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Experts Discuss Ectoplasm and Materialization in Virtual Roundtable

Posted on 23 November 2020, 10:12

Given the recent blogs dealing with the physical mediumship of Stewart Alexander, I thought it appropriate to host a virtual roundtable here on the subjects of ectoplasm and materializations. Virtual events seem in vogue in these pandemic times, so why not here? I called upon Professor Charles Richet, Dr. Gustav Geley, Dr. Albert von Schrenck- Notzing, and Sir William Crookes, four pioneers of psychical research to participate in the three-session roundtable, which will continue with my next blog in two weeks. Here are short bios of those four researchers:

Sir William Crookes, FRS – A Fellow of the Royal Society, Crookes studied and taught at the Royal College of Chemistry before becoming a meteorologist at the Radcliffe Observatory, Oxford. He discovered the element thallium and later invented the radiometer and the Crookes Tube, which contributed to the discovery of the X-ray. He is most remembered in psychical research for his investigations of Daniel Dunglas Home and Florence Cook.  His research is summarized in his book, Researches into the Phenomena of Modern Spiritualism, first published in 1904.

Gustave Geley, M.D. – A Laureate of the French Medical Faculty at the University of Lyons, Geley gained some fame for his research into treating such diseases as smallpox and scarlatina. He gave up his medical practice in 1918 to become the first director of the Institut Métapsychique International in Paris. He is most remembered for his research in the area of physical mediumship, especially with the mediums Marthe Béraud (“Eva C.”), Stephan Ossowiecki, Jean Guzik, and Franek Kluski. His primary book on the subject is From the Unconscious to the Conscious, published in 1920.

Charles Richet, M.D., Ph.D. – Winner of the 1913 Nobel Prize in Medicine, Richet was a French physiologist, chemist, bacteriologist, pathologist, psychologist, aviation pioneer, poet, novelist, editor, author, and psychical researcher. He received his Doctor of Medicine degree in 1869 and his Doctor of Science in 1878. He then served as professor of physiology at the medical school of the University of Paris for 38 years. His treatise on metapsychics is titled Thirty Years of Psychical Research.

Albert von Schrenck-Notzing, M.D. – Although educated as a neurologist, Schreck-Notzing, a German aristocrat, was wealthy enough to devote most of his time to psychical research rather than to medicine. His laboratory and library were in his palace home outside Munich. Much of his research is set forth in a 1914 book, Phenomena of Materialization.

Schrenck-Notzing & Richet

I volunteered to serve as moderator of the roundtable. The participants agreed to let words from their various reports and books serve as their responses. Words in brackets are inferred to permit a proper flow or transition or thought. 

Moderator: Gentlemen, thank you for agreeing to participate in this virtual roundtable. I’d like to begin by asking Dr. Geley to describe ectoplasm and the materialization process.

Geley: “[My pleasure, young man.] The usual course of the phenomena is as follows: First a strong odor of ozone is perceptible…The smell of ozone comes and goes suddenly.  Then, in weak light, slightly phosphorescent vapor floats around the medium, especially above his head, like light smoke, and in it there are gleams like foci of condensation. These lights were usually many, tenuous, and ephemeral, but sometimes they were larger and more lasting, and then gave the impression of being luminous parts of organs otherwise invisible, especially finger ends or parts of faces. When materialization was complete, fully formed hands and faces could be seen … Different observers – Crookes and Richet among others – have, as is well known, described complete materializations … I have not, alas, observed phenomena so complete, but, on the other hand, I have very frequently seen complete representations of an organ, such as a face, a hand, or a finger.”

Moderator: Very interesting, Dr. Geley. So ectoplasm does not always look like cheesecloth, as so often represented?

Geley: “[Definitely not.] This substance may be exteriorized in a gaseous or vaporous form, or again as a liquid or a solid. The vaporous form is the more frequent and the best known. Near the medium there is outlined or amassed a kind of visible vapour, a sort of fog, often connected with the body of the medium by a thin link of the same substance. In different parts of this fog there then appears what resembles a condensation … These areas of condensation finally take the appearance of organs, whose development is very rapidly completed.”

Moderator: Professor Richet, you’ve worked with Dr. Geley quite a bit. Can you add to his comment?

