Notes on “The Golden Pot”
by Grant H. Palmer
I have received inquiries from people seeking additional information and clarification on my “Moroni and the Golden Pot” chapter, found in An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins. I both hoped for and expected such a discussion. I have never believed that “The Golden Pot” was the only influence upon Joseph Smith’s angel and golden-plates story. In my book, I have written that “regardless of where the motifs in the New York narrative came from, most of them, including the basic storyline, were already present in some form in the environment.”1 “The Golden Pot,” other treasure motifs, and his own personal experience all influenced Joseph Smith’s narrative.
The Cumorah Cave and “The Golden Pot”
Fifty-one of Palmyra’s leading citizens said the Smith family was “famous for visionary projects.”2 One of these centered on a nearby glacial drumlin, later called Hill Cumorah. Orsamus Turner said there were “[l]egends of hidden treasure” associated with the hill and Martin Harris said that “money [was] supposed to have been hidden [there] by the ancients.” This is what drew the Smith family to the hill.3 Between 1820 and 1827, both father and son were digging at and having experiences with Cumorah’s guardian spirit. Before, during, and after the golden plates saga, the Smiths were engaged in seeking its treasures.4 There is solid evidence that, during this eight-year period, Joseph Smith and his father both claimed to have seen into the caves of the surrounding hills using second sight. The family freely shared these experiences with others.5 Katherine, Joseph’s sister, said that Joseph “went frequently to the hill and upon returning would tell us, ‘I have seen the records.'”6 Lucy Smith and Henry and Martin Harris all heard from Joseph that it was by means of a seer stone that he was able to view the records hidden in the hill.7 Over time, Cumorah’s cave became increasingly important to the family. Joseph Jr. informed Orson Pratt: “[T]he grand repository of all the numerous records of the ancient nations of the western continent was located in the hill [Cumorah], and its contents under the charge of holy angels.”8 According to the Smiths, Moroni was the hill’s primary guardian.9
The magical worldview of the Smith family and the mystical world of the “The Golden Pot” story are remarkably similar. Archivarius (meaning archivist) Lindhorst is the principle guardian of the treasures at his “ancient residence,” just as Moroni is the primary guardian of Cumorah’s treasures. Young Anselmus has a working relationship with Lindhorst that centers around his house. Joseph Smith has a recurring relationship with Moroni at the latter’s cave headquarters. Anselmus and Joseph Smith can conveniently walk to their nearby house and cave in a short time. The house and cave both open upon their approach. Anselmus is greeted by Lindhorst and Smith is greeted by Moroni. Both of these beings are the last archivists of their respective civilizations.10 They are in charge of vast treasures including numerous “rolls of parchment”11 and from the destroyed civilization of Atlantis on one hand and plates of precious metal from the Jaredites and Nephites on the other hand.
Anselmus and Joseph meet with their guardians both inside and outside of their house or cave. Anselmus meets with Lindhorst “in the garden,” in “high groves with trees,” in the azure room where “the grove opens,” and under trees in meadows.12 Lucy Smith said “the angel would meet [Joseph] in the garden,” in a “sacred grove,” and under a tree in a meadow.13 Lindhorst appears in majestic form in “his damask dressing gown which glittered like phosphorus.”14 He also appears as a nice old man on the streets of Dresden and elsewhere15 with “white” hair, dressed in a “gray gown” and wearing “his three-cocked military hat.”16 He also protects Anselmus against the evil “spirits” who seek his treasure on the equinox17 and treats Anselmus to “show and tell” sessions at a nearby café, providing instant “fire” by snapping his fingers and telling about his historical past.18 Moroni similarly appears in a majestic form in a “robe” that was “exceedingly white and brilliant.”19 He also appears along Palmyra roads as a nice “old man going to Cumorah” and elsewhere with “white hair,” dressed in “gray apparel,” wearing a “military half cocked hat.” Moroni protects Joseph against evil “spirits” who seek his treasure on the equinox. Moroni plows a field at the Whitmer farm and is seen about their sheds. Leman Copley, an early church member, said Smith told him and Joseph Knight Sr. that he saw and conversed with “Moroni” as “an old man” traveling to “Charzee.” Joseph said Moroni claimed to have a monkey in a box and that for “five coppers” he could see it.20 Moroni meets Joseph and tells him about his past. The witnesses “went into a grove” to behold the angel and the gold plates. They are also shown other artifacts and watch as Moroni returns them to “the cave.” Later, the gold plates are returned to the “cave” by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.21
It is also significant that both the house and cave contain a number of high and large chambers that are filled with Egyptian artifacts, illuminated golden treasures, swords, and fine furnishings. Within these vast libraries are seeric devices, breastplates, gilded books, and tripods containing priceless artifacts from the ancient past.22 Both guardians defend their treasures at all costs. They appear as frightful old men, as a “transparent, white serpent [covered] with blood,” a “toad” (or something that looked “like a toad”), and a “bleeding ghost” [whose] “clothes were bloody,” all for the purpose of keeping the treasures from the unauthorized.23 There is really only one important variation in all these descriptions: Anselmus sees all this in dreams, whereas Joseph Smith said they took place in reality.
