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Materialization(religion, spiritualism, and occult)
As Spiritualism spread in the late nineteenth century, it was built around the messages received from the spirit world through mediums. These messages were offered as demonstrations that individual life after death was a reality. The messages were generally communicated as a small group of people gathered in a darkened room where the medium would enter a trance state—at meetings called séances. However, as early as 1860, people began to report that during the séances they began to see things, such as luminous streaks of light, the face of a loved one, hands otherwise disconnected from a body, shadowy forms. Over time, these vague items became full-fledged human figures.
As séances evolved, the medium would often be placed in a special cabinet. His or her hands and feet would be tied to the chair, and the door closed. As visible manifestations began to occur, it was felt that tying the medium would prevent any hoaxing. In an attempt to understand the phenomenon, a mysterious substance called ectoplasm was posited as the material from which the ghostly figures were produced.
After the foundation of the Society for Psychical Research in England and its American equivalent in the 1880s, researchers quickly found their way to various mediums who claimed to be the instrument around which materializations of various kinds occurred. Among the earliest investigations was that of Richard Hodgson (1855–1905), who traveled to India to investigate the unusual claims being produced by Helena P. Blavatsky (1831–1891), one of the founders of the Theosophical Society. His lengthy 1885 report describing the phenomena and his conclusion that they were produced by various fraudulent methods did much to discredit the society and call fellow researchers to be more skeptical when examining mediums. Hodgson later investigated and reported on several materialization mediums.
In spite of his warnings, Hodgson’s fellow researchers enthusiastically investigated the materialization mediums, often allowing their final reports to be skewed by a hope that the phenomena were real and an unwillingness to believe the mediums fraudulent. Among the most important cases was that of William Crookes (1832–1919), who investigated the young and beautiful Florence Cook (1856–1904) and put his own reputation behind the genuineness of the rather spectacular materializations produced in her séances. The early years of psychical research juxtaposed positive reports on unexplained phenomena with accounts of mediums exposed as hoaxers.
Over time, however, all of the phenomena encountered were explained away as stage magic, and few of the more famous of the materialization mediums escaped incidents in which their attempts to work stage magic were plainly revealed to all concerned. Through the early twentieth century, belief in the impossibility of materializations in Spiritualist séances became the consensus among psychical researchers, and the phenomenon was largely discontinued within the Spiritualist movement.
In spite of the inability of mediums to verify their claims of materialization, pockets of belief have continued and debunkers have arisen to expose the activity of fraudulent mediums. In each generation, a few researchers have hoped that at least some materializations were real and that new technology could provide the instrumental data to prove such claims. For example, in 1960 Andrija Puharich (1918–1995), an enthusiastic psychical researcher, used infrared film to photograph materialization séances at Camp Chesterfield, an independent Spiritualist center in Indiana. Once the film was developed, the fraud was quite evident, although the resulting scandal did not end the practice. In like measure, Lamar Keene, a medium who had made a career of fraudulent practices, left the movement and wrote a book exposing not only the techniques he had used but the small circle of mediums who continued to bilk believers, many of whom found their way to their churches amid grief over the recent death of a loved one.
Except for these small remaining pockets of fraudulent mediums and their followings, little belief in the possibility of the materialization of spirits remain. Occasionally, a Spiritualist willattempt to hold out the possibility of materialization and bemoan the lack of great phenomena-producing mediums like those in the heyday of the movement, but even these voices have become rare.
Materialization(religion, spiritualism, and occult)
Amaterialization or manifestation is something that has been brought into form and made evident to the senses. One of the best known examples of materialization is given in the Bible, in Matthew 17, when two long-deceased men, Moses and Elijah, appear in solid form before Jesus and three Apostles. In Spiritualist séances it is the appearance of a spirit, frequently through the use of ectoplasm exuding from the medium. This may be a seemingly solid spirit face, a hand, or a full figure. It is a part of physical mediumship and was prevalent in the latter part of the nineteenth century and early part of the twentieth century.
Many mediums were caught producing materializations fraudulently. One such medium, Rosina Showers—a friend of Florence Cook—even wrote a confession in which she described a method of working. It involved wearing an easily removable dress with many shifts underneath it, and hiding a filmy muslin veil in her underwear. Florence Cook herself was never caught in fraud.
She was a very successful materialization medium who was thoroughly investigated by Sir William Crookes. Crookes stated that the materialized form of Katie King produced by Florence Cook was actually taller than the medium, had a larger face and longer fingers. Whereas Cook had black hair and a dark complexion, her spirit guide King had a fair complexion and light auburn hair. Crookes also saw both medium and spirit side by side at one time. Katie King often allowed the sitters at the séance to touch her drapery. Sometimes she cut as many as a dozen pieces from the lower part of her skirt and made presents of them to different observers. The holes were immediately filled in. Crookes examined the skirt inch by inch, and found no holes or any marks to indicate that anything had been cut out.
Eva C., another materialization medium, was studied by the British Psychical Research Society, though she failed to impress them. In her later séances, she was unable to produce as well-developed forms as earlier and the materializations were much slower and, seemingly, more difficult. Eva was made to wear special dresses or even, on many occasions, to sit in the nude. Of a séance held on April 15, 1912, Professor Charles Richet said, “The manifestations began at once. White substance appeared on the neck of the medium, and then a head was formed which moved from left to right and placed itself on the medium’s head. A photograph was taken. After the flashlight the head reappeared by the side of Eva’s head, about sixteen inches from it, connected by a long bunch of white substance. It looked like the head of a man … a woman’s head then appeared on the right.” The medium was carefully searched both before and immediately after the sitting. However, many of the photographs obtained of ectoplasmic heads look remarkably as though they are two-dimensional pictures cut from a magazine.
Guiley reports, “In his work for the Seybert Commission, Dr. H. H. Furness attended more than twenty materialization séances. He found some mediums more practiced than others, but applauded the charming work of most as they gracefully appeared as spirits, lightly appearing and disappearing through the cabinet curtains. Throughout it all, he never ceased to be amazed at the faith of the sitters, who recognized their husbands, fathers, mothers, wives and children in the costumed persona of the medium.” On the other hand, Professor Richet said in Thirty Years of Psychical Research (1923), “I shall not waste time in stating the absurdities, almost the impossibilities, from a psycho-physiological point of view, of this phenomena. A living being or living matter, formed under our eyes, which has its proper warmth, apparently a circulation of blood, and a physiological respiration which has also a kind of psychic personality having a will distinct from the will of the medium, in a word, a new human being! This is surely the climax of marvels. Nevertheless, it is a fact.”
Leah Underhill, one of the Fox Sisters, was the first to produce a materialized spirit form. This she did at a séance for Robert Dale Owen in 1860. Owen stated that a luminous, veiled figure appeared and walked about the séance room before disappearing. Shortly after this, Leah’s sister Kate produced a materialization of Charles Livermore’s deceased wife Estelle. This then became a regular part of the sittings Kate gave for the banker. She also produced the figure of Benjamin Franklin. The first English medium to produce materializations was Agnes Guppy. Some of the materialized figures that appear at séances walk freely about the room, touching the sitters and allowing the sitters to touch them. It has been said that the figures feel warm to the touch, like living flesh.