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Published: Wednesday, 12/3/2008

Exploration takes a spiritual turn

CASSADAGA, Fla. - One of the best places to gather ideas when you are traveling is at the motel breakfast room where folks gather for what is referred to as a complimentary meal. All you have to do is say, "I just don't know how I will spend today." Trust me, at least one person will quickly share an idea.

That's how I got to Cassadaga, 35 miles east of Orlando. My breakfast buddy said simply that it is a spiritual community.

That is accurate and more. It is the location of the 57-acre Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp Meeting Association and home to 55 mediums and perhaps more. I didn't know any more about their religion when I left than when I drove into the quaint village with old houses and hand-painted signs beckoning visitors to have readings. But I did spend three hours there and met some very interesting people.

The hotel in the camp only has food service on weekends, so I had time to wander around town until the hall in the welcome center opened at 1 p.m. That's when the readings are only $20 for 15 minutes; otherwise, mediums can charge what they wish. The usual price for an hour is $55.

Banners hanging from the hotel porch serve as a menu of the types of services offered in Cassadaga. Included are astrology, reiki master, hand writing analysis, and tarot card and psychic readings. Add to that the lady in the hotel gift shop who does acupuncture.

At 1 p.m. sharp I returned to the welcome center and walked into the large hall, where tables were set up and a curtain divider kept one end private. Three men and one women were at tables, on call, you might say. Phoebe was my $20 medium. She directed me to a table behind the divider curtain for the 15-minute session that began with prayer.

Whether or not I believe in this sort of religion isn't as important as two things that Phoebe said, always with her eyes closed and head bowed. One: I am exceptionally curious and have stacks of notes. Two: the spirit she contacted warned that I should be aware of a possible problem in my left leg between my knee and ankle.

Just then Pat Fordham placed a yellow card on the table that announced 2 minutes and Phoebe obediently wrapped it up, but we did chat for a while. She is 81, and her mother was also a medium. Phoebe said that anyone can be a medium. Not only do they believe they have special talents, they believe that we all do. The key is learning to embrace them.

Pat, office manager and activities director of the camp, explained that the community is a group of people with shared beliefs and that they welcome visits from the curious and skeptical as well as the believers. "Some people believe that we are witches and goblins, but ours is a religion," she emphasized.

Mediums, healers, and psychics are certified by the camp after they have completed rigorous training that may take years.

A drive-through on Spiritualist Street is past quaint cottages built in the 20s when the camp was more of a winter retreat than it is now. Sunday church services are held in Colby Memorial Temple where the pastor is the Rev. James Thomas, a former chiropractor in Los Angeles. He invited me for Thanksgiving dinner, but I had to decline because of family dinner plans.

The camp was founded in 1884 by George Colby, a member of a similar camp at Lily Dale, N.Y. It is designated as a historic district and is on the National Register of Historic Places.



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