Under a spreading jacaranda tree in a Gardena backyard, Grace Eagle stood erect as she shook rattles and tried to call down an Indian spirit.
A circle of 20 spiritualists watched from blankets spread on the lawn. A handful of curious neighborhood boys stared through a fence.
Eagle’s chant to the spirits ended in a high-pitched shout. “If that doesn’t do it, we will never get it,” she said.
Eagle--part Cherokee, part Irish--decribes herself as a counselor in homeopathy, herbology crystal healing, stress management and kinesiology. She was in Gardena on Saturday, at the First United Spiritualist Church, for the first part of a two-day seminar on the Medicine Wheel, a symbol of the continuity of life.
The church, which has about 200 members, is the only organized congregation of spiritualists in the South Bay, according to Assistant Pastor Paul Twiggs. For the last 20 years, it has occupied the same modest stucco building on 165th Place in east Gardena.
Twiggs, who works as an electrician for the city of Hermosa Beach, said the followers of the church believe there is a single, intelligent creative force who made the universe and, in addition, that all individuals exist as eternal entities that take “a physical or spiritual form.” It is sometimes possible to make contact with the spirits of people who “have passed” and sometimes to heal the sick through their intervention.
“Healing is my main line,” Twiggs said. “It is like giving your body a jump start.”
Although the spirit-world connection and healing seem farfetched to many, Twiggs pointed to another aspect of the group’s doctrine as playing a far greater role in limiting the religion’s appeal: a belief that each individual causes and is responsible for whatever happens to him or her.
“With more traditional religion, they think that there is a devil waiting to trip you up and God is waiting to punish you, which gives you a way to explain any happenstance,” he said. As a spiritualist, he said he believes that “if I have problems with finances, with my marriage, with my health, it is my responsibility. Self-responsibility is a bitter pill.”
On Saturday, despite the urgings of Eagle, no spirit manifested itself.
The chant needed to be repeated many more times before that might happen, Eagle explained.
The lack of immediate results did not upset the small gathering of spiritualists, who were observing the healing ceremony around the Medicine Wheel, which was a circular design of crystals arranged on a patterned blanket on the lawn.
Diane, a woman from Torrance who was raised by Mormon and Catholic parents, said she found organized religion unsatisfying. A few months ago, faced with some personal problems, she decided to try the church. “They were very warm and friendly. They were very helpful,” she said, and although she had initial concern that she might be dealing with a cult, “I found myself going back.”
Diane does not tell friends of her involvement with the group. “They would think you are a weirdo,” she said.