Richet: “[Most certainly!] In their first stage these ectoplasms are invisible, but can move objects and can give raps on a table. Later on they become visible, though nebulous and sketchy. Still later, they take human form, for they have the extraordinary property that they change their forms and their consistency and evolve under our eyes. In a few seconds, the nebulous embryo that exudes from the body of the medium becomes an actual being … Sometimes the phantom appears suddenly, without passing through the phase of luminous cloud; but this phenomenon is probably of the same order as the slower development. This ectoplasmic formation at the expense of the physiological organism of the medium is now beyond all dispute. It is prodigiously strange, prodigiously unusual, and it would seem so unlikely as to be incredible; but we must give in to the facts.”

Moderator: When they become visible and before they begin to take on some kind of form, what is their appearance?

Richet: “It is a whitish substance that creeps as if alive, with damp, cold, protoplasmic extensions that are transformed under the eyes of the experimenters into a hand, fingers, a head, or even into an entire figure. At first these formations are often very imperfect. Sometimes they show no relief, looking more like flat images than bodies, so that in spite of oneself one is inclined to imagine some fraud, since what appears seems to be the materialization of a semblance, and not of a being. But in some cases the materialization is perfect. At the Villa Carmen I saw a fully organized form rise from the floor. At first it was only a white, opaque spot like a handkerchief lying on the ground before the curtain, then this handkerchief quickly assumed the form of a human head level with the floor, and a few moments later it rose up in a straight line and became a small man enveloped in a kind of white burnous, who took two or three halting steps in front of the curtain and then sank to the floor and disappeared as if through a trap door. But there was no trap door.”

Geley: “[Permit me to further elaborate.] The substance has variable aspects. Sometimes, and most characteristically, it appears as a plastic paste, a true protoplasmic mass; sometimes as a number of fine threads; sometimes as strings of different thickness in narrow and rigid lines; sometimes as a wide band; sometimes as a fine tissue of ill-defined and irregular shape … In fine, the substance is essentially amorphous, or rather, polymorphous.”

Moderator: When it turns from vapor to a dense substance, is it always white?

Geley: “It may show three different colours: white, black, or gray. The white seems the more frequent form, perhaps because it is easiest to observe … To the touch it gives very different sensations, usually having some relation to the form of the moment; it seems soft and somewhat elastic while spreading; hard, knotty, or fibrous when it forms cords. Sometimes it feels like a spider’s web touching the hand of the observer. The threads of the substance are both stiff and elastic. It is mobile. Sometimes it is slowly evolved, rises, and falls, and moves over the medium’s shoulder, her breast, or her lap with a crawling, reptilian movement; sometimes its motion is abrupt and rapid, it appears and disappears like a flash.”

Moderator: Sir William, you were among the first to report seriously on materializations, but you didn’t really report on what Dr. Richet later called ectoplasm. You referred to a luminous cloud. What were your observations in this regard?

Crookes: “The hands and fingers do not always appear to me to be solid and life-like. Sometimes, indeed, they present more the appearance of a nebulous cloud partly condensed into the form of a hand. This is not equally visible to all present. For instance, a flower or other small object is seen to move; one person will see a luminous cloud hovering over it, another will detect a nebulous-looking hand, whilst others will see nothing at all but the moving flower. I have more than once seen, first an object move, then a luminous cloud appear to form about it, and, lastly, the cloud condense into a shape and become a perfectly formed hand. At this stage, the hand is visible to all present. It is not always a mere form, but sometimes appears perfectly life-like and graceful, the fingers moving, and the flesh apparently as human as that of any in the room. At the wrist, or arm, it becomes hazy, and fades off into a luminous cloud.”

Moderator: Have you ever felt one of these materialized hands?

Crookes: “I have retained one of these hands in my own, firmly resolved not to let it escape. There was no struggle or effort made to get loose, but it gradually seemed to resolve itself into vapour, and faded in that manner from my grasp.”

Moderator: Dr. Schrenck-Notzing, I can see you are anxious to add to the discussion and I know that you prefer the word “teleplasm” to ectoplasm.

Ectoplasm taking shape

Schrenck-Notzing: “Crookes speaks of hand forms condensed from clouds … But not only rough forms of hands, lacking all elements of life were seen, but sometimes having all the plastic characteristics of human organs. On a few occasions, organs true to life – one could almost say living – especially hands (fingers with nails) could be perceived simultaneously by sight, touch, and hearing, while the medium’s hands were kept motionless. These organs showed their living character by grasping objects held out to them, by various movements, by digging their nails into the skin of our hands, while they could not possibly be mistaken for the hands of the medium.”

Moderator: Sir William, your report on the spirit calling herself Katie King has been criticized by many of your peers in science. They claim that Florence Cook, the 15-year-old medium, was able to trick you because of the darkness required, somehow making a quick costume change and appearing as Katie King. How do you respond to them?

