The Life After Death

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The Life After Death is an article written by Arthur Conan Doyle published in the Evening Standard on 12 april 1921.

The Life After Death

Evening Standard (12 april 1921, p. 3)


By SIR A. CONAN DOYLE (In his lecture last night).

In his lecture at Queen's Hall last night on "Life After Death," Sir Arthur Conan Doyle made some extraordinary statements concerning the material ethereal substance called Ectoplasm or Psychoplasm, which advanced spiritualists claim emanates from mediums in a state of trance, and of which spirit forms are built. The "discovery" of this substance was made by Professor Crawford, of Belfast.

Granting that the phenomena of spiritualism are true, granting that entities do come back and exhibit intelligence, are these entities spirits of the dead, or is it conceivable that there is some composite form built up by magnetic powers that we know, nothing of, that must be judged by each one according to his own experience and knowledge?

We want to go back to that theological basis of the whole subject about which on much recently has been discovered.

We know well that miracles are not performed. They do not happen; everything is done by law, and when we see a thing we do not understand it is because some law which we do not realise is overcoming some law which see do know about.

We are beginning to discover the laws which underlie communication. Our fresh knowledge is really only an amplification of that which the earlier spiritualists knew. The earlier spiritualists knew that when working with a medium a semi-luminous, thickish vapour which coalesces and becomes a sort of solid, presented itself. They found it to be a soft, viscous, dough-like mass, and out of that dough-like mass was formed different forms of bodies like ourselves built up by the materialising medium.

"Proved Up to the Hilt."

All this they put on record; all this was ridiculed; all this, however, has now been proved up to the hilt.

A French Lady, Mme. Bisson, and a German doctor, Dr. Schrenck-Notzing, have conducted experiments with a medium called Eva.

This Eva used to throw out a peculiar stuff closely resembling that which I have described. Sometimes it would come — sometimes not. When it did come it appeared to be a putty-like material emanating from the medium's body, and was re-absorbed into the medium's body, but while it existed it was capable of being moulded into fantastic shapes — heads, bodies — quite outside the medium who lay entranced.

Two hundred and fifty photographs, which will be found in Madame Bisson's book, were taken of the forms assumed by this substance, and only when this substance had such strength that an actual form was completely made of it, only then did it impinge upon spiritualism, for only then was it possible for something outside that substance to take command of it and to move and speak.

Mme. Bisson's dead father took part in those manifestations. The photograph of his materialised form was taken, among the other photographs. His form was built up just for a fraction of time, and he was able to utter one word: "Espoir" — Hope.

A Fortnight Ago is France.

A fortnight ago, when I was in France and saw a portrait hanging on the wall at Mme. Bisson's, I was able at once to recognise it as that of her father, so true was the photograph of the spirit form.

In the experiments with Eva, she was covered with a cloth to get darkness, which is essential for this most delicate substance. Her two hands were extend through holes in the cloth and were kept there.

I was present at an experiment. Mme. Bisson said ectoplasm is forming, and I was allowed to look through, and I saw this stuff as it comes from such a medium — a long white, stringy substance, hanging from her clothes. I put my hand through the slit and touched it. To my horror it writhed like a long worm. Looking at it clearly, I saw it was not an obvious animal, but it had the element of life in it. Wonderful stuff. The stuff which for some centuries, I prophesy, will occupy the very best of human brains to devise its power and its meaning.


I believe that this psychoplasm, this ectoplasm, is at the base of every external physical manifestation of a medium. It is the medium giving this out, whether visible or invisible, which is the base of these different phenomena.

Go to Crawfurd of Belfast. He worked for years on this subject. He found that his medium threw out white, viscous substances exactly the same. These substances came first as a soft material. Afterwards it would net no hard that it would raise a table or produce loud noises when it struck the wall.

Crawfurd died young only the other day, worn out by his own exertions, but I venture to say that when many well-known men's names are forgotten, Crawfurd's name as a pioneer in this master will live.

Let us go further. Suppose instead of a vapour it becomes as invisible gas; suppose the medium stands on the platform of a hall, and it is diffused over the hall as an invisible substance. There you get the base of clairvoyance, the psychic atmosphere, and in that atmosphere the seer who has her senses trained can visualise things unseen to you or me.

Take water as an illustration. Water is water, water is steam, water is ice. You get it in all those different forms, an that psychoplasm or ectoplasm is not really so strange in the ways of nature as you will imagine.

"Great Mediums Rare."

Great mediums are rare, because these are few people who can throw out ectoplasm to that extent. Great mediums are rare, so are large telescopes; but you are prepared to take the results obtained through those telescopes though you may never hove looked through them.

All of us, I believe, have this power in different degrees. In Crawfurd's experiments he used to weigh everyone present and at the end of the seance, whereas the medium may have lost 15 lb., energy gone out, so all round the circle everybody had lost, say, half or three-quarters of a pound in the course of the hour.

So that when four people who hare no claim to be mediums sit round a table and get table movements without pressure, it means that each is giving out some of this matter, and among the four enough is obtained to get effects.

This ectoplasm, as it is now called, has been discovered before. In the middle ages certain persons called alchemists wrapped up their knowledge in a peculiar way, for the very good reason that the Church had a nasty way now and then of burning some of them.

But Thomas Vaughan (1650) referred to some such matter as the matrix. He wrote:—

"It is the first visible receptacle wherein the spiritual things are concentrated.

"It is a viscous mass impregnated with all powers celestial and terrestrial.

"It may be seen with the eyes and felt with the hands.

"It alters every moment.

"It is almost animal. It is the mother of all things.

"It is a thick water which is dry and wets not the hards, a most delicate substance, and tender.

"The least violence destroys it, even the vibration of light."

When the medium throws ectoplasm out it is manipulated by forces in the world. It is the only substance in nature for us to be cognisant of and yet can be manipulated by other forces outside.