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 Joseph Smith, Hermeticism, and Kabbalah

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Date d'inscription : 16/02/2007

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MessageSujet: Joseph Smith, Hermeticism, and Kabbalah   Lun 30 Juin - 1:07

Joseph Smith, Hermeticism, and Kabbalah



In the period before 1827 Joseph Smith probably had some passing interaction with individuals knowledgeable of Hermeticism and Kabbalah. But to reconstruct the history of that exposure demands consideration of contexts and hypotheses tied to a thin heritage of fact: it is a type of connection that appears likely but which cannot be documented with certainty. The situation changes a bit after 1840. During those last years of Joseph's life evidences linking him to the Hermetic-Kabbalistic tradition can, when placed in context, appear substantial. In the following discussion, I will sketch some of the evidences linking Joseph to the Hermetic tradition, both early in his prophetic career and later in Nauvoo. And though the shading of fact may seem too light or dark, or in proportions skewed, this is a way of drawing Joseph Smith within his own history that I believe must be confronted by Mormon historians.84
Of course a question arises that lingers as a subtext to the material that follows and must be addressed before proceeding: If Joseph Smith had significant interactions with the Hermetic-Kabbalistic mythos, did they impact his religion-making vision? While it seems to me that they probably would or did, I also acknowledge another possibility: Despite any apparent historical interactions, common patterns connecting Smith's vision to the Hermetic-Kabbalistic mythos may be entirely synchronous (or parallel) rather than causal. And if synchronous, they further could be classed as archetypal manifestations consistent with a recurrent type of "revelatory" experience (such as is witnessed elsewhere in the history of the tradition) or, instead, as pure happenstance.
If one is inclined to look for links, deeper levels of complexity soon intrude. The Hermetic-Kabbalistic tradition not only affirmed the existence of an archetypal structure accessible to independent, personal cognition or "revelation": it sought through combined modalities of ritual, symbol, and myth to aid an individual's encounter with this core reality, a reality mirrored in the celestial realm and in the seeker's own self. Accepting that some individuals obtained these experiences, the question of causal versus synchronous links becomes circular: One can argue that contact with various Hermetic ideas, symbols, ceremonies, and myths could (at least occasionally and in the properly predisposed individual) help invoke a numinous and uniquely individual experience. The experience, though personal and self-contained, might become the substratum for creative development of further intuition and insights inherently present in the inciting mythos. Thus a tradition breeds an experience which then replicates anew the tradition. This whole issue recalls the question plaguing historical studies of Gnosticism and its various manifestations: is the tradition conveyed through historically identifiable transmissions; are various historical manifestations of "Gnostic vision" instead creations of a reborn and independent "Gnosis" imbued with similar core insights (what depth psychology calls archetypal patterns); or are both modes of transmission, inner and outer, intrinsically coupled? To these questions I can give no answers; I offer only my intuition that they lurk behind any interpretation of evidences "linking" Joseph Smith to Hermeticism.
D. Michael Quinn extensively details evidences of Joseph's early contact with Hermeticism, though he emphasizes the folk magical aspect. He offers the Smith family's carefully preserved magical parchments and dagger, and the talisman Joseph carried on his person.85 One recognizes the prominent use of Hebrew on both the parchments and talisman, although the reason for this has not been put in clear context by Mormon historians: the Hebrew came from Kabbalah.86 As Quinn documents, knowledge necessary for the preparation of the Smith family magical implements could have been obtained from books of magic available in this time and region, and such materials might have been acquired specifically to aid magical activities associated with treasure seeking. Preparation for and proper performance of a magical ritual--including production of a ceremonial dagger or parchment--was, however, a lengthy and complicated venture demanding knowledge of an arcane vocabulary. The vast host of angels and spirits addressed in different magical rituals had specific names (again drawn from Kabbalah), elaborate magical signs, and varied functions within the natural and celestial hierarchies. From this complexity, magic lore made it clear that there were definite existential dangers in getting the details wrong. It thus seems likely that in addition to information gleaned from books, family members would have augmented their knowledge by associations with individuals experienced in ceremonial magic and the occult arts. In this company Joseph Smith might have first been exposed to a person versed in the deep breadth of Hermeticism.
One individual fits this description: the "occult mentor" identified by Quinn, Dr. Luman Walter(s). Reputed to be a physician and magician (the two were sometimes closely associated in that age), Walter is known to have been in Joseph's and his family's circle of acquaintances prior to 1827. He was also a distant cousin of Joseph's future wife, Emma Hale.87 As Quinn notes, "Brigham Young described the unnamed New York magician as having travel extensively through Europe to obtain `profound learning,'" and others identified Walter as "a physician who studied Mesmerism in Europe before meeting Joseph Smith."88 Walter family records and legend called him "clairvoyant."89 If these statements are generally accurate, Walter had considerable knowledge of Hermetic traditions. During this period in Europe (and to a lesser degree in America) a physician with interests in Mesmer, magic, clairvoyance, and "profound learning" moved in a milieu nurtured by the legacies of Hermeticism. By definition, such a physician stood in a tradition dominated by the medical and esoteric writings of Paracelsus, steeped in alchemy, and associated closely with Rosicrucian philosophy.90 As an individual also interested in hidden treasures, Walter might have taken particular note of Paracelsus' admonition on Kabbalah's import:



