- Also known as ectoplasmic substance. The term ectoplasm comes from the Greek words ektos (exterior, from the outside) and plasma (something formed or moulded). It was introduced in or shortly before 1894 by the French physiologist and Nobel Prize laureate Charles Robert Richet (1850-1935) to denote a hypothetical substance analogous to protoplasm, allegedly exuding from the bodily orifices of some physical mediums during séances, and reportedly being both visible and palpable to individuals without any claimed paranormal abilities who were present at such séances. Reports of ectoplasmic substances avant la lettre date back at least to the work of the British philosopher and alchemist Thomas Vaughan (1622-1666). The substances in question are variously described as vapours or cloud-like condensations emanating from a medium's body, as white luminous spots, as phosphorescent columns, or - most commonly -as an amorphous gelatinous mass. This mass is described as black, grey, luminescent or -mostly - white, and capable of transforming into anthropomorphous shapes such as faces or phantom hands called 'pseudopods'. When ectoplas-mic substances are moulded in the likeness of one's self, the term ideoplasm is used. When they are produced at a distance the terms psy-choplasm and teleplasm apply. In parapsychology ectoplasm is traditionally designated as a materialization phenomenon. Although Richet himself was convinced of the existence of the ecto-plasmic substance, and claimed to have attended hundreds of sittings where mediums produced it, he admitted that he could explain neither its origin nor its genesis. Three possibilities suggested by him - albeit reluctantly - involved the substance's creation by the spirits of deceased individuals, the intervention of metaphysical beings such as spirits, daimones, and angels upon matter, and the production of the substance by the medium's body itself. Richet, as well as Frederic Myers (1843-1901), Baron Albert von Schrenck-Notzing (1862-1929), and other prominent paranormal researchers during the Interbellum were well aware that a substantial number of mediums involved in the production of ectoplasmic phenomena were frauds. Still, in reply to those who would dismiss ectoplasmic phenomena per se as absurd, Richet used to hold that they are indeed absurd, but nevertheless true. As he wrote, "I shall not waste time in stating the absurdities, almost the impossibilities, from a psycho-physiological point of view, of this phenomenon. A living being, or living matter, formed under our eyes, which has its 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." Biomedical explanations of ectoplasm, other than those referring to stage magic, do not exist. After World War II the number of reports on these phenomena rapidly declined, and today even many paranormal researchers tend to doubt whether genuine cases ever existed.ReferencesMelton, J.G., ed. (1996). Encyclopedia of occultism and parapsychology. Volume 1. Fourth edition. Detroit, MI: Gale.Richet, C. (1975). Thirty years of psychical research. Translated by de Brath, S. New York, NY: Macmillan.Von Schrenck-Notzing, A. (1923). Materiali-sations-Phaenomene. Ein Beitrag zur Erforschung der mediumistischen Teleplas-tie. Zweite, stark vermehrte Auflage. München: Verlag von Ernst Reinhardt.
Dictionary of Hallucinations. J.D. Blom. 2010.