cover image The In-Betweens: The Spiritualists, Mediums, and Legends of Camp Etna

The In-Betweens: The Spiritualists, Mediums, and Legends of Camp Etna

Mira Ptacin. Liveright, $26.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-63149-381-2

Journalist Ptacin (Poor Your Soul) delivers a fascinating look at the history and cultural influence of Camp Etna, the 143-year-old Spiritualist community in Maine. Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the community experienced “Burning Man–sized popularity,” as visitors from across the U.S. flocked to Etna to witness a unique group of clairvoyants, mediums, and psychics who were united by a common belief in “life after death, as well as living life with purpose.” Ptacin describes her experiences of spending a summer at Camp Etna when it opens its gates for a few months to visitors who can meet with a range of Spiritualists. Along the way, she explores the history of “a strong, independent faith-based subculture of women (and a few men).” Rooted in two major beliefs—“that it is our duty to practice the Golden Rule and also that we humans can talk to the dead if we want to”—Spiritualism’s teachings, Ptacin argues, “challenged the established American institutions of patriarchal authority” and influenced abolitionists and suffragettes alike. Ptacin offers a sympathetic account of how Etna’s mediums throughout history have helped people grieving the death of loved ones “have peace knowing that energetically, they are still around and still accessible.” Ptacin, who is receptive to the spiritual experiences and stories of the community, delivers her narrative evenhandedly and with genuine curiosity. This is an eye-opening and informative peek into a little-known but influential community. (Oct.)