Ectoplasm That Goes Bang in the Night by Djuna Wojton
When I heard that David Thompson, a famous medium from Australia who can manifest spirit phenomena, was conducting a séance in Florida, I registered and hopped on a plane. In a few hours I was wal
When I heard that David Thompson, a famous medium from Australia who can manifest spirit phenomena, was conducting a séance in Florida, I registered and hopped on a plane. In a few hours I was walking among palm trees in a residential neighborhood, lined with bungalows to hear a lecture that would explain the séance protocol. The event was to be held in a building across the parking lot behind the spiritualist church sponsoring the event.
At twilight thirty participants began arriving. As I sat in the front row waiting for the lecture to start, I took note of the room -- the dropped ceiling, the blue curtains, and the linoleum floor, most of the participants who seemed to be over forty.
At 6:30 PM. Chris Morgan, another Australian medium, and David walked to the front of the room and welcomed us. David, middle aged, was short and stocky with a shaved head. Chris was a medium build, black hair and bright eyes. It is odd that as a person, one would never guess that David possessed a unique gift – the ability to allow spirits of deceased people to use his energy to talk and to take physical form.
Chris gave us the rules: "During the séance, David goes into a deep trance. In this state, the spirits access his ectoplasm, a milky-white, gauze-like substance containing his life-force energy that oozes from his body. Using the ectoplasm, the spirits are able to speak, take physical form, play musical instruments, touch participants and even materialize objects. The spirits also use ectoplasm to move tables or chairs and to levitate the medium. The séance room needs to be cold for the ectoplasm to work efficiently. The room also needs to be completely dark, for light will dissolve ectoplasm, the way hot water will melt snow. If the ectoplasm is exposed to light, or touched by participants, David could be severely injured. Mediums in the past have even died from exposure to light during a séance, which is why there is strict security for this evening. The room must always be pitch black."
It was relayed that mediums who are able to manifest spirits usually have a rare blood type. Currently, only a handful of mediums can do this, traveling to perform this feat for the general public. It takes about 20 years to perfect the skill of materialization.
We are also told: "David has a four-year-old daughter, and wants to stay alive for her. In the past someone accidently touched the ectoplasm during a séance, so David was severely bruised. David still has a scar on his hand from the event. He says it felt like he was pierced with a burning rod." We are also warned: Please don't get up out of your seat and try to sit as still as possible."
We were not allowed to bring a purse, cigarette lighter, or have a cell phone, but had to show a driver's license or other form of identification to the receptionist to enter.
Chris added smiling. "Once you're in the séance you can't leave. If you do, the séance is over." Which is a polite way of saying, "And the night will be ruined for everyone."
Chris then requested a bathroom stop for everyone before we could start. After the break, we line up in three groups of ten. We walk together down the quiet, dark sidewalk to the sanctuary, a block down the road. A tall dark-haired man wearing shorts and sandals walks next to me. He kept saying, "I'm so high. I'm so high." When I asked him to explain his profound good mood, he told me he made a fortune in real estate before the market collapsed. One woman in my group is from Tennessee, another is from Nevada, and some others are from New York and New Jersey. But most participants are from Florida. Upon arriving at the séance location, we are searched, and scanned by a metal detector. One woman needed to removed bobby pins from her hair. Another to take off a silver toe ring.
We entered one by one into the 12-by-20 foot room. Chairs were set in a circle close to the walls. A table with bells and a harmonica on top of it stood against one wall outside of the circle of chairs. At the far end is the "cabinet" – a closet-like space made of black heavy fabric, large enough to enclose a big leather-upholstered chair. Mediums began using "spirit cabinets" during the 1850s. The "cabinets" are often either actual pieces of furniture or a curtained off corner of a room. They are used as the physical medium's workspace to conserve spiritual forces.
David, guided by his intuition, told each of us where to sit. I sat at the opposite end of the cabinet in front of a heavy blue curtain. When I peeked behind the curtain, I see a locked door sealed with duct-tape.
