Joseph Smith/Healings and miracles/Fanny Stenhouse accounts

From: Stenhouse, "Tell It All", 74-87.

NOT long after my marriage [in 1850] I saw a miracle performed a real, true miracle.

Let not the reader smile, or think that I am only jesting, for I am quite in earnest, and mean what I say. I saw a sick person who for years had been confined to her bed, her limbs distorted and her back bent ; I was present when, after her conversion, the elders visited her ; I saw them anoint her, and lay hands on her, and pray most fervently ; and I saw the same decrepit old woman walking and singing and praising God. If that was not a miracle, I should like to know what is ? [p. 74]
A stranger [at a Mormon priesthood blessing for healing] would at once have been struck with the prevalence of that peculiar magnetic feeling which evidently influenced all present. Even those who, as the poet says, came to scoff, felt the same influence, as many afterwards acknowledged. The elders surrounded the bed, and after a brief but most earnest address from one of them, we all engaged in prayer. The subject of the prayer can readily be supposed ; but the earnestness the intense, anxious pleading of the supplicants no one could comprehend who had never been present at such a scene. [p. 81]
The patient, however, was patient indeed. To her it was no idle form. She was newly converted and her heart was burning with zeal and faith. Perhaps the reader may think that this had much to do with the success of the operation, as probably it had. However this might be, the elders, who while they anointed her had mingled prayers and benedictions above her head, now once more united in fervent supplication, and then laid their hands upon her, according to the letter of the Scripture.
There was something peculiar about this laying on of hands. It was not a mere gentle touching, but a thorough manipulation. The two hands were placed firmly on the top of the head and then drawn energetically down the body while vigorous "passes" as magnetizers call the action were made 'repeatedly over the affected parts. These prayers and manipulations were made for very nearly three hours, when the elders engaged in the work for work it was were thoroughly exhausted. One of them then placing his right hand on the head of the sufferer suddenly blessed her in the name of the Lord, told her that her sins were forgiven her ; that the evil spirits who had afflicted her were cast out ; that the infirmity and disease which for five long years had kept her bound upon the bed of sickness was rebuked, and would torment her no more ; and bade her be strong in the faith and be of good cheer, for God would raise her up.
Watching all this, as I was ; believing all this, as I did ; my heart filled with joy at the manifestation of heavenly power which I expected to witness, I must nevertheless [83] acknowledge that a feeling of wonder pervaded my mind when I saw Sister Armstrong, who for so many years had been unable even to turn in the bed by herself, stretch forth her poor, bony arm, all unassisted, and say to one of the elders " Give me your hand, brother."
One of the brethren put forth his hand, and took hers, saying as he did so : " Have faith ; have faith Sister Armstrong ; " while the brother who had recently blessed her repeated : " The prayer of faith shall save the sick, and God shall raise him up ! " Sister Armstrong, who an hour before could not, unaided, have changed her position, now grasping the elder's hand, raised herself up in the bed. She looked upon us with a smile of triumph for a moment faith was triumphant. But nature asserted her immutable laws and the next instant the poor sister sank gently back upon the pillows and closed her eyes. We thought that she was dead [but]… Sister Armstrong had only fainted ; and who could wonder at it? I sat there, not far from the bed, lost in astonishment at what I had seen, and wondering whether what Elder Bronson had said was true that in a day or two, at furthest, she would be quite well. To me it was all a mystery. I knew then nothing of the miraculous power of faith not religious faith, but often just the reverse, which has so often relieved and cured diseases and infirmities which have baffled the power of the most skilful physicians. Moreover I knew nothing then of that peculiar magnetic power which scientific men now have proved belongs to certain constitutions and can be used for curative purposes. So, in the childlike simplicity of my heart, I knelt down and thankfully poured forth my gratitude to God that he had permitted me to witness this wonderful manifestation of his power and love… [85] There, sure enough, was Sister Armstrong, very pale, and evidently very weak, but quite another woman. No one could have recognised her. The muscles of her face were no longer contracted, and she sat there straight enough for a woman of her age. I could scarcely believe my eyes. The poor old lady seemed glad to see me, and it did my heart good to hear her talk of the mercies of God. [p. 82–85]
After this I saw plenty of the gift of healing and the working of miracles. Some cases were not quite so successful as that which I have described. Then we were told the fault was in our want of faith. That cures were really affected, no one who has been present on such occasions could possibly doubt. That they were miracles in the sense in which we generally use that term, I do not for a moment believe ; but I think that in cases where the efforts of the elders were successful, scientific enquiry would readily show that the effects were only natural results of natural causes.[p. 86]
One brother—a deacon in the church—was suddenly attacked with cholera. He sent immediately for Elder Stenhouse [her future husband]. It matters not what the disease may be, the same means are employed. Young and old, of both sexes, are treated alike ; from measles to cholera morbus, from toothache to blindness, from whooping-cough to deafness ; and from headache to " possession by devils " the same prescription serves for every one. And so satisfied are the Saints that this is the only right way to effect a cure, that, until very recently, to send for a physician would have been accounted a sin doubting the promises of God want of faith.
In the case of the deacon to whom I have just alluded, the experiment was successful. [p. 86]
…from early evening to the following morning at daybreak they continued to anoint the brother [with cholera] and to lay hands on him, praying for his recovery probably thirty times during the night. In their rough but expressive language, they " had a regular battle."
Victory at length crowned their efforts : the disease was mastered ; but they themselves were utterly prostrated by the physical and mental exertions of the night.
The Saints regarded this as a great miracle ; but unbelievers would doubtless wonder why, if it was done by " the power of God " as the Elders asserted it had cost so much exertion on the part of man. I, however, simply state the facts as they fell under my own observation ; and I may add that, during that same night, in the same block of low tenement buildings,, five persons died of that dreadful scourge. [p. 87]


It is interesting to note that in some cases, Fanny makes the then-common appeal to "animal magnetism," which was thought to explain how hypnotism, "Mesmerism," and such things actually worked. (Some anti-Mormon fiction claimed that people like Joseph Smith and Brigham Young had an especially potent "animal magnetism" that allowed them to beguile and seduce people, almost a type of mind-control. This was necessary, in part, to explain why otherwise sensible people would join with the Mormons--they had to be doing it against their will.) Thus, the apostate Fanny believes that the "science" of her day can explain these remarkable successes--though modern readers realize that she is fooling herself.

Whatever the explanation for such reported miracles, it cannot be the one she offers. But, this demonstrates that such "signs" do not produce or maintain faith, and that those who have become unbelievers will find a way to retroactively explain experiences that they and everyone else found miraculous at the time.