Take a trip to Cassadaga, Florida’s portal to the other side.
Tucked away in between Daytona Beach and Orlando, just off of I-4, sits a sleepy little town of about 300 people. It was founded in the late 1800s by George Colby, who traveled to Central Florida—at the instruction of his spirit guide—to create a spiritualist center.
Past the surface of its old Florida charm, in the Victorian homes’ entryway reading rooms, there are spirits floating alongside psychics, being summoned out of those who come seeking them.
The Spiritualist Camp is a small community in itself, originally created as a winter haven for spiritualists, who were based in the northeast at the turn of the 20th century. The spiritualist religion is based upon the principle of continuous life as demonstrated through mediumship.
Since then, the camp has grown from a village of tents and bonfires to a fully self-sustaining town: a store of spiritual material, a hotel, a dining room and several little parks.
Tourists come from all over the country to seek counsel from psychic mediums, who are trained to turn their mind off and receive messages from their clients in the form of sounds, feelings, and images.
There’s no dogma in spiritualism—only nine principles that affirm belief in life after death, infinite intelligence and reformation. Each spiritualist has their own practice and interpretation of the principles.
Rev. Maeda Jones is a psychic medium and a teacher. She reads out of a unit in Harmony Hall, the oldest standing building within the camp. It’s a quaint little spot with minimal decor, donation boxes all along the periphery and a vague fragrance of cat litter. Jones runs a nonprofit serving the feral cats of Cassadaga to get them fixed and fed.
“I was born a medium. I always kind of knew I would do it, but I didn’t know how or when,” said Jones.
She was born into a family of mediumship. Her father’s grandmother and sister were mediums in the first half of the last century, and she had a spirit guide that she could hear from the time she was very young.
When Jones moved to Florida, she came to Cassadaga for a reading at her mother’s suggestion. That’s when she found out that the camp offered classes.
“All my life, I would get information, but it was arbitrary when it came. What classes teach you is to tune in when you want to get info and tune out when you don’t,” said Jones, “So coming down here, I was like, that’s how you do this, that’s how you hone your abilities. So that was my big ‘aha’, coming to Cassadaga. The more you practice, the better it gets.”
She continued her training at the Arthur Findlay College for Psychic Studies in England. Jones’s specialty is clairsentience, the ability to feel emotions that aren’t her own, and she frequently works with those in mourning to find the presence of their deceased loved ones.
One evening as I was walking along the streets of the camp, I spoke to a man who was standing outside of his front porch with a friend who had all kinds of stories for me. He seemed generally suspicious of me but took my card and allowed me a photograph.
“One thing I’ll tell you, though,” he said, “Stay away from the hotel. It’s all bullshit over there.”
Within the Spiritualist Camp, practitioners must be certified with at least four years of training before they’re allowed to read. The Cassadaga Hotel, however, is just outside of the camp’s boundaries, so it’s free from its rules—and vetting process.
It was too late, though. I was there the previous week.
I had booked the next available reading at the hotel with Lory May Alexander, who met me in the lobby 15 minutes late, wild-eyed, explaining to her client that they just keep getting more accurate. She sent him away with a blessing and walked me up to her reading room on the second floor.
It was beautifully furnished in an Oriental style, the ambiance was elevated-therapist’s-office. She had me plant my feet firmly on the floor and recite some invocations.
Before I pulled my first card, she looked over my left shoulder to the corner of the room.
“Oh my… this has never happened before,” she said.
I looked at her and looked back. “What is it?”
Alexander explained that one spirit guide, who was her younger sister in a past life, stood to her right when she worked with clients. This was the first time Petrafina had joined her for a reading. She was a gypsy relative from 150 years ago. The spirit said that I reminded her of herself when she was 19 and told her I was there for a reason that day.
Her method of divination is Gong Hee Fot Choy, an ancient Chinese method westernized by Margrete Ward in the 20th century. It uses playing cards on a spread of 28 keywords and symbols: a four-leaf clover for luck, a peacock feather for money. I split the deck a few times and recited some more invocations.
In between telling my future, she told her past. Alexander was a surgical nurse, then a hospital clown, before moving into the Cassadaga Hotel to do psychic work full time.
Though I never asked a question to start the reading off, it ended up being pretty relevant to what I went in there wondering about. Petrafina let me know that I should get a small dog to help with my discipline.
Perhaps George Colby came down and found a portal to the undead, or maybe it’s the nature of several dozen individuals communicating with infinite intelligence. Either way, the air in Cassadaga is still and energy seems to flow smoothly.
The camp offers historical tours, classes, message services and seances. Readings with psychic mediums can be booked by phone or at the welcome center.