All of you . . . who see land beyond the horizon, who read sealed, hidden missives and books, who seek for buried treasures in the earth and in walls, you who teach so much wisdom, such high arts--remember that you must take unto yourselves the teachings of the cabala if you want to accomplish all this. For the cabala builds on a true foundation. Pray and it will be given you, knock and you will be heard, the gate will be opened to you. . . . Everything you desire will flow and be granted you. You will see into the greatest depth of the earth . . . The art of the cabala is beholden to God, it is in alliance with Him, and it is founded on the words of Christ. But if you do not follow the true doctrine of the cabala, but slip into geomancy, you will be led by that spirit which tells you nothing but lies.91
If Walter did have contact with the young Smith, he might have shared some interesting ideas about the occult reformative tradition that had for three centuries been a force working on the creative edge of the Western religious imagination, concepts which might have had influenced a prophetic imagination. Here is the tentative early connection to a legacy of ancient priesthoods, lost books, sacred weddings, modern seers, co-eternal matter, golden treasures, angelic messengers, rebuilt temples, dawning dispensations, and God's glorious intelligence. Perhaps Walter might even have had something to say about the story of the sixteen-year-old Christian Rosencreutz who journeyed to the East and translated the Book M, only to be rejected by the learned of his age. This was a legacy of ideas about man and God unlike anything in the texts of revivalism and seekerism sweeping New York's "burned-over district"92 and yet so much like the religion embraced by the prophet-to-be.
In addition to early influences from a possible occult mentor such as Walter, other eddies of the Hermetic mythos swirled near the young Joseph Smith. Quinn notes, "Pennsylvania was the focal point of ceremonial magic in early America," and "several sources indicate that Joseph Jr. engaged in folk magical activities during the summers of the 1820s away from Palmyra, often in Pennsylvania."93 What Smith encountered in Pennsylvania may again be better termed Hermeticism than folk magic; there is even some possibility that he had direct contact with Rosicrucian ideas. German Pietists who had immigrated to Pennsylvania in the previous century were deeply influenced by Rosicrucianism and the Kabbalistically flavored mysticism of Jacob Boehme. (See Figure 7.) This is a repeat citation) The first American Rosicrucian group had been founded on Wissahickon Creek near Philadelphia just before 1700 by a learned band of theosophists and German Pietists headed by Johannes Kelpius. In 1720 the German mystic and Pietist Johann Conrad Beissel immigrated to Pennsylvania seeking to join that group. He subsequently associated himself with a few of the remaining Wissahickon mystics and later organized a Rosicrucian society, the Ephrata commune, near Lanchaster, Pennsylvania.94 Alderfer notes in his study of the movement, "Ephrata itself, though an inheritor of many strains of mysticism, was a latter-day haven of essentially gnostic ideas and terminology."95
The community survived into the early nineteenth century. During its peak in the mid-eighteenth century it proselytized widely, sending disciples on "pilgrimages" through the surrounding countryside and even into New England.96 Alchemy, Kabbalah, and perhaps Freemasonry all played roles in the mystical philosophy taught at Ephrata.97 A few tentative evidences suggesting loose association of Smith with Rosicrucianism, and perhaps even some residual of the Ephrata commune, are introduced by Quinn.98 But specific contacts aside, one must recognize that the sophisticated Rosicrucian, Kabbalistic, and alchemical ideas represented at Ephrata had been quilted into Pennsylvania's esoteric lore for over one hundred years prior to Joseph's summer visits in the 1820s. If Smith did have contact with individuals influenced by these traditions (of which there must have been more than a few), his knowledge of things Hermetic, Kabbalistic, and alchemical would have been augmented.
