Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation

In my last published article I focus of various aspects of materialization phenomena with mediums: Alvarado, C.S. Musings on Materializations: Eric J. Dingwall on “The Plasma Theory” (Journal of Scientific Exploration, 2019, 33, 73–113; available here or from the author: Here is the abstract:

“The psychical research literature has many examples of séance room materialization phenomena. This article consists of a reprint of, and a commentary about, Eric J. Dingwall’s paper “The Plasma Theory,” published in the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research in 1921. Dingwall discussed some of the previously published ideas on the topic, and emphasized those related to mediums Eva C. and Kathleen Goligher. The purpose of the current article is not to provide evidence for the phenomena, but to present relevant contextual information about the article, additional bibliography, and theoretical concepts, some of which are forgotten today.”

Eva C 8

Eva C.

Kathleen Goligher 2

Kathleen Goligher

I start saying: “One of the phenomena of physical mediumship is materializations, or appearances of ephemeral bodies (or parts of), and other forms, or things, in the séance room. This includes the production of ectoplasm, a subtle matter assuming various shapes and appearances—such as mists, plaster, and textile-like products—that may change into things such as hands, faces, and whole bodies. The topic flourished in previous eras and is largely ignored today by parapsychologists, particularly in terms of research. This is in part due to its association with fraud . . . and the lack of mediums who produce the phenomenon, or who are willing to be investigated under controlled conditions. Nonetheless, some current students of materialization believe there is evidence for the occurrence of the phenomenon . . .” 

Before I present a reprint of the text of Eric J. Dingwall’s article, I introduce the topic in a section discussing 19th and early 20th century materialization literature. The first subsection is about the variety of materializations. “Many accounts were about mediums such as Catherine E. Woods . . . , Florence Cook . . . , William Eglinton . . . , Francis Ward Monck . . . , the Eddy Brothers . . . , and Kate Fox . . . , among many others . . . .”


William Eglinton

Florence Cook 2

Florence Cook

Francis Ward Monck 2

Francis Ward Monck

“A classic case of full-body materialization was Katie King, which appeared in the presence of medium Florence Cook . . . Many were the reports of appearances of limbs and faces. Hands were common, as seen with Eusapia Palladino . . . In addition to full-body appearances, and the appearance of faces and limbs, there were reports of less precise forms as well that may be considered manifestations of what was latter called ectoplasm, which is the topic of Dingwall’s article. Perhaps the most common form of Nineteenth-Century ectoplasm was that of clouds or nebulous formations, such as those observed with Monck . . .  In D. D. Home’s séances there were reports of a ‘small white cloud without any well-defined shape’ and of a ‘luminous cloud-like body’ . . . On one occasion, according to Crookes, a hand was seen ‘ending at the wrist in a cloud.’ ”

Katie King 2

Katie King

Katie King 5

William Crookes and Katie King

“There were also many discussions of materializations during the first decades of the Twentieth Century, as seen in the writings of Gambier Bolton . . . , Paul Gibier . . . , Enrico Imoda . . . , Enrico Morselli . . . , and Charles Richet . . . Of particular importance was the work of French sculptress Juliette Alexandre-Bisson . . . , German physician Baron Albert von Schrenck-Notzing . . . , French physician Gustave Geley . . . , and New Zealand–born mechanical engineer William J. Crawford . . . . Their descriptions of ectoplasm provided much information about this mysterious substance.”

Juliette Alexandre Bisson

Juliette Alexandre Bisson

William J. Crawford

William J. Crawford

In this section I cited many fascinating publications such as:

Adare, Viscount (1869). Experiences in Spiritualism with Mr. D. D. Home. London: Thomas Scott.

Adshead, W. P. (1879). Miss Wood in Derbyshire: A Series of Experimental Séances Demonstrating the Fact That Spirits Can Appear in the Physical Form. London: J. Burns.

Alexandre-Bisson, J. (1921). Les Phénomènes dits de Materialisation: Étude Experimentale (2nd ed.). Paris: Félix Alcan.

Crookes, W. (1874). Researches in the Phenomena of Spiritualism. London: J. Burns.

Oxley, W. (1876). A spirit materialising under the eyes of the observers in Manchester. Spiritualist Newspaper, (May 12):222–223.

Schrenck-Notzing, [A.] Baron (1920). Phenomena of Materialisation: A Contribution to the Investigation of Mediumistic Teleplastics (revised edition). London: Paul Trench, Trübner.

Another section is about theoretical ideas: “Vital Forces, Ideoplasty, and Materializations.” “The idea that materialization depends on the vital force of the medium, what one writer called the “stuff for form-building”. . . , was frequently discussed during the Nineteenth Century by students of the subject . . . , and in messages presumed by some to come from spirits of the dead . . .” These speculations include those that advocated for discarnate agency and for the idea that the materializations were produced and guided by the minds of mediums, and sometimes, sitters.

