FOR COUNTLESS centuries people have believed more or less firmly in ghosts and phantoms, although the rarity of such apparitions and their peculiarly evanescent character have prevented the accumulation of any very convincing evidence for their objective reality, and have enabled more sceptical minds to deny it altogether, as a superstitious fancy supported only by manifestly unreliable third-hand testimony. With the development of eighteenth and nineteenth century rationalism, indeed, scepticism obtained a temporary ascendancy among the educated, mainly because the spread of science had raised the standard of evidence required to bring conviction, and evidence of a high quality is, naturally enough, exceedingly difficult to obtain in this region of nature. Nevertheless, we have now reached a point where the reality of phantoms can he demonstrated under certain conditions and their possible occurrence under other conditions inferred; and further, we can go so far as to see in part how they are generated, and to watch the actual process.
Before considering the more recent work of psychic researchers which will provide us with some grounds for an explanation of the genesis of phantoms, we will mention briefly the classical case of "Katie King," as it is unique in many important respects. Although Richet, as we shall shortly see, has observed and described a fully materialized and apparently living phantom, and Dr. Gibier has witnessed the production of several such while the medium, Mme. Salmon, was locked in a closed cage, no one besides Crookes has yet been granted such a perfect and relatively stable manifestation. Probably, indeed, no other investigator has deserved it, for it demanded on his part a very high development of patience, tact, fineness of feeling, as well as self-effacement and transparent honesty - for example, although he took some forty-four photographs of the spirit form, he never published them, in spite of their immense value to him as confirmation of his word and of the consequent credit he would have reaped from them. He denied himself this because he had promised Katie, when she allowed him to photograph her, that he would not publish the prints.
The extraordinary story of Katie King's appearance, her recurrent existence for about three years, and her final departure, is given in Crookes'
"Researches", and ought to be read in full. It will be seen that this marvellous spirit-form appeared frequently at sťances for a period of about three years, and on these occasions was practically indistinguishable from a real living person, except for her power of vanishing instantaneously. We read, for example, that at a sťance at Hackney Katie appeared for about two hours, walking about the room and conversing with those present. Crookes asked and obtained permission to clasp her in his arms, and thus verify the fact that she was as material a being as Miss Cook (the medium) herself.
Katie, moreover, and this is a point in which she differed most from the majority of materialized forms, had her own quite personal character. She made friends with the whole Crookes' household, and was especially fond of playing with the children, telling them stories of her earth-life, so that no one could help treating her as a real living person, and a singularly charming and lovable one.
The general procedure of a sťance was that Miss Cook, the medium, lay down on a couch or on the floor in the library, which opened out through folding doors (of which one was taken off its hinges and replaced by a curtain) into Crookes' laboratory, where those taking part in the sťance were assembled.
"I prepare and arrange my Library myself as the dark cabinet," says Crookes (p. 124), "and usually, after Miss Cook has been dining and conversing with us, and scarcely out of our sight for a minute, she walks direct into the cabinet, and I, at her request, lock its second door and keep possession of the key through the sťance; the gas is then turned out and Miss Cook is left in darkness. On entering the cabinet Miss Cook lies down upon the floor, with her head on a pillow, and is soon entranced."
It will occur to the reader of the above paragraph that a possible mode of fraud open to Miss Cook was that of securing a second key to the far door of the library, and having an accomplice who came into the cabinet and laboratory in this way and enacted the part of Katie; all other modes of fraud are excluded by the facts that (a) Katie King was a perfect model of a living human being, who possessed a heart (pulse normally 75), and breathed, moved, talked, and apparently had her own recognizable character and personality; and (b) the medium and Katie King were often seen, and were also photographed, together at one and the same
moment(1). Moreover, there were many physical differences between the two. Crookes says:
"Katie's height varies; in my house I have seen her six inches taller than Miss
Cook ... Katie's neck was bare last night; the skin was perfectly smooth both to touch and sight, while on Miss Cook's neck is a large blister which, under similar circumstances, is distinctly visible and rough to the touch. Katie's ears are unpierced, whilst Miss Cook habitually wears earrings. . . .Katie's lungs were found to be sounder than her medium's, for at the time I tried the
experiment Miss Cook was under medical treatment for a cough."
(1) On one occasion Crookes, together with C. Varley, F.R.S., made Miss Cook's body part of a weak electric circuit, fastening the wires to her so that if she wore to move much the current would cease. When the materialized form appeared outside the cabinet the current (as indicated by a galvanometer) did not cease, although it varied slightly Owing to small movements of the medium. This proved that the medium was inside the cabinet during the period that the spirit-form was outside.