Joseph Smith's possible direct exposure to Kabbalah before 1840 deserves specific comment (I will later discuss in detail his studies in Nauvoo). The role of Kabbalah in magic was pervasive enough that even with a curtailed involvement in ceremonial magic, Smith would have heard of the subject. Paracelsus's admonition to treasure seekers (quoted above) represents the importance with which Kabbalistic knowledge was imbued by occultists; in fact, in the period's vocabulary "cabala" was often used as a synonym for "magic" and "occultism." Those Christian esotericists who knew of Kabbalah in the early nineteenth century would have known it principally through Christianized interpretations by then thoroughly amalgamated with Hermetic, alchemical and Rosicrucian notions. While an occasional American occultist might have had some knowledge of Kabbalah in its original Jewish form, study at this basic level required some knowledge of Hebrew, access to original Hebrew Kabbalistic texts or the Latin translations in the Kabbalah Denudata, and (at least in traditional view) an adept Kabbalist as guide.99 Nonetheless, within the context of prevalent transmissions, it is possible Joseph encountered and took interest in some outline of Kabbalah. The most basic form available to him would have been simple representations of the "Tree of Sefiroth" found in Hermetic works published in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.100 (see Figure 2.) This depiction of the Sefiroth alone could conveyed a wealth of ideas about an emanational structure in the divine life--ideas which perfused Hermetic ideas and symbols, and which were like those developed in Mormon theology. The power of this archetypal pattern of the Sefiroth to stimulate a religious imagination is witnessed by occasional later Christian "Kabbalistic" works, some of which appear to be almost entirely free associations built from meditations on this structure of the Sefiroth and devoid of any relation to traditional Jewish or Christian Kabbalistic commentaries.
In this vein, a work recently published by Mormon author Joe Sampson is interesting.101 Sampson evaluated Joseph Smith's writings, including the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants, and noted a pattern of word and concept usage in several verses which reproduces both the common English names and the general hierarchical structure of the Kabbalistic Tree of Sefiroth.102 While Sampson carries his argument beyond what a less intuitive student might discern, several of his examples deserve consideration. And though this Kabbalistic pattern in Smith's revelatory writings may be accidental, it also could suggest some earlier exposure at least to the concept of the Tree of Sefiroth. Sampson extends his thesis by suggesting that Smith's translation of the Book of Abraham from the Egyptian papyrus was a Kabbalistic work in the classic sense. Though Sampson's development of this argument is itself cryptically Kabbalistic, his theme again deserves scrutiny. Kabbalah was, as he notes, the tradition of prophetic interpretation. It encouraged a creative rereading of sacred texts in the quest for a return to the primary vision which was the single source of knowledge and scripture. In nature (if not in content) Smith's translation of the Book of Mormon, his retranslation of Genesis, and his interpretation of the Book of Abraham papyruses all can be seen as expressions of the primary interpretive vision Kabbalah mandated from prophetic consciousness. Whether this was a reflection of Joseph's contact with Kabbalah, or just of Joseph, remains an open question.103 But beyond doubt, this interpretive activity fits within the evolved Hermetic-Kabbalistic vision of a true prophet's work.

