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.
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Spear, John Murray
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
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

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