The sole normal explanation of Katie would be that she was some third person,
acting the part, and introduced by Miss Cook via the back door of the library. But this suggestion is put out of court partly by the wholly abnormal variation of Katie's height, partly by the accounts of her instantaneous disappearances,(2) and partly because the circumstances of Miss Cook's visits to the Crookes' household, and her perfectly easy and open behaviour there, preclude this idea of complicity, which would necessitate many secret meetings and elaborate arrangements. On this point we may quote two passages from Crookes: "During the last six months Miss Cook has been a frequent visitor at my house, remaining sometimes a week at a time. She brings nothing with her but a little handbag, not locked; during the day she is constantly in the presence of Mrs. Crookes, myself or some other member of my family, and, not sleeping by herself, there is absolutely no opportunity for any preparation even of a less elaborate character than would be required to enact Katie King" (page 124). And on page 128 he says:
"To imagine that an innocent schoolgirl of fifteen should be able to conceive and then successfully carry out for three years so gigantic an imposture as this, and in that time should submit to any test that might be imposed upon her, should bear the strictest scrutiny, should be willing to be searched at any time, either before or after a sťance, and should meet with even better success in my own house than at that of her parents, knowing that she visited me with the express object of submitting to strict scientific tests - to imagine, I say, the Katie King of the last three years to be the result of imposture does more violence to one's reason and common sense
than to believe her to be what she herself affirms."
(2) Miss Florence Marryat describes graphically how Katie melted under a full light on one occasion. "I can compare the dematerialization of her form to nothing but a wax doll melting before a hot fire. First the features became blurred and indistinct; they seemed to run into each other. The eyes sunk in the sockets, the nose disappeared, the frontal bone fell in. Next the limbs appeared to give way under her, and she sank lower and lower on the carpet like a crumbling edifice . . . ." See
"There is No Death", by Florence Marryat (Rider).
I do not know whether Crookes ever committed himself definitely to the belief that Katie was, as she said, a spirit who had formerly lived on earth and was now incarnated again at the expense of the medium, or whether he would admit as a possible alternative the idea that Katie was a material projection of a secondary personality of Miss Cook.
In the light of later work this latter would appear the most probable and rational interpretation, and it is supported also by those cases where some hostile person has suddenly seized a phantom and found that it was the medium herself; for in such cases (once Miss Cook, and once Mine. D'Esperance were treated in this way) the garments, veils, etc., which transformed the medium into the pseudo-spirit have instantaneously disappeared! In such cases we see the medium, in a trance, acting the part of a spirit, not by actually incarnating the secondary personality in a separate temporary body (which is presumably as difficult a feat as it is rare), but by creating
ad hoc veils, garments, etc., or even more organic features, with which to clothe her own body and enact the spirit part. Of course this idea of "transfiguration," as it is called, would not apply to the case of Katie in any of the instances where she was seen together with Miss Cook, but it is a phenomenon which has been observed with later mediums, and it is a lower and less developed form of the same process which produces a fully independent phantom. I have mentioned it here, somewhat out of its logical position, because it not only explains some of the famous so-called "exposures" of mediums but also indicates that the psychological source of the spirit is to be sought in the medium, not amongst the souls of the departed.
The solution of the chief mystery of materialization has already been given in our study of telekinesis. It was there described how a medium, in order to move a given object without normal contact, will project from her body a material substance which has the power of self-movement and of self-organization into the form of a limb, rod, lever, etc. This being granted, the power of building up a hand, a face, or a full human body, is only an extension which, though it might be too difficult in practice for any given medium, is theoretically possible. Dr. Crawford's description of the manner in which an impalpable and invisible gaseous emanation coming from the medium condenses and hardens at the free end, and organizes itself into the shape of a pointed rod, a hook, or the toe-end of a foot, etc., suggests to us that with a little more substance and more skill almost anything might be formed.
In the light of the ectoplasm theory the following account by Richet (p. 521) of an experience at the Villa Carmen is at once intelligible:
"The most extraordinary of all the experiments is certainly the fourth (October 20th)-
"Fairly good light. The curtain remains closed for about an hour. I open it; a white spot on the floor grows rapidly, and two horns protrude from the mass, from which other horns appear, very mobile, pointing in every direction. The mass, then much larger, disaggregates into particles, taking on the semblance of a hand; it does not look like the cast of the previous day, it is a greyish hand with ill-defined outlines. This hand moves, looking like the hand of a mummy emerging from some stuff; it raises and lowers itself like a hand. Marthe's hands are held by me and are quite motionless.
