Archives For divination

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UNITED STATES — Attempts to predict the results of presidential elections have been around as long as the elections themselves. Pundits and pollsters look to the past to predict the future, and there are some idiosyncratic methods that take such an approach to an extreme. Divination is part and parcel of the campaign cycle. Many news sites have even asked for readings to be included in their lighthearted and quirky sections.

It could probably be argued that Pagans and polytheists have the highest number of members practicing divination per capita. Some read only for themselves, while others make their living doing readings.  Still many more fit into a spectrum between those points. These readers — and their clients — do not consider divination to be a parlor trick or a black-and-white way to predict which team is going to win.


We asked some practitioners to offer their predictions for this year’s contentious presidential race and what might follow. Some declined to participate at all, citing a preference not to intermingle the political and religious spheres. Two astrologers and one card reader did agree to participate. Here is what they found:

Teri Parsley Starnes (astrology)

“I have to make a confession. Although I am a Witch who believes it is her responsibility to be informed about politics and world events, I have paid as little attention to the current presidential race as my Facebook feed would allow. I haven’t been doing a lot of clicking. Truth be told, I even unfriended someone I never knew in the first place because they only posted about Bernie Sanders (many times a day), even though I loved Bernie Sanders.

“I guess I am in a cynical mood when it comes to U.S. politics. The candidates and their dramas seem so removed from the actual things we need to work on in this country that I’ve kind of checked out of this race. By the way, I am not proud of this; just felt it was important to clarify. So, this request to write a prediction for the presidential race using astrology makes me smile for two reasons: my disinterest with this race and because I don’t really use astrology this way.

“For me astrology is a tool, a lens, for looking at self and the world where I am striving to be a conscious and responsible co-creator. Astrology can be used to match my efforts with the astrological weather of the moment. As a Witch, this comes in handy when doing magic. As a spiritual person, I use astrology to be mindful of my patterns and to support my prayers. I use birth charts for people, movements, moments, and institutions to better understand what makes them tick and what seems possible now.

“That piece -— what seems possible now -— borders on the realm of prediction, but isn’t exactly. Free will exists. As co-creators, our efforts shape outcome. Astrology can show what is likely, what is possible, and just what it might take to shape an outcome that we most desire. Astrology is really good at revealing where the lessons are and what the struggles will be. Regardless of who wins this next presidential race, we are in for struggle. There is a lot for all us to do.

“Even though I don’t focus on prediction, other astrologers do, and I respect that. There’s much concerning fate and free will that is a mystery, and it is fun. Of the astrologers who have been writing about the outcome of this presidential race, I am most impressed by Nina Gryphon. She has been studying presidential elections going back to 1880 using a special chart called the Aries ingress. To summarize her findings, using traditional techniques of rulership and dignity, Gryphon predicts that this presidential race will be won by the candidate of the political party that is currently in power. That would be the Democrats, and at this point, that means Hillary Clinton.

At this point, it also seems pretty clear, even to someone avoiding news about the race, that a third-party candidate will not win the 2016 election, and that even conservative Republicans are starting to lose it over Trump’s clearly non-presidential temperament. A fascinating tidbit is that Gryphon also predicts that the Democrats will lose the presidency in 2020. Looks like Hillary Clinton could be a one-termer.”


What astrological weather is in store for the U.S. and Hillary Clinton, should she be the next president?

“I use a chart for the U.S. called the Sibley chart. This is not the only possible chart for the U.S., but this chart is one of the more common ones astrologers use to reflect on the character and transits of the nation. It works for me. One prominent feature of this chart is a square between Mars in Gemini (21 degrees) and Neptune in Virgo (22 degrees). Squares are challenging connections. Mars represents will, war, and aggression. Neptune is both illusion and spiritual idealism.

“Historically, we see this aspect played out when beliefs are manipulated to rationalize war. This connection between Mars and Neptune makes it difficult to think and see clearly when the nation is engaged in aggression or defense. The U.S. has vacillated between denial about world conflicts to taking on a savior role in world events. Idealism can influence our national will but we have to be careful about telling ourselves lies.

“Hillary Clinton’s moon in Pisces is exactly opposite the U.S. Neptune, and only one degree from exactly squaring the U.S. Mars. To make matters more interesting, Donald Trump’s sun in Gemini is only one degree from the U.S. Mars, and his Moon in Sagittarius is exactly opposite the U.S. Mars. Both major candidates for president are very closely tied to the problems of war and illusion in the U.S. Both probably feel they can lead the country to fulfill its ideals. Mars in the Sibley chart rules the fourth house of the homeland. It looks like the next president will be challenged to defend national security, and could also be involved in the national tendency to fantasize our role in aggression.

“Clearly, Clinton and Trump are candidates who are being called up by the U.S. psyche to play out patterns laid at the birth of this country. Trump is cashing in on American fundamentalism and hysteria. Clinton appeals more quietly to a side of the country that needs to feel safe while maintaining liberal ideals. She is more of a hawk than Obama. We most likely will find that out about her over the next four years.

“Transits by Saturn next year will activate this pattern between Mars and Neptune in the national chart. Every reenactment of a pattern is an opportunity to evolve into more conscious expression of that pattern. As a nation, the U.S. could learn to be more accountable and realistic (qualities that Saturn encourages) when expressing Mars. These transits will give us an opportunity to experience the expression of national will in a new way, but it will be challenging. Other Saturn reactions include tamping down on excess, becoming more conservative, being tested to our limits.

“Here are the exact dates of the transits, although we should feel the pressure all year:

  • Saturn opposes U.S. Mars on December 31, 2016, August 9, 2017, and September 9, 2017.
  • Saturn squares U.S. Neptune on January 10, 2017, July 15, 2017, and October 3, 2017.

“Clinton will be feeling this same Saturn transit to her moon. Remember, her moon in Pisces is opposite the nation’s Neptune, and square to the nation’s Mars. Trump, as it happens, is experiencing this Saturn transit to both his sun and moon. Difficult personal transits are not unusual for a new president. During Obama’s first year in office, Saturn also squared his natal moon. As you may recall, it felt like Obama squandered all the good will that progressives had about his presidency as he made a series of conservative moves in the beginning of his presidency. Both Clinton and Trump, under the influence of difficult Saturn transits, may exhibit similar conservative behavior.

“Trump and Clinton aren’t the only ones in the race with planets around 22 degrees of mutable signs. Here are more fascinating coincidences: Bernie Sanders’ chart feeds into the same U.S. pattern. Sanders’ South Node of the moon is exactly conjunct the U.S. Neptune. Jill Stein’s Mars is exactly conjunct the U.S. Neptune, and Gary Johnson’s Mercury is only one degree from squaring the U.S. Neptune. As an astrologer, I love these moments of coincidence. They make me pay attention. Something important is happening. I wonder what it means?

“An election is a collective choice. It looks like one of the influences around this choice is about how, as a nation, we express idealism (Neptune) and will (Mars). Some questions to ask ourselves as we face this choice are: How do we work with this pattern in the U.S. birth chart? Who will we choose to enact this pattern for us? What can we learn? How can we grow? Stay tuned for more insight and choice as Saturn calls this part of the national character into accountability. May we choose wisely.”

