Spear, John Murray (ca. 1804-1887)

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Spear, John Murray (ca. 1804-1887)

Famous American Universalist preacher and an outstanding figure in the history of early American Spiritualism. He was baptized by John Murray, the founder of the Universalist Church, whose name he bore. In the early years of his public activity he distinguished himself as an ardent abolitionist. In 1845, with his brother Charles, he published a weekly newspaper, The Prisoner's Friend, in Boston, and for many years devoted himself to helping the poor, especially prisoners and their relatives. In one year alone he delivered 80 lectures on criminal reform and against capital punishment, distributing 7,500 books to prisoners and traveling 8,000 miles in the cause.

His attention was first drawn to Spiritualism in 1851. A year later, he developed automatic writing and healing. Messages came through his hand giving addresses and names of sick people. He visited them and drove the pain out of their bodies by his touch.

Later he began to draw and deliver inspirational discourses. It was asserted that they came from John Murray. Under the title Messages from the Superior State they were published in 1852. In the following year he was made the instrument of a spirit band called the "Association of Beneficents" and produced a large work that bore resemblance in scope to the Divine Revelations of Andrew Jackson Davis (1847).

The first volume of Spear's work was published in 1857 in Boston under the title The Educator, being Suggestions, theoretical and practical, designed to promote Man-Culture and Integral Reform, with a view of the Ultimate Establishment of a Divine Social State on Earth. In the spirit world several similar organizations to the Association of Beneficents appear to have existed. One of them, the "Association of Electricizers," involved John Murray Spear in one of the strangest adventures in the history of Spiritualism.

As announced in April 1854, in The New Era, they instructed him to construct a "new motor" that would be self-generative, drawing upon the great reservoir of the magnetic life in nature and acting, like the human body, as a living organism. The machine was duly built at High Rock, near Lynn, Massachusetts, of zinc and copper at the cost of $2,000. One of Spear's disciples, Mrs. Alonzo E. Newton (the wife of one of his assistants), was appointed in a vision to be "the Mary of the New Dispensation." At High Rock, near the machine, she fell into trance and went through frightful convulsions for a period of two hours, at the end of which there were said to be indications of life in the machine. The machine was considered a newborn child; the medium nursed it for weeks and the enthusiastic band announced it as "the Art of Arts, the Science of all Sciences, the New Messiah, God's last Best Gift to Man."

Reports of a shocking nature were circulated about the birth of this modern Frankenstein -style creation and the practices by which the life principle had been infused. Andrew Jackson Davis explained " that by means of a spiritual overshadowing, à la Virgin Mary, the maternal functions were brought into active operation; a few of the usual physiological symptoms followed; the crisis arrived and being in presence of the mechanism, the first living motion was communicated to it." In an anonymous article Newton's husband proceeded to show that Newton had been the subject of a set of remarkable psychological experiences and prophetic visions at the time Spear was engaged in directing the construction of the machinery at High Rock, that the coincidence between their experiences was later discovered, and that the crisis reached its apex when Newton visited the machine. She communicated, and subsequently maintained through certain mediumistic processes, an actual living principle until the machine was pronounced "a thing of life."

When the machine did not work, Davis concluded that mechanically minded spirits, deficient in practical knowledge, were conducting experiments at Spear's expense. A few months later in Randolph, where the machine was moved to have the advantage of a lofty electrical position, superstitious villagers destroyed the new motor in the night.

The destruction of the new motor had a certain advantage in silencing critics of the machine's failure to work as predicted. Other Spiritualists took the loss philosophically, S. B. Brittan commenting in the Spiritual Telegraph that, "If the New Motor is to be the physical savior of the race, it will probably rise again." John Murray Spear also projected plans for the building of a "circular city," or "perfect earthly home." These plans were also inspired by spirits. Emma Hardinge Britten, writing in Modern American Spiritualism (1869), observes,

" that Mr. Spear honestly believed in a spiritual origin for the various missions he undertook, and the remarkable part he played, none who ever have come into personal relations with him can question. The unwavering patience with which he endured reproach and odium of their execution, would attest his sincerity, were other evidence wanting."

On April 15, 1869, Spear made a statement about his introduction to Spiritualism at a meeting of the London Dialectical Society. Since the time of John Murray Spear, other individuals, such as John Worrell Keely and Wilhelm Reich, have claimed to have discovered a motor force in nature.


Hewit, S. C. Messages from the Superior State. Boston: B. Marsh, 1853.

Report on Spiritualism of the Committee of the London Dialectical Society. London: Longmans, Green, Reader, & Dyer, 1871. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1976.