A Brief Synopsis of “The Golden Pot”
“The Golden Pot” fairy tale is about Anselmus, a young man who has a split personality. His real life is dull, ordinary, and without meaning. Life in his fantasy dreams is exciting, unordinary and full of import. Anselmus is a theology student, but he usually prefers his fantasy world to his studies. His friends, such as theology professor Paulmann, the professor’s daughter Veronica, and the college registrar Heerbrand all regard him as essentially “mad.” When Anselmus is in fantasy, Paulmann becomes Archivarius Lindhorst, the last archivist of Atlantis. Hoffmann clearly tells us that Lindhorst does not live in the flesh but has “existence in the world of spirits.”24 Veronica becomes Serpentina, one of Lindhorst’s three daughters, who appear as little green snakes. Herrbrand seemingly has no counterpart but may be a portrayal of Anselmus at times. A nice old woman named Liese is in the story; she becomes an old witch in the fantasy dreams.
An important key to this fairy tale is that whenever Lindhorst, Serpentina, or the old witch are mentioned, Anselmus is in his dream world. Sometimes his dreams include real people mixed with the fantasy figures. After Vigil Eight, Anselmus, who “has long been mente Captus,” increasingly withdraws until in Vigil Twelve he is completely removed “to the mysterious [Atlantean] land of wonders.”25 In other words, he commits suicide. After Vigil Eight, except for a few flashbacks, there is no connection between the fairy tale and Joseph Smith’s account of obtaining gold plates.
The First Vision of the Evening—Receiving a Message
In early evening on Ascension Day, Anselmus is under an elder tree meditating about his shortcomings as one of God’s future ministers. He passes into a dream experience and sees the three daughters of Lindhorst, each in the form of a green snake in the elder tree. One of the daughters, Serpentina, speaks to Anselmus, but he does not fully comprehend. Only after his fourth vision does the message become clear.26 Lindhorst is nearby in his study, across the river, listening and aware of what is transpiring but does not speak to Anselmus.27
The Second Vision of the Evening—Called to “Translate” Rare Documents
Upon awakening from his first fantasy dream, Anselmus is thought to be drunk or a bit crazy, especially in the eyes of his friends Paulmann, Veronica, and Heerbrand. They invite Anselmus to Paulmann’s house to shake off his vision. Now late but still at the Paulmann house, Anselmus has a second dream experience. In this dream (and we know it’s a fantasy because the fairy-figure Lindhorst is present), Heerbrand informs Anselmus that Lindhorst needs a secretary to copy the ancient records of his Atlantean civilization. Interested, Anselmus agrees to visit Lindhorst the following morning. Still in his dream, Anselmus does so. On the way he: (1) thinks about the generous salary and gift (a seeric pot) that he will receive; (2) encounters an evil witch, who tells him telepathically that he will fail in his assignment; (3) is frightened by the old witch at Lindhorst’s doorstep; (4) and is abused by “a white serpent,” who is Lindhorst in one of his frightful forms. Paulmann, finding Anselmus “lying quite senseless at the door” (in other words, still dreaming), returns him to his home.28 Thus, “on returning to his senses, he [Anselmus] was lying on his own poor truckle-bed.” Paulmann is there when he awakes and again thinks Anselmus is “mad.”
The Third Vision of the Evening—Hearing the History of Atlantis
Still in bed, Anselmus dreams he is at a café with Heerbrand. They listen to (fairy-figure) Lindhorst give a brief historical account of his life, which includes the founding of Atlantis by his ancestors. Anselmus agrees to copy Lindhorst’s Atlantean manuscripts, promising to come “tomorrow” (his second try) and commence the work no matter what the obstacles.
The Morning Vision (4th)—The Message Becomes Clear
Again under the elder tree, “no sooner had he [Anselmus] seated himself on it than the whole vision which he had previously seen as in a heavenly trance again came floating before him. It was clearer to him now than ever.” Anselmus believes this is confirmation that everything the “glorious dreams have promised me of [in] another higher world shall be fulfilled.”