_________________


Et veillez à avoir la foi, l'espérance et la charité; alors vous abonderez toujours en bonnes oeuvres. En souvenir des Néphites qui présidaient aux cérémonies initiatiques dans la forêt de Zarahemla et qui en fut le secret... DAT ROSA MEL APIBUS
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Date d'inscription : 16/02/2007

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MessageSujet: Re: Joseph Smith, Hermeticism, and Kabbalah   Lun 30 Juin - 1:08

Part 3: Includes pages 166 - 194, the end of the published work.


Prophet and Freemasonry



Whatever one concludes about the varied hints of scattered early associations with Hermeticism, Joseph Smith had well-documented connections with one of the tradition's major legacies, Masonry. The prophet's associations with the Masonic tradition are thoroughly documented and discussed by Michael W. Homer in this issue of Dialogue. It is unlikely that Smith would have so fully involved himself and his church with the Masonic tradition if he had not sensed therein some intrinsic compatibility with his own religion-making vision. As Homer demonstrates, the prophet said that Masonry was "taken from priesthood," and his followers continued quoting that observation for fifty years after.104 It is possible that Joseph's interpretation of Masonry as a legacy of ancient priesthood was based in his own understanding of a history extending back hundreds of years, a history entwined with the Hermetic mythos and with Kabbalah, alchemy, and Rosicrucianism. The alliance of this occult legacy with Masonry was well understood by esoterically-inclined Masons; assertions of such links were bandied about by American anti-Masonic publications in the late 1820s.105 As noted, Joseph's own history several times touched Hermetic-Kabbalistic traditions. One could argue that he even interacted with them in a creative, visionary sense.
Joseph's contacts with the Hermetic mythos were sufficient to generate vague assumptions about Masonry's earlier roots, and these assumptions could have been an historical subtext to his remarks about Masonry being a remnant of ancient priesthood. Interestingly, modern historical examination of the occult tradition suggests a shadow of truth in Joseph's statement: Kabbalah and Hermeticism, as representatives of a historical stream of occult knowledge (or as reservoirs of Gnosticism) did claim ancient lineages of "priesthood." Joseph had every reason to take those claims seriously, as do historians today, albeit within a narrower interpretive context. In this light, Joseph's connection to Masonry takes on several different shades of meaning.
The ubiquitous influence of Kabbalah upon the occult traditions of the nineteenth century has been stressed, but its specific import in Masonry requires repeated emphasis. Noted historian of occultism Arthur Edward Waite suggested in his 1923 encyclopedia of Freemasonry that much of the "great" and "incomprehensible" heart of Masonry came from Kabbalah, "the Secret Tradition of Israel."106 He finds such important Masonic symbols as the Lost Word, the Temple of Solomon, the pillars Jachin and Boaz, the concept of the Master-Builder, and restoration of Zion, all derived from the lore of Kabbalah. The organizer of Scottish Rite Freemasonry in America, Albert Pike, manifested a similar sentiment and indexed over seventy entries to the subject of Kabbalah in his classic nineteenth-century study, Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry.107 Though Pike's work was published in 1871, his views reflected lore already established in Masonry during the period of Joseph Smith's Masonic initiations three decades earlier. Indeed, one of the earliest documentary mentions of Masonry appearing in 1691 specifically linked it with these Jewish traditions.108
As Homer notes, the Scottish Rite developed by Pike was an evolution of the eighteenth-century French Masonic Rite de Perfection, which in several degrees was influenced by Kabbalah.109 Kabbalah's importance in Masonic lore is also witnessed by Maritnez de Pasqually and his late-eighteenth century Kabbalistic-Masonic restoration of ancient priesthood in the Order of Les Elus Cohen. Much of this Kabbalistic influence upon Masonry may have come from Rosicrucianism (again recalling their close association), infused as it was with alchemical and Kabbalistic symbolism. But some additional influence might be attributed to esoteric sources like the Frankist movement. The Frankist--followers of Jacob Frank, and successors to the Kabbalistically inclined Sabbatean heresy--had become active in Central European Masonic organizations in the late eighteenth century.110 Given the wide diffusion of a Christianized and Rosicrucian version of Kabbalah into Masonry, Joseph Smith probably heard something about the tradition during the course of his almost twenty-year association with Masons and Freemasonry.
It might be argued that these occult Masonic inclinations were all part of a sophisticated, esoteric form of European Masonry foreign to the world of frontier America. To the contrary--and though not yet fully investigated--there are several reasons to believe that what Joseph Smith encountered in Nauvoo was an esoteric interpretation of Masonry. As mentioned earlier, between the mid-eighteenth and the beginnings of the nineteenth century a multitude of occult orders rose from Masonry. Each of these tended to develop its own interrelated system of symbolic ceremonies for conveying distinct esoteric visions. The different rites also often claimed variant "authentic" Masonic origins: in ancient Egyptian mysteries; in the lineages of the medieval Knights Templar; in Kabbalistic transmissions; and in Hermetic-alchemical-Rosicrucian traditions. Robert Macoy's 1872 encyclopedia of Freemasonry cataloged over forty-five distinct systems of Masonic rites developed during the period from 1750 to 1820.111 In retrospect one might suggest that during this unusual epoch a creatively elite group of individuals coming from many sectors of society encountered in the Masonic mythos a new medium for expressing their visions. Though basic York rite (or Blue Lodge) Masonry with its three degrees was a common grounding for most of these, around that foundation appeared many layerings of esoteric accretions. With the tools of allegory, symbol, and imagination, and in a format suggesting great mysterious antiquity, men touched by the Masonic mythos began producing new "ancient" rituals. One is reminded of Ireneaus' complaint about the Gnostics responding to the creative muse of their times: "every one of them generates something new, day by day, according to his ability; for no one is deemed mature, who does not develop . . . some mighty fiction."112
