CASSADAGA, Fla.—Yes, they can hold your hand and relay messages from loved ones who have “crossed over.” They can check the tarot deck and hint at future romance and riches. They can lull you into somnolence during a past life regression to discover who you might have been so very long ago, and they can lay healing hands on any number of afflicted body parts.
But don’t expect absolute or immediate answers from the dozens of mediums in and around the Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp Meeting Association when asked to call a winner in the 2012 campaign for the White House. In most cases, don’t expect answers at all, except from the most maverick of these psychics, who live and work some 120 miles northeast of Tampa, where the Republican National Convention is scheduled to kick off this week.
Wading into politics wouldn’t be good for the brand, intimated the Rev. Jerry Moore, president of the association’s board of trustees in an Aug. 9 e-mail to “All Camp Mediums” after several psychics were contacted by a reporter.
Though some Cassadaga psychics self-identify as clairvoyant (clear seeing, from the French), clairaudient (hearing), clairsentient (feeling or touching), clairalient (smelling), claircognizant (knowing) or clairgustant (tasting), Moore felt compelled to counsel pre-election discretion lest the media call the mediums “fortune tellers.”
“All of us can receive psychic impressions about which way the ‘wind is blowing’ right now,” Moore wrote in the e-mail before offering caveats worthy of a seasoned pollster. “But, as we all know, unanticipated events can change the outcome of such projections very quickly.”
Moore conceded in a phone interview that “people have a curiosity,” but emphasized that “it is not our place in normal circumstances to make predictions.”
Theoretically, his warning could cover any number of his colleagues’ psychic projections, be it a bon voyage destination and date sought by an anxious traveler or the tail-thumping woofing channeled from a dead Pomeranian to an inconsolable surviving master. But it is particularly pertinent when psychics in this biggest of swing states are accosted for their views as if they were New Hampshire factory workers or Iowa farmers during primary season.
It is also worth noting that this exercise in otherworldly political polling depends on where the Cassadaga psychics live. Those inside the 57-acre camp, established in 1894 as the winter home of spiritualists from the Upstate New York town of Lily Dale, must complete several years of study in assorted branches of mediumship before they are certified to work and live there.
Residents also agree that even if they buy a home in the camp — white frame structures that range from cozy cottages to grand Victorians on narrow roads that run past a temple, healing gardens and gazebos not far from Spirit Pond — they cannot own the land under those houses, which, said Moore, belongs to the association.
Moreover, they are expected to obey the rules of the tax-exempt association, touted as the “oldest active religious community” in the Southeast according to the one-dollar guide sold in the camp bookstore and at the quaint, independently owned Cassadaga Hotel, where guests can sit a spell in sturdy rockers on a wide veranda cooled by overhead fans.
On a torpid Sunday just eight days before the convention was to open, studious hotel visitors could celebrate “Embrace Your Fairy Day” with a $25 tarot reading class between psychic sessions.
Those plying their trade on the other side of two-lane Volusia County Road 4139 a scant 20 miles west of Daytona Beach, can sidestep the camp’s rules and requirements by simply declaring one or more psychic majors without benefit of formal study.
Those outside the camp are also free to discuss whatever they’d like, politics included. That said, only a handful of the unaffiliated chose to exercise their First Amendment rights.
“If that’s what you want to talk about, election stuff, forget it because I don’t like the people who are in there and my opinion doesn’t matter,” declared Birdie, just plain Birdie, no last name, thank you, a 20-year camp alumna who five years ago set up shop in a clapboard house and planted a big blue “Spiritual Gardens” sign on the expansive, tree-shaded lawn several miles from the Camp.
Absently shuffling a tarot deck as she sat in a small, sparsely furnished office, wearing a pink blouse and plum lipstick, Birdie dismissed Barack Obama, Mitt Romney and their operatives as “down and dirty. They lie and it’s terrible how they are bashing each other on TV.”
She pauses for a moment, emerging from negative darkness into the light of positivity. “I love what I do, and being able to help people. And you, you, you need to slow down, yes, slow down. You have too many things going on at once. Your father has passed, and he tells me to tell you to take care.”
Over at the Sixth Sense Spiritual Center across the street from the Camp entrance, British-born Anne-Marie, just Anne-Marie, a self-described untrained but “natural born” medium in practice since 1984, is happy to talk politics. Having become a U.S. citizen in 2009 (she’s a dual national), she will practice what she intuits come Nov. 6.
“I think the universe will give Obama a second chance. He has a sweet energy about him, but he does need to step up to the plate a little more, and stand up to his advisers. When he got elected, there was a huge shift in energy and people danced around the world, and yet it hasn’t turned out so well because he is trying to please everybody. He was trying to unite the country, but you have to lead.”
Her small reading room is decorated with sheer lavender curtains and a deep purple table cloth, hues associated with the spiritual, meditative and magical worlds, and, in Anne-Marie’s case, also provide a flattering contrast to her cascading blond hair and rosy English complexion. Sizing up Obama’s likely challenger, she said, “I am sure Mitt Romney is good for business” — not spiritual — “and is a very wholesome person.”
Next door, at the Cassadaga Spiritualist Psychic Therapy Center, the yard is furnished as if for a party. But with the ambient air feeling like simmering glop soup, no one is out there enjoying the pink plastic Adirondack chairs, stone Buddha, Mexican-style tin suns, a metal star, and on a less-celestial note, one small garden gnome.
The place is not without its quirky charm, especially a pastiche of 10 handmade signs that form the outer wall of a tiny front porch. One white plank with blue letters proclaims “Father Christopher Is In.” A black-stenciled yellow board announces “Kathy Is Here.”
That would be Kathy Herman, looking cool and crisp in tight white jeans, floral T-shirt and long, layered hair. Unlike Anne-Marie’s calming violet interior, Herman’s wood-paneled office is a jarring clutter of papers, electronics, statuary and cabinetry. Two black, high-back desk chairs, one for the medium, one for the client, offer a view of several sculptures of American Indians — “they are very open” — and a jolly, if incongruous red plastic Santa “because we think it’s Christmas every day.”
Herman practices psychometry, the gathering of information about objects or the people who own them, which she divines by holding that individual item in her manicured hands or placing it up against her cheek.
The most reliable item is the client’s cellphone, she said, because even when turned off, it can reveal hidden data. “Everyone’s life is in their phone: their love life, their secrets, their finances.”
Herman has no qualms about discussing this election four years after voting for Obama. “Psychically I believe it’s going to be Romney because things are changing in the world, people are starting to see there are financial issues coming up where before they just couldn’t care less.”
While Obama advocated for “underprivileged people,” she said, “the middle class who voted for him are feeling left out. Romney is appealing more to the middle class and giving them a sense that he will right things again.”
Herman made this prediction without benefit of either candidate’s cellphone.
Groer is a former Post staff writer who writes widely about politics, culture, design and 21st-century manners.