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The Mystery of Soul Mist Unsolved

Posted on 22 June 2020, 9:38

In his 2010 book, Glimpses of Eternity, Raymond Moody, M. D., Ph.D., who is known primarily for his pioneering work in near-death experiences, mentions a strange mist having been observed at deathbeds.  “Some say that it looks like smoke, while others say it is as subtle as steam,” Moody explains.  “Sometimes it seems to have a human shape.  Whatever the case, it usually drifts upward and always disappears fairly quickly.”

A hospice psychologist is quoted by Moody as saying that the misty clouds which form above the head or chest seem to have an electrical component to them. Moody also tells of a nurse seeing a mist rising from many patients as they die, including her father, with whom she saw it emanate from his chest “as if off a still river,” then hovering for a few seconds before dissipating.

Such a phenomenon can be observed in the accompanying photo which was taken by the dying man’s wife, Beverly, on January 17, 2009, in Prescott, Arizona just five minutes after her husband, Ronald, passed. For privacy reasons, Beverly prefers not to give her surname.  She provided the information to Bob Krieckhaus, who passed it on to me with Beverly’s consent. Beverly told Bob that neither she nor the hospice helpers saw the twisting semi-translucent “smoke” at the time.  The purpose of the photo was to capture the cat, which appeared to have tears in its eyes. The misty vapor was not noticed until the photo was printed. (See below.)


In their 2008 book, The Art of Dying, Dr. Peter Fenwick, a renowned British neuropsychiatrist, and Elizabeth Fenwick also discuss the “smoke,” “grey mist,” or “white mist” which leaves the body at death.  “Sometimes it will hover above the body before rising to disappear through the ceiling, and it is often associated with love, light, compassion, purity, and occasionally with heavenly music,” they write, adding that not everyone who is in the room sees it.

The Fenwicks quote a woman named Penny Bilcliffe, who was present when her sister died:  “I saw a fast-moving ‘Will ‘o the Wisp’ appear to leave her body by the side of her mouth on the right.  The shock and the beauty of it made me gasp.  It appeared like a fluid or gaseous diamond, pristine, sparkly, and pure, akin to the view from above of an eddy in the clearest pool you can imagine…It moved rapidly upwards and was gone.”

Such misty vapors have been reported by other researchers, including Dr. Bernard Laubscher, a South African psychiatrist.  “I was told by different ‘Tant Sannies’ (caregivers) how while watching at the bedside of the dying one with one or two candles burning they had seen the formation of a faint vaporous body, an elongated whitish purplish-like cloud; parallel with the dying person and about two feet above the body,” Laubscher wrote in a 1975 book, Beyond Life’s Curtain.  “Gradually this cloudlike appearance became denser and took on the form, first vaguely and then more definitely, of the person in the bed.  This process continued until the phantom suspended above the body was an absolute replica of the person, especially the face.”

Laubscher further wrote that these caregivers, some of whom were apparently clairvoyant, reported seeing a ribbon-like cord stretching from the back of the phantom’s head to the body below and that the phantom would begin to glow as it was fully formed.

“They noticed that some were more luminous than others and there was a light all around the outline of the [phantom], which I could only compare to a neon tube,” Laubscher added, going on to say that as the phantom righted itself the connecting cord thinned out as if it was fraying away.  Sometimes these clairvoyant caregivers would report joyous faces of other deceased gathering around to welcome the person to the spirit world before the “silver cord” was severed and the visions ceased.

As Laubscher came to understand it, the vaporous material has the same makeup as ectoplasm, (below) the mysterious substance given off by physical mediums before materializations.  It acts as sort of a “glue” in bonding the physical body with the spirit body, and the more materialistic a person the denser the ectoplasm and the more difficulty the person has in “giving up the ghost.”


Beginning in 1840, Baron Karl von Reichenbach, a German chemist,  carried out research with an invisible energy he associated with a number of “sensitives” – people who today might be called clairvoyants or clairsensients, although he did not recognize it as being spirit related.  He called it odic force, or just od or odyle.  Some scientists have likened Reichenbach’s odic force to the prana of the ancient Hindus, the vis medicatrix naturae of Hippocrates, the mana of Polynesian culture, the chi of the Chinese,  the astral light of the Kabbalists, the telesma of Hermes Trismegistus, and the magnetic fluid of Mesmer, while others, like Laubscher, have concluded that it is the same “life force” referred to as ectoplasm, or teleplasm, by researchers investigating the physical phenomena of mediums.

