Categorized | Features, Take a Trip

Finding The Spirit In Cassadaga, Florida

Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp is a neighborhood-sized town.

By Victor Block

As my wife Fyllis and I and our friend Kathy contemplated our visit to a tiny town in Florida, the choices we faced were as intriguing as they were varied. Did we prefer to join a healing meditation circle or seek spiritual counseling? Would we opt for a séance or a class in Ancient Wisdom Teachings?

This is how planning for a day trip to the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp went. Adding to the appeal for me was the ironic fact that this unusual destination, which is focused upon life after death and communicating with those who have entered that realm, is located not far from Walt Disney World, with its wealth of man-made fantasyland attractions.

Cassadaga was founded by a medium named George Colby, who claimed that during a séance his “spirit guide” Seneca advised him to establish a spiritual center in Florida. Colby led a group of fellow believers there, purchased a tract of land and in1894, incorporated the Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp Meeting Association.

Today the camp — which is, in effect, a neighborhood-sized town — occupies 57 acres of the kind of verdant lowlands characteristic of central Florida. Many of its approximately 75 permanent residents are spiritualists of one kind or another. In 1992, the village was designated a Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Bookstore & Welcome Center is the hub of activity and the logical place to begin a visit. Its large selection of books explores topics ranging from spiritualism, metaphysics and Buddhism to meditation, yoga and ghosts. Crystal balls and candles share shelf space with incense, Tibetan singing bowls, aromatherapy supplies and angel and fairy statues.

This is where most people choose the activities they wish to experience and make their arrangements. The names and telephone numbers of certified camp mediums and healers who are on duty each day are listed on a board, and business cards of dozens of other spiritualists are on display nearby.

Many of Cassadaga’s approximately 75 permanent residents are spiritualists of one kind or another.

Learning More

While Fyllis and Kathy headed for separate sessions with a “Certified Medium, Healer and Teacher,” I met with Reverend Doctor Louis Gates. In addition to providing one-on-one services to clients, he serves as pastor of the Colby Memorial Temple. I wanted to learn more about spiritualism and arranged to meet with Reverend Gates, who turned out to be a treasure trove of knowledge.

I was somewhat surprised when my mentor showed up wearing casual street clothes, without any trappings to indicate that he is a man of the cloth. I found him to be very affable and down-to-earth which, I concluded, are among perfect traits for one who serves as both a pastor and a medium/healer/teacher. As we chatted, I concluded that given his mild manner and pleasing personality, he could have been a successful health care provider or real estate salesman.

Our conversation began with a recounting of when the Reverend first began to believe in the tenets of spiritualism. That occurred at the early age of three after his grandmother, who had died, appeared to him.

His brief description of Spiritualism led me to infer that it can be seen as a combination of religion, philosophy and, among its disciples, science. I found that I can relate to a number of the precepts that Reverend Gates outlined. It is very welcoming, accepting, uplifting and supportive. The overall message is one of love and hope. It does not have a lot of dogma.

I understood the principle that people are responsible for themselves and control their own destiny, but that comes with a bit of potential downside. “Spiritualism is a tough religion,” the good Reverend explained, “because there’s no one else to blame if things go wrong.”

A shop sign

While I was receiving an instructive overview of Spiritualism, Fyllis and Kathy were participating in a session with one of the practitioners who were on duty that day. Fyllis came away impressed with a number of the woman’s comments.

“I see you traveling a lot for work,” which certainly fits well with her role as a travel writer. “You like the outdoor and open spaces,” which is in keeping with the fact that my wife and I enjoy hiking through woods.

Among other fact-based observations were that I am a photographer (I take pictures to illustrate travel stories), Fyllis’s daughter Ariane “has a good head on her shoulders” (she does, and also a very pretty one) and that Fyllis has something to do with relics (I hope that referred to our visit to Greek and Roman archaeological sites during a recent trip to Sicily, rather than me).

On the other hand, some remarks appeared to be off base — although Fyllis said she will keep an open mind for possible future fulfillment. For example, Fyllis has no present plans to be in the Pacific Northwest, speak before a large group of people or write a book.

True Believers

It doesn’t take long to walk around Cassadaga.

After our talking and listening sessions, we strolled around town which, given Cassadaga’s compact size, didn’t take long. The self-guided walking tour pamphlet led us to Seneca Park, which is named for George Colby’s spirit guide; Medicine Wheel Park, where Native American ceremonies once were held; a healing area and the Fairy Trail Park where, we read, Nature Spirits “only show themselves to those who believe.”

We ended our visit to what, for us, was an unusual and unexpected destination by stopping by the Cassadaga Hotel for a snack and look-see. Even there, in the midst of a reconstructed Victorian setting, guests may arrange for a psychic reading, séance and other services in keeping with the overall purpose of the town.

That overriding goal, I concluded, is one with which both believers and doubters can relate.

For example, I suspect that many people agree with the inspirational saying on a sign in the hotel: “Forgiveness lifts heaviness from the burdened heart.”

On the other hand, skeptics might have less faith in another nearby pronouncement, which reads: “I believe in fairies. I do, I do, I do.”

Those who consign themselves to that category of skeptic may take heart in the assurance that Cassadaga welcomes “not only believers, but the curious and skeptical as well.”

For more information call 386-228-3171 or visit cassadaga.org.

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