Lily Dale, N.Y.: A Spiritual Retreat

ByCarolyn Thompson

L I L Y   D A L E, N.Y., Aug. 21, 2000 -- Maybe it’s the drive, past farms andalong the wooded shores of a quiet lake. Or maybe it’s passingthrough a gate into a cozy community of 19th Centurygingerbread-like houses and streets not widened since their horseand buggy beginnings.

Whatever the reason, the first moments at the Lily Dale Assemblyelicit a distinct sense of tranquility, a feeling continuouslynurtured through the course of a visit.

Calling itself the “world’s largest Spiritualist community,”Lily Dale and its year-round and seasonal residents invite visitorsto renew body and spirit. That could involve meditating at anancient tree stump deep in a virgin forest, taking part in a“thought exchange,” or walking a shrubbery labyrinth — a one-pathmaze — while contemplating life’s challenges.

Communing With the Spiritual World

For many of the 22,000 to 25,000 who pass through the gates eachyear, it means meeting with one of the assembly’s three dozenregistered “mediums” — people who claim to commune with thespirit world — in hopes of receiving a message or guidance from aloved one who has died.

But, “It is not a psychic fair,” cautions historian JoyceLaJudice, who stresses Lily Dale residents are serious aboutprivately practicing the religion of Spiritualism. “We are nothere for entertainment.”

Being a believer is not a requirement to wander the grounds,browse the bookstores or attend free daily meditation and healingservices and clairvoyance demonstrations by resident and visitingmediums.

Now in its 121st season, summer is Lily Dale’s busy season, withworkshops, services and lectures on topics ranging from past-liferegression to yoga scheduled every day through Sept. 3. Servicesare held on a more limited basis year-round and Lily Dale’s residentmediums continue to offer readings.

The Marion Skidmore library is stocked with hundreds of booksdevoted to healing, mediumship, transpersonal pyschology andspirital development and gift stores stock crystals, clothing,herbs and jewelry.

Lily Dale Assembly, named for the abundance of lilies floweringon Cassadaga Lake on which it sits, has its roots in a group ofSpiritualists who met regulary in the mid-1800s to discuss theirbeliefs and practice their healting and mediumship. The firstspeaker at Lily Dale was suffragette Elizabeth Lowe Watson, who wasfollowed by peers including Susan B. Anthony, as the gatheringplace about 55 miles southwest of Buffalo became a stronghold forthe suffrage movement.

Today, visitors come for a variety of reasons.

Peace in the New Millennium

“To get away and find peace and connect with yourself,” saidJackie Laird of Pittsburgh as she walked the wooded grounds.

Beverly Burdick-Carey, one of 15 mediums who live permanently atLily Dale, is one of several people who noted a shift toward asearch for something beyond material worth.

“More and more people who are coming to see a medium are comingfor spiritual purposes,” Burdick-Carey said, “not only whetherthey should marry Joe or Bill or if they should buy a blue or greencar. They want to know about their spirituality; what they can doto upflift their spirituality.

“This really became noticeable last year. There’s a definitechange in society,” she said.

Laird, who was making her second visit to Lily Dale, agreed andsaid the lectures and lessons help teach people to find “innerpeace.”

“I think people are searching and it’s a good thing,” shesaid. “I think we went to one extreme and had to find out who wereally are.”

Burdick-Carey and the assembly’s other mediums know there aremore than a few who doubt their abilities — and the mission of LilyDale in general. They welcome the challenges.

“People can be extremely skeptical and I have no problem withthat,” Burdick-Carey said. “I won’t accept something I haven’tresearched.”

But, “This place radiates peace, love and a gentle, healingenergy,” she said, “and everyone feels these things.”

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