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The History of Women’s Healings and Blessings: An Interview with Author Fara Sneddon

By Linda Hoffman Kimball

“There is a need for this history, and there is a need to see ourselves in the rituals and spiritual gifts of our foremothers.” 

Fara Anderson Sneddon 

Segullah has the honor of interviewing scholar, Fara Sneddon. Fara has spent the last years researching the history of the spiritual gifts of Latter-day Saint women, particularly the gifts of healing and blessing. Her wisdom and curiosity make her a perfect fit for this topic. She also brings her humor, persistence, and generosity of spirit to the task. We are her lucky beneficiaries.

Segullah: First, let’s get acquainted. Tell us about yourself.

Fara and her mother Kathy Anderson

Fara: My father’s family were among the first converts to the church, traveling from Kirtland to Nauvoo to Utah. My mother converted after marrying my dad, and I was raised in an active family in Connecticut. My father was a corporate pilot, so I quickly grew to love traveling and learning about different countries and cultures. My mother, as a convert, was not steeped in Mormon culture, so I was raised without some of the dogma, gendered expectations, and Utah culinary curiosities that are so prevalent in the church. My father’s family were all musicians, so my childhood home had a piano, an organ, a guitar, a trombone, a flute, etc. It was filled with big band, blues, jazz, Motown, folk, classical music, and Gershwin and Bernstein. I loved every minute.

Segullah: That sounds like fun! Can you share a bit about your own family?

Fara: I met my husband while at BYU. My being from New England and Dave being from Scotland, we both felt a bit like radicals while living in Utah County. We’ve now been married for twenty-one years, and we have two children—a fifteen-year-old daughter and eleven-year-old son. We also have two parakeets: Woodstock and Nibbles. We live in Colorado.

Fara with her family

Segullah: So happy to hear about the birdies. What other interests and pursuits have you invested time and love in?

Fara: I’ve done a a lot of work in Art History, and for a while I thought I’d pursue this in school. I’ve always come back to books and my love of really good literature. I knew I wanted to work in English when, in high school, I was the only one in my class whose world was rocked by The Grapes of Wrath.

Segullah: I bet your teacher loved you! Can you tell us about your academic background and publishing experience?

Fara: I did my BA and MA at BYU. Most of my work was in American literature, particularly in the 20th century. I was always interested in the play between race, class, and gender (this was before the word “intersectionality” had come to explain such spaces). I did a lot of work looking at white and multicultural American lit through the study of postcolonial theory.

Segullah: Wait. Define “postcolonial theory.”

Fara: Postcolonial theory provides a lens to examine the literature of colonized peoples/cultures and their colonizers. It explores the effects of colonization on both. It examines the structures of power in colonization and how acts of appropriation, exoticization, idealization, etc. all function to construct a reality of the colonized that diminishes them. That reality subjugates them under (generally) white male western desire. It considers how the gaze of the colonizer changes the identity of the colonized, how subjects learn to imitate and/or resist their oppressor.

While Postcolonial theory is clearly helpful when looking at, say, the literature of colonial India, I’ve found it to be an enlightening tool. It helps me to engage the captivity narratives of the women of colonial America, to consider the frontier literature of Willa Cather, to approach the internalized racism of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, and to unveil the failed colonizing missionary work of The Poisonwood Bible. If you read The Poisonwood Bible and begin to understand how this family had been ill prepared to teach Christianity to Africans by their own hubris, understanding of otherness, and failure to truly understand God, then you are primed to turn your insight and postcolonial skills towards an examination of our own LDS church and its history.

Segullah: Thanks. As you were saying…?

Fara:  My master’s thesis unpicked the violence (towards blackness, femaleness, and non-hetero sexuality) Hemingway strung through his posthumous novel The Garden of Eden.

From BYU I went into a doctorate program at the University of Georgia, where I took my multicultural and postcolonial skills and put them to use studying early American literature.

Along the way, I did page layout, editing, and indexing for an academic journal and several academic books. I taught undergraduate courses, spoke at conferences on African American literature, Jewish American literature, of course, American literature, and I published academic book reviews.

