Tarot reader pushes for repeal of anti-divination law

Terence P Ward —  June 30, 2016 — 15 Comments

PARKERSBURG, W. Va. — A single mother who wanted to bring in some extra income by opening up a tarot-reading shop has found her plans thwarted by a decades-old law that most city council members weren’t even aware was on the books. However, it was definitely on the radar for the zoning administrator who explained that she’d need a zoning variance to practice her craft legally. Instead, Heather Cooper opted to try to get the law repealed.

[Photo Credit: Atell Rohlandt / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Atell Rohlandt / Flickr]

Cooper, who has been reading tarot at home, was offered space in a friend’s building to open up a new metaphysical shop called Hawthorn, which would focus on card readings. A longtime resident of this West Virginia city, Cooper learned that there’s been a law on the books forbidding the practice of any “trade or profession having as its object the foretelling of happenings of future events.” While there isn’t a tarot police enforcing the law, which was first passed in 1906 and then amended since 1947, Cooper decided she wanted to start her business on the right foot.

“I’m too honest for my own good, and put a stop to the readings. I have a store and no customers; nothing to advertise,” she said.

Her shop Hawthorn has not remained entirely vacant while this process plays out; Cooper has opened the space up to local artists who wish to display their work.

Anti-fortunetelling laws are nothing new. In a 2014 Wild Hunt report on efforts to repeal such legislation, Jason Pitzl-Waters discussed how such statues come into being:

There have been, generally speaking, two primary reasons why fortune telling and other divinatory services are banned in a town or city. The first reason is to address concerns about fraud, about individuals running cons to bilk the gullible out of their money. The second reason is about religion, specifically in America, the Christian prohibition against (some forms of) divination. Often these two threads will conjoin, sometimes inflamed by prejudices against minorities who have engaged in divination to make money (the Roma, for example). In our modern era, these laws have been increasingly challenged by those who believe it limits free speech, or the free exercise of religious beliefs.

Despite the town being located in a what is considered to be a conservative region, Cooper has not found Parkersburg to be populated with people opposed to divination on religious grounds. For her, the hurdle is the time value of money. Even with city council members appearing supportive, Cooper is unfamiliar with the process for changing the law, one which invariably isn’t quick.

Heather Cooper [courtesy photo]

Heather Cooper [courtesy photo]

“I don’t know what I will do” in the meantime, she said. “[My] family sacrificed so much for this business. Hawthorn, my little tree of knowledge, is not doing so well now.”

Cooper doesn’t have the money to hire a lawyer for advice on the actual procedure, but she recognizes that she needs one. This week, she started a crowdfunding campaign to get that professional guidance. She said:

I am fighting this and have hired a lawyer so I can get this city ordinance removed. My business is just getting started so I do not have the funds to afford said lawyer. Please help me in this fight so I and other readers can use our gifts in the town that we love.

With an autistic child to care for, Cooper hopes that the flexibility of her own business will give her the ability to earn a bit more money “to buy that loaf of bread” since her responsibilities at home make it difficult to work a job with set hours. She’s been interested in tarot since she was a teenager, and been reading professionally for over a year.

Cooper is optimistic that this law can be repealed without controversy, although she admits to having some trepidation. A similar effort in Front Royal, Virginia met with stiff resistance only a few years ago, and if this debate is framed in a religious context, it could bring out opposition to her request.

Cooper, herself, does not label her religious views. “When everybody asks my faith, I say, ‘I’m Heather.’ I was raised in a church, believe what I do; why can’t I just be me? Christians might think I’m horrible, but I can’t really say I’m Wiccan. I’m stuck in the middle. Why should I have to choose a face to do what I love, what I’m good at?”

Nevertheless, she’s well aware that divination is considered a core part of the religious practices of some of her customers. “They use it to guide them, to answer their questions. It’s a kind of prayer for a lot of people,” she explained.

hawthorn
The erstwhile business owner is facing unanticipated challenges with this effort; not only does she need to raise money to start earning money legally, she also is not very comfortable with the public speaking that’s required. “It kind of bothers me,” she said. “Why am I the one that wanted to step up?”

More than willing to follow her own advice, Cooper did consult a psychic about this issue. She was told, “I’m on the right path,” but that the story could get bigger before it’s done, which isn’t exactly what she wanted to hear.

“I gotta do this,” she concluded. “I may be crazy for doing it, but it’s what I gotta do.”

Terence P Ward

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Terence P Ward is a moneyworker, journalist, Hellenic polytheist and convinced Friend who lives in the bucolic Hudson Valley with his wife, five cats, and multiple household shrines.
  • Charles Cosimano

    The best practice is to ignore the law and let them try to enforce it. They won’t want a court fight most likely and find it easier to get rid of the law.

    • Rhoanna

      Or it could lead to a court fight and successive appeals that the town can better afford than the shop owner can. Even if the shop owner wins, the legal fees and time can be too much.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    She might seek advice from the Lady Liberty League. Even if she isn’t Pagan, the law throws a shadow over Pagan religious practice as long as it’s on the books.

    • Damiana

      It throws a shadow on all religious practices.

  • Guess she didn’t see that one coming, eh? It’s cool to have a store-front, but all the money she’s spending to get it working and potentially on legal retainer fees could be better spent on a computer, Internet connection, and PPC advertising for an online listing.

