The Bangs Sisters, Elizabeth (Lizzie) and May, were born in the early 1860s. Their father was a tinsmith and mother, Meroe, a medium. By the 1870s, the sisters were conducting seances in the Chicago area. Messages from the dead appeared on slates, musical instruments were played by spirits and furniture moved.

Despite being arrested for “doing business without a license” in 1881, the sisters became prominent Chicago mediums by 1888. That led to a dramatic arrest in April of that year when two plainclothes detectives attended one of their seances. They claimed to have found a satchel filled with muslin shrouds, whiskers, wigs, and a variety of make-up. They became the “notorious” Bangs Sisters. In the 1890s, a Chicago grand jury tried to indict them, but failed on technicalities. That led to the passage of an Illinois bill that prohibited anyone “from impersonating the spirits of the dead, commonly known as spirit-medium seances, on penalty of fine and imprisonment.”

The Bangs Sisters began their careers with slate writing. Blank paper was placed between two slates and the slates were bound together with twine or rubber bands. An ink bottle was located nearby. Messages would appear on the paper while it was bound between the slates.

The first precipitated painting was demonstrated by the sisters in 1894. Spirit Portraits became extremely controversial. Some declared them to be hoaxes, but in most cases the sisters had no prior photograph of the spirit subject to work from. Although oil paints were usually present during the seance, the portraits resemble pastels or modern airbrush paintings. They often have a powdery appearance and sometimes appear to be embedded in the canvas. The portraits also changed over time, for example, eyes first appeared closed and spontaneously opened later.

The Bangs Sisters had residences in Lily Dale, NY and Camp Chesterfield, IN as well as their Chicago home. In a 1908 Chesterfield demonstration, a blank canvas was set on the stage before a large audience. Waves of mist traveled over the canvas. “Soon the outline bust form of a person began to appear in the center of the canvas, features becoming more distinct along with the hair and face and, slowly, the entire form of a young girl was clearly distinguishable for all to see.”

The eyes changed from closed to open, and when it was complete, a man in the audience, Mr. Alford, recognized the portrait as that of his deceased daughter, Audrey. When the painting of Audrey was originally precipitated, there was a locket around her neck and flowers. When the portrait was donated to Camp Chesterfield, both had dematerialized. (Before and after photos)

The Bangs Sisters created hundreds of portraits during their demonstrations. Some are on display at both Lily Dale and Camp Chesterfield today.

For more information: Portraits from Beyond: The Mediumship of the Bang Sisters, N. Riley Heagerty, White Crow Books, 2016


Precipitated Spirit Paintings or Portraits were produced by spiritualist mediums in the early 20th century. Unlike other forms of spiritual communication, such as spirit writing where spirits guide the medium’s hand, during spirit painting the medium doesn’t touch the canvas while the painting materializes.

Spirit Portraits were produced during an event similar to a seance. A blank canvas or paper was stretched over a wooden frame. Oil paints were usually present, but not paintbrushes. Usually, the medium and the person requesting the portrait were present in the room, but other observers could take part. Some, or all, of the participants were asked to touch the canvas with their hands or fingers during the process.

The one wishing to contact the deceased person would concentrate on the task, and was not required to tell the medium who they wished to contact. The Spirit Portrait gradually appeared on the canvas or paper, taking anywhere between fifteen minutes to an hour to fully take form.

The oldest recorded Spirit Portrait occurred in the mid-16th century, decades before the beginning of Spiritualism. The image of Mexico’s Lady of Guadalupe miraculously appeared on the cloak of a man named Juan Diego. The Vatican conducted research on the image and concluded that no signs of human creation appeared to exist. The blue pigment used to create the image could not be identified or reproduced. The agave-fiber cloak which should have decayed in a few years still exists and is on display today at the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City.

Some Precipitated Spirit Paintings of the 20th century can be found on display in the Maplewood Hotel in Lily Dale, New York. Located sixty miles south of Buffalo, Lily Dale is the oldest and largest community of Spiritualists in the world. Their collection includes portraits by the Campbell Brothers and Bangs Sisters.


The Campbell Brothers were not brothers. Many believe they were a gay couple who had to hide their sexual orientation at a time when it would have been condemned. Allan B. Campbell and Charles Campbell (born Charles Shourds) lived at Lily Dale, but traveled widely. Their mediumship included slate writing and spirit typewriting as well as Spirit Portraits produced in pastel and oil.

