Travel

How a Florida Spiritualist Started Talking to Ghosts

Or as he would say: channels the other side.

Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist
Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist
Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist

Cassadaga curious? You’re not the only one. The quirky country town about an hour north of Orlando’s theme parks occupies just a few oak-lined lanes, but is home to the largest Spiritualist community in the Southern US: the Southern Cassadaga Spiritual Camp. The religion is comprised of believers who see mediumship as a way to channel those who have crossed to “the other side” as spirits.

We sat down with one of them, Richard Russell-a clairvoyant, clairsentient medium, and spiritual healer. He is one of the camp’s 37 official mediums and operates out of the historic home where he lives on Cassadaga’s main drag, Stevens Street.

Wondering how to get into the business of professionally communicating with the other side? Let’s just say it’s a journey. Read on for Richard’s. As told to Terry Ward.I was always very intuitive, very creative. But I never called it a spiritual gift in my younger years; I couldn’t tell you where it was coming from. When I came to Cassadaga in 1997 from Rochester, New York, my life had turned upside down. I lost a 30-year marriage and all my companies. It was a wakeup call that something had to change.

I’d been in the real estate industry and worked as a New York mortgage banker. I had 150 employees and 100 real estate agents working for me. I did that for 30 years and I was burnt out. I had the monkey brain, I couldn’t concentrate. I was always answering life’s questions through my ego brain and analytical side. I thought I had control of life, but I learned we aren’t really in control of anything.

Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist
Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist
Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist

In 1996, I went to a mystical church in New Jersey and heard a reference to Cassadaga. That’s how I first learned about this shabby town in Florida. So I came down to Florida for vacation the next year and arrived in Cassadaga on a Sunday morning, thinking I would get fixed and leave. It’s 25 years later, and I’m still here.I came as a Reiki master, thinking I would be a great healer. But they told me it’s spiritual healing they do here. I was interested. So I started taking classes at the Spiritualist Camp and studied for six years. I met a lot of great people who directed me. They were healers and teachers and mediums. By August of 2006, I was certified to be a spiritual healer; and by December, I was certified to be a spiritual medium.

Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist
Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist
Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist

Spiritual healing is very different. It’s not part of the energy modalities, like reiki. I don’t take anything away from energy modalities-I’ve seen a lot of good things happen. The difference with spiritual healing is that, the more you can shut down your ego brain, the more you can be a conduit for Spirit to work through you.

We don’t talk about dead people here. We think some of the spirits are more alive than we are. The spiritual energy put into a baby when it’s born doesn’t just dissolve into nothing. It goes into what we call the other side of life. And those on the other side of life are who we channel as mediums.Mediums are different from psychics. They smell, taste, sense, and feel loved ones on the other side of life, whereas a psychic is picking up information from your energy aura. There’s a connection between those left in spirit and those left behind. And that’s what a medium taps into when doing a spiritual contact with someone sitting in front of us.

When we come into this world we are like a piece of the puzzle of life, and our walk through life is to answer that direction. And being a medium is almost like getting a set of spiritual eyes and ears that are different from your physical ears and eyes-you begin to see the signs in life, and you begin to connect the dots.

Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist
Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist
Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist

These days, I usually see around 200 people each year. I used to see a lot more, but I’m 77 now and I have other things I am doing. Some days I don’t do readings at all, and some days I’ll read three or four people. I’ve met people from all over the world here looking for healing-from all 50 states, Central and South America, Eastern Europe, and beyond. Most people who come to me are looking for spiritual life guidance.

About 20 percent of those who come to me are looking for closure for lost loved ones. And the majority of the remaining 80 percent are looking for relationship answers about not only significant others, but also parents, children, work associates, and the like. What I tell them is not coming from me, it’s coming from Spirit. It’s coming through me from Spirit, whether that’s the Holy Spirit, loved ones on the other side of life, or a spirit guide.

I know I’m providing a service, because I get people returning. Some have almost become like friends. And I offer anyone who’s been in my home a 15-minute, free consultation at any time after the session, in case they want to talk things over or ask for advice.I used to be a better spirit communicator 10 years ago. But thousands of readings have turned me more toward spiritual intuitive counseling these days. I’ve had people come back to me after 10 or 15 years thinking I remember our last conversation. But you have to switch things off in order to lead a normal life, you can’t have all that going on.

Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist
Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist
Photo by Joleen Zubek for Thrillist

I lead a fairly normal life outside of my home where I do my readings. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve developed other interests. I like to go camping in my camper van. I’m writing a book, too, about normal people doing extraordinary things for the planet. I do pick things up sometimes when I’m just standing in a store or somewhere-it’s part of being a medium; but I try not to interfere in peoples’ lives, so I don’t say anything.The point is: we don’t want to have to go through those brickwall experiences in life if we adjust to the path. That, to me, is spiritual enlightenment. And the single biggest reason I’m still here in Cassadaga is that I’ve found a peace here I haven’t found anywhere else. And peace, you see, is different from being happy. You can be happy when you get a new car. But peace is being in the middle of a tornado, and you just have a feeling that everything is fine and everything is okay.

A lot of people would like to turn us here in Cassadaga into a spiritual Disneyland. But we’re just practicing a religion that’s been here for over 100 years. And the community has survived all these years because it does provide a specific purpose that’s valued by the public.

Love lives here, there’s no room for hate.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Terry Ward is a freelance travel writer in Tampa, Florida, who has lived in France, New Zealand, and Australia. Follow her on Instagram and find more of her work on terry-ward.com.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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