Crookes: “Will not my critics give me credit for the possession of some amount of common sense?”

Moderator: I sense your anger and frustration, Sir William, but would you mind elaborating a little on your observations? What exactly took place in your experiments with Miss Cook?

Crookes: “I prepare and arrange my library myself as the dark cabinet, and usually, after Miss Cook has been dining and conversing with us, and scarcely out of our sight for a minute, she walks direct into the cabinet, and I, at her request, lock its second door, and keep possession of the key all through the séance; the gas is then turned out, and Miss Cook is left in the darkness. On entering the cabinet, Miss Cook lies down upon the floor, with her head on the pillow, and is soon entranced. [Katie King then emerges from the cabinet].”

Moderator: I gather that the entranced medium, Miss Cook, remained in the cabinet as Katie King came out, but you reported seeing them both at the same time and also noted differences in appearance.

Crookes: “During a séance [in my home], after Katie had been walking amongst us and talking for some time, she retreated behind the curtain which separated my laboratory where the company was sitting, from my library which did temporary duty as a cabinet. In a minute, she came to the curtain and called me to her saying, ‘Come into the room and lift my medium’s head up, she has slipped down.’ Katie was then standing before me clothed in her usual white robes and turban head dress. I immediately walked into the library up to Miss Cook, Katie stepping aside to allow me to pass. I found Miss Cook had slipped partly off the sofa, and her head was hanging in a very awkward position. I lifted her on the sofa, and in so doing had satisfactory evidence in spite of the darkness, that Miss Cook was not attired in the ‘Katie” costume, but had on her ordinary black velvet dress, and was in a deep trance. Not more than three seconds elapsed between my seeing the white-robed Katie standing before me and my raising Miss Cook on to the sofa. from the position into which she had fallen.” 

Moderator: Excuse me, Sir William, there is a lady in the audience raising her hand and desiring to say something. (Crookes immediately recognizes her as Florence Marryat, the renowned British author, and invites her comments.)

Marryat: “[I was present at several of the séances at which Katie King materialized]. I have seen both Florrie and Katie together on several occasions, so I can have no doubt on the subject that they were two separate creatures … One evening, Katie walked out and perched herself upon my knee. I could feel she was a much plumper and heavier woman than Miss Cook, but she wonderfully resembled her in features, and I told her so… [Katie] took up her station against the drawing-room wall, with her arms extended as if she were crucified. Then the gas-burners were turned on to their full extent ... The effect upon ‘Katie King’ was marvelous. She looked like herself for the space of a second only, then she began gradually to melt away. I can compare the dematerialization of her form to nothing but a wax doll melting before a hot fire. First, the features became blurred and indistinct; they seemed to run into each other. The eyes sank in the sockets, the nose disappeared, the frontal bone fell in. Next the limbs appeared to give way under her, and she sank lower and lower on the carpet like a crumbling edifice. At last there was nothing but her head left above the ground – then a heap of white drapery only, which disappeared with a whisk, as if a hand had pulled it after her – and we were left staring by the light of three gas-burners at the spot on which ‘Katie King’ had stood.”

This roundtable discussion will continue on December 7 and conclude on December 21. Among other things, the purpose of the cabinet and the need for darkness will be discussed in Part 2.

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, No One Really Dies: 25 Reasons to Believe in an Afterlife is due in February 2021.






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An Interview with Journalist Leslie Kean on Stewart Alexander and ‘Surviving Death’

Posted on 09 November 2020, 10:00

In her 2017 book, Surviving Death: A Journalist Investigates Evidence of an Afterlife, Leslie Kean presents compelling research on survival of consciousness along with her own unexpected personal experiences that occurred during her investigation.  “I witnessed some unbelievable things that are not supposed to be possible in our material world,” she states in the Introduction. “Yet they were unavoidably and undeniably real.”  She discusses cases suggesting reincarnation, near-death experiences, mental mediumship, physical mediumship, after-death communications, and responsive apparitions.

A resident of New York City, Kean (below) is an independent investigative journalist who co-authored a series of game-changing stories on UFOs for the New York Times beginning in 2017. She is the author of UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record, a New York Times bestseller. Surviving Death received he Parapsychological Association book award and is the basis for a six-part documentary series to air within a few months on a major streaming network.


