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What are secret combinations?

October 22, 2009
No, this is not about Voldemort

No, this is not about Voldemort

This will be an inadequate post since it is a while since I originally planned to write about it…

But as you may (or may not) know, I have been reading through the Book of Mormon. Because I have been reading through all the scriptures again (well, not all scriptures…but all the scriptures from the LDS tradition).

It hasn’t been going excellently…the Book of Mormon just isn’t a very inspirational book to me. I really do not see what the believers see in it. But who knows. Maybe things could change in the next 50 pages.

Anyway, I’ve gotten to Ether (which, if you are familiar, is not the end, but very close)…and I am now stuck. I’ve actually been stuck here for a while. (Hey, it’s better than getting stuck in 2nd Nephi like 70% of aspiring BoM readers!) There’s a new cast of characters with which I sympathize even less than the normal cast (I have similar thoughts as to the fourth book in A Song of Ice and Fire…grr[m]), different timeline…it’s just weird.

However, within Ether is a terrible, terrible secret that is alluded to and foreshadowed in the prior parts of the book (well, linguistically…Ether chronologically is before most of the book)…and that is the secret combination.

What is the secret combination? From most of the book, it is something left unspoken. The “good” narrators and characters seem to understand that even speaking or reading about such secret combinations would be disastrous. The antagonists and “bad” guys are most often those who somehow found the wicked secret of combinations and started using them (see: Gadianton robbers).

What I think is interesting about Ether (and trust me, I don’t think much is…at least, not much is jumping out at me) is that it offers a sort of intermission from the action…and during this intermission, we get some kind of lore. But what kind of lore? Lore back from the time when the earth was new, the language was about to be confounded…but more importantly, lore of the development of the secret combination.

That was a clever move.

I was going to write my thoughts about finding out what secret combinations were about, but as I said, I got stuck in Ether somewhere…and have never gotten back on track. Hmm.

Sooner or later, I’ll go through and just go through Ether. Even if I die or something. Just so I will have gone through it and can understand it. And then I’ll know the secret behind combinations.

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  1. I’m reading No Man Knows My History, not very far in yet. But I did think it was interesting that Fawn Brodie speculates the idea for including secret combinations in the BoM came from some masonic murders that happened near Palmyra (or something like that).

  2. Hmm…that’s interesting…but I’ve heard to be wary of Fawn Brodie’s speculations (insofar as she tries to “psychoanalyze” or something like that?)

  3. FireTag permalink

    Hmmm. I found Ether to be one of the most interesting parts of the BofM because of the geophysical and historical puzzles it poses, and just wrote a post about them called “DNA and Dynastic Chronologies”. I have to agree with you, though, that there isn’t much in the way of character development. πŸ˜€

    I think there are certainly secret combinations in most societies in history. It’s as natural and as universal as any other part of the “pride cycle”. In fact, the secret may be that there doesn’t have to be any big secret. The order emerges from the greed for power and privilege like predators and parasites emerge in any evolving system.

    You don’t need to invent the story of masonic murders when you have the history of Julius Caesar, or, for that matter, the “Chicago Way” that has been corrupt since the days of Al Capone and Elliot Ness.

  4. Anti-Masonic sentiment was rife in 1830 in the neighborhood of Batavia, New York after a murder in 1826. Certainly there are conspiracies in all times and places, but none of them match the descriptions given in the BoM, unless you really believe conspiracy theorists.

    What the BoM describes perfectly is the myth and hysteria surrounding Masonry at the time of Joseph Smith and Sydney Rigdon. A large portion of the BoM reads like an Anti-Masonic screed straight out of that era: blood oaths handed down from generation to generation that allow murder with impunity and threaten God-fearing folk through the machinations of Satanic forces. It’s a nearly perfect snapshot of the hysteria of the time.

  5. FireTag permalink

    I don’t doubt that the rage existed. It would be more interesting if it was so unusual in actual history. How unusual are coups, plots for coups, government corruption scandals, rotalitarian governments, civil wars, etc. across the planet in the 20-21sr century?

