What Was Ectoplasm That Exuded From Mediums?
In 1894, Charles Richet coined the strange word "ectoplasm" to describe a gooey substance that eerily oozed from psychic mediums while in trance.
The word ectoplasm was formed from the Greek words ektos and plasma. Combined, the words mean "outside formed."
Ectoplasm in the late 1800's and early 1900's was believed to be a physical manifestation of ghosts from the spirit world. Typically solid, ectoplasm is the stuff of legends. Mediums claimed ectoplasm would be secreted from various orifices, such as the ears, nose, mouth, and even sexual organs in order to manifest body parts, or at times full-bodied figures of the deceased. It was a weird time.
Ectoplasm was originally described as smelling like ozone, being milky in color, mostly solid, warm, thick, occasionally slimy, yet sometimes vaporous. Various shapes and sizes of the emanations were reported in the times of these fantastical mediums. Appearing during the popularity of Spiritualism, French scientist Richet believed he had witnessed a third arm materialize from medium Eusapia Palladino, this following earlier accounts of ectoplasm-type vapors associated with other prominent mediums of the day. And so, the legend of ectoplasm began.
Mediums claimed that to manifest ectoplasm, they needed the cover of darkness, as the substance was light sensitive and would thus disappear quickly, which could pose a threat to the medium. Skeptics were quick to point out that darkness was used as a cover to mask the fraudulent charades, created in order to dupe people out of monies. Much of the ectoplasm looked more like gauze, chiffon, or cheese cloth that had been regurgitated, or disgustingly pulled from another body cavity by the medium. Skeptic Harry Houdini knew the ectoplasm was part of the parlor tricks mediums used during his time when he stated, "Nothing has crossed my path to make me think that the Great Almighty will allow emanations from the human body of such horrible, revolting, vicious shapes, which like 'genie from the bronze bottle' ring bells, move handkerchiefs, wobble tables and do other flapdoodle stunts."
By the 1920's and 1930's, skeptics pressed the mediums even more heavily, as they investigated their claims fervently. Some mediums were asked to perform in tights, so their lower body cavities couldn't be used to conceal ectoplasm props. Famed Ghost Investigator Harry Price even constructed a seance garment that enclosed the medium, allowing only her head to remain out of it. The fine scrutiny by experts eventually spelled the end of the ectoplasm hoaxes. Yet, today medium David Thompson is one of a few who claim to exude ectoplasm during trances under low-light conditions.