Peaceful. Tranquil. The words used to describe America’s prominent spiritualist communities are a lot like what you’d use to describe a day spa. And like a spa, these communities are a sort of haven — for followers and, today, curious travelers. They’re centered on the belief that a spirit continues to exist after a person’s death, and that they’d like to keep in contact with the living.
“Not a whole lot of them exist anymore,” paranormal investigator and travel writer Greg Newkirk says of spiritualist communities. “These are communities that are basically made up entirely of psychics, mediums and spiritualists. You can go and you can stay in one of their hotels, or some of them have bed-and-breakfasts."
The spots are interesting to visit whether or not someone shares the beliefs. Newkirk describes them as places to let your guard down and keep an open mind.
“You’re putting yourself in a very vulnerable state, and that creates strong bonds,” Newkirk says. “That’s why people go on any adventure. That’s why people go on, you know, international backpacking trips together. They want to have an adventure.”
If your interest in this kind of adventure is piqued, here’s what to keep in mind.
Where to stay
There are spiritualist communities around the world you can visit, but America’s most popular are Lily Dale, N.Y., and Cassadaga, Fla. Both were established in the 1800s during the religion’s peak time for membership growth.
The latter, nicknamed the “Psychic Capital of the World,” is a 57-acre camp established in 1874, 20 miles from Daytona Beach. Visitors here have the option of staying at the allegedly haunted Cassadaga Hotel, where guests are encouraged to bring their cameras to document spirit energies. Other lodging options include a few bed-and-breakfasts, including the Ann Stevens House and an inn called the Cabin on the Lake.
In Lily Dale, visitors can stay in the hamlet’s hotels or at RV and camp sites, and guesthouses like the Amber Tree Inn, a renovated 100-year-old property complete with a spiritualist library. Owner Frances Schatteman advises guests to embrace, upon arrival, the peaceful nature of her inn and the surrounding town.
“If you’re not used to slowing down, you’re going to have a hard time in Lily Dale,” the 10-year Lily Dale resident says. “It’s not the usual urban hustle-and-bustle thing.”
What to do
Lily Dale is a Victorian community that was built before cars took over America. Its narrow streets are walkable and charming; there is no traffic distracting you from admiring the rustic buildings. There’s a lake nearby where people can kayak or canoe.
Of course, there are also spiritualist activities to explore. Although spiritualists commune with the dead, don’t think of the place as a giant haunted house.
“We’re not like a ghost town; we do not have any of that,” Schatteman says. “We are about coming in, getting to know yourself, mediumship and connecting to the other side.”
Healing is a big selling point for Lily Dale visitors. “Usually when people think of healing, they think of physical issues. Healing is so much more than that,” says resident and registered medium Colleen Vanderzyden. “It’s mental, emotional, physical and also the spiritual.”
The community offers massage, acupuncture, yoga and qi gong, as well as shared experiences, like hands-on healing at church services and visits to the healing temple.
Seances are less of a focus in Lily Dale now that the practice has acquired a darker reputation.
“There are some people who do some [seances] in the area, but not at Lily Dale,” says Vanderzyden. “We never want to do anything that would lead anyone to think what we’re doing is not legitimate or truthful.”
The more common activity is visiting a medium in an attempt to connect with people on, as Schatteman described it, “the other side.” If you plan to visit one, book your appointment in advance. According to Schatteman, your chances of getting a reading if you walk in without a reservation are slim.
Cassadaga offers many of the same spiritualist draws as Lily Dale, plus more activities that appeal to those interested in the occult. You’ll find ads for mediums, psychics, and readings of tarot cards, crystal balls and palms all around this palm-tree-filled town.
You can walk through a fairy trail decorated with gnomes, have your astrology chart read, attend a seance and message circle, visit the Colby Memorial Temple for church services. Explore Cassadaga through a history walking tour or on its Encounter Spirit Night Tour to discover what are described as energy “hot spots.” Stop by C. Green’s Haunted History House & Museum to peruse odd and antique items, as well as allegedly “haunted” displays.
When to go
Sunday church services are one of the most notable activities in spiritualist communities. You may want to plan your visit around a weekend.
Lily Dale’s official season is from the second-to-last Friday in June through Labor Day weekend. During this time, visitors pay a $15 fee to enter the gated community and can then access activities around town at no charge. They can visit the Lily Dale healing temple for spiritual energy healing that takes place twice a day.
Entrance is free during the offseason, when there’s less programming and fewer businesses open. However, it’s still a great time to see the town, particularly in the fall when New York foliage is at its best.
There’s no set season at Cassadaga. You can find events in town year-round on the Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp Meeting Association website.
No matter which spiritualist camp you choose or what time of year you go, locals encourage visitors to leave expectations at home.
“I would tell [newcomers] to be open to the experience, to be curious,” says Vanderzyden, the medium in Lily Dale. “The goal is to leave feeling inspired and connected and healed."