John Murray Spear

A 19th-century spiritualist who tried to create a robotic god to bring about a utopia.

Religion: Spiritualism
Founder: John Murray Spear
Founded: 19th century
Location: United States
Other Names: Association of Electrizers, Brotherhood of the New Life

John Murray Spear, born on September 16, 1804, embarked on a journey that placed him at the heart of 19th-century Spiritualism, a movement that sought to prove life after death through mediums and séances. Initially recognized for his progressive views on abolition, women’s rights, and labor reform, Spear’s life took a dramatic turn following a near-fatal assault in 1844, which resulted in a months-long coma. This experience, coupled with his encounters with Andrew Jackson Davis, a key figure in the Spiritualist movement, marked Spear’s deep dive into Spiritualism. Spear claimed to communicate with a cadre of deceased luminaries, including Benjamin Franklin, who collectively urged him to create a revolutionary device​​​​.

This device, known as the “New Motive Power” or “God Machine,” was envisioned as a self-replicating, sentient machine that would usher in a new era of utopian society, free from labor and inequality. Spear’s engagement with these spirits led to the creation of a complex mechanism in 1854, constructed with the intent of being a perpetual motion machine that could, ostensibly, end human toil and suffering. Spear and his followers, dedicated to the realization of this divine project, constructed the machine at High Rock in Lynn, Massachusetts, investing substantial resources into its development. The mechanism comprised various components intended to mimic human physiological features, such as hair-like antennae and metal plate lungs​​.

The creation process involved peculiar and controversial rituals, notably with Sarah Newton, a follower’s wife, who was designated the “Mary of the New Dispensation.” Newton’s involvement included trance-induced convulsions believed to imbue the machine with life, leading to widespread rumors and skepticism. While there were initial claims of success, the machine failed to operate as intended, leading to disillusionment among Spear’s followers and ridicule from the broader public. The project’s demise was hastened by the destruction of the machine by hostile locals, yet this event did little to deter Spear’s spiritual and reformist endeavors. He continued to advocate for social reforms and later conceptualized the construction of a “circular city” under spiritual guidance, although this too never materialized​​​​.

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