“The Pine Grove Spiritualist campground is where my dad lives in the summer and my grandma lived during summers when I was a little kid and its located in Niantic, Connecticut which is a small town kinda south-central on the water in Connecticut and the spiritualist campground is a small cluster of homes located on a point, so there’s only one road heading in or out of town, and it’s maybe 100 or 200 houses on this point and when you come in this one road from out of town, it says “Spiritualist Campground” and it looks like its from the 1800s or early 1900s so as soon as you come to this town you think what is this? And it’s a small enough town that a lot of times people just walk around for entertainment and I would walk around with my cousins and kinda tucked away in the corner of the woods is a building. That building is where the spiritualist still have meetings and I didn’t know much about spiritualism and what it meant when I was a kid but apparently it’s a religion and in that cluster of houses, there are maybe a dozen of families who practice spiritualism and they would meet periodically in this temple, which was this building, to have discussions. We didn’t know what they were meeting about so on a few of this walks, generally we would avoid the temple because it was kinda dark and it was creepy, but on some walks we’d go close to it and one night we dared my oldest cousin to look in the window of the temple because they were having a meeting so it was at night and he looked to the window and came running back and he said they were walking on the walls and ceiling sin there, it was crazy. I never went or looked or anything like that- I didn’t want to, but that’s the story of the Spiritualist campground.”
My informant is a man in his early 50s originally from Hartford, Connecticut. He lived there through his teens and had extended family in the nearby areas. As stated above, his father had a summer home in a former spiritualist camp now known as Pine Grove. Spiritualism is a religion that believes in a spiritual realm where the spirits of those have passed are located. Furthermore, it was practiced heavily in New England in the 1800s, which would make sense for the creation of this neighborhood.
My informant told me about this story when I was asking a group of family and friends about scary stories or legends from their childhood. He told the story in front of the group and I recorded it during that telling.
I think the inspiration for this story comes from the lack of in-depth understanding of the outside present in childhood. As mentioned in the piece, the informant got the information for this story from his cousins, and never explicitly saw any of the supposed supernatural. This shows that the story surrounding the spiritualist temple shows who is in the community created by these children and who is not. Another major factor for this story is the development of folklore to explain an unknown. As mentioned by the informant, as a child he did not comprehend what spiritualism was. Except, he saw the sign and the temple, both of which can be perceived as ominous. As such, the rationale for explaining something as complex as the religion of spiritualism, the informant invented this story of their strange ceremony using what knowledge he did have about them to help himself better understand. I also think this piece is particularly interesting as it reflects the history of spiritualism in that area, and how it developed over time.
- Context: Libation is a form of prayer and is an African tradition. We pray through our ancestors to commune with God. Our ancestors are our guardian angels and we pray through them because of their honesty, purity, and integrity. We call on our male and female ancestors and call on the female ancestors specifically because they are the matriarchs and life-givers of any family.
- What does one have to wear white?
- During libation, if you are an ozo titleholder, meaning you are a member of the ancient Agbalanze Society of Onitsha responsible for preserving the culture and traditions of Onitsha, during prayer you have to wear white. If you are the odipka of the entire clan, you have to wear complete white with an eagle feather attached to your hat. The eagle feather is a sign of purity.
- What is said and done?
- All prayer is done in our dialect Igbo regardless of outside presence[English is off limits]. The one who is praying[my dad] must sit on antelope, goat, or lion skin that has been dried to mark a sign of royalty. In order to pray effectively, you must be one with your inner spirit and be pure of heart. During prayer, your feet have to be planted to the ground, as it marks a physical connection to the ground and is a connection to our ancestors. You first call out your family members by name and raise the four lobes kola nut[ prayer offering] and call out God. You ask God to take the gift of the kola nut and ask him to come to be with us as we give thanks for all that he has done for our family. Then you shift and call on all our ancestors, as far back as you can recall their names. You will call each ancestor[great-great grandparents, grandparents, and in-law]. You should call male names first and then female names. Once you address your ancestors, you now call on all of the deities of your ancestors and ask them to continue to bless and guide the family. Then you give blessings and prayer to each member of the family[mom, brother, me, and dad]. You end the prayer by asking all of the deities, ancestors, and God to come and partake in the breaking of the kola nut.
Thoughts: The process of doing libation was something that I never really understood when I was younger. In fact, Sunday libation was something that I always found to be annoying or forced because in my young mind it just meant that I was stuck in one place, unable to move or go out and play. However, not that I am older I have come to understand its immense value and meaning. When my dad prays during libation, he makes it clear that at times he is not the one talking. During his prayer, it is as though our ancestors are speaking through him, calling my mom, brother, and I together as a family and giving thanks for our life, health, and continued well being. My dad is a very spiritual person, believing that the spirit of our ancestors are always with him and his family and are all around protecting us from evil and harm. My dad prays for each and every one of us, wishing for good health, that I and my brother achieve our goals and succeed in life, and that no evil shall befall his family and our extended family back in Nigeria. Now that I am older, I understand the value of the prayer and oftentimes feel a connection to my ancestors like my dad. There are moments where I truly believe that figures like my late grandfather are watching over me and allow me to overcome challenges that I may not be able to do by myself. When I went to Nigeria last winter, I was able to visit my grandfather’s grave and listen to my dad’s prayer. This was a very impactful moment in my life because it really made me realize and understand why libation, why prayer, and ultimately why spirituality in my family is so important in our day to day life. My dad acts as the spiritual anchor of our family and through his prayers, he passes messages and thoughts to my brother and me, maintaining the connection to those before us. I believe that sooner or later I will start learning how to tap into my spirituality further and eventually start channeling our ancestors like my dad and his dad before him.
“So the ghost light is that light you leave on in the back of a stage, or any theater. And you do it for, like, the spirits in the theater, or like, um, the souls of the departed who wish to participate.”
This folk object/tradition was described by a friend while we were eating lunch at a restaurant. I asked him when he had first heard of this tradition.
“Uh, my production and design overview class, uh, freshman year of high school.”
“The ghost light, oh. Honestly I don’t know a whole lot. I remember, I know…so what it looks like is, it’s this…it’s kind of like a stand that has wheels, with a light on top. Usually blue, I think. At least, the one I saw was blue. Um, and I believe it’s there…I know it’s there at the beginning of plays. Like, I think it’s to light up the stage so that there’s some sort of lighting so that people can see somewhat and don’t fall, ‘cause stages are dangerous.”
This folk object/tradition was described by a friend after class ended. She worked in theaters (where this tradition takes place) during high school, but she does not anymore.
I asked what she knew about the origin of the name:
“I haven’t really heard many stories about it that have to do with the name. Um, yeah, I don’t remember why it’s called ghost light. Maybe ‘cause it floats, and people are like, ‘Floating lights are ghosts!’ But I really don’t know.”