Roundtable on Ectoplasm and Materialization Continues (Part 2)
Posted on 07 December 2020, 11:39
A virtual roundtable involving four pioneers of psychical research on the subjects of ectoplasm and materialization began with the last blog post here on November 23. It continues here and will conclude on December 21. The roundtable members are Sir Williams Crookes, Professor Charles Richet, Dr. Gustave Geley, (below) and Dr. Albert von Schrenck-Notzing, all identified in the prior post. I am serving as moderator.
As stated in Part 1, the words here are those of the researchers, as extracted from their reports and books, except words in brackets, which are inferred to permit a meaningful flow and link.
Moderator: Gentlemen, before the break, you discussed the nature of ectoplasm, how it takes on different forms, from a vapor to a thick milky paste, and how materialized objects take shape from or within the ectoplasm, sometimes forming just hands or faces and occasionally a full body.
Richet: [“Correct.] The outcome of these surprising observations is that we can state the stages in the formation of ectoplasms – a whitish steam, perhaps luminous, taking the shape of gauze or muslin, in which there develops a hand or an arm that gradually gains consistency. The ectoplasm makes personal movements. It creeps, rises from the ground, and puts forth tentacles like an amoeba. It is not always connected with the body of the medium but usually emanates from her, and is connected with her.”
Moderator: “Thank you, Professor Richet. To begin this session, I would like to ask why the so-called cabinet is necessary in the first place. It is my understanding that these cabinets are mostly curtained-off sections of the room.
Geley: “This dark cabinet has no other purpose than to protect the sleeping medium from disturbing influences, and especially from the action of light. It is thus possible to keep the séance-room sufficiently well lit for perfect observation.”
Schrenck-Notzing: “According to the spiritistic view, the closed cabinet opposes the dispersion of the fluid emanating from the medium. For the carping critic, the cabinet, the darkness of the reduced light, only exist in order to hide the manipulations by means of which the phenomena are fraudulently produced. That this easily understood view is generally applauded is not surprising.”
Moderator: But why darkness in the first place?
Richet: “For one reason or another, none, or scarcely any, are produced in full light. This does not apply to D. D. Home who gave astonishing materializations in the light; but in most cases darkness is essential. Sometimes red light, such as used by photographers, can be used and when the medium is very powerful, flashlight photographs can be taken. Nevertheless, darkness is usually so necessary that the medium must be protected by a curtain (forming a cabinet), notably at the beginnings of the phenomena. Only behind this curtain, even when the room is darkened, can preliminary changes take place. This will cause skeptics to smile; but in point of fact what does darkness matter? Can darkness create a living face and produce a white veil?”
Crookes: “I have said that darkness is not essential. It is, however, a well-ascertained fact that when the force is weak a bright light exerts an interfering action on some of the phenomena. The power possessed by Mr. Home is sufficiently strong to withstand this antagonistic influence.”
Geley: “The detrimental action of light on ectoplasmic forms is not surprising. Light is well known to be fatal to many micro-organisms, and seems to hinder the organization of primordial forms of life.”
Schrenck-Notzing: “The recent investigations by W. J. Crawford have shown that white light acts destructively on the pseudopods or psychic projections from the medium’s body necessary for the production of telekinetic phenomena. It appears to produce a molecular softening of the invisible ‘rods’; while red light acts much more feebly. It is, therefore, necessary to consider the reflection, refraction and absorption of the light used in the séance room … All [my] observations agree in this, that a white light has a hindering and disturbing effect on the phenomena, and an unfavorable action on the development of the teleplasm.”
Moderator: If I understand all this correctly, mediums vary in power and the ability to produce phenomena as well as to resist light depends on that power. Mr. Home must have been an exceptionally powerful medium to be able to produce in good light.
Crookes: “I may at once answer one objection which has been made in several quarters, viz., that my results would carry more weight had they been tried a greater number of times, and with persons, and with other persons besides Mr. Home. The fact is, I have been working at the subject for two years, and have found nine or ten different persons who possess psychic power in more or less degree; but its development in Mr. D. D. Home is so powerful, that, having satisfied myself by careful experiments that the phenomena observed were genuine, I have, merely as a matter of convenience, carried on my experiments with him, in preference to working with others in whom the power existed in a less striking degree.”
Schrenck-Notzing: “The exhaustion of the medium is, as a rule, in proportion to the strength of the phenomena. But the effort involved in the action of the medium’s organism is much greater when the audience is unfavorable. Occasionally, the mood of the medium may be adversely affected by unsympathetic personalities, or by contemptuous treatment.”
Geley: “A light, especially if sudden and unexpected, produces a painful start in the medium. However, nothing is more variable than the light-effects; in some cases the substance can stand even full daylight. The magnesium flashlight causes a violent start in the medium, but it is borne, and allows of instantaneous photographs. In the effects of light on the substance, and its repercussion on the medium, it is difficult to distinguish between real pain and mere reflex; both, whether pain or reflex, impede investigation.”
Moderator: I understand that the medium experiences much pain as the ectoplasm is being exuded from her or his body.