In my blog of October 12, I referred to the fact that Kean provided an Epilogue to physical medium Stewart Alexander’s 2020 book An Extraordinary Journey, in which she describes her five-year investigation into Alexander’s mediumship.  The first edition of Stewart’s book in 2014 “opened a door to a wondrous and unexplored new world,” she wrote in the Epilogue, like nothing she had ever encountered before. It was that book, now revised and updated, that inspired her to contact Alexander.  Then, years later, in 2017, Stewart wrote the final chapter to Kean’s Surviving Death

I recently had the opportunity to put some questions to Leslie Kean by email.

As a journalist who has covered all manner of topics and then focused on serious reporting on UFOs for over a decade, what was your motivation behind pursuing a study of a possible afterlife, which many would consider a “fringe” topic?

I’m interested in large mysteries, unexplained by science, which are well documented and therefore undeniable. They expand our sense of who we are and our place in the universe. I don’t consider this topic to be “fringe”—it is simply difficult to study, often misunderstood, and can’t offer “proof”, although I believe we have solid evidence that consciousness is not limited to the physical brain. Nonetheless, many scientists don’t accept the reality of phenomena that challenge their understanding of the laws of physics or belief in physicalism. And, gullible people often make sensational claims based on assumptions and not scientific evidence. But, if one is motivated by deep curiosity and has a discriminating mind, I believe this topic is worthy of serious attention given the potential it has to redefine our understanding of the nature of consciousness, and of the meaning of death itself. And, it can be studied with the same rigor and discrimination as any other area of investigation, but of course with its own unique challenges.

You reported observing some very mind-boggling phenomena in your investigation of Stewart Alexander, including ectoplasm materializing into a “living” hand, the levitation of objects, and independent voice. You also witnessed communications from loved ones and successful book tests. Is there any doubt in your mind today that these phenomena were genuine and not some kind of magic trick?

I have absolutely no doubt, not one iota. I did my due diligence. When I began sitting with Stewart’s small circle in 2015, I thoroughly checked the seance room to make sure there was no way to sneak in or out, nothing hidden in the room, and nothing strange about Stewart’s chair or seance room table. I brought my own cable ties which were pulled tightly around his bare wrists, the thinnest part of his arm, locking his wrists through a loop under his chair arms. The straps could only be removed with wire cutters.

Stewart also wore luminous pads taped to each knee, so everyone in the room could always see where he was when it was dark. The door was locked during the seance. There was no background music throughout the sitting. Every movement was detectable in the quiet of the small room. And some phenomena occur in the light. I have sat with Stewart in four locations with different sitters, and the phenomena always occurred. Also, I have interviewed him and his Circle members and come to know them well.

What about Stewart’s long history as a physical medium?

Stewart demonstrated his unusual abilities over many years with a variety of elaborate physical restraints, visible knee markers, and with his hands held on both sides. His mediumship was scrutinized by many astute investigators in multiple locations in different countries, always in spaces under the complete control of others. Hundreds of people have attended sittings with him over the decades. No major controversies or claims of fraud have been made concerning Stewart’s mediumship in the past forty years. That’s because there isn’t any.

Stewart’s mediumship took decades to develop. He had tremendous patience, sitting devotedly with the same small circle year after year. That really impressed me - there was nothing flashy about Stewart’s mediumship nor any desire on his part to attract attention. He eventually offered guest sittings simply so that more people could have the experience. Yet he always kept his mediumship private, entirely separate from his personal and professional life; even his two adult sons knew nothing about it until the first edition of An Extraordinary Journey was published in 2010.

Of all that you witnessed or reported on in your book, what was the most convincing to you?

Well, certainly Stewart’s physical mediumship is at the top of the list. I was also impacted by two readings I had with outstanding mental mediums - one American and one Irish - in which the same things occurred despite the fact that these two mediums did not know each other. They also did not know my name. Two loved ones came through for me, behaved the same way indicative of their contrasting personalities, and gave the same personal message to me in each reading, word for word. The evidential information was spectacular in its specificity.

In terms of scientific research, the mediumship of Franek Kluski and Indridi Indridason were notable (I recommend the books Other Realities? and Indridi Indridason published by White Crow). Cases of very young children providing verifiable memories from a past life, complete with emotion and unexplained knowledge from their careers in that life, provide strong evidence for reincarnation, as documented by the University of Virginia in the US. Near death experiences also represent an intriguing body of research. And, my personal after-death communications from my younger brother who died in 2013 were very convincing to me, as I describe in my book.

Have you witnessed anything of interest since completing the book that might add to your views? 

