(Shaker Meeting House/Shaker Heritage Society of Albany, New York, New York)
The Albany Shaker Meeting House is a sanctuary of purity and simplicity, with the exception of the 747s from the Albany International Airport that fly overhead, and the Trader Joe’s that’s located around the corner.
I am here for my very first Halloween séance.
I don’t have any expectations, frankly, but I am a very willing participant. I am open to feeling the energy that comes from a group of people suspending disbelief and possibly tapping into something outside ourselves. And if I am being totally honest with myself, I am also hoping to receive a message from someone on the “other side.”
From outside, the Shaker Meeting House is milk-white and austere with triple hung windows and wide pine wainscoting painted an evergreen color. Inside, there is a clear-span building the size of a small gymnasium, which is lined with built-in Shaker benches. On the floor, they have set up about 100 white plastic chairs in three concentric circles around each other. I count about three men in attendance. The rest of us are women.
At 7 p.m. the doors are closed and locked. Is this is to keep us in or to keep others out?
Our medium for the night is Kelly Ballard: an intuitive consultant, minister and speed talker. She holds a microphone and introduces herself from the middle of the circle like a carnival barker. I arrive with my friend Caroline at the last minute, so we settle into seats in the very last row — I wish we were closer to the action.
Kelly tells us to close our eyes, put our feet flat on the floor and open our palms face up in the “receiving position.” We all do it and she starts a meditation with the help of a CD that plays wave sounds.
Sometimes there are short silences and we are to assume Kelly is listening to the Spirit. Other times she will interrupt herself and say, “Yep,” “Thank you, yes,” “Ok, Ok,” with a distant look as though she is talking to the Spirit through her Bluetooth.
“Imagine yourself on the beach,” she says. “Look to your left and there is an awning with two chairs under it. Sit down on one of the chairs. Feel how it is molded to your body. Think of whom you want to channel. Now concentrate on the crown of your head, that’s where the energy comes from.”
I concentrate hard on the spot between my eyes in the middle of my forehead, before realizing it is not the crown of my head. I hurriedly try to refocus, but Kelly has already moved on.
“Now, do you see that pink orb moving toward you?” she continues. “Focus on that.”
I desperately want to see an orb, but try as I may, none materialize. Through my closed eyelids I do make out some red, flashing lights from a police car driving by outside. We open our eyes and the meditation is over before I can summon the pink orb or channel my dead mother, grandmother, uncles, or cousin, all of whom I would love to hear from.
The lights have been dimmed. Kelly points to a far corner where the windows meet the green wainscoting.
“You may notice in the corner over there is a slight green glow or a haze,” she says. “That is what we call ectoplasm and it is telling us the spirit is here.”
I look hard and blink my eyes, trying to distinguish the ectoplasm glow from the paint reflection off the window jamb. I can’t.
“You may hear sounds,” says Kelly. “Tapping noises or knocking and that is just the spirits telling us they are here.”
I hear a far-off, throaty rumble and a slight shaking under my feet before I realize it is the vibration of a jet taking off at the Albany International airport.
Kelly begins to channel spirits and I get very excited when she calls on the young woman directly in front of me. “May I deliver a message to you?” she asks.
She tells the woman that she sees a male figure standing behind her. (Which means he is right in front of me! I look and look, but cannot make anything out.) “You have been wondering how this person died and he is here to tell you there may not be answers, but to put your mind at ease,” Kelly says. She also adds something about potential criminal activity and about her being a good person and not to worry. After the reading, she breaks down in a gulping sob and her friend passes her a Kleenex. Caroline and I look at each other with raised eyebrows that balance a small sense of wonder with a big dose of skepticism.
The séance continues in this manner with the medium selecting people from each quadrant of the circle and asking if she can deliver a message to them. No one says no. Sometimes there are short silences and we are to assume Kelly is listening to the Spirit. Other times she will interrupt herself and say, “Yep,” “Thank you, yes,” “Ok, Ok,” with a distant look as though she is talking to the Spirit through her Bluetooth.
I concentrate hard and repeat my name over and over in my head, hoping Kelly will pick up my message and call on me. She doesn’t.
The readings go on like this for about an hour and a half. Once the instant spirit messaging is over, Kelly tells us we might see floating white orbs at about this time. I concentrate hard trying to see them, but I see only the reflections of headlights from passing cars on Albany-Shaker Road. I am deflated that The Spirit is not moving within me tonight.
The séance ends and as we exit, we walk by a table of meditation CDs that Kelly has placed on a table for sale. We get halfway to the car and I blurt out “Ectoplasm?”
“I know!” Caroline says, giggling.
“Could you feel the $25 levitating right out of your pocket?” I say to Caroline.
Caroline and I laughed all the way home, and for the next week began our emails and Facebook posts with the simple exclamatory: “Ectoplasm!”
Caroline and I both agreed we preferred one-on-one readings; they just felt more intimate. Last year, as birthday gifts to each other, we sought out a psychic named Cindy, who did our readings out of her home in Saratoga Springs, New York. One of us sat downstairs in the living room with Cindy’s husband, who was watching daytime soap operas and making sales calls on his cell phone, while the other went upstairs for a tarot card reading.
That day, Cindy read my cards and balanced my ‘chi’ with crystals. I willingly let that $85 levitate itself right out of my pocket, and I didn’t feel bad about it at all. It felt intimate. I felt her energy and mine and I believed what she was saying. It was about the medium and the message I decided right then, even though I had probably known it all along.
Take a virtual tour of the Historic Albany Shaker Meeting House and learn more about the Shakers in Watervliet.