Anselmus is so excited that he thereafter spends “every evening” under the elder tree. One evening Lindhorst appears and chastises him, asking him why he has not come to do the scribal work as promised. Anselmus says that it was because of the frightful experiences on Lindhorst’s doorstep. Lindhorst tells him, “I have waited for several days in vain.” Anselmus again promises to come “tomorrow.”
Waiting for the Fall Equinox
Vigil Five opens with Anselmus having for “two days been copying manuscripts at Archivarius Lindhorst’s.” Lindhorst likes the work the young man is doing, but it is too soon to know if he will be suitable for the Atlantean history project. “We will talk of it this time a year from now,” it is decided. Meanwhile, a nice old woman named Liese induces Anselmus’s fiancée, Veronica, to venture out on a fall equinox adventure. The old woman will conjure Anselmus and assure a happy future for them, but only if Veronica is present. Loving Anselmus, and desperate “to rescue him from the phantoms, which were mocking and befooling him,” Veronica agrees.29 When the fall equinox arrives, we see Liese become an old witch in Veronica’s fantasy dream. The witch’s true motive is to kill Anselmus, her competition, and obtain the seeric pot for herself.30
Another Visit—A Period of Probation
In another dream, Anselmus reaches Lindhorst’s house and the door swings open on its own. Lindhorst appears and takes him through the following rooms: (1) “the garden” room or “greenhouse,” with various birds, flowers, and trees; (2) several other decorated rooms all containing “glittering wondrous furniture and other unknown things”; and (3) a blue room containing “palm-trees” with glittering “leaves”—each leaf “a roll of parchment.”31 In the middle of the blue room, resting on a tripod of Egyptian lions, is an Egyptian breastplate; resting on it is a seeric golden pot. Anselmus is most excited about the seeric device. Continuing, they arrive at a “library” where Anselmus will work. Lindhorst hands him an Arabic manuscript to copy and explains that “while laboring here, you are under going a season of instruction.” As Anselmus finishes each manuscript, Lindhorst hands him another, then another, and so forth. Anselmus is promised that if he is successful, he will work in the blue room. The young man gains confidence, encouraged by Serpentina. At day’s end, Lindhorst is obviously pleased with his protégé’s work and appears in a majestic form to praise and compensate him. Excited about his work, Anselmus no longer thinks about getting rich.
On the Equinox—Anselmus Passes His Test
The old woman and Veronica now “undertake the adventure of the Equinox.” They “went at midnight” and “conjured certain hellish spirits” by drawing a magic circle and performing certain other rituals. When Anselmus is conjured up, the old woman reveals herself to be the evil witch and issues a command to her “hellish spirits” to “Bite him to death.” Lindhorst arrives in the form of an eagle to save Anselmus and send the crone home. Using a “bright polished metallic mirror,” Veronica sees her fiancée “sitting in a stately chamber” (the blue room rather than the usual library) with the strangest furniture and diligently writing at a desk encircled by “large books with gilt leaves.” Veronica wakes “as from a deep dream” in which she has learned that Anselmus has passed his probationary test.
“Translating” the Atlantean History
Anselmus was seen by his fiancée on the equinox in the room with the golden pot, breastplate, and special records. But in Anselmus’s dream, Lindhorst makes him wait a few more days before “translating” the Atlantean records. As an apprentice—while on probation—Anselmus was a scribe only. However, now that he has seen the higher purpose of his assignment, beyond the money, he will leave the common library and the work of copying of manuscripts and graduate to the blue room and a more difficult assignment. In the blue room, Lindhorst pulls a leaf from one of the many palm trees in the room, “and Anselmus saw that the leaf was in truth a roll of parchment, which the Archivarius unfolded, and spread out before the Student on the table.” The writing is a mixture of Arabic, Coptic, and some in an unknown tongue. Anselmus “directed his eyes and thoughts more and more intensely on the superscription of the parchment roll; and before long he felt, as it were from his inmost soul, that the characters could denote nothing else than these words: Of the marriage of the Salamander with the green snake,” a reference to Lindhorst’s distant ancestors who founded Atlantis. Continuing beyond the superscription, Anselmus begins to write the story of Lindhorst “and his history.” He receives the translation in the form of inspirational whispers from Serpentina, an Atlantean, while Anselmus is in a state of dreamy musings. At the end of the first day, when Anselmus “awoke as from a deep dream, the copy of the mysterious manuscript was fairly concluded; and he thought, on viewing the characters more narrowly, that the writing was nothing else but Serpentina’s story of her father [Lindhorst] in Atlantis, the land of marvels.” “Day by day” Anselmus continues to write or “translating” Lindhorst’s history in this manner. In other words, he is not merely transferring foreign characters from one document to another but is receiving understanding, knowledge, and meaning.