The fingers of the ectoplasm, thin and spindly, seem to end in cloudy masses. I can examine them very closely. I touch one of these spindles; it feels like a cold liquid. I can press it, and it seems like the bone of a finger, covered with skin. The hand rests on my knee, and I feel the slight friction of a body of little resistance. The hand then rises of itself, swaying on a long stem that connects it with the floor; it falls back on to the floor with a slight noise; it remains there, and I
think I see the two bones of the forearm as though wrapped in cloudy muslin.
"The hand then rises, bends, and moves towards me. The wrist is lowered and the fingers pendant; they move, and there seems a tortional movement of this strange forearm. I still think I see the carpal bones in the muslin-like cloud.
"The hand rests on my knee again. I feel its weight, very light; it makes little movements at my request that I can feel quite well. Then Marthe says to me: 'That is the muscles beginning to form,' and I see, or I think I see, something dark in the space between the two bones. The hand rises, and moves very close to me, having no connection with the ground but a slight white trail. It then falls to the ground with a slight noise, rises from it, and suddenly disappears at the moment that Marthe gets up."
In spite of one or two odd observations of this nature made with Eusapia and Marthe Beraud by Richet and others, the development of the ectoplasm theory did not progress satisfactorily until Schrenck-Notzing, continuing and complementing the work of Mme. Bisson, pursued his investigations with the same medium, Marthe Beraud, who was now known as Eva C. This research was undertaken before Crawford's work with the Goligher circle, but the two investigations are quite independent, Crawford having set out to unravel the mechanical mysteries of telekinesis, while Schrenck-Notzing set out to study the genesis of materializations.
The conditions under which Schrenck-Notzing experimented were designed to eliminate all possible modes of fraud, whether due to accomplices or to the surreptitious concealment or use of objects to represent phantom forms. For this purpose, sťances were held at various places, with and without outside persons, and the sťance room was carefully inspected before and after each sťance. Eva C. had no access to the sťance room, except during the sťance, while she was under observation. She herself was carefully examined all over her person, including all the natural orifices, before and after sťances; and she was dressed in a single special black garment, which was then sewed down the back, before entering the sťance room. In this way the possibility of the concealment of materials was reduced so that the only place unaccounted for was her stomach. As a theory of regurgitation was advanced, by which she was accused of swallowing muslin and other materials and then bringing them up in the sťance and using them to simulate faces, etc., this last refuge had to be eliminated. Schrenck-Notzing had no difficulty in showing that Eva C. had not the physical formation characteristic of regurgitators; that she never brought up the contents of the stomach, gastric juices, etc., when the ectoplasm emerged from her mouth; that when given an emetic after a sťance at which materializations had been produced the contents of the stomach were perfectly normal; and that when he made her eat fruit which would stain anything in the stomach the materializations were nevertheless uncoloured. Of course, the regurgitation hypothesis was in any case quite absurd and inadequate, for no one could bring up selectively a chosen portion of what is in the stomach, nor could they prevent the gastric juices from attacking a material like paper or fabric, nor could they cause it to evolve and form itself under observation, nor could they make it disappear instantaneously. Moreover, even when Eva's head was enclosed in a veil, the materialization came through the veil and disappeared back again through it, and was successfully photographed on the outside of the veil.
The only other source of fraud was the possibility of an accomplice. Mme. Bisson, who had adopted and trained Eva, is the only person who can be suspected in this connection, because she was always present during the sťances. But at any rate on one occasion she herself was searched as thoroughly as the medium, and yet the phenomena occurred as usual.
Schrenck-Notzing worked always in good red light, which enabled him to observe well, and which he gradually increased until the medium could stand 100 candlepower. Moreover, he gradually educated Eva during his four years' research, training her to do without the customary spiritualistic rituals, such as the formation of a chain, singing of hymns, talking to the phantoms, etc., all of which ritual is conducive to mal-observation, and consequently renders fraud more easy. Finally, in view of the importance of exact records of the progress of a sťance and of the necessity for exact observation, he dictated notes of the course of events during the sťance, and continually checked his visual impressions by photography, using several cameras, including a stereoscopic one, simultaneously.
