Read CHAPTER VI of The Vital Message, free online book, by Arthur Conan Doyle, on

Nothing could be imagined more fantastic and grotesque than the results of the recent experiments of Professor Geley, in France.  Before such results the brain, even of the trained psychical student, is dazed, while that of the orthodox man of science, who has given no heed to these developments, is absolutely helpless.  In the account of the proceedings which he read lately before the Institut General Psychologique in Paris, on January of last year, Dr. Geley says:  “I do not merely say that there has been no fraud; I say, ’there has been no possibility of fraud.’  In nearly every case the materialisations were done under my eyes, and I have observed their whole genesis and development.”  He adds that, in the course of the experiments, more than a hundred experts, mostly doctors, checked the results.

These results may be briefly stated thus.  A peculiar whitish matter exuded from the subject, a girl named Eva, coming partly through her skin, partly from her hands, partly from the orifices of her face, especially her mouth.  This was photographed repeatedly at every stage of its production, these photographs being appended to the printed treatise.  This stuff, solid enough to enable one to touch and to photograph, has been called the ectoplasm.  It is a new order of matter, and it is clearly derived from the subject herself, absorbing into her system once more at the end of the experiment.  It exudes in such quantities as to entirely, cover her sometimes as with an apron.  It is soft and glutinous to the touch, but varies in form and even in colour.  Its production causes pain and groans from the subject, and any violence towards it would appear also to affect her.  A sudden flash of light, as in a flash-photograph, may or may not cause a retraction of the ectoplasm, but always causes a spasm of the subject.  When re-absorbed, it leaves no trace upon the garments through which it has passed.

This is wonderful enough, but far more fantastic is what has still to be told.  The most marked property of this ectoplasm, very fully illustrated in the photographs, is that it sets or curdles into the shapes of human members ­of fingers, of hands, of faces, which are at first quite sketchy and rudimentary, but rapidly coalesce and develop until they are undistinguishable from those of living beings.  Is not this the very strangest and most inexplicable thing that has ever yet been observed by human eyes?  These faces or limbs are usually the size of life, but they frequently are quite miniatures.  Occasionally they begin by being miniatures, and grow into full size.  On their first appearance in the ectoplasm the limb is only on one plane of matter, a mere flat appearance, which rapidly rounds itself off, until it has assumed all three planes and is complete.  It may be a mere simulacrum, like a wax hand, or it may be endowed with full power of grasping another hand, with every articulation in perfect working order.

The faces which are produced in this amazing way are worthy of study.  They do not appear to have represented anyone who has ever been known in life by Doctor Geley. My impression after examining them is that they are much more likely to be within the knowledge of the subject, being girls of the French lower middle class type, such as Eva was, I should imagine, in the habit of meeting.  It should be added that Eva herself appears in the photograph as well as the simulacra of humanity.  The faces are, on the whole, both pretty and piquant, though of a rather worldly and unrefined type.  The latter adjective would not apply to the larger and most elaborate photograph, which represents a very beautiful young woman of a truly spiritual cast of face.  Some of the faces are but partially formed, which gives them a grotesque or repellant appearance.  What are we to make of such phenomena?  There is no use deluding ourselves by the idea that there may be some mistake or some deception.  There is neither one nor the other.  Apart from the elaborate checks upon these particular results, they correspond closely with those got by Lombroso in Italy, by Schrenk-Notzing in Germany, and by other careful observers.  One thing we must bear in mind constantly in considering them, and that is their abnormality.  At a liberal estimate, it is not one person in a million who possesses such powers ­if a thing which is outside our volition can be described as a power.  It is the mechanism of the materialisation medium which has been explored by the acute brain and untiring industry of Doctor Geley, and even presuming, as one may fairly presume, that every materialising medium goes through the same process in order to produce results, still such mediums are exceedingly, rare.  Dr. Geley mentions, as an analogous phenomenon on the material side, the presence of dermoid cysts, those mysterious formations, which rise as small tumors in any part of the body, particularly above the eyebrow, and which when opened by the surgeon are found to contain hair, teeth or embryonic bones.  There is no doubt, as he claims, some rough analogy, but the dermoid cyst is, at least, in the same flesh and blood plane of nature as the foetus inside it, while in the ectoplasm we are dealing with an entirely new and strange development.