Od might be best described as a “mostly” invisible energy field often associated today with the human aura and with holistic healing. It is believed to somehow interact with the physical body through what are called the chakras, the vital energy centers in the spirit body, to govern higher consciousness and spiritual awakening.

When Judge John Edmonds, of the New York Supreme Court, investigated mediums,  he asked a communicating “spirit” for an explanation as to what the “forces” involved in various manifestations were all about. “It is an electricity, but more perfected than that which you are familiar, that which you term electricity,” the communicating spirit responded, telling Edmonds that his knowledge of nature was too imperfect to permit him to understand the phenomena.  He was referred by the communicating spirit to Reichenbach’s Dynamics of Magnetism for a better grasp of the subject.  There, Edmonds read about odic force, Reichenbach describing it in his book as “an exceeding subtle fluid, existing with magnetism and electricity, found in fire and heat, and produced in the human body by the chemical action of respiration and digestion and decomposition, and issuing from the body in the shape of a pale flame, with sparks, and smoke, and material in its nature, though so much sublimated as to be visible only to persons of a peculiar vision.”

During the 1870s, William Stainton Moses, an Anglican priest who developed mediumisitic abilities, carried out various experiments.  In one such experiment, with Dr. Stanhope Speer, his good friend, and several others in attendance, the group witnessed a cloud of luminous smoke, very phosphorus like, that very much alarmed them.  The next night, Moses asked the controlling spirit, apparently Mentor, one of Imperator’s band of 49 spirits, what it was all about. As set forth by researcher Ernest Bozzano in The Annals of Psychical Research, Feb. 1905 issue, the following dialogue too place:

Mentor: “We are scarcely able to write. The shock has destroyed your passivity. It was an accident. The envelope in which is contained the substance which we gather from the bodies of the sitters was accidentally destroyed, and hence the escape into outer air, and the smoke which terrified you. It was owing to a new operator (spirit operator) being engaged on the experiment. We regret the shock to you.”

Moses: “I was extremely alarmed. It was just like phosphorus.”
Mentor: “No, but similar. We told you when first we began to make the lights that they were attended with some risk; and that with unfavourable conditions they would be smoky and of a reddish yellow hue.”
Moses: “Yes, I know. But not that they would make a smoke and scene like that.”
Mentor: “Nor would they, save by accident. The envelope was destroyed by mischance, and the substance which we had gathered escaped.”
Moses: “What substance?”
Mentor:  “That which we draw from the bodily organisms of the sitters. We had a large supply, seeing that neither of you had sustained any drain of late.”
Moses: “You draw it from our bodies – from all?”:
Mentor:  “From both of you. You are both helpful in this, both. But not from all people. From some the substance cannot be safely drawn, lest we diminish the life principle too much.”
Moses: “Robust men give it off?”
Mentor: “Yes, in greater proportion. It is the sudden loss of it and the shock that so startled you that caused the feeling of weakness and depression.”
Moses: “It seemed to come from the side of the table.”
Mentor: “From the darkened space between the sitters. We gathered it between you in the midst. Could you have seen with spirit eyes you would have discovered threads of light, joined to your bodies and leading to the space where the substance was being collected. These lines of light were ducts leading to our receptacle.”
Moses: “From what part of my body?”
Mentor: “From many; from the nerve centers and from the spine.”
Moses: “What is this substance?”
Mentor: “In simple words, it is that which give to your bodies vitality and energy. It is the life principle.”
Moses: “Very like sublimated phosphorus?”
Mentor: “No body that does not contain a large portion of what you call phosphorus is serviceable to us for objective manifestations. This is invariable. There are other qualities of which you do not know, and which not all spirits can tell, but this is invariable in mediums for physical manifestations.”

On another occasion, Imperator communicated: “We have a higher form of what is known to you as electricity, and it is by that means we are enabled to manifest, and that Mentor shows his globe of light. He brings with him the nucleus, as we told you.”

On August 10, 1873, Dr. Speer recorded that Mentor said he would show his hand. “A large, very bright light then came up as before, casting a great reflection on the oilcloth, came up as before in front of me; inside of it appeared the hand of Mentor, as distinct as it can well be conceived. ‘You see! You see!’ said he, ‘that is my hand; now I move my fingers,’ and he continued to move his fingers about freely, just in front of my face. I thanked him for his consideration.”