John C. Bennett, one of the more enigmatic figures in Mormon history, was the indisputable impetus to Masonry's introduction in Nauvoo. Bennett's mercurial career among the Mormons has fascinated and bewildered historians. Seemingly from out of the blue, Bennett appeared in Nauvoo and was baptized into the Mormon church in the summer of 1840. Within less than a year he became mayor of Nauvoo, chancellor of the University of Nauvoo, major general of the Nauvoo Legion, Assistant President of the Mormon church, and an intimate friend and counselor to Joseph Smith. In June 1841, less than three months after becoming Assistant President, he began attempts to organize a Mormon Masonic Lodge. But the Masonry he brought to Nauvoo had several unusual occult aspects. Less than a year later, he made an equally dramatic exit, excommunicated amid a flurry of allegations suggesting widespread sexual improprieties.
By the time he arrived in Nauvoo, the thirty-five-year-old Bennett had attended Athens state university; studied medicine with his uncle, the prominent frontier doctor and Ohio historian, Dr. Samuel Hildreth; helped to found educational institutions in West Virginia, Indiana, and Ohio; organized at Willoughby College the medical school and served as first dean and professor of gynecology and children's diseases; been a licensed preacher in Ohio; been appointed brigadier general of the Illinois Invincible Dragoons; and in 1840 become quartermaster general of Illinois state militia.113 He had also apparently abandoned a wife and children, been ejected from at least one Masonic Lodge for unbecoming behavior, and been accused of selling medical degrees. Bennett's interests, including religion, medicine, the military, and Masonry, suggest a person inclined towards investigating the more esoteric aspects of Masonry. His apparent libidinous proclivity may also have aroused his curiosity about unorthodox sexual practices associated with more creative Masonic rites.
Given the relation between Bennett and Smith, Bennett probably had communicated some Masonic ideas to Smith before petitions were made for the formation of a Nauvoo Masonic Lodge in mid-1841. That the temple endowment ceremony developed by Smith in May 1842 was influenced by Masonry cannot escape notice. But beyond the temple endowment, several other components were developing in Joseph's vision during this period that sounded an even stranger resonance with ideas from esoteric Masonic quarters. Two stand out: organization of an "Order of Illuminati" or political Kingdom of God, and introduction of "Spiritual Wifery."114
Bennett claimed that in a revelation dated 7 April 1841--the day before he was made Assistant President of the church--Joseph Smith personally commissioned him to establish an "Order of the Illuminati" in Nauvoo.115 Though the organization was not then specifically called by this name, a revelation received by Joseph on 7 April 1842 commanded formation of "The Kingdom of God and His Laws with the keys and powers thereof and judgment in the hands of his servants."116 More commonly called the Council of Fifty, the organization finally took form in March 1844. Joseph was soon thereafter ordained King of the Kingdom, a ritual of coronation also performed for each of the next two presidents of the church, Brigham Young and John Taylor. Whether Bennett got the idea for an order of Illuminati from Smith, or Smith from Bennett, is open to argument. But Ebenezer Robinson, editor of the Nauvoo Times and Seasons until February 1842 and a contemporary observer, thought the stimulus arrived with Bennett: "Heretofore the church had strenuously opposed secret societies such as Freemasons . . . but after Dr. Bennett came into the Church a great change of sentiment seemed to take place."117 Subsequent history links the idea with Bennett. After Smith's death, Bennett sought out the charismatic claimant to Smith's prophetic mantle, James Strang, and convinced him to establish an "Order of the Illuminati."118
The Council of Fifty in Nauvoo manifest a distinctly Masonic character, and Masonic ceremonial elements were incorporated in the council's meetings. A similar tenor emerged in Strang's Order of the Illuminati. It was only a few months after the claimed revelation commissioning him to organize the "Illuminati" at Nauvoo that Bennett initiated efforts to form the Masonic lodge. But Mormon historians have yet to specifically explored implications of another fact: both the name given by Bennett for the organization, "Order of the Illuminati," and the political concept embodied by the organization had a clear Masonic heritage.119 The parallel is so close that one wonders whether Bennett might have brought this and other more esoteric Masonic concepts with him into Nauvoo. At about this same time the practice of "Spiritual wifery" or plural marriage was also introduced. Bennett made several exaggerated claims in his later exposés about libertine sexual practices, claiming the women of Nauvoo were inducted into three ritual orders based on the sexual favors expected of them. Such claims are not tenable, but nonetheless recent historians have noted the apparent association of the Relief Society with Masonry. And Bennett's more slanderous claims aside, it is a fact that the female leaders of the Relief Society in Nauvoo were at one time all wives of Joseph Smith. Whatever the actual relationship to the practices in Nauvoo, Masonic lodges had existed which did indulge in such practices, the most specific example being Cagliostro's Egyptian rite.120 By all reports, Bennett would have intimate interest in this sort of Masonry--or this sort of Mormonism--and it would be hard to imagine him not encouraging Joseph's ideas about new forms of ritual marriage.

