Ep93-Heavenly Mother (Part 1)

Show Notes:

Mother God: Chapter From: Terryl L. Givens. “Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Cosmos, God, Humanity

Heavenly Mother: Origin of the Mormon Doctrine of a Mother in Heaven
This is not by an LDS person and was partly done to show that our doctrine is not in line with the Bible...ignore those few, but present, sentences that reflect that. The paper is actually a very good study, but we will examine his conclusions:


Case for:

Pre-exilic Israel is now widely regarded as worshiping a female consort of Yahweh called Asherah; William Dever, for example, considers her to have been extremely important in Israel’s folk religion, basing his argument on biblical references to “Asherah” and “Asheroth,” graffiti mentioning “Yahweh and his Asherah,” and archaeological evidences.1 Worship of the deity is condemned in Jeremiah, and her priests are mentioned alongside Baal’s in the story of Elijah’s contest at the altar.2 (Though, intriguingly, they are not destroyed alongside the priests of Baal.) Apparently, her worship was widely tolerated until the reforming kings of the seventh century.3 Eventually, of course, Hebrew monotheism was purged of competing gods as well as putative consorts.

Tracing the origins of Mormon belief in a Heavenly Mother is difficult, but may have developed out of language appearing in Smith’s revelation on celestial marriage. Though not published as part of the scriptural canon until 1876, his 12 July 1843 pronouncement on the subject contains the promise that in the eternal worlds, married and sanctified women who enter into their exaltation in the highest kingdom of heaven will “bear the souls of men.”17 The syntax of the sentence makes the meaning a little ambiguous. The wives referred to “are given unto [a husband] to multiply and replenish the earth … and for their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the souls of men.” Whether the bearing refers to replenishing this earth, or an activity “in the eternal worlds,” is unclear.18 In any case, the same revelation guaranteed to the exalted “a continuation of the seeds forever,”19 which Mormons have consistently read as a reference to post-mortal procreation.20 “And listeners at the time believed Smith was teaching a doctrine of spirit procreation. Franklin D. Richards reported on a sermon a few days later, wherein Smith referred to “eternal contracts” that led to “the multiplication of Lives [in] the eternal worlds.” Richards concluded, “I deduce that we may make an eternal covenant with our wives and in the resurrection claim that which is our own and enjoy blessings & glories peculiar to those in that condition even the multiplication of spirits in the eternal world.”21 If Smith in this revelation and thereafter linked the bearing of souls, or a continuing progeny (seed) in the eternal worlds, with the condition and status of “gods,” the implication is present that humans were themselves conceived and created as the spirit progeny of just such a Heavenly Mother.

Jonathan Stapley, who considers “viviparous spirit birth” a “wildly popular folk belief,” argues that the “continuation of the seeds” refers to a retention of kinship rather than continuing child-creation. The strong Biblical Connotations of seeds with procreation, however, makes that reading unlikely.

WW Phelps
Letter and poem “Queen of Heaven’

Phelps was Smith’s close associate and occasional ghostwriter in this period and, as Samuel Brown has written, he tended to publicize key Mormon developments years before they were officially announced or developed

Eliza R Snow
My father in heaven aka o my father

A literal Heavenly Mother, who bears human souls, clearly suggests a literal Heavenly Father who sires them. As we will see in chapter 17, Smith expressed views that alternated between spirit adoption and literal spirit birth; however, within months of his death, God’s fatherhood becomes literalized in tandem with the development of the theology of a Heavenly Mother. That step was apparently taken—or made public—by the Pratts, who were always opposed to “spiritualizing” the scriptures, in any case. They elaborated a version of literal spirit birth that Brigham Young and subsequent Mormon leaders endorsed.

the concept of a heavenly mother touches on a number of “unquestionably important LDS doctrines,” including “divine embodiment, eternal families, divine relationality, the deification of women, the eternal nature and value of gender, and the shared lineage of Gods and humans.”