As a result of this laborious and ingeniously conducted research Schrenck-Notzing demonstrated conclusively that Eva was able, during her trance, to disengage from her body a substance, known as ectoplasm, which was able spontaneously to move, grow, assume various forms, and retreat back into the medium's body. The extreme rapidity of this recession into the medium, especially when some shock, such as an unexpected magnesium flash is given, is remarkable and accounts for the peculiar and repellent nature of some of the photographs; for many of these reveal faces or heads in which various distortions and disintegrations have occurred, so that they resemble closely the effects obtained by warming a photograph until some of the gelatine melts.
Dr. G. Geley continued the work of Schrenck-Notzing with the same medium, and his observations entirely confirm the main points of the German investigator's work. Summarizing these results, we may say that the place of origin of the ectoplasm may be almost any point on the medium's body; although in particular the mouth and other mucous surfaces are the most usual with Eva C. Dr. Crawford, on the other hand, traced the "psychic rods" which emerged from the medium's ankles, back to the thighs and loins. Geley also observed the ectoplasm appearing as luminous patches on the left side of the medium, from the top of her head, and from her finger-tips.
According to Crawford, the psychic rods were mainly gaseous, and only the free end appeared hard and capable of organization. Geley notes that the ectoplasm is very variable in appearance, being sometimes vaporous, sometimes a plastic paste, sometimes a bundle of fine threads, or a membrane with swellings or fringes, or a fine fabric-like tissue. It may be white (the most frequently observed colour, probably because it is naturally the most visible), grey or black in colour; and it may even be luminous, as if phosphorescent. Its visibility may wax or wane, and to the touch it may feel soft, elastic, fibrous or hard. It has the power of self-locomotion, and moves generally with a slow reptilian movement, though it is capable of moving with extreme rapidity. It is capable of both evolution and involution, and is thus a living substance. It is extremely doubtful whether it ever, even in its most perfect formations, actually loses contact with the medium and pursues an independent life, even momentarily, though such a supposition must be borne in mind as being a possibility. The attempts made by Schrenck-Notzing to obtain a separate portion of ectoplasm and analyse it did not lead to much, the only substances obtained being fragments of human skin, saliva, fat globules, mucous and food residues, all of which are probably extraneous matter picked up by the structure in its passage from the body. Nevertheless, he reports that another experimenter, L. (Lebiedezinsky?), succeeded in 1916 in obtaining a small fragment of ectoplasm (from Stanislawa P.) in a sterilized porcelain receptacle. This fragment had a diameter 1 cm and thickness 1/2 cm, and weighed 0.101 grams. Divided into two portions, one being analysed at a bacteriological laboratory in Warsaw, the other at a bio-chemical institute in Munich, it was found to be albuminous, to contain a large number of leucocytes, and to resemble lymph and chyle without being identical with them. It seems hardly likely that in the end the ectoplasm will turn out to be anything more than a slight modification of the substances composing the human body; that is to say, any chemically-analysable material associated with the materialized forms is probably material with which we are already familiar, such as protoplasm, for example. The peculiar properties of the ectoplasm, like the peculiar properties of protoplasm, are seemingly due to the vital force which directs it, and this escapes analysis.
The following account by Geley (p. 205) gives a good idea of the development of a materialization:
Seance: January 11, 1918; 5 p.m.
Present: Mme. Bisson, Dr. Geley, Mme. de Vesme, M. le Cour.
Control: Dr. Geley, left hand; Mme. Bisson, right hand. Strong, red light.
"Put to sleep, she rapidly falls into a trance, and the phenomenon occurs almost at once. It develops entirely under my eyes.
"Eva's two hands were well in sight on her knees. Between the right and left thumbs, which were touching, a membrane forms, joining them ... Eva slowly and regularly draws her two hands apart.
"The membrane stretches and elongates, just as a rubber skin joining the thumbs would do. But an important point, and the reverse of what a rubber membrane would do - this ectoplasmic membrane thickens and broadens at the same time that it lengthens. As far as I know, there is no means of fraudulently imitating such a phenomenon ... (Later) I see, in the middle of the ectoplasmic mass, two fingers appearing. These two fingers, an index and middle finger, are well formed and have nails. Anatomically they are perfect; their colour is rather dark. I touch them curiously. They are colder than normal. They are living fingers, and make movements of bending and stretching out. While I observe them, and without any apparent reason, I see them suddenly, in a space of a moment, melt and vanish. Total duration of this phenomenon - 15 minutes."