Eglinton materialization

Artistic representation of connection between materialized form and medium William Eglinton

This includes the ideas of French researcher Gustave Geley. “Based on the idea of a basic universal substance as the substrate of living things, Geley . . . considered ectoplasm and organic formations ideoplastic creations. Seeing materialization as a biological process, Geley compared the incomplete and grotesque character of ectoplasmic formations to those found in animal and human forms. ‘Like normal physiology, the so-called supernormal has its complete and aborted forms, its monstrosities, and its dermoid cysts. The parallelism is complete’ . . . He also compared ectoplasmic development to the histolysis of insects: ‘The same phenomenon takes place, as has already been said, in the closed chrysalis of the insect as in the dark cabinet at the séance.’ ”


Gustave Geley

Some references used in this section about theory were:

Aksakof, A. (1898). A Case of Partial Dematerialization of the Body of a Medium: Investigation and Discussion. Boston: Banner of Light.

Carrington, H. (1921). Vital energy and psychical phenomena. Psychic Research Quarterly, 1, 271–277.

Geley, G. (1920). From the Unconscious to the Conscious. Glasgow: William Collins. [First published in French in 1919]

Harrison, W. H. (1876). Speculations tending to explain certain spiritual manifestations. Spiritualist Newspaper, (May 5):205–206.

Morselli, E. A. (1908). Psicologia e “Spiritismo:” Impressioni e Note Critiche sui Fenomeni Medianici di Eusapia Paladino (2 vols.). Turin: Fratelli Bocca.

Richmond, C. L. V. (1877). Is materialization true? If so, it’s philosophy. Banner of Light, (June 9):2.

Then I present some biographical details about Dingwall, and the text of his article. The reprint of the article is annotated to provide further information and bibliographical sources, many of which were not mentioned by the author. Dingwall pays particular attention to the ectoplasm reported to take place around mediums Eva C. and Kathleen Goligher.

Eric John Dingwall

Eric J. Dingwall

Dingwall Plasma Theory

Eva C 5

Ectoplasm with Eva C.

Kathleen Goligher 5

Ectoplasm with Kathleen Goligher

 After Dingwall’s paper, I summarized developments after 1921 in sections about observations and studies, critiques, and theoretical ideas. Among other references, I cited: Bozzano, E. (1926). À Propos de l’Introduction à la Métapsychique Humaine. Paris: Jean Meyer; Dingwall, E. J. (1926). A report on a series of sittings with the medium Margery. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 36, 79-158; Fodor, N. (1934). Simplifying “miracles”: Theory of materialization process. Light, 54, 10; Gulat-Wellenburg, W. von, Klinckowstroem, C. von, & Rosenbusch, H. (1925). Der physikalische Mediumismus. Berlin: Ullstein; Hamilton, T. G. (1931). Some new facts regarding teleplasms. Psychic Science, 9(4), 262-270; and Lapicque, L., Dumas, G., Piéron, H., & Laugier, H. (1922). Rapport sur des experiences de contrôle relatives aux phénomenes dits ectoplasmiques. L’Année Psychologique, 23, 604-611; Schrenck-Notzing, [A.] F. von (1921). Das Materialisationsproblem nach den Untersuchungen W. Crawfords. Psychische Studien, 48, 337-366.

Bozzano A Propos

Schrenck Notzing Crawford 1921

I also cited Charles Richet’s theoretical comments published in his celebrated Traité de Métapsychique in 1922:

“When I put a hand in front of a mirror, the image of my hand is reflected: reflection of light. In front of a thermometer, reflection of heat. In front of a galvanometer, reflection of electricity. It is true that in front of one balance there is nothing there. But is it unreasonable to suppose that this projection of light, heat, and electricity could be accompanied by a projection of mechanical force? . . .”

“Materialization is a mechanical projection. We already have projection of light, heat, and electricity. It is not going very far to see as possible, besides these projections of heat, light, and electricity, a projection of mechanical force. The memorable demonstrations of Einstein establish at which point mechanical energy approaches luminous energy.”

Charles Richet 10

Charles Richet

Richet Traite

I concluded that Dingwall’s article is a good reminder of parts of the old materialization literature. “Although my interest is mainly historical, I realize that many study the topic to determine if the phenomena are real or not. As pointed out by various modern authors . . . , there are good observations that cannot be ignored. But the topic is still generally dismissed. In general this material tends to be seen today with suspicion due, at least in part, to recorded instances of fraud . . .”

I end saying: “. . . hopefully future work on the topic will be inspired by essays such as Dingwall’s, so as to benefit from awareness of previous findings, as well as of methodological issues, and the problem of fraud. But more important, to be significant, this work needs to go beyond the observational stage so typical of much of this literature. By this I mean that, if it is possible to make a good case for the reality of the phenomenon, and that it appears consistently enough to be studied carefully, research needs to be conducted to learn something about its nature.”