Frederick M. Smith: The Psychonautic Prophet

The History

Community of Christ’s 3rd prophet was named Frederick Madison Smith. One year on vacation he and his wife went to Texas and while there they went to a Native American reservation and became acquainted with religious leaders there. These religious leaders helped facilitate peyote rituals. For those unaware, peyote is a psychedelic cactus which grows in North and Central America. According to his friend and famed composer, Virgil Thompson, Smith actually participated in these psychedelic rituals. The next year he went to at least 4 more and became well acquainted with not only the rituals, but also the leaders who conducted them. Fred M. became known as one of the “Peyote Boys”, who were a group of acquaintances who were know to be “certainly striving to do right, for they forsake evil and trust in God to help them overcome.”

These experiences undoubtedly had a very influential impact on Smith, and he likely sought ways to be able to communicate the experiences he had. Smith’s dissertation for his doctorate in psychology is entitled “The Higher Powers of Man” and focuses on “ecstatic states” of which he identified 3: inclination ecstasy (which included sexual love, sacrifice, and religious), aesthetic ecstasy, and intellectual ecstasy. He believed these experiences helped people stretch and grow, and they would often lead people to create beautiful works of art.

Fred also relied heavily upon and quoted extensively from the work of two men:

  • William James, who is often called “The Nitrous Oxide Philosopher” (Laughing Gas) due to his affinity for the psychedelic. He put forward the idea that this psychedelic can help bring about a sort of revelatory experience.
  • G. Stanley Hall, who spoke a lot about how humanity doesn’t reach its full potential because it inefficiently uses its power, and that we needed to rise above the mundanity of life to reach our full potential. Hall was actually Smith’s mentor as he worked on his dissertation.

In his dissertation, Smith agreed with James’s assertion “that it is possible to reach higher levels of energy than are usually reached by individuals”, and wondered if mind-altering substances could give humanity the ability to reach its full potential, or as Smith phrased it, unlock the “Higher Powers of Man”. The mind-altering substance that people are most familiar with is likely alcohol, so it was natural for him to touch on that. However, Smith was quick to point out that this substance provided far more disadvantages than advantages, and was in fact antithetical to helping humanity reach its full potential. He then explored the religious use of peyote, and in fact had an entire chapter devoted to it. With this substance he suggested that it held the secrets to unlocking the higher powers of man and even suggested that Jesus Christ was able to achieve and maintain this level of consciousness indefinitely.

Fred M. didn’t hide his affinity for psychedelics from his fellow church members. He spoke about it in a sermon at the Stone Church in Independence on July 12th, 1914 and then had it printed in the August edition of the Saints’ Herald (CoC’s long-running magazine). He explicitly spoke about his experiences with peyote again in the Herald on November 26th, 1919 and again on December 24th, 1919. There is a good possibility that his experiences with peyote played a role on him authoring the pamphlet entitled “Views on Revelation“. There were several instances in which Fred M. actually encouraged people to try peyote, including when he participated in a ceremony with several RLDS missionaries and set an example which helped an entire family feel comfortable trying it. Additionally, Fred M. traveled to Washington D.C. to protest a prohibition on peyote and was able to speak from personal experience. To further prove Smith’s affinity for this psychedelic, Virgil Thompson made it known that Fred was actually the chief supplier of peyote for Smith’s daughter (Alice Smith), as well as Thompson and his friends for many years.

So with all of this in mind, why is Fred M. not commonly known as “The Psychonautic Prophet”? Why did psychedelics not become a larger part of Community of Christ’s spiritual practices? Why has all of this been largely forgotten? I believe there are 6 chief reasons, which took up not only the lion’s share of his attention, but also his reputation:

  • World War 1
  • World War 2
  • The Great Depression
  • Supreme Directional Control
  • Building the Auditorium
  • The church nearly going bankrupt as a result of Supreme Directional Control

The Future

In 2004 we received counsel in the form of D&C 162:2C, which calls us to be a prophetic people who live in a world full of new challenges which will require new forms of ministry, and verse 8A notes that we often fail to see the power in our own story. In 2016 President Veazey noted that “History reveals it is hard for the church as a diverse body to be prophetic. The constant tendency is to settle for what is familiar rather than spiritually exploring what yet needs to be.”

Frederick Madison Smith represents an interesting part of our story. He showed us a unique way in which we can overcome the mundanity of life and connect with the Divine. However, this method of revelation has largely been forgotten by our community. New research in coming out which shows that psychedelics can have a powerfully positive influence on peoples’ spiritual health. I myself have had profound experiences with the Divine which psychedelics have helped facilitate. We as a people should consider if incorporating psychedelics into our spirituality could be a powerful new form of ministry which helps us overcome the challenges of our day.

Further readings

Fred M.

This post of mine was intended to be a very brief overview of Fred M.’s years worth of research and experience. If you want a more thorough examination I encourage you to read the follow resources:

Other Interesting things

Jonathan Koshiway, who was a Native American CoC missionary in the early 1900s, broke off from the RLDS church and founded “Oto Church of the Firstborn”. As I understand it, the Oto Church of the Firstborn essentially fused the beliefs of the Otoe tribe with the beliefs of the Latter Day Saint movement. This included religious use of psychedelics.

Koshiway split with this church in 1918 over disagreements regarding the use of tobacco, and helped found the modern Native American Church which today has a protected legal right to conduct peyote ceremonies.

Today there is a “Peyote Way Church of God“, which, as I understand it, sees itself as the successor of “Oto Church of the Firstborn”. It has “Articles of Faith“, which are common in Latter Day Saint churches and believes that the Word of Wisdom as given by Joseph Smith Jr. is a revelation (more on the WoW here)