To ghost along the border of spiritualism: my first visit to Lily Dale

Get ready for one long, in-depth analysis


So my visit to the mediums of Lily Dale was a learning experience, to say the least. I’m a lot calmer about the whole idea now, knowing what can be expected there.

I learned a LOT. It helped that, the entire time, I was thinking of it sort of like a field trip, like a class. Milk all you can from it and remember it, that sort of thing.

I’d done some research before leaving, so I knew that spiritualism was a religion. Upon arriving I had so many questions: they just weren’t written down. I legitimately had no idea what to be prepared for.

It turns out we were to wait in line for two hours before being admitted to Circles. I met Sarah’s grandparents: her grandmother is a medium, and apparently so was her great-grandmother. I also met two ladies staying with Sarah’s grandma; one was from Britain and the other from Rochester. Apparently they frequent Lily Dale as visitors over the summer.

My first impression of Lily Dale as a place was that it’s beautiful. Quaint little houses, brilliant greens of the trees. A kind of innate stillness and picturesque quality underscored by an air of mystery, of presence. It was just really pretty.

While waiting, I asked questions. At first it was tough to get going because hey, I’m not a journalist– I don’t really have an excuse to pry, and as silly as it may sound, I didn’t want to offend anyone. They take spirits and things very seriously there. But I am an obsessed academic and eventually found a manner in which to ask, without sounding like a putzkie.

Here’s a brief summary of some facts I garnered from a few who know a great deal about the facets of spiritualism. Bear in mind they’re just knowledge I’ve gathered, I don’t necessarily put stock in all of them. More on what I do put stock in will come later.

– Firstly, spiritualism is: a religion, a philosophy, and a science.
– Spiritualists worship one deity, one creator God, but acknowledge the existence of many spirits, floating around in the ether.
– Spiritualists believe that, just as in life, spirits can change for good or for bad on the other side as well.
– Ouija boards are a NO-NO: they let whatever’s chillin’ over there come visit, with no boundaries to keep the creepers back.
– According to spiritualists, we each have a group, a “band,” of spirit guides that accompany us as we grow. They can change depending on how we change or how we come to need them, but they are there to protect us from things like anxiety, imbalance, health problems, and, of course, evil.

And naturally there are other things, too, but those are the most prominent tidbits of insight I scrounged up.

Now for details on my own ten minutes with a medium:

We got into Circles the first round (there was a massive line). There were at least twenty mediums set up on the floor of the auditorium. Seating varied: some had four chairs around them, some five, and others six. We were taken to a medium named Bonnie White, an older lady with pale hair and grey eyes, dressed in black. She handed me a watch and said, say when it’s been seven minutes, then you get three minutes to ask questions. So I was the timer.

This is Bonnie White, the medium we met


She started with a prayer. We held hands and she asked the great spirit to bring a white light down around us, to protect us and bring us only good spirits.

I will say this, when I first entered and sat down I felt a great deal of energy, not my own. Around me, a warmth touching my skin, the right side of my neck. It was pleasant, not unnerving or weird. Just different. But it was something.

It turned cooler as the sitting went on.

She started with Sandy, Sarah’s mom. Spent a few seconds touching her hands, “connecting with her individually.” Then Ms. White proceeded to tell Sandy things that a stranger wouldn’t know.

It was hit and miss, with Sandy and with Sarah. She did “sense” that they were mother and daughter. She hit upon Sarah’s boundless energy and constant activity, as well as her interest in athletics and music. It seemed as though she faltered a bit, though: if she stumbled upon something correct, she would blather about it for a little before continuing on: to fill the time, is my guess.

When it was my turn, Sarah took the clock. Apparently she’s better at reading cell phones than hand-clocks, because she gave me twelve minutes instead of ten (love that girl).

It was weird, to say the least. Maybe I just use weird as a filler word because I don’t know what should really go there to describe it.

I was skeptical, but then I’m always skeptical. I tried to keep an open mind, though, for the sake of… I don’t know. For the sake of academia.