One of the Campbell Brothers most impressive Spirit Portraits is of Azur, Allan’s spirit guide. In 1898, they conducted a session in a room that contained enough light for those present to witness the phenomena. To ensure there was no trickery, invited guests were encouraged to place personal markings on the back of the 40” x 60” canvas. During the process, Allan became entranced and Azur spoke through him. The guests witnessed the gradual development of the painting on the canvas. It was completed in 90 minutes. Witnesses also noticed that the star behind Azur’s appeared right before their eyes.

Allen died and 1919 and Charles in 1926, leaving behind several notable spirit paintings.


August 20th, 7:00 pm Lisa Smartt

Lisa Smartt, MA, is the author of Words at the Threshold. A linguist, educator and poet,  she founded the Final Words Project, an ongoing study devoted to collecting and interpreting the mysterious language at the end of lives. She cofacilitates workshops about language and consciousness with Raymond Moody at universities, hospices, and conferences and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Visit her online at

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First and foremost, Spiritual Healing is used to compliment traditional medicine. It is not considered an alternative. If a person has medical issues and is under a treatment regimen, they should continue seeing their physician. Spiritual Healing works in concert with general medical practices.

Spiritual healing is more comprehensive than medical treatment. While tradition medicine treats only on the physical body, Spiritual Healing is more Holistic. It can work on all levels of the self, thus treating the entire person.

An individual receiving Spiritual Healing doesn’t need to have faith in the healing process.  It can work on individuals that don’t understand faith, like babies, young children and even animals. The more open and accepting the patient is to the process, the more successful the healing will be. Like with traditional medicine, the patient’s attitude can also affect the outcome. The more positive a person is, the better the chance of recovery.

There are three types of Spiritual Healing. The first is Contact Healing. Contact Healing involves the Medium Healer placing their hands directly on the patient’s body. This is always with permission, and may involve just a light touch on the shoulders. Each Medium Healer has their own way of working. A trained Medium will be aware of where they may and may not place their hands, respecting sensitive areas.  The Medium Healer will work under a Code of Conduct issued by their organization to which they must adhere.

The second and third healing types occur without touch. In Distant Healing, the healer and patient may be in the same room. Healing is sent by the power of thought. In Absent Healing, the patient is not physically present. Healing thoughts are sent to them.

The duration of the healing session varies depending upon the Medium Healer and the patient. It usually lasts between ten and twenty minutes. During the session, the patient is asked to relax and quiet their mind, and may close their eyes to assist the process. As healing proceeds, the person may feel a little warmer or cooler, or there may be no change at all. Despite the initial response to the healing process, it may take time and several sessions for healing effects to be noticeable.


Hidden away in northwestern New York state is a quiet hamlet named Lily Dale. The idyllic community, composed of Victorian homes and uniquely decorated cottages, overlooks the east side of Cassadaga Lake. At first glance, it would appear to be a vacationer’s paradise, but the entrance sign, “City of Light,” reveals its true origins. Lily Dale is the largest community of Spiritualists in the country.

The seeds of Lily Dale were planted in 1844, when William Johnson invited a mesmerist named Dr. Moran from Vermont to come to Laona, NY to lecture. After the visit, Johnson and his group began to experiment with Dr. Moran’s techniques. Group member, Jeremiah Carter, became entranced. Through him, a Dr. Hedges spoke to those present. He gave messages from the spirit world and practiced laying on of hands. After spiritual communication was established in Hydesville, NY by the Fox sisters, the Laona group was encouraged to continue.  They formed the First Spiritualist Society of Laona in 1855.

In 1873, Jeremiah Carter was encouraged by spirits to hold a camp meeting at the nearby farm of Willard Alden (located just outside the gates of the present Lily Dale). The group met there for summer picnics and camp meetings until Alden’s passing in 1879. It was then that the group purchased 20 acres of the land on an adjoining property.

Men and women worked to clear the area and make forest trails. They had financial problems but were not deterred. A Lyceum formed in 1881, and a permanent auditorium that would seat 1200 was built in 1883. The camp went through several name changes until 1906 when it was named The Lily Dale Assembly because of the abundance of lilies on the lake.

Marion Skidmore, daughter of William Johnson, was one of the main founders of Lily Dale. She was an ardent advocate for women’s suffrage, a liberal thinker, and friend of Susan B. Anthony. Her collection of books formed the foundation for the Marion Skidmore Library in Lily Dale, the world’s largest collection of Spiritualist and psychic books.

Today, Lily Dale is a community of over 160 private residences, two hotels, guest houses, bookstores, two eateries and a café. Between the last weekend in June and Labor Day, for a small admission fee, visitors can attend many events. They include medium demonstrations, religious services, workshops, thought exchange meetings and healing services. There are also areas for camping, picnicking, swimming and hiking.

