A Skeptic Visits a Spiritualist Church (and hears from his dead great aunt)

February 23, 2011

If you’re interested in the kind communication with the spirit world you see on TV shows like Crossing Over with John Edward, I have a place for you in Toronto! And it’s free (small donation to the church not withstanding). This weekend I visited the Britten Memorial Spiritualist Church , “Canada’s oldest spiritualist church”.  Spiritualism – a distinct term from spirituality – is the belief that deceased spirits can and do communicate with the living.

When the service started, three healers were immediately asked to join the event’s host at the front of the room.  While we in the audience were asked to breath and meditate, people would take their turn sitting in front of a healer to be cleansed.  The healers would place their hands on the head of an individual, then move down their back, until coming over to their front and undertaking what looked like the energy healing technique of distance healing (which apparently detects and manipulates an energy field).

Following this, the four service leaders took hold of a large red urn, holding it in the air and declaring

we are asking that the forces will take the names of everyone in this urn, that they can be touched by the healing forces, we ask this in the name of our father

We had just jumped from energy healing and some sort of purification ritual I had never seen before to a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer as though it were a regular church. To confirm that, we then sang several flat and monotonous Christian hymns, all on the theme of forgetting about the pains of today and reflecting only on the joyous afterlife that god was preparing for us.  Oddly, this was followed by a sermon on how important it was not to obsess over the past and future, for these were uncertain, but only to focus on what could be accomplished today.

The guest of honour, Catherine MacDonald, was then invited to give the sermon.  MacDonald runs a meetup group called The Etobicoke/Toronto Mediumship/Psychic Development Group , which is how I learned of this event.  She also hosts a show called Psychic Street Smarts Radio .  The meetup group appears to be mainly a front to advertise her training workshops and her radio program (not a bad idea really!).  MacDonald concluded her speech by sharing her response to the death of a member of her family: “Hurray for her! Where’s the party? She gets to have a great afterlife.  My sisters think I’m cold”.  Cold is an understatement.

Just as I was recovering from nausea and frankly ready to leave, the spirit communication and mediumship began!  The church was smart enough to keep the distribution of messages from deceased loved ones to the end of the program.  Otherwise, I would imagine the congregation would have thinned out, given the banality of the proceedings to that point.

One message was conveyed to each congregant from one of their dead family members, usually a grandfather or grandmother.  Most were variations on the theme of trying not to take the world too seriously and to relax and balance your life.  For example:

– “sometimes you feel you’re holding the world”
– “you’ve been hard on yourself. she’s telling you to cut yourself some slack.”
– “a mom or someone like a mom. you’re always having to put yourself first”
– “dad talks about you needing to take care of you. you have too many hats and need to give something up”
– “I have a female maybe a grandmother.  She’s seeing a feeling of overwhelmed, at all the healing you’re trying to do.  Your folks are still alive right?” Actually no, was the response.

When they gave vague wise-sounding advice people seemed satisfied.  There were few attempts at actual specifics, like the above, and those were usually wrong.

– “Did your dad have a stomach problem when he passed?” No, he had a stroke.  Oops, another miss.

In my case, I had a message come through from a great aunt (an “aunt vibration”), who has been following my path, is happy I was there, and then gave some advice about how I shouldn’t divide myself so much between my interests in the maths and sciences, and those in the arts.  This was interesting.  Of about 30 readings, mine was the only one to reference science or math. On the other hand, I was the only one there writing everything (including my own reading) furiously into a notebook. Perhaps that was a strong indication of an analytical personality.

All and all it was a fun experience.  I particularly enjoyed when towards the end the third medium started to experience a form of writer’s block.  Running low on ideas, she glanced around the room, noticed a pot of fake sunflowers on the front table, quickly fabricated a story centred on the image of flowers generated by the spirit world, mumbled something incoherent about flowers as a symbol for life, and finished by glancing once more at the pot of flowers as some sort of confirmation of the validity of what she had just invented out of whole cloth.  Unfortunately there were still several people that hadn’t been given a message.  She was only able to squeeze out one more package of wisdom before having to yield the floor to one of the previous mediums to return to finish off the group.

The stories weren’t exactly meaningful or specific, but, as MacDonald admitted during her talk and in conversation with me afterword, it’s really not about prediction, but about bringing happiness, comfort and clarity.  Clearly, most people visit a spiritualist church because they’ve suffered a loss and desire that kind of closure.  I was also fascinated by the mix of the traditional Christian aspects of the service, including the use of the Lord’s Prayer and the singing of hymns (although they also had a statue of Buddha) with the ghosts’ stories.  The connection was clarified by MacDonald in an intriguing way: “we use old hymns because your deceased family is most likely to have known them.”

I’ve also been invited to her spiritualist workshop as apparently I have some kind of gift to read people. I guess you could say that.