Similar Quotes from Smith and “The Golden Pot”
I use the 1827 Carlyle translation, the version available to the Smith family, for the following quotations. Modern translations vary in nuance and are less usefull for comparison with the Joseph Smith narrative. The quotes below follow the chronology of the E. T. A. Hoffmann story. Each numbered item contains a quote first from Hoffmann, then from the Smith family.
1. “Through all his limbs there went a shock like electricity” / “produced a shock that affected the whole body,” “occasioned a shock or sensation, visible to the extremities of the body.”32
2. The script was “partly Arabic, strange characters, which do not belonging to any known tongue” / “some unknown tongue; with few exceptions, the characters were Arabic.”33
3. Anselmus is dressed “at variance with all fashion” / Joseph Smith wore “old fashioned” clothing that was dark and mostly “black.”34
4. Anselmus is abused by a “transparent, white serpent.[covered with] blood” / “something like a toad,” “looked some like a toad,” a “bleeding ghost” whose “clothes were bloody.”35
5. “A brief” overview of the Atlanteans and the source from which they “had sprung” / “a brief sketch” of the Nephites and the source from which “they sprang.”36
6. Sitting in “deep thought” under an “elder tree” by a “green kindly sward,” Anselmus looked “ill” / in “deep study” under an “apple tree” by a “green sward,” Joseph looked “sick”.37
7. “Why did you not come to me and set about your work” / “I had not been engaged enough in the work.”38
8. They “will talk of it a year from now” / “come again in one year.”39
9. They “act strictly by the Archivarius’ directions” / “attending strictly to the [Moroni’s] instruction.”40
10. “The door opened” / “a door [“the hill”] opened.” 41
11. “The garden” room contains “high groves and trees,” the “blue chamber” is “a large apartment,” and the “workroom” library is a particularly “high room” / “large and spacious chambers,” “a room about 16 ft. square,” “a large and spacious room,” “chambers.”41
12. Rooms without “windows” where a “dazzling light shone[; he] could not discover where it came from” / “brilliantly lighted, but did not notice the source.”42
13. A seeric device of “the fairest metal [and] diamond; in its glitter shall our kingdom of wonders” be seen / “two large bright diamonds set in [metal],” “diamonds set in silver.”43
14. One could “see the marvels of the Golden Pot” / “see anything; they are Marvelous.”44
15. The library was “lined on all sides with bookshelves, and [there] stood a large writing table” / “the room had shelves around it,” “a large table that stood in the room.”45
16. “You are undergoing a season of instruction” / “received instruction and intelligence.”47
17. “Kneeling,” Veronica heard “hateful voices [that] bellowed and bleated, yelled and hummed” / Emma “kneeled” and heard “devils began to screech and to scream, and made all sorts of hideous yells.”48
18. Gone from “midnight” until “daylight” / from “twelve o’clock” until “breakfast.”49
19. Attacked by “hellish spirits” / “Lucifer[s] spirits,” “host of devils.”50
20. “[T]he Archivarius would hand him another” document when “Anselmus had finished the last letter” / “The angel brought each plate [to Joseph] and took it way as he finished it.”51
21. “Parchment leaves” / “piece of parchment.”52
22. The source document is “scarcely needed / only “when he was inexperienced.”53
23. Lindhorst appeared in a “gown which glittered like phosphorus,” / Moroni’s “robe [was] exceedingly white and brilliant,” “garments were white above all whiteness.”54
24. Lindhort is “the Prince of the Spirits” / Moroni is “the prince of spirits.55”
25. Lindhorst’s hair is “white,” he wears a “gray gown” and “three-cocked military hat” / Moroni’s hair is “white,” he dresses in “gray apparel” and wears a “military half cocked hat.”56
For a discussion of other motifs in Smith’s story of the golden plates and E. T. A. Hoffmann’s story of the golden pot, see An Insider’s View, 147-170.
1. Grant H. Palmer, An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), 173.
6. Dan Vogel, ed., Early Mormon Documents 5 vols. (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986-2002), 1:521.
12. E. F. Bleiler, ed., The Best Tales of Hoffmann by E. T. A. Hoffmann (New York: Dover Publications, 1967), 18-19, 31, 42, 68, hereafter Hoffmann. Bleiler included a copy of the 1827 edition of Thomas Carlyle’s translation of “The Golden Pot” in this collection. Later translations have been different in literary style.
19. “Joseph Smith-History,” The Pearl of Great Price, 1:31; Lucy Smith, in An Insiders View, 256.