Additional seminars are offered on mediumships, spiritualist studies and related topics. Well-known guests have included Deepak Chopra, Dr. Wayne Dyer, and John Edward.

For more information on Lily Dale’s History:


Coral Polge was born in London in 1924. At the time of her birth, the midwife exclaimed, “This child has been here before.” Maybe that is why she became a renowned psychic artist.

Most mediums and clairvoyants communicate with the spirit world through thought messages that are auditory, visual or even olfactory. Coral took that communication one step further by translating the images she saw onto paper. A trained commercial artist, she combined her artistic talent and psychic gifts into a technique that enhanced the experience of reaching the spirit world.

Unlike many mediums, Coral was not psychic as a child, though she did have a few out-of-body experiences. She enjoyed walking with her favorite uncle through the graveyard where she admired the stones and drew sketches of them. It was that same uncle who first sent her a message from the other side when she joined a spiritualist church at the age of 23.

Coral began her journey as a psychic artist by drawing medium guides. It wasn’t until after she met Frank Leah that she realized she should be drawing pictures of loved ones who had passed.  The perfect likeness of a loved one would convince a skeptic that life goes on, and that death is a new beginning. As she produced more evidential portraits of friends and relatives, she began to verify her work with photographs.

“Seek the truth,” Coral’s spiritual guides told her in her early days. She was always open to improving her technique.

Maurice Barbanell, editor of Psychic News, helped her by advising she demand a higher percentage of relatives come forward. She had never thought about demanding from the spirit people, but it worked. Artist, Samuel Martin, offered her advice to improve her artistry. He even returned after his passing to give her words of wisdom.

“I never had any doubts, once I started on the spiritual path, as to where I was going,” she said. “I have never become disenchanted with my beliefs, only occasionally with the people involved. More than anything, spiritualism has given me a complete inner peace, to know a purpose manifests in everything.”

In her book, Living Images, Coral relates the stories of some of the drawings that she created over the years. One is about the grandmother of Wendy Hart. While drawing the picture of a Victorian woman with hair pulled back from her face, Coral kept getting the word, sunshine. When Mrs. Hart found a photograph of her grandmother to compare to the drawing, she found that written on the back were the words  “From your Sunshine.” See photos below.
Coral said that many of her communicators didn’t explain the messages she was passing on. “We are purely telephone lines, nothing more,” she said.  “As long as there is somebody’s picture waiting to be drawn, I will continue to be used as a channel for such communication between this world and the next. This was the path mapped out for me. It is a path I tread with love, and a great sense of privilege that I was chosen to do so.”

Coral was often helped by spirits from the other side. Her most frequent helper was French pastel portrait artist, Maurice de la Tour. Coral received the Spiritualist of the Year award in 1978 and died in 2001.

Reference: Living Images, Coral Polge with Kay Hunter, The Aquarian Press, Harper Collins London. 1991.


As a minister of a Spiritualist church, I find that the passing of a loved one is the most difficult time for a family. I had a Near Death Experience as a child, so I have already taken a step into the other side. But how do I help families deal with their grief?

One of the greatest gifts a Spiritualist can give a family is to help them understand the transition that their loved one experiences during passing. The person has finished their physical journey here on earth and is now moving on to their spiritual journey. My job as a Spiritualist is to be at the person’s bedside during their passing to make them comfortable and help them make the transition. My assistance is not only for the person who is passing, it encompasses the entire family.

Different things occur when a person is passing. They may say see loved ones who passed on before. They may see strangers who are there to assist them. They may ask if they are hallucinating. I am there to reassure them and inform them that what they are seeing is real.

I was only five years old when I passed to the other side. As a child, I experienced the event with the understanding of a child. Because of that, I like to read about the Near Death Experiences of others to have a greater understanding of the process.

One of those people is Emanuel Swedenborg, a Swedish scientist, philosopher, theologian and mystic who lived in the late 1600s. Swedenborg referred to the passing of the spirit as the awakening. He said, “I have not only been told how the awakening happens, I have been shown by firsthand experience. The actual experience happened to me so that I could have a full knowledge of how it occurs.”

He explained the process of passing over to the other side. “We are only separated from the physical nature that was useful to us in the world. The essential person is actually still alive. I say that the essential person is still alive because we are not people because of our bodies but because of our spirits.” He saw death as resurrection or a continuance of life.

