Follow me to unrealistic Cassadaga, Florida

When my first novel, Tea and Witchery, was entered in the Royal Palm awards for Florida, one of the judges returned a low score with one reason scrawled on the sheet – Too Unrealistic. (I have to note that the other two judges gave it nearly perfect scores.) But that “too unrealistic” comment has always amused me because the mystery novels are set in Cassadaga, Florida, a town many people find unrealistic.

Why is Cassadaga unrealistic? Well, it’s a town created for Spiritualists and psychics. Perhaps what catches people by surprise is that they don’t expect to find a town like this tucked away in Central Florida somewhere between theme parks and the beaches. But it is there. It’s been there longer than Disney has been in Florida.

Cassadaga was founded in 1895 as a Spiritualist camp and winter retreat for Spiritualist from Lily Dale in New York. My mother still remembers the camp back in the 40s and 50s when it was really only open to visitors in the winter months and when the Cassadaga Hotel used to host dances in what was then a ballroom.

The town now gets more business in summer than in winter and the ballroom is long gone. But the hotel is still there as well as the Colby Memorial Temple which holds Spiritual healings on a regular basis. The town also has half a dozen bookstores and even a post office. Plus various houses and apartments which can be leased from the Spiritualist Camp — if you can prove that the spirits want you there. Most of the inhabitants of Cassadaga offer psychic readings of some sort. On one side of the street, you’ll find the Spiritualists who tend to have their own views on how readings should be conducted. On the other side of the street, you’ll find the renegade psychics who use tarot cards and other forms of divination. And the two sides do have their arguments from time to times.

If you’re ever in Florida, I suggest stopping by for an afternoon visit. It really doesn’t take much longer to see the place. If you’re there in the evening, you can take the Orb Tour. Or you could stay overnight in the hotel and decide if it’s really haunted. But I’ll warn you, it may seem a bit unrealistic, this quiet little Florida town where chats with the dead are just an everyday occurrence.

Honouring my Grandmother

Had my grandmother lived long enough, today would have been her 90th birthday. Diana Patricia Beatrice Barton (Barty to her friends)  died a few years ago, and I still miss her. At the date closest to her birthday, I sing songs of hers at folk club, as a way of honouring her memory. In previous years that’s been a private thing, but my son is sharing it this time round.

In many ways, I am a pagan because of my grandmother. Both of my parents explored Wicca when I was a child, and I grew up in a house full of books on myth, folklore, magic… I met witches, had a few interesting experiences along the way. But none of these things actually made me pagan, they just helped when I realised I was.

 It all came down to one conversation with my grandmother.

Like many teenagers, I wasn’t an especially happy creature. There were reasons. Not extraordinary reasons, most of them to do with being a lost and confused young person with low self esteem, convinced that I was too fat to be loved, struggling with my parents separating, hungry for affection but not knowing how to do relationship, socially inept, painfully shy, self conscious, and full of need that nothing seemed able to answer. At the time it seemed like a very big deal, but I had only seen molehills and had yet to learn that mountains are something else entirely.

My grandmother had a much harder life. Hers included horrendous poverty, divorce when that kind of thing wasn’t very socially acceptable, abuse, and dreadfully poor health. She had far more to be unhappy about than I did, but she handled it with grace, and stoicism. As a self obsessed teen, I didn’t really appreciate that, but I think I see more looking back than I did at the time.

I can’t remember why I was having a bad day. Which says a lot about whatever had made me miserable. She told me, quietly and without judgement, that when things were getting to her, she would go outside, and look at the sky and the hills. She reminded me that nature is beautiful, and always around us, and that whatever else is happening, the beauty of nature is something to find joy in, take comfort from, and trust.

I took those words onboard, and from that day I started looking around me more, taking notice, and learning to care. Boys might be fickle and unkind. School might be stifling. Family life might be uncomfortable. The hills were always there, constant, dependable, full of beauty and their own kind of magic. Thanks to her words, I learned to see.

Since then it’s been a process, deepening that relationship with the natural world, letting it feed my soul and ease my heart. Most people are not much use in that regard, and it took me a long time to learn not to be so people-centric in my affections. The hills do not approve of me. I do not need them to. That works. I can cry into the wind, howl to the soil when my heart is breaking. Being able to do so makes it easier to manage those ever-challenging human relationships that tend to cause all the pain.

My grandmother considered herself Christian, but on her own terms. She could tell a person’s character from their handwriting, and had premonitions. She saw ghosts. I don’t know much about what she believed, I think it was a private thing for her. But she took me chasing rainbows as a child, taught me to bake, and some needlecraft, shared her art, stoicism, and love of nature. That I am a pagan now, is very much due to her. So today, I honour her memory.

Ancient Calendar: May 21, 2010


Are we ready for some Ancient Holidays?

Alrighty then…come on because today is considered to be *drum roll* Plato‘s Birthday. Who’s he? Well, he just so happens to be a Greek Philosopher who ended up being one of the most popular students of Socrates while traveling around the big ol’ Mediterranean and Middle East. Why, Plato was so fab, they even gave him his own crater in the moon above–to honor him eternally.

In Egypt, Tefnut is getting a Festival in her honor. She’s primal deity of rain or whatever moisture. Atum is her big daddy and Shu—god of the Sun—is her brother.

Today would have been the third day of Callynteria in Classical Greece. See Ancient Calendar: May 19th.


A little announcement. Yes, Ancient Calendar is the same as Pagan Holidays. I just thought this title might be a bit more accurate. We also have our own page, located Ancient Calendar.



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