Foreword by David Neuman, Director Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall, and Mats Widbom, Director of Exhibitions Riksutställningar
Spiritus, introduction by Richard Julin, Curator Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall, and Magnus af Petersens, former Exhibition Producer Riksutställningar
The Phenomena in a Clear Red Light, essay by Frank Hawken, Honorary Secretery of the Marylebone Spiritualist Association
Ethereal Body: The Quest for Ectoplasm, essay by Marina Warner, Critic, Writer and Historian

Exhibition catalogue no 27
No of pages: 
88, color, illustrated
hard cover
Graphic design: Mattias Givell

Language: Swedish and English
Year: 2003
Publisher: Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall, Riksutställningar
ISBN: 91-974236-1-0

Available for purchase in our museum entrance for 300 SEK (approx. 30 EUR)


Ethereal Body: The Quest for Ectoplasm by Marina Warner

“Your belief will help create the fact.”
William James

Under “Duncan, Helen, Mrs.” in the catalogue of the archives of the Society for Psychical Research, now kept in the University Library, Cambridge, this entry appears:

“Sample of Ectoplasm. Material alleged to have been captured from Mrs. Helen Duncan, materialising medium…”

I asked to see ‘the sample of ectoplasm’. The librarian looked at me strangely; he said, “Are you sure? It’s very nasty.” My response was, “Would you prefer me to look at it somewhere else?’ I thought there might be a desk of shame, where I could be supervised and other readers would not be disturbed. He said, “No, but be discreet.”

There was nothing corporeal about the ‘sample of ectoplasm’ when it arrived, in the strict sense of human or animal tissue. Inside there was a folded heap of dressmakers’ lining material, a cheap man-made fibre, now yellowing white in colour. About four yards had been cut straight from the bolt, with no hems, and the selvedge left plain. It had been washed and ironed, but the creases where it had been crumpled were still marked; the pattern of these showed it had been tightly wadded. There were traces of old blood that the laundry had not erased.

This bulky fabric was the spirit stuff that Helen Duncan had extruded from her body as ectoplasm, which had been ‘captured’ – the metaphor habitually used by spirit investigators – from Mrs. Duncan during a séance in l939.

Helen Duncan was a Scottish medium, who was born in l898 and died in l956; her dates reveal how the quest for ectoplasm, the stuff of the other side, the substance of the ethereal body, continued well into the twentieth century. Its existence still receives detailed discussion on the web, with the portraits and the stories of its heroic protagonists. Mrs. Duncan was celebrated in her lifetime for the clouds of shining, billowing spirit stuff that emanated from her as she sat in the spirit cabinet, groaning and shuddering as the trance state took hold. A medium’s body became a porous vehicle as the phenomena exuded from mouth, nose, breast and, even, vagina: she acted as a transmitter, in an analogous fashion to the wireless receiver, catching cosmic rays whose vibrations produced phantoms and presences. (…)