Joseph Smith wrote that in 1823 an angel told him about "two stones in silver bows . . . fastened to a breastplate . . . the possession and use of [which] constituted 'seers' in ancient or former times" (JS—H 1:35). Joseph used these and other seer stones that he found in various ways (occasionally referred to by the biblical term Urim and Thummim) for several purposes, primarily in translating the Book of Mormon and receiving revelations (see HC 1:21—23, 33, 36, 45, 49; 3:28; 5:xxxii; CHC 6:230—31).
Historical sources suggest that effective use of the instruments required Joseph to be at peace with God and his fellowmen, to exercise faith in God, and to exert mental effort (CHC 1:128—33). Otherwise, little is said authoritatively about their operation. Occasionally, people have been deceived by trying to use stones to receive revelation, the best-known latter-day example in the Church being Hiram Page (D&C 28:11—12).
While useful in translating and receiving revelation, seer stones are not essential to those processes. Elder Orson Pratt reported that Joseph Smith told him that the Lord gave him the Urim and Thummim when he was inexperienced as a translator but that he later progressed to the point that he no longer needed the instrument ("'Two Days' Meeting at Brig-ham City," Millennial Star 36 : 498—99).
Richard E. Turley, Jr.