Star Bustamonte (tarot)

“In my first laying of cards with my question being: Who will win the general election? [and with] two columns of three cards each to identify the major contenders:

“First Column: The first card (3 of Cups) reflects general unhappiness, disagreement, or emotional discord. Second card (7 of Staves) is indicative of initiation, moving to new or different levels. Third card (King of Staves) can reflect someone strong of will, fiery, and refusing to back down. I feel this column represents Trump. His attainment of the Republican nomination made a great many people in the GOP quite unhappy. And his campaign has certainly initiated all of us into a place like none seen before. New levels, indeed. Trump is nothing else if not willful, fiery, and stubborn.

Second Column: First card (Death) rarely means a physical death, but often signals an ending or being finished. Second card (10 of Circles) is all about community support and resources. Third card (Strength) often implies that whatever is your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness. If the first column is Trump, then this one must be Clinton. She lost the Democratic party’s nomination in 2008, a death, if you will. Since obtaining the nomination this time around, her support has only grown and even her campaign slogan is reflected in the second and third cards–Stronger Together. Not to mention that her strength in understanding how the government actually works and in using it to the greatest advantage are also her two biggest liabilities.

Final Column: To aid in mapping out from now until the election, I use five cards.

“1) 9 of Swords – Great stress, confusion and fear over the outcome.

“2) 2 of Cups – Two candidates, male & female. This may also reflect that the third party candidates, Johnson and Stein, will have a slight impact on the election. Another possibility here, in light of recent events, it could also mean there is more to roll out about either candidate’s past relationships. If this proves true, I would put my money on Trump bearing the brunt of unpleasant things coming home to roost.

“3) The Fool – Entrepreneur and definitely represents Trump.

“4) 10 of Swords – This is the end of Trump. The general public turns away, and/or votes against him. I say and/or because some people will just not vote.

“5) Queen of Circles – Hillary comes out on top. She wins.”

Christopher LaFond (medieval astrology)

“One of the highest goals of an astrologer is to predict what will happen in the coming year in politics. Many astrologers have tried to forecast the U.S. presidential elections over the years and this year is no exception. Modern astrologers tend to rely predominantly on the birth data and natal charts of the candidates. When we have accurate birth data, these can be very revealing. However, we often just don’t know what time of day a particular candidate was born, which makes many of the modern techniques difficult to employ.

“We have no accurate birth time, for example, for Bernie Sanders, and the time of day for Hillary Clinton’s birth is suspect, which made it impossible to compare the two charts during the primaries.


“Hellenistic and medieval astrologers, however, had a different approach. To forecast the year ahead, we look at the Aries ingress chart, that is, the spring equinox chart, for the nation’s capital. The astronomical/astrological year begins at the spring equinox (and indeed, the calendar year did, too, for a very long time), so casting a chart for a specific location for the moment that the sun enters Aries is akin to casting a birthday chart for that location.

“Traditionally, if the Aries ingress chart has a fixed sign rising (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, Aquarius), it is valid for the whole year. If it has a cardinal sign rising (Aries, Cancer, Libra, Capricorn), then it’s only valid until the next season, and we need to look at the Cancer, Libra, and Capricorn ingresses for each respective season. If it has a mutable sign rising (Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, Pisces), then it’s good until the Libra ingress in September. However, California-based astrologer Nina Gryphon has had good success using the Aries ingress alone for all presidential elections, and after experimenting with it myself, I agree.

“In these charts, the “king” (remember this is from medieval astrology) is represented by the 10th house, or Midheaven (MC=Medium Coeli) at the top of the chart, along with its ruling planet. The fourth house (IC=Imum Coeli) and its ruling planet represent the challenger. So the MC and its ruler represent the incumbent party and the IC and its ruler the opposition party.

“In the 2016 chart, Virgo is at the MC, so Mercury will represent the Democrats, while Pisces is at the IC, so Jupiter will represent the Republicans. Jupiter happens to be right on the MC as well, in the Democrats’ house. When this happens, it means that the incumbent party “owns” the challengers, and is a pretty clear sign of victory for the incumbents. There are other testimonies as well. Mercury, the ruler of the Democrats here, will conjoin a very dignified sun in Aries in three and a half degrees, while Jupiter, the Republicans’ planet, won’t make an aspect to another planet for about seven degrees. This means that the Democrats, the incumbents, will retain control of the White House.

“I mentioned before that Hillary Clinton’s birth time is still a question. 8 a.m. has been used by many for a long time, however Clinton herself has told people on more than one occasion that it is 8 p.m. This difference in time would yield very different results. However, the 8 a.m. chart is the one that has consistently produced results at times of major events in Clinton’s life. It’s possible that she is mistaken, or that she has intentionally given a false time; after all, the 8 a.m. chart does have Scorpio rising, which would indicate a degree of privacy and a secretive nature (sounds like her). If the 8 a.m. chart is correct, Clinton is at a very high point in her career, while Donald Trump’s chart shows a far less degree of eminence at the time of the election and inauguration. There’s another testimony to the Democrats keeping the White House this year.

“This leads to the question: What happens politically in the new year? We examine the Aries ingress chart for 2017. Without giving the technical details, what I see is that the country is in good enough shape, but doesn’t realize it; the focus is on the president, who is under constant attack. It’s likely that the Congress and the president will get on somewhat better than the current Congress does with President Obama. But that will only increase the feeling that the entrenched political class needs to go in the next election. The gap in understanding increases between older and younger generations. Financially, the country does well, and attention is paid to shoring up any gaps in the Affordable Care Act and increasing it. Expect more home-grown terrorist attacks in neighborhoods and on public transit, rather than large attacks from the outside. Foreign policy will be a frustrating experience.

2018 looks like a “honeymoon” year, before 2019 and 2020 become difficult once again, leading to the next electoral cycle.”

In short, the diviners are predicting a Clinton win, but a rocky road during her term in office. Want to sway that in any direction? Vote, and pay attention to what your elected officials do to earn your trust after the fact.

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In an article posted May 31, Kari Paul at the Broadly channel on Vice pitted Wiccans and professional tarot card readers against popular smartphone apps that purport to offer divination to any user at the tap of an icon. To Paul’s credit, her piece was not the sort of exploitation piece you often see when mainstream journalists cross paths with Witchcraft and Paganism. Her tone comes off as that of a sincere investigator trying to discuss a real tension between two different types of people.


The Wildwood Tarot Application by Fool’s Dog [Photo Credit: H. Greene]

At the same time, Paul presents a relatively black and white world where the battle lines are clearly drawn: Witches have a bone (or a card, or a rune) to pick with programmers who think they can mathematically create the randomness and relationships necessary for accurate divination to occur. For example, she quotes one professional reader named Tea Cake who calls divination apps “extremely gimmicky and next to useless.” Tea Cake goes on to question the tarot skills of app programmers, stating that their unknown credentials make it “difficult to sort out what is bullshit.”

Another Witch in the article, Maria Palma-Drexler, tells Paul that “technology has its place in witchcraft, but only as an aide,” while another, known as Blue June, states emphatically that “practices like divination are better carried out the way they have been traditionally: by humans, not apps.” She stresses that “there is no need to add technology.” While Paul does quote author Mary K. Greer in support of apps toward the end of her piece, the overall picture is one of Witches and readers distrusting the skills and sincerity of software developers. It is right there in the headline: “Covens vs. Coders.”

