Historical beliefs

Believer or skeptic, how methods of spiritual communication came about is an interesting subject. Here we look at beliefs of days gone by and the methods used to protect or communicate.

Phantasmagoria - what it really means

Posted by RiPA Rep on Wednesday, September 2, 2009 Under: Interesting

Sound intriguing, eh? What could phantasmagoria possibly be and is it something you might be interested in exploring further? In this article, you will learn the details behind the name.

Phantasmagoria is an Americanized pronunciation of the projection ghost show that ruled France before the cinema ever lifted off of the ground. During the late 18th century, Europe was abuzz with this phenomenon, especially catching on in England throughout the 19th century. With the help of a kind of special 'magic' lantern, images danced on walls, in smoke, or on semi-transparent screens. Rear projection was the driving force behind the production.

Since the projector could be moved from one place to another, projected images could move on a screen, and when used in conjunction with other projectors – images easily switched from one thing to another. If you're wondering what sorts of images were projected, imagine skeletons, ghosts, and demons.

Where Did the Concept Come From?

It was the middle of the 18th century and a coffee shop owner in Leipzig, Germany named Johann Schropfer decided to provide the public with séances, using a converted billiards room as his headquarters. The idea really took off, and by the time that the 1760s rolled around, he had transformed himself into a full-blown showman – abandoning his coffee shop dreams and taking on his séances as a full-time deal. Schropfer was probably pretty popular because he indulged in elaborate effects that involved ghostly projections. This allowed him to deliver a pretty convincing show of ghosts.

In 1774, it is said that Schropfer committed suicide – allegedly after he succumbed to delusional fits. Many thought that his downfall had something to do with his projected apparitions.

The notion of using projected ghosts took on new shape, and Versailles was
in the thick of the latest developments in 1700s. During the 1770s, a man by
the name of Francois Seraphin captured attention with his use of magic lanterns that allowed him to perform his "Ombres Chinoises" (better known as Chinese shadows). This was a form of "shadow play" – an ancient form of storytelling and entertainment that utilized opaque figures positioned in front of an illuminated backdrop. In the end, the illusion of moving images was created. During this same time, Edme-Gilles Guyot pushed the envelope on the projection of ghosts, when he dabbled with smoke effects.

However, what is considered the first on-the-spot phantasmagoria show was probably the brainchild of Paul Philidor, who successfully blended séance parlor tricks and projection effects in 1789. By 1793, he was enjoying great success across Europe, in Vienna, Berlin, and Paris.

As the years moved on, other individuals embraced phantasmogoria – many of whom were magicians and scientists with a love for shocking audiences.

From great showmen to traces of phantasmogoria in modern times, the practice is still alive and well. However, you might be surprised to see where these kind of showy antics appear even today.

Enter Etienne-Gaspard Robert – AKA Etienne Robertson

When looking into the history of the phantasmagoria show, you must mention the most famous pioneers of all – a Belgian inventor and physicist named Etienne-Gaspard Robert, who went by the stage name of Etienne Robertson. In 1797, he decided to transport his show to Paris – taking advantage of the morbid surrounding of the city, which was recovering from a post-revolutionary slump. Robertson created elaborate scenes and the city was thirsty for more.

Situated in an abandoned Capuchin crypt in Paris, he staged hauntings, and with the help of several lanterns, he combined his talents with special sound effects that worked perfectly with the setting of a tomb. To say the very least, those who came to say Robertson were frightened to no end. Robertson's popularity grew and he soon found himself touring the likes of Russia and Spain. Europe was intrigued with the thought of attending a theatrical ghost show. Soon, the United States wanted a piece of the action.

Phantasmogoria in the Modern Days

There was one American who especially became mesmerized by the early showmen toying with ghostly images. It was none other than Walt Disney himself. If you ever wondered where the inspiration for some of his creations (like the projection effects shown in the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland and Disney World) or Fantasmic – the closing show of the park that utilizes film clips projected onto water spray and smoke. Mr. Disney is not the only one to use the technique during modern times.

The techniques also inspired a CD-rom video game with a horror theme titled "Phantasmogoria." The popular of the Windows game soon found a place in the collection of Saga Saturn games during the mid-1990s. When computer games were first dabbling in the practice of using interactive movies as a form of entertainment, Phantasmogoria grew in popularity because, especially when it became one of the first adventure games to use a live actor as an on-screen avatar.

The plot of the video game borrowed a few aspects from "The Shining." A writer travels to an isolated mansion that was once owned by a famous magician during the late 19th century. After moving into the home with hopes of sparking their creative juices, the couple learns that the magician (named Zoltan) was into black magic. He had called upon an evil demon, which actually possessed him to the point that he killed all of his wives. And so the plot goes on…

A handful of modern theatrical troupes located in the United States and the United Kingdom have used phantasmogoria projection shows as part of their entertainment throughout the 21st century. The practice is especially popular during the Halloween season.

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Tags: phantasmagoria  ghosts  victorian 
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