Going Places: What happens in a seance in Cassadaga

Our writer visits the town famous for its psychics and mediums

BY October 28, 2015

As I checked into my hotel in Cassadaga, just north of Orlando, the woman behind the desk handed me my key and asked, “Do you want to come to the séance tonight?” If you’re going to visit a town famous for its psychics and mediums, you might as well go for the full experience.

“Sign me up,” I said.

Originally founded in the late 1800s, Cassadaga currently exists as an esoteric hub. On Saturdays and Sundays, spiritual seekers fill the town.

I dropped my bag off in my room and stepped onto the inn’s wraparound porch. Cassadaga has just a few streets lined with historic Florida homes, some with names like “Raven’s Lair.” Spanish moss hangs from old oak trees, and many of the yards are decorated with wind chimes and stone statues of angels. The atmosphere is hushed, even on busy weekends.

I crossed the street to the welcome center, which has a bookstore that sells candles, crystals and incense, plus books on topics like astrology and tarot. At the back of the store is a whiteboard that lists all the psychics and mediums available that day. A small disclaimer tacked to the wall beside the board suggests you use your intuition to choose. I read through the list of names and stopped at one halfway down. “Joy.” And beneath the name: Credit cards accepted. My intuition said, “This one.”

I scheduled an immediate appointment, but when I walked up the path to the white house with green shutters, I stopped when an Indian man opened the door.

“I’m looking for Joy,” I said.

“I’m Joy.”

“A man Joy?”

He smiled reassuringly. “You can blog about it.”

I followed him into a small room set with a wooden table and two chairs. Needlepoint pictures of kittens hung on the wall, and a line of crystals sat in the window. It was the sort of room you could imagine someone’s grandmother decorating, if that grandmother liked to cross-stitch and tell fortunes.

Joy, who is originally from Uttar Pradesh in northern India, began the reading right away. He told me some things that could have been good guesses—I’m a storyteller; I’m fascinated by the ocean—as well as details that felt specific to my life, including the image of a pearl diver and the sense that at one point I’d had to descend to the very bottom to resurface with something significant. Most importantly, what he said was encouraging. I left the house after the reading feeling buoyant and optimistic—not because he got everything right, although he did a very good job, but because he had given me exactly what I needed.

That evening, those of us signed up for the séance gathered in the hotel lobby. People talked excitedly and made jokes, laughing loudly, until the medium who would lead the séance came downstairs. Then all the chatter stopped. She was small, fine-boned, with blond hair and blue eyes that seemed to snap. We followed her to a small room upstairs, where she explained what would happen— “Nothing flying around the room”—and told us we’d each get a turn where we could invite someone from the other side in or we could ask a life question. When it was time to begin, the medium closed her eyes. The woman next to me went first and asked if she would ever reconcile with her brother.

“Yes, dear one,” the medium said in a voice unlike the one she had greeted us with. “And it will be before you’re both old.”

People requested to speak to mothers, fathers, friends. The messages they received were all hopeful and reassuring. One young couple wanted a blessing on their marriage from a deceased grandmother. Another young woman asked if she should change jobs. I was the last to go. When my turn came, I asked to speak to my husband, who died almost a decade ago.

“He’s here, dear one,” the medium said. “He’s kneeling in front of you, and he wants you to know how very honored he felt to be your husband.”

I wanted to be skeptical about the experience—I still do—but it was exactly the sort of thing my husband would have said.

The next morning, I bumped into one of the women from the séance in the hotel lobby.

“I was surprised at how therapeutic it was,” she said. “I felt so much better afterward.”

“Me, too,” I told her.

People debate whether places like Cassadaga offer something real or if it’s all just a hoax. But I wonder: If the experience leaves us uplifted, does it matter?

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