For anyone interested in mediumship, Lily Dale, New York, is an important place on the spiritual and geographic map. A Victorian village located on a scenic lake near Buffalo, Lily Dale was founded in the late 19th century as a summer retreat for Spiritualists who wished to share time with those of common mind in a peaceful and meditative setting, one where they could live, socialize, study, consult mediums and practice mediumship. But Lily Dale, initially envisioned as a place for believers to enjoy the ephemeral pleasures of the summer months, has now endured for more than 150 years. It has evolved into a year-round permanent community inhabited almost exclusively by mediums and other Spiritualists.
You don’t have to be a believer in spirit communication, however, to visit Lily Dale. Every summer the town welcomes thousands of interested visitors of different faiths with a full roster of workshops and lectures on a diversity of subjects. There are programs led by world famous figures such as the inspirational author and speaker Dr. Wayne Dyer, the spirit medium James Van Praagh, and the astrologer for Vanity Fair, Michael Lutin. There are presentations offered by members of the Lily Dale community itself, such as Reiki training by the master teacher Jan Cooke and a course on feminine psychology and spirituality given by transpersonal psychologist and counselor Shelley Takei. And perhaps most important of all, there are classes taught both by resident and visiting mediums on the nature, practice, and development of mediumship.
Some of these presenters and comparable events are featured in the brochures of other institutions and communities, ones with a New Age focus such as the Omega Institute. But many of the daily, informal activities at Lily Dale, those which give “the city of light” its unique identity, are shaped by the combined power of the beautiful natural setting and the religion of Spiritualism. Every afternoon, for example, a Message Service is held in the Forest Temple at Lily Dale, a circular space formed within a grove of trees and dappled by daylight and shadows. The Service is open to all who want to attend, and participating mediums may address anyone present, if they feel moved to convey a spirit message to that individual. Most mediums who live in or visit Lily Dale charge fees for private readings and consultations, so the daily Message Service fulfills not only a spiritual but a practical purpose. It provides a chance for people there to decide whether or not they’d like to schedule a private session and, if so, with whom.
Lily Dale isn’t for everyone. Some visitors find the town and its residents colorful but eccentric in the extreme. Others see evidence, not of mediumship, but of flat-out fraud. Although filled with Victorian charm, some parts of Lily Dale are run-down, with aging gingerbread structures in need of paint and repair. And while far from expensive, neither is Lily Dale free to visitors. There’s a minimal charge at the gate to enter the town, and there are fees for many of the lectures and workshops, if not for daily activities such as the message and healing services.
Lily Dale worked its distinctive magic on me. I first visited the town several years ago when I was beginning to write a nonfiction book about Kate and Maggie Fox, the two 19th century sisters who are often called the founding mediums of Modern Spiritualism. Everyone with whom I spoke about my research eagerly shared old stories and new information about the Fox sisters, the early days of Spiritualism, and the later founding of Lily Dale. I made several good friends with whom I’m still in contact. I took a class in mediumship development, only to be astonished by one of the students who–a visitor herself with no stake in proving the reality of spirit communication–seemed to know things about me that no mere stranger could have guessed. And I spent time in the Fox Memorial Garden, a peaceful haven dedicated to the sisters about whom I was writing, a place where I felt symbolically, if not literally, in touch with their spirits.
For those who are interested in further information about the town, people, and activities of Lily Dale, journalist Christine Wicker has written an entertaining and enlightening nonfiction book on the subject.
A catalogue can be ordered by calling 716-595-8721 or by writing to:
Lily Dale Assembly
5 Melrose Park, PO Box 248,
Lily Dale, New York 14752-0248.
You might also want to check the town’s web site for information at www.lilydaleassembly.org
Barbara Weisberg is the author of Talking to the Dead: Kate and Maggie Fox and the Rise of Spiritualism (Harper San Francisco).>