Joseph Smith began praying, calling upon God, exercising great faith, concerned for his sins, he was in darkness, he saw a very bright light above the brightness of the sun at noonday, like a consuming fire, a personage appeared standing above him in the air, an angel of the Lord, its glory defied description, some body parts were naked, Joseph was fearful but he was soon delivered from that, and he felt a sensation which filled his whole body, he was enveloped in the midst of heavenly glory, Joseph was called by name, was told he was forgiven of his sins, he saw other angels, and was given other words of revelation/insight.
The First Vision, you might think? Nope. It was the appearance of “Moroni” (identified in 1838 as “Nephi”).
After every firsthand account of the First Vision, Joseph described the appearance of “Moroni” some three years later in very similar terms to the First Vision, perhaps because it was a very similar mystical vision (see accounts below). It is the very same pattern repeated.
It was perhaps a similar ego death experience, and subsequent mystical-contemplative vision of God/Divine. Joseph was an adept in these altered mystical-contemplative states of consciousness, even by the young age of 14-17. He seems to have had a predisposition for them. It takes some practitioners years, if not decades, of contemplative practice to reach similar mystical states. Joseph seems to have been a natural.
We should perhaps not see Joseph’s visions of “Moroni” as separate, distinct, and very unique visions apart from the First Vision, but of the very same type of mystical experience. The “gospel” was being conveyed, realized. The experience itself was the gospel-dharma.
I was seventeen years of age I called again upon the Lord and he shewed unto me a heavenly vision for behold an angel of the Lord came and stood before me and it was by night and he called me by name and he said the Lord had forgiven me my sins and he revealed unto me that in the Town of Manchester Ontario County N.Y. there was plates of gold…-“History, circa Summer 1832,” p. 4, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed November 7, 2019, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-circa-summer-1832/4
When I was about 17 years old I saw another vision of angels, in the night season after I had retired to bed I had not been a sleep, when but was meditating upon my past life and experiance, I was verry concious that I had not kept the commandments, and I repented hartily for all my sins and transgression, and humbled myself before Him; <whose eyes are over all things>, all at once the room was iluminated above the brightness of the sun an angel appeared before me, his hands and feet were naked pure and white, and he stood between the floors of the room, clothed <with> in purity inexpressible.-“Journal, 1835–1836,” p. 24, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed November 7, 2019, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/journal-1835-1836/25
While I was thus in the act of calling upon God, I discovered a light appearing in the room which continued to increase untill the room was lighter than at noonday and <when> immediately a personage <appeared> at my bedside standing in the air for his feet did not touch the floor. He had on a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness. It was a whiteness beyond any<thing> earthly I had ever seen, nor do I believe that any earthly thing could be made to appear so exceedinly white and brilliant, His hands were naked and his arms also a little above the wrist. So also were his feet naked as were his legs a little above the ankles. His head and neck were also bare. I could discover that he had no other clothing on but this robe as it was open so that I could see into his bosom. Not only was his robe exceedingly white but his whole person was glorious beyond description, and his countenance truly like lightning. The room was exceedingly light, but not so very bright as immediately around his person. When I first looked upon him I was afraid, but the fear soon left me. He called me by name and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me and that his name was Nephi.-“History, circa June 1839–circa 1841 [Draft 2],” p. 5, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed November 7, 2019, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-circa-june-1839-circa-1841-draft-2/5. A later redaction, perhaps some 33 years later, changed the original name of Nephi to Moroni.
On the evening of the 21st of September, A. D. 1823, while I was praying unto God, and endeavoring to exercise faith in the precious promises of scripture on a sudden a light like that of day, only of a far purer and more glorious appearance, and brightness burst into the room, indeed the first sight was as though the house was filled with consuming fire; the appearance produced a shock that affected the whole body; in a moment a personage stood before me surrounded with a glory yet greater than that with which I was already surrounded. This messenger proclaimed himself to be an angel of God sent to bring the joyful tidings…-““Church History,” 1 March 1842,” p. 707, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed November 7, 2019, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/church-history-1-march-1842/2