The issue of how local governments regulate psychic and divinatory services has been slowly bubbling up into the mainstream consciousness. These efforts have gone beyond the simple business licences that other industries routinely apply for to include background checks, letters of reference, fingerprinting, and other personal information. Some places, like Chesterfield County, Virginia, limit shops to the “red light” district of town (next to the adult bookstores, pawn shops, and scrap yards), and for some areas obtaining a licence, even if you clear the hurdles, is ultimately down to a judgement of your “good moral character”. When questioned on these ordinances local politicians and officials say it’s to prevent fraud and will point to a con-artist who managed to bilk thousands out of his or her trusting clients. But are those news-making scam-artists the norm? Is there a greater level of fraud within the divination industry than there is in other industries?
Recently, Time Magazine featured an article on a wave of new regulations across the country on businesses that provide divinatory and psychic services. The only psychic practitioner they could get to speak on the record half-favored stronger regulations, while the rest “refused to discuss their practices” on the record. I didn’t think this lack of voice from those who practice divination was adequate considering how many individuals within our interconnected communities are engaged in the practice. So I’ve started a new series called Psychic Services and the Law to get perspectives on regulation from prominent individuals whose voices should be heard as this issue is debated and litigated. In the first installment I talked with tarot expert Mary K. Greer, and this time I’m honored to present a short interview with Rachel Pollack.
Rachel Pollack is considered one of the world’s foremost authorities on the modern interpretation of the Tarot. She has published 12 books on the Tarot, including “78 Degrees of Wisdom”, considered a modern classic and the Bible of Tarot reading. She has been conferred the title of Tarot Grand Master by the Tarot Certification Board, an independent body located in Las Vegas, Nevada. In addition, she’s a celebrated author of fiction and poetry. Rachel also maintains a blog where she discusses issues related to tarot, writing, and inspiration.
Do you feel that the practice of divination should be a government regulated industry complete with background checks, fingerprinting, letters of reference, and other measures?
No, I do not see any need for such regulation. If people are using the guise of divination to defraud or steal from people I would think current laws cover that. It’s not divination that is a problem it’s con artists. If con artists pretend to be doctors in order to trick people out of large sums of money, should we be fingerprinting doctors? Con artists who pretend to be diviners are just the same.
Do you think fraud by psychics is a serious problem, or do you feel it has been overblown by local politicians? Do you have any theories as to why the regulation of those who provide divination or psychic services is still such a popular topic?
Well, I was not aware it was a popular topic. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a news article about it on any of the news web sites I frequent, just on Tarot sites. I really have no way to know how many fake psychic con men there are, compared to people who actually are psychic, or would like to think they are. The actions of con men are very different from psychics, including bad psychics. People who practice fraud are not psychics, they’re crooks.
Many local ordinances dealing with fortune telling have been overturned on the grounds of freedom of religion (in fact, in one case a local reader tried to circumvent the law by arguing she was a “spiritual counselor” rather than a psychic). However, a recent case in Maryland overturned an anti-fortune-telling ordinance on broader Free Speech grounds. Have we been taking the wrong tack in arguing from a religious standpoint? Can the business of tarot reading also be a religious practice?
I agree strongly that free speech is a better grounds than freedom of religion. While many Tarot readers and/or psychics see what they do as religious in some way, I’m sure others don’t.
As a member of several tarot guilds, do you think tarot readers should do more to regulate themselves (as several other industries do)? Is such a move even practical?
I don’t really see how guilds or other groups could regulate readers who don’t want to be regulated. That is, we could have a certification system, but that works only insofar as customers look for it and want readers to have that piece of paper. And what would prevent someone from passing the test, getting the piece of paper to display, and then ignoring all the guidelines they pretended to follow?
As someone who has written several important texts on the tarot, where do you see the practice of tarot reading heading? Do you think it will ever escape the cultural and religious baggage that has haunted it for so many generations?
To be honest, I find it very hard to say where readings might be heading. I do think that we need some sort of breakthrough presentation that would change the societal view of Tarot reading, as bizarre, hokey, and somewhat ridiculous. Tarot needs to come more into public view so that it gets seriously examined. This may happen through some book or movie or through videos…who knows?
I’d like to thank Rachel Pollack 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.