Geley: (Referring to the medium known as Eva C.) “The phenomena appear (when they do appear) after a variable interval, sometimes very brief, sometimes an hour or more. They always begin by painful sensations in the medium; she sighs and moans from time to time much like a woman in childbirth. These moans reach their height just when the manifestation begins, they lessen or cease when the forms are complete.”
Moderator: Does the ectoplasm usually flow from the mouth?
Geley: “The most frequent and most easily observed origin is from the mouth; the substance is then seen to proceed from the interior surfaces of the cheeks, the roof of the palate, and the gums … [It also] exudes from the natural orifices and the extremities, from the top of the head, from the nipples, and the ends of the fingers.” (Schrenck-Notzing here leaned toward Geley and reminded him of those instances when the teleplasm/ectoplasm flowed from the vagina of Eva C.) Geley nodded in agreement.)
Moderator: Can we go back to the materializations themselves? Some of them are so fragmentary and so strange in appearance that it is difficult to believe they are real, whatever “real” means here.
Richet: “The fact of the appearance of flat images rather than of forms in relief is no evidence of trickery. It is imagined, quite mistakenly, that a materialization must be analogous to a human body and must be three dimensional. This is not so. There is nothing to prove that the process of materialization is other than a development of a completed form after a first stage of coarse and rudimentary lineaments formed from the cloudy substance.”
Moderator: Knowing that Professor Richet and Dr. Schrenck-Notzing resist or are skeptical concerning the possibility that spirits are behind these materializations, I have kept this subject for the end, but I find it difficult to avoid at this point. I have heard the spiritist’s view on this, that these very imperfect productions can be likened to asking humans to do self portraits. The very artistic person might succeed in varying degrees, but most people would fail badly and their likenesses would be as bizarre as most of the ectoplasmic formations. Graduation to the spirit world does not enhance one’s artistic ability, it is further said. On the other hand, the spiritist’s view set aside, if it is somehow being produced by the medium’s subconscious, the medium’s artistic ability might be a factor. Does that make sense?
Geley: [“Exactly!] Since ectoplasmic formation is a function (a) of a dynamic and material externalization of the medium and (b) of ideoplastic organization of the externalized elements, it is easy to understand why perfect materializations should be few. To build up in a few seconds an organ or an organism biologically complete – to create life – is a metapsychic feat which can but rarely produce a perfect result. That is why the great majority of materializations are incomplete, fragmentary, defective, and show lacunae in their structures. The forms are seldom other than more or less successful attempts at hands, faces, and organisms … To have produced the astonishing varieties of form, the fringes with half-formed fingers, faces, or hands in the mass would have seemed absurd to a medium who was wishing to simulate a spirit materialization ... The defects in some materializations do not imply fraud but quite otherwise.”
Moderator: The skeptics scoff at the idea of clothes being worn by the materializations. Any thoughts on this matter?
Richet: “This objection is somewhat naïve, for the materialization of a hand is no easier to understand than of the glove that covers it. It is, however, clear that materialization may be of inanimate objects and not of the human body only. The garments are usually veils or draperies, usually white, like muslin, produced by the gradual transformation of the whitish and more or less luminous cloud with which the apparition begins.”
Crookes: [“I see that Ms. Marryat is still amongst the audience. May I ask her to tell of her observations with Katie King?”] (Florence Marryat, the renowned British author, then moves forward to the table and speaks.)
Marryat: “She was always attired in white drapery, but it varied in quality. Sometimes it looked like long cloth; at others like mull muslin or jaconet; oftenest it was a species of thick cotton net. The sitters were much given to asking ‘Katie’ for a piece of her dress to keep as a souvenir of their visit, and when they received it, would seal it up carefully in an envelope and convey it home; and were much surprised on examining their treasure to find it had totally disappeared. Katie used to say that nothing material about her could be made to last without taking away some of the medium’s vitality, and weakening her in consequence.”
Crookes: [“Tell them about Katie cutting up the dress.”]
Marryat: “One evening, when she was cutting off pieces of her dress rather lavishly, I remarked that it would require a great deal of mending. She answered, ‘I’ll show you how we mend dresses in the Spirit World.’ She then doubled up the front breadth of her garment a dozen times, and cut two or three round holes in it. I am sure when she let it fall again there must have been thirty or forty holes, and Katie said, ‘Isn’t that a nice cullender?’ She then commenced, whilst we stood close to her, to shake her skirt gently about, and in a minute it was a perfect as before, without a hole to be seen.” (Crookes then asked her to tell about cutting Katie’s hair.)
“She told me to take the scissors and cut off her hair. She had a profusion of ringlets falling to her waist that night. I obeyed religiously, hacking the hair wherever I could, whilst she kept on saying, ‘Cut more! Cut more! Not for yourself, you known, because you can’t take it away.’ So I cut off curl after curl, and as fast as they fell to the ground, the hair grew again upon her head. When I had finished, Katie asked me to examine her hair, to see if I could detect any place, where I had used the scissors, and I did so without any effect. Neither was the severed hair to be found. It had vanished out of sight.”
Part 3, which will discuss the “intelligence” behind the materializations will be posted on December 21.
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 released on January 26, 2021.
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