Lily Dale: The place to go, if the spirit moves you
LILY DALE—Bolts of lightning, claps of thunder and a driving rain chorus around us as we approach the little hamlet of Lily Dale, the world’s largest spiritualist community.
Spiritualism is the belief that life is continuous and that people who pass from the earthly plane exist on an astral plane, where they can be contacted by those with mediumistic powers. Every year thousands of seekers visit Lily Dale to explore the premise that physical death may not be the end of the line and that conversations with Spirit (the term used by mediums for those who have crossed the “Etheric Bridge”) may be possible.
Whether you are a believer or not, this serene community, established in 1879 on the banks of Cassadaga Lake, is sure to charm, intrigue and relax even the staunchest of skeptics.
Once inside the gates, the weather calms enough for us to get our bearings and begin our exploration. Wanting to take advantage of the lull in the storm, we decide to hike the Fairy Trail, a winding path through the woods. Patches of sunlight dapple the ferns, and ivy grows along the trail as we follow the intoxicating scent of pine past miniature houses and villages built for Lily Dale’s tiniest inhabitants. We marvel at the itsy-bitsy abodes, some complete with chimneys, brightly colored shutters and thatched roofs. Others look like Lilliputian shanties, with fairies or trumpeting angels inside and an assortment of little gifts spread outside—orange and pink beads, tangles of multicolored streamers, tiny flowers, and other baubles meant to entice all forms of woodland sprites.
We leave the fairies just before another torrential downpour, and make it to a shelter outside the town’s fire station. It is obvious that the lesson being taught today is patience, so we sit and contemplate our next move. We figure that our best bet for staying dry will be to visit a shop before attending the daily speaker session in the auditorium at 2:30 p. m.
We unfurl our umbrellas and head for the Crystal Cove. In this bright and airy shop, we discover all sorts of remedies to soothe the soul. Meditation oils of bergamot, ylang ylang and cedarwood, and essential oils of tea tree, lavender and peppermint line up next to resin angels playing flutes or holding books or candles.
Garden stones on another shelf proclaim, “The Flowers of Tomorrow Are the Seeds of Today,” “Follow Your Dreams,” or simple words like “Wisdom,” “Hope,” “Trust,” and “Rejoice.” All manner of fairies sit nearby, some dancing with cats or tending mushrooms, others petting unicorns or sitting on a slice of moon.
Wind chimes tinkle above fat-bellied, bronze-patina Buddhas holding mala beads, and massive displays of crystal and gemstone jewelry sparkle in glass cases. CDs with titles like “Heavenly Hawaii,” “Celtic Reverie,” “Santorini Splendor” and “Zen Grooves” stand in a rack by the door and, as we leave, we notice a sign that captures the essence of the shop and of Lily Dale as well: “All things are possible.”
Arriving in the auditorium just before healer and intuitive Bonnie Woods takes the platform, we have time to check out the space. Built in 1883, the auditorium has an old-time camp feel to it. The two walls flanking the stage have a multitude of yellow shutters that, when opened, give the feeling of sitting outdoors, as does the high-rafter ceiling.
The program begins with a call to sing a hymn in order to “raise the vibration” and welcome Spirit. Woods’ theme that day is based on the creed of a Native American chief: “Man’s heart, away from Nature, grows hard.”
For Woods, visiting Lily Dale is like “coming out of hibernation.” She says here, we can feel connected to nature and know that we are not alone; we can take time to slow down, to take a look, and to gain perspective. She believes nature encourages feelings of gratitude, and that these feelings release endorphins that soothe us. Birds chirp outside with a fervor that amplifies her message.
Before checking into our hotel, we stop at Cup-a-Joe’s, a quirky coffee shop where a yellow brick road painted on the floor leads from the front door through the parlor and dining room and into the dessert kitchen. All of the desserts are homemade by owner Sharon Russell —lavender shortcake, banana nut bread, raspberry scones and carrot cake are spread out in the baker’s case. I can’t resist a scone, served warm with butter and chock full of fresh raspberries. My companion orders the carrot cake, complemented by a latte served in a cup the size of a soup bowl and laden with a thick layer of whipped cream and drizzled with chocolate. Absolute Nirvana.
Walking into the Maplewood Hotel, built in 1880, is like walking into a late 19th century photograph. The lobby wallpaper— ovals of rosebuds and intertwining leaves on a beige background—sets the tone, accented by the huge reception desk with an old-fashioned room-key cabinet hanging on the wall behind it, and a wicker settee and chairs. The hotel’s original wooden phone booth tucks snugly in a corner and a sign posted on one of the columns requests, “No readings, healings, circles or seances in this area, please.”
The highlight of the parlor, the other first floor room, is the paintings, many with cards beneath identifying them as Precipitated Spirit Paintings— works of art appearing on canvas without assistance from earthly hands.
Our room, situated on the second floor, has twin beds, a sink and a shower, with a separate “facilities” area. On the walls, huge orange and white lilies bloom next to snowy egrets, and a print of a lake with wispy trees gracing its banks hangs between the beds. The place is spotless and at $70 for a double, this is a real deal, unless you can’t live without air-conditioning, a telephone, and television.
That evening at 7, we attend a healing service in the Healing Temple. The outside is reminiscent of a classical Greek temple, with four white columns and a low-pitched roof. Inside, the walls are fitted with Monet-like stained glass windows in reds, blues, greens and yellows, and vases of pink roses adorn the ends of the altar. Healers, dressed in white, line one wall. The light is dim, and New Age music floats around us; there is no mistaking the peace and serenity created here.
The service begins with a prayer of healing, after which those who wish to be healed are directed to the padded benches in front of the altar. The work is done with very little touching, but it is possible to feel the heat of the healers’ hands as they move above the body. This healing, a relaxing yet energizing experience, can benefit believers and nonbelievers alike.
Our last mission for the day is to complete a Ghost Walk, which begins at 9:30 p. m. every Wednesday during the summer season. Dr. Neal Rzepkowski guides us through town, explaining history and supplying anecdotes along the way. The walk ends with a trek through the old-growth forest to Inspiration Stump, a spot noted as an energy vortex that is said to aid the connection to the astral plane. Another medium, Joseph Shiel, leads a creative visualization, and later, he and Rzepkowski come to several in our group with messages “from beyond.” Sitting in this “cathedral in the woods” around midnight is an inspirational delight not to be missed.
After a delicious breakfast at The Sunflower the next morning, Dena and I enjoy insightful readings with Martie Hughes, a charming and forthright woman. A former process analyst and now a practicing medium, Hughes regards herself as a bit of a renegade. She believes that we all “arrive in this world whole,” without anything for which to atone.
She says we come with a contract that we are bound to fulfill, and a purpose to serve the greater good. Our job, Hughes says, is to “remain whole by forgiving ourselves and others for the missteps we inevitably make.”
According to Hughes, we all have the potential, the intuition, to do what she does. “The only difference,” she believes, “is that some encounter circumstances that switch it on. Some don’t.”
If you go:
Lily Dale is in Chautauqua County, about 90 minutes south of Buffalo. Take the Thruway to the Dunkirk-Fredonia exit and drive south (a left turn at the light) on Route 60. In Cassadaga, follow the signs to Lily Dale. The summer season runs through Sept. 6.
Gate fee: $10 for 24 hours All necessary information about Lily Dale, including workshops, accommodations, restaurants, shops and a list of registered mediums can be found at www.lilydaleassembly.com