AOH :: MOONMEN.TXT|
Mormons believe in Moonmen
How Could A Prophet Believe in Moonmen?
by Van Hale
In 1842 the following one-page article appeared in the "Young Woman's
Journal." Its author Oliver B. Huntington wrote:
Astronomers and philosophers have, from time almost immemorial
until very recently, asserted that the moon was uninhabited, that
it had no atmosphere, etc. But recent discoveries, through the
means of powerful telescopes, have given scientists a doubt or
two upon the old theory.
Nearly all the great discoveries of men in the last half
century have, in one way or another, either directly or in-
directly, contributed to prove Joseph Smith to be a Prophet.
As far back as 1837, I know that he said the moon was inhabited
by men and women the same as this earth, and that they lived to a
greater age than we do--that they live generally to near the age
of 1000 years.
He described the men as averaging near six feet in height,
and dressing quite uniformly in something near the Quaker style.
In my Patriarchal blessing, given by the father of Joseph the
Prophet, in Kirkland, 1837, I was told that I would preach the
gospel to the inhabitants upon the moon, even the planet you can
now behold with your eyes. (See footnote #1.)
Opponents of Mormonism have tried to use Huntington's striking
assertion that Joseph Smith believed in moonmen in order to discredit
Mormonism. "Can you respect a religious organization that will publish such
nonsense?" they ask. (See footnote #2.) No true prophet could make a
mistake of such magnitude.
Admittedly, in this scientific age 1000-year-old moonmen in Quaker
dress being visited by Mormon missionaries do sound a bit farfetched. It
becomes important, therefore, to set Huntington's account into context.
What is the authenticity or accuracy of the account, for example? How
outlandish would such ideas have seemed in the nineteenth century? Then one
might more fairly judge whether Joseph's prophetic mantle is at stake.
The first question, of course, is what were Huntington's sources for
his article, his own reminiscence or that of a second party? He made
reference to two separate incidents--a statement of Joseph Smith and his own
patriarchal blessing. These two incidents will be looked at separately.
Most have assumed his source for the Joseph Smith statement was his own
memory and have thus questioned its credibility because he was only 11 years
old in 1837, and 55 years separated his recollection from the event.
Actually Huntington was not relating his own memories but someone else's.
The immediate source for his article was an 1881 entry in his own personal
journal. (See footnote #3.) But that entry is part of a 10-page collection
of reminiscenses he had acquired from several sources and which he had
"taken some time and pains to pick up." (See footnote #4.) The description
from Philo Dibble reads as follows:
Inhabitants of the Moon
The inhabitants of the moon are more of a uniform size than the
inhabitants of the earth, being about 6 feet in height.
They dress very much like the quaker style and are quite general
in style, or the one fashion of dress.
They live to be very old; coming generally, near a thousand
This is the description of them as given by Joseph the Seer,
and he could "See" whatever he asked the Father in the name of
Jesus to see.
I heard him say that "he could ask what he would ask of the
Father in the name of Jesus and it would be granted" and I have no
more doubt of it than I have that the mob killed him (see
The question must now be asked, what was Dibble's source? He did not
indicate whether the story was his personal recollection or that of another
party. I have found no further information on this except that Dibble was a
collector and had expended considerable effort to collect and produce an
exhibit about the life and death of Joseph Smith, which he presented in
several Mormon communities. It was at one of these presentations in January
of 1881 that Huntington acquired Joseph Smith's moonmen statement from
Dibble. (See footnote #6.) So at best the moonmen statement is a
sensational, late, third-hand reminiscence and, by itself, is a very poor
source of dependable history. This and one other statement, even less
impressive, represent the sum total of testimony that Joseph Smith ever said
that the moon was inhabited.
Although it has not been extablished that Joseph Smith believed in
moonmen, several close to him did. Joseph Smith's own brother Hyrum stated
his belief in an inhabited moon in an 1843 sermon on the "plurality of gods
& worlds" preserved by George Laub:
...every Star that we see is a world and is inhabited the same as
this world is peopled. The Sun & Moon is inhabited & the Stars...
The stars are inhabited the same as this Earth. (See footnote #7.)
President Brigham Young stated a similar view in a sermon of 24 July
Who can tell us of the inhabitants of this little planet
that shines of an evening, called the moon? When we view its
face we may see what is termed "the man in the moon," and what
some philosophers declare are the shadows of mountains. But these
sayings are very vague, and amount to nothing; and when you
inquire about the inhabitants of that sphere you find that the most
learned are as ignorant in regard to them as the most ignorant
of their fellows. So it is with regard to the inhabitants of the
sun. Do you think there is any life there? No question of it; it
was not made in vain. It was made to give light to those who dwell
upon it, and to other planets. (See footnote #8.)