She didn’t connect me with anyone from the other side, though. I guess no grandfathers felt like chatting with me (don’t know how I feel about that). Potter must not have wanted to, either, but if she’s in spirit form she’d be bounding off and eating something instead of waiting for me to hold hands with some bad psychic.

Instead Ms. White told me I was artistic. This is when Sandy, Sarah, and I exchanged glances because she told me I had a “good” singing voice, but art and drawing and fashion design were where I was really suited. Fact: I only ever finger paint. I suck at drawing. Blatantly pathetic.

Oh, and I’m going to the Eastman School in a week, folks. I think they accept at most ten sopranos per freshman class?

Man, I hope they have an art program so I can switch my major (HA).

No, you do not 'bong' on this instrument... merde, some people.

She asked me if I played a stringed instrument (no way, Jose), then said she saw a piano-like thing, and what did I play? I told her the xylophone, and she replied, and I quote “Don’t you bong on those?”

Oh, geez. If I wasn’t so curious I would’ve put my head in my hands, a mercy, please gesture before she could say anything similarly silly.

Then, a little later, she spoke directly to me. Earlier, when speaking to Sarah and her mother, and at the start of my reading, she was kind of speaking in show to the group. Now she was entirely focused on me. She began to get agitated. Grey eyes under bristling pale brows tried to connect with mine, fervently almost.

And this is as close as I can remember, it could be a little out of order but this is the gist:

“You’re very sensitive, I’m getting an image of a heart. You know what people are thinking, you’re very intuitive. This is hard for you. You know what people think and you’re right, but it’s hard to know it.

You’re very accurate, perceptive. You arrive at conclusions before everyone else, you’re quite quick. It’s sometimes hard, awkward really, for you to be there, but they’ll catch up. You get there differently, but you’re right. You are also on– what do you call it? Like, on the right note, you’re good at that. In tune. You know when you’re in tune or not.

But… you’re sad– anxious. There’s a spirit guide around you who just wants to calm you down. Do you have a lot of stress, relating to making choices? It’s difficult for you to know you’re path. Did you have a lot of stress recently about college?

But you can follow your intuition. You’re right when you do. When you see a light around a decision, take it, you know it’s right.”

And then she became the most lively she’d been:

“I– I just get this sense– I just really want to comfort you. Don’t be sad, okay? No one wants you to be sad. It will all work out. Your life is just beginning now. It will be an entire change for you, but it’s just starting. Just don’t be sad. You’ll grow from it.”

Later as she said the closing prayer it was as if she was trying to talk straight to me. “Let us be comforted and feel safe and grow and learn from new beginnings, wherever they may be and wherever they may take us.”

That was the weird part for me, when she started talking about being sad. I never mention that to anyone. Ever. She told me that the spirits “wanted me to” march forward with my head up. You know, be confident and all that jazz. She made a cringing motion when she tried to illustrate what they didn’t want me to do. They didn’t want me to enter this new chapter of my life weak and scared. They want me to go kick ass, apparently.

In Sarah, her mother, and her grandmother’s opinions, this lady sucked. I’m not saying she was legit, because I gathered she made stuff up to fill time. I’m not a fool.

But the part about being sad? It’s cute, I guess, that there are floaty guys that want me to not be sad. No one else would know that. In fact I try my damnedest so no one does.

When I got home, I rehashed it all with my mother and sister. My mother’s not “into” it, per se, but she’s aware of the fact that we’re not without ectoplasmic friends.

My mother has had contact with a “spirit world” before, and I’ve talked to people who have had legitimate touches with the other side. In the case of my mom, she didn’t ask for it, didn’t want it. “I never liked spooks.”

But she’s had vivid dreams, in which dead relatives have been with her, spoken to her. She doesn’t normally dream at all. Yet, she’s done a walk-through of her grandparents’ home in her sleep, where she saw things she wouldn’t have drummed up in her subconscious by herself (her memory is awful). She’s ridden in the car with her uncle on the night he died, from her sleep. And she’s had a conversation with a member of my father’s family that she’d never met: when she woke and described her, it was exact.