  • Good luck, Heather! I literally have no money to give, but I’ve shared this story in hopes of boosting the signal!

  • Wolfsbane

    BREAKING NEWS!

    Ku Klux Klan pushes for repeal of Anti-hate crime and lynching laws.

    Investment bankers push for repeal of banking transparency and conflict of interest laws.

    Nazi Party pushes for laws repealing punishment for those who deny Jewish humanity and right to exist.

    Tarot Reader Pushes for Repeal of Anti-Divination Law.

    No surprise here. Four of the same. Ethically challenged people push for repeal of laws that protect their victims from them.

    “Anti-fortunetelling laws are nothing new. In a 2014 Wild Hunt report on efforts to repeal such legislation, Jason Pitzl-Waters discussed how such statues come into being”

    JPW’ s report was a pile of extruded bovine extraction then, as it still is.
    The vast majority of people involved in divination are criminals that run scams to defraud the weak and vulnerable.

    I went to college with a guy whose family were Irish Travelers. One of the groups, along with the Romani, who are involved in committing most of these divination scams. I was far from home, he and his family befriended me. He was never in it and was in school getting an education. His parents were mostly out of it. His grandparents had mostly certainly been in it but were aged and essentially retired. In the nine months we were in school together, I often hung out at his grandparent’s house, here he lived and learned a much of their scams which they took great delight in showing me how they worked them. This was in the mid 1980s, they’re likely long dead now. They had a huge family with people all over the mountain west. I live in NYC now, there are literally hundreds, if not thousands of these store front divination parlors around the city that do essentially the same thing.

    There’s a really good reason these laws are in place. …..people like my friend’s family. There’s no reason for removing them. I’d say easily 9 out of 10 people involved in this are con artists.

    …….“I don’t know what I will do” in the meantime, she said. “[My] family sacrificed so much for this business. Hawthorn, my little tree of knowledge, is not doing so well now.”

    Cooper doesn’t have the money to hire a lawyer for advice on the actual procedure, but she recognizes that she needs one. This week, she started a crowdfunding campaign to get that professional guidance. She said:

    I am fighting this and have hired a lawyer so I can get this city ordinance removed. My business is just getting started so I do not have the funds to afford said lawyer. Please help me in this fight so I and other readers can use our gifts in the town that we love……….”

    Here we have the REAL crux of the issue. A moron pumped a bunch of their own and other people’s money into something WITHOUT doing their due diligence with proper research beforehand.

    Now they’re asking for the rules to be changed to bail them out because they were stupid. We had some similar idiots here in NYC who bought residential units in a former warehouse factory building next to a busy Northeast Corridor railyard. Now they’re complaining about the noise and want the public to spend BILLIONS in tax dollars to convert the yard to electric operation so it’ll be quiet for them. Same thing here. Some moron wants the rules changed, putting the public at risk barbecue they were stupid.

    As Pagans we should know that nature demands stupidity be harshly punished and we ought not interfere with the course of nature.

    I think I’m going to have to write a letter to the Parkersville city council warning them of my experience with my friend’s family. Being a Pagan, first and foremost requires being a responsible citizen.

    • kenofken

      There’s something incredibly small and sad about the lives of online trolls….
      But I digress. Quick question though?:
      If “nature demands stupidity be harshly punished and we ought not interfere with the course of nature”, why do you vow in the very next sentence to urge the city council to protect victims of divination scams from their own stupidity?

      • Wolfsbane

        Gee, aren’t you a bigot.

        Being weak and vulnerable doesn’t make one stupid.

    • Munsee

      I have lived in 6 states and saw advertiserments for tarot readers in all of them … I have three within 5 minutes of where I live now. Regardless of what you think of them personally (got a religious issue? Don’t patronize them – seems simple to me), the business is well established and accepted without question everywhere else. That law definitely needs to go … outdated and ridiculous.

    • Cathryn Platine

      I just finished, literally minutes ago, my own blog entry on comment trolls.
      http://cybelinecrone.blogspot.com/2016/07/cyber-pagans.html

  • Alma Mercer

    here its the law as well 1 year in prison and 500 fine .. but if we make this legal here comes the cons and yes gullibility is still alive and well ….

    • kenofken

      Having already made legal Christianity, higher education, the health care system and the American Dream, we really have no solid precedent for protecting the gullible from cons.

      • Damiana

        What a silly statement. I hope you were joking.

  • Damiana

    A lot of cities that have tightened their regs on card readers and fortune tellers have done so for very good reason. But a law that was last amended 70 years ago? That needs to go.

    I’m confused about her need to hire a lawyer to fight this. The city attorney, city council or city manager should be able to let he know what’s necessary to kill off this law, or moderate it.

    It’s also sad that she didn’t think to check into this before launching her business. Having a special needs child and little money makes this even more complicated for her to take on. I’m glad that she’s asked for help. But it’s puzzling that she hasn’t turned to a professional tarot organization, the ACLU or a small business association for assistance. Why is she alone in this? This isn’t a pagan issue, it’s not a religious issue at all and if viewed strictly through the lens of anti-fraud efforts it can be adjusted accordingly.