What’s the grossest thing you would do for attention and money? Go on a reality TV show? Film a sex tape? Marry Donald Trump? In Victorian Britain, there was a type of con-artist and liar willing to do something grosser than any of that. They were the “mediums”, and they took photos of themselves covered in something they called ectoplasm.
Ectoplasm was believed to be a substance excreted by mediums during trances: a slime-like goo made from the lining of cells that emerged from all (yes all) of the body’s orifices to take the shape of a human spirit. Old photos show remarkably unconvincing “ghosts” with disgusting mucousy cords going up stoned-looking mediums’ noses, mouths, ears and, yup, bums and vaginas. Thankfully the latter two “portals” are discreetly covered by skirts and tablecloths in photos, but you can tell what’s going on. Ectoplasm was said to be a substance between a solid, a liquid and a gas that could take the shape of the spirit the medium was contacting. The photos are gloomy and often blurry because, predictably, ectoplasm would disintegrate on exposure to light.
Surely no self-respecting spirit would go through with that? If I were a ghost and the only way to reach my loved ones was to squeeze myself out of some creep’s anus in a big snotty blob, I’d probably give it a miss. Thanks, but no thanks.
But, of course, it’s not real. When flash photography became a thing, ectoplasm manifesting into solid spirits was shown to be (surprise!) wads of wet cloth shoved into various bodily orifices, pulled out (bleurgh!!!) and connected to papier-mâché dolls. Cheesecloth could be coated in egg white, swallowed and regurgitated. There were tricks like putting a rubber glove on the end of a tube so it looked like you were vomiting an arm. A famous medium called Carrière was caught out when it was revealed that his “spirit faces” were cut out from newspapers and magazines. Some ectoplasm was said to emit a strong odour — I’m guessing this was the stuff people pulled out of their bums. These people were charging money to indulge in their weird exhibitionist fetishes and trick grieving clients into thinking they were talking to their dead loved ones. If you can think of something sicker than that, I don’t want to know.