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James Randi Educational Foundation

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural

Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies

Index | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y | Z

ectoplasm (from the Greek ektos and plasma, meaning “exteriorized material”) A term originated either by wealthy amateur scientist Schrenck-Notzing or by physiologist Charles Richet, this designates the amorphous substance said to be extruded from all the bodily orifices of the spirit medium during séances. It could assume the form of a hand or a face, but in photographs it generally resembles a piece of coarse net like cheesecloth. The resemblance is very close.
      Ectoplasm, as generally described and photographed, could be simulated by means of netting coated with luminous paint, which in the heyday of spiritualism was usually water-based. Though early writers on spiritualism had actually solved the true nature of some of their experiences with ectoplasm, they failed to realize that fact. Dr. Gustav Geley (1868-1924) described his encounter with the strange substance during a séance with Eva C. (Eva Carrière) during which a “luminous hand” touched and patted him. A “drop” of luminous substance, he reported, fell to his sleeve, where it continued to glow for about twenty minutes. This behavior is exactly what would be expected of cheesecloth coated in luminous paint.
      A book on the subject complains that ectoplasm's  

      resemblance to such materials as cheesecloth has often provoked allegations of fraud, as well as making it possible for fraudulent mediums to simulate ectoplasm.

      At risk of being thought rather difficult, one might suggest that the words ectoplasm and cheesecloth could be interchanged in that last paragraph, to produce an interesting comparison.
      If it can be imagined that mediums might actually cheat, it would appear to be wise for a cheater to secure the luminous cheesecloth by means of a cord, so that it might not fall out of reach or be left behind when the lights came up in the séance room. Consider, then, the following naive account of a séance with medium Margery Crandon:  

      In the “Margery” séances in Boston . . . ectoplasm was photographed. . . . In several of these photographs the ectoplasm is visible . . . [in] a form then reduced to a species of placenta attached to the medium by a cord which, in its turn, calls up the appearance of an umbilical cord.

      The possibilities are evident.
      Sitters are prohibited from touching the ectoplasm, for fear that the medium may be harmed. It may be that the reputation of the medium might also suffer.
      In illustrations of ectoplasm often-shown in credulous books, it is obvious that some cotton wool has been teased out and stuck on the medium's chin. But to the spiritualists, this is ectoplasm or an etherial body in the process of forming.
      Also often seen is a photo of a paper cutout with a length of white cloth fastened to it, stuck up on the wall with a thumbtack above the medium's head. The believers describe this as a “spiritoid form draped in a white ectoplasmic veil.” Incredibly, they actually believe this.
      Ectoplasm is differentiated from apport and ideoplast, which see.

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