“Whosoever Has These Things is Called a Seer After the Manner of Old Times”

Alan C. Miner

According to John Sorenson, peering into special stones was widespread in Mesoamerica and elsewhere in the world. In Mesoamerica, the role of seer seems to have been connected with rulership--and particularly with the possession and use of mirrors. Use of a mirror was a special manifestation of the widespread Mesoamerican use of polished stones into which priests gazed to divine the future. Concave mirrors were formed from a mosaic of polished fragments of iron ore or from a single polished stone, such as obsidian; they were used from Olmec to Aztec times. They sometimes served to divine the future. One of their characteristics, which must have seemed magical, was that as the convex face was moved toward one's eyes, at a certain distance related to its focal length, the image suddenly flipped upside down, an impressive phenomenon. Also, the use of a mirror to concentrate the sun's rays and start a fire must have been impressive. (The use of bronze mirrors in a number of similar ways was highly developed in China.) Moctezuma (the Aztec "Montezuma") saw his coming tragic fate at the hands of the Spaniards in a prophetic mirror said to be fixed in the forehead of a magical crane (bird). The Aztec lord of Tacuba saw in a clouded mirror that Mexico would be lost to the Spanish. The Motul dictionary of the Maya language relates nen, "mirror," with rulership. Certain gods were directly connected with, used, or are depicted wearing mirrors, such as Aztec Tezcatlipoca, who bore the title "Smoking Mirror." There probably was a mirror ceremony involved with transfer of royal power; among the Maya, "the mirror ceremony might have conferred the all-encompassing office of wiseman, seer, and priest as well as of secular leader of the people." [John L. Sorenson, "The Book of Mormon as a Mesoamerican Record," in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited, pp. 464-465] [See the commentary on 4 Nephi 1:34]

Step by Step Through the Book of Mormon: A Cultural Commentary