One of my favorite things about this time was teaching the Harlem Renaissance to students. We’d spend days looking at the artwork and a class period teasing at the Jewish American benefactors who financed black artists. Then I’d drag a piano into the classroom, and we’d spend a day singing Langston Hughes poems to the tunes of twelve-bar blues.

Segullah: Ah, your family’s love of music surfaces! Cool. So how did you get interested in your current research on LDS women’s spirituality and healing?

Fara: My grandparents lived in Provo during the time I was at BYU. During my Freshman year, I spent time at their computer every week typing up pages and pages of their penciled-longhand family histories. It was sitting at this computer that I learned that I came from polygamous stock. It was also at this computer that I learned that Lucy Mack Smith had given one of my ancestors a matriarchal blessing.

This was something that shattered and simultaneously re-imagined me—what was this, and why did it feel so deeply true and right?

I grew up hearing the story that Mary Fielding Smith had laid her hands on her sick ox and healed it. For me, this story shone a beam of light on the potential of Mormon women, on my potential. It wasn’t the healing, per se, but it was the competence, the confidence, and the capability. She called down power from heaven. There was no male-priesthood intermediary.

Mary Fielding Smith

Years later I was in a YW presidency preparing a lesson on Divine Nature. I wanted to share Mary’s story, and I went to look for an authoritative telling. Instead, I found Lavina Fielding Anderson’s essay in Dialogue, and suddenly one of my foundational narratives was exposed as a folk tale. Mary didn’t bless her ox! I was devastated—but not in a collapsing, sobbing kind of way. An essential part of my value and potential was just sloppily erased, leaving that smear of pencil behind. An absence.

Not long after that discovery, a friend of mine was putting together content for the next gathering of “Midwest Pilgrims,” a group of Latter-day Saint women who have been meeting together annually since 1983. The topic was going to be “A Place of Healing.” She asked if I could research and present the history of Mormon women giving blessings. I agreed immediately. I’d discovered Midwest Pilgrims while we were living in the Midwest. The women at these retreats healed me. They modeled for me how to engage with Mormonism and my home ward in ways that wouldn’t break me. They became my dearest friends and mentors.

I’ve been researching our women’s history and collecting our sisters’ experiences ever since. I’ve given addresses at seven conferences/retreats on the topic. I’ve written about the topic. And I have a book in progress with the University of Illinois Press.

Segullah: Tells us about this work-in-progress!

Fara: My work has focused on LDS women’s participation in blessing, healing, anointing, and administering. Since February 2016, I’ve been working on a book with the University of Illinois Press that examines this practice from the cultural/religious moment of Lucy Mack Smith’s childhood through to the present day.

Segullah: Did you approach this research with any preconceived ideas?

“I thought…that I’d be able to lay out step by step the patriarchal machinations that slowly whittled away, bit by bit, women’s spiritual practices. But this wasn’t the case. The answer to why these practices declined is so big and complex.”

Fara: I thought, at the beginning of this journey, that I’d be able to lay out step by step the patriarchal machinations that slowly whittled away, bit by bit, women’s spiritual practices. But this wasn’t the case. The answer to why these practices declined is so big and complex. Absolutely there were underhanded uses of ecclesiastical power and male priesthood intervention, but women were not innocent of this kind of political maneuvering either. Just like today, people used language to wage battles. What we call or name a thing changes its value.

Far more central to the decline of women’s blessing and healing were:

1) a growing church population that required more central organization

2) an explosion of publicized/sensationalized faith healing outside of Mormonism, both in new religious sects (Pentecostalism, Christian Science, etc.) and by traveling charismatic male and female healers

3) polygamist groups excised from the church who were still engaging in healing so the church doubled down on priesthood authority

4) the rise of famous healers within the church (which upset channels of priesthood authority)

and—the most surprising to me and, I believe, the most devastating to women healing and blessing:

5) the discovery of germ theory, antiseptics, vaccines, the spread of knowledge regarding nutrition, sanitation, hygiene, first aid, and the training of women as nurses and midwives.

