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The Strange & Bizarre of Materialization Further Observed

Posted on 25 February 2013, 8:36

In his 1942 book, Life Now and Forever, Arthur J. Wills, Ph.D., a British-born American civil engineer and architect as well as president of the U.S. College of Psychic Science and Research, wrote that he had observed some two-thousand materializations over his years of research and that perfect or near-perfect representations of the spirit form were very rare.  Most involved varying degrees of imperfection, many of them just two dimensional. 

“Just how the appearances are built up is not known,” he explained. “They appear in various ways.  Some have described the process as analogous to electro-plating, wherein a thin shell is deposited in the mold.  Other cases seem to lack depth, the third dimension, and appear like a print or drawing – flat.  This has given rise to the idea of their being faked.  In other cases they evolve in a more or less complete form and solid to the touch.  On one occasion, a face appeared incomplete.  Perfect in other respects, the face had no eyes, only sockets, and no teeth.  The voice having a hissing sound, the mouth was partly marred as if by the cicatrix of a burn and a small bit of unorganized ectoplasm hung from it.”

Wills recalled one manifestation in which his deceased younger brother appeared, first clean shaven, but then he saw a dark mustache gradually form on his brother’s face. This seems consistent with the explanation in my last blog entry that the spirit entity must visualize what he looked like and project that image into the ectoplasm.  That is, the younger brother remembered at some point that he had a mustache and added it by thought projection. 

While mostly white, the ectoplasm Wills observed was occasionally black, gray, purple and other colors.  “Sometimes the visibility is clear and sharp, at other times hazy,” he wrote.

“The impression to the touch is sometimes moist and cold, sometimes viscous and sticky and more rarely dry and hard.  At times, when a materialized figure has placed its hands on my head, I have observed that the draperies which hung down touching my cheek, were like exceedingly fine soap bubble and I could see the iridescent colouring where the light struck it, such as a soap bubble displays; the touch on the cheek appeared to break some of these minute bubbles, causing a slight crackling as when the hand is thrust into a mass of fine soapsuds, and, on withdrawal of the spirit person, the cheek was wet enough to cause an involuntary wiping off.”

On some occasions, the ectoplasm “was of the nature of thick, heavy white silk, beautifully woven and having considerable body and substance.”  One spirit person invited Wills to examine the robes and Wills observed that there was no seam in it anywhere.  At a sitting with Mrs. E. A. Tomson, in Chicago. a figure appeared clothed in long flowing white robes, after the manner of ancient Greeks.  Wills leaned closer to observe the nature of the stitching.  “Imagine my astonishment as I looked to see this 8-inch side fret pattern become blurred and foggy, and then as the fogginess faded the first pattern had disappeared and in its place was a 5-inch solid border of the same rich purple colour, the whole thing being in movement, billowing and undulating as the figure waved its arms.”

He added that since he was mentally active and keenly interested, measuring mentally the width of the border, noting its colour, studying its construction, etc., he was not in the proper state for hallucination. This took place under adequate red light and with strict controls, including strip searching the medium beforehand and someone sitting on each side of the medium holding each hand. 

“Some figures disappeared into the floor and some, as the head vanished into the floor, held up their hands and waved a farewell as the hands melted into the floor also,” Wills reported.

On one occasion, Wills observed the spirit form come out of the materialization cabinet, pass in front of the medium, who was in a semi-trance outside the cabinet, and when the form was about five feet from the medium he (Wills) attempted to speak to the medium, at which point the spirit form instantly stopped, turned facing the medium and became rigid, looking much like a marble statue.  It was explained to him that in speaking to the medium he was interfering with the vibrations.  As he sat back in his chair and became silent, the spirit form became less rigid and began moving again.

“I speak of spirit forms,” Wills related, “but it must be remembered that spirit, as such, cannot be seen physically. What we see is the form built up by the spirit person, using the ectoplasm from the medium, etc., just as we do not ‘see’ each other, only the temporary physical form in which we are encased and through which we, as spirit entities, become manifest to other physical beings.”

