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The Science of Spiritualist Phenomena, Physical Phenomena and Ectoplasm

Three (short) Essays in Investigations By R.A Little

The Phenomena of Spiritualism
Notes on a Lecture by Dennis Russell DSNU


Emma Hardinge-Britten wrote “Spiritual phenomena occur according to natural laws, even though those laws have yet to be proved by science”

In 1933 Sir Oliver Lodge had linked the subject of survival after death with subatomic physics. He was a respected scientist who in his work with electricity, light and telegraphy paved the way for x-rays and the theory of relativity. He was a keen supporter of the Society for Psychical Research, so would not have been easily misled.

In more recent times, a Physicist, R.D Pearson has written books that have been published by academic presses in America and Russia called “Intelligence Behind the Universe” and “Consciousness is a Sub­quantum Phenomenon”. In other words consciousness, or God the Creator, if you like, is everywhere and in everything, down to the minutest atom.

Michael Roll has written articles, using Pearson’s work for scientific backup, and has said “we now know that what has been known to the world as psychic phenomena and the religion of Spiritualism is a branch of physics that should be known as sub-atomic phenomena”

He writes that recent experiments repeating Sir William Crookes’ nineteenth century experiments with medium Florence Cook when the Spirit Katie King materialized have proved survival of life after death. Crookes failed to convince his peers, he says, because he hadn’t got the mathematical theory to back up his experiment; and because there were no living friends or relatives who could identify Katie King’s materialized spirit.

Although these experiments have been conducted, it has never been possible to film them under scientific conditions for wider acceptance.

In the 1980’s professor Archie Roy was going to do so but the medium who was going to take part in the filming refused at the last minute due to telephone threats and lies spread to discredit her.

Emma Hardinge-Britten “The Philosophy of the Spirit Circle and the Spirit Mediums”
Michael Roll “The Scientific Proof of Survival after Death”
“Discoveries in Physics Prove We Possess a Soul”
R.D Pearson “Intelligence Behind the Universe”
“Consciousness is a sub-quantum Phenomenon”


A Dr Crawford, from Queen’s University, Belfast, said that Ectoplasm., the “whitish, translucent, nebulous matter” seen in photographs “is the basis of all psychic phenomena of the physical order”.He conducted experiments between 1914 and 1920 to determine how physical phenomena were produced and hypothesized that the nervous energy of the sitters produced a kick-start effect on the medium’s nervous energy which then produced the necessary ectoplasm. He found that everyone in the seance room produced an amount of it and contributed to the materialisation.

The same applies to Transfiguration circles when the medium can change size and shape as well as facial differences.

In the phenomenon of Direct Voice, ectoplasm similarly produced makes an additional voicebox similar to the human larynx and holds and controls any trumpet from which the voices are heard.

Spirit photography also requires ectoplasm, to deposit on a plate or film. It is not that spirits are magically picked up through the lens although unseen to any onlookers. Spirits work instead inside the camera.

Automatic Writing starts with a spirit impressing on the mind of the medium but a more extreme control is exerted by an ectoplasmic hand on the hand of the medium.

Table-tilting is also achieved through the use of ectoplasm, this time in the form of rods wielded by spirits to provide entertainment for those who like to show that spirits can move tables.

Apports are usually brought by the spirit control of the medium, although it seems impossible that solid objects can be brought through thin air. One control apologetically explained “It involves some factors which are beyond your human science and which could not be made clear to you” He suggested the analogy of water, turned into an invisible vapour then transported elsewhere to become condensed as visible water.

There have been reports of people being contacted by someone from the other side by telephone and electronic media. I myself witnessed an uncharged mobile phone, without any credit, ringing. It belonged to a friend of my neighbour who had recently died, and we both heard it ring with some amazement.

A Conan Doyle The History of Spiritualism Vol 2
Harry Boddington The University of Spiritualism


In the 19th Century materializations were considered entertainment and the mediums were “fetishized and erotic figures” There were fakes and frauds amongst them but probably the genuine ones did not attract as much publicity. The development of photography spread the interest in the materializations, and today photos are used to provide evidence of the genuine.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle says that he often saw ectoplasm in its vaporous form but never when it was solid. But he reported on an experiment of cutting off a piece of ectoplasm (with the medium’s permission) which, when burned produced a smell of burning horn. He therefore concluded that the ectoplasm must be organic.