    If its also a nearly perfect snapshot of our time (and every other time, for that matter), does that make the Book prophetic, or does it just make the data meaningless in distinguishing between historical or metaphorical interpretation?

    If there are no Gadiantons, what the world has to deal with is enough until and unless the real thing comes along. If the real thing came along, we might not even notice.

  6. The things on your list do happen a lot, but they’re too generic to say that they fit the Gadianton Robber archetype. Where are the blood oaths passed down from time immemorial, for one example?

    What people imagined the Freemasons to be in the 1830’s does match the Gadianton Robber from the Book of Mormon. The Anti-Masonry political party founded in 1828 is no longer with us, but the hysteria about secret oaths and murder are fossilized in the Book of Mormon.

    Regarding us not knowing if Gadianton Robbers came along, I’ve heard it wisely said that the hallmark of a conspiracy theory is when the lack of evidence is taken as evidence.

  7. FireTag permalink


    “Where are the blood oaths passed down from time immemorial, for one example?”

    I don’t know, but I can find both conspiracies and hysteria about conspiracies anywhere and everywhere — which was my point. A belief in evil demonic conspiracies is near-universal. Cultures just demonize different enemies. Even among secularists. Read Richard Dawkins attitudes toward Christian fundamentalists. Read Christian fundamentalists attitudes toward Richard Dawkins.

    From the Protocols of the Elders of Zion to Obama is the false prophet of Revelation 19 to the CIA planned 9/11 to the government faked the moon landing toH1N1 is a plot to kill blacks — it’s all out there and always has been.

    And, unfortunately, Hitler, and Lenin, and Pol Pot were not just hysteria, any more than Julius Ceasar was. There are cultures that do keep blood feuds going for generations, and will enforce those feuds by killing there own.

    There’s absolutely nothing remarkable about anti-Masonic hysteria. If it hadn’t been Masons in the 1820’s, it would have been something else in the 1820’s. The probability of finding such a correlation, whether or not the Book of Mormon is fiction or history is pretty close to 1.0.

  8. I think we’re about to go in a circle, but I’ll try to explain my point better than I have so far.

    All of the examples of conspiracy theories cited so far match the Gadianton Robber/Secret Combination archetype to some degree, but none of them match it as precisely as does Anti-Masonic hysteria: secret Satanic ritual oaths, pervasive intrusion into all levels of government, perversion of the court system, murdering members who reveal the secrets of the society, loyalty to the secret society before all else, etc. It’s a perfect fit.

    The same can’t be said about the moon landing, the JFK assassination, the Protocols, etc. None fit as well as Anti-Masonry.

    • FireTag permalink

      Well, I guess we’ll disagree rather than go in a circle. I just finished dressing down a guy on another religious site for accusing Obama of being the false prophet who would prepare the way for the beast in Revelation (I won’t dignify it by linking). but he was linking to a “birther” site that accused Obama of things that absolutely required the full-blown Satanic conspiracy.

      I think you live in a more civilized community than I do, Jonathan. πŸ˜€

  9. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    I remember the first time I went through the temple and was completely freaked out by how chock full of secret oaths and combinations it was. It really scared me. I couldn’t understand how it could be full of what a very large portion of the Book of Mormon warned against. I went through the temple just before leaving on my mission and I remember having a conversation with my sister about the troubling aspects of the temple. I told her (I didn’t tell my parents) that the temple seemed kind of devilish and cult-like. She half consoled me by saying that there are similarities because Satan is the Great Imitator. He has corrupted versions of Godly ceremonies out in the world.

  10. FireTag permalink

    Which half did you find consoling GW? πŸ˜€

  11. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    Ha ha. I just mean that in the typical sense of: this troubles me, but it’s not enough for me to let it all go, so I will just put that up on my shelf of not-fully-explained-questions-and-doubts-that-I-have.

    • FireTag permalink


      I guess I’m sufficiently paranoid that such a comment from my sister would have made my “spidey sense” tingle even more. “Had we already been infiltrated?”

      But of course I’d grown up being taught that no good came out of the Nauvoo period. So I’d have run screaming in moral terror at the first sign of secret oaths, anyway.