Swedenborg said that he was first contacted by angels. They sat near his head, silent, sharing their thoughts with him in a telepathic way. They kept watch over him, waiting for his body to breathe its last breath. “When heavenly angels are with people who have been awakened, they do not leave them, because they love everyone.” At the same time, he felt a tug, like his spirit was being pulled from his body.

He spoke about angels rolling back a covering from his left eye toward the center of his nose so that he could see. “I could see a kind of clear but dim light like the light we see through our eyelids when we are first waking up. It seemed to me as though this clear, dim light had a heavenly color to it,” he said. After that, something was rolled back from his face.

According to Swedenborg, angels do everything for newly arrived spirits. They inform them, at least to the extent that they can grasp, about the realities of their new life. If newly arrived spirits do not want to be taught, they are free to move on. Other good spirits accompany them and do all they can for them. If the departed was not a good person in the physical world and wants to get away from these good intentioned spirits as well, they are free to go. They may search until they find the company of people more attuned to their own spiritual development. Swedenborg explained that some spirits “remarkable as it may sound, then lead the same kind of life they had led in the world.”

According to Swedenborg, the first stage of our life on the other side does not last more than a few days. After that, the spirit travels from one state into another until finally it arrives either in heaven or in hell.

Reference: Swedenborg, Emanuel; Rose, Donald L. “Afterlife: A Guided Tour of Heaven and Its Wonders, Second Edition.” iBooks.


We all get caught up in the day to day activities of our lives. The house, car, clothes, phones and cable TV we thought we needed require more of our income than we planned. Kids and pets and family members are always competing for our attention. The internet follows us during our waking hours, and we fall into bed exhausted each day. And don’t even mention politics.

There’s a saying; “The one who dies with the most toys wins.” Is this all there is to life? An unending struggle for stuff? Rushing from one thing to the next? Being bombarded by news and advertisements and people wanting our attention? Is there no place to stop and examine life? Is there no sanctuary?

Spiritualism calls on its followers to find silence.

Silence is a sanctuary, a place to communicate with not only departed ones but with yourself. It might be found in a small room in a cabin on a mountain lake, a bedroom in a high-rise apartment, or a flower garden in the backyard. But it can also be found while sitting on a seat of a crowded bus, driving home on the highway, or while walking through the grocery store. Your sanctuary is internal and with you always.

Gordon Burroughs said, “We enter the sacred sanctuary to communicate with the inner self, the exhaustless, Everlasting Eternal part of ourselves. The I AM. This real person has always been and has passed through cycles upon cycles of manifestation, making a record of all experiences and manifesting now in this Objective form.”

Spiritualism teaches that while we live in our physical body and create things in this world, we also create a temple in the invisible realm. No matter what we believe or what religion we embrace, this inner sanctuary is created by our inner thoughts and actions, not by our outward manifestations. What type of temple are you building? Is it one with solid walls, a beautiful garden, and welcoming entrance. Or is it abandoned, desolate and rundown?

It is when we enter the silence that we take stock of ourselves and reach beyond our physical world.  We achieve a high state of awareness in which we are open to true illumination.  We discover how beautiful this sanctuary can become. Our consciousness becomes attuned to the real self. Infinite love understands the need of the individual. We find that we can build a temple of joy, hope, and tolerance. We realize that our purpose in life is to learn, to accomplish, and to experience. We see the divine spark in every human being.

When you enter the silence, relax, listen, love, and receive. The troubles of the day will disappear and your problems will dissolve. You will find that you are cared for, guided, and directed, and that you are living both now and for eternity.

March 8th: International Women’s Day


I’d like to celebrate International Women’s Day by honoring some of the women who were involved not only with women’s rights but with the early Spiritualist movement. You may remember my blogs about Hydesville, NY and the Fox family. In 1848 the Fox sisters became part of a new spiritual revolution when they began communicating with the spirit world using rapping sounds. They soon moved to Rochester, NY, where they became acquainted with Amy and Isaac Post, a Quaker couple.

Through the Posts, the Fox sisters met and formed a spiritual group of five women (three of them Quakers): Lucretia Mott, her sister Martha Coffin Wright, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Mary Ann McClintock and Jane Hunt. They met in McClintock’s parlor where the spirits gave them support and approval through rapping messages. It is not surprising that they became important figures in establishing women’s rights.

