By: Demetrius (Co-Founder of the OCPRS)
The inherent dangers of the paranormal have already been expressed by the OCPRS in previous articles. The most subtle, but also the most dangerous, quality of the paranormal is how it draws people into occult beliefs and practices. Having become a part of popular culture, ghost phenomena has been the most successful means through which people are drawn to non-Christian beliefs and practices. One such non-Christian religion is modern spiritualism. Although the majority of people do not convert to modern spiritualism, they have unknowingly adopted many of the beliefs belonging to that false form of spirituality. In fact, much of today’s beliefs concerning ghost phenomena have emerged from the modern spiritualist movement, which first began in 1840. In turn, so-called physical researchers, paranormal investigators, parapsychologists, and so forth, have maintained and perpetuated many of the core beliefs established by the modern spiritualist movement. One such belief, in particular, is Ectoplasm. This article is aimed at addressing more than just the phenomenon of Ectoplasm, and may help people become aware of the spiritual dangers involved in any interest in the paranormal.
The paranormal phenomenon of Ectoplasm originated through modern spiritualism, and continues to be promoted through paranormal societies and researchers alike. The relationship between modern spiritualism and physical research – or paranormal research – is not incidental. Originally, the phenomenon that would be described as “Ectoplasm” was first known as Teleplasm. Dr. Charles Richet (1850-1935 A.D.), a physical researcher, introduced the term Ectoplasm to the phenomenon occurring throughout séances and other techniques practiced by modern spiritualists. This relationship between paranormal research and modern spiritualism is important to keep in mind. For now, further details of the phenomenon in question must be explored in order to understand how such beliefs have become part of popular culture.
There are various descriptions applied to the term Ectoplasm, but all tend to associate a phenomenon well known among modern spiritualists – and with others who “communicate” with the dead. For example, most dictionaries define it as:
1) The visible substance believed to emanate from the body of a spiritualistic medium during communication with the dead.
2) An immaterial or ethereal substance, especially the transparent corporeal presence of a spirit or ghost.
3) A substance held to produce spirit materialization and telekinesis.
There are also the definitions provided by parapsychologists, paranormal investigators, etc. Not surprisingly, the definitions all share modern spiritualist beliefs applied to ghosts. These beliefs stem from modern spiritualism, and this must be stressed. Some other definitions are: smoke-like, sometimes swirling substance that may even contain recognizable features; the material produced by a spirit just before or left behind just after materializing; a gelatinous substance drawn from the living essence of matter.
Each and every definition touches on phenomenon associated to the beliefs and practices of the modern spiritualist movement. Yet, the term and belief in Ectoplasm also exists among physical researchers – paranormal investigators, parapsychologists, etc. There is obviously a good reason for this. Historically, physical research emerged as result of modern spiritualism. For such groups and individuals claiming to stand apart from modern spiritualism, most adopt an agnostic approach, but what this amounts to is an ambivalent form of spirituality that is open to a variety of non-Christian beliefs about the nature of the soul and afterlife. Dr. Charles Richet helped to provide legitimacy to the otherwise questionable phenomenon of Ectoplasm, which emerged from modern spiritualism.
Other organizations like the SPR – or Society for Physical Research – founded in 1882, examined the paranormal by examining the practices found throughout the modern spiritualist movement. Although seemingly approaching the paranormal in an objective and “scientific” fashion, most of the founders and members of the SPR were well known for their anti-Christian attitudes towards spirituality. For instance, two of the founding members of the SPR – Henry Sedgwick (1838-1900) and Frederick Myers (1843–1901) – established their organization based on their rejection of the teachings found in their Christian faith. Physical research became a means to explore spirituality without what they believed to be the constraints of religion. What ultimately developed through the SPR was the adoption of beliefs belonging to modern spiritualism. Laying down the foundations of so-called credibility in the field of paranormal study, the SPR also perpetuated modern spiritualist beliefs, such as the phenomenon of Ectoplasm. Today, many paranormal investigators and societies have adopted such beliefs as definitions. It is here whereby one can recognize the relationship and inherent spiritual danger belonging to paranormal interest. There really is no objectivity or “science” in such groups. The interest in the paranormal that has become so widespread due to popular culture merely serves as an extension of the modern spiritualism movement.
Returning to the subject of Ectoplasm, there is really no evidence to suggest that the so-called objectivity and “science” applied by physical researchers could validate the phenomenon as credible. The following are some examples of cases involving fraud as well as cases which remain unresolved. In the cases involving fraud, it has been suggested that the circumstances surrounding the séance may have served to deceive observers. For instance, the vast majority of mediums/psychics who produced Ectoplasm during a séance insisted on having the lights dimmed, and instructed observers and participants alike not to touch the Ectoplasm. The reason provided by spiritualists for these conditions during a séance, were that light or physical contact with the Ectoplasm could harm the medium/psychic. Of course, it has been suggested that such conditions served to deceive observers and participants of the séance.
Famous or perhaps infamous medium spiritualists were exposed as frauds: Eva Carriere, Eusapia Palladino, Mina “Margery” Crandon, and so on. To be fair, those who discredited such mediums/psychics most often failed to provide conclusive evidence, but only offered speculations in their attempts to expose these modern spiritualists. In other words, there was a strong eagerness on the part of doubters to disprove anything presented to them. Of course, those who validated such mediums/psychics were eager to believe in the phenomena they experienced – they had faith in the modern spiritualist’s claims and were therefore biased. The earliest accounts of Ectoplasm phenomena do not necessarily prove or disprove anything.
