CASSADAGA, Fla.--Kit Hoffman-Dittner dabbed at her eyes with atissue as the tears started to fall. Her cousin Helen was telling her it was time to make a change in her life, and it wasn't easy to hear.

Helen recalled the time Kit fell off a horse at age 11, though thedetails were sketchy. Now, Helen saw her 48-year-old cousin's life at a crossroads of sorts.

It was almost as if Kit were on that horse again, but nervous about tearingout of the starting gate, Helen indicated.

But Helen was not in the room. She was "in spirit." She died years ago.

In this Central Florida hamlet, messages from people like Helen areentirely normal. In fact, they are what built this town and continue todraw curious pilgrims by the thousands each year.

A sign near the entrance to this 105-year-old village pretty muchsays it all: "Welcome to Cassadaga. Certified psychic mediums. 5 onduty."

Cassadaga is a community of Spiritualists, individuals who believe messages from the souls of the deceased are proof that life continues after physical death. Spiritualism is built on the belief that communication with the souls of the departed is not only possible but enriches the lives of those remaining on "the earth plane."

That's what drew Kit Hoffman-Dittner to the hamlet to "communicate" with a cousin she never actually new--at least on the earth plane.

The message about the horse stemmed from a childhoodincident when Hoffman-Dittner was thrown from a horse that galloped into aclothesline. Perhaps her continued fear of horses represented herhesitation in making a major life decision? she said.

Helen's message--translated through medium Nick Sourant--wasaccurate enough to make Hoffman-Dittner think that there just might be something to Spiritualism.

"I feel as though we all tap into that spirit source," she said."And (mediums) can tap into it in a different way, and when they do,they're tapping into my spirit. The spirit speaks to us so clearly, ifwe are open to hearing."

A walk through this 55-acre community nestled between Daytona Beachand Orlando is a stroll through Florida's past. Quaint Cracker homesfrom the 1920s dot the rolling hills and quiet streets of Cassadaga.Clumps of Spanish moss loiter in the branches of grand oak trees likeghostly apparitions of those "in spirit."

Most of the village is owned by the Southern Cassadaga SpiritualistCamp Meeting Association, a group of Spiritualists whose predecessorsfounded the camp in 1894 as a winter retreat for Northern mediums. Thegroup owns the land and allows only Spiritualists to live in Cassadagato maintain "the ecclesiastical integrity" of the area.

At the entrance to the camp sits the Cassadaga Hotel, housed in aold-style Florida building with the Lost in Time Cafe. Across the streetis the Andrew Jackson Davis Building, the group's social hall andmeeting facility. It houses the camp's bookstore and offices.

About 400 people call this small town home. It would be hard todistinguish a medium from anyone else in town, except for small signsthat swing gently from the mediums' porches. Few make the readings afull-time job, although at as much as $80 an hour it can be profitable.

Many are retired, but many others hold regular jobs. Steve Adkins,the group's current president, is a utility electrician in Orlando. "IfI had to rely on this for a living, I'd lose a lot of my love for it,"he said.

It's that love for the supernatural that draws most of the peoplehere. They say they failed to find the answers they were looking for intraditional religions, and Spiritualism was big enough for theirquestions, and sometimes their doubts.

They are people like Oy Geeringh, a Florida woman who stillcan't swim at age 41. Maybe her fear of swimming stems from a badexperience with water in a previous life? she thought. She came toCassadaga to find out.

Raised a Buddhist in Thailand, Geeringh said America's heavyChristian influence stifles alternative paths to God and discouragesasking questions. In Cassadaga, she said, there is a different spiritualenergy.

"For some reason this feels welcoming to me," Gerringh said as shecircumnavigated an American Indian medicine wheel laid out with stonesin a small park. "If we can remember what our past lives were, we canfix it so that the next life won't be so hard."

Past lives, mediums and crystals may sound like some ShirleyMacLaine New Age mantra, but Spiritualists insist they are anything butnew. After all, they've been doing this for more than 150 years.

Modern Spiritualism began in 1848 in upstate New York when twoteen-age sisters, Margaret and Kate Fox, claimed to communicate withunseen forces living in their house. Though initially rejected, thesisters gradually developed a following and incorporated their beliefsinto the doctrines of Spiritualism.

Spiritualists believe in a God, but not the God of Judeo-Christiantraditions. God is "Spirit," not a person or being, and can be differentfor each person. Jesus is not worshipped as divine but is respected as agreat prophet and teacher. Spiritualists do not believe in God as savioror redeemer.

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