A Weekend Trip to Cassadaga, FL
Colby arrived to the Sunshine State circa 1875 by train and riverboat, and hacked his way through the underbrush until he’d crossed the seven hills described by his guide. He then found himself in an area rich in springs and lakes, no doubt the same ones which centuries before had sent Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon packing to the region in search of the fabled fountain of youth. Soon, Colby’s tuberculosis disappeared, and he lived on for several years more, dying in 1933 at the ripe old age of 85.
My own journey to Cassadaga went considerably more smoothly: I headed north on the I-95 to exit 249, where I caught the 44 West into the Lake Helen/Cassadaga area (directions here). A left on Prevatt Rd took me into town, where, after a right on Kicklighter Rd, I found the bed and breakfast that would be the lodging for my ghostly weekend: The Ann Stevens House (201 E. Kicklighter Rd., Lake Helen, FL 32744, 386-228-0310, 800-220-0310). The Ann Stevens house offers a Seance package for $69.95 (room charged separately), which includes a Cassadaga tour, dinner, and a seance, led by a local medium.
Though the walking tour that came with the Ann Stevens package was appealing, time was of the essence: I’d scheduled a 2 pm reading with Dr. James Thomas, a local medium, and would have to miss it. I was planning to take the Orb Tour with Rev. Ben Cox the following evening, however, and that would cover what I’d missed on the walking tour, plus I’d have the opportunity to photograph the latest paranormal craze: spirit orbs, which were said to hover around Cassadaga like love bugs on the late summer breeze.
READING WITH A MEDIUM
Dr. James Thomas lived in a trailer park in Lake Helen, minutes away from Cassadaga. I arrived a few minutes early for my 2 pm appointment, and found his house, a land-locked mobile home, recognizable by a large jack-o-lantern in the front yard with plastic Wal-Mart ghosts rising out the top.
He greeted me at the door and invited me in. A jovial man with greying hair in his early 60’s, he came across like a friendly neighbor more than the stereotypical communicator with the unseen realm. Nonetheless, Dr. Thomas was a certified Spiritualist medium, which meant that unlike garden variety mini-mall psychics with dubious credentials so common the world over, he had completed a rigorous six-year church-run program which required him to repeatedly demonstrate his abilities to its administrators. While both certified and non-certified practitioners can work in Cassadaga, those lacking in official credentials are relegated to specific locations. A reading with a medium can vary from 30 minutes to an hour, and ranges in price from $65 to $100.
I must admit, however, that when I went in, I had a different concept of how things would go. First, I expected that the session would be recorded; it was not—which meant that I had to rather awkwardly take notes with my free hand while Dr. Thomas held my other one. Also, I expected that I would be able to request specific spirits I’d like to make direct contact with; however, this was not the case. Dr. Thomas had a pantheon of spirit guides who did all the talking, and the details they provided were either more in the area of practical life matters or facts so other-worldy they weren’t possible to objectively verify. This was a bit frustrating, because, taking a cue from the late-great Houdini’s medium-testing tactics, I’d made secret agreements with all my departed friends and loved ones beforehand that if they were to reveal themselves, that they would mention specific details.
As he proceeded through a litany of characters and different voices, ranging from falsetto to gravely, Dr. Thomas revealed facts about my present and future. I was an indigo child —that new breed of intuitive, post-gen-x youth with extra sensory abilities—and I would be working as a healer within the next four years. “Okay,” I thought, I can live with that. My purpose here on Earth was to raise the consciousness of the masses and to help stop global warming. He saw that I had an affinity for natural foods—somewhat accurate—and that my spirit was more drawn toward the east coast than the west—north of Florida. “The Carolinas,” he said. “That’s a very psychic place. And Santa Barbara.”
“Wait a minute….Santa Barbara’s on the west coast!” I protested.
“Ah yes….I meant to say St. Augustine. St. Augustine has the same vortex on the east coast that Santa Barbara has on the west. They’re twin cities. They share the same energy.”
