Saturday, November 10, 2012

Ectoplasm and Spirit Cabinets

I'm a big fan of the paranormal and I love reading about Victorian ghost stories and spiritualism, particularly the theatrics they would use to convince their audiences.

One method was the use of mediums cabinets. It was invented by the Davenport Brothers, two mediums from Buffalo NY, in the 1850s. The medium would be bound inside the cabinet, in the darkened seance room. The cabinet was big enough for someone to sit in and sometimes would have holes in the side. They would stick hands out or stuffed gloves filled with cotton, supposed apparitions from the spirit world. Or they would play music from inside the cabinet, and when the cabinet was opened they would still be bound, convincing the audience spirits had been playing the instruments or manifesting body parts.

The cabinet could also be a simple curtained area to separate the medium from the audience. They would sometimes use lights or photographs appearing from behind the fabric as well, to amaze the participants.
Some would change in the cabinet and take on the personalities of their spirit guides. For example, one famous medium Mdme Esperance would play several characters including a young middle eastern girl named Yolande. She would dress up in flowing garments and flirt with the male members of the audience.
It is interesting that in such a strict society, mediumship gave women a way to loosen these restrictions. It was also thought that women were more passive and innocent so naturally made better mediums and were less likely to be frauds.

Ectoplasm was another trick used to convince the participants of a mediums ability. Described as a substance that was either cloth like, smoke like or gelatinous, the ectoplasm would emerge around the medium or out of their nose or mouth. It was said to be a side effect of contacting the spirit world, and a substance the spirit would use to manifest various forms. The participants were told not to touch the ectoplasm, as the medium could die.
One medium was exposed though as having swallowed a cheese cloth, which she later regurgitated.

While many mediums used tricks, it was a form of theatre that amused audiences and comforted those that had lost loved ones. I wonder also if some people had the ability to contact spirits but started to resort to trickery to make money or convince people of their worth.
What are your thoughts?
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone


  1. Oh, I love thinking about mediums, especially in the past! There were a couple of episodes in Murdoch Mysteries I loved about a medium! I like the idea of a real medium faking effects to convince sceptics of what is actually true. I also like the idea of the real medium as some reluctant, haunted person, while sham mediums live it up on the public's cash. I would like to meet a real one!

    In the original book of The Prestige, Angiers and his wife were spirit mediums. Have you read the book? It's quite different to the movie, and they are both perfect in their own way!

  2. Damn, another awesomely informative post! No idea if there were real mediums doing the fake tricks just to get more money. My own personal experiences with the "paranormal" have been mostly easily explained away or through ridiculous paranormal investigators. I have been on a real paranormal investigation before, and it was mostly laughable. So I tend to err on the side of nonbelief as a result.