In 1855, a Mormon woman in Cache Valley whose son was dying had very little recourse other than washing him (cleaning/sanitizing him), anointing him with and feeding him olive oil (moisturizer, anti-inflamatory, promotes wound healing, disinfectant), and calling upon God in faith to heal him. A non-believer might argue is administering a strong placebo. This mother, in 1855, would have called on God because there was little else she could do. God was the miracle.

By the 1910s and 20s, that mother rarely needed to call on God through ritual administration and blessing. Medical advancement was the miracle.

Segullah: What kinds of materials were available to you for your studies?

Fara: Before I began researching and preparing for that first Midwest Pilgrims, I believed that, while there was a history of LDS women blessing and laying on hands to heal, the accounts of this practice would be few and far between. Perhaps it was because it hadn’t been discussed that often, or because I’d only heard it in relation to a few prestigious Mormon women like Eliza Snow or Zina D. H. Young. This, I know now, is not the case. There are thousands upon thousands of accounts. There really are. And the variety of details and circumstances in these accounts are tremendous.

The Church History Library is a fantastic space and its librarians are generous with their knowledge and skills. Often I’d pull up Relief Society minutes from a certain stake or ward and then slowly make my way through them until I found a clue about an event or a name that I could follow up on. For instance, if I knew what ward Rachel Grant lived in (Heber J. Grant’s mother and a celebrated healer), I would then request the RS minutes of that ward on microfilm. I could just read through until I found a reference to healing the sick or a woman asking for a blessing. If I was lucky, there might be a name recorded of which sister was reported as having visited the sick woman. Then I could do a new search just for that woman. If I were exceedingly lucky, she may have kept a diary. Then I’d go from there. It really is like following a trail of breadcrumbs. Some days I leave the library frustrated. Every once in a while, though, I open a family history with a pristine spine and un-tattered pages—perhaps no one has looked at it in decades or ever—and find a trove of remarkable stories of a woman healer no one has ever heard of before.

The Weber Stake Relief Society minutes. It contains a March 1880 discourse by Zina D. H Young telling the sisters they have the privilege to pray for and bless their children, whether their husbands are with them or not.

This kind of bread crumb by bread crumb work has been equally fruitful when I read through old periodicals such as the Woman’s Exponent, the Young Woman’s Journal, the Relief Society Magazine, and the Juvenile Instructor. There are publications of Gleaner Girls that include stories of mothers healing daughters. There are gems in the publications of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers. Often the most unlikely of sources lead me down paths to unknown beauty.

There has also been very good work done on this topic by Linda King Newell, Jonathan Stapley and Kristine Wright, and others. I turned to these as important resources. Stapley and Wright’s essay, “Female Ritual Healing in Mormonsim,” provides an academic historical overview of the practice. Newell’s “Gifts of the Spirit: Women’s Share” writes of the practice and its important place in early Mormon women’s identity (as Relief Society members, temple-endowed women, and in relation to the priesthood). These scholarly works provided me with a strong introduction and sense of scope for the practice.

In preparing for that first Midwest Pilgrims presentation, I read every single scholarly article that had been published on the topic of Mormon women healing, blessing, and administering. Then I read every book or article from their footnotes that I could get my hands on.

Stapley and Wright’s “Female Ritual Healing” quickly become my roadmap. It progresses in a linear way from the patriarchal blessings given to women in the Kirtland era through to the official ending of the practice in 1946. I could locate accounts and information from other sources in the timeline of “Female Ritual Healing.” In doing so, I started to be able to see a much larger picture and a historical cultural context. I made my meandering way to the 1930s and ’40s, having watched the practice take root, bloom, grow and spread—sacred, celebrated and nurtured.

Segullah: What happened in the 1930s and ’40s?