Lucretia Mott was born in Massachusetts and attended boarding school in New York where she stayed on to work as a teaching assistant until she married her husband, James. She was an active abolitionist, but was one of many women excluded from the World Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840 because of her gender. By 1848, she was actively working for women’s equality by helping write the Declaration of Sentiments for the first women’s rights meeting, the Seneca Falls Convention. As a Quaker preacher, her speaking abilities allowed her to become a respected abolitionist, feminist, and reformer. She helped promote equality in marriage, such as women’s property rights and rights to their earnings. She worked with Elizabeth Cady Stanton to make divorce easier to obtain and to safeguard women’s custody of their children.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was one of eleven children born to attorney and Judge Daniel Cady in Johnstown, NY. She was a suffragist and civil rights activist. She helped organize the Seneca Falls Convention and formed the National Women’s Loyal League with Susan B. Anthony in 1863. She advocated liberal divorce laws and freedom of reproduction. Although she became marginalized later in life, she helped bring about the passage of the 19th Amendment which gave all citizens the right to vote.

Mary Ann McClintock and her husband Thomas were founding members of the Western New York Anti-Slavery Society. Mary Ann helped organize the Seneca Falls Convention and draft the Declaration of Sentiments. She and Thomas were very active in the local Hicksite Quaker community and led the Progressive Friends or Friends of Human Progress.

At 33 years of age, Jane Hunt married and became step-mother to three of her husband’s older children.  With his encouragement, she became involved with the women’s rights movement when several Quaker women invited Lucretia Mott to speak to their group. Jane offered her house for the protest meeting. It was around Hunts’ tea table that they drafted a notice about, “A Convention to discuss the social, civic and religious condition and rights of Woman will be held in the Wesleyan Chapel at Seneca Falls, N. Y., on Wednesday and Thursday, the 19th and 20th of July. . . .” Without that gathering there would have been no Seneca Falls Convention.

For further reading:

The Rap, Winter 2017 edition, Open Door Sanctuary, Victoria, BC.

Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women’s Rights in Nineteenth Century America, by Ann Braude.

Affiliation Should Not Divide Us

My first experience with the spirit world occurred when I died on the operating table as a small child. At the time, I knew nothing about Spiritualism, its history or the organizations that existed. The spirit world accepted me for who I was. Affiliation didn’t matter. It wasn’t until I was an adult and took my first class, Demonstration of Mediumship, with Reverend Leonard Young from England, that I discovered Spiritualism was a religion. I thought wow! A religion that promoted talking to the spirit world was the perfect fit.

After class, Reverend Young introduced his students to Lily Dale, NY. I have mentioned before that Lily Dale was like magic to me. I was like a kid in a candy store, meeting like-minded people. At that time, I didn’t really understand the organizational structure of different spiritualist groups. I thought a spiritualist was a spiritualist.

When I studied mediumship at Reverend Janet Nohavec’s Journey Within Spiritualist Church, Pompton Lakes, NJ, I only knew about the Spiritualists National Union (SNU). It wasn’t until I got more familiar with Lily Dale that I learned about the National Spiritualist Association of Churches (NSAC). Later, I attended a worldwide conference in Rochester, NY hosted by the International Spiritualist Federation (ISF).

It didn’t matter to me which organization sponsored an event. I was happy just to be around so many spiritualists who felt the way I did. I will always remember my first Physical Mediumship class with Bill Parkins and the amazing things I was taught in his class. All the students had a common bond. We learned from each other. One of my classmates even invited me to do a mediumship demonstration at her church. The memory still brings a smile to my face. We were all doing something we loved, serving the spirit world.

Some may believe that one spiritualist organization is better than another, but are we so different? The SNU believes the difference between Spiritualism and other religions is the acceptance of mediumship to offer evidence of spirit communication and demonstrate that people survive physical death. The NSAC believes that Spiritualism is the Science, Philosophy, and Religion of continuous life, based upon the demonstrated fact of communication, by means of mediumship, with those who live in the Spirit World. The ISF was founded on the belief that people survive bodily death and there is communion between this world and the spirit world. There are also independent spiritualist churches who believe that there is life after death and we prove it through Mediumship.

It is obvious that, despite our small differences, all spiritualist organizations have the same beliefs. We are a small group compared to other religions, so we need to stand together, help each other, and spread spiritualism wherever we go. My church members and I participated in the 2014 World Congress of Spiritualists at Lily Dale.  Our interaction with spiritualists from around the world showed me how united we can be.

I must admit, when I first became a spiritualist I was a little afraid of what my friends, family and co-workers would think of me. But it was the best path I could have embarked on. I have met some truly kind and compassionate people who have taught me many things. It has been an amazing journey, and I am blessed to have found Spiritualism. “I didn’t choose Spiritualism, it chose me,” and I stepped up. We all must step up in some way or another. As Dan Aykroyd said, “I am a Spiritualist, a proud wearer of the Spiritualist badge.”