The air-conditioning was turned on high. I was happy I wore long pants and socks and a sweatshirt over my sweater.
When everyone was seated, two participants were asked to frisk David, to show the audience he isn't hiding any tricks. Over the years, many mediums were proven to be fakes, so David does his best to show that he was authentic.
After David is patted down, he puts on a black cardigan sweater and buttons up the front of it. An assistant ties his wrists and ankles to the black-leather chair and gags him. And then the assistant secures the buttonholes and gag with another plastic cable. He snips the cable ends and little pieces of plastic fell onto the floor. The assistant carefully picked up the little scraps. Anything left on the floor could enter David's body when the ectoplasm returned to him. I begin to worry. "What if they hadn't vacuumed? What if there were dust mites or pieces of leaves tracked in from outside?"
In the corner outside of the circle of chairs, is a two-foot-high black box with a red light in it. Some mediums can manifest ectoplasm in a dark room with a red light on. Much like how photographers developing film need a safelight to insure a photograph won't be ruined by exposure to light. On rare occasions the spirits in David's séances give participants a choice. The audience votes between visits from loved ones without the light or keeping the red light on and watching the ectoplasm. People usually choose to witness the phenomena of the ectoplasm.
While David is tied up to his chair and gagged, the black curtains are drawn around him so he is totally concealed in the cabinet. Chris invites everyone to look beneath their chairs to make sure there are no hidden wires or devices. Chris places a four-by-eight foot plywood board on the carpeted floor in the center of the circle, so we will be able to hear the footsteps of the spirits.
Chris tapes the door shut and tells us that a guard is posted outside. The lights are lowered and we sit in complete darkness holding hands.
"Make sure you are always holding hands until I say it's okay to release," Chris instructs us. "And if someone lets go of your hand, let me know immediately."
Chris then started the séance with a prayer, invoking the Higher power so the evening will progress for the greatest good of all.
I've been to many spiritualist meetings and services. So when Chris says she's going to play some music, and we're to sing along, I imagine that it will sound like a hymn. I'm surprised when Chris plays a CD by the Beach Boys.
"Come on, sing along," Chris shouts.
"Round, round, get around, I get around." We all sing as if it were karaoke night.
"Oooo weeee you ooooh!" I belt out. Knowing that the more energy we create, the easier it will be for the spirits to enter our world. I have fun singing, not caring what I sound like, since my identity is obscured by the dark.
The song segues into "So bye-bye, Miss American Pie." Everyone chimes in. There is so much energy that halfway through the CD starts skipping. There's a strange whooshing noise combined with the sound of someone coughing up a wad of phlegm. I learn later that this is the sound of the spirits using ectoplasm to materialize and disappear.
And in the center of the pitch-black room, I see a white glob of energy as big as a 250-pound, six-foot man. It reminds me of the plasma-globe lights sold in Edmund Scientific catalogues. Two bells that were on the table are now ringing as if someone was walking around the room swinging them. Heavy footsteps clomp on the board.
Even though I know that friendly spirits come in goodwill, I'm scared. I can feel the hair on the back of my neck stand on end and I squeeze the hands of the people sitting on both sides of me. Chris shuts the music off.
Clomp. Clomp. Clomp. The plasma ball comes closer to me. Its energy feels high and light. I tell myself that a reputable church sponsored this event, and I shouldn't be afraid. Yet my involuntary reaction is to squeeze the hands I'm holding. I want to recoil and cringe away, yet I know that if I did I could possibly injure David. So I breathe deeply and sit still.
Clomp. Clomp. Clomp. It walks away and then a loud bellowing voice with an English accent says, "Good evening."
Everyone says "Good evening," in unison, including me. It's William, David's spirit guide who is part of a regular team of spirits that work with him. William clomps over to Tom, the Reverend of the church.
"Would you like these?" William asks as he hands the bells to Tom.
"Thank you," The Reverend says politely.
Someone unwraps a cough drop. The crinkling sound of the paper and the breaking of the circle could disrupt the ectoplasm.
