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What is Ectoplasm? (And what is it made of?)

Updated on November 9, 2017

Disambiguation: "Ectoplasm" may be used in a purely scientific sense, to refer to the outer layer of a cell (as opposed to the internal "endoplasm"). This article addresses "ectoplasm" as the name for a paranormal substances sometimes emitted by mediums during a science or other spiritualist event.

Antique photograph of medium Mina Stinson Crandon exuding ectoplasm
Antique photograph of medium Mina Stinson Crandon exuding ectoplasm

Ectoplasm is a substance reportedly spontaneously exuded by the bodies of spirit mediums during ritual events. It can have the appearance, variously, of a liquid, gelatinous mass or length of loosely woven cloth (or some combination thereof).

"Ectoplasm" is also used to describe any fluid or residue thought to indicate the presence of actions of spirits or ghosts. However I an focusing on the more specific application of the term in relation to séances. It is normally somewhat gelatinous in nature but also appear as liquid, cloth or what appear to be papier mache or photographic images.

Dr. Charles Richet

The term "ectoplasm" was coined by by Nobel prize winner, scientist and psychical researcher Charles Richet in 1894. It replaced the previous by less popular term teleplasm. he observed alleged ectoplasmic material emitted by medium Eusepia Palladino. As late as the 1920s serious scientists anticipated being able to include ectoplasm in mainstream scientific accounts of normal biological functions.

Photographs of Examples:

What is it Made of?

What seems to be missing is a modern chemical analysis of material provided by a medium a "ectoplasm". Perhaps suggesting that either there is an unwillingness to share the material (fraud) or ectoplasm is not actually a tangible physical product as generally claimed.

Medium Mina Crandon
Medium Mina Crandon

The Paranormal Explanation

Ectoplasm is explained as a complete or partial projection of a spirit into the physical world, presumably for the purpose of sending a message to the living.

The Skeptical Explanation

Mediums have been caught making fake ectoplasm (and even full paper or plastic masks) so it is know, in at least some cases, to be fraudulent. This fraud is also very apparent in some historical photographs where unconvincing apparitions, clearly photographs or paintings, are show ostensibly forming from the ectoplasm.

Around the turn of the last century people were less familiar with photography and tended to view these images in a more credulous way. As such, ectoplasm is largely a historical phenomenon linked to spiritualism in the Victorian period and up until the 1930. A modern audience can easily see how these material could be faked, and that some of them are very clearly made from commonplace materials.

medium Mary Marshall with an alleged ectoplasm form of a woman (obviously using a cut out photograph of a face).
medium Mary Marshall with an alleged ectoplasm form of a woman (obviously using a cut out photograph of a face).

The Winner

If there is such as thing as real ectoplasm, it is not the unconvincing cheesecloth and goop photographs in seances. Even experimenters from the heyday of seances who believed ectoplasm was spiritual in natural, have admitted that its appearance in photogrpahs was rather absurd.

As ectoplasm is meant to be a real substance, the first step to understanding it would be to determine what it is made of. Samples from the heyday of spiritualism that were subject to analysis have proved to be mundane materials. Therefore, so far ectoplasm in the context of seances seems to be just a hoax.


  • Brain, R. M. (2013). Materialising the Medium: Ectoplasm and the Quest for Supra-Normal Biology in Fin-de-Siècle Science and Art.”. Vibratory Modernism, 115-144.
  • Delgado, L. A. (2011). Bawdy technologies and the birth of ectoplasm. Genders, (54).


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      Ralph Jones. 5 years ago

      I witnessed ectoplasm in mid air. It was like a ball of unraveled grey wool which was zig zagging upwards above rooftops in Brighton. It disappeared into like a black hole. It was visible for about three minutes. I think its spirit waste material, like a matter which is linked to the soul but no longer needed. The ambilical cord is as such. A passage which carries life from one soul (the mother) to a baby. True indeed.