Fara: Relief Society general president Louise Robison counseled sisters, in December 1935, to make sure any women’s administration (she called it the “beautiful ordinance”) was only done “carefully” and “quietly.” When I read these words for the first time, I simply broke. I cried sobs of despair and loss. For three days I mourned. I walked through my life with puffed and red eyes. I had seen this glorious and sacred vision, and then I had seen it carefully and quietly pass away.

When I presented the history (in a 50-minute nutshell) to the women at Midwest Pilgrims, the reception was just as emotional. Women shared stories of their grandmothers. They cried in grief. They spoke of small things they did to channel a blessing as they held and prayed with their children. I suppose I had expected an interested audience—I was sharing historical research, after all. But what I got was an emotional outpouring and communal mourning. I had not realized nor expected that.

“When I read these words for the first time, I simply broke. I cried sobs of despair and loss. For three days I mourned. I walked through my life with puffed and red eyes. I had seen this glorious and sacred vision, and then I had seen it carefully and quietly pass away.”  

Segullah: Can you share some of the challenges you faced doing this research? 

The obstacles to my study of Mormon women’s engagement in healing and blessing—and likewise the limits of others’ work on the subject—are the invisible boundaries of race, class, and gender identity. Previous studies rely on the voices and lived religious practice of Eliza Snow, Zina Young, Emmeline Wells—all distinguished by their prominent roles within the church. They each had familial connections to prophets and social position. Where they lived after the post polygamy manifesto was important. Their whiteness (access to the temple endowments) was significant. For instance, when Eliza worked to define and canonize women’s healing/blessing acts in the 1880s, she connected women’s authority to act to their priesthood temple endowment and sealing. 

Jane Manning James

This maneuver certainly elevated some women’s ecclesiastical power. However, it disenfranchised a much larger group of women who could not receive their endowments because they were too poor to journey to the temple, they were married to non-believers, they were not white, etc. The representative faces of historic LDS women are privileged Excavating others’ whispering voices requires deep and patient research. I feel it is time to take into account the lived religious healing and blessing practices of the women in the church margins and to identify the influence of non-Protestant and non-American women’s healing cultures on the immigrant women who joined the church.

The Representative Women of Deseret is both the title of this image and the book it accompanied (1883 book by Augusta Crocharan that presents the biographies of 21 influential Mormon women). The image was a poster that was displayed through the western US to market the book (and market that Mormon polygamous women were not downtrodden idiots. I have a reprint of the book at home. If you’re interested, this link is to the image in the Library of Congress, and the second link is to a digitized copy of the book.

 Because part of my work is identifying the privilege that surrounds this subject and working to make space for honest inclusion, I relied on scholarship in global religious studies. I sought out individuals within the Mormon tradition whose lived religious experiences are located outside the United States as well as in other related faith traditions, particularly the Community of Christ and FLDS groups. My editor and I have already discussed at least two follow-up books. One would contain first-hand accounts of historical LDS women from the margins. The second would study the growing contemporary movement of women engaging in religious ritual and blessing acts, energy healing and holistic medicine, essential oils, and midwifery. 

As a concurrent project, I am currently collecting accounts of contemporary Mormon women’s experiences with blessing and healing. This collection will be donated to the Church History Library so future scholars can access 21st-century Mormon women’s miracles.

I anticipate a future filled with continued scholarship on Mormon women’s creation of and engagement with their own lived religion.

detail of Representative Women of Deseret showing a woman blessing by the laying on of hands.

 Segullah: “At least two follow-up books”! You’ve got your work cut out for you! 

Fara: My book is currently expected to be in the University of Illinois Press’ Fall 2020 catalog, and it will be approximately 200 pages long. I’m currently finishing revisions, and then the manuscript will be sent out for the second round of peer reviews. After that there is a round of reviews from faculty at the University of Illinois, gaining permissions to print primary source materials, page setting, and indexing before it actually goes to press.

Segullah: Did anything in particular strike you as you got deeper into your historical research?

Fara: As I delved deeper into researching and writing about this history, I began to understand that there is a power to this history. It is set apart from our hagiographies of latter-day prophets’ boyhoods and our testimony building subversion and containment stories of early Mormon women like Mary Fielding Smith. There is such rich source material on Eliza and Zina and Emmeline and Helen Mar Kimball and Patty Sessions and Susa Young Gates—but they were the privileged. They’re the big names.