Several months after his wife died during 1929, Wills had one of many sittings with Mrs. Tomson.  “My wife appeared, but I could not recognize her at first, until, just as she returned into the cabinet , she threw a kiss to me and her face was as real and natural as I ever saw it,” he wrote, adding that on the next sitting he took his wife’s silk scarf in a small hand-bag that had belonged to her.  “On appearing this time, she said: ‘What have you got for me?’ I gave her the scarf and she returned to the cabinet, coming out smiling in an instant wearing the scarf around her neck, the ends hanging loosely down, as was her custom.  Turning to the group of sitters she remarked: ‘I love this scarf because it reminds my dear husband of me.’  Then she asked: ‘What’s in your hand?’  I said: ‘Your old hand-bag in which you carried your purse, pencils, papers, etc.’  Taking it, she felt around inside of it, remarking, thoughtfully: ‘I don’t need any of these things now.” After she retired the scarf was found on the floor of the cabinet.”

A week or so later, Wills attended another sitting in which his wife materialized.  She asked him where the scarf was and he told her that he left it at home.  His wife then went into the cabinet and came out an instant later wearing the scarf (or its double) lightly dusted over with ectoplasm.  A few years later, Wills was sitting with another medium, Charlotte Birkner, when his wife materialized.  Hoping that she would appear, Will had brought the scarf along.  He handed it to her at her request; she draped it around her neck, and then disappeared into the cabinet.  The scarf was nowhere to be found, but Wills later discovered it next to his bed at home. 

A few years later, Wills’s wife materialized at a sitting with Minnie Pederson.  Wills told his wife that she forgot her scarf.  “Looking down where the scarf would have been, she began with nervous haste to stroke her hands down as if feeling for it,” Wills recorded, “and, to the amazement of the sitters, there appeared at each stroke a dark maroon streak three inches wide, but she was receding into the cabinet and vanished when the scarf was about three-quarters materialized.  I was so petrified at this unthought-of and instantaneous marvel that I had not presence of mind enough to ask her to stay outside of the cabinet and let us see its completion.” 

As other researchers reported, Wills said that while the medium was the primary source of the ectoplasm, the spirits often obtained it from the sitters. One spirit explained to him that voices did not always sound like the friends or relatives sitting remembered them. “What you call ectoplasm is drawn from the throats of those in the circle to form a new speaking organism,” the spirit entity told him, going on to say that it does not always combine chemically so that they could reproduce the exact tone of the deceased person. As Wills understood, it is much like blood transfusion, where the blood injected must be of the same type as that of the patient to secure the proper effect.  “Once my (deceased) sister came and began to sing a hymn,” Wills recalled.  “I tried to join in and found my throat clogged and she stopped.  She had been drawing on my throat and when I tried to use it, it stopped her singing.”

Because of the ectoplasmic connections between medium, even sitters, and the discarnates, many observers believed it all trickery and some of the mediums studied by Wills were unjustly accused of fraud.  As Wills saw it, too many people were looking for a normal explanation, something that made sense to them. “The stubborn person, whose mind is made up and ‘knows’ that it is all a fake, or obstinate individuals who reject everything that varies from their mistaken preconceptions, these people should not waste their time or other people’s, for they cannot satisfy themselves and hinder or prevent others from progressing.” Wills concluded.  “Vaudeville and circus ‘stunts’ are more suited for their development.”

For more about Arthur J. Wills, see

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die is published by White Crow Books. His latest book, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife is now available on Amazon and other online book stores. 


Next blog post: March 11

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Ectoplasm: Hokey but True?

Posted on 11 February 2013, 5:09

It is difficult not to laugh or even scoff at some of the photos of supposed materialized spirits one comes across in books or on the Internet.  Some of these photos are hokey,  bizarre, and absolutely ridiculous.  Who in his right mind would possibly believe that such ludicrous objects are spirits of the dead?  Consider the photo below, which shows a supposed spirit form developing out of ectoplasm produced by British medium Helen Duncan.  Clearly, it is a fake, right?  I wouldn’t be so sure.  At least, the photo in itself does not prove that Duncan was a fraud, as any “rational” person might assume. 


