We've been attending seances at Temple Heights in Northport, Maine for several years now, ever since we went there on a sad, solitary holiday in July of 2008 and realized that Maine's oldest and most famous spiritualist camp was everything we had ever wanted or needed in a "holiday retreat" within walking distance of the ocean (literally a one minute hike, even less if you run) and in close proximity to what has become our favourite Mexican restaurants in coastal Maine.
Now, I realize that this is a post about a seance, but in order to paint an accurate picture of this particular seance, we have to begin with our visit to the orange stucco paradise that is Dos Amigos. The first time we went there was with our family, years ago, and we had no idea that Temple Heights was only a few miles farther down the road or what awaited us once we discovered it. But we fell in love with Dos Amigos immediately. It exemplifies nearly everything we love in a Mexican eatery. It definitely draws its share of summer tourists, but the place has a neighborhood pub feel. A neighborhood pub with the sort of cheesy panache that is always one step ahead of the customer, welcoming them into a cool, dark space decorated with (what else?) sombreros of various colors and sizes, Mexican beer posters, and the odd Dia de los Muertos artifact adorning a shelf or a section of wall. And Dos Amigos might well be just another cliche Mexican restaurant if it weren't for the fact that it's owned by an Eucordorian family, who not only take turns waiting tables, but who also make their presence known through a pastiche of family photographs inserted into the menus. The personal connection dispels the cheesiness of the decor and turns it into a celebration of kitsch. It's the same thing that saves my pink plastic lawn flamingos from looking pathetic sitting in flower boxes on my porch. To put pink plastic flamingos on one's lawn or porch as a means of visual improvement is sad. To put them there because one knows they're kistchy and camp and wants to have fun with it is another thing entirely. And then there's the food....
|Say ole for chicken mole!|
|All it takes is one of these|
For me, dinner and conversation has always been a favorite past time. In the past couple of years, the occupation's lost a little of its appeal due to depression over my divorce (although I can't say that I'm completely unhappy over the correlating loss of weight), but I still equate my visits to TH with the preliminary visit to Dos Amigos. K and I discussed what we hoped to get out of the evening, our desire to connect with certain spirits, and our reservations concerning certain aspects of spiritualism. For instance, we've both had a couple of interesting experiences with table tipping, but are not completely convinced that all of our experiences were 100 percent genuine. K thinks that there's too much room for manipulation by the medium.That even the most honest of mediums might be inadvertently influencing the situation by applying physical weight to the table, causing it to tip or rock when it would otherwise have remained stationary.
|Temple Heights in Northport, Maine|
"We felt the usual butterflies as we drove up the steep incline and parked outside the main building which is known as the Nicowa Lodge. That's where the seances take place and where people sleep in simple, wooden floored rooms supplied with only the most necessary of accourtements: a bed, a dresser, a chair and a picture or two. The rooms at TH cost $25 for a single, $35 for a double or more, and one needn't even utilize the other services at TH in order to stay in them. Best kept secret in the area. But we can't imagine staying at TH without being seduced by the allure of interacting with the spirits. As K said, it would be like going to Greece and not drinking Ouzo or visiting the Parthenon.
|One of the feral bunnies who roam the grounds at TH|
So we parked and headed inside, remarking on the presence of the feral rabbits who populate the grounds outside Nicowa Lodge. There didn't seem to be as many as the last time we had been there, but there were still a few hopping around among the shadows. The tiger lilies were well past their prime, of course, and those that were still extant had closed their petals for the night. But having come so late in the summer through no fault of our own, we appreciated even these few leftover crumbs of high summer. Inside the lodge we were greeted with a warmth befitting long lost relatives, our welcome including a few minutes at "the table" where guests congregate before and after seances, classes, and private readings, sharing experiences and ideas pertaining to both shared and disparate belief systems. Tonight's gathering was the usual mixture of experienced seance goers, hardcore spiritualists, and a few first timers who were just there to "check it out." One woman, whose neat, crisp ensemble of pink plaid blouse, relaxed fit jeans and green Crocs stood out against the prevailing uniform of long skirt, scarf and stones on chains which doubled as dowsing pendants, voiced her hope that she would be able to connect with her deceased Jack Russell terrier, who had been run over by a car when he ran into the road after getting loose while she was at work a few weeks before.
"My kids left the gate open and that was it," she said, when pressed for details. "I got home right after it happened, just in time to see him lying there with his head crushed. I can't get the image out of my head. It just seems to haunt me. But I don't know. Do spirits of animals ever come through?"
|The church at Temple Heights overlooks the ocean|
"Of course they do, dear," she said. "They communicate just like the spirits of people do. I get messages from my Siamese cat, Lucy Bell all the time. You just have to ask them to come, and they will."
"But animals can't talk," the woman pointed out. "How can they give messages?"
The others at the table exchanged looks and smiled knowingly.
"It's different when they're in spirit," Roberta explained. "They don't use actual language. They communicate through pictures and images. The medium just translates what he or she is given."
|Harrison D. Barrett, founder of the Spiritualist Church in Maine|
"I'd rather hear from my dead pets than some of my dead relatives," K replied in similar sotto voce. "I'm going to concentrate on my cat Poppy and ask her to come through. I've always felt guilty that we had her put to sleep just because my father didn't want to pay for an operation. I mean, what's $10,000 when you love an animal?"
We held our tongue, not sure that she would like our answer.
Those of us at the table were still discussing pets and the afterlife when we were finally called into the seance room. We find the seance room at TH a thrilling space, no matter how many times we enter its dim-lit confines punctuated by an old piano in one corner, plastic sunflowers in vases, and a painting of Nicowa on the far wall. Nicowa is the prevailing spirit at TH, purportedly a Native American who died several hundred years ago and who has assumed guardianship of the lodge and the gatherings which take place there.
|Sunflowers are the official symbol of Spiritualism|
|Nicowa, the guardian spirit of Temple Heights|
TH itself is over a hundred years old, having started out as a campground during the 1860s, a northeastern Mecca which drew spiritual seekers from all over the world. The imprint of their energy still seems to hover in the air inside the room, a palpable connection to the past and to the spiritualist belief that those who came before still interact with us in spirit form. As always when entering the seance room, my gaze was drawn to the sunflowers, the official symbol of spiritualism because as any old spiritualist will tell you, "they're the flowers that turn their heads to follow the sun." To some spiritualists, "sun" is a euphemism for "God." For others...for us...it's more a more oblique reference. But there's power in it. And we felt that power as we took our seat in the large circle of chairs arranged in the center of the room. Our heart was beating faster than before. It was the moment we had been waiting for all summer. We were back on the precipice of eternity.
To Be Continued....