At a sitting on September 11, 1873, Mrs. Speer recorded: “... the next evening we sat again in perfect darkness, which Mentor took advantage of, as he showed lights almost as soon as we were seated. He then controlled the medium (Moses), talking to us about the lights as he showed them. At first they were very small. This, he said, was the nucleus of light he had brought with him, a small amount of what we should call electricity. This nucleus lasted all the time, and from the circle he gathered more light around it, and kept it alive by contact with the medium. At one time, the light was as bright as a torch. Mentor moved it about all over the table and above our heads with the greatest rapidity.”

All that and much more, but mainstream science has shown no interest in odic force,  ectoplasm, or soul mist, or the possibility that they are one and the same life principle. 

Note: This subject was earlier dealt with in my blog posts of October 4, 2010 and June 11, 2012, available in the archives at left.  Numerous readers have left comments of similar experiences at the 4 October blog.

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.
His forthcoming book, Musings on Life After Death: Compelling Evidence that Life Goes on, is due later in 2020.

Next blog post:  July 6


Many thanks to all for the personal stories, links, and comments. By email, a friend took issue with my comment that od and ectoplasm are the same thing. However, I could not get a clear-cut explanation from him as to why he thought they are different. 

In his book, “Communication with the Spirit World of God,” Johannes Greber, a German Catholic priest turned psychical researcher, quotes a spirit with whom he had communicated:

“As you are able to convert matter into steam with the aid of high temperatures and even to cause this steam to become invisible to the human eye, so also is the spirit world able to dissolve matter completely. It too makes use of hot power currents, by means of which it converts matter into an od-like, etherealized form.  For, as I have explained to you, all matter is nothing but corporealized od which can be dissolved into spiritual od.

“To be sure, the inferior spirit world need not undertake any purification of the od of the mediums, for the more impure this is, the better it is adapted to the od of such spirits.  Hence it is also much easier for them to use mediums for their purposes, and they arrive at this end much more quickly than do the superior spirits.

“There are many degrees of odic concentration or materialization, from that visible only to a clairvoyant’s eye to the complete materialization of spirits, in which case they differ in no respect from a material body.  The degree of condensation is therefore dependent upon the amount of od available to the spirit world for the given purpose.”

There is further discussion about od being sensitive to light.

If this purported spirit can be believed, there does seem to be a relationship between ectoplasm and od, if they are not one and the same.

Michael Tymn, Fri 26 Jun, 00:52

Mike, when my father (a materialist) was dying there was no mist. He just turned to my mother and said, “You are right Jo, I can see my mother and father at the bottom of the bed, they are waiting for me to pass over.”
In 1983 my father materialised via a physical medium, Rita Goold in Leicester, proving to me and my mother that he had survived the death of his physical body in 1967.

Michael Roll, Tue 23 Jun, 09:47

One account quoted above had the mist gradually taking on the form of the deceased person’s physical body.

In that case, at least, it probably was the spirit body / perispirit.

Jim McArthur, Tue 23 Jun, 04:23

I’m going to throw out two things here. The first is this:
The story attached is what I wrote at the time that I posted the photo.

There’s an additional part of this, however. My father was living at an assisted living home over 500 miles away when he died. It wasn’t until several days later that my wife and I went there to start picking up his things. When we did, one of the nurses said “Oh, you’re back so soon?” I said we had just gotten there, and she replied that no, she’d seen us there the day he died (at about the same time of day that this photo was shot). I said that nope, we weren’t there, and she answered that my wife and I are very recognizable (and she knew us well), and that she was absolutely sure that she’d seen us going to his room that day.

I said maybe she’d seen our doubles, and she said, calmly, “maybe that’s it.” She didn’t seem surprised. . . I bet they see strange things all the time.

I’m making no claims about any causes or meaning—I’m just reporting what happened at both places at approximately the same time.

Michael D, Mon 22 Jun, 22:44

I described people who saw a mist or smoke leaving the body of a deceased person in my book, The Death View Revolution: A Guide to Transpersonal Experiences Surrounding Death also published by Black Crow Books.  On occasion, there have been two healthcare individuals who see this mist or smoke at the same time. 

