Jun 24, 2014 I Micah Hanks

The Bizarre Mechanical Messiah of John Murray Spear

Clergyman, abolitionist, secret-society founder, 1850's women's rights and free-love advocate... and eventually a steam-punk "godsmith" seeking to create a kind of holier-than-holy, copper-bound mecha-messiah.

Needless to say, John Murray Spear must have been a sight to be held in his day.

Touting the virtues of extra-marital sex and birth control by the middle 1850s, he was indeed a renegade for his time, having been essentially excommunicated by his brothers and sisters in the Universalist Church of America, under which he had served as a minister for more than two decades. Now, rather than seeking to serve the will of God, he had changed gears in the most literal sense.

It was time to institute a new age, Spear believed, and with the wisdom of long-dead scientific geniuses he claimed to be channeling, his aim was to create a new kind of God for the coming utopian age of enlightened thinkers.

His message of profound love had long been a dominating influence in his life and of those around him. Spear had been regarded widely for co-organizing the Boston Vigilance Committee, which aimed at assisting escaped and fugitive slaves from being captured as part of the famous Underground Railroad. Spear's influence among his fellow abolitionists had been profound indeed: William Lloyd Garrison once wrote of him that, "although the weapons of our warfare [are] not carnal but spiritual, we [do] not object at all to the use of the 'Spear.'" 

His outreach to slaves and prisoners branched further outward, and Spear would soon also become a champion against the use of the death penalty. It is clear that, despite the controversy surrounding his activism (much of which had still been considered taboo around that time), Spear's goal had been to bring about change through literal implementation of "peace and love," a precursor to the 1960s anti-war movement and sexual revolutions that would occur amidst the "hippie" generation more than a century later. 

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The back of Spear's business card, advertising Spiritualist healing services.

Spear and his multifaceted interests had been steering him toward the virtues of Spiritualism long before his break with the Universalists, along with the encouragement of his daughter, Sophronia. Having parted ways with his former religious order, he continued as a sort of "freelancer" in the ministry of a variety of esoteric practices, many of which began to incorporate elements of various technologies of the day. For instance, his version of faith healing had been dubbed "magnetic" healing instead. Similarly, Spear had not only claimed semi-divine powers of this sort, but further claimed to be in direct contact with the likes of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and none other than John Murray, his namesake, from whom alleged "spirit correspondence" led to to the publication of Spear's collection of channeled writings known as Messages from the Superior State. 


Spear called this spirit-based panel of founding fathers and wise men ‘‘The Association of Electrizers’’, whom Spear had been certain were working through him to help spur new technological achievements in the mortal realm. Together with a small group of followers, Spear began work on a strange contraption in a small building located near his base of operations in Lynn, Massachusetts.

Utilizing a dining room table as a base, Spear began constructing an array of magnets, copper and zinc fittings, wires, and other items based on a schematic his personal group of ascended masters were conveying to him. In essence, the "device" was intended to be an "electric thinking machine" of sorts, working something like a modern day computer might be expected to function. It was, in fact, one of many fantastic innovations Spear's guides in the spirit world were encouraging him to build, in addition to airships powered by electricity, and a new global communications system that would operate based on telepathy.

And yet, this fantastic device would be so much more than just catch the spillover of humankind's thought processes and carry out menial tasks. Spear believed this thing of his could literally change the world, or in some strange Frankensteinian fashion, become its own innate form of spirit intelligence, embodied within the machine he had built.

Spear dubbed his creation "The New Motive Power," and in a ceremony carried out with the assistance of an unnamed woman, the device was "birthed" into existence in a ritual that brings to mind L. Ron Hubbard and Jack Parsons' famous "conception" of an antichrist about a century later. While the details of Spear's "ceremony" are more ambiguous, his unseasonably warm views toward sexual liberation for his day leave little to the imagination.

But alas, despite the "birthing" ceremony, Spear's New Motive Power failed to come spinning and whirring to life as a mechanical God, and upon acceptance of his failure, Spear went about dismantling months of work that produced his strange forbidden mechanical manifestation.

In later years, Spear's associates had mostly disavowed themselves of him, feeling certain of the poor old man's insanity. If indeed there were ever any spirits communicating with him, it seems apparent that after two decades, they too had had enough; in 1872, Spear claimed his panel of ascended masterminds had advised his retirement.

"Dearly have I loved the work in which I was engaged," he wrote toward the end of his life. "I have been helped to see that beyond the clouds that were round about me, there was a living, guiding, intelligent, beneficent purpose—the elevation, regeneration and redemption of the inhabitants of this earth."

While mostly remembered as a madman, many are the commentators who have remembered the frequent pairing of madness with pure brilliance. Perhaps, despite his odd ideas and intentions to bring about some strangely fashioned "mechanized messiah", his truest gift had been foresight; many elements present within his social and political views would begin to manifest within the century that followed. So far as his "New Motive Power" machine goes, humankind still is working at trying to create thinking machines the likes of which Spear had been "instructed" to create, and still others remain convinced that instituting such creations in our midst will do nothing short of creating actual mechanical "gods" on Earth. 

Though he may not have had the clearest picture of that future which lay ahead, Spear very well may have been an offbeat prophet, of sorts. In fact, he would probably fit in well with the so-called "transhumanist" thinkers of today.

Micah Hanks

Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.

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