Not in scripture

WW Phelps
W. W. Phelps is undoubtedly the author of the earliest references to a Mother in heaven. He seems to have expressed the idea in a veiled way a few months before Joseph’s death, but made it explicit in writings produced a few months afterward. David Paulsen thinks that Phelps “presented the doctrine matter-of-factly, as if commonplace, not novel,” implying that this points to Joseph Smith as the source of the doctrine.19However, since Paulsen admits that there is absolutely no record of Joseph ever teaching the doctrine of a Mother in heaven, that idea clearly was not “commonplace” in 1844 or 1845. In actuality, Phelps did not present the doctrine in a matter-of-fact way. His first reference to the idea is an oblique, enigmatic statement in a poem. His second poetic mention of a heavenly Mother refers to the idea as “the myst’ry that man hath not seen,” indicating if anything the novelty of the claim. No doubt Phelps viewed Joseph’s teaching as the source of the ideas in his poems, and he even introduced his poem “Come to Me” with the words “A Voice from the Prophet.”20 This is not inconsistent with Phelps having extrapolated from Joseph’s teachings a conclusion Joseph himself had not articulated.

In short, although the point cannot be proved definitively, the evidence strongly suggests that W. W. Phelps was the Mormon thinker who originated the idea of a Mother in heaven.

Eliza R snow

In 1893, six years after Eliza had passed away, Wilford Woodruff (at the time the fourth president and “living prophet” of the LDS Church) indicated that she had received the hymn as a revelation:

That hymn is a revelation, though it was given unto us by a woman—Sister Snow. There are a great many sisters who have the spirit of revelation. There is no reason why they should not be as inspired as men.23

Two years later, Joseph F. Smith insisted that although Eliza may have been inspired to produce the hymn, the idea of a heavenly mother that it expressed must have originated as a revelation to Joseph Smith, not to Eliza:

Our Heavenly Father has never yet to my knowledge revealed to this Church any great principle through a woman…. God revealed that principle [of a mother in heaven] to Joseph Smith; Joseph Smith revealed it to Eliza Snow Smith, his wife; and Eliza Snow was inspired, being a poet, to put it into verse. If we give anybody on earth credit for that, we give it to the Prophet Joseph Smith. But first of all we give it to God, who revealed it to His servant the Prophet.24

Joseph F. Smith’s assertion does not appear to have been based on historical knowledge, since he offered no information on how, when, or where Joseph Smith first articulated the doctrine. (Joseph F. Smith was five years old when his father Hyrum and his uncle Joseph Smith were killed in 1844.) Rather, Joseph F. Smith’s assertion was based on the dogmatic principle, generally accepted in Mormonism, that God does not reveal important new doctrinal truths to women (who do not even hold the LDS priesthood). Since he made this claim fifty years after Snow wrote her hymn, and since his claim appears to have been based on a dogmatic understanding of how doctrine is revealed, no weight can be placed on it.

Heavenly Mother: Not Taught by Joseph Smith

LDS scholar Kevin Barney has written, “Aside from all doctrinal and scriptural inferences, the primary reason we believe in a Mother in Heaven is that her existence was revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith.”28 In fact, however, the concept of a heavenly mother was never part of the teaching of Joseph Smith. As one LDS scholar acknowledges, “In the writing and recorded discourses of Joseph Smith, there is no mention of Mother of Heaven.”

However, the 2015 LDS.org article goes on to assert that “some early Latter-day Saint women recalled that he personally taught them about a Mother in Heaven.”30 Even the evidence for this claim is quite thin, since it derives not from “some” early LDS women but from at most one such woman—and her testimony comes third hand.

