Early Polynesian Traditions and Mormon Ideas About the Origin of Man

Traditional language among Latter-day Saints regarding preexistence has sometimes been vague, romantic and non-specific. Observe Ruth Fox’s remarks at the beginning of her June 1912 YLMIA conference address: “Man’s intellect is God-given and is a spark of that eternal intelligence which governs all things.”[1] I can’t be certain, but perhaps this is a reference to D&C 88:7-13 or something similar.

Recently on our post – winter – semester vacation, we went to the island of Oahu where my wife had spent a portion of her childhood. She mapped out a 12 day safari, but 5 days into our holiday, she broke her leg.[2] That left a little down time for some study. Fox’s statement was in my head when I found that some older Hawaiian traditions suggest something similar. Each human life represents a spark from the Divine fire of life. The current Polynesian Cultural Center nightly show has taken something related to this as a kind of theme and so I was again impressed that the idea has broad parallels.[3]

James E. Talmage believed something not too distant from this (at least around 1905), that the human soul is derived from or struck-off if you will, from the Divine Male/Female principle. The parent-derived theory was the term of the day. In a sense, this is Divine Traducianism. It runs against the historical purpose of Traducianism of course and its effect is essentially the reverse of historical Traducianism. That has become a very frequently referenced theme in the modern church and apparently just for that reason.

The Talmage idea is of course related to and possibly derived from similar notions from early Utah thinkers and church officers like Parley Pratt, Orson Pratt, Brigham Young, Eliza Snow, Lorenzo Snow, etc., though Talmage tended to take his own ideas from the LDS canon directly rather than the homiletic literature.

I’ve heard and read statements similar to that of Fox from other church leaders, and it sticks in my mind that this was a popular kind of phrase with David O. McKay, but I could be wrong.[4]


[1] Sounds Emerson-esk. YLMIA = Young Ladies Mutual Improvement Association. The LDS church young ladies’ organization, now simply called Young Women. Fox was 1st counselor. She later became president of the YWMIA in 1929 (the name was changed Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Association in 1934). Fox is remembered for the Hymn “Carry On.”

[2] We still did some driving and photographing. And I learned to manipulate a wheelchair over rough terrain. It turned out to be great together time in spite of the disappointment involved.

[3] Think Genesis chapter 2.

[4] Check out President McKay’s address on October 4, 1963 (general conference) and his article in the Improvement Era vol. 58 (August 1955): 557-8.

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