The second interesting claim Oliver Huntington made in the 1892
article was that his patriarchal blessing had predicted that he might preach
the gospel on the moon. He also mentioned this blessing in a second article
for the "Journal" in 1894. (See footnote #9.) In the first he dated the
blessing 1837 and in the second 1836. In both he identified Church
Patriarch Joseph Smith, Sr., as the bestower of the blessing. The following
excerpt is undoubtedly from this blessing. It is dated 7 December 1836 at
Kirtland, Ohio, but the record clearly shows that the blessing was given to
Oliver by his own father, William Huntington, rather than Joseph Smith, Sr.:
I lay my hands on thee & bless thee with a father's blessing....
thou shalt be called to preach the gospel to this generation....
before thou art twenty one thou wilt be called to preach the
fullness of the gospel, thou shalt have power with God even to
translate thyself to Heaven, & preach to the inhabitants of the
moon or planets, if it shall be expedient.... (see footnote #10.)
Although there is a discrepancy as to who gave Oliver the blessing,
this is undoubtedly the same blessing mentioned in the Young Women's
Journal. Both content and setting are similar. In his 1894 article
Huntington recalled that he received the blessing in 1836 at a blessings
meeting for the Huntington family at the home of William Huntington. The
meeting was appointed and conducted by Joseph Smith, Sr. It lasted the
entire day, with Orson Pratt recording the blessings the best he could
and "afterwards filled up from memory of all present that which he could
not catch from the Patriarch's lips." (See footnote #11.)
It seems unlikely that Oliver, on two different occasions in the same
year, would have received the same blessing from two different men. It is
more likely that Oliver, who was 10 years old at the time, was mistaken
about who actually performed the blessing since both men were present. Or
perhaps both men participated in giving him the blessing. Or, although I
believe this less likely, an error was made in recording the blessing. The
blessing was not copied into the patriarchal blessings book for at least
nine years, at which time it was recorded by Albert Carrington along with
several other blessings given to other members of the Huntington family.
Ultimately the fact of this discrepancy is far less interesting than
the fact that such a blessing existed--a blessing which assumed the
existence of moonmen and was given in the presence of the Patriarch,
Apostle Orson Pratt, and the Huntington family and relatives. The
patriarchal blessings books in the LDS archives are not open for research.
Therefore, it is not possible at this time to determine if the idea of
preaching to the inhabitants of the moon found in this blessing to Oliver H
untington was common or unique.
To me the suprising fact is that there have not been found more Mormon
declarations of belief in an inhabited moon. Several of the earliest
revelations, in 1830 (Moses 1) and in 1832 (D&C 76), committed Mormonism to
a belief in many inhabited worlds. But Mormons, it appears, seldom
speculated about which of the heavenly bodies were so inhabited. Those who
believed in moonmen likely did so because of the prevalence of that view in
their day rather than because they believed Joseph Smith had been inspired
to reveal the existence of such beings. From the available sources one
could hardly conclude that belief in an inhabited moon was general among
Mormons of the nineteenth century, and further, to conclude that it was a
basic position either of Joseph Smith or Mormonism is certainly false.
In the first half of the nineteenth century scientists may have
differed on the question of intelligent life on the moon, but such a notion
was by no means a discredited idea. In 1822 William Herschel died. He was
the greatest astronomer of his time; he discovered the planet Uranus in 1781
and became official astronomer to King George III. In 1976 Patrick Moore,
Director of the Lunar Section of the British Astronomical Association, wrote
of William Herschel:
As an observer it is possible that he has never been equalled,
and between 1781 and his death, in 1822, every honour that the
scientific world could bestow came his way. His views about life
in the Solar System were, then, rather suprising. He thought it
possible that there was a region below the Sun's fiery surface
where men might live, and he regarded the existence of life on the
Moon as "an absolute certainty."
In 1780 Herschel, in a letter to a disbelieving astronomer, asked:
Who can say that it is not extremely probable, nay beyond doubt,
that there must be inhabitants on the Moon of some kind or another?
(See footnote #12.)
Also in 1822, the German astronomer Gruithuisen announced that he had
discovered a lunar city with a collection of gigantic ramparts extending 23
miles in either direction. (See footnote #13.) It was not until 1838, with
the publication of the writings of Beer and Madler, that the scientific
world concluded that the moon is definitely unable to support higher live
forms. (See footnote #14.) This, however, had little immediate effect upon
popular belief. The scientific conclusion did not become the popular
conclusion for at least 60 years. (See footnote #16.)
Throughout the era of belief in moonmen, no year can compare with 1835
for interest and publicity. In that year was perpetrated the Great Lunar
Hoax--perhaps the biggest scientific practical joke of all time.