This history of our Mormon women progenitors is powerful precisely because it reached into and informed the lives of the unnamed, common, everyday sisters. For decades our carefully curated history had excised the things that have been difficult to account for in our contemporary moment. In doing so, it wrote out the experiences of my own great-great-grandmother.

In the years since, of course, we’ve seen Mormon women’s history explode, with publications from the Church Historian’s Press like The First Fifty Years of Relief Society and the gospel topics essays. Yet, even so, these resources highlight the words and work of relatively few elite Mormon women. That said, it is thanks to the value of Eliza and Zina that their records have been kept safe and accessible. Thanks to their words we have records of healings, blessings, and washing and anointing with oil for confinement.

Dr. Ellis Shipp is on the right-hand side of the center row. The rest of the women are her unnamed nursing students.

But I’m not an elite Mormon woman, and neither are the other Mormon women I know. I want to know about the women whose names appear in Relief Society minutes from 1893 who are not the presidents. Did they call down power from heaven, too? Did they hold their babies and bless them with the power to heal? Did they carry consecrated oil in their bag? Did they anoint their dying husbands when “the priesthood” said it was a lost cause?

“This history of our Mormon women progenitors is powerful precisely because it reached into and informed the lives of the unnamed, common, everyday sisters.”

Segullah: What did you learn about yourself while doing this research? 

Fara: When I think now about the biggest challenges to my research, while there have been the problems that riddle any academic project, my two biggest roadblocks have been in my head.

#1: Growing up and even through university, I never had “Mormon Full-time Academic and Wife and Mother” modeled for me. Perhaps it was an accident of geography: if I had grown up in Boston instead of Danbury, Connecticut. Perhaps it was an accident of resources: if I had been able to name and articulate the absence of a model, or if I had been less naïve about how hard it might be to find balance. Regardless, I needed—and our daughters need today—Mormon women to model what our potential really looks like and how we can plan and prepare for the work to reach it.

#2: I’ve had this idea that there is a correct way to do everything. If you don’t check all the boxes, then you’re not prepared for the work and your legitimacy is questionable. I’m a trained researcher and textual scholar, but I never completed my Ph.D. I finished all my coursework. I thought I could find a way to raise children, move away from my university, and still study for comps and write a dissertation. I just couldn’t. Or I just didn’t. Perhaps I could have, but I’ve always struggled with that dreaded imposter syndrome. I always have felt like an interloper and an outsider.

Since I hadn’t checked all the boxes and completed the Ph.D., since I hadn’t been trained as a historian, since I’d been at home with the kids for fifteen years, fear kept me up at night and kept putting off my research and writing. That fear kept telling me that anything I did would be derivative, that my work would be insubstantial. It taunted me with the thought that the critics would skewer me, that the reviews would be horrible, and, even worse, that they’d be right. This fear has, hands down, been the biggest challenge for me. Slogging through it, facing it, and learning how to send it away has been one of the hardest things I have had to do, and one of the best things I have gained through this journey of healing, itself.

“Our daughters today need Mormon women to model what our potential really looks like and how we can plan and prepare for the work to reach it.”

Segullah: Who were some of the particular women you felt connected to when you discovered them in your research? Were there any that you didn’t really like?

Fara: There are some women—whose names you wouldn’t recognize—that I just fell in love with. I hold them in my heart. There is one woman who died young, leaving a husband and an adopted son. She also left a journal that she had kept from the age of twelve. In it, she recounted her curiosity and amazement at being washed and anointed for health. Later she writes with knowledge beforehand of the sisters coming to wash and anoint her two weeks before she was due to give birth. She records the blessings and promises they made to her.

Then she writes of the loss of that child during labor, the decline of her health, the blessings and anointings yet still the decline. And then the handwriting changes and her husband writes of her death. This journal is stunning in its honesty and in its accounts of this woman’s very common Mormon life. One of my dreamed of future projects is to publish it with editor’s comments and a cultural/religious context.