My left eyebrow raised slightly.
Tampa and Clearwater were also said to be very powerful cities, he added.
Then, through the persona of a nun named Sister Elizabeth Marie, he told me that I’d been in tune with my maternal grandmother in life, that she showers me with pink and offers me three pink roses. Pink is love, he explained: the more you give the more you will receive.
He also remarked that in life, my grandmother had well-attuned psychic abilities. Actually, while she was my favorite grandmother, she’d been as intuitive as a brick, I told him. He replied that she’d known more than she let on.
In relationships, he said, I had to seek those on an equal level, or else they would not serve my needs.
Among other things I learned: I was guided by an ascended master named Katumi, I might find pendulums useful for guidance, salt water would cleanse my energy fields, and lavender oil was good for protection. Afterwards, he gave me a big hug, sprayed me with a mixture of lavender oil and vodka and told me not to discuss my reading with others for 72 hours, so the answers would have time to congeal.
I left, still a little disheartened that none of my spirits of choice had come through, nor any confirming information from the spirit world—you know, like, “your mother’s here and she’s showing me dogs and horses. Was she an animal trainer?” I would have liked to have explained my objectives more clearly when the appointment was originally made, but he’d insisted that I give him no more than my first name. Helpful Hint: Interview your prospective reader beforehand and ask if they contact your lost loved ones directly, John Edward-style, or if they answer questions and dispense guidance only through their own spirit teachers.
All hope was not lost, however. Despite the fact that my reading hadn’t lived up to my preconceptions, I was feeling oddly energized and light. Maybe it was something in that lavender vodka…besides, opportunities for additional spirited encounters awaited me at my next stop, a “table tipping” seance in Colby Temple!
PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN
Victor Vogenitz makes an unlikely ghost whisperer. The stocky, former corrections officer and Viet Nam veteran offered a startling contrast to my Kenny Kingston preconceptions. Yet Vogenitz, with over 30 years of psychic experience, is not only a certified Spiritualist practitioner, he also practices an all-but-extinct specialty: Physical mediumship. A physical medium is said to be able to receive energy from the spirit realm which enables the spirit to manifest its presence in a physical way: through apparitions, moving tables, and occasionally auditory phenomena.
“Many of the early Spiritualists were from Missouri, the Show-Me state,” explained Victor as he led a group of about 8 of us into the narrow seance room behind the main auditorium of the temple for the 4 pm session. “If they didn’t see it, they wouldn’t believe it.” Today, mental mediumship —the simple process of using the medium’s voice to relay relevant messages, is more common, by far.
Vogenitz instructed the first part of the group to sit around the table, while I and a couple of others sat in the rear of the room, to “send energy” to the table. We would take our places in the hot seats after the first group had finished their turn. The table was solid and round, quite heavy-feeling, yet it would grow lighter, Vogenitz explained, as it became charged with spirit energy.
The cramped, window-less room, with stark white walls, was lit only by a red light bulb protruding from the ceiling. Its only decor was a set of opened curtains in the rear. This section of the room, we were told, was called the “cabinet,” the place a medium generally closes off to meditate before a session in order to channel up the necessary ectoplasm—a misty, materialization of spirit energy used to produce apparitions and physical demonstrations.
After the first group was seated, Vogenitz took two cone-shaped metallic objects with luminescent bands on them, one larger than the other, charged their bands with a flashlight, and placed them in upright positions on the table. He explained that these were called “trumpets”, and were used by the spirits to communicate. He then turned out the lights, the only illumination now coming the bands on the trumpets. I was puzzled by a few anomalies: first—no candlelight. This ran counter to everything I’d ever learned on TV. Secondly, the table-sitters weren’t instructed to join hands, but to place them face down on the table. The third surprise was the means used to conjure the spirits: sing-a-longs. According to our guide, singing voices raised the vibrational level of the room, making it easier for spirits to come through. The room then burst out in rousing renditions of “Row Your Boat,” “In the Garden,” and “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” They never did it this way on Dark Shadows....
