24Ectoplasm article--from the Guardian
- Jul 20, 2005Super goo
Thursday July 21, 2005
"Before my eyes a large spherical mass, about 8in in diameter, emerged from the vagina
and quickly placed itself on her left thigh while she crossed her legs. I distinctly
recognised in the mass a still unfinished face, whose eyes looked at me."
Baron Albert von Schrenck Notzing, the respected Munich psychiatrist and physician from
whose book, The Phenomena of Materialisation (1923), this passage appears, became
fascinated with mediumistic phenomena while conducting hypnotic experiments in the late
19th century. The Baron studied the medium Marthe Beraud, known as Eva C, for over a
decade, though he didn't witness her more spectacular manifestations, taking testimony
instead from her adoptive mother.
What the Baron calls "mediumistic teleplastics" is better known as ectoplasm ("formed
outside of the body"), a mainstay of physical mediumship demonstrations of the later 19th
and early 20th centuries. Emerging from every orifice on the medium's body, ectoplasm
would first manifest in the shape of drops or a thin thread, before expanding to take on
shapes: human, animal or abstract. Sometimes viscous like albumen, sometimes more
rubbery or netted like muslin, the substance was said to be sensitive to touch and sunlight
hence, conveniently, the preference of mediums to perform undisturbed, in darkness.
Those mediums, mostly female, who subjected themselves to investigation often
underwent an ordeal of restraint and invasive examination. Some, like Beraud, managed to
convince researchers that their psychic expectorations were paranormal in origin;
numerous others were exposed as frauds.
In 1931, Scottish medium Helen Duncan - in 1944 the last person to be prosecuted under
the UK Witchcraft Act of 1735 - was examined by famed psychical researcher Harry Price.
He was unimpressed. Duncan's ectoplasmic emissions consisted of cheesecloth, safety
pins, rubber gloves and an organic substance that may have been egg white. Price wrote
up his findings in Regurgitation and the Duncan Mediumship (1931), whose title reveals
the uncomfortable method by which Duncan produced her ectoplasm.
The psycho-spiritual effluvia of a more innocent age, ectoplasm was unable to survive
such harsh exposure and can now be considered among the lost arts of the Victorian