Fara holding one of the original Woman’s Exponents. the Women’s Exponent contains many accounts of women healing the sick, speaking in tongues, prophesying, giving blessings, etc.

There aren’t any women I’ve come across who I have outright despised. But there are some who I don’t always like. I love Emmeline Wells, and I have a hard time with some of the women (one in particular) on her Relief Society board who may have worked behind the scenes to hasten her release and, by extension, her death. I also have a conflicted relationship with Eliza Snow. She worked so hard to establish and normalize women’s blessings and administrations, and she undertook long-term campaigns to legitimize women’s authority and spiritual power, but she did so by disenfranchising many lower-caste, poor, black and indigenous Mormon women in the process.

“There is a need for this history, and there is a need to see ourselves in the rituals and spiritual gifts of our foremothers. Yes, the loss of these gifts is devastating, but the knowledge of their existence and reality—the knowledge that God saw fit to give this to women—is empowering and faith promoting.”

Segullah: What are you targeting your research on right now?

Fara: My focus now is to uncover glimpses into the lived religion and lived practice of the common Mormon women of the 19th and 20th centuries. And what follows next, of course, is documenting the ways in which today’s just as common Mormon women are finding ways to minister to the same needs (the dangerous pregnancy, the broken child, the husband’s tumor).

I am currently in revisions with my book. Finding a balance between a deep engagement with the historical arc of Mormon women’s administration—from pre-Lucy Mack Smith through to today—and the space to spend time with individual unknown women’s sacred experiences is exceedingly difficult. Every time I have the privilege of speaking at conferences and retreats, I am again moved by the tears, sacred secrets, fears, needs and deep faith of the women who come to speak to me.

There is a need for this history, and there is a need to see ourselves in the rituals and spiritual gifts of our foremothers. Yes, the loss of these gifts is devastating, but the knowledge of their existence and reality—the knowledge that God saw fit to give this to women—is empowering and faith promoting. It moves us to reach higher.

In 1902, Emmeline B. Wells spoke at the National Council of Women about the work that women had done towards suffrage and equality. “History may not have preserved it all,” she explained. “There may be no tangible record of what has been gained, but sometime we shall know that nothing has been irretrievably lost.” For some reason unknown to me, I have found myself tethered to Emmeline’s promise.

“History may not have preserved it all. There may be no tangible record of what has been gained, but sometime we shall know that nothing has been irretrievably lost.” Emmeline B. Wells.

Segullah: Who has helped you most throughout this project?

Fara: Everything about this project has come from women. It was a woman who first asked me to start the research. It has been women—over and over again—who have reached out to me to share my research and work. It was a woman who finally demanded I start a book and who took time to connect me to presses and vouch for my scholarship. It was a woman editor who wanted to work with me (and who is patient with me and so encouraging and supportive). It has been women who have shared with me their sacred experience of administering blessings and seeing divine intervention as a result.

Segullah: What kind of responses have you had from church leaders/members (men and women) about your research on these topics?

Fara: I’ve been very lucky to have had opportunities to speak with several emeritus (for lack of a better word) female church leaders. Without exception, each of them has offered their support for me and for this project. One, in particular, explained that the sisterhood and community that was built from women blessing and ritually administering to one another is precisely what our new call to ministry is hoping to recover and aspire to. One or two of these sisters shared experiences with women blessing or with women experiencing similar spiritual manifestations. Not a single one of them said that the open discussion of the subject in church (or in my book) was inappropriate or taboo.

One of these sisters had worked on Women of Covenant, the church’s published history of the Relief Society. She explained that she asked the apostle she was working with about including accounts of women giving blessings and performing healings. She herself was wary to do so. He responded strongly and immediately that this history must be included, that it was an important part of our history and it should be known.

I’ve also been generously treated by many of our church history matriarchs. Over and over again these women have been willing and happy to sit with me and talk about their own experiences as historians, temple workers, church employees—they’ve offered their insights and shared sacred experiences.

Several Mormon scholars have opened their homes and personal libraries to me, asked me hard questions, shared their thoughts and wisdom, directed me to resources.

When I spoke at that first Midwest Pilgrims about women participating in blessings and healing others, I asked the room by a show of hands who had personal experience with this—who had ever seen a woman give a blessing. Two women raised their hands. Both had grandmothers who had done so in the 1950s. Five years later, when I ask this same question to a group of women now, a significant percentage of them raise their hands. Perhaps, I’ve thought, this increase in numbers has to do with the self-selected group of women who are interested in the topic and who show up.

What has surprised me, however, is that when I’m discussing my research with very orthodox, traditional, conservative Mormon women, many of them have experience with blessing. Five sisters, all of them in their 50s and 60s, gather in Orem to stand around their ailing mother and bless her before she undergoes major surgery. Some stand next to their husbands on occasions and place their hands together on their child’s head to offer a blessing. Many of them have knelt at their child’s bedside and prayed a blessing, placing their hand on their child’s arm or forehead or chest. These Mormon women are not conflicted about their blessings. They have been faithful and righteous all their lives. They keep the commandments. They follow the prophet. It is natural and right to, when prompted by the Spirit, offer a blessing.

In contrast, it is more often the more progressive or feminist Mormon women who feel the desire to bless their children or their husband or their friend and are conflicted about doing so. They worry that giving a blessing will be offensive to God. They worry that they’ll do it the wrong way or say the wrong thing. They don’t want to be disrespectful.

As local priesthood leaders and others in my surrounding area get to know me and find out about the research I’ve been doing, many of them have come up to me and pulled me aside. “Fara,” they say, “I just thought you should know that my wife has the gift of healing.” Then they tell me stories about their partners—these women who they love and admire who have laid their hands on them and prayed, who have blessed their children, who have written a blessing to their missionary child abroad. These bishops, Elders Quorum presidents, High Counselors come to me to share the spiritual power of their wives with pride, admiration, and deep love and gratitude.

The image of Zina, Eliza, Bathsheba (and Emily Partridge Young): Zina Eliza Bathsheba were all great and well-known healers. They all were also High Priestesses in the temple. Emily Young, as far as I have discovered, was not a healer, though she did become a member of the Nauvoo RS at the same meeting where Joseph Smith taught the women how to administer to the sick.

Segullah: While you were at work on this book, did you have what you would call “spiritual experiences”?

Fara: I cannot point to one singular spiritual experience that I’ve had during this journey, but without hesitation, I can say that God the Heavenly Father and Mother have opened the heavens and cleared the path for this to be shared with their daughters and sons. I don’t think it has anything really to do with me. I don’t feel called to this or integral to it. But I do honestly feel that this project itself—the uncovering and sharing of regular Mormon women’s stories of acting with their divine authority and power of God to bless and minister and lift and consecrate and stand in place of Heavenly Mother and to imbue the world with life and be witnesses to death and suffering—this project is divinely important. I feel responsible for nurturing it and caring for it for a while, in concert with so many other women and men who are doing the same during this moment.

I wish sometimes that I would have this clear miraculous pouring-down of the Spirit, perhaps mainly so that I could worry a little less about everything. But this isn’t the way things go; it doesn’t work this way. Instead, I try to remember that everything on this journey of mine—from the first invitation to research and speak at Midwest Pilgrims to the book contract to today—has fallen into place in very quiet (yet just as miraculous) ways. I’m connected to God in quiet ways. That’s how it has always been for me. And that can be enough.

Segullah: What do you long to do now that you understand more of this aspect of LDS history?

Fara: I am not blessed with the gift to heal.

I’d like to be able to place my hands on my daughter’s body, call down power from heaven, and heal her anxiety and sadness. I’d like to bless her with a straight back and strong feet to carry her upright and forward on her journey.

I’d like to wash my son’s head, anoint it with oil, and with my authority call upon God to take away his stumbling block diagnoses. I’d like to tell him that God made him good and strong and loved.

