Dr. James MacDonald Pike was a renowned–perhaps ‘infamous’ is a better word–figure in the early Spiritualist movement. A trained physician and amateur machinist, he served with distinction as a field medic during the American Civil War, and was able to patent and sell a design for a breech-loading carbine as well as an electrically-detonated torpedo to the Union government. Nearly 1,000 “Pike Pattern” carbines were made for Union cavalrymen, and a further 2,500 “Torpikedoes” were made for harbor defense by 1865; though the weapons never saw combat and were quickly mothballed after the war, royalties left Dr. Pike a wealthy man.

He was wounded at Fort Stedman near Petersburg in the closing stages of the war, shot at close range in the head by a Confederate attacker during the breakout attempt there. The wound should have been catastrophic, fatal, but Dr. Pike miraculously survived. The lead ball was never removed, and the wound bothered him for the rest of his life, but nevertheless he regained consciousness in a Union field hospital shortly after the surrender at Appomattox.

Pike claimed in later writings that he had a vision during his convalescence, with “the voices of the pioneers of our current electro-mechanical age singing into my head a song of light like unto a heavenly choir.” Subsequent correspondence with other leading Spiritualists of the time, such as Graceline Kelly Andrews and John Murray Spear (both of whom later fell out with Pike) convinced the doctor that he had been divinely ordained to create a new “electro-mechanical messiah” which, once imbued with a spark of life, would be apart from and above human concerns and able to lead mankind to a new age of spiritual reason and progress.

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