Last week I had the unexpected opportunity of visiting Lily Dale.
I had vaguely heard of Lily Dale before, but hadn’t realized that it was going to be so close to the site of Sirius Rising in Upstate New York. I was at Sirius Rising all week, and was very focused on being at the festival, but when it was pouring rain out one festival day, one of my friends suggested we take a field trip to see the great Spiritualist community.
The Fox sisters were infamous mediums of nineteenth century America, and were a large part of the Spiritualist movement. In 1927, the Fox sisters’ house was moved to the site that is now Lily Dale. Spiritualism is a fascinating movement that holds a little known place in American history. According to Wikipedia, Spiritualism is “a belief system or religion, postulating the belief that spirits of the dead residing in the spirit world have both the ability and the inclination to communicate with the living. Anyone may receive spirit messages, but formal communication sessions (séances) are held by ‘mediums’, who can then provide information about the afterlife”. Many famous people were interested in Spiritualism in the mid and late nineteenth century. Mary Lincoln and her famous husband became very serious Spiritualists after the death of one of their sons. It was extremely fashionable to hold seances in your home and to invite mediums like the Fox sisters to come and speak in your communities. And whether you believe the Fox sisters actually were receiving messages from the other side or not, the movement that was built around them is still alive and well today in Upstate New York at the Lily Dale Assembly.
Lily Dale is a tiny little place that is open to visitors year round and to students who wish to come and learn more about being a medium or Spiritualism. The main Lily Dale website says “There are daily lectures on the wonders of mediumistic phenomena and the basic truths of God and Man, which Spiritualists adopt as their standard for living”. It costs $10 to get through the gate, but after the entrance fee, the community is open for your exploration.
When we arrived, we headed up to the Inspiration Stump, where mediumship demonstrations are held everyday at 1 p.m., and people gather to hear from several of the mediums. There are three types of mediums who speak here: The mediums that are registered and vouched for by the Lily Dale Assembly; visiting mediums from other communities; and student mediums. Originally the mediums stood on the huge stump that still sits at the top of the meeting place. That way they could see the audience gathered to hear the words of the spirits from above, and were able to pick out those who the spirits wished them to give messages to. Today they do not stand on the stump, but use microphones; otherwise, the mediums still do the same thing that has been done for over 130 years. I was surprised by how many people were there. It was a truly fascinating experience. The mediums were introduced and immediately jumped right on into things. We were told at the beginning that this was considered to be a religious service for them and throughout the whole thing, the mediums were thanked for “walking with Spirit” after they were finished.
The Meeting Place in front of the Stump
The Lily Dale website says:
Inspiration Stump is a spiritual retreat found at the end of the calm and quiet trail of the Leolyn Woods. It is not unusual to become more aware of the spiritual energies while in this open and receptive state at the Stump. you are invited to participate in the services held twice a day in the grove at no charge. Demonstrations of mediumship are presented by the mediums giving short messages to those in the audience. These services have been held since 1898. As well as possibly receiving a message of meaning at Inspiration Stump, you may well renew your own Spiritual energies. Spiritual awareness is available to all. Please show consideration for the mediums who are working and for those who are receiving messages by refraining from unnecessary noise or movement that disrupts the flow of energy.
I don’t know that they convinced me of their abilities or not, but they certainly gave us a show. Some of them were really good, and I’m sure, probably actually in touch with the Spirit world. Some were pretty abysmal, but they all kept us entertained. It was an experience unlike any other that I’ve had.
After we left Inspiration Stump, we explored the rest of the tiny community. There is a small museum in the old school house, a library, the assembly hall and all the houses of the mediums, where you can stop and actually have a personal reading or channeling. We didn’t do this, since it gets quite expensive. But the mediums set up shop and open their doors all summer for the visitors and pilgrims of Lily Dale.
At the museum, they had memorabilia of the many things that had gone on in the Spiritualist movement and in Lily Dale. They had a wall covered with the signs from the houses of the original mediums, spirit slates that the spirits had supposedly written on and many other fascinating things.
The Main Square with the Assembly Hall and Library
Houses of Mediums and Readers
We had lunch in the little cafe sitting between two mediums, which was a pretty hilarious moment in and of itself.
Jason Mankey, author and lecturer, was a particularly wonderful tour guide the whole day.
While we were there, I noticed that Pagan author Ray Buckland was supposed to speak the next day. While we didn’t run into Buckland himself, we did see his infamous corvette. I was amused.
After returning, I was sitting in Murdock’s, a tiny restaurant in Sherman New York (which is the small town that Brushwood resides in) writing this. The owner of the restaurant passed by my table and saw some of my pictures and asked me if I had gone to Lily Dale. When I told her that I had, she excitedly asked me what I thought and told me that that’s where she goes to church. Sherman is a tiny little place with one main street and gas station. It is the home to many farmers and people of the Amish/Mennonite communities. I was really surprised to find that Spiritualism also has it’s place here.
Spiritualism is not something that I have delved into before. And other than in romance novels and books of the paranormal, it’s not something that pops up for me very often. But this was a great look into a very different world, one where ghosts and messages from the beyond are common place and expected.This was a fabulous experience that I would recommend for anyone who is interested in the occult. Go and walk with Spirit in Lily Dale, you won’t ever be the same after!