It is not possible to define exactly what occurs in the case of the ectoplasm, nor, on account of its vital connection with the medium and its evanescent nature, has it been separated and subjected to even the roughest chemical analysis which might show whether it is composed of those earthly elements with which we are familiar.  Is it rather some coagulation of ether which introduces an absolutely new substance into our world?  Such a supposition seems most probable, for a comparison with the analogous substance examined at Dr. Crawford’s séances at Belfast, which is at the same time hardly visible to the eye and yet capable of handling a weight of 150 pounds, suggests something entirely new in the way of matter.

But setting aside, as beyond the present speculation, what the exact origin and nature of the ectoplasm may be, it seems to me that there is room for a very suggestive line of thought if we make Geley’s experiments the starting point, and lead it in the direction of other manifestations of psychomaterial activity.  First of all, let us take Crookes’ classic experiments with Katie King, a result which for a long time stood alone and isolated but now can be approached by intermittent but definite stages.  Thus we can well suppose that during those long periods when Florrie Cook lay in the laboratory in the dark, periods which lasted an hour or more upon some occasions, the ectoplasm was flowing from her as from Eva.  Then it was gathering itself into a viscous cloud or pillar close to her frame; then the form of Katie King was evolved from this cloud, in the manner already described, and finally the nexus was broken and the completed body advanced to present itself at the door of communication, showing a person different in every possible attribute save that of sex from the medium, and yet composed wholly or in part from elements extracted from her senseless body.  So far, Geley’s experiments throw a strong explanatory light upon those of Crookes.  And here the Spiritualist must, as it seems to me, be prepared to meet an objection more formidable than the absurd ones of fraud or optical delusion.  It is this.  If the body of Katie King the spirit is derived from the body of Florrie Cook the psychic, then what assurance have we that the life therein is not really one of the personalities out of which the complex being named Florrie Cook is constructed?  It is a thesis which requires careful handling.  It is not enough to say that the nature is manifestly superior, for supposing that Florrie Cook represented the average of a number of conflicting personalities, then a single one of these personalities might be far higher than the total effect.  Without going deeply into this problem, one can but say that the spirit’s own account of its own personality must count for something, and also that an isolated phenomenon must be taken in conjunction with all other psychic phenomena when we are seeking for a correct explanation.

But now let us take this idea of a human being who has the power of emitting a visible substance in which are formed faces which appear to represent distinct individualities, and in extreme cases develop into complete independent human forms.  Take this extraordinary fact, and let us see whether, by an extension or modification of this demonstrated process, we may not get some sort of clue as to the modus operandi in other psychic phenomena.  It seems to me that we may, at least, obtain indications which amount to a probability, though not to a certainty, as to how some results, hitherto inexplicable, are attained.  It is at any rate a provisional speculation, which may suggest a hypothesis for future observers to destroy, modify, or confirm.

The argument which I would advance is this.  If a strong materialisation medium can throw out a cloud of stuff which is actually visible, may not a medium of a less pronounced type throw out a similar cloud with analogous properties which is not opaque enough to be seen by the average eye, but can make an impression both on the dry plate in the camera and on the clairvoyant faculty?  If that be so ­and it would not seem to be a very far-fetched proposition ­we have at once an explanation both of psychic photographs and of the visions of the clairvoyant seer.  When I say an explanation, I mean of its superficial method of formation, and not of the forces at work behind, which remain no less a mystery even when we accept Dr. Geley’s statement that they are “ideoplastic.”

Here we have, I think, some attempt at a generalisation, which might, perhaps, be useful in evolving some first signs of order out of this chaos.  It is conceivable that the thinner emanation of the clairvoyant would extend far further than the thick material ectoplasm, but have the same property of moulding itself into life, though the life forms would only be visible to the clairvoyant eye.  Thus, when Mr. Tom Tyrrell, or any other competent exponent, stands upon the platform his emanation fills the hall.  Into this emanation, as into the visible ectoplasm in Geley’s experiments, break the faces and forms of those from the other side who are attracted to the scene by their sympathy with various members of the audience.  They are seen and described by Mr. Tyrrell, who with his finely attuned senses, carefully conserved (he hardly eats or drinks upon a day when he demonstrates), can hear that thinner higher voice that calls their names, their old addresses and their messages.  So, too, when Mr. Hope and Mrs. Buxton stand with their hands joined over the cap of the camera, they are really throwing out a misty ectoplasm from which the forms loom up which appear upon the photographic plate.  It may be that I mistake an analogy for an explanation, but I put the theory on record for what it is worth.