Or consider the photo below of an entity called Bien Boa, which materialized in the presence of Dr. Charles Richet through the mediumship of Marthe Beraud, also known as Eva C.  It looks a little more realistic than the Duncan materialization, but appears to have no legs and is hokey nonetheless.  But Richet, a Nobel Prize winner in medicine, had no doubt that it was real.  “I shall not waste time in stating the absurdities, almost the impossibilities, from a psycho-physiological point of view, of this phenomenon,” Richet wrote.  “A living being, or living matter, formed under our eyes, which has it proper warmth, apparently a circulation of blood, and a physiological respiration (as I proved by causing the form of Bien Boa to breathe into a flask containing baryta water), which has also a kind of psychic personality having a will distinct from the will of the medium, in a word, a new human being!  This is surely the climax of marvels!  Nevertheless, it is a fact.”


Richet added that Bien Boa walked and moved, and his eyes could be seen looking around, and when he tried to speak his lips moved. He also floated in the air, far out of the reach of the medium, and vanished into the floor under his eyes three times, only to reappear, “bowing like an actor who receives applause.”

Along with Doctors Gustave Geley and Albert Schrenck-Notzing, two respected scientists, Richet observed the materialization process from the beginning.  “A kind of liquid or pasty jelly emerges from the mouth or the breast of Marthe which organizes itself by degrees, acquiring the shape of a face or limb,” he further reported. “Under very good conditions of visibility, I have seen this paste spread on my knee, and slowly take form so as to show the rudiment of the radius, the cubitus, or metacarpal bone whose increasing pressure I could feel on my knee.”

Richet further explained that the materializations were usually gradual, beginning with a rudimentary shape with complete forms and human faces only appearing later on.  At times, they waited for two to three hours for a full materialization.  “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.”

Richet’s comments might very well explain why the Duncan materialization appears so imperfect. That is, it was incomplete and may never have progressed beyond that point because the medium was not strong enough or the discarnate attempting to materialize was incapable of doing so.
In one sitting, a communicating entity told Richet that he was unable to materialize because he could not remember what he looked like when alive.  However, the spirit later materialized without a face. 

In her 1892 book, There is No Death, Florence Marryat, a popular writer of the Victorian era, told of a sitting with a medium in which an old family friend, John Powles, communicated but initially declined to materialize.  Peter, the medium’s spirit control, communicated that “he doesn’t want to show himself because he’s not a bit like what he used to be.” 

However, when Marryat persuaded Powles to show himself, she saw only a face that didn’t resemble her old friend in the slightest.  She wrote that it was “hard, stiff, and unlifelike.  Powles then told her that he would try to do better the next time.

For the next sitting, Marryat brought along a necktie that had belonged to Powles, keeping it in her pocket and telling no one about it.  Soon after the séance began, Peter told Marryat to hand over the necktie and put it on Powles’ neck.  “The face of John Powles appeared, very different from the time before, as he had his own features and complexion, but his hair and beard which were auburn during life, appeared phosphoric, as though made by living fire,” Marryat wrote, adding that she then mounted a chair, put the tie around his neck and asked if she could kiss him.  Powles shook his head, but Peter then told her to give him her hand. “I did so, and as he kissed it his moustaches burned me,” Marryat wrote.  “I cannot account for it.  I can only relate the fact.  After which he disappeared with the necktie, which I have never seen since, though we searched the little room for it thoroughly”.

As I understand it from other research in this area, the discarnate must visualize his or her old self and project that image into the ectoplasm.  The ability of discarnates to do this apparently varies as much as artistic ability varies among incarnates.  While some people have artistic talents and might do a good self portrait, my self-portrait would look more ridiculous than the Duncan materialization above. 

When William T. Stead first materialized after dying in the Titanic disaster, only his face appeared. When he was asked about this, he said that he visualized only his face. He explained that it was explained to him by other entities that he had to visualize himself among the people in the flesh and imagine that he was standing there in the flesh with a strong light thrown upon himself.  “Hold the visualization very deliberately and in detail, and keep it fixed upon my mind, that at that moment I was there and they were conscious of it,” Stead explained.  It was in the same way he was able to get a message through.  He stood by the most sensitive person there, concentrated his mind on a short sentence, and repeated it with much emphasis and deliberation until he could hear part of it spoken by the person.

