You probably don’t go to Cassadaga, Florida unless you are interested in, or curious about, spiritualism. And if you are curious or interested, you are probably going to get some kind of psychic reading while you’re there. If you don’t, it seems like you’ve kind of missed the point.
I didn’t miss the point. I got a reading at the hotel, from a woman named Aylah. I’m not going to go into the content, because for most of you that would be boring (and self-centered on my part); and besides, the most interesting part of a reading is the process.
I should note that, by using a hotel psychic instead of signing up for a reading across the street at the camp office, I was not guaranteeing myself a certified medium. (Aylah didn’t consider herself a medium at all.) The Spiritualist Camp Association certifies everyone who gives readings for them. Mine was a non-certified reading, but as of this date I have suffered no ill effects so I think it’s okay.
I chose Aylah from a slate of readers who were available that day. I screened out a number of others for arbitrary reasons. I skipped the guy who channels. One reader specialized in relationships. That is a broad category, I’ll admit, but I don’t have any concern about the primary relationships in my life, and that seemed like a waste of money. I can’t remember now if Aylah said on her write-up that she used cards, but if she did I didn’t remember it.
For the most part, the mediums work out of dedicated rooms in the hotel. The exception is the Saturday “table readings,” ten-minute readings that are done next to the coffee bar. It’s a semi-public place and didn’t seem all that appealing, but lots of the day-trippers who come there on the weekends get them. For my longer and more expensive reading (remember this is a living for some of these folks,) Aylah used a room around the corner from mine. The window faced west but there were sheer curtains drawn over it. She had two floor lamps and never did turn on the lights in the ceiling fan. The north wall had shelves that were covered with statues and figures; angels, Buddha, QuanYin, Ganesh, St Francis, Jesus, Mary, a couple of green men, a couple of fairy statues. The shelf was twined with twinkle lights and several statues had electric tealights in front of them. The soft lights were very pleasant. The closet wall and the wall behind me were draped with painted silk hangings.
Aylah had about four decks of fortune telling cards on the round table in front of me, and another five or six carefully arranged on a small side table behind her. Watching her work was kind of like watching a carpenter or a watchmaker; every tool for every specific purpose in its place. She would share an insight with me and then say, “Let’s see what the [deck name] has to offer us about that,” and spread those cards out for me to choose either one or three. She would use those to amplify the first observation.
I consider myself an open-minded skeptic, but Aylah won me over as soon as I sat down and saw that she had the Steampunk Deck on the table. I love the Steampunk Deck, and it’s a source of writing inspiration for me. I had never seen it used for divination and I said that. Aylah said she loved the artist’s art. When she gave me the deck to cut, the cards were smooth and worn. She’s used that deck a lot.
She had me pick three cards to start us off. She used the angel deck and something like the New World deck for follow-up. Usually, she would spread the cards out in a big face-down puddle on the table and I would choose three, so I don’t see how she could be forcing a choice (which is a stage magic technique). Once or twice she had me only choose one card.
One of the Steampunk cards that came up was the Two of Pentacles. “Any legal problems?” she said.
“Okay, well,” she glanced down at the card next to it, then looked up over my left shoulder. She tilted her head a little. “I just got… is there something with a contract?”
“Well, yes, actually,” I said, because I had just signed that contract for the novella – a novella, by the way, whose alternate world was inspired by the Steampunk Deck. I’m just saying.
When she asked me if I had any questions, I said that I wanted to know about her process. She seemed surprised. I asked if she saw entities or heard them. She said, “I don’t see spirits. If I saw spirits, I’d be a medium, and I’m not a medium. I’ve asked if I will be a medium and the answer is no. I hear them.” She said she has a partial hearing loss in her left ear, and that is where she usually hears the spirit voices.
Aylah comes from a family of women who gave readings; both her mother and grandmother did this. She is of Italian descent and I don’t know how she ended up in Cassadaga. She speaks Italian. I can tell you from the amount of running around she was doing on Saturday to find her clients that she is a popular draw at the place.
I wondered if cards appealed to Aylah because she doesn’t see spirits, or if she chose them for me in that particular reading because I was walking around with my camera. In the talk about spiritualism I attended on Saturday (my reading was Friday), Dawn said that certified mediumistic readers from the church do not use cards or read palms because they get guidance directly from spirit. Then she cleared her throat and said, “That doesn’t mean you’ll never find a deck of Tarot cards in a spiritualist’s house.”
On Sunday morning, I talked to a couple who had stayed over. Val, the man, had a table read that he felt missed completely. He’d been disappointed, but then had a strange experience in the woods later in the evening that freaked him out and totally “made up” for the reading.
The hotel (and the camp) both have fact sheets about readings, and both of them say, more or less, that if a reader isn’t hitting something with you pretty early on, let them know. “Spirit doesn’t always show up,” seemed to be the gist of it. If you felt nothing was hitting and you ended the reading they would find you another reader or refund your money. Both places said they were reluctant to do that if you went through an entire half hour and then said you weren’t satisfied.
Readings are expensive; sixty dollars for half an hour at the hotel. I budgeted for that. (I actually budgeted for two in case I wanted to compare, but the spirit photography tour on Saturday night gave me a good sample of spiritualist info and I didn’t feel like I needed a second reading.) If you go there, you should treat yourself to one. After all, if you went to a famous spa for the weekend you’d get a mani-pedi, right? It’s the same idea.