What Is Ectoplasm?

If you read 19th century spiritualist literature, you will come across a term called “ectoplasm”. It seems to be some kind of material, exuded from a medium’s body, during seances. Has this stuff ever been analyzed? What is it, and do meadiums still produce it?

It’s fictional, dude.


  1. The visible substance believed to emanate from the body of a spiritualistic medium during communication with the dead.
  2. An immaterial or ethereal substance, especially the transparent corporeal presence of a spirit or ghost.

How do you analyize the intangible. It is the product of belief not reality.

Actually, I believe some mediums would “materialise” the stuff- actually, they had trained their bodies to be able to regurgitate stuff held in the gullet. Obviously the material they used varied from person to person, but from reading descriptions I’d imagine it was a paste of some sort, probably made of flour or other nontoxic substance. You can see photographs of mediums vomitting up “ectoplasm”- I believe one woman used cloth, painted with luminescent chemicals (which I can’t imagine did her any good). Of course, this would all be in the context of a seance (which were designed to obfuscate and hide the tricks of the mediums), so anyone scientifically interested would never get near enough the ectoplasm to analyse it- it would have “mysteriously dissapeared” by the end of the seance.

I’ve seen photos of the stuff and it looked to be a light colored foamy material.

Ectoplasm was the charlatan pseudoscience equivalent of “Ether” but unlike the real science substance ether, Ectoplasm didn’t really exist. Later, it turned out that ether wasn’t holding up as well as expected. Ectoplasm however has remained in the spiritual cosmos of quite a few true believers.


To expand on this: ‘Ether’ (or aether, or æther), in this context, is what scientists once thought light waves propagated in. The idea was that, just as sound waves cannot propagate without air or water or some other medium, light waves couldn’t propagate without ether. As it turns out, that notion was severely shaken in the Michaelson-Morley experiment, which lead the way to our modern notions of how light behaves.

Haven’t we come full circle on the ether/aether thing though? - in that string theory posits a medium through which everything, including matter, propagates.

I’ve got some. Wanna see?! :slight_smile:

Not entirely.

Mary Roach’s book Spook - Science Tackles the Afterlife devotes a whole chapter to ectoplasm, including a descriptive visit to a library (I forget where, I think in the UK somewhere) that has a sample of it.

Her conclusion, ectoplasm is a hoax - it’s material secreted away by the medium (in the mouth, under a skirt, even (yes) up the vagina). The sample resembles gauze.

In the latest copy of Skeptical Inquirer, there’s a photo of a medium with “ectoplasm” on her head and face, and a goofy expression. It looks like gauze.

Hold on a second there… String theory posits a what now? And this wasn’t put into my copy of Green Schwartz and Witten because?

From http://skepdic.com/ectoplasm.html

Some pics. This may be the picture that Race is talking about (although it may not).

Well, dagnabbit, it probably ISN’T the picture that Race is talking about. I thought I deleted that part.

What believers claim: that some spirit mediums, who practise so-called physical mediumship, are or were able to manifest some sort of amorphous material that can take temporary physical / visible form in ‘our’ world. This material, known as ectoplasm, usually emanates from one or more orifices of the spirit medium’s body, seems white and/or luminous, and can adapt itself to take many forms, including (a) the faces and bodies of the dead, (b) pseudo-limbs, © solid objects such as rods that can be used to tip tables and raise things into the air, (d) screens on which images from the other side can be shown.

What the evidence doesn’t show: that there is any such thing as ectoplasm.

What the evidence does show: that some of these charlatans enhanced their con-artistry with various materials such as muslin dipped in luminous paint that were passed off as ‘ectoplasm’, and that looked spooky in the darkened seance room and in faked photographs. The notion of ectoplasm also provides a handy catch-all excuse when these con-artists are caught cheating. “Look! Here’s a flash photo that the con-artist didn’t know we were going to take and it shows her pushing the table with a reaching rod!” “No, that’s a form of ectoplasm, it’s an ethereal substance in the form of a solid rod used by the spirits to manifest their presence.” And so on. Want to explain anything away? Call it ectoplasm.

Incidentally, the greatest collection of images of spirit mediums, ectoplasm and suchlike that I’ve ever seen is in a book by Massimo Polidoro called ‘Viaggio tra gli spiriti’ (Journey into the world of the spirits). It’s in Italian, as you may have guessed. But the pictures are brilliant.

Heh, remember that scene from ‘Ghostbusters’?

Ray: Peter, are you okay?!?

Peter: He… he slimed me.


Your first link has the pic I was talking about.

…and here I thought I was wrong, but I wasn’t! :smiley:

Some of the substances alleged to be used for “ectoplasm” were cheesecloth and lung tissue (presumably obtained from some slaughtered animal). I’ve seen one old photo where the ectoplasm looked like a potato. In other words, ectoplasm was whatever odd and often ooky substance the medium could get hold of and hide somewhere onm their bodies to be produced in time for the photographer to snap a picture of in the middle of a dark seance.
I’ve always thought it would be neat if ghost cells had an ectoplasmic reticulum.

Just what I was gonna post! :smiley: