|By: Paul S. Cilwa||Viewed: 1/23/2021
|Topics/Keywords: #Metaphysics #Spiritualism||Page Views: 4014|
|My entry into the world of metaphysics.|
It was 1970; I was nineteen and had maintained a friendship with Don and Margaret Speck since my high school days. Margaret had been a waitress at the restaurant at which I had been a busboy, and her husband, Don, a night clerk at a local motel. However, he had once been a professional hypnotist and the three of us shared mutual interests in UFOs, ghosts, and reincarnation. In fact, it was Margaret who had recommended and loaned me the first books I'd read on Edgar Cayce: There Is A River by Thomas Sugrue, and Many Mansions by Gina Cerminara.
Don and Margaret decided to join the Spiritualist Church officially, and to that end moved to a "Spiritualist camp" in the central Florida town of Cassadaga. There they got a 99-year lease on a great, old house, and I visited them there several times.
Don was in training to become a Spiritualist healer, a person who uses the "laying on of hands" to effect physical cures of illnesses. He and Margaret introduced me to his mentor, an old woman by the name of Marguerite Card who lived across the unpaved street from them. Marguerite held classes every Tuesday night, and invited me to participate. Nothing whatsoever was said about money, and I took the invitation to be a social one. It was agreed I would return to Cassadaga on the following Tuesday.
When I arrived, I went first to Don and Margaret's, as I was to be their guest. The door was ajar, so I stepped inside but immediately I somehow knew something was wrong, even though the living room was empty. These days we'd call it "bad vibes" but then, all I knew was the tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Yet, neither Don nor Margaret, when they came in were dressed in their Sunday best, would say what the problem was. They told me to run ahead to Marguerite's, and they would be along shortly.
So, now I was uncomfortable for two reasons: One, I was going to present myself at this meeting without my hosts, and two, I was probably going to do so underdressed, in jeans and T-shirt.
There were perhaps twenty other attendees who had arrived ahead of me. Marguerite was not in sight, and everyone seemed to be upset. It seems that one of the other mediums (as a Spiritualist minister is called) had died that afternoon of cancer. His death had been sudden and unexpected. Most of the attendees had never known this guy, and it took me awhile to figure out why they were so upset. It was because his death had been unexpected. None of the other mediums had foreseen it! To me, this was like, So? But they felt betrayed by their gifts and their faith. They believed they should have had advance warning.
Meanwhile, while I was sensitive to their pain, I was also aware that this was not the source of tension in Don and Margaret's house. But I still didn't know what was.
Marguerite entered the enclosed porch where the chairs were arranged for the class, looking frail and distraught. Someone said that maybe we should cancel the evening's class. Someone else said maybe we shouldn't, as Bob, the deceased medium, might try to contact us. Marguerite announced the class would go on, and we all took seats in the circle of chairs.
We held hands and were just about to offer a prayer when Don and Margaret burst into the room. And they were angry.
"I am here to announce," said Don, dramatically, "that Marguerite…is a fraud!"
There were gasps among the students, and I tried to fall through my chair into the floor, hoping no one would remember I had introduced myself as a friend of Don and Margaret's.
"I gave her the $35 for my healer's diploma, and it never came," Don continued, as Margaret stood beside him, her eyes flashing fury. "So I started doing a little detective work. It seems that the head office never received the money, or even my application! Marguerite has embezzled our funds!"
There was a shocked silence, then one of the students said, "But…I got my diploma two weeks ago." Another agreed that she had, as well. Suddenly it was clear that everyone who had applied, had received his or her diploma, except for Don. Clearly his application had simply been lost in the mail.
But instead of apologizing, he and Margaret simply stomped out.
I stayed for two reasons. First, it would have been very embarrassing to claim now that I, who was sitting among them, was actually part of the Speck party; and second, to my mind, Don was in the wrong.
After a few moments spent calming Marguerite, we again held hands and Marguerite led a prayer that we be "surrounded by protective white light" and that our "spirit guides" would lead us to enlightenment.
Remember, I was unfamiliar with any of this. All I knew of Spiritualism was that my ancestry included Spiritualist relatives of whom my grandfather had poked fun. And, as the meeting progressed, I began to see why they were so easy to ridicule. At one point, the woman seated to my right began to arch her head 'way back. "I with all the little children!" she announced, her voice an octave higher than it had been.
"I'm getting a message from 'Beth'," another student suddenly declared. "Does anybody know a Beth?"
Well I did, but it seemed unlikely she would be sending messages to me in this manner, as she lived with my brother and their daughters outside of Chicago. But someone else said they knew a Beth, and the medium responded, "She says your grandmother will recover."
"My Aunt Beth was my grandmother's sister," the message recipient explained. "Grandmother was admitted to the hospital yesterday with pneumonia and she's in her eighties, so we've been very concerned. Thank you, Aunt Beth!" she called into the air.
These people said aloud any thought that entered their minds, I realized, without editing or concern for what anyone else might think. I found the idea at once appalling and appealing…but I didn't say so out loud.
However, with all that went on—alleged spontaneous astral projections, communications with all manner of deceased relatives, and apparitions that others claimed to see but I could not—not one word came from Bob. And this seemed odd to me, because it was clear to me that these people were engaged in their own wish-fulfilling fantasies—and since everyone wished for Bob to make an appearance, why wouldn't he?
Finally, about two hours after we began, Marguerite announced that we "may as well" close the meeting. Everyone knew what she meant: Bob wasn't going to contact us, after all…at least, not that evening.
Of course he isn't, I thought. He's dead. This only pointed out the wisdom of not waiting to tell people what you had to say until it was too late. Still…I felt really bad for Marguerite. I could tell she was a truly good person; even if she might be a little wacko, her heart was in the right place. I wished there was something I could do to make her feel better. We held hands, said a closing prayer, and people began to rise.
And then I thought of something, something so daring I could scarcely believe it was my own idea. If I were to say that Bob was giving me a message, I realized, no one would call me on it! —This was not like me. In high school, I was the kind of kid who would turn myself in for wrongdoing. And now I was about to lie, brazenly, in front of a couple dozen people.
But I couldn't stop myself. "Wait!" I cried. "I think I'm getting a message…from Bob!"
Everyone sat back down abruptly and stared at me with eager anticipation.
I had no idea what to say. I hadn't thought that far ahead. I considered saying, No, I guess not, but it was too late. I would have to make something up. "He says…he says he's all right," I said, adding to myself, He's dead—what else could go wrong? Everyone nodded. Obviously they expected more.
"He says…" and then a thought popped into my head and I used it, gratefully. "He says he understood he was about to make a mistake, but he changed his mind before he died." What?? Where did that come from? Fortunately, it sounded so vague that no one would have any idea what it was supposed to mean.
Except that Marguerite did. "Bob thought we should raise our rates for sťances," she explained, her eyes shining. "About half the mediums in Cassadaga agreed with him; the rest of us did not. After all this is a gift from God; it's not something we should profit from."
I heaved a sigh of relief. I had made it through my first faked message. But then an image popped into my head, a picture so clear and sharp that I blurted it out before I could stop myself. "I just saw a bow tie." I paused, and added, "That's odd."
Marguerite just smiled. "That's Bob's signature," she said. "He's worn a bow tie every day of his life, all the years I've known him. He even wore it while mowing his lawn!"
I was stunned. I hadn't known that. I couldn't have known that. I suddenly realized, I hadn't faked the message. Even though it felt like my own imagination, that must be what communication with the Beyond feels like.
I was so stunned I sat as everyone else left. Finally, I rose to bid goodbye to Marguerite. "You are probably wondering why Bob chose to pass his message through you," she said. I nodded and she smiled gently. "He knew this was new to you," she explained. "He knew he could convince you that all of this is real if you had the experience yourself. I do hope you will join us again next Tuesday."
I was young and between jobs. "I'm not sure if I can afford it," I replied.
"There's only a charge if you want a diploma from the Spiritualist Church," she said. "I, personally, don't charge money to help others use their gifts. After all, they're not my gifts. They're God's."
And so I went to Marguerite's every Tuesday for the next year or so. I never saw Don again. Eventually I heard that he and Margaret had divorced, and Don wouldn't come to his door when I tried to visit, claiming to "not remember" me. I did bump into Margaret once in Deland, where she had come out as a lesbian. We didn't speak of Marguerite.
But I've never forgotten the elderly medium. She died in the early '70s but, thanks to her training, she never seemed "dead" to me—just continuing in another place where she could continue to help others work with their gifts, without charge.