Rosemary Ellen Guiley talks to us about the Ectoplasmic Ghost phenomena
Many haunted locations have albums of photographs taken on premises by visitors. Some of them show cloudy mists that weave around the objects in the photos. The mists may look like fog or smog, or uneven layers and streams of smoke. Ghost enthusiasts call this phenomenon ectoplasm or “ecto” for short. When it shows up in a photograph, they say, it reveals a ghost or spirit. Is ecto really paranormal or a case of mistaken identity?
Whether or not ectoplasm is a genuine substance, belief in it persists, perhaps due in part to the popularity of the 1982 film Ghostbusters. The origins of ectoplasm date to the nineteenth century when Spiritualism and séances were all the rage. The word was coined in 1894 by a French researcher, Charles Richet, who combined two Greek words, ektos and plasma, to mean “exteriorized substance.” Richet used it to describe a weird third arm that oozed out of the noses, mouths, ears, and other body orifices of mediums during trance states. Supposedly, ectoplasm was used by spirits to materialize bodies in the physical world.
Ectoplasm was warm to the touch and smelly. It ranged in texture, such as dough, rubber, cotton, muslin, gauze, and froth. It would come out in shapeless masses, or form into ghostly hands and feet, as well as other parts of a spirit “body.” Sometimes ectoplasm seemed more like a vapor or smoke.
Sometimes the “ecto” turned out to be soap, gelatin or egg white
From its beginnings, ectoplasm was controversial, and was uncovered as fraudulent in some cases. Sometimes the “ecto” turned out to be nothing more than soap, gelatin, and egg white. Researchers tested mediums by forcing them to drink blueberry juice or dyes, in case they had secreted cotton or linen in their stomachs to regurgitate. Other mediums performed séances in the nude to prove that they were not faking it. Research of ectoplasm ended for the most part by the mid-twentieth century with the jury out on whether or not it is a genuine spirit manifestation.
The latest twist of ecto has emerged in photography, especially images taken with digital cameras in haunted locations. Those white mists usually have a natural explanation; the camera has captured humid moisture in the air that is invisible to the human eye but is illuminated by a camera flash. Sometimes cigarette smoke is the culprit. Nearly invisible wisps of smoke can linger in the air long after a cigarette has been extinguished.
So, most ecto or ghost mist photos probably have natural explanations. Some photos, however, do defy explanation, keeping the debate going and the intrigue high.
Rosemary Ellen Guiley is the author of Ghosthunting Pennsylvania is a renowned expert on paranormal, visionary, and spiritual topics.