Experts discuss ectoplasm and materialization in virtual roundtable
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, Schrenck-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.