Although I cannot immediately recall the reference, I do remember a case in which a researcher asked a spirit to show himself on a photographic plate. The spirit said he had to quickly visit his old home to view a photograph of himself before he could project his image on to the photographic plate, as he, too, didn’t remember what he looked like when alive. . He returned in a matter of seconds and the photograph that developed looked very much like the portrait on the mantel at his old house.

Likewise, materializations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Raymond Lodge which manifested in the research of Dr. T. Glen Hamilton of Canada looked like old photos of them, which immediately suggested fraud.  But think about it, if you had to telepathically project an image of yourself to someone, what would the self-image be based on?  What you see when shaving or applying make-up in the morning or a good photograph of yourself?  I’m pretty sure that I would visualize myself based on a 40-year-old photograph.  I know that when I sometimes look in the mirror I wonder who it is looking back at me and that person in the mirror does not match the more idealized likeness I have of myself.  And I know that when I think of my brother, who died in an accident 40 years ago, I picture him as he appeared in a high-school graduation photo, not as he appeared in some fleeting moment in our interaction during his lifetime.

Keep in mind also that before photography and quality mirrors, many people had no clear-cut idea as to what they looked like.  If you had no photographs of yourself from your childhood, would you know what you looked like at age 7 or 10? I don’t think I would. 

This might also explain why several early materialized spirits looked something like the medium.  The most famous case in this regard is that of Katie King, who materialized through the mediumship of Florence Cook.  Because many observers concluded that Katie looked like Florence, there was speculation that Florence was somehow doing a fast costume change, even though the room was thoroughly investigated beforehand and no costumes found. 

But Sir William Crookes, a famous British scientist, said that Katie was much taller than Florence and, in fact, saw them both at the same time – Florence in trance inside the cabinet and Katie in a materialized form. The reason that Katie looked so much like Florence may have been because Katie lived before photography and did not have a fixed image of herself, only that she was much taller than Florence.  Thus, she identified with Florence’s image.  As far-fetched as that may seem, it makes more sense, to me at least, than other explanations offered by debunkers.  . 

“To suggest that these trained observers were all deceived by fraudulent operations, those stupid and very tiresome performances which mislead no one but the uninformed and gullible, is to offer an explanation which offends our reason and shows willful indifference to truth,” Hamilton wrote, referring to Crookes, Richet, Geley, Schrenck-Notzing, Sir Oliver Lodge, Alfred Russel Wallace, and other esteemed men of science who witnessed materializations.

Schrenck-Notzing also observed that the cynical press was quick to accept unsubstantiated debunking reports and sensationalize them, thereby defaming innocent people.  These sensationalized reports then became “fact” as far as the public was concerned and later became part of standard reference books, muddying up the waters so that people today don’t know what to believe.  I find it easier to believe that those esteemed men of science were competent investigators than that they were duped in dozens, even hundreds, of materializations. 

“This ectoplasmic formation at the expense of the physiological organism of the medium is now beyond all dispute,” said Richet, who won the Nobel Prize for his research on anaphylaxis, the sensitivity of the body to alien protein substances.  “It is prodigiously strange, prodigiously unusual, and it would seem so unlikely as to be incredible; but we must give in to the facts…Yes, it is absurd; but no matter – it is true.”

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die is published by White Crow Books. His latest book, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife is now available on Amazon and other online book stores. 


Next blog post:  February 25        

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World Madness and Nihilism go Hand-in-Hand – The madness, craziness, and turmoil we see in the world today seems to have slowly developed in line with the growth of mass communication during the twentieth century, reaching an unimagined deep crater in recent years. As Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding (Sir Hugh Dowding, 1882 – 1970), put it in his 1960 book, "God’s Magic," “The problem of world chaos is linked very closely with the chaos in the mind of humanity.” Dowding is considered by many as the man most responsible for Great Britain’s victory in the 1940 Battle of Britain during World War II. “Man insists on looking outward for causes instead of looking inward. As with the individual, so with a nation. An individual who has an unquiet spirit will have an unquiet environment.” Read here
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