Is that picture correct? Pagans are often less black and white in their thinking than other people and, much like the rest of the industrialized world, most have embraced the digital culture we live in today. Smartphones and the apps that go with them are just another part of that culture. According to some professional and experienced readers, there may actually be a much more complicated relationship between them and the new experience of divining by tapping an icon.

Fiona Benjamin [Courtesy photo]

Fiona Benjamin [Courtesy photo]

Fiona Benjamin, who reads tarot and bones professionally at, believes the apps can be used for divination, especially in public situations. “Sometimes you need to pull your cards out in a location where you can’t shuffle your cards,” said Benjamin. “I don’t see it as an ‘evolution’ of the physical cards so much as a welcome alternative.” As a parent of young children, she also notes the convenience of being able to answer a question for herself “without fear of ripped cards in the hands of babies.”

Lupa, a professional reader, blogger and author, believes these apps are useful for answering a querent’s needs. “I don’t see them as less effective than paper cards or carved runestones,” she said. “After a certain amount of experience the exact tool you use is kind of like Dumbo’s feather—it’s just a way to trick your mind into getting in the right place for divination.”

While some professional readers are on board with smartphone divination, others are not so certain about it. Yet their criticism does not come from the “extremely gimmicky” place mentioned by Paul. Their concerns are little more nuanced.

Lupa [Courtesy photo]

Lupa [Courtesy photo]

“I would love to say these apps are completely useless, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true,” states Mat Auryn, who reads tarot at shops throughout New England as well as on his own website. “Do they work for divination?” asked Auryn. “Yes and no.”

Basing his theory of the tarot on Carl Jung’s ideas of synchronicity and the collective unconscious, he said that, “The collective unconscious is always trying to communicate psychic information to us via symbolism.” He stressed that, “the cards that are drawn are the cards meant to be seen.” Divination, by that theory, is admittedly possible.

The trouble, according to Auryn, comes both with how the software is developed and how it is used. The apps rely “on computer generated algorithms instead of randomly shuffling,” a weakness which harms the random nature of card pulls. “Both are random,” he explained, “but one is based on preset coding, which will eventually repeat.”

A further concern, according to Auryn, is that “most of the meanings are set and short,” which means that, “without a deep understanding of the cards, the answer is totally out of alignment with the question and the position in the spread.” The cards, then, may be providing the correct message, but the finite number of keywords available to the user may not be able to accurately convey the intended message. The implication here is that one must already be experienced in the tarot in order to accurately interpret the messages on the screen. Of course, an appreciable number of users do not have that expertise.

Mat Auryn [Courtesy photo]

Mat Auryn [Courtesy photo]

Auryn concluded that, while the apps are not useless, they need to be used wisely. “A legit psychic is tapped into the collective unconscious,” says Auryn. “The professional reader is an expert in their field.”

“The difference,” he said, “is the same as going to the doctor and having a WebMD app.”

In Paul’s original Vice article, the lack of person-to-person energy was a major concern. “Each client comes in with their own energy,” Blue June was quoted as saying. “The problem with an algorithm is that it’s just random—it has nothing to do with intuition.”

Auryn only partially agreed with that statement. “It is important to feel the energy of a client,” he admitted, “but that doesn’t have to be in person.” Since we are all connected by the collective unconscious, in his view, “distance has no bearing on a reading.”

Mary Paliechesky, who has been reading tarot for over 30 years, agreed. She said that, “I used to agree that you needed to feel the energy of the person that you are reading. However, I think that was an artifact of my skill level and training. The energy is all around us. You can connect to a person across space as long as you know their energy.”

Mary Paliechesky [Courtesy photo]

Lupa said that she does prefer to check in with clients during a reading. “Any reader, no matter how good,” said Lupa, “is by necessity projecting some of their own biases into the reading, and it’s important to make sure that they match up with the client’s experiences.” The ability to check in with a client, a capability that is difficult to obtain through an app, helps to eliminate a reader’s bias.

In her professional life as a reader, Benjamin is more concerned with communication than with energy. “I can feel the energy all day long,” she explained, “but if I am failing to meet the needs of the client or if I don’t communicate the message in a way that is clear, the reading will not be useful.”

To be fair, the Golden Thread Tarot app, which is featured in Paul’s article, does contain some emotional interfacing to address this concern, but it allows only a limited number of emotional responses from the user, leading back to the criticism of being finite. It’s not useless, and some professionals even say they use this app regularly, but as experts it is much easier for them than it would be for a typical client. In the end, perhaps unsurprisingly, the relationship of professional readers and experienced Witches to electronic divination is a much more complicated picture than Paul seems to paint. While there are some reservations in the community, there is not an attitude of wholesale rejection, and there is a definite strain of recognizing their value.

Auryn cautioned that, “It is important to remember that you always get what you pay for. There is no app that can ever replace a talented psychic or an advanced student of the tarot.” Others, however, are much more positive. “Divination apps are genius,” concluded Benjamin. “A tarot reader’s skills will never be diminished because of technological aid.” In the same camp, Paliechesky put it simply: “Times change and energy is all around us. If it works for you, it works.”

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.

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.”

The Priests of Ifá (Babalawos) in Cuba have released their annual prognosis and recommendations about the energies of the year called La Letra del Año, or The Letter of the Year. The Letter is not just a statement, but rather an event that culminates in its release. Priests of Ifá gathered last week in preparation. As the new year enters, the priests, through castings and discernment, gauge the change in energies, and offer their guidance to maintain spiritual balance and strength.


[Photo Credit: M. Tejeda-Moreno]

I thought it might be helpful to offer a brief glossary before looking at the Letter and describing its meaning. Lukumí is synonymous with Santeria; it is also called Regla de Ocha and Regla de Ifá (Rule/Reign of Orisha, Rule/Reign of Ifá, respectively). Those break down into two intimately connected but sometimes theologically and politically divided traditions. Lukumí or Lucumí also refer to the liturgical dialect of the Yoruba language that is used in those traditions. Some houses work with Ifá, while others only work with lines of Ocha. In Ocha lines, the senior priests, called Obá Oriatés, or the highly adept Olorishas (priests of an Orisha) will often discern the Letter recognized within their house.

Regardless whether the line is Ocha-centered or Ifá-centered, there is tremendous respect for the priests of both lineages and equally tremendous respect for the skill of the Babalawos who divine the Letter of the Year. For this column I’ll use the term Lukumí, but I feel I need to honor the fact that there is an important difference present, which perhaps I can return to in the future.

The Letter itself is a specific and direct revelation offered by Orisha Òrúnmìlà (also called Orunla), the master of divination and the most skilled of oracles. He speaks through Odu, the divination system he offered humankind, and as a result is considered one of the great benefactors and protectors of humanity. Òrúnmìlà was one of the Orisha that witnessed the creation of Ayé, the physical realm which includes Earth. From this witness, he understands the most intimate connections between the spiritual and physical. Orunmila is not a fortune-teller; he is the power that emerges when experience, wisdom and intelligence are combined.

