The word ectoplasm comes from the Greek ektos (outside of) and plasma (something formed). The term was coined by the French physiologist Charles Richet, who had at one point served as the president of the U.K.’s Society for Psychical Research.
In a paranormal sense, ectoplasm was once believed to be secreted from the bodies of mediums as they channeled spirits from the other side. It may have also been residue left by the manifestation of spirits or other entities.
The physical characteristics of ectoplasm have been described a number of ways.
White, milky, slimy, smelling of ozone. It was solid, but also sometimes appeared as vaporous, emanating from the mouths, ears, and noses of physical mediums, usually in a darkened room and surrounded by fellow spiritualists.
This idea, naturally, has fallen out of fashion, as most of the old “evidence” of ectoplasm has long since been debunked as fraudulent, nothing more than cheesecloth and other everyday materials.
In fact, some of the photographs are almost humorous, including made-up dolls and even magazine clippings of faces, meant to appear as the visions of lost loved ones.
But we were far more superstitious back then, and it’s hard to tell what happens in a dark, candle-room in the middle of the night, as a medium claims to conjure the dead…
No, I don’t believe anything in these pictures is supernatural, nor do I care for mediums or psychics in general. But it’s a curious footnote in the history of paranormal research and hoaxery (I’ve decided that’s a word). I’d be interested to see if the ectoplasm “phenomenon” still exists, though…
There are, of course, other “physical substances” that many claim appear in the presence of spirit manifestation. For example, strange mists or vapors in the air, often captured on camera as smoky, floating ethereal drapes.