Education and Resources: Definition of Ectoplasm

r2by Virginia Carraway Stark

Ectoplasm is referenced in many paranoral cases as a sign of activity or even offered up as evidence. But what exactly is meant by ‘ectoplasm’. The word ectoplasm comes from the Greek word ‘ektos’ which means ‘ouside’. It references the idea that ectoplasm is a substance that comes from a place, time, dimension or spiritual plain other than our own. The second part: ‘plasm’ is a Greek stem word that simply means, ‘made or formed’. So the word ectoplasm simply means something that is made outside of where we all reside.

Originally the word was coined by a spiritualist from the 19th century named Charles Richet. He used it to describe a white viscous substance that was said to be excreted from the mouth, nose and eyes of mediums who were in trances and were allegedly channeling spirits of the dead. Nearly all such cases of alleged ectoplasm from spiritualists were debunked. The stuff that resembled mucus was proved to be made from various substances such as potato starch, egg whites and gelatin as well as soap for a frothy effect. The substances were regurgitated by the ‘medium’ and often pressed through cheesecloth to give it its distinctive texture. Gustav Geley, a researcher of psychic phenomenon, described ectoplasm as being, ‘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’.

r1Obviously from Geley’s description, ectoplasm is any substance that anyone could claim to have excreted during a trance and is far from scientific verification of any sort of paranormal phenomenon. Charlatans in the 19th century put the idea of ectoplasm into the world and in the 20th century it was picked up by books and movies as a sensational way to show visually that something spiritual was happening. This has led to it being accepted as a part of the paranormal world despite any definitive proof from reputable sources.


Gordon, Stein (1993). Encyclopedia of Hoaxes
Published by Gale Group
ISBN: 0-8103-8414-0

Glossary of Key Words Frequently Used in Parapsychology