Like other Orisha, Òrúnmìlà took physical form and developed a special relationship with Orisha Changó, who strengthened Òrúnmìlà with the gift of divination. Òrúnmìlà saw humankind’s strengths, weaknesses and follies. He could see not only the consequences of actions but also their magnitude, origins and reverberations into the world of Spirit. As he traveled the Earth, he observed how people would succumb to their own failings, their own limited understanding of the world around them and even to the ruses and traps sent forth by Orisha Elegua, the Great Trickster and Communicator. And with his knowledge, witness and prophecy, Òrúnmìlà gifted humankind the Table of Ifá that we refer to as Odu, the divinatory system through which he speaks.

The Odu are the 256 combinations of 16-by-16 square pairings that connect to stanzas and passages identifying the message sent by Orisha. To understand Odu requires years of formal study of Ifá, as well as experience in interpreting the very subtle differences across potential meanings. Babalawos train for years to become elder priests who are skilled at discerning the messages. The human ears have to be trained to listen and the eyes to see, but Òrúnmìlà speaks with clarity.

The Letter of the Year is a tradition within the Lukumí and Ifá community. While it is unclear if the tradition originated in Africa, it is well known within this community that the first of these letters was probably cast by Ño Remigio Herrera Adeshina Obara Meyi, a Nigerian-born freed slave and priest of Ifá (babalawo) in Havana, some time around the 1830s.

Since that time, the Letter has been cast in a variety of locations. Different cities were known to cast letters and different houses (congregations) also cast their own letters. However, since mid-1980s several hundred babalawos in Cuba formed an organization to conduct a common ritual and discernment. (There are actually two Letters, because of two houses; it boils down to politics.) And this Letter is released as close to New Year’s Day as possible as the ritual closes with consensus of Odu. Additionally, there is a Letter released by the Ocha/Ifá community in diaspora that occurs in Miami.

Both Letters are eagerly anticipated, and their release is one of the major events within the Ocha/Ifá community. But in June 2015, organizations in both Miami and Cuba announced that, due to the warming relations between Cuba and United States, they would discern a single and joint Letter. That first Unified Letter was released on January 2, 2016.

The 2016 Letter is below. The comments in parentheses are my translation and the explanation is added for the reader’s comprehension. But, and I want to underscore, these are not to be understood as a substitute for appropriate guidance from a godparent in the Tradition.

The Letter of the Year

From the Priests of Ifá: The Unified Letter of the Year 2016

This section refers to the specific elements of Odu; they are symbols (runes might be a better word) and proverbs that help us understand the world of 2016.  

Signo Regente (The Reigning Sign): Ogbeyono
1er testigo (The First Witness) : Ogbeate
2do testigo (The Second Witness): Odditauro

 *   *   *

This section also refers to activities and offerings to be done to limit the influence of Elegua’s trickery or bad energy.

Oracion Profetica (Prophetic Proverb): ire oma oyale lese elegba (un bien de inteligencia firme al pie de Elegua)
Onishe Elegba: Eyegbale, otan
Onishe Ara: Sarayeye jio jio meta y ebbo misi con atiponla y opolopo efun, otan

 *   *   *

This section refers to reigning Orisha of the year and the appropriate offerings to those energies

Orisha Regente (The Reigning Orisha): Ogún
Orisha Acompañante The accompanying Orisha:  Oshún
Bandera (Flag):  Green with Yellow trim
Ebbo (Offerings):  1 white chicken, 1 sprig of watercress with more ingredients.

 *   *   *

This section contains cautions related to health

  1. Digestive Disorder, particularly of the pancreas.
  2. Neurological disorders
  3. Outbreaks of epidemics and mass poisonings.

 *   *   *

This section contains statements of social concern

  1. Bursts of migration
  2. Increases in foreign invesments
  3. Developments of agreements between countries.
  4. Social unrest because of desperation.

 *   *   *

This section contains the proverbs from Odu

“El gandido agranda el vientre y achica su cabeza.” (The thief grows his belly and shrinks his head)
“La Paciencia te hace Rey.” (Patience will make you a king)
“El dinero en el mundo lo encontramos, y en el mundo lo dejamos.” (We find money in the world, and we leave it in the world)
“Cuando tenemos guerra con nuestra propia cabeza, siempre salimos vencidos.” (When we fight our nature, we always lose)
“La orgullosa laguna se aparta del arroyuelo, como si el agua no fuera lo común entre ambas.” (The proud lagoon thinks itself different from the stream forgetting the two have water in common)

 *   *   *

The Letter also contains a series of recommendations

  1. Avoid pollution
  2. Ensure the collection of garbage and community sanitation
  3. Be hygienic to avoid the spread of disease
  4. Create favorable immigration policies
  5. Honor and preserve the moral and religious traditions of their practitioners
  6. Be cautious of manufactured products particularly in the handling and distribution of food.
  7. Dialogue is an important tool in solving conflicts.
  8. Work toward a balance between wages and the cost of necessities.
  9. One sign suggests a danger of war.
  10. One sign suggests turmoil in economic negotiations.
  11. There is a dangerous rise in terrorism.
  12. Encourage procreation and the health of infants.
  13. Always seek the guidance of godparents to clarify these signs and recommendations.

 *   *   *

In Lukumí, “luck” doesn’t quite exist, or perhaps a better way to understand it is that you make choices that change what comes to you. Lukumí handles luck as an issue of Balance. Elegua also plays a role, testing us to empower us. He is the powerful Orisha of the crossroads, the opener and closer of ways the great communicator. Without him, there is no way to communicate with Orisha. He is always propitiated, for he conveys messages. He enjoys trickery and confronting us with obstacles so that we can surmount and progress as individuals and as a society. We honor him because he is present when we decide, when we speak, when we act and when we overcome.

Tide Change - Miami

Changing Tide [Photo Credit: M. Tejeda-Moreno]

If you are balanced spiritually by reflecting on your growth, living through your strengths and recognizing your limits and understanding your choices, then you are living fully, prepared for opportunities and able to focus on relationships that will strengthen you and your community. In other words, carrying a rabbit’s foot won’t help, but if carrying that rabbit’s foot reminds you how you must conduct yourself before an Orisha, that will help.

That does not mean that there are no spiritual energies at play around you, but your Balance, through meditation, divination and offerings, allows you to navigate those energies successfully. You live fully by becoming better at who you are with each passing day.

When I describe those energies I always end up focusing water. In South Florida, when the tide turns on Biscayne Bay it is more a change of water than it is a change in height. The shallow waters surrounding us do not produce the dramatic heights of tidal changes that are seen in areas like the Bay of Fundy. (Though, if you ever find yourself in the beautiful Atlantic Provinces, add Hopewell Rocks, New Brunswick to your must-see list.)

Here in Miami, the waters change from rich green to crystal blue. It is the ebb and flow of estuary and ocean water. When estuarine water pervades, the tide is darker, full of nutrients and moving to low. Sandbars appear and fill up with boaters and birds. Bottlenose dolphins begin their hunting and island-dwelling raccoons look for shellfish. When the ocean water prevails, the tide is clear and high. The dearth of nutrients common in tropical waters produce clear conditions giving bay waters the clarity of a swimming pool.

If you remain in Balance, you are able to see the benefits of the murky water: the nutrition. You are also able to navigate its dangers. You can’t see well and low tide can leave you beached. The same is true for the ocean water. It may clear, but it is also deeper.

