Guest Post: Mormon Fundamentalist Women Know Heavenly Mother
Guest Post by Cristina Rosetti, an Assistant Professor of Humanities at Dixie State University. Her research focuses on the history and lived experience of Mormon fundamentalists in the Intermountain West.
From the time I entered Mormon spaces, I became used to hearing about Heavenly Mother. I was told about “a Mother there,” I even sang the infamous line in hymn #292. Of course, as a Roman Catholic who prays the rosary every day, I knew I had a Mother.
But, as my time in these spaces increased, I noticed that Heavenly Mother was rarely discussed in LDS meetinghouses. It was not until I began research in Mormon fundamentalist spaces that I learned more about the historic doctrinal developments around Heavenly Mother and what She means for contemporary Mormon women outside of the LDS faith.
When most people think about Mormon fundamentalism, they think of a backward tradition that harms women. To be sure, abuse happens in fundamentalism. It happens everywhere. But, in taking seriously their religious claims, I found that fundamentalist women have many of the same conversations as their LDS sisters. This includes discussions of Heavenly Mother.
Mormon fundamentalist women have a Heavenly Mother. They have more than one. And at times, they share Her priesthood. These are the three biggest things I’d like LDS women to know about the way Mormon fundamentalism views Heavenly Mother.
- Heavenly Mothers have a name.
Within the Mormon fundamentalist movement, Eliza R. Snow is heralded as a poet, plural wife, and among the greatest advocates for the Adam-God doctrine. The doctrine, which is often diminished or scorned by LDS people, offers both men and women an avenue for better understanding their own divine fate. Whereas Jesus offered a tangible example of resurrection, Adam became a representation of exaltation. Eve did, too. In 1877, Snow wrote:
Obedience will the same bright garland weave,
As it has done for your great Mother, Eve,
For all her daughters on the earth, who will
All my requirements sacredly fulfill.
And what to Eve, though in her mortal life,
She’d been the first, the tenth, or fiftieth wife?
What did she care, when in her lowest state,
Whether by fools, consider’d small, or great?
‘Twas all the same with her—she prov’d her worth—
She’s now the Goddess and the Queen of Earth.
The Adam-God doctrine gave Heavenly Mother a name, one that is recalled across the Mormon fundamentalist movement. This was only expanded as leaders of the movement sought further inside into the nature of Eve’s sister wives. Among the first was Lorin C. Woolley, the early leader of the Mormon fundamentalist movement. In 1932, he began meeting with a small group to expand on doctrinal matters. The group, the Woolley School of the Prophets, became a priesthood council that hoped to retain the practice of polygamy.
On March 6, 1932, Lorin C. Woolley offered names for the wives of Adam, who Woolley understood as the Heavenly Father of this world:
Adam probably had three wives on earth before Mary, Mother of Jesus.
Eve—meaning 1 st
Phoebe “ 2 nd
Sarah “ 3 rd , probably mother of Seth. Joseph of Armenia [Arimathea], proxy husband
of Mary had one wife before Mary and four additional after.
Years later, one of Woolley’s most prominent followers expanded his ideas to say, “A Goddess came down from her mansions of glory to bring the spirits of her children down after her, in their myriads of branches and their hundreds of generations!” He further explained, “The celestial Masonry of Womanhood! The other half of the grand patriarchal economy of heavens and earth!” Powered by priesthood authority, women were part and parcel to the divine cosmos that the Mormon fundamentalist movement promoted.
- They are present in hymns.
Today, the early doctrines of the Mormon fundamentalist movement are heard in hymns and Sunday School lessons. In my recent article for Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, I recounted a meeting at the Apostolic United Brethren, the largest Mormon fundamentalist religion. During the meeting, I flipped through the hymnbook and stumbled across “O My Mother”:
O my Mother, my heart longest
To again be by Thy side,
In the Home I once called heaven
In Thy Mansion up on high.
How you gave me words of counsel
Guides to aid my straying feet.
How you taught me by true example
All of Father’s laws to keep.
We didn’t sing the hymn that day, but its place in the hymnbook serves as a reminder that the doctrine of Heavenly Mother is central to Mormon cosmology. The AUB attributes this hymn to Eliza R. Snow as a companion hymn to “O My Father.” In actuality, the hymn was written by William C. Harrison and originally published as “Companion Poem to Eliza R. Snow’s ‘Invocation’” in the March 1, 1892 issue of The Juvenile Instructor. The Juvenile Instructor was an LDS publication. “O My Mother” is an LDS hymn. The hymn’s place in the magazine stands as a testament of a time when Heavenly Mother was not only talked about, but LDS hymns were written about Her.
- They hold authority, and so do Their daughters.
Today, most women receive additional priesthood through the temple, usually during the Second Anointing. Joseph Musser recalled his fifth wife, Lucy O. Kmitzsch “performing ordinances,” likely the foot washing and blessing associated with the ritual. This is manifest in the same way today, with many fundamentalist women receiving the ordinance that elevates their status in the Church and prepares them for their future exaltation alongside their Heavenly Mothers.
In addition, some groups offer ordained priesthood to women. Tangibly, this manifests in women of this community being ordained as Eldress, Priestess, and High Priestess by other women in the community. On group’s ordination reads:
[name redacted], through the authority of the High Priesthood of the Holy Order of God, we lay our hands upon your head and ordain you to the office of High Priestess and confer upon you all those keys and all those rights and privileges of this office. We ordain you and we confer upon you the High Priestesshood after the Holy Order of God. We do this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
This is not to say that Mormon fundamentalism is a place where all women can find authority. Ordained priesthood for women in rare across the Restoration. But, the above problematizes what we assume about Mormonism, and certainly what we assume about Mormon women who practice polygamy.
Mormon fundamentalism is a complex religious tradition, only made more complicated by the many assumptions about it and the women who call it their spiritual home. As more is written on the fundamentalist movement, I hope that LDS women recognize the things they can learn and gain from their fundamentalist sisters.
Their doctrine of Heavenly Mothers is merely a place to start.
This post is part of a series, Contemplating Heavenly Mother. Find more from this series here.
 Brigham Young, April 9, 1852, Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (London: LDS Booksellers Depot, 1846-86), 1:46.
 Snow, Eliza R. “The Ultimatum of Human Life,” in Poems, Religious, Historical and Political. Also Two Articles in Prose. (Salt Lake City: The Latter-day Saints Printing and Publishing Establishment, 1877): 8-9.
 Joseph W. Musser’s Book of Remembrances transcribed and edited by Bryan Buchanan, 7.
 “Mother’s Day,” Truth Magazine, May 1938.
 July 28, 1940 Joseph White Musser Journals, 1929-1944, File #17. Photocopy in author’s possession.
 “1992 Collier Ordination Record.” Copy in author’s possession.