In May, 2019, I experienced a full form materialization in a seance with Stewart. His communicator Dr. Barnett, who normally speaks in independent voice, walked out of the cabinet, stood in front of me and touched my hair. He then placed both his large hands on top of my head, bouncing them up and down for about a minute and a half. (That’s a long time). These were solid “living” hands. He spoke in his recognizable voice. “I just wanted to let you know that I am a solid human being,” he said. He then returned to the cabinet and disappeared.

My comment on this otherworldly, mind-altering experience is best taken from what I wrote in Stewart’s Epilogue:

The mind can barely grasp the fantastical nature of a human form emerging from ectoplasm, walking, talking, touching, and then receding back to from where he came.  And where is that? Dr. Barnett says he once lived on this earth. Is this materialization proof that we survive physical death? Or does it mean something else? I don’t think we can answer that question with any degree of certainty. But this experience will live with me forever.

In the first months of 2020, I got one of the best surprises of my life. (I had previously been told by Stewart’s communicators that something would occur in my home.)  A clear hand print appeared on the inside of my bedroom window - five fingers and a thumb - in the frost which had accumulated during the cold night. And, a few months later, a second hand print appeared on another window in the same room. I had just cleaned this window about a week before, and no one had been in the room. And while in isolation during the pandemic, a third print appeared on the front of my refrigerator! None of these could have been made by me or anyone else. The window prints remain on the window to this day - they just need frost or steam to be seen.

None of these things really add to my views or prove survival. They are just wondrous reminders of the unexplained world which we understand so little about.

How have the five years you have been sitting with Stewart changed the way you relate to the experience?

Early on, as a probing journalist on a quest for answers, I was always looking for further “proof”; designing potential experiments in my mind; hoping to find new ways to document the phenomena; and asking endless questions. Now, after all these years, I’ve come to respect how difficult it is for any of these manifestations to be produced in the first place; the fact that they happen at all is extraordinary enough. I’ve grown to be less demanding of classic, “scientific” evidence, and recognize that there are no answers for many of my questions. So, it’s like a letting go into the mystery while at the same time remaining objective and observant. The mind state of the medium, combined with the energies of the sitters, make all the difference in terms of a successful seance; this is not something that can be easily studied in a laboratory.

Do you think ‘absolute certainty’ on this matter is possible or is even a good thing?

No, I don’t think we can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that we survive death. As a journalist (not a scientist), I’m looking rationally at the most compelling and reliable data, and presenting it in an accessible form so that readers can make up their own minds. For me, this is an ongoing journey, an exploration, a journalistic and personal foray into unchartered waters. Proof of any kind of afterlife is not the goal. However, the unusual phenomena described in my book actually do exist—this has been proven time and time again in published papers and through observation under controlled conditions. We cannot explain what the causative forces are or what they mean. I think the state of uncertainty - of never knowing and simply dwelling in the unknown - is a good thing.

What message would you like to convey to the skeptics in regards to the evidence for survival?

I was a skeptic too when I started this investigation, as were many of the leading scientists, philosophers, and seasoned investigators who pursued this topic over the last one hundred and fifty years. They set out to disprove the existence of mysterious phenomena they thought could not possibly be real. Using the strictest controls to test physical mediums and eliminate any possibility of fraud, eventually these investigators had no choice but to acknowledge the reality of the unexplained phenomena, which included materializations. And now, today, I have witnessed the same thing they did, and I too know it is real. How many skeptics with dismissive opinions have actually studied the literature? Moreover, how many of today’s skeptics have actually sat in controlled conditions with genuine mediums to observe events that challenge a materialistic view of reality? Yes, there have been many frauds, but it’s the genuine mediums that are of interest. They are rare, but they do exist, as the literature shows.

I suggest that skeptics read An Extraordinary Journey for starters, with an open, objective mind. We must remember that it’s the interpretation of the phenomena—including the question of whether they suggest survival past death—which is open for debate, and not the existence of the phenomena themselves. Yet, many skeptics still hold on to the premise “It can’t be, therefore it isn’t”. The intelligent skeptic should have enough curiosity to welcome challenging data that points toward mysteries of Nature still to be understood by science. This is how we progress!

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, No One Really Dies: 25 Reasons to Believe in an Afterlife is due in February 2021.

An Extraordinary Journey: The Memoirs of a Physical Medium by Stewart Alexander is published by White Crow Books.


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When Skeptics Attack: Skeptical Organizations and Websites by Craig Weiler – If you really want to get to the heart of skepticism, the best way to do that is to look at the organizations that skeptics create and see how they operate. The behavior of these organizations is the behavior of the individuals, writ large. There are two national organizations worth considering: the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI). Read here
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