She’s been to see a medium twice in her life. She said the first time was out of spite, when she was in college. Her father died in an accident when she was in her early teens, and this was a personal visit for her. She was angry with him, and with the medium, for reasons I won’t discuss.

The second time, she said the best part was the dog the lady owned.

Schnauzer (not necessarily the type of dog the medium owned)

She did tell me, very seriously, that psychics and whatever were for entertainment purposes only. And I get that completely, because if you don’t know who you are or where you are in life, it’s highly possible to be duped and tricked. Personally I know that if I spent time trying to puzzle out the mysteries of the ether, I’d go stark-raving. But I’d like to have a professional reading done, for the hell of it. Just because I’m curious. I feel that I’m like my mother: I’d be able to go and keep a level, cool, head. Without putting my faith where it shouldn’t go.

I’m not buying into spiritualist rituals and all of their theories. But I’m a firm believer that there are things out there– call them what you will– and that they come in shades of good and bad. Where some would touch their relatives or friends with love, others would seek to harm. Whether we become these things after death isn’t up to me to figure out. I’ll gladly pass that decision on.

In addition, I know there are, because I’ve felt them. This is what I asked Sarah’s mom, a practicing spiritualist, about. I know when I was younger, and even recently, I’d be praying alone, just trying to have a conversation with God, and feel a little niggling worry, an unease. A lurking, creeping fear. I used to feel it a lot when I was eleven, twelve. I would get scared and start praying hard. Just curl up in my bed, jostled from my thoughts, praying like the dickens for it to go away, for God to protect me.

Sarah’s mom’s take on what to do was similar to my actions. She acknowledged that there were spirits who might try to bust in while I’m praying; she said the spiritualist action would be to say “God bless you, but leave me alone in peace,” and to always ask for “the best and the highest” spirit when praying. And something about asking for a white light.

See, I always just start going when praying, you know? Just, “Hey, so God:” and go from there. But it’s interesting to think that when I’m talking to him, there are eavesdroppers… some benign and some not-so. At least I can tell them to hit the road because it’s a private convo and know I’m not being a neurotic paranoid.

Sarah’s mom also told me something else. Let me just say right now that at no point was she ever trying to sell me her religion. She was just informing me about it, which was cool, because I wanted to know.

The board outside a spiritualist church

She told me that spiritualism wasn’t a mainline religion and that she was raised with a Lutheran background so she’d have something steady, then made her own choice to become a spiritualist when she was old enough to learn about it on her own. A remarkable statement I recall, though, was: “At the end of the day, I don’t think it matters necessarily what we call the one we worship, because it’s probably the same guy anyway. Allah, God, the great spirit, the Creator– probably all the same. It’s what you do in this life that matters– whether you use your life for good or for evil, what you do with it. How you love.”

It reminded me a little of Brendan, and even of my own conclusions relating to religion and love. Just love with all you have and learn everything you can. Keep an open mind and an accepting heart and you’ll be okay.

And so yeah. I’ll wrap this summary up with what my mother told me after I got back home and recounted to her the events of the evening.

“You’ve been raised with a strong faith. You have a strong faith. Don’t waste your brilliant* brain cells trying to figure out things about spooks. Know that there’s good and bad in this world, around us all the time, and that there’s God. The rest you can come up with yourself, but always remember those basics. And now I’m going to smoke and go to bed.”

*Not saying I’m brilliant here. Just quoting my mother, who is probably obligated by law or something to say that.

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2 responses

  1. There are good mediums who have bad days and bad mediums who have good days. Monday Circles can be a very difficult place to give a good, quick reading. I mean, just look around you and see all the different energies and individuals there. If you’re close by us, I suggest coming back for a Sunday service when they are doing mini-readings. You may have a better experience.

  2. You’re so right; even now I can still feel the weird vibes going on in there. It was unsettling but the fact that I thought I could feel the energies was really cool. And maybe the medium we saw didn’t want to be there or work under pressure in such a short amount of time. Who knows.

    I plan on getting an actual reading done at some point. Maybe when I’m out of college or some summer. I find it really interesting, if not something I want to spend a huge chunk of my life thinking about.

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