    • Guest Writer 800+ permalink

      Well, infiltration of secret oaths from the outside and the stuff that looks like priestcraft within the church I never considered a modern concern because, by the teachings of the prophets, this time, the church will not fall into apostasy like so many times before. Therefore, I had to come up with different excuses for why things looked bad. Satan had imitated God’s ceremonies and had tricked me into being scared by the real one- that was the answer I went with.

      • FireTag permalink

        Please note that I’m not saying that your church HAS gone into apostasy. But I would suggest that the notion that the church in this dispensation CAN NOT go into apostasy is a bit more complicated than you are making it.

        If they had gone into apostacy, they would hardly be saying they had done so, would they? So you need something other than that (e.g., your own sense of the Spirit or Scriptures that you regard as canonical and that occur BEFORE you suspect the apostacy.

        If you look at the BofM, Jesus specifically describes the possibility that “IF the Gentiles reject the Gospel.” There would be no need for the “IF” if the possibility did not exist. By contrast, the Book of Mormon is a lot more definite that the seed of the Lamanites would eventually accept the truth of the BofM and it would be an important tool in their restoration. We ‘gentiles” may be grafted on to them, but they can’t be left out of the major role in the equation. In fact, the way the Scripture reads, the believers can be personally converted, but if the society as a whole rejects them…

      • Guest Writer 800+ permalink

        Oh, don’t worry. I have left the church by now.

        But, while I was in it, the teachings were that this was the last dispensation and that there would be no more apostasies. I could find sources on that teaching, but won’t bother. The “gentiles” had not rejected it, because the church was in existence and rolling on toward world domination.

        β€œThe Standard of Truth has been erected. No unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing. Persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame. But the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and dependent till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, until the purposes of God shall be accomplished and the Great Jehovah will say, β€˜The work is done.’” Joseph Smith

  12. FireTag permalink

    My problem is that I still believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon, don’t believe in the LDS version of Mormonism, and belong to a Restoration denomination that has been locked (probably irreversibly) in numerical decline for more than half a century and whose leaders don’t even assert that the denomination is exceptional and postulate a miracle.

    If those beliefs are internally consistent, I haven’t felt quite so exposed since the teachers used to tell us in grade school to “duck and cover” under our desks in the event of a nuclear attack. NOT a satisfactory option, and as Andrew is fond of pointing out, we do not choose what we believe.

  13. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    You believe in the historicity? I hope that comes from subjective experience, because the objective side of it is pretty clear cut; which is why many Mormon historians/archeologists and such (off the record of course) consider it more like a fable- A fictional tale with moral/spiritual truths.

    • FireTag permalink


      My personal subjective experiences are most important in my belief system, of course. Scientifically, I tend to think of the Book of Mormon as a scientific anomaly for which there is as yet no adequate theory of the Book as EITHER an ancient OR a 19th Century creation.

      Because I am a physical scientist, I tend to be more impressed by scientific evidence in my own fields of expertise than in other fields. I suppose that’s normal. But I actually keep having the experience of reading things in the Book of Mormon where I know the scientific consensus has changed since the 1820’s, and the Book of Mormon gets the MODERN science right where the 1820’s science and Joseph’s published interpretations of his own writings get it wrong.

      So that leaves me with the science sort of neutral (if not actually slightly positive). And in that situation, I don’t have any cognative dissonance in going with my own “personal revelation”. As I indicated above, its not the belief, but the implications of what I believe that cause me discomfort.

      Anyway, I talk about these issues in several of my blog posts, particularly related to the metaphorical vs. historical interpretations, in the archives for May through July, 2009. This debate is very much on-the-record in the Community of Christ right now.

      • FireTag, if you come across any of that science that you the feel the BoM gets right, could you drop me a line? I’m collecting those kinds of things for a personal project.

      • FireTag permalink


        Feel free to use or critique any of the relevant posts on Other info on that subject will be brought up there from time to time.