William says in an angry voice, " What are you doing?"
Chris chimes in and yells, "Stop moving and making unnecessary noise. The littered paper can hurt the ectoplasm. Put the paper and candy in your pocket. Everyone hold hands and don't let go."
William then begins by saying, "Do you have any questions?"
Chris had coached us at the lecture to talk and participate, so I ask," Is there going to be a catastrophic change in 2012?" After all, that's when my mortgage will finally be paid off. It wouldn't surprise me if the world ended.
"Why are you concerned my dear?" he asks in a patronizing way.
"Well, there have been a lot of dramatic shifts in weather. A lot of people predict a change in consciousness and the dawning of a New Age."
"Has anything really changed over time?" he asks, once again in a mocking tone.
"Yes and no, " I said, "We have technological marvels but we still have the same human condition. -- War, suffering, unhappiness."
"No harm will come to you," he says dismissively.
Another man's voice in the dark asks, "Why have gays and lesbians chosen to live this way?" I noticed at the lecture that many of the men in the room appeared to be homosexuals. Guys were holding hands with their boyfriends, or talking in affected voices.
Williams responds by saying, "Sexual preference makes no difference to the soul. Perhaps I will return at the end of the evening."
Hack. Hack. Whoosh. Cough. Hack. Whoosh. I recognize the sound of the spirits using ectoplasm to materialize and disappear
Chris says it is okay to let go of our neighbor's hands so we release the energy and sing along with a CD of a song recorded by REM in the 90s, "Shiny Happy People Holding Hands."
"Meet me in the crowd
Throw your love around."
Hack. Hack. Whoosh. Hack. Hack. The ectoplasm interrupts us.
"Everyone hold hands." Chris yells out.
"Good evening," an effeminate male voice bellows. "I'm Quentin Crisp," the foppish, legendarily flamboyant English gay writer announces. This celebrated British raconteur and humorist, has been likened to a twentieth century version of Mark Twain. He was a flamboyant performer, with wit, and style, with numerous film and literary credits. I wasn't expecting celebrities.
"Oooh," he says like a flaming queen. "Hi there, what's your name?" he approaches one of the gay men.
"Oooh, are you in my camp?
"Oooh, ah." Quentin responds.
"What are you wearing?' John asks.
"Why do you want to know?" Quentin responds.
This whole interaction is not like how I envisioned the evening. I thought it would be more like the John Edward's TV show, Crossing Over. I imagine daughters crying as they listen to their long-dead mother's voice or fathers embracing sons lost in wars or car accidents. Instead it reminds me of "Aux Cage Au Folles."
"I'm wearing orange satin pants, and a silk scarf. It's soft. Want to feel it?"
Quentin caresses the man's face with his scarf.
"Nice. Soft." John seems to be amused by this as we all laugh.
Quentin clomps over to the over side of the room to face another younger man.
"Are you in my camp too?"
When the man answers in a sexy tone, "I'm flexible," the whole room bursts into laughter.
"I love attending séances so I can touch young men. I don't get to touch them here in spirit."
Hack. Hack. Whoosh. Hack. The audial cue tells us Quentin is gone.
Chris plays a song by Queen, but I don't know the lyrics, so I hum along. I'm no longer scared. We let go of hands. The energy in the room has shifted. There is a gaiety in the air. It's not solemn and stodgy, but playful and fun. I wonder if Liberace will pay us a visit.
Hack. Hack. Whoosh. Hack. Hack. The ectoplasm interrupts our song.
"Hold hands everyone." Chris shouts.
Timmy, a nine-year-old English boy-spirit arrives.
"Why was that man wearing a scarf?" his strange voice that sounds like a Charles Dickens character asks. "Only women wear scarves."
Timmy picks up a card that has been painted with glow-in-the-dark paint. It floats around the circle about two-feet off the floor.
"See my fingers," he repeats as he shows his tiny fingers that are holding the card.
Timmy is one of the spirits on David's team. He works with William who acts like a go-between helping other spirits to the séance circle.
