Most of us have at least heard of the “Mark Hofmann murders” and the related “Salamander Letters,” but what’s the deal with this so-called “Salamander?”
Most people have heard of Mark Hofmann, his forgeries, that include the “Anthon Transcript,” the “Joseph Smith the 3rd Blessing,” and “The Salamander Letter,” which eventually led to one of the most compelling real life crime-dramas in modern Utah history. Plenty has already been said and written about the life and crimes of Mark Hofmann, so I am going to focus my attention on the “White Salamander” from the letter “written” or rather not-written by Martin Harris.
The Salamander Letter is a forgery, but the significance of the Mystical Salamander in Folklore, Legend, and Occult Lore (Including Mormon Lore) is not steeped in deception. When they hear the word “Salamander,” most will only think of the amphibious/biological definition, but this creature of lore has many different names and abilities in occult lore. Medieval philosophers including Theophrastus von Hohenheim otherwise known as Paracelsus (1493-1541) believed in Nature Spirits and that one of the races of these were called “Salamanders” and they the denizens and spirits of fire. Many of the ancients came to call them “Fire Kings.” No spark, no flame can exist without the aid of the Salamanders. Incidentally the Salamander is the most powerful and most misunderstood of the Nature Spirits, the other genuses of Nature Spirits (Faeries) being Gnomes/Earth, Sylphs/Air, and Undines/Water.
Salamanders although dangerous were also known to be great benefactors to mankind. i.e. the treasure hunting connection to the salamander and its relation to divining, treasure hunting, and alchemical practices. For a very well written book on this topic I recommend Early Mormonism and The Magic World View by D. Michael Quinn.
There is absolutely no way that I can cover the Salamander topic righteously in the space provided to me, especially its relation to Mormon lore, but I would like to share one very interesting, although anecdotal story that was shared with me by my new colleague and friend Andrew Kosorok while I was digging around the “fire pit.” Andrew is an incredibly talented Utah County based glass artist. He has designed and created many of the windows for the Mormon Temples, the new Provo Temple among them.
Here is Andrew’s story as he related it to me…
“When Mark Hoffman and his partners first approached Elder Dallin Oaks about the salamander letters, his response was that they would be nice to have but not right now. When official church dudes weren’t biting (or at least not biting hard enough), Mark started grooming other private collectors. After hemming and hawing he finally started producing the letters and, as the FBI finally recognized that the sugar in the ink had crystallized in a manner inconsistent to ink in use at the time the letters were supposed to be written, eventually Mark lost it. He blew up a lady unconnected directly to the case, just to throw the FBI off! Anyway, the letters were proven to be Mark’s forgeries.
A couple years later, my mom is helping some of the undergrads unfortunate enough to get “ancient records cataloging” duty, when one of these kids makes a startling discovery which, at the time, did not seem as big of a deal as it later turned out to be. They were poking through a stinky old trunk that looked like it had not been touched “since the early ’60s”, when one of the kids noticed some really old letters. These BYU student employees had stumbled upon the actual Joseph Smith salamander letters, discovered in a trunk that had been under a pile of crap while Mark Hoffman had been doing his thing… How’s that for weird? My mom died a few years later, and she has yet to respond to my questions about this, so I’m unable to get further details. However, that’s pretty much the way she told it to me.”
How’s that for interesting?
Danny B. Stewart is an “anomalogist”—a scientist of anomalies, a performance artist, teacher, lecturer, and professional storyteller. He also has a very unhealthy knowledge about the wee-little-folk… But more on that later…