The common LDS use of the term “familiar spirit” seems to imply a set of ideas that are ungodly because one takes them as truthful merely because someone else has vouched for them…hence you come under their influence due to nepotism, or “familiarity” with the speaker. The original sense of the term dealt with a sorcerer’s supposed familiarity with a spirit or spirits from the beyond, or rather, more precisely, a spirit’s willingness to obey and serve a witch or sorcerer. The LDS definition would be an accurate description of someone’s mindset if the person in question didn’t come to their own conclusions about each and every matter, and just accepted a thought because someone like a “Denver Snuffer” or a “Thomas Monson” said so, becoming in a sense, servants to these men. Further, the implication is that the “spirit”, or set of ideas conveyed, is false and ungodly in its own right. “Ungodly” has a specific set of criteria, or rather, “godly communication”, or “truth”, has a specific set of criteria that establishes the communication as coming from God, proving all other communications as evil or base. Those criteria are plainly discussed in the Lectures on Faith and in the Standard Works.
Furthermore, it is obvious in the scriptures that the priesthood of God has power over devils. The question is, when various workshops for hire crop up to teach how to overcome evil spirits, are the devils in question strong-armed definitively by such efforts (See Mark 3:22-30)? Or, does the devil of all devils laugh at them and play games with their minds, leaving them alone just long enough to convince them that they have some power and authority in these things, only to return and torture and tease them anew (see 2 Nephi 9:37 and Moses 7:26)?
Perhaps unintentionally, the LDS Church promotes sorcery by claiming the temple rites employ ancient techniques of using rich symbolism to teach godly ideas (See Nelson, “Personal Preparation for Temple Blessings”), while offering virtually no support for discovering the meanings of those symbols. Superficial treatments on temple symbology are offered in sanitized and approved books that necessarily avoid discussing off-limit topics such as signs, tokens, key words, and really anything involving the wording in the rituals. Within the temples themselves, a culture of fear prevails masquerading as reverence (stemming from the days the LDS Church was scrutinized by the US Government over their secret temple rites), stifling all discussion about such symbols in places that are ostensibly deemed as the only appropriate venues for such holy conversations (in the beginning of the twentieth century, the LDS Church President stopped all conversations about symbols inside of temples because it was feared the US Government had infiltrated the temples with spies…hasn’t the time for the militaristic oversight passed yet?). Ironically, the Masons foster much more freedom amongst themselves to discuss similar symbology, which promotes an insatiable appetite for learning and strong camaraderie over treasured concepts, even if their rituals are only a degraded remnant of something in the past with many interpolations introduced over the years. So, in absence of even this cementing virtue of brotherly love through rich shared meaning and purpose, the LDS have devolved into a stalemate over the symbols themselves. Russell M. Nelson can say the following about the meaning of the symbols: “Teachings of the temple are beautifully simple and simply beautiful. They are understood by the humble, yet they can excite the intellect of the brightest minds” (Ibid.), because there are no cultural reasons for the leadership to avoid discussing the meanings; yet there are for lay-members, who are sometimes afraid to even ask God about them, or ignorant that there are any intended interpretations at all. Devoid of meaning, the symbols have become venerated in LDS culture as magic talismans that harbor mysterious power over the heavenly hosts, as well as over demonic forces. A simple arm raised to the square while invoking the name of Deity is thought to be the authoritative means by which to cast out evil spirits. In the absence of success with this simpler practice (see Acts 19:13-17), more elaborate rituals are concocted by the foolhardy, who prey upon others who pay money to learn all the extra dance steps involved. Such individuals display a hunger for contact with the divine or other-worldly (a natural impulse to be sure), but they hunger not for righteousness; and, those claiming to “live without a veil” also seemingly live without sense in these matters as well, despite how many legitimate experiences they might have had.
Jesus said the adulterous seek after a sign, but do not get them (except unto damnation, see Matthew 16:4); yet the believing, humble, and penitent souls receive signs constantly at his hand (D&C 68:10). Furthermore, he said that some evil spirits “goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21). Prayer is a two-way communication, as the LDS are wont to say, so it begs the question: what is being communicated by God when the case of casting out an evil spirit is presented before Him? A revelation in the D&C is instructive on this point:
Wherefore, it shall come to pass, that if you behold a spirit manifested that you cannot understand, and you receive not that spirit, ye shall ask of the Father in the name of Jesus; and if he give not unto you that spirit, then you may know that it is not of God. And it shall be given unto you, power over that spirit; and you shall proclaim against that spirit with a loud voice that it is not of God—Not with railing accusation, that ye be not overcome, neither with boasting nor rejoicing, lest you be seized therewith. He that receiveth of God, let him account it of God; and let him rejoice that he is accounted of God worthy to receive. (D&C 50:31-34).
Symbols have meanings. What is dramatized in an ordinance is not the heart of the matter involved, but merely a symbolic parable of an eternal reality. The eternal reality is not reached unless God reveals it to you (the things of the Spirit are only understood by the Spirit, see 1 Corinthians 2:11). Even if studying things out amongst fellow believers in sacred places is an advisable first step, every individual must learn their meanings from God alone. At that point, the use of a symbol becomes infused with power due to the understanding of the person using it, as that understanding is given to them by God. It becomes an extension of language and thought, and not merely a dance step or ritual. Even still, having trivia knowledge concerning symbolic meanings doesn’t mean a person is capable of acting on God’s behalf indiscriminately. The devils understand many meanings, and have no power with God (see James 2:19). There is no valid substitute for meekness (as in only doing those things the Lord asks, no more and no less) and keeping all the commandments of God, as the means by which to develop power with Him:
Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven. The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever. (D&C 121:45-46).
And, although coming from a second-hand account, I find this reminiscence about Joseph Smith’s interactions amusing:
I recollect a gentleman who came from Canada, and who had been a Methodist, and had always been in the habit of praying to a God who had no ears, and as a matter of course had to shout and halloo pretty loud to make him hear. Father Johnson asked him to pray in their family worship in the evening, and he got on such a high key, and hallooed so loud that he alarmed the whole village. Among others, Joseph came running out, saying, “What is the matter? I thought by the noise that the heavens and the earth were coming together,” and said to the man, “that he ought not to give way to such an enthusiastic spirit, and bray so much like a jackass.” Because Joseph said that, the poor man put back to Canada, and apostatized; he thought he would not pray to a God who did not want to be screamed at with all one’s might. (Ohio Reminiscenses About Joseph Smith).
Speaking about his experiences with the divine, Joseph Smith gave us all reason to pause and consider how dreadful a task it is to represent the Lord, a warning that we take seriously ourselves:
…had I inspiration, Revelation & lungs to communicate what my soul has contemplated in times past there is not a soul in this congregation but would go to their homes & shut their mouths in everlasting silence on religion, till they had learned something. (Funeral Sermon delivered at the Nauvoo temple site on August 13, 1843).
One cannot reemphasize the following passage from Joseph Smith’s letter from Liberty Jail enough:
A fanciful and flowery and heated imagination beware of; because the things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity, thou must commune with God. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 137).