In Lily Dale, New York, dying is merely a technicality

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Is it possible for the living to contact the dead? Capilano University psychologist Leonard George was determined to find out.

Lily Dale, N.Y.

The noted author and researcher travelled to upstate New York – to the global centre of Spiritualism, a religion that emerged in the 19th century and is based on the belief that humans can connect with the spirits of the deceased. …

There is a long history of spiritualism in Canada, the U.S., Britain and Russia. Canada’s longest-serving prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, owned a crystal ball and regularly travelled to Detroit to see a medium.

Other famous supporters of the kind of parapsychological phenomenon associated with spiritualism include writers Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Mark Twain, psychotherapists Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, scientists David Bohm and Thomas Edison, literary figures William Blake and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and philosopher William James.

For his journey deep into the parapsychological, George travelled to the small town of Lily Dale in New York State, near the Canadian border. “It’s the oldest and largest spiritualist community in the world.”

The region of upstate New York has been known since the early 1800s as a land of free speech, free love, women’s rights and, especially, free religious expression, George said. Lily Dale is not far from where Joseph Smith founded Mormonism in 1823. …

What did George end up discovering about modern-day spiritualism? The first thing he realized was that the New York spiritualists conveyed “100 per cent sincerity.” …

“It’s a religion. It’s the foundation of their lives,” he said. Their faith rejects the concept of hell and holds out the “wildly optimistic” belief that people who die will enter a blissful realm, like heaven, that they call Summerland. …

He has not adopted spiritualist metaphysics since his summer apprenticeship as a medium. And he did not come away feeling he had “scientific proof” humans can psychically connect with people, including beings in an afterlife.

But that doesn’t mean he is not open to the possibility. “There is an unseen reality,” George said confidently.

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