Is Ectoplasm Real or Fake?

Chemical Composition of Ectoplasm

Ectoplasm is the name given to a gelatinous or wispy material supposedly emanating from some mediums during a seance.
Ectoplasm is the name given to a gelatinous or wispy material supposedly emanating from some mediums during a seance. Sarah Sitkin / Getty Images

If you've seen enough scary Halloween movies, then you've heard the term "ectoplasm". Slimer left green gooey ectoplasm slime in his wake in Ghostbusters. In The Haunting in Connecticut, Jonah emits ectoplasm during a séance. These movies are works of fiction, so you may be wondering whether ectoplasm is real.

Real Ectoplasm

Ectoplasm is a defined term in science. It's used to describe the cytoplasm of the one-celled organism, the amoeba, which moves by extruding portions of itself and flowing into the space.

Ectoplasm is the outer portion of an amoeba's cytoplasm, while endoplasm is the inner portion of the cytoplasm. Ectoplasm is a clear gel that helps the "foot" or pseudopodium of an amoeba change direction. Ectoplasm changes according to the acidity or alkalinity of the fluid. The endoplasm is more watery and contains most the cell's structures.

So, yes, ectoplasm is a real thing.

Ectoplasm from a Medium or Spirit

Then, there is the supernatural kind of ectoplasm. The term was coined by Charles Richet, the French physiologist who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1913 for his work on anaphylaxis. The word comes from the Greek words ektos, which means "outside" and plasma, which means "molded or formed", in reference to the substance said to be manifested by a physical medium in a trance. Psychoplasm and teleplasm refer to the same phenomenon, although teleplasm is ectoplasm that acts at a distance from the medium.

Ideoplasm is ectoplasm that molds itself into the likeness of a person.

Richet, like many scientists of his time, was interested in the nature of the material said to be excreted by a medium, that could allow a spirit to interact with a physical realm. Scientists and physicians known to have studied ectoplasm include German physician and psychiatrist Albert Freiherr von Schrenck-Notzing, German embryologist Hans Driesch, physicist Edmund Edward Fournier d'Albe, and English scientist Michael Faraday.

 Unlike Slimer's ectoplasm, accounts from the early 20th century describe ectoplasm as a gauzy material. Some said it started out translucent and then materialized to become visible. Others said ectoplasm faintly glowed. Some people reported a strong odor associated with the stuff. Other accounts stated ectoplasm disintegrated upon exposure to light. Most reports describe ectoplasm as cool and moist and sometimes viscous. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, working with a medium identified as Eva C., stated ectoplasm felt like a living material, moving and responding to his touch.

For the most part, mediums of the day were frauds and their ectoplasm was revealed to be a hoax. While several notable scientists conducted experiments on ectoplasm to determine its source, composition, and properties, it's difficult to tell whether they were analyzing the real deal or an example of stage showmanship. Schrenck-Notzing obtained a sample of ectoplasm, which he described as filmy and organized like a biological tissue sample, which degraded into epithelial cells with nuclei, globules, and mucus. While researchers weighed the medium and resulting ectoplasm, exposed samples to light, and stained them, there don't appear to have been any successful attempts to identify chemical substances in the matter.

But, scientific understanding of elements and molecules was limited at the time. Quite honestly, most of any investigation centered on determining whether or not the medium and the ectoplasm were fraudulent

Modern Ectoplasm

Being a medium was a viable business at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. In the modern era, fewer people claim to be mediums. Of these, only a handful are mediums who emit ectoplasm. While videos of ectoplasm abound on the internet, there's little information about samples and test results. More recent samples have been identified as human tissue or fragments of fabric. Basically, mainstream science views ectoplasm with skepticism or outright disbelief.

Make Homemade Ectoplasm

The most common "fake" ectoplasm was simply a sheet of fine muslin (a sheer fabric).

If you want to go for the early 20th century medium effect, you could use any sheer sheet or spider web type of material. The slimy version can be replicated using egg whites (with or without bits of thread or tissue) or slime.

Luminescent Ectoplasm Recipe

Here's a nice glowing ectoplasm recipe that's easy to make using readily available materials:

  • 1 cup warm water
  • 4 ounces clear non-toxic glue (white works too, but won't produce clear ectoplasm)
  • 1/2 cup liquid starch
  • 2-3 tablespoons glow in the dark paint or 1-2 teaspoons of glow powder
  1. Mix together the glue and water until the solution is uniform.
  2. Stir in the glow paint or powder.
  3. Use a spoon or your hands to mix in the liquid starch to form ectoplasm slime.
  4. Shine a bright light on the ectoplasm so it will glow in the dark.
  5. Store your ectoplasm in a sealed container to keep it from drying out.

There's also an edible ectoplasm recipe, in case you need to drip ectoplasm from your nose or mouth.

References

Crawford, W. J. The Psychic Structures at the Goligher Circle. London, 1921.

Schrenck-Notzing, Baron A. The Phenomena of Materialisation. London, 1920. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975.

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Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Is Ectoplasm Real or Fake?" ThoughtCo, Oct. 22, 2016, thoughtco.com/is-ectoplasm-real-or-fake-4105379. Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2016, October 22). Is Ectoplasm Real or Fake? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/is-ectoplasm-real-or-fake-4105379 Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Is Ectoplasm Real or Fake?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/is-ectoplasm-real-or-fake-4105379 (accessed November 23, 2017).