This might be the inner self, astral body, or similar descriptions.  When I interviewed NDEs I would ask them what they looked like.  They often would say, they were just them.  Some would sometimes describe a body part but more often just being. 

A related phenomenon, also in my book, is the story of the daughter who was with her father as he got ready to go to the doctors.  He put on his transitional glasses which were clear in the house.  He collapsed and died.  His sunglasses turned dark as that happened without additional light coming into the room. Some ultraviolet light was in the room.  It could have been something that left the body.

There’s an experiment described in the book about using buttons that turned color when exposed to ultraviolet light.  These buttons were on the bedside of dying patients.

It’s a fascinating area of investigation.  Thanks for you input.

Madelaine Lawrence, Mon 22 Jun, 22:23


Yes, an interesting topic.

In Allan Kardec’s book, The Spirits’ Book (Anna Blackwell translation) page 84, items 65 -70 discusses this topic in information received from the spirits.

The spirits state their exists a “vital principle” (magnetic fluid) that provides vitality and is only developed in connection
with a body.

This is different from the perispirit (or astral/ethereal body) which continues with the spirit into the spirit world/afterlife.

It exists in various quantities in different living beings, modified according to species, to provide LIFE to the being.
Without it, the being is not alive.

This vital fluid can be transmitted by one organism to another. You could say it is a life force. When the physical body is dying,
it eventually has no longer need of it. The spirits state that it returns to its source the Universal Fluid. (note: a thing may exist but
not be seen or yet known, scientists are still trying to discern what Dark Energy and Dark matter is, both of which make up the known universe)

This the energy from the vital principle is what is drawn from mediums during spirit communications sessions. I can attest that is true for me and many
mediums I know, who are tired and some very worn out after a spirit communication session.

Most Respectfully,
Yvonne Limoges

Yvonne Limoges, Mon 22 Jun, 18:47

Mike I love this article I’d like to incorporate it someday into the parts of my book The Psychology of the Soul & the Paranormal with the illustrations of the vagus nerve, silver cord and the chakra system.  I’ve maintained that the reason no one sees the silver cord is that one needs to be clairvoyant and on the third page third (large) paragraph it is stated that the magnetism and electricity are “so much sublimated as to be visible only to persons of a peculiar vision.”  Also on page 4 toward the end of the paragraph the explanation is there, I think, of how the medium acts like a battery to give the light more intensity.  This odic force, ectoplasm or soul mist could also be the “perispirit” of the Spiritists?  Thanks again for all your education Blessings Karen

Karen Herrick PhD, Mon 22 Jun, 18:19

Dear Michael,

Curiously, I was just dipping into Pierre-Émile Cornillier’s, “The Survival of the Soul and Its Evolution After Death” [which your glowing Amazon review put me on to some time back, in respect of which Robert Crookall’s high regard for the same further commanded my interest], where Cornillier’s ‘magnetized’ study subject Reine reports under deep trance:

But suddenly, spontaneously, she perceives her own astral body, which she describes as “a smoke body, somewhat larger than her real one, and quite luminous. It makes the same movements and gestures that she makes.” [Third Séance]

Abandoning this inquiry, I return to the question of the astral body, and ask her to describe exactly what she observes in her own case. She says that out from her whole body, but chiefly from her head, there comes a sort of mist or vapour that collects above her, forming into a shape, which is attached to her mouth by a-something which she compares to a ray of sunlight filtering through a room. Her spirit is in the upper part where the matter is at once condensed and more luminous. “And that,” she says, “is my real self—the one that thinks and wills. The body in the chair is only an envelope.” (She compares it to the skin of an orange in relation to the pulp—“the good part,” as she expresses it.) [Fourth Séance]

The descriptions of the astral body as a “smoke body” and “a sort of mist or vapor” that, further, “is attached to her mouth” are remarkably evocative to the photo you have shown in this posting and give much food for thought.

Paul, Mon 22 Jun, 14:33

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The Hidden Door – Introduction by Peter and Elizabeth Fenwick – Accounts of dreams are as old as human history. People have always been fascinated by their own dreams, and have always looked for significance· in them. From the most ancient civilisations of Assyrians and Babylonians through to Biblical times it was believed that dreams brought messages from the gods in the form of warnings, omens and portents. In ancient Greece they were seen as prophecies, or instructions from Zeus. Read here
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