The Letter is composed of three main parts followed by recommendations describing health, community, economics, politics and general welfare. The first part are the Odu. They are the proverbs, statements of offerings and symbolic identifiers that are marking the coming year. This section is really for priests and how they can offer support both to their community and their godchildren. While the Odu applies to all people, the use of Odu for spiritual purposes is done with the assistance of a priest. However, the recommendations found later in the Letter will describe proverbs related to the Odu in more detail.

The second part of the Letter marks the governing Orisha and the accompanying Orisha. The governing Orisha of 2016 is Ogún. He is the first Orisha to choose to enter Ayé, the Earth, and ultimately became the patron of civilization. He is the great crafter of tools and the Orisha of technology. It is through him and his tools that humans cleared the wild and built their cities.

He is also a skilled warrior yet cautions on weaponry. He offers, for example, a blade that can be used by assassins to kill or surgeons to heal. He is both brooding and industrious disposed to anger and creativity. He lives in the wild but enjoys visiting train tracks and is proud of the technological and artistic achievements of humans. He is the husband of Oyá and understands both his children and hers. To summon his energy in abundance, offerings including fried green plantains, smoked fish, grapes and cigars. He is partial to rum-soaked watermelon. But most of all, he likes big — big— meals.

The second part of the Letter will also identify the accompanying Orisha, and it is here that the Letter does get unusually complicated and requires guidance from priests. Not only does this part represent a presence of a second energy to support the first, but the two in combination are important. And the Odu will identify fables (patakis) about the relationship between the Orisha that describe how the governing energy must be managed.

This year, the accompanying Orisha is Oshún. She is the Orisha of beauty, love and sweetness. She is flirtatious and sensual yet serious and generous. She brings attention to the power of women and strengths to serve and lead. Her energies will be present and possibly tempering the dominant Orisha. Oshún is the essence and mystery of femininity. She loves gold, both the color and the metal. She is partial to honey but enjoys anything that is sweet. She also loves baked yams in brown sugar and butter. Offerings to her will call her energy.

Ogun Cauldron [Photo Credit: M. Tejeda-Moreno]

Ogun Cauldron [Photo Credit: M. Tejeda-Moreno]

The remainder of the Letter describe precautions and proverbs noting aspects of life and health that would benefit from careful attention or observation over the year.

I think it also important that the Letter not be understood as a prophecy, so to speak. it’s not meant to forecast the future, and certainly not in the way we might see in psychic predictions. Divination is not about the future. It is about us. It is about our place in the now; how we move through time; how we can build that better future free of scourges and vices that weaken our human community.

The Letter in this regard might best be understood as calibrating us to the unseen environment around us. While the governing Orisha may set processes in motion that can impact future events, those events are not typically identified. It’s a spiritual weather report. Something like how conditions in the Western Pacific suggest the formation of a powerful El Niño. We know — all too well right now — what weather an El Niño event disposes us to, but we can’t say exactly where there will be a thunderstorm, flood, landslide or tornado. We can plan, prepare, observe and act.

Ultimately, the underlying point of Odu is that we can manage our luck. We do so through offerings and understanding. This year, the Letter speaks to how intelligence and reflections will be critical to how we work the year. It also speaks to how we approach our acceptance and understanding of our own behavior; whether through science, reflection, offerings or rituals, they bring forth opportunities to make profound changes, take charge and even start fresh. Recognizing the energies around us, helps us use them to strengthen ourselves and our community.

In that sense, the Letter is a vehicle for empowerment. In many ways, our collective Pagan space evolved from a demand for self-determination. It is a resource to fortify us as we engage the world around to eliminate sources of personal and social oppression. Like the returning sun that we celebrated in the Northern Hemisphere a few days ago, we can build a bright, inclusive and safe future for our community. That is how Lukumi demands we act: as repairers of world restoring Peace and Balance. And knowing the weather helps, to sow and harvest, even in winter.

¡Feliz Año Nuevo! Eku odun tuntun! And many blessings in the New Year.

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.

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Tarot cards.

Because many Pagans, Polytheists, occultists, practitioners of Afro-Caribean or indigenous faiths, and other fellow travelers, study, use, and sometimes sell divinatory arts, this site has taken a keen interest in how challenges to these ordinances (not to mention the creation of new ordinances)  might affect our own lives. The current trend has been towards regulating fortune-telling shops to “red light” districts, along with the strip clubs and pawn shops, since the courts have been largely favoring divination as a form of protected speech, making total bans hard to defend. Back in 2010 I interviewed Rachel Pollack, one of the world’s foremost authorities on the modern interpretation of the Tarot, who categorically rejected the need for regulating divination.

rachel_pollack“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.”

Pollack’s view isn’t shared by everyone who offers professional divination services, but I think her stance gets to the heart of something regarding the regulation of divination. That while fraud can be carried out in a myriad of ways, there’s a focus on tarot cards, crystal balls, and psychic services that seems to expose a cultural bias, despite the occasional high-profile fraud trial. This cultural bias was center stage recently in the town of Front Royal, Virginia, where the local town council have been moving forward to remove an old law against fortune telling.


“For decades, the town of Front Royal has had a code listed among its ordinances that bans  fortunetelling and the practice of magic arts. Understandably, the ban’s legality and use of offensive terms like “gypsies” has come under fire. More than 50 supporters and opponents showed up at a hearing last week to voice their concerns, after a local tarot card reader was allegedly asked to stop practicing her craft because it violates city code. The town council voted to remove the section of the code that prohibits fortunetelling and the use of offensive terms, but a second reading of the motion will be heard at their next meeting.”

However, opposition to removing the fortune telling ordinance took an ugly turn at a recent Town Council meeting, exposing a toxic nexus of both homophobia and fear of the religious other.

“Foes of repealing a ban on fortunetellers in Front Royal recently attacked a nonprofit group and claimed it supported pagans. The executive director of the Center for Workforce Development ended her silence this week by responding to the accusations, including one claiming the organization recruits youths into the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community through witchcraft. Arlene Ballou called the actions by a few people who recently spoke at a Town Council meeting in favor of keeping the ban on fortunetellers “disgraceful” and accused them and others of spreading misinformation about her organization. Ballou said she hopes to get a chance to speak to Town Council soon about the issue.”

The issue began when a Pagan, Maya White Sparks of The Spiral Grove, was asked to stop giving readings at a local shop due to complaints. In the aftermath of that incident, White then discovered there was an old anti-fortune telling ordinance on the books and started working to get it repealed.

Priestess Maya White Sparks [Photo Credit: M.W. Sparks]“This law had no influence or bearing on the Marketplace incident. However she decided to use the code, or the removal of the code, as a rallying point to begin the conversation. She wants this effort ‘to be a catalyst that gets [the local community] talking about religious discrimination.’ When she informed friends about her discovery and mission, Maya received immediate support both in person and on Social Media. She says ‘Within seconds of posting on Facebook I had a tremendous’ response from people across the country.”

That initiative, which was initially thought to be a quick and simple matter, soon became increasingly complex as it brought out a strong current of hostility towards the local Pagans who spoke out on the issue, with the predominantly Catholic opponents of the repeal heckling them at Town Council (it should be noted that Front Royal has a thriving Pagan community, and supports a metaphysical store).

