Growing interest in spiritual alliance
Wednesday, August 7, 2002 -- (LAKE PLEASANT AP) - Night is settling over Lake Pleasant, and the only light inside the old print shop next to the reservoir comes creeping from the disappearing sun and a thick candle flickering at the center of a circle of 19 people.
The Rev. Ralph Bond has just declared the door to the spirit world open, and it's quiet.
Until the spirits arrive.
It's the weekly psychic development circle at the National Spiritual Alliance temple, and Bond and other mediums start delivering messages they say come from "the other side."
"I'm getting an image of a black cat in a small pantry trying to catch a mouse," the Rev. Betsy Newton tells a woman sitting in the circle. "Does that make any sense to you?"
The woman gives a disappointed smile and tilts her head to the side.
"No," she says.
Whether Newton saw an actual apparition or just a figment of her imagination doesn't seem to be an issue among those attending the Tuesday night circle. Leaders of the psychic movement, which once flourished in this tiny Franklin County village, say interest in contacting guardian angels and other spirits who have "crossed over" is resurrecting - especially since Sept. 11.
"We've seen a big jump in attendance since then," said Cori Lovering, another minister ordained by The National Spiritual Alliance, and the group's president.
The alliance has 60 members, and Lovering said even more people are exploring spiritualism at the group's Sunday services, monthly psychic fairs and weekday classes that teach channeling, exploring past lives and hands-on healing.
"People need something to cling to and something to get them through hard times," Lovering said. "Our beliefs can be very comforting."
For the uninitiated, some of those beliefs may not be too far-fetched.
"Spiritualism is a science, a philosophy and a religion of continuous life," Lovering said. "You can relate it to Baha'i, Universalism and Native Americanism. They all teach there is a life after life. We believe that you can communicate with those who have passed on."
The mediums say the messages they receive are sometimes as obvious as a departed loved one trying to comfort a living relative, or as convoluted as an image of a bottle of olive oil embroidered with someone's initials.
Lovering says just about anybody can communicate with a spirit. For those who want to hone the talent, The National Spiritual Alliance holds a training and certification course.
"I've always felt this energy that I pick up on but nobody else ever sees," said Barbara Taylor, a 34-year-old Shutesbury homemaker who attended a recent psychic development circle but left without contacting a spirit. "I'm coming here to get a better understanding of what I'm sensing."
Lake Pleasant, the smallest of Montague's five villages with 75 homes and about 300 souls, has been a mecca for psychics since 1874, when the New England Spiritualist Campmeeting Association formed.
The village was already a resort community known for huge summertime parties at the lake. But spiritualism soon became Lake Pleasant's claim to fame, drawing thousands of psychics, mediums and fortunetellers from around the world to the tent lots and cottages that surrounded the lake and dotted the village's narrow streets.
But a rift grew within the campmeeting association over reincarnation.
In 1913, those who believed in reincarnation broke away and founded The National Spiritual Alliance. Their temple, which is still used today, is a former printing plant for spiritualist publications.
The infighting, combined with the Great Depression, a fire that destroyed about 100 cottages and the state's closure of the lake for a water supply, ended Lake Pleasant's role as a summer resort by the early 1930s.
Membership in both spiritualist groups declined, and the campmeeting association finally disbanded in the 1970s.
But The National Spiritual Alliance kept its core followers, and leaders say hundreds still come to the group's events every year.
"We're open-minded, we're tolerant of everybody and we invite people of every religion and every walk of life," Lovering said. "Today, I think that's very attractive to a lot of people who just want to be part of an open, peaceful group."
But being an open psychic among friends, co-workers and family members sometimes leads to strange looks and shrugs of disbelief. Believers say the weekly psychic development circles and Sunday services give them a place of comfort and acceptance.
"I've had psychic powers since birth," said Mary-Ann Fuller, 49, from Greenfield. "A lot of people think you're a nut case when you have the ability, and mainstream religions told me it's evil. But here, you're encouraged to use your gift."
Pat Ludwaczak has been committed to channeling since her daughter died about a year ago.
"I can channel and talk to people who have passed," said Ludwaczak, 55, a home health aid from Deerfield. "Some of the spirits are very timid. Others are forceful. Sometimes they don't want you there."
So how does one go about channeling?
"It's an exercise in getting out of the way so the spirit can come through," said Brian McCullaugh, a 46-year-old professional Roy Orbison impersonator who says he's been psychic since childhood.
But McCullaugh says he can't always pick who and when he channels.
"There have been times when I remember being in the wings before I went on stage, and I remember meeting people after the show, but I don't remember the show itself," he said. "I don't know if Roy Orbison was working through me, but he may have been."
©Copyright 2002, Daily Hampshire Gazette