My mother, if I haven’t already said, was a spiritual spelunker who believed in mediums, seances, angels, and the healing power of crystals. So a few months ago when I passed a sign for Cassadaga, a spiritualist camp founded in 1875, I decided to stop for a visit.

“Hey,” I thought. “If there’s anybody who’d want to talk to me after death, I’ll bet it’s her!”

I’ve been to Cassadaga before, though I’ve never gotten a reading. The place doesn’t seem to change: a lot of cottages from the 1920s with sun-bleached gardens and little signs in the windows identifying the mediums and healers living inside. There are chimes and dreamcatchers swaying in the breeze from roof eaves, and it all feels like a summer camp for psychics. Which is essentially what it is.

At the central welcome center and bookstore, there is a bulletin board with the mediums currently on call. They have business cards underneath with descriptions, and you’re encouraged to choose one based on your intuition. I chose a visiting medium whose own advertising copy mentioned that he’d been “praised for his accuracy.”

[I won’t identify him here because he was a very nice man — sincere, earnest, warm, and kind.]

I called the number on the board and arranged a reading in fifteen minutes after he finished his lunch. His office was in the back of a beautiful old building and it contained two chairs facing one another. He welcomed me kindly, and when I tried to say what I wanted, he cut me off and cried, “Don’t feed the medium! I don’t want to be influenced!”

Which was interesting.

My Visible Tells

For the sake of skepticism, here’s what I was wearing:

  • A t-shirt with the Commodore 64 logo on the front. If it hadn’t been such a snap decision to go, I would have changed to a more neutral shirt.
  • Blue jeans
  • Brooks running shoes
  • A digital watch
  • No jewelry
  • Horn-rimmed glasses

What He Knew About Me

  • My mother was a Spiritualist, though he cut me off before I could reveal anything else
  • My first name
  • Whatever he could discern from my voice or accent

How It Started

We sat in facing chairs and he took my hands to offer a prayer to a decidedly non-denominational spirit-force for help in reaching the truth. We then sat up and unclasped hands.

The first thing he said was, “I can immediately tell you have a great deal of healing power in you, someone who heals people with words.”

[Hmm. Are people healed by stories about Charles Manson, cursed toys, and Cthulhu? Hard to say.]

The second thing he said was, “I see a lot of people here, and they are holding a giant American flag.”

[Double hmm. My mother often cried during the national anthem at the Olympics, but I don’t think anybody has ever associated me with patriotism.]

He talked awhile about my “ministry,” which he hastened to point out wasn’t a literal one — just a vocation where I did good by communicating with others and looking more deeply into the universe. He said he saw a scientific curiosity in me that pursued the truth.

For the rest of the half hour, he did a lot of free-associating with a repeating refrain of, “I want to talk about…” though we never really paused to do so.

What He Said That Was Simply Weird

  • “You know a person with a daughter who drives recklessly and needs to be warned to be careful.” [No idea.]
  • A lot about spiritual truth-seeking that seemed to imply I should consider being a medium myself. [No thanks.]
  • “Your mother is spending a lot of time with her spiritualism mentor, a woman who in the 1950s was accused of faking her psychic gift but who was always the real thing.” [Mother never mentioned this person.]
  • “There’s a shorter, skinnier man here to see you who doesn’t seem to speak much English.” [At the time, I had no idea who this could be because I did not yet know that the short, skinny man I knew had passed away.]

What He Said That Was Way Wrong

  • “I see your mother is surrounded by children, lots of children.” [If he’d said dogs, I would have kicked my chair back and run away in terror. Children, though? Maybe if she was trying to get away.]

What He Said That Was Kind of Right

  • “There’s an older man here, a sexual harasser, a know-it-all, who wouldn’t approve of you being here.” [My father, perhaps, who apparently had nothing to say.]

What Happened at the End

At the end, he asked if I had any questions, and I said, “If I could ask my mother any one question, it would be what she’s learned where she is now.”

He nodded and said, “She’s disappointed that the people here aren’t as smart as she thought they would be.”

Which I have to admit is a pretty eerie summation of my mother’s reaction to most places and people, and perhaps not something intuitive to guess if all you knew was that she was a spiritual person.

What I Learned

Like my mother, I’m a little disappointed, though maybe that’s okay.

I’m not sure my stand on psychic phenomena is any different than it was when I arrived in Cassadaga. I was always honored that my mother would talk to me about it when she was alive, knowing I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand, but the best I can muster in the way of belief is that there are intuitive things that some people can perhaps perceive in others that takes on the appearance of insight.

I doubt (but hope) there is life after death, and I figured that if anybody would want to talk to me, it would be Mother. I’m not sure that she did, but I’m also not sure that the medium didn’t perceive something interesting and useful anyway.

I may not pursue it as often as she did, but every now and then I like to check in on the paranormal in case it surprises me.