Over 50 people left skepticism at the door when they entered the Falls Church-based Center for Spiritual Enlightenment building next to the State Theatre recently to partake in a séance.
The occasion was the commemoration of the founding of spiritualism as it is practiced at the Center. The News-Press sat through the experience.
A cadre of veteran mediums were on hand, tasked with making contact with the spirit world, and to many present, there were “validating” messages that resulted.
For example, Sheila Cash, the executive director of the Center, was nearly moved to tears with the words that her pastor, the Rev. B. Anne Gehman, had for her. Gehman told her that her deceased brother wanted to thank her for all she’d done for him when he was living.
Cash confirmed that she had a much-younger brother that she played a major role in raising.
Gehman is the founder of the Center, whose followers have worshipped at the familiar site of the former Woman’s Club of Falls Church for years and before the Center purchased the property earlier this decade when the Woman’s Club put it up for the sale.
The building, which is often rented for social events, including the annual Falls Church News-Press Holiday Party, was originally a congregational church, and for a time the City of Falls Church’s first City Hall.
Few, however, have had a glimpse at the inner workings of the Center, known as the CSE, but its representatives were eager to have the News-Press attend their second annual séance.
Cash said that what Gehman told her about her brother “was completely accurate. I did a lot for him, and he acknowledged that. What more do you want to hear? When someone validates you and what you did in a way you completely understand, the gratitude means everything,” she said.
Gehman is recognized worldwide for her mediumistic capabilities, with clientele extending from past U.S. presidents — one rumored to be Ronald Reagan — to the FBI in finding missing persons and working on the Ted Bundy case.
Gehman said she’s been able to see spirit entities from the time she was a child, becoming aware at the age of 11 that not everyone was experiencing visions. Raised in a strong Mennonite tradition, Gehman’s father often looked for biblical explanations of his daughter’s capabilities.
“I would say my family was very supportive; they didn’t always understand it but they felt it was something good,” said Gehman, who never analyzed her abilities to see as a child, noting they just came naturally.
Spiritualists believe everyone has mediumistic abilities that will become apparent once they’ve opened themselves up to perceive the spirit world.
Though outsiders may suspect Gehman must have already known about Cash’s relationship with her deceased brother, being that they are in the same congregation, Cash said members of the CSE don’t share such details about their lives with each other.
“It’s not as though we keep zipped lips, but generally, you don’t talk about people you know who’ve passed on, because you want to know what’s coming through is the truth,” said Cash. “It’s almost like with a co-worker. You’d say you know them very well, but you don’t necessarily know their cousins’ names.”
Another message given to Cash was in reference to a floor covering inside her house that would often turn itself up, becoming a nuisance. Cash led this reporter into the kitchen of her Oakton home, where she pointed out two pesky rugs which she must constantly straighten out and sometimes even trips on. She said that while some may consider this a trivial piece of information, she believes it’s the spirits’ way of letting her know they are with her in a “three-dimensional sense.”
“They’re showing you that they can see your environment,” said Cash.
Cash’s friends found the CSE and the group of them started taking classes together. Though Cash, raised by a fundamentalist Christian father and atheist mother, never pursued spiritualism formerly, she said she’s been in communication with the spirit world her whole life.
“You might say I’ve always practiced mediumship, but I never put a label on it. It’s just a very natural thing that’s passed down in the generations of my family,” said Cash, who grew up in a 100-year-old house in West Virginia, where she and her siblings often heard footsteps running in empty rooms upstairs, among other unexplainable noises.
Another séance participant, Elizabeth Pan, hosts a Oneness Blessing Circle each Wednesday night at the CSE, though she is not a member of the congregation. She’d lost three people close to her in a six-month span around the same time she met Gehman at a meditation class held in Springfield years ago.
“I had started to turn my gaze from what was going on outside to what was going on within me when Anne first became my meditation teacher. She’s been a door opener ever since,” said Pan.
Pan and her husband Wayne had recently been thinking about building a home, a fact Pan said Gehman was unaware of. One of Gehman’s messages for Pan that evening was a push to construct that house. She’s since put the heed-taking wheels in motion, with some help from Gehman herself.
“Anne’s going to help me find a lot. She’s told me to bring a map,” said Pan.