“Addressing council as the last of 18 public hearing speakers, ordained Pagan Reverend Kelyla Spicer found herself being shouted down after giving her Middletown home address. Before she could continue someone in the crowd rose and yelled ‘Is this necessary?!?’ challenging Spicer’s right to speak […] Spicer disputed allegations by some that allowing [P]agan practitioners to operate legally in Front Royal would lead to general social descent into criminality and otherwise ‘un-Godly’ behavior, including the recruitment of children into a life of homosexuality.”

It was quite clear that opposition to repeal was seen through a starkly religious lens, with local Christian groups holding prayer sessions outside the government center, and anti-Pagan rhetoric being spewed inside by self-proclaimed Christians. 

“Do you want it to be your legacy that you are the ones who opened the door in this community to make Front Royal a haven for witchcraft, fortunetelling and other pagan practices? […] I guarantee you that no American family, religious or not, will want to raise their children next to a shop that sells fortunetelling, tarot cards, witchcraft and so forth.”

At the most recent council meeting the councilors seemed to be moving towards regulation and licensing, rather than just removing ordinance and being done with it. Legal council for the town referenced a recent 4th Circuit Court ruling that was covered here at The Wild Hunt, which says that local governments do have the right to regulate divination services in a reasonable manner. That said, officials of Front Royal should be careful, because that ruling also leaves a door open for divination performed within the scope of a religious service.

Cognizant that defining the borders between the personal and philosophical on one side, and the religious on the other “present[s] a most delicate question,” id. at 215, we conclude that Moore-King’s beliefs more closely resemble personal and philosophical choices consistent with a way of life, not deep religious convictions shared by an organized group deserving of constitutional solicitude. Yoder teaches that Moore-King must offer some organizing principle or authority other than herself that prescribes her religious convictions, as to allow otherwise would threaten “the very concept of ordered liberty.” Yet Moore-King forswears such a view when she declares that instead of following any particular religion or organized recognized faith, she “pretty much goes with [her] inner flow, and that seems to work best.”

For the foreseeable future (no pun intended), barring intervention from the Supreme Court in the United States, we’re most likely going to continue on the course we’ve been on. A mixture of unenforceable bans, a web of different (and sometimes arbitrary) regulations depending on where you live, and an undercurrent of fear of beliefs and practices considered outside of a certain norm. The ban of fortune telling in Front Royal will be removed, and no doubt some licensing procedure enacted, as it has been in other towns, but what’s important here is what we’ve learned about why some of these laws persist. That in places like Front Royal it isn’t about fraud, or con-artists, it’s about control. Control not only over what kind of businesses can exist, but control over what kind of belief systems can exist.

Be sure to check out the previous installments in our coverage of this repeal effort:

The beginning of a new calendar year usually means a flurry of predictions. These prognostications can be educated guesses, fervent hopes, pessimistic fears, or, in some cases, spiritual messages via divination, omens, or other supernatural methods. One widely reported instance of a yearly divination tradition is the Ifá predictions from Cuba’s Santeria priests, who’ve been gathering for nearly 30 years to make predictions and recommendations. This year the reigning divinity is Olokun, accompanied by Yemaya, and they are predicting a year of generational conflict and ecological imbalance.

“Afro-Cuban priests warned Thursday that the new year may be marked by outbreaks of disease, environmental disruption, familial disorder and conflict between people and nations that risks spilling into war. In the annual “Letter of the Year,” a commission of “babalawos,” or Santeria priests, also predicted that 2014 could see the death of important global political or religious leaders, and elderly people in general. They did not, however, name any names.”

In an interesting twist this year, three different groups of Santeria priests, one in Miami, and two in Havana, all agree that Cuba will have an “optimistic” 2014.

For the first time in memory, New Year’s predictions issued by three groups of Cuban Santeria priests — two in Havana and one in Miami — have agreed: The communist-ruled island faces an “optimistic” year. Now the babalawos are trying to figure out exactly what the prediction, or “letter,” means. […] “There is no precedent for the three being identical,” said Ernesto Pichardo, head of the Lukumi Babalu Aye Church in Hialeah and part of the group that issued the Miami “letter.” “Now the question is what road to follow … More precision is needed.”

At Patheos, Lilith Dorsey comments on the unique nature of this alignment of readings, calling it “unprecedented.”

“In the religion of Santeria (La Regla Lucumi) the New Year begins with a divination. Many Santeria houses (spiritual centers) perform their own divination. Special note however is paid to the readings done by the larger spiritual houses. These readings give predictions, prohibition, and insight into the coming year. Devotees use these predictions as guidelines for the coming year. It is a very good idea to follow the rules dictated by your spiritual home. I have several cautionary tales about how someone didn’t follow a food prohibition and then got ill, or didn’t follow a sex tabu and then got an STD. There are a few things to remember when reading this information. First, follow the instructions of your own ile, and your godparents first and foremost. Secondly, if you are not initiated into the religion this information is provided for informational purposes only. Fortunately or unfortunately Santeria is not a home study religion, and it can not be self taught, everyone is different and needs the individual guidance and support that come from belonging to a spiritual family.”

Dorsey also shares the Yoruba Cultural Association’s letter for 2014. For a deeper picture, you can look at many different yearly Ifa readings from many different groups and councils, here.  Meanwhile, the faithful take to the streets in Cuba to ask the powers for a prosperous year to come.

“Cuban followers of the Santeria faith beat sacred drums, sacrificed animals and sang ceremonial songs in the Yoruba tongue Monday to give thanks for the year’s blessings and ask for prosperity in 2014. About 200 believers and onlookers thronged Havana’s most important market, Cuatro Caminos, for the ceremony dedicated to Eshu-Elegbara, the deity associated with markets and commerce, and also protector of the universe. “This year was good, it was prosperous,” said Victor Betancourt, a “babalawo,” or Santeria priest.”

Naturally, Santeria isn’t the only faith that engages in divination, though few Pagan organizations formalize yearly divination in such a manner (usually readings are personal and done for clients). There are, on the other hand, plenty of Astrologers giving 2014 forecasts. Whatever your method, Dorsey’s warning to treat these various readings as informational if you aren’t entrenched in the belief system or school in question is well heeded. As for their accuracy? Only time will tell.

“Carol Mayer, a self-described “undercover psychic” at Benicia’s Angel Heart 4 You, 501 First St., (707) 745-2024 also sees improvement on the horizon. “Twenty thirteen was a very difficult year for everybody, so I guarantee 2014 will be a better year for everybody; a really wonderful year for all of us,” said Mayer, who said this prediction comes also from observations as a local business owner.”

Have you done divination or oracular work for 2014? Just have a strong hunch about the months to come? What are your predictions and advice for the coming year? Feel free to share them in the comments, and welcome to 2014!

Earlier this week three missing Ohio women were found after one of them, Amanda Berry, managed to gain the attention of a neighbor from the home that had become their prison. Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight were held for over a decade, and police are now unraveling how it happened, and why the captives weren’t discovered sooner. In the midst of the media frenzy a variety of angles and personalities have emerged, including the involvement of infamous professional psychic Sylvia Browne. In 2004 Browne told Berry’s mother, Louwanna Miller, on The Montel Williams show, that her child was dead.

Sylvia Browne and Montel Williams.

Sylvia Browne and Montel Williams.

“She’s not alive, honey,” Sylvia Browne told her matter-of-factly. “Your daughter’s not the kind who wouldn’t call.”

