Lily Dale Assembly defines its collective belief structure – The Religion of Spiritualism - as “One who believes, as the basis of his or her religion, in the continuity of life and in individual responsibility. Some, but not all, Spiritualists are Mediums and/or Healers. Spiritualists endeavor to find the truth in all things and to live their lives in accordance therewith.”
I appreciate the welcoming openness of this definition. It is inclusive and allows for an individual to self-develop their own belief structure at their own pace which is what we are all meant to be doing. You can’t force a lotus to open before it is ready. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.
The Religion of Spiritualism was birthed of the Burned-Over-District of upstate New York. It is a Victorian crazy quilt of influences with roots in multiple preexisting philosophies, including Humanism, Socialism, the Occult, Christianity, Buddhism, Paganism, Abolitionism and even the Women’s Suffrage movement. Many famous progressives were drawn to Spiritualism such as Mary Todd Lincoln, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini.
Before going on, I feel compelled to acknowledge that I genuinely believe the majority of people at Lily Dale are earnest, kind and altruistic.
LILY DALE AUDITORIUM
Soon after arriving we wandered into the healing service. We anticipated some guided group meditation. Maybe a few affirmations and perhaps Mediums giving messages from the other side to the attendees. Instead songs about the Christian deity, Jesus, poured from the organ and the mouths of the people surrounding us. I quickly faked an incoming cell phone call and bolted for the door.
Reiki, sweat lodges, yoga, astrology, workshops, a Fairy Trail, a Pet Cemetery, a Forest Temple and a population of residential registered Mediums — that was why we were there. The name of the deity of a mainstream overexposed organized religion didn’t fit into my expectations, or Lily Dale’s own promotion of their center. I felt tricked, like when I was in 7th grade and I went to a slumber party only to be dragged to bible study by the girl’s father.
FOREST TEMPLE & THE STUMP
We attended message services at the Forest Temple and at the Stump. While we were enjoying the unique experience of sitting in a small clearing in a natural forest with strangers, we were also emitting gasps of amazement while the Mediums chose people at random from the crowd to receive messages from their deceased loved ones.
Granted some of the readings were impressively detailed but most were on the vague side. As for the people receiving the readings, they all seemed to be having a deep personal experience. It’s important to keep in mind that, like any group of professionals, the Mediums are all at different levels.
I also enjoyed observing the Mediums’ attempt at handling the crowd of predominantly 50-something lower class white women in applique t-shirts whom seemed to think they were at the taping of a day time talk show. After each reading the Mediums would have to remind them that they were attending a religious service and that clapping was inappropriate.
CATS OF LILY DALE
We had the pleasure of making multiple kitty friends while strolling around town. One remarkable cat who came to our aid during a morale low point extended his paw out into the grass and held it there when I asked him if I could take a picture of his interesting paw.
After the digital camera mimicked the sound of a shutter, he retracted his paw and returned to scrubbing his face against Nancy’s chin and legs while purring madly. It was the perfect moment for a distraction and a little encouragement from the Universe to continue our journey.
REIKI @ THE HEALING TEMPLE
The Reiki practitioners, at the free public session, spent a few minutes with each person giving them healing. The chapel must have held 80 people and it turned over 3 times. Each person was given a very brief and loving Reiki session at no cost. This is true altruism. I was amazed at the care and personal attention given to each person by the practitioners. There was respect and a nurturing kindness. I felt gratitude for being a part of it.
THE FOX SISTERS
In 1888, they finally confessed that it was a hoax. The Religion of Spiritualism soldiered on as if their founders’ confession had never occurred.
Their house was moved from Hydesville, NY in the early 20th century to this site in Lily Dale. Sadly it burned to the ground in the 1950s. Today the site is a meditation garden and adjacent to the Fairy Trail.
The interior resembled a blend of small town historical society and a hoarder’s catch-all. The “Museum” lacks interpretation and has an awesome road side America feel to it. Everything is just stuck in whatever open space was available when it arrived.
Most people in Lily Dale seem to be earnest which creates much tension for me as I don’t want to be disparaging in anyway. Lily Dale embraces the Fox Sisters which admittedly, at times during my visit, made it all feel like a circus sideshow.