In 1833 the renowned astronomer John Herschel, son of William Herschel,
set sail for the Cape of Good Hope to survey the skies of the southern
hemisphere as his father had so thoroughly done of the northern. He
remained there for five years until 1838. In 1835 Richard Locke, a reporter
for the NEW YORK SUN, decided to take advantage of three facts: it was well
known that John Herschel was on the other side of the world with a large
telescope; interest in the moon was high; communication was slow.
On 23 August 1835 the NEW YORK SUN published under the headline "Great
Astronomical Discoveries Lately Made by Sir John Herschel at the Cape of
Good Hope." The remaining five installments appeared the following five
days. The articles were cleverly written and were widely accepted.
Locke first described the construction and operation of Herschel's new
telescope. John Herschel, by perfecting his father's innovations and with
the financial backing of none other than the King of Great Britian himself,
reported Locke, succeeded in constructing a telescope so powerful that it
brought the surface of the moon to an "apparent proximity of about eighty
yards." The lens was 24 feet in diameter, and "its weight was 14,826 lbs
after being polished, and its magnifying power estimated at 42,000 times."
It was an amalgam of two parts crown to one part flint glass "cast with
perfect success, by Hartley && Grant Dunbarton Jan. 27, 1833....It was
therefore presumed capable of representing objects of eighteen inches in
diameter with perfect distinctness." Locke went on:
Such profound secrecy has been preserved throughout the whole,
that the present publication...is the first that even the
scientific world of Europe have known of this grand system of
The telescope was finally ready for operation 10 January 1835.
After his final adjustments, Herschel made a solemn pause of
several hours, to prepare his mind to tear away the veil that
could make him, for the time, sole depository of the wondrous
secrets of that hitherto unseen world. Columbus discovered a
continent, he was about to discover a globe.
After these preliminaries, Locke told it all, with each installment more
wondrous than the last.
In his first glimpse Sir John saw various rock formations and then a
precipitous shelf covered with a dark red flower, "the first organic
production of a foreign world ever revealed to the eyes of man." He was
then delighted by the sight of a lunar forest. He succeded in classfying 38
species of forest trees and nearly twice that number of plants. Next he saw
a level green plain and deep blue lake breaking in large white billows upon
a beach of brilliant white sand. But, as yet he observed no animal life.
The excitement mounted as the telescope was adjusted to the limit of
its magnification. Then in the shade of the woods, he "beheld continuous
herds of brown quadrupeds, having all the external characteristics of the
bison" but with a "fleshy appendage over the eyes which was lifted and
lowered by means of the ears....It immediately occurred to the acute mind of
Dr. Herschel that this was a Providential contrivance to protect the eyes of
the animal from the great extremes of light and darkness."
Other animals included a gregarious, single-horned antelope, engaging
in "all the unaccountable antics of a young lamb or kitten." On one of the
lakes he saw a variety of water birds plunging their long necks into the
lake. He watched for a long time hoping to catch sight of a lunar fish but
never did. However, the most remarkable animal was the biped beaver, which
exactly resembles the Beaver, only it has no tail, and walks always on its
arms. Its huts are higher and better than those of many human savages, and
from the appearance of smoke in nearly all of them, it is supposed the
animal is scquainted with fire. Man can no longer be distinguished as the
This, of course, was all leading to Lock's climax--the discovery of
moonmen, which he recounted in his final article. They were winged men who
were first observed flying. "When their attitude was erect and dignified,
their stature [was] about four feet." They were covered with coppercolored
hair. "They appeared to be impassioned gesticulation; and hence it was
inferred, that they are rational beings. Others, apparently of a higher
order, were discovered afterwards....And finally a magnificent temple for
the worship of God, of polished sapphire, in a triangle shape, with a roof
of gold." (See footnote #16.)
The articles were an immediate sensation and were reprinted in many of
the papers. Reverend Harley gave this assessment:
When the first number appeared the New York SUN...the excitment
aroused was intense. The paper sold saily by thousands; and when
the articles came out as a pamphlet, twenty thousand went off at
once. Not only in Young America, but also in Old England, France, and
through out Europe, the wildest enthusiasm prevailed.
(See footnote #17.)
Patrick Moore also detailed the reception the articles received:
The articles met with a mixed reception, but some eminent
critics swallowed the bait hook, line and sinker. "These new dis-
coveries are both probable and plausible," declared the NEW YORK
TIMES, while the NEW YORKER thought that the observations "had
created a new era in astronomy and science generally." (See
The NEW YORK EVANGELIST published a lengthy summary of the articles
which was reprinted on 11 September 1835 in the PAINESVILLE TELEGRAPH
(Ohio), a paper commonly read in the neighboring Mormon center of Kirtland.