_________________


Et veillez à avoir la foi, l'espérance et la charité; alors vous abonderez toujours en bonnes oeuvres. En souvenir des Néphites qui présidaient aux cérémonies initiatiques dans la forêt de Zarahemla et qui en fut le secret... DAT ROSA MEL APIBUS
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Magister Ordo Kolob - Admin


Nombre de messages : 8905
Age : 52
Localisation : Pays de Néphi - Mormon forest
Date d'inscription : 16/02/2007

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MessageSujet: Re: Joseph Smith, Hermeticism, and Kabbalah   Lun 30 Juin - 1:08

In this context, another question lingers: Is it possible Bennett's meteoric rise to prominence in Nauvoo was related to some unsuspected Masonic factor? Did he arrive in Nauvoo claiming independent esoteric lineages of Hermetic or Masonic priesthood, or some ancient and occult knowledge--declarations that Joseph, because of prior life experiences and associations, choose to honor? Though Bennett finally may have been nothing but a talented charlatan, it must be granted that a complex legacy of spiritual insight was embedded in Masonic rituals, myths, and symbols; they had a history and a lineage reaching back many centuries into Hermetic, Kabbalistic, and alchemical Gnosis. John C. Bennett may have brought something more than Blue Lodge Masonry to Nauvoo. And, regardless of his true intentions, what he brought may have been useful to a prophet.
In Nauvoo, in 1842 and after, I suggest Joseph Smith encountered a reservoir of myths, symbols, and ideas conveyed in the context of Masonry but with complex and more distant origins in the Western esoteric tradition. They apparently resonated with Smith's own visions, experiences modulating his spiritual life from the time of his earliest intuitions of a prophetic calling. He responded to this stimulus with a tremendous, creative outpouring--the type of creative response Gnostic myth and symbol were meant to evoke, and evidently had evoked across a millennium of history. But, leaving Masonry, there was still another, more primary transmission of this esoteric tradition that would touched Joseph's creative imagination during his last years in Nauvoo.

Reference : http://www.gnosis.org/jskabb3.htm

_________________


Et veillez à avoir la foi, l'espérance et la charité; alors vous abonderez toujours en bonnes oeuvres. En souvenir des Néphites qui présidaient aux cérémonies initiatiques dans la forêt de Zarahemla et qui en fut le secret... DAT ROSA MEL APIBUS
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