Saturday, August 23, 2008

My visit to Lily Dale.

The path to Buffalo from Pittsburgh is simple and without traffic congestion. You get on 79N and pick up 90E around Erie. It's a fairly uneventful drive that brings you up the western border of New York state. Along the way you pass the access points to the Chataqua Institution, as well cut right through the Seneca Nation. If you look hard enough you can find places along the way that are worth making a few short detours. In my online explorations I read about Lily Dale, a spiritualist community next to the little village of Cassadaga. This assembly (also referred to as the "City of Light") , established in 1879, bills itself as the world's largest center for spiritual development. While that may or may not be true, it seems certain to concentrate the most mediums into one small lake-front settlement.

The origins of the Modern Spiritualist Movement start with the Fox sisters (Kate, Leah and Margaret). In 1848, these Hydesville, NY inhabitants reported the existence of spirits living within their house. They devised a system of knocks and raps to communicate with one presence that they referred to initially as "Mr. Splitfoot" (a nickname for the devil). Soon the neighbors got in on the act, and became convinced that someone had been murdered in the house. The youngest Fox sisters were sent to live in Rochester, and the spirits followed them. There a Quaker couple (Amy and Isaac Post) befriended them and spread the word among their people. That's how the Movement became entwined with radical social causes like abolition, equal rights, and temperance.

Anyway the Fox sisters went on to a long career of being involved with many of the important social figures of their day. They also found fame for conducting séances. There was plenty of controversy as many others began to discover their own abilities to speak with the spirit world. Ultimately the famous siblings set in to squabbling with each other, and they met ignoble ends. But to this day they serve as symbols for Spiritualism. In 1916, the cottage that first revealed its secrets to the Fox family was moved from Hydesville to Lily Dale, where the Spiritualists of America held their annual camp meetings. From that point on the community grew steadily. The Fox cottage was destroyed by fire in 1955, but Lily Dale continued to prosper.

Nowadays Lily Dale has a sort of cottage industry revolving around contact with the spirit world. They have a full program of summer workshops in topics as diverse as astrology, paranormal investigation, listening to the "inner voice", past-life regression, channeling the "higher mind", spoon bending, intuitive medicine, Reiki, Falun Dafa, using sweat lodges, and the "fourth direction". There's also a gift shop, a chapel, a forest temple, a meditation labyrinth, a museum and several eateries. Apparently people journey there from all over the world, and they have accommodations for travelers. You can also make day visits, but you must pay $10 to pass through their front gate.

To my eyes Lily Dale appeared to be like any other retirement community in the country, except for the proliferation of shingles hanging from the bungalows advertising the services of the individual mediums residing there. I didn't stick around for any of the workshops or rituals as I had a lot on my itinerary, and only a limited amount of time to look around. The grounds are peaceful and offer plenty of opportunities for contemplation. You are free to walk around unmolested. People greet you amiably, but no one proselytizes. The highlight of my short stop was the "fairy trail" in the words, wherein folks had constructed little temples incorporating small statues of angels, fairies, gnomes, and other pop culture detritus. Great photo opportunity!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you meant to write 1848, not 1948.

10:15 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

That's right. Thanks for catching that and letting me know.

2:11 PM  

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