Further, Browne said she saw a jacket with “DNA on it,” implying that Berry was murdered. This is not the first time that Browne, who enjoys a mini-empire built around her psychic predictions and spiritual teachings, has given bad predictions to grieving parents. In 2007, CNN explored the issue, prompting a defensive statement from her publicist.

“She cannot possibly be 100 percent correct in each and every one of her predictions. She has, during a career of over 50 years, helped literally tens of thousands of people.”

However, it’s one thing to be wrong about a new job, or if you’ll find true love this year, it’s another thing entirely to destroy (or lift up) the hopes of desperate parents. Louwanna Miller died of a heart attack in 2007, those who knew her said she was never the same after Browne’s prediction. She died never knowing the truth of what happened to Amanda. With this latest callous prediction proved wrong Greg Taylor at The Daily Grail lashed out at Browne, joining those who say the psychic must be stopped.

“I’m not an easy person to anger, but this list of cases gets my blood boiling, and here’s why: the incorrect calls I could live with, if it was offered privately just as a “I’ve got a feeling, but I could well be wrong”. But to go on TV, and tell these people outright the fate of their children in public – sometimes even rebuking them when they throw doubt on what you’re saying – is just wrong on so many levels. Perhaps some readers of this blog are Browne fans; I can’t apologise for my opinion. If there’s one skill I have, it’s being able to pick a person’s character very quickly, and Browne has always sent a shiver up my spine (for all the wrong reasons). The growing list of cases where she hurt families with misinformation only confirms my gut feeling.”

Browne is hardly alone in handing out these kind of predictions. Marc Klaas, whose daughter was abducted and murdered, said he was inundated with requests from psychics in the immediate aftermath. 

“I was insulated from most of them by family and police, but there had to be at least a dozen I personally dealt with. They hope you’ll pay them and they hope they’ll get really, really lucky and make a guess so close to the truth, they can say they solved it.” 

So with the near-miraculous return of these three women, we should ask the question of what divination, mediumship, and other predictive arts are for. How should we use them? In our interconnected communities divination is everywhere, as are psychic predictions and other intuitive arts. Should we be having a larger conversation about incidents like this? What moral responsibility do we have if we tell someone something that turns out to be horribly wrong? What do we do if our predictions actually turn out to hurt people instead of help them? Do we simply hold out examples of correct predictions as if they somehow balance the incorrect ones?

Assuming for a moment that Browne is sincere in her beliefs, and not an elaborate con artist, what kind of individual potentially gives thousands of bad predictions with little to no remorse? Were I in Browne’s position I would feel endlessly tormented over the people my predictions have hurt. I think incidents like this should call us collectively to examine how we practice, and in what contexts do we feel comfortable handing out predictions. I have no doubt that most Pagans engaging in psychic work are sincere, which calls me to ask how responsible they feel they are regarding life-or-death predictions, and what recourse do they engage in should a prediction turn tragic? Rather than become defensive, and work to distance ourselves from the hucksterisms of Browne, I think this is a call to introspection. How do we prevent ourselves from becoming the things that Browne now embodies to an outraged public?

Can local governments tell diviners, psychics, and practitioners of other related predictive arts where to go? According to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, yes, they can. On February 26th a three-judge panel upheld a lower court ruling that said Sophie Moore-King, aka Sophie King, aka “Psychic Sophie,” is not exempt from zoning codes and taxes aimed at psychics even though she claims to be engaged in religious counseling and immune from these regulations.

A screenshot of Psychic Sophie's website.

A screenshot of Psychic Sophie’s website.

“As the government complies with the professional speech doctrine by enacting and implementing a generally applicable regulatory regime, the fact that such a scheme may vary from profession to profession recedes in constitutional significance. Just as the internal requirements of a profession may differ, so may the government’s regulatory response based on the nature of the activity and the need to protect the public. See Post, supra at 134 n.83 (“The shape and form of constitutional protections extended to professional speech will depend upon the precise constitutional values at stake.”). With respect to an occupation such as fortune telling where no accrediting institution like a board of law examiners or medical practitioners exists, a legislature may reasonably determine that additional regulatory requirements are necessary.”

The panel denied that King’s business was materially different from other psychic services currently regulated in Chesterfield County, and thus exempt, though the panel was careful to note that psychic services do have constitutional protections, albeit limited by the “professional speech doctrine.”

“If, as the County contended at oral argument, all predictive speech were inherently deceptive, most religious prophesy, financial prognostication, and medical diagnosis would fall outside the scope of constitutional protection. Cf. Nefedro, 996 A.2d at 858 (noting that lawyers and journalists may also make statements that turn out not to be true). The reality that much professional intercourse depends on predictions about what the future may bring suggests that categorical branding of fortune telling as unworthy of First Amendment protection for that same reason is untenable.”

This seems like very murky territory, Constitutionally speaking, and from my reading justices were aware that their decision could influence local regulations far outside Chesterfield County, Virginia. In short, they are saying that while divination can be protected speech, local governments can, in fact, tell psychics where they can set up shop, and charge special taxes to regulate them. This is unfortunate, because places like Chesterfield use their regulations to create subcultural “red light districts” part of a growing trend to reported on by news organizations like Time Magazine and the BBC.

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Tarot cards.

“But in an increasing number of areas, officials are seeking to crack down on fraud and gain control of a growing industry. As of this month, every fortune-teller in the city of Warren, Michigan must have a licence to operate. To get this they must undergo a police background check, have their fingerprints taken and pay an annual fee of $160. […] Measures introduced include police interviews, background checks, registration fees, the random inspections of premises and a cap on the number of fortune tellers allowed to operate in a given geographical area.”

So what’s to be done? Well, the 4th Circuit does point to a couple possibilities. First, you may be exempt from regulations if your divination is done as part of a religious ritual and not simply as part of a way of life.

Cognizant that defining the borders between the personal and philosophical on one side, and the religious on the other “present[s] a most delicate question,” id. at 215, we conclude that Moore-King’s beliefs more closely resemble personal and philosophical choices consistent with a way of life, not deep religious convictions shared by an organized group deserving of constitutional solicitude. Yoder teaches that Moore-King must offer some organizing principle or authority other than herself that prescribes her religious convictions, as to allow otherwise would threaten “the very concept of ordered liberty.” Yet Moore-King forswears such a view when she declares that instead of following any particular religion or organized recognized faith, she “pretty much goes with [her] inner flow, and that seems to work best.”

So, for instance, a follower of Kemetic Orthodoxy who provided divination to clients from within that tradition’s belief system may be exempt. Likewise, followers of Vodou or Santeria who are operating within a explicitly religious milieu could also challenge regulations telling them where to set up a church or temple that also provided divination services to the public. For those not invested within an established and recognized religious model, the judges suggest that a national accreditation board that oversees the ethical behavior of its membership could protect a psychic reader from “additional regulatory requirements.”

With respect to an occupation such as fortune telling where no accrediting institution like a board of law examiners or medical practitioners exists, a legislature may reasonably determine that additional regulatory requirements are necessary.”

Such a board would, of course, have to then challenge local regulations, arguing that they place unnecessary regulations and limitations on their profession (because they self-regulate). So an uphill climb, to be sure, especially considering the rather independent nature of many psychic practitioners.