However, one piece of advice Pan said her and husband haven’t put to use yet involves the position of their bed. When Wayne confirmed Gehman’s suspicions of his trouble sleeping during the message-giving portion of the séance, Gehman advised in detail how and where he was to move his bed in order to fix the problem. Again, Pan assured Gehman, who had been to the couple’s home only once before, had never seen their bedroom and therefore would not know the layout she so vividly described that evening.
“When we were driving home, I told [Wayne] I had no idea he was having such trouble sleeping and he said he’s repeatedly been woken up by back pain lately,” said Pan.
Other messages were for Pan to be patient for personal matters, with which she’s been struggling recently, she explained to the News-Press. Gehman likewise told Wayne to let go of pent-up anger. While he seemed confused at the time, Pan later said she’d known exactly what Gehman was referring to and was grateful an outside source had pointed out the buried emotions she’s seen in her husband.
Two other mediums — the Rev. Marilyn Awtry, who traveled from Florida to participate, and Assistant CSE Pastor the Rev. Patricia Stranahan — joined Gehman in speaking with the News-Press before the séance.
Stranahan said she’s been psychic since early on, but has had to work at her mediumship.
“I always knew when something was wrong with my mother, or any other family member for that matter, when I was in California and they were living in Pennsylvania,” said Stranahan, who was raised a Spiritualist.
Her great grandmother built one of the first cottages in Lily Dale in Chautauqua County, N.Y., a Spiritualist community since the 1800s where hundreds of people flock each summer to spend a weekend with the local mediums.
Awtry, author of multiple publications including her latest book, “River of Life: How to Live in The Flow,” recalled getting in trouble for her ability to see spirits as a child, given the fact her father was a minister.
“[My parents] saw it as something that wasn’t right and my mother would always tell me ‘forget it, it will go away.’ But it didn’t go away,” said Awtry.
After graduating college, she met a friend of her sister in Florida who was mediumistic and urged Awtry to meet Gehman, who was in Florida at the time holding nightly classes on meditation.
“She told me I needed to meet Anne so that I could learn how to shut it off,” said Awtry.
Cash, however, said she’s unable to tune out, noting that message bearers specifically can learn how to shut it off through formal training.
“Some people say it drives them crazy and they do learn to shut it down. It’s just like if you had a chattering friend; you learn to adapt. But I’ve always enjoyed it because it’s not shocking or scary to me. It’s almost like being social,” said Cash.
In fact, every medium interviewed agreed they’d never encountered a truly negative spirit, and that even standoffish entities come around once approached with positive energy. They base this, and many of their beliefs, on natural laws, particularly the Law of Attraction, or that one finds what they’re seeking.
“Just as one has contact with people in this world who are not that evolved or kind to people, you find that in the other world too. If you meet someone who’s nasty and you approach them in a positive tone, you’re going to get that back from them,” said Gehman.
Stranahan said many spirits soften a bit once she makes contact, and they often apologize for their behavior. As far as the actual transition a medium experiences when a connection is made with the spirit world, the women all agreed the physical feeling is similar to that of a meditation-like state.
“You see different frequencies; the only difference between this world and the spirit world is that it’s a higher rate of vibration than the world we live in,” said Gehman.
Spiritualists do not uphold the same idea of heaven as many Christians, though Gehman said they do believe Jesus once roamed the earth, calling him one of the best living examples of mediumship. She believes it’s what the organizers of the church did with his teachings that caused them to be misunderstood.
“There’s a lot of good in much of Christianity — a lot of churchianity. It’s a church in which there’s rules and regulations, the manmade part of it, but if you just take the teachings of Jesus, the anointed, you have spiritualism. Jesus demonstrated every sense of mediumship that we know of,” said Gehman, noting biblical accounts of his healings and teachings.
Gehman described the CSE’s acknowledgement of all world religions as the spokes on a wheel which all move inward towards the god-and-soul “hub” of it all, adding that she’s often found that skeptics haven’t done their research into what spiritualism is all about.
“I’m never really concerned whether a person believes or not,” said Gehman. “I’m not into trying to convert or convince people because I believe there’s many different pathways and everybody finds one that’s right for them.”