In 1911, Susa Young Gates (daughter of Lucy Bigelow Young, Brigham Young’s 22nd wife) wrote about something that she said she (and others) had heard from Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Young. Zina was one of Joseph Smith’s plural wives and later was Brigham’s 33rd wife. According to Susa, Zina (who had died ten years earlier in 1901) told about a conversation she had with Joseph Smith after her mother, Zina Baker Huntington, had died in 1839. In that conversation, Joseph had told Zina Diantha that she would be reunited not only with her earthly mother after death but also with her heavenly Mother:

“More than that, you will meet and become acquainted with your eternal Mother, the wife of your Father in Heaven.”
“And have I then a Mother in Heaven?” exclaimed the astonished girl.
“You assuredly have. How could a Father claim His title unless there were also a Mother to share that parenthood?”31

This testimony comes 72 years after the supposed event and is third-hand testimony (from Joseph Smith to Zina Young to Susa Young Gates). The best one can say is that Susa’s testimony is possible though very weak evidence for the claim that Joseph Smith privately held to the idea of a heavenly mother.

 Joseph’s teaching in the King Follett Discourse and in the Sermon at the Grove, his two most famous speeches toward the end of his life in 1844, furnished much of the doctrinal basis for the idea. Joseph taught in the King Follett Discourse that God the Father had been a mortal man, that he had become exalted to Godhood, and that human beings were meant to follow the same path as Heavenly Father had and to become Gods themselves. In the Sermon at the Grove, Joseph further taught that Heavenly Father himself had a Father who was his God. In that speech Joseph asked rhetorically, “Where was there ever a son without a father? And where was there ever a father without first being a son?”33 By this same reasoning, of course, one might well imagine early Mormons reasoning that since there has never been a son without a father and a mother, it follows that we must have a Heavenly Mother as well as a Heavenly Father. And indeed this is precisely what Mormons argued very soon after Joseph’s death.

Heavenly Mother: A Doctrinal Deduction, Not a Revelation

The appeal to reason shows that the idea of a heavenly mother is simply inferred to be true on the assumption that God is our father in the literal sense that he procreated us as his literal offspring. “The Mother in Heaven concept was a logical and natural extension of a theology which posited both an anthropomorphic god, who had once been a man, and the possibility of eternal procreation of spirit children.”40

Other Mormon leaders have repeated this idea that the doctrine of a heavenly Mother is to be accepted because it is a reasonable inference from the belief in a literal heavenly Father. For example, Gordon B. Hinckley, speaking in general conference, asserted, “Logic and reason would certainly suggest that if we have a Father in Heaven, we have a Mother in Heaven. That doctrine rests well with me.”41

To the contrary, reason would suggest that if we had a Heavenly Mother, if it were as important for us to know about her as Mormon doctrine indicates, and if our Heavenly Father revealed himself to us and inspired thousands of pages of scriptural texts, then he would also reveal to us something about Heavenly Mother as well. Yet although God the Father has revealed himself and inspired the Bible (and Mormons would add their additional scriptures), he has told us absolutely nothing about a heavenly mother. The reasonable conclusion is that there is no Mother in heaven.

Not original idea

The 1840s, when the Mormon doctrine of a heavenly mother originated, was also the decade in which feminism emerged. Though as with any movement feminism had roots going back much further, the modern feminist movement attained formal definition at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, the first women’s rights convention. Seneca Falls was a city in the state of New York, located only about 25 miles southeast of Palmyra. One of the leaders at Seneca Falls, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, toward the end of the century published with other feminists The Woman’s Bible, a commentary on the Bible in which the Trinity was reinterpreted as Father, Mother, and Son.46 According to Stanton, men and women were “created alike in the image of God—the Heavenly Mother and Father.”

These various examples involve different views about how the feminine is related to the divine, but they all illustrate a definite emphasis on making some correlation of the feminine to God in nineteenth-century religious movements. They show that the Mormon concept of a heavenly mother did not arise in a vacuum, but reflected religious trends and developments of the time.


  1. For those who say a Heavenly Mother is not in scripture I recommend the following resource: http://denversnuffer.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Our-Divine-Parents-FINAL.pdf


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