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151871.  Tue Feb 27, 2007 7:41 am Reply with quote

Whatever ectoplasm is or isn’t, it’s definitely pretty revolting stuff. Some of it smells “like ripe gorgonzola”.

According to believers in spiritualism, or spiritism - which for about a century from the middle of the 19th to the middle of the 20th, was a huge international movement, taken seriously by legions of respectable churchmen, scientists and others - ectoplasm is a substance produced during trances by “physical mediums” (as opposed to “mental mediums” [stop sniggering, please], who merely convey verbal communications between the living and the dead, physical mediums are able to produce physical paranormal activity during seances).

I still think it should be “media.”

More to follow ...

151879.  Tue Feb 27, 2007 8:01 am Reply with quote

The word was coined (in the spiritualist context, at least) by Professor Charles Ricket, a one-time president of the Society for Psychical Research. It’s from Greek, and means a substance which comes from within. Biologists use the word to mean “the outer layer of cytoplasm of a cell.”

There are photos of mediums extruding ecto, in which, to be frank, they just look as if they’ve got bed sheets hanging from their mouths. But believers generally describe ecto as being gelatinous, and usually white. Different types of believer, inevitably, have different explanations of exactly what the stuff is, but the commonest view seems to be that it is a materialisation in our plane or dimension of the astral body.

It’s tricky stuff, anyway; regrettably, it is very sensitive to light, which can destroy it - which means that the seances have to be held in very low light conditions, which makes everything, unfortunately, a bit difficult to follow - and it also mustn't be touched, because such contact can cause pain or even serious harm to the medium. It can also cause great harm to the toucher - so, all in all, best not to go poking at it.

Fake ectoplasm has, over the decades, been found to be made from (or from various combinations of) cheesecloth, egg-white, wood pulp, muslin, gelatine, and soap. One person (from context, I’m not sure whether this was a believer or a debunker) defined the composition of ectoplasm (otherwise known, incidentally, as teleplasm) thus: sodium, potassium, water, chlorine, albumen, epithelial cells and fresh red blood corpuscles.

151886.  Tue Feb 27, 2007 8:31 am Reply with quote

In its heyday, physical mediumship attracted not only vast numbers of believers and want-to-believers, but also small armies of debunkers.

One of their main targets, towards the end of ectoplasm’s reign, was Helen Duncan. She was the last woman to be convicted of witchcraft in Britain - being jailed, disgracefully, in 1944. Her only crime was that, in order to feed her desperately poor family, she made fools of a lot of well-to-do suckers.

She was arguably the greatest physical medium of them all, and she outran the debunkers for years. At one seance she is said to have produced no less than 12 feet of luminous ectoplasm from her mouth. She didn't just use her mouth, though - Helen pumped it out from her nostrils, nipples and crotch. And it wasn’t just formless white floaty stuff, either; Helen’s ectoplasm made faces and forms, and moved around. (She is supposed to have employed “Rubber gloves, faces cut from magazines, safety pins, strings, rods” in creating these effects.)

Famous medium-buster Harry Price of the Society for Psychical Research was determined to nail her, and eventually did. But not for a while ... despite being strip searched before every performance, she carried on squirting out the old ecto like it was coming off the ration.

Where was she hiding it all? Physical mediums were known to suffer from frequent nosebleeds, and Helen was no exception, so presumably a lot of it was stuffed up her schnozz. But it seems that the mother-of-six didn’t let any orifice go to waste. Given how much ectoplasm she carried on producing, she can’t have relied on her facial cavities alone.

Eventually, Price was able to steal a sample of Duncan’s ecto, and, upon subjecting it to microscopic examination, declared it to be wood pulp and egg white. More damning even than that: when he asked her to consent to be x-rayed before sittings, she refused; he concluded that she was one of those mediums who would swallow yards of muslin before a seance, and regurgitate it at will.

Although there are still people active who claim to be physical mediums, that aspect of the psychic world seems largely dead - because, cynics say, modern methods of detection make cheating just too difficult.

Spooky Sources:


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