For those of us who practice religions that incorporate divination, and sometimes selling divination services to individuals outside our faith traditions, we need to pay attention to decisions like this one. Local town and country governments may well see Chesterfield as a model for how to regulate psychics, and so we need to understand what the limitations, and opportunities to challenge those limitations, are. This is probably the end of “Psychic Sophie’s” legal journey on the matter, but I doubt it will be the last case to challenge zoning and regulatory ordinances regarding predictive services.

For my run-down of the Psychic Sophie saga up to this point, see my post from 2011.

Internet auction house eBay recently released their Fall 2012 Seller Update, which, starting in September, prohibits the sale of divination services (including tarot readings), spells, tutoring services, and potions. The reason for this move, according to eBay, is to “build confidence in the marketplace for both buyers and sellers.”

“Transactions in these categories often result in issues between the buyer and seller that are difficult to resolve. To help build confidence in the marketplace for both buyers and sellers, eBay is discontinuing these categories and including the items on the list of prohibited items.”

In short, if you’re dissatisfied with the spell to give you a big butt, it’s hard to quantify if the “product” had been delivered, and what the proper expectations on booty enhancement magic is. Because of the (usually inadvertently) comical nature of many of the spells  being sold on eBay, long a source of easy snark on the Internet, sites like Mashable, The Mary SueJezebel, and even mainstream news outlets, have been having a bit of fun with the news.

“In its 2012 Fall Seller Update, the online marketplace said it was banning all sales of supernatural goods and services, exiling its witchy and wizardly clientele to the wilds of Craigslist and other Web-based Diagon Alleys.”

It should be noted before we go any further that magical items, physical objects that have an attributable value, are not banned under this change. Spokeswoman Johnna Hoff told Tiffany Hsu at the Los Angeles Times that such items would be allowed in most cases.

“It’s important to note that items that have a tangible value for the item itself and may also be used in metaphysical rites and practices (ie  jewelry, crystals, incense, candles, and books) are allowed in most cases.”

Which means most of the products in the Wicca and Paganism section of eBay are safe, at least for now. A comfort, no doubt, to the many Pagan vendors and shop-owners who supplement their income by placing items on the site. However, the banning of spellwork, and especially tarot readings, should be explored with greater depth. Pagans in the community seems somewhat split over this move by eBay, some, like Patti Wigington,’s Paganism & Wicca Guide, see this as a smart move by the company.

“…this isn’t a case of religious discrimination at all – it’s a case of a business realizing that customers are being made victims of fraud by unscrupulous sellers – and putting practices in place to prevent the problem from continuing. It does not say “No Wiccans, No Pagans, No Druids.” It says no magic, spells or potions, or prayers — that’s an entirely separate thing. Personally, I’m a little sad Ebay has done this, because it means fewer things for me to make fun of, but it’s definitely a smart business decision.”

Others, meanwhile, see this a chilling move that could start a domino effect, marginalizing tarot readers and magicians from mainstream commerce sites. Some have pointed out that PayPal is owned by eBay, and a similar shift in their policies to be more in line with up-and-coming companies like Square, could have a disastrous impact on small Pagan business that rely on divination services as an important part of their income (it should be noted that Google Checkout used to ban “occult goods,” but don’t anymore). Patheos blogger Kris Bradley, while acknowledging the rationale for this new prohibition, is worried that companies like Etsy might soon follow eBay’s lead.

“I admit I’m a bit torn on the subject.  While I see the possible beginning of the end for sellers on sites like this, I won’t be sad to see the sham “spell casters” go, and the end of taking advantage of desperate people with promises of something that can’t possibly be delivered.  As I sell products of a magical variety, I definitely don’t want to lose my Etsy shop.”

As a private business, eBay, and other online retailers are free to limit what product and services they’ll allow. That said, it is troubling that managing complaints and fraud resulted in a total ban of selling divination and magical work. Recent courtroom decisions have leaned towards defining divination, tarot readings, and other psychic services as protected speech, which could have actually helped push eBay away from trying to simply regulate it on their site. After all, who wants to be the ultimate arbiter of what sorts of speech are acceptable, and which kinds are not? Being in the business of selling speech and expression will always be volatile, and it looks like eBay wanted out, the question now is what the ramifications of this move will be for Internet commerce.

The beginning of a new calendar year usually means a flurry of predictions. These prognostications can be educated guesses, fervent hopes, pessimistic fears, or, in some cases, spiritual messages via divination, omens, or other supernatural methods. One widely reported instance of a yearly divination tradition is the Ifá predictions from Cuba’s Santeria priests, who’ve been gathering for 26 years to make predictions and recommendations. Last year they were eerily accurate in their readings, predicting “abrupt changes in political systems”, intense drought, and “dangers of war and conflicts.” This year the reigning deity is Oya, and they are predicting a year of “war and confrontation, social, political, and economic change, and a dangerous increase in temperature.” However, the mainstream press seems to have positioned this as a Babalawos vs Mayas prophesy-off thanks to the ubiquity of New Age “Mayan Prophesy” books that predict a great ending/beginning in 2012.

Believers around the world have furthered the theory, which stems from a stone tablet discovered in the 1960s at the archaeological site of Tortuguero in the Gulf of Mexico state of Tabasco that describes the return of a Mayan god on that date, similar to the story of Judgment Day. But Cuba’s priests say that “what needs to die is not the world itself, but rather the ways in which the world has lived until now: confrontations, wars, misery and discrimination,” said Lazaro Cuesta, one of the island’s leading Santeria priests, or babalawo. “For us, an old world must end so that a new world is born …. It is not a physical end.”

Despite the Mayan “2012” theory being debunked again, and again, and again, and again, and again, some still think something momentous will happen when that calendar runs out. As Mayan Elder Apolinario Chile Pixtun says, “I came back from England last year and, man, they had me fed up with this stuff”. I suppose the popularity of 2012 as an end-date made such a comparison inevitable, but still, I would have liked to see more on the Ifá predictions instead of having them comment on the popular Mayan trend. In any case, here are their events of social concern for 2012.

  1. This is a sign of war and confrontation.
  2. This is a sign of transition, and social, political, and economic change.
  3. Loss through old age (aging population).
  4. Increase in seismic movement.
  5. You should pay attention to all household issues.
  6. Serious marital problems.
  7. Seek nimble solutions to any existing problem.
  8. Dangerous increase in temperature.

And here are the recommendations from the 2012 reading.

  1. Improve hygiene in hospitals.
  2. Improve apprenticeship in the manual trades.
  3. Special attention to agriculture and the organized distribution of products.
  4. Attention to your children.
  5. Grant consideration to women in every aspect.
  6. Better the organization of public economic management.
  7. Use music as social therapy.
  8. Organize a campaign of general sanitation against environmental contamination in order to avoid epidemics.
  9. Make offerings to ASOJUANO.
  10. Take advantage of the properties of the following plants for their respective uses: albahaca (basil), hierba de la sangre (blood plant), caisimón, quita maldición (remove curse), ciruela (plum), algodón (cotton) and bledo blanco.
  11. Control the increase in promiscuity.
  12. Preserve the environment.
  13. Avoid false accusations and defamations.
  14. Change and revise penal laws, bringing them up to date.


As for good omens from other sources, I would like to think launching of a new Pagan community center in Washington DC is a particularly good one. What omens, predictions, and visions do you have for the year of Oya?