To be working on this project, to spend days transcribing accounts of mighty women working miracles, and to not be able to heal my own family from physical and emotional suffering has at times been devastatingly painful. Because, of course, now I see that this is my inheritance, and I can’t make good use of it because I am not blessed with the gift to heal.

So instead I hold close to gratitude and perspective.

I’m grateful for a God of miracles who cured my mother’s breast cancer with specialist doctors and sensitive mammograms that catch tumors early. I’m grateful for a God of miracles who inspired scientists to develop Lexapro and ADHD meds. And I am grateful that I can kneel over my sleeping children and pray a blessing on them.

Segullah: You are a compassionate and loving mother, Fara.

What are your highest hopes for the impact of your book?

Fara: We have to know this history. We have to know what our early Latter-day Saint sisters did, why they did it, by what authority, by what faith. We have to know the stories of the regular women—not just the “Elizas and Emmelines”—who were engaged in spiritual acts of power of authority.

Once we know this history, then I think it’s only natural that we begin to see corollaries in our own lives.

Once we know this history, then we start to talk about it in Relief Society, in Family Home Evening, with our partners and our children and our friends.

Once we know this history, we are more likely to engage in a sisterhood and ministry imbued with power and the expectation of efficacious service and love.

Once we know our history, we learn that we can say a prayer with the intention of a blessing and that this intention isn’t offensive to male priesthood or to God. In fact, this intention is aligning us more closely with our Heavenly Father and Mother. Once we know this history, we start to see ourselves as being in the image of God and standing, as our Mother does, at the gates that herald spirits in and out of this world.

I believe that empowering Mormon women with this history will change our families and strengthen our wards and stakes.

“Once we know this history, we are more likely to engage in a sisterhood and ministry imbued with power and the expectation of efficacious service and love.”

About Linda Hoffman Kimball

Linda Hoffman Kimball is an artist, writer, photographer, and poet who grew up as a faithful Christian near Chicago, & joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1971 while at Wellesley College near Boston. Early on she assumed that all Latter-day Saints were articulate, inquisitive, faithful, and socially engaged since her role models in the University wards in Cambridge, MA., were. Her husband says she is “fluent, but not native” in Mormon-ese. She is a founding member of Mormon Women for Ethical Government.

5 thoughts on “The History of Women’s Healings and Blessings: An Interview with Author Fara Sneddon”

  1. There are different ways to heal. I think your work is going to begin the healing of this long breach between the sisters and our own blessing rituals.

    (As a minor aside, huzzah for seeing g someone use "wary" correctly! I am weary of seeing and hearing it misused.)

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  2. This lifts my heart. I am thrilled to hear a book like this is going to be published and that I can read it. Thank you Linda and Fara.

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  3. Like many others, I remember a friend of my mother (born in 1911) recounting her knowledge and experience with washing and anointing sister to sister in Arizona where she grew up. That's all I ever knew. I love the ordinances that women share in the temple. Such an interesting book. Can't wait to read it.

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  4. Thank you for your work in bringing to light the potential gifts of women. As a descendent of Heber J Grant, I was fascinated to learn of the gifts that his mother and other early women of the church exercised. After reading the archives of the early days of the RS, it was planted in my heart and mind that such gifts were possible. When I moved to Nauvoo in 2003, I began to have experiences that resulted in my becoming a spiritual healer. I have since practiced spiritual healing while living in Nauvoo, Nashville, The Bay Area, and now in Salt Lake City. For fourteen years I have had the priviledge of training others (both LDS and non-LDS) to become healers for themselves and their loved ones. In my experience, sometimes it is sufficient to merely ask for healing. However, it is most often the case that healing involves generational work, as well as a greater understanding of what’s happening when we ask to be healed. http://www.insightsofthesoul.com.

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  5. This is the most important interview I have read in years. I think that Fara's work on women's spiritual gifts, especially the gift of healing, as the truths and stories she has uncovered become widely known, has the potential to change the entire LDS culture.

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