaped barges roughly around 2500 B.C. would instantly see the correlation between the two stories and boat/barge construction.  In the past I had done a post that covers this exact subject in more detail and it can be found here.

Although the recent findings may be interesting we must allow time for the examination of this tablet and its authenticity to be verified before jumping to an immediate conclusions.  Here is the original article.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Pre Classic Guatemalan Mayan Figurines and Early Nephite Migrations

Lighter and Darker Mayan
I will once again be referring back to John Sorenson's book "Mormons Codex" for this blog post.  Sorenson points out an interesting correlation between ancient figurines found in the Guatemalan highlands and the timeframe of the early Nephite migrations out of the land of Nephi to Zarahemla.   Sorenson states, "In the Pre-Classic Las Charcas and Providencia periods in the Valley of Guatemala around 600-300 BC, nearly all of the figurines had a white surface (either by being made of an unslipped light-colored clay or of a darker clay covered with a white slip).  Yet in the succeeding (Verbena) phase (ca. 200 BC), figurines either were exclusively of unslipped red/brown paste or else were red slipped.  Why the later images were colored differently is hard to explain unless they reflected different skin pigmentations of the original living models.  The systematic change in appearance would appear to mirrored change in the population's predominant pigmentation.  According to the Book of Mormon, the fair-skinned Nephites who dwelt in the land of Nephi from 600 to near 200 BC were replaced by darker Lamanites around the later date.

slipped clay figurine
Most Book of Mormon scholars associate the land of Nephi with the ancient city of Kaminaljuyu which is located in the highlands of Guatemala (southern Guatemala).  From around 600 BC, to around 300-200 BC it would have been the main settlement of lighter skinned Nephites.  In between 300-200 BC the Nephites under the direction on Mosiah (the first) migrated away from their
enemies the darker skinned Lamanites and migrated north to the land of Zarahemla.  At this point the Lamanites inhabited the land of Nephi unto themselves.  This would explain the change of pigmentation on the population around the 200 BC mark.  Sorensen explained that his research on these figurines stems from some of the work from the archaeologist Alfred V. Kidder.  There will need to be further research and studies on these correlations in the future but so far what has been observed seems very promising.