I’ve yet to understand why they embrace those whom have acted as frauds. Exploiting their victims with séances and parlor tricks. It seems they have the perfect opportunity to display the artifacts with some interpretation that discredits the phonies with a gentle hand. This approach would go along way toward creating credibility for their belief structure and services to the public. Thus potentially drawing in new members.
I recall a photo of a “crystal skull” which was allegedly found inside of a solid rock and dated to somewhere between 500CE – 30,000BCE. Pretty big range. There was loads of speculation on its origins which included the Mayans and Aliens. Why not! I found this both off putting and awesome.
The “Director“, who was sincere although very anxious and seemingly misguided, immediately tried to sell us his book while showing us some Victorian portraiture called Precipitated Spirit Portraits which were allegedly created during a séance and depicted an image of the deceased. The story goes that the paint would be laid out near the canvas and the spirit would manifest it onto the canvas in the same manner that a Polaroid develops before one’s eyes. The major evidence being that there are no brush strokes and witnesses sat in a lit room watching the entire time.
I spent much of the time he was talking revisiting my confusion on where I was. I just couldn’t seem to get a clear definition from this subculture. The more he spoke, the more my mind conjured up images of Victorians bending spoons and other parlor tricks meant to part people from their money.
THE FAIRY TRAIL
The landscape of the Fairy Trail was lovely but the trinkets were comical and scattered about like litter. This was a disappointment as the trail could have been a whimsical and enchanting opportunity to connect with nature. Overall much of Lily Dale needs to be given an objective overhaul and a facelift.
COMPANION ANIMAL CEMETERY
I still cherish the opportunity to have visited the Companion Animal Cemetery. The dignity and beauty will bring tears to your eyes. I’ve never seen its equal.
For many years I have wanted to do a sweat. Prior to arrival, I fully intended to participate in the sweat-lodge until we saw the “beach” for the first time. It was grim and badly in need of a beach clean-up day.
This is when I reconsidered my plan to participate in the sweat. There is a high level of trust involved and I just wasn’t feeling it. I know that when the time is right an opportunity will present itself again.
THE CAMP GROUND
Online the campground looks like a beautiful forested site where one could commune with nature. The reality was that there was no privacy and campfires are not allowed. I understand they are trying to keep the community safe but once it got dark there was nothing to do but sit in the dark.
The negatives of Lily Dale seem to disappear when you wander into the Crystal Cove shop. The wow factor when the door opens is jaw drop worthy. Crystals, statues, geodes, scarves, and collectables filled the space. The lighting was warm. The air was conditioned. The staff was welcoming and polite. There was music on and feasts for the eyes in every direction
What’s been bothering me about Lily Dale is that, despite their definition, my visiting and research I still don’t know what it actually is. As I churn it around in my mind, it tangles into a multi-faceted knot of questions that I’ll never have answers for. The use of “The Religion of”, rather than simply “Spiritual Center”, sounds as if there is a clear organized belief structure but the more I sought it the more I felt like a dog tangled in my own leash.
>>>LILY DALE IN THE MEDIA<<<
Very informative 6 Part Documentary on Lily Dale
Trailer for the HBO Documentary ‘No One Dies in Lily Dale’
Cassadaga by Bright Eyes
Lily Dale is located on Cassadaga Lake in Cassadaga, NY. The Cassadaga Spiritualist camp is located in Cassadaga, Florida and is the off season home of many of the Lily Dale, NY residents. Bright Eyes has an album called Cassadaga named after Cassadaga, Florida with references to Lily Dale and the Spiritualists.
TV Show ‘Supernatural” from the WB/CW – Season 7 Episode 7 called “The Mentalists” was set in Lily Dale
I suffered through the episode and bad acting while streaming this single episode on Netflix. Awful dialogue, not filmed in Lily Dale or even a place resembling Lily Dale in anyway. On the show, Lily Dale even has a police force, a bar, a Voodoo Priestess, Psychics instead of Mediums, a human cemetery and even a vegan restaurant. Sadly, the real Lily Dale doesn’t have such healthy food options. They did mention the Fox Sisters though. It’s the level of exploitation that I’d expect from a show of this level.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on Spiritualism