What does it mean to believe in something? Does it mean you have a faith in something so strongly that your confidence that it exists is incontestable? Or is it more a feeling that one feels a thing should be true so therefore they believe? Are there varying degrees of belief? Where does one draw the line between the reality that they know exists and the belief that they “know” exists?
These are some of the questions I found myself thinking about as I walked around the small town of Cassadaga on a recent Tuesday afternoon, a Spiritualist Camp where mediums are a dime a dozen and fairies are said to roam the forests.
Cassadaga’s origins go all the way back to 1875 when spiritualist George Colby fulfilled a prophecy by finding the land and homesteading upon it. Later, he and some other spiritualist friends started a winter retreat where other like minded believers could escape the clutches of the northern blizzards. Ever since then, so called mediums and spiritualists have operated a small community right outside of Orlando, where getting a tarot card reading is easier than finding a place to grab lunch.
Which brings me to my original questions. How much of this stuff do these people actually believe?
I crossed the empty streets to the local park where tales of enchanted forests and fairy trails greeted me. Pastel colored fake flowers hung from the trees, faded from the humidity that comes with a Florida summer. Old toys and beads littered the ground, left out for the fairies to play with. Hand drawn signs, painted in neon colors, told stories of small creatures that lived in the trees and enchanted the nights when humans weren’t around to see.
It all seemed like a kids tale that was made up for fun. Something that was simply kept going for the tourist aspect of things. But then… if the roots go back to 1875, we have to at least think about the context of the original time period. 150 years ago, the existence of a spiritual realm seemed like a lot more of a sure thing.
This though, seemed like an old ladies art project that no one had put a stop to.
A group of garden gnomes mingled under a tree that looked as if it came from A Nightmare Before Christmas and I sat among them to ponder how many peoples beliefs were related to the belief that held this spiritualist camp together. It seemed as if these mediums had tied up so much of their identity with this image of artsy fartsy fairy, that it had all become one in the same.
Believe declared the ornament hanging from the tree. But should we? Dogma seems to be taking over all corners of the world these days and even the areas one would think would be free of it are being tainted. It is starting to seem that the smarter course of action is to not believe. To expect everything to be wrong until it is mapped precisely.
If there is one thing we can believe in, it is the fallibility of the human species. Keeping that in the forefront of our minds would seem to do us all quite a lot of good.
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