There are three important factors whereby Ectoplasm phenomenon is doubtful according to the OCPRS. First, in those cases whereby Ectoplasm was exposed as a fraudulent phenomenon, Ectoplasm was nothing more than thin strips of muslin (a very thin and light fabric), cheese cloth, egg white, or soaps. In cases involving faces appearing in the Ectoplasm, they were nothing more than magazine or newspaper cut-outs placed in the muslin or cheese cloth. The Ectoplasm in question was concealed, but most often swallowed and later regurgitated. Ectoplasm appendages, such as disembodied hands, were props made from animal flesh or other readily available material. Secondly, the Ectoplasm phenomena, which had become so popular during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, fell out of popularity. Ectoplasm simply became a part of modern spiritualism’s history, giving way to other phenomena associated to communicating with the dead – such as Cold Reading. The questionable aspects concerning Ectoplasm are disregarded by modern spiritualists, who continue to use the memory of such phenomena as a means to validate their beliefs. The third reason the OCPRS is highly doubtful of Ectoplasm involves how physical researchers have taken the phenomenon and re-shaped or “evolved” the belief into another equally questionable practice – Spirit Photography.
Today, Ectoplasm continues to be promoted through physical researchers of the paranormal. Unlike the Ectoplasm supposedly produced through the medium/psychic, many paranormal researchers use Spirit Photography – another practice known to modern spiritualism – as a means to promote the phenomenon. Photographs of smoke-like swirls taken in cemeteries or “haunted” houses are used to promote Ectoplasm phenomena. However, the OCPRS set out to reproduce (or manufacture) its own photos in order to compare and expose the “spirit photographs” of Ectoplasm.
The experiment conducted by the OCPRS first set out to examine available photographs provided by various paranormal societies and researchers. Using a digital camera, some photographs were taken in a cemetery and at an old abandoned farm house in order to provide a setting people could easily associate to ghost phenomenon. When photos were taken, an exhalation of breath in the cold night air would provide the smoke-like or misty “Ectoplasm” recognized in photos taken by other paranormal researchers. The results were strikingly similar.
What occurs with most photographers who sincerely believe they have photographed something paranormal is that during night photography they do not see any smoke-like mist. As the photographs are taken, the photographer unknowingly exhales. In cool or cold temperatures, the exhalation of breath becomes visible. The result of such carelessness is that a later review of photos taken stirs both the desire and imagination to believe that something paranormal has been captured on film. The same error can be made while smoking a cigarette. In cases where the exhalation of breath or cigarette smoke are not present, many environments – cemeteries in particular – often provide the right conditions for fog, which may not be visible to the human eye in darkness. In the right weather conditions, fog has produced smoke-like mist seen in photographs of Ectoplasm. Using the flash on the camera illuminates what the human eye cannot see, and the camera simply captures the image. Sometimes water particles in the fog or breath help create what many have wrongfully identified as “orbs” – another, paranormal phenomena associated to ghosts. To continue, the results produced by the OCPRS provided rational explanations to the Ectoplasm phenomena documented within the practice of “Spirit Photography.”
Modern day paranormal societies and researchers have simply adopted terms and beliefs stemming from modern spiritualism. Ectoplasm evolved from the séance room to the practice of “spirit photography.” In an attempt to gain acceptance among other paranormal enthusiasts, the terminology and beliefs belonging to the popular ghost culture of today has compelled countless people to blindly accept beliefs and practices falling under the occult. In other words, people have unwittingly adopted terms and beliefs belonging to the modern spiritualist movement. Such people sincerely believe that they are conducting scientific research and may indeed have nothing to do with modern spiritualism. Of course, this raises the concern as to whether or not paranormal studies are not simply a watered-down spiritual practice? If the beliefs belonging to modern spiritualism are obviously prominent in the so-called “scientific” study of the paranormal, this also raises concerns as to what foundations such physical researchers are setting for themselves and others. In turn, what conclusions could they possibly make without making the mistake of turning to the non-Christian sources from which the subjects in question have emerged?
The Ectoplasm phenomenon has more to do with artificial spirituality than it does in promoting what really occurs in the spiritual world. Most of the article has already addressed how the definitions of paranormal phenomena have been largely influenced by modern spiritualism and so-called physical researchers. Some people may not be convinced about everything stated here in this article. Perhaps the same people would even disagree that popular culture has been greatly influenced by the beliefs and practices of modern spiritualism. Despite such blatant ignorance, society is dominated by non-Christian views concerning ghost phenomena. Books exploring the subject of ghosts almost always make mention of modern spiritualism in one way or another. Movies with central themes of the paranormal also include beliefs and practices stemming from the modern spiritualist movement. While not wishing to promote such films here in this article, here are just a few examples: The Others, Drag Me To Hell, A Haunting in Connecticut. As for other areas of popular culture and media, there are also numerous television programs promoting the paranormal. There is hardly a television network that does not provide at least one program dedicated to ghost hunting. In such television shows mediums/psychics, physical researchers, and other paranormal enthusiasts promote beliefs and practices stemming from modern spiritualism.
The concern the OCPRS has for such popular culture is how these false sets of spirituality have been promoted and suppress the rich and true revelations about the afterlife known in Christ’s Church. Having explored Ectoplasm phenomena, both the questionability and widespread influence of such beliefs do indeed help to draw out a broader set of spiritual dangers recognized to the study of the paranormal. In the pursuit for the meaning of life and death, many people turn to the beliefs and practices promoted through physical researchers, parapsychology, and non-Christian religions. The alarming growth of interest people have in the paranormal is a troubling sign of the times.