Psychic Services and the Law: Mary K. Greer

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  September 8, 2010 — 14 Comments

Last week Time Magazine featured an article on a wave of new regulations across the country on businesses that provide divinatory and psychic services. It lead with a particularly oppressive example of this trend in Warren, Michigan.

“Anyone who uses cards, tea leaves, psychic powers, necromancy or other objects and activities to forecast the future, remove curses or effectuate other activity, must apply for a license with the city, according to a new ordinance formally passed by city officials this week. Applicants face strict regulations that including fingerprinting, criminal history checks, past home addresses and employment history.”

Worse still are regulations in places like Chesterfield County, Virginia, or Annapolis, Maryland, where approval isn’t merely applying for background checks or filling out forms, but of passing an arbitrary judgement of your “good moral character”. Time’s reporter Elizabeth Dias didn’t seem to find any critical voices against this trend except for a spokesman from the ACLU, an organization that has been involved in several fortune telling related battles.

“But other observers, peering into their own crystal balls, see new worries. Michael Steinburg, of the Michigan branch of the ACLU, suggests Warren’s policy may jeopardize those practicing yoga or predicting the weather. “It makes it illegal to say incantations to give good luck without having a license,” he tells TIME. The ACLU has defended the free-speech rights of Maryland fortune teller Nick Nefedro, who won his case in June to operate a shop in the Washington, D.C., suburbs.”

The only psychic practitioner who spoke on the record to Time was (somewhat) in favor of stricter regulations. Silent in the piece are the many divinatory practitioners within our interconnected communities who have an intimate knowledge of fighting these regulations, those helping to shape fairer regulations where they live, and those who see psychic services and divination as part of their religious calling. The Wild Hunt has long covered what I’ve called the “psychic wars”, and starting today I’m going to be featuring several voices on this issue that I believe should be heard in a new ongoing series of interviews.

Today, I’m featuring a short interview with Mary K. Greer. Greer is an author and renowned expert on the tarot. She is the proud recipient of the 2007 International Tarot Lifetime Achievement Award and the 2006 Mercury Award from the Mary Redman Foundation for “excellence in communication in the metaphysical field.” She also has a blog where she often discusses the regulation of tarot readers by local governments.


Mary K. Greer

Do you feel Tarot readers and other purveyors of various forms of divination should be specifically regulated? If so, where’s the line between fair and oppressive? What do you think of the new regulations in Warren, Michigan where you have to be fingerprinted, pay a yearly $150 fee, and submit to a background check?

No. I don’t believe in specific laws and regulations for fortune tellers that go beyond the standard business laws of any community. It has been found that laws prohibiting fraud cover most cases of abuse perfectly adequately and far better than regulations that discriminate unfairly against this particular profession, especially when they assume criminal behavior where none has been shown by the individual. It has been proved over and over again that discriminatory regulations are created by special interest groups and that they are unfair and almost always unconstitutional.

I’ve always been proud of being part of what I call an “outlaw profession,” partly because it operates outside of the laws, understanding and expectations of regulated society and crosses over the boundaries that tend to distinguish professions, being in-part, entertainment, spiritual guidance, noetic and folk therapeutics, and more. By definition, I provide a service that is not covered adequately by the more traditional and accepted professions. Clients are looking for something extra-ordinary and they get something extra-ordinary. I have the freedom to self-design and describe what I do—which also brings with it the responsibility to explain this as clearly as possible to my clients. I am also responsible to establish my own ethical guidelines and to know and operate my business within the laws and regulations of any area in which I work. While the public is taking a chance on what they are getting, “chance” is, by definition (fate-fortune-chance), part of what they are seeking. However, most of what I’ve said in this paragraph has no bearing on the legal issue, which is a matter of free-speech, occasionally freedom of religion, and is a business service that should be treated like other businesses. If fees and fingerprinting are standard for all businesses then fortune telling should be included.