Hack. Hack. Whoosh. Hack. Hack. The ectoplasm announces another spirit arriving.
A soft-spoken man with a southern accent says, "I want my son, Paul."
But there is no Paul in the circle.
"They told me my son would be here." The man-spirit sounds sad and a little desperate. Tom, the Reverend of the church sponsoring the event says, "Yes a Paul called to sign up, but we were sold out. I'll tell him you asked for him."
Hack. Hack. Whoosh. Hack. Hack. I begin to get used to the strange sound of the ectoplasm as we sit in the dark.
A young man commands, "I'm here to see my sister."
"Star-shine?" the spirit clomps over to a woman on the other side of the room.
"Star-shine? Is that you?" he calls to her.
"Yes it's me." She says. "Is it really you, Brian?"
Yes, it's me," he touches her face.
"How old are you now?
"Sixty-one! How time flies. Has it been thirty years since I passed?"
They chat briefly. Their conversation reveals that Brian committed suicide because he was gay and unable to resolve his differences with his family. He apologizes to his sister for leaving her before kissing her goodbye. In my wildest dream, I never imagined a séance turning into a gay therapy session.
Whoosh. Hack. Hack. Hack. Hack. And we know Brian is gone.
An African-American's voice with a southern accent says," Good even-in, everyone."
"Good evening," we chime back.
It's Louis Armstrong! Louis proceeds to play a harmonica and sing, "It's a Wonderful World."
I feel like I'm witnessing some bizarre art performance. This is some wacky show filled with strange characters.
When Louis ends his famous song he bids us goodnight.
Whoosh. Hack. Hack. Hack. Hack. Whoosh. Hack. Hack. Hack. Hack.
It's Timmy again. "I can make the trumpets move," he boasts.
Trumpets traditionally used in séances are not like musical instruments. They are either cardboard or aluminum cones shaped like orange funnels that are used to block off parking spaces. Spirits use trumpets to talk to participants in the circle. Other times spirits communicate by levitating trumpets around the room.
For the next five minutes two cardboard cones about a foot high that have been painted with yellow day-glow paint fly around the room. They spin and flash like a strobe light. Or whirl around like someone twirling sparklers on the Fourth of July.
"Did you like my show?" Timmy asks.
"Yes, Woo hoo!" everyone in the circle responds in unison.
Hack. Whoosh. Hack. Hack. Hack and Timmy is gone.
Chris plays a CD of Pachelbel's Canon on the boom box. Two hours must have passed by now and I can feel the energy winding down.
Whoosh. Hack. Hack. Hack. William appears again bidding us goodnight and interrupts the classical music.
BANG. It sounds as if David's heavy chair has been dropped in the middle of the floor.
Hating loud noises, I use all of my will–power to keep from jumping out of my seat. I feel as though I've had two martinis, yet I haven't had alcohol in days. But I feel uplifted, as if I've just watched a great cabaret act combined with a sacred ceremony. I've witnessed something marvelous.
The closing prayer is said ending with, "We give our thanks to Spirit." We release each other's hands.
Chris says she's going to open the door to let in a crack of light. She rips off the duct-tape and opens the door.
David, still bound and gagged sits in his upholstered chair in the center of the room, about twelve feet from where he started the séance. Apparently the loud bang was him being dropped on the board. An assistant cuts the cable and unties David's gag. David is drowsy, as if he'd been awakened from a nap. Chris points out that David's sweater is now reversed. The buttons are now in the back, yet his hands and feet remain bound. The buttons are still cabled shut.
We sit in silence for a few minutes before we all leave. Whether the experience was real or a magic trick, it doesn't matter. It was a night I'll never forget.
Djuna Wojton is a healer, psychic astrologer, and author of Karmic Healing: Clearing Past-Life Blocks to Present-Day Love, Health, and Happiness, (Crossing Press 2006) and the upcoming Karmic Choices: How Making the Right Decisions Can Create Enduring Joy (Llewellyn 2014). www.djunaverse.com.