Topic: Materializations of Spirits

Opening Statement

The phenomenon known as "materialization" involves the appearance of human forms with the features and characteristics of people who are no longer alive in our physical world. The oldest telling of such an event (at least the oldest of which I am aware) is the story, in the biblical book known as "John," of Jesus appearing to the disciples after his crucifixion. Since that time, there have been many such appearances by others. Although the recent ones have received far less publicity, they are much better attested to.

Materializations come in two flavors, independent and mediumistic (that is, related to the presence of an entranced medium during a séance). The independent type involves the apparent appearance of a person in one place when his body is known to be elsewhere. Such incidents are beyond the scope of this commentary.

Séance-related materializations of the dearly departed can be either full-bodied or partial. The latter may be seen as realistic or luminous faces, hands, or other body parts; or simply inferred from their manipulations of people and objects in the blacked-out séance room. These, alone, offer no assurances that a loved one has survived the grave. Fully developed, full-sized figures generally have materialized either in dim light or are illuminated by an inner glow, either condition allowing for clear discernment of features and details. These are not ghostly wisps. They walk, they talk, they laugh and sing, they even give hugs and kisses. Most often they are visually, aurally, and tactilely exact replicas of the person they claim to have been and are facially indistinguishable from the living sitters in the room.

There is one critical difference, the materialized spirit is constructed of a substance that is intolerant of bright light. Although there is usually sufficient light for observation, this is often provided by a low-wattage or shaded red bulb; white or strong light causes immediate disintegration of the figure … and concomitant agony to the medium. This substance, usually termed "ectoplasm," is supposedly a mixture of energies drawn from those on both sides of the veil. Further attempts to describe its composition would be purely speculative and irrelevant to the question.

The ambient light is also sufficient, in most cases, for each witness to confirm that everyone in attendance has remained sitting in their place, including the medium. Furthermore, the figures that materialize come in all shapes and sizes - children and adult, thin and fat, black and red and yellow and white, male and female. Usually they are clothed - sometimes in robes, sometimes in native dress - but nudity is not unheard of. Sometimes the figures emerge from behind a curtain, other times they form "out of thin air" in the middle of a circle of sitters. Often they take their leave by just fading away or seeming to melt into the floorboards.

The spirits never claim that they are the resurrected bodies of their former selves. Their skin and eyes and hair are not actually human cells and tissues. Their form is shaped, they say, by molding ectoplasm over their astral (spirit) body. Think of the Invisible Man being made visible by being covered with mud or clay. Ectoplasm, though, is far more adaptable than mud or clay, as it is capable of mimicking both the color and the characteristic twinkle of one's physical eyes. This results in a figure that looks like the person thinks he or she ought to look, or who takes an appearance that makes him or her recognizable to past acquaintances.

Given that all this is true (and it is), how evidential of Survival is it?

Good Sources of Information on Materializations of Spirits

Alec Harris
Living Proof
Incidents In My Life
The Articulate Dead
Some of the Best Evidencet

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Commentary by Miles Edward Allen, 31 March 2011

Materializations suggest, but do not prove, Survival of specific individuals.

If the human mind was capable of doing it, there would be instances of it being done, yet no one has ever demonstrated the ability to produce ectoplasm or life-like phantoms in a laboratory or other non-séance setting. This point is somewhat mitigated by the seeming ability of some people to produce images on photographic film via mind power alone. After all, it could be argued that 2-dimensional pictures and 3-dimensional replicas are both representations of reality. Nevertheless, it is a long way from making photographs to creating walking, talking, simulacrums complete with measurable pulses. Clearly, something beyond the capability of mortals is at work here.

But are the manifestations proof that the personalities they represent are still alive in another realm? Or, could they be fashioned after images held in the minds of the sitters? After all, few of us have clear images of ourselves and most would not recognize their own voices on recordings that lacked other clues. When Aunt Matilda appears to us as we remember her best, what is the source of her image?

The question of image source becomes really puzzling when pets enter the séance picture. Neither dogs nor cats recognize their photographs or their reflections. They don't seem to have images of themselves or, if they do, those images are bound to be radically different from those their owners have of them. So, when Rover comes bounding out of the cabinet and playfully licks the face of his former owner, are we to credit the dog with creating the image that the owner so joyfully recognizes? I think not. And, if you think so, consider the ectoplasmic re-creation of the white spot in the fur on the top of Rover's head, an area that the dog could never have seen.

Now, some readers might say that one's physical body is modeled after one's astral body, so the spot on Rover's ectoplasmic body is a reflection of an identical area on his astral body. This would be a fine rejoinder if not for the fact that the images presented at séances often do not mimic the bodies at death. If one's physical body is a copy of one's astral body, then when a 90-year-old man dies, his astral body must be rather dilapidated and wrinkled. How then, does this man's ectoplasmic image appear as he was at age 35? We are often told, of course, that spirits assume the image that they were most comfortable with during life. But, that could not be done without a mental image on which to pattern the astral body. Which brings us right back to the dog-and-cat conundrum.

Thus, it seems clear that materializations are often, if not always, created by spirits based on information held in the minds of the sitters. As such, they require the existence of a spirit realm and the ability of its inhabitants to know the thoughts of the living. But the materialized representation of a person, no matter how accurate, does not, of itself, strengthen the case for the Survival of that specific individual. Seeing should definitely not lead to believing.

Of course, this does not affect the evidential value of any information that might be imparted by the materialized spirit. Unfortunately, much of the credible testimony we have concerning materialization séances concentrates on the marvels of the appearances and gives short shrift to any information given to the sitters. A great deal of potentially strong evidence has thus been lost.

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