In your writings you’ve mentioned that fortune telling laws were getting stricter, do you feel there is a religious element to this, or is it simply a case of various interests keeping the “wrong” kind of business out of their neighborhood/town?

Actually, legislation is going both ways – on a case-by-case basis – for instance, Michigan as opposed to the recent Maryland case. Discriminatory laws are almost always urged by people with special interests, whether it’s religious (including “skeptics” as a fundamentalist religion) or proprietary interests in the business community or those who want to control the field from within according to their own private standards. There are always people who want to legislate the rights and actions of others, not according to the highest laws of the land but according to their own beliefs and desires.

How do you feel the various communities that engage in the divinatory arts should respond to tougher regulations? Do you feel we haven’t been paying enough attention to this issue?

I think it is part of professionalism to become aware of these issues. I’m all for educating others and spreading the word. I also understand that it can be very expensive, time-consuming and stressful to fight unfair laws, so I don’t blame anyone who fails to do so. I honor, respect and want to thank each person who has acted legally or editorially against immoral and unconstitutional practices. I especially honor the ACLU, which has been consistently on the side of standing up in court for the rights of fortune tellers, psychics, astrologers, etc. to practice their professions without discriminatory laws. I don’t believe they’ve lost a single one of these cases. I urge others to donate to this outstanding organization.

I was on the board of the short-lived Tarot Certification Board and I discovered how difficult it is to certify practices that are so unique to each practitioner and viewed differently by each certifier. I don’t believe that anything we did, could have served, in practical, consistent-to-everyone terms, both practitioners and clients fairly and equally, nor would Certification, in itself, have prevented fraud. Certification’s greatest gifts to the community have lain in educating everyone involved in laws, ethics, standards, and range of practices, and in acting as a self-diagnostic and rough measurement tool for practitioners who needed help in determining their own abilities relative to others and in understanding and accepting their own professionalism (self-esteem). As a professional field, we are not yet capable of guaranteeing anything, nor of protecting the public through internal investigations and revoking of certifications. However, if there are to be any public regulations or legal certification, I believe it should be defined and overseen by those in the field. A pretty dilemma!

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I’d like to thank Mary K. Greer for taking the time to speak on this issue, and hope you’ll stay tuned to further installments of the Psychic Services and the Law series. This is an issue that has become intertwined with many modern Pagan individuals and businesses and it behooves us to stay informed and  engaged.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • mkg

    Thank you, Baurch Dreamstalker. You are so much more articulate and to-the-point than I am!
    Mary

    • Baurch Dreamstalker

      You are very articulate, Mary. I've been delivering that speech, in different variations, for years and have trimmed it down.

  • Lori F – MN

    Are you sure the the government officials aren't undead minions?

    • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

      That would explain a lot!

  • Ursyl

    If chants for luck, read blessings, are forbidden, are these places going to start arresting priests and rabbis as well?

    • Leea

      Hmm, good point. If a Catholic takes their pet to an annual blessing, and that pet then gets run over or sick, can the priest be sued for fraud?

  • http://norsealchemist.blogspot.com NorseAlchemist

    Dang! Wish I'd thought of that line. Awesome.

  • http://norsealchemist.blogspot.com NorseAlchemist

    Actually, I like the lawyer idea…

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1008131810 Chelsea Rose

      Oops, I missed an it's in that last part there. xD

  • http://norsealchemist.blogspot.com NorseAlchemist

    Oh yeah, Jim Butcher is the greatest

  • http://xkcd.com/285/ Eran Rathan

    Curious, but why aren't existing fraud laws sufficient for this type of regulation?

  • http://xkcd.com/285/ Eran Rathan

    Reducto ad absurdum – and why not rob the economists? they've been doing it to us for YEARS…

  • mkg

    Thank you. You are very gracious, and it's much appreciated.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stenobauer Cathryn Bauer

    Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I am glad there are people like you in the profession.