  14. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    What’s your blog? I don’t have a link for that. I am curious as to what you think the BofM gets right. All I see is an accumulation of wrong: steel swords 1000 years before the Iron Age, God suggesting that windows in the Jaredite submarines would be dashed to pieces (the Brother of Jared should have said, “What do you mean God? Windows are just holes in our little huts. There is nothing to be ‘dashed.'” God: “Here, let me give you a vision of the future. See these see-through brittle things? That’s called glass. It can be dashed to pieces.” BofJ: “Ok…so, why did you even talk about it as if it were a possibility in my time if you are referring to futuristic stuff?”), animals and food that sound like the old world rather than ANYTHING similar to ancient America, DNA not linking back to the Middle East. I won’t even go into the linguistic problems…

    What area of science are you in?

    “…its not the belief, but the implications of what I believe that cause me discomfort.” Could you clarify this statement a little more? Are you referring to the fact that your belief system seems to be a dying breed?

    You said above:
    “…as Andrew is fond of pointing out, we do not choose what we believe.” This may be true, but beliefs DO change. We reevaluate our beliefs all the time as new information presents itself.

  15. FireTag permalink

    My blog is “” . Sorry, I was thinking Andrew had a long blogroll somewhere in which it was listed under Community of Christ blogs, but it must have been a subjective blogroll. πŸ˜€

    I’m a physicist by training, and the purpose of my blog is precisely to introduce interesting modern science to Restorationists in both main branches of Mormonism and explore how the findings modify Restoration beliefs.

    You won’t find my beliefs fit well with any orthodoxy, and my beliefs do change: my 30 year old self wouldn’t recognize me.

    To elaborate on my discomfort, yes it has to do with believing in the warnings to the “Gentiles” in a Book of Mormon which I regard as more than only metaphorical. My church’s university press published a study three or four years ago I had performed on our church’s membership history going back to 1880 using models I’d developed for analyzing the market competition of new technologies while supporting the Department of Energy. The study showed statistical independence of ANYTHING we do — positive or negative — to affect the size of our own membership. Our growth or decline is controlled entirely at the societal level and is on course to reach what the equations call the “stochastic limit” where our survival becomes a random event in about 20-30 years.

    So, while I believe in happy endings, I DO think the middle of the story is going to leave a mark.

  16. FireTag:

    Your blog is listed on the blogroll…but not a lot of people connect it with your name (especially since you don’t link in your comments and “FireTag” doesn’t quite get to “fire still burning” [notwithstanding the fire in both titles.])

    • FireTag permalink

      I started out programming on punch card machines, and got too used to having professional graphics and media support over the years. The html and media revolutions passed me by and I try to make my learning mistakes in my own blog where I can go in and edit them rather than produce gibberish on someone else’s. I apologize for the inconvenience.

  17. Hi Andrew – I just came across your site for the first time today and the title of this post caught my eye. Earlier this year I wrote a related post that may be of interest to you. It’s about the Gadianton Robbers and secret combinations in general. After reading your “about” pages, I understand where you are coming from. Best wishes.

  18. I dunno Greg…modern readings of secret combinations likening them to terror cells doesn’t seem to capture the mystical quality of them (the secret combinations, that is). E.g., the parts from your linked site about “searching for secret records,” the “Secret Society,” and others.

    I think that likening secret combinations to modern Islamic jihadis and terrorists either cheapens the scriptures (which I guess, if that’s what you have to do, then I guess that’s what you have to do), is ridiculously opportunist (the “enemy du jour” becomes the modern Gadianton robber group…just because we assign similarities between them and the Gadianton group), or it fails to capture the true and almost otherworldly nefariousness of the secret combination.

  19. FireTag permalink


    If you are looking for discussions of Gadianton Robbers, Morgan Deane at “” has several discussions of the concept.


    I think our tendency to EITHER “other-world-ize” or make our opponents the embodiment of the concept leads us astray. Instead of focusing on WHO is a GR, focus on the intensity of the danger the rise of the behavior represents.

    We are the most progressive and powerful civilization about which we know. We tend to take only a generation or so to forget how fragile civilizations are and how bumpy the long term trend of progress actually is. STEADY growth upward is NOT at all the historical norm even if the overall trend of humanity is upward. A better model would be one of growth punctuated by catasthropy — or, in Book of Mormon terms (even if viewed metaphorically) the pride cycle.

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