In no time, the cones were spinning around the table in circular motions, seemingly of their own volition. Vogenitz announced that the spirits were there, and one by one, he asked each person at the table who it was they had in mind to communicate with. His information from spirit world was reassuring, but contained no shocking revelations. The spinning cones, however, were a distraction. Next, the table began to groan and shake, but the room was too dark to see if it was happening on its own or with the assistance of material hands. As the table began to take on a life of its own, Vogenitz took the cones and placed them behind him, creating an eerie silhouette of himself as he did so. He’d unwittingly given me the opportunity to observe his movements, and unless my eyes were playing tricks on me, I could see his hulky frame pushing the table back and forth. Not wanting to kill the moment, I said nothing. Maybe the spirits present were intended to do their physical work through his body, like a musician playing an instrument…or maybe not.
I left the meeting feeling that something was there, even if the theatrics had been feigned. While I believe in paranormal phenomena, I suspect it appears more subtly and with less predicatability. Even if the table-tipping spectacle was….less than genuine….it didn’t negate the entire experience. Like Whoopie Goldberg’s character in Ghost, the veracity of the experience wasn’t dependent on the truthfulness of the medium. What was most important, perhaps, was to open the doorway of the imagination, and the ensuing possibilities.
FRIDAY NIGHT HEALING SERVICE
This was one of the highlights of the trip. Friday evening at 7 pm, Colby Temple is bedecked with candles. A speaker and musical accompanist lead the congregation into a guided meditation into higher realms of healing colors, while four healers take their place around some chairs in the front. Groups of four sat in the chairs, as the healers moved their hands over their bodies without touching them. Then, with a whisper of, “Be at peace and go with God,” the recipients would retake their seats in the congregation one by one, until everyone had finished.
NIGHTTIME ORB TOUR
I consider myself neither a believer nor a disbeliever; however, I can say that in all the gazillions of shots I’ve taken with my digital camera, this is the first time I’ve taken pictures so abundant in these ghostly globes. They showed up in many of my photos, taken with and without flash, both day and night. Often I didn’t see them until I got home and enlarged them on my computer, but they were there—by the dozens.
According to Rev. Ben, the reason for their abundance here is due to Cassadaga’s vortex, which he said was centered over Spirit Pond, a body of water located close to the town center. Due to the current drought conditions, Spirit Pond is just a dried pit of its former self—yet the orb sightings continue unabated. Of all the activities I participated in during my weekend in Cassadaga, this had to be the most fun. See more pictures here.
For our second exercise, we separated into groups of two and exchanged personal possessions. We were encouraged to relate what impressions came to mind while we held them. The trick, Davis explained, was to get out of the “monkey mind.” The monkey-mind is that left-brained part of us which tries to make rational observations about everything. For example, when we see someone cut us off on the freeway, our monkey mind assumes that the person is just an impatient jerk. However, the real reason may be that the person has a personal emergency of some sort. Likewise, we tend to make similar assumptions about everything in life, leading us to live the majority of it on automatic pilot. The intuitive mind, however, relays thoughts and feelings which may have little if anything to do with rational observation, providing gleanings of information from beyond ourselves.
For our third experiment, Davis passed around a box of tongue depressors; we each took one, writing an identifying mark on them with colored pens, before placing them back in the box. Each person then took a stick, making sure it wasn’t their own, and reported the first impressions that came to mind. This procedure met with limited success, but we all learned a lot about each other in the process.
After this exercise, the class was surprised by the amount of accurate data that had come through, facts about careers and life interests, recent losses and gains. Sometimes the impressions came through symbols: for example, someone who perceived that their partner would be returning to school saw a classroom clock. At other times, an emotion would present itself. Davis, however, cautioned us against taking on these emotions. We were observers only, and had to retain a certain distance. The three hour session flew by, and we all left wishing this were an ongoing class. Nonetheless, the class was eligible toward the curriculum of medium certification for those interested in pursuing it.
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