In Massachusetts a women's club wrote to Herschel for his views on how
to contact these moonmen and convert them to Christianity. (See
footnote #19.) One minister told his congregation that, on account of
the wonderful discoveries of the present age, he lived in expectation
of one day calling upon them for a sub-scription to buy Bibles for the
benighted inhabitants of the moon.
(See footnote #20.)
On September 16 the SUN confessed its hoax. Still the articles only
described what many firmly believed existed on the moon, and popular belief
was undaunted by the confession which was, after all, not nearly so widely
publicized as the original articles. The PAINESVILLE TELEGRAPH near
Kirtland did not even carry the story of the confession.
The following year the American theologian Dr. Timothy Dwight, in his
book THEOLOGY, declared that "it is most rationally concluded that
intelligent beings in great multitudes inhabit [the Moon's] lucid regions,
being far better and happier than ourselves." (See footnote #21.)
Belief in intelligent moon life continued for many years. (See footnote
#22.) According to Moore, the last great advocate of intelligent life on
the moon was W.H. Pickering, who authored a 1904 photographic atlas and
wrote many papers about the moon. (See footnote #23.)
Perhaps the most valuable point in all this is that the credibility of
figures of one generation cannot be judged fairly by the standards of a
later generation. It may be that today a person's credibility should be
questioned if he believes in a moon civilization in need of evangelizing.
But that would not have been the case for someone professing such a view in
the nineteenth century.
The other question still remains: did Joseph Smith believe in an
inhabited moon? From the historical evidence now available the answer must
be: Not proven. But, all things considered, the possibility, or
probability, that he did cannot reasonably be denied. For all others of
that era the question seems quite insignificant, especially given
contemporary beliefs. But in the case of Joseph Smith, he claimed to be a
prophet. Some extremists contend that his claim demands that his knowled
ge in every area be superior to that of others in his era. If he believed
any false notion of his day, so these critics say, his credibility must be
doubted. Others, not so demanding of infallible incite in a prophet, would
be more comfortable with a description of God's revelation which allowed for
the human and the divine. As Rev. J.R. Dummelow so aptly described the
authors of the Bible in his ONE VOLUME BIBLE COMMENTARY, so might one say of
Though purified and ennobled by the influence of His Holy Spirit;
men each with his own peculiarities of manner and disposition--
each with his own education or want of education--each with his
own way of looking at things--each influenced differently from
another by the different experiences and disciplines of his
life. Their inspiration did not involve a suspension of their
natureal faculties; it did not even make them free from earthly
passion; it did not make them into machines--it left them men.
Therefore we find their knowledge sometimes no higher than
that of their contemporaries.... (See footnote #24.)
Dummelow's description of the author of Genesis is equally applicable:
His scientific knowledge may be bounded by the horizon of the age
in which he lived, but the religious truths he teaches are ir-
refutable and eternal. (See footnote #25.)
Certainly some critics will persist in their belief that Oliver B.
Huntington's 1892 article has devastated both Joseph Smith and Mormonism.
Some determined Mormons will dogmatically deny to the end that Joseph Smith
ever, for a moment, believed in moonmen. And I suspect that some ardent
fundamentalists will yet testify fervently that when men really do travel
around the moon they will be greeted by an elderly Quaker-like gentleman,
proving empirically the divine inspiration of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
1. YOUNG WOMEN'S JOURNAL 3:263,264.
2. Jay Jacobson, "Three Reasons Not to Become a Mormon," p. 7.
3. Utah State Historical Society, typescript, p. 166.
4. Ibid. p. 160.
5. Ibid. p. 166.
6. Ibid. p. 161, 168.
7. BYU STUDIES 18:177.
8. JD 13:271.
9. YOUNG WOMEN'S JOURNAL 5:346.
10. Patriarchal Blessing Books, 9:294, 295.
11. YOUNG WOMEN'S JOURNAL 5:345,346.
12. Patrick Moore, NEW GUIDE TO THE MOON (W.W. Norton && Company, New
York: 1976), p. 128.
13. Ibid. p. 129.
15. Rev. Timothy Harley, Moon Lore (Swan Sonnenchein, London:1885),
16. Moore, p. 130-131; PAINESVILLE TELEGRAPH, 11 September 1835.
17. Harley, p. 42.
18. Moore, p. 32.
19. Ibid. p. 132.
20. Harley, p. 43.
21. Timothy Dwight, THEOLOGY, p. 91.
22. Harley, p. 249-257.
23. Moore, p. 133.
24. J.R. Dummelow, ONE VOLUME BIBLE
COMMENTARY, p. cxxxv.
25. Ibid. p. xxx.
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