We have already seen, when studying telekinesis, that a medium could extrude temporarily some of the material of the body, as, for example, when Eusapia or Miss Goligher diminished their weight on request. Crawford found experimentally that when the "structures" were out the volume of the medium's thighs diminished, returning to normal when the ectoplasm returned. It thus appears that the ectoplasm is largely, if not wholly, composed of matter which is in normal flesh, though this matter appears to be temporarily disaggregated and reorganized in new ways. We ought then to find that a partial dematerialization of the medium always occurs when a materialized phantom is formed. No doubt the quantity of matter required to build up an ectoplasmic figure is usually small, as only parts of the latter need be at all solidly built-but Katie King must have taken an enormous proportion of Miss Cook, and yet there is no hint that the latter was observed to diminish in bulk.
M. Aksakoff (3) declared on one occasion that Mme.
(3) I have not yet been able to read his account of this case, which was published in 1890.
D'Esperance was dematerialized while the spirit form was produced. Richet does not seem to credit this instance, but he nevertheless calls attention to one of his own photographs of Bien Boa and Marthe Beraud, which shows that the medium's left sleeve seems to be quite empty (page 508).
In spite of the value of the photographs of materiaizations obtained by Schrenek-Notzing and others, it is obviously desirable to have other records and objective proofs of the reality of such things. Accordingly, much trouble has been expended in the direction of obtaining direct moulds of ectoplasmic hands, and indeed in getting moulds which are objective proofs in themselves, apart from any testimony as to the circumstances in which they were made. This latter is rather an exacting ideal, but it has practically been obtained by Richet and Geley. The sťances for these experiments were held at the "Institut Metapsychique" in Paris, the medium being F. Kluski, and the controllers Geley and Richet, who held the medium's hands during the proceedings. A bath of melted paraffin was placed nearby, and the room was only dimly lighted with a red lamp. After a certain time had elapsed a hand was materialized, dipped itself in the paraffin, allowed the wax to set, disengaged itself by dematerializing, and the glove was thus left as a permanent record. The actual operation, from start to finish, only took a minute or so, and during the whole process the medium was passive and had his hands securely held.
Geley devotes considerable space to a description of the moulds, and gives photographs of them, and I will summarize his chief points:
(a) The wax gloves themselves are exceedingly thin, being no more than one millimetre in thickness. This is important, because it is impossible to produce such a glove by dipping one's hand in the wax, removing it, cutting the glove and carefully disengaging the hand, and then melting the cut edges together. Such a process requires a much thicker layer of wax, or else it will break.
(b) The model hands were often produced of some demanded shape or size, so as to eliminate the production of previously-prepared gloves (although this was also prevented by the control).
(c) The gloves were often adult in form and in the detail of the lines of the skin, and yet so reduced in size as to seem to be moulds of an infant's hand.
(d) The gloves were frequently made with the fingers bent down, to demonstrate that no solid object, such as a real hand or a model, could have been used, since such a rigid object could not be withdrawn.
(e) Moreover, when submitted to expert moulders, the gloves were certified to be first impressions of a living hand, the fineness of detail in the markings being beyond that obtainable in any other way.
(f) Dr. Geley obtained expert opinion from M. Bayle, chief of the Finger-print Department of the Prefecture de Police that some of the moulds were not made by the medium's hands.
(g) Richet and Geley demonstrated that the moulds were actually made during the seance and with the paraffin provided, by the device of introducing surreptitiously various colouring matters, the most convenient being Cholesterin, which gives a violet colour when sulphuric acid is added.
(h) The process of making a model hand in some fusible material, and then, having dipped it in wax, dissolving away the contents of the glove so formed is a mode of fraud excluded for a variety of reasons:
1) It requires a very lengthy period of time to dissolve the substance.
2) A pail of water for the purpose is necessary.
Now Geley had no pail of water there, and the mould was produced in a minute or so; yet it was made with his own identifiable wax, and therefore this process could not apply, even had Kluski been free to move his hands. Moreover:
3) Kluski's gloves were demonstrably direct moulds, not made from an intermediary cast, because the markings of veins, lines, etc., were extremely fine.
From a survey of the main points of this investigation, we are able to realize how nearly the ideal has been approached of producing by psychic means some permanent effect which cannot be imitated, under any conditions, by normal means. These Kluski gloves are almost of this ideal character.
CROOKES "Researches into the Phenomena of Spiritualism" (Cheap Reprint - The Two Worlds Publishing Co.,
Dr Charles RICHET "Thirty Years of Psychic Research"
Prof Baron von SCHRENCK-NOTZING "Phenomena of Materialization"
Dr Gustav GELEY "Ectoplasmie et Clairvoyance"
Prof Baron von SCHRENCK-NOTZING "Phenomenes Physiques de la Mediumnite"