According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s definition ectoplasm pertaining to the supernatural is “a substance held to produce spirit materialization and telekinesis”. Ectoplasm is better remembered as green slime that ghosts left behind in the 1984 blockbuster hit “Ghostbusters”. Whether ectoplasm is actually real or not has been much debated in the scientific and paranormal community.
After World War I there was an increased interest in spiritualism, a religious movement that involved contacting deceased loved ones using a psychic medium. The increased interest in this movement was mostly likely brought on by all the soldiers and that had died during the war, and their family wanting to contact their loved ones beyond the grave.
Ectoplasm was supposed to be physical proof that they were communicating with the dead. It was a term used to define a physical emanation of the supernatural, most like coming out one of the medium’s orifices such as the mouth, nose or ears. Some early researchers merged the idea of ectoplasm with the theory of “ectenic force,” these researchers were trying to find a physical explanation for psychokinetic experiences happening during séances. Count Agenor de Gasparin and his colleage M. Thury hypothesized its existence to explain the phenomena of tables turning and the sounds of tapping during séances. The two researchers claimed they have had success with their experiments on ectenic force, but their results have not been verified independently.
Ectoplasm was so commonplace that it was revered in the scientific community and was featured in scientific journals, its existence was confirmed by such great minds of the times such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and William Butler Yeats. Once Scientific America offered $5,000 to anyone that could demonstrate this phenomena to a scientific panel, this money was a means to an end to the validity of ectoplasm.
Many researchers uncovered fraud, and do not believe ectoplasm is plausible. Many séances were conducted in poor lighting which enabled the mediums to follow through with their illusion of ectoplasm. Researcher Harry Price debunked medium Helen Duncan’s ectoplasm, by analyzing a sample of the ectoplasm she produced from her mouth. His finding determined it was a piece of cheesecloth that she had swallowed and regurgitated later. Duncan also used dolls and masks that would ooze fake ectoplasm.
What the scientific panel uncovered was even more disturbing than what Price discovered. Many methods and materials were used to create the illusion of ectoplasm. Some mediums would cut magazines or photographs and stick them to cheesecloth and pass them off as spirits of the dead. The medium examined by the scientific panel had a very creative methodology. She concealed a sheep gut and fat mixture in her vagina, which she would expulse at a certain time to make it look like she was expelling ectoplasm.
With the exposure of these frauds the displays of ectoplasm and credibility of mediums waned. After the were war fake mediums preyed and exploiting desperate people wishing to contact their loved ones, and ruined the credibility of real mediums. Although this term is widespread in popular culture, it is mostly rejected in the science community and is still debatable up until this day if it is real or faux.