It seems quite natural that it should be so, since other experiments showed that ectoplasm leaving a medium’s body though the mouth and other orifices results in a loss of weight that is regained when the ectoplasm returns to the medium’s body.

Ectoplasm is sensitive to light and touch. Light can be gradually increased to a low level and ectoplasm can be touched with the medium’s permission. But any sudden flash of light or touch will cause the ectoplasm to return at great speed and will burn or bruise the medium, who can be ill for some time.

Helen Duncan suffered as a result of this as a materialization medium but even today some writers maintain that she was hiding muslin in various bodily orifices. Apparently, some material alleged to come from her is in the possession of a Cambridge library.

In the 1920’s a French doctor described ectoplasm as usually white, soft to the touch and a bit elastic when spreading; hard, knotty or fibrous when it forms strings. It moves. It forms shapes: body parts, little statue-type figures, and full-size apparitions of those who have passed.

Marina Warner, writing in “Cabinet Magazine”2003/4, believed that ectoplasmic phenomena are “generic stuff of spirit,” not “unique ghosts of dead souls”!! That is, ectoplasm is moulded by spirits to make their own form. It is not the spirits themselves.

A Conan Doyle: The History of Spiritualism Vol 2



Notes from a lecture by Dennis Russell DSNU

Some psychic phenomena are not part of Spiritualist phenomena. Spiritualist phenomena are those which produce evidence of survival or spirit activity. They are not synonymous with the paranormal.

The difference between mental and physical phenomena is that mental phenomena require the presence of a medium as an intermediary, whereas physical phenomena may be seen, heard or felt by anyone.

Physical Phenomena can be spontaneous, occurring at any time, or “invited” as a response to sitters in a circle. It can be “intelligent” , to warn for example, or purposeless, when it can be the result of thepsychic state the person present is in. It can be responsive, as in the case of Hydesville when the Fox sisters transformed random spontaneous knockings to intelligent communication by themselves responding to the spirit of Charles B Rosna. On the other hand there may be no response on other occasions.

Psychically produced or perceived phenomena

  1. Reading Auras
  2. People can do, sometimes with training, what the spirit people can do – produce knocks: as with poltergeists; produce small amounts of ectoplasm; see pictures- clairvoyance ie some mental phenomena may be psychic.
  3. The perception of spirit lights which can vary from tiny dots to large globes.
  4. The perception of spirit breezes ie temperature drop at sites of “hauntings” and in circles.
  5. Telekinesis, the movement of objects from a distance, ie by thought. Experiments have been done with dice which have proved statistically that it is possible to affect by thought the expected results of throwing dice.

Physical phenomena produced by Spirit

  1. Poltergeists can be meaningless, unaware of a person; but they can be nasty, directed at a person; on the other hand they can be helpful and pleasant.
  2. The ouija board and planchette are instruments to connect with the spirit world , but they are dangerous, very easy to use and have caused possession by spirits in the case of some who were experimenting. It is essential that an experienced medium is present if either is being used.
  3. Levitation is achieved by some mystics and mediums. Daniel Dougls Home was a noted exponent of the phenomenon.
  4. Apports are items brought by spirit, even into a locked room. A coin brought into one room was found to be hot, proving that there must have been a lot of energy involved in the process. The Rev William Stainton-Moses attracted a large number of apports.
  5. Asports are the opposite of apports
  6. Direct Voice and trumpet: Direct voice comes from the voicebox built by spirit in the throat of the medium, or via the “Trumpet” an aluminium cone, which concentrates the voice, but does not amplify it. The voice is recognisably that of the spirit coming through. Lesley Flint was the best known exponent of Direct Voice.
  7. Transfiguration is the formation of ectoplasm on the face of the medium by spirit to portray the spirit coming through. Sometimes it is not easy to recognize the spirit coming through because the red light used distorts the appearance.
  8. Like materialization, transfiguration can be dangerous for the medium if the proceedings are disrupted in any way.
  9. Materialization can be of body parts or of a whole body of a spirit varying in size from a small statuette to full size. The form builds up in the séance room with the medium in full trance. The phenomenon is very rare and is demanding on  the medium. Helen Duncan  was the best known exponent.

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