Archives For Mary K Greer

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Starhawk at Occupy Santa Cruz. Photo by Matt Fitt, Santa Cruz IMC.

Starhawk. Photo by Matt Fitt, Santa Cruz IMC.

Starhawk, noted activist and author of “The Spiral Dance,” took to Facebook to speak out on the verdict in the Trayvon Martin murder trial, and to also speak more broadly about race, and “stand your ground” laws. She initially posted: “I’m enraged and heartsick at the injustice of the Zimmerman verdict. I stand with the black leadership and their allies calling for a Department of Justice investigation, for an end to racial profiling, and the end of the dangerous laws that encourage vigilantes to target anyone they consider ‘other’ with impunity! So much work to do!” Then, followed up to expand on her previous statement. Quote: “I am indeed heartsick and enraged at how many young women are given long sentences for fighting back against their abusers. But people, both those cases underline one of the core ways racism and patriarchy work–by defining who gets to use violence and who does not […] I advocate nonviolence. But nonviolence is not passivity. It calls us to actively acknowledge that racism and patriarchy are deep, inherent, endemic forms of perpetual violence that infuse our society deeply, and will take much thought and work and courage to transform.” She finished by addressing critics who would rather she focus on “spiritual stuff” rather than her activist work by noting that “this IS my spiritual stuff.”

pent-o-clockA new Pagan-themed community television program and videocast has launched, with a mission of serving Pagans in Oregon while also covering national and international Pagan news. Called “The Pent O’Clock News” the 30-minute program will air on Salem’s CCTV Channel 23 and Corvallis’ CCAT 29 television stations. Quote: The monthly show includes stories on the national and international level that impact our Pagan Community. The focus of the show is on news about the Pagan Community in Oregon. Hosted by Oregon Pagans Carl Neal and Michelle Hawkins […] The show is an opportunity not only to more deeply connect Oregon’s Pagan Community, but it is also an opportunity to introduce ourselves to our non-Pagan neighbors. Understanding begins with knowledge and it is hoped that both Magick Moment and The Pent O’Clock News can help to provide that knowledge.” The Pent O’Clock News joins other Pagan-themed community television programs like Keepers of the Flame in Connecticut, along with several ongoing Pagan videocasts

a2514629697_2Pagan singer-songwriter Sharon Knight has released her new album “Neofolk Romantique.” Quote: “A collection of Celtic traditional and original songs ranging from romantic and fanciful to dark and brooding. Faery lore, lively jigs, and haunting ballads of pirates, murder, love, death, and the quest for poetic inspiration, sung by a feisty redhead. Comes with a 21-page booklet of lyrics and song notes.” This is Knight’s first solo album since 2005’s “Song of the Sea,” though she’s hasn’t been idle in those intervening years, releasing an album with her band Pandemonaeon in 2010, and two album of chants with T. Thorn Coyle in 2008 and 2009. Sharon Knight will be hitting the road to promote her new album at the end of July, which includes a stop at the Faerieworlds Festival in Eugene, Oregon, where she’ll be sharing a stage with Pagan-friendly artists like Omnia and S.J. Tucker. In a recent interview Knight said that she’s already working on her next album, a collaboration with her husband Winter. Quote: “I am finishing up my next album with my husband Winter. He is my main collaborator and a fantastic musician […] over the years we have developed such an outstanding rapport, we practically read each others’ minds in the studio, it is such a great working relationship, I can’t imagine doing this without him.”

Nora Cedarwind Young

Nora Cedarwind Young

Back in March I reported that that Circle Sanctuary Priestess, Death Midwife, chaplain, and Green Burial advocate Nora Cedarwind Young is terminally ill, and wasn’t expected to live for much longer. However, Young has beaten the estimates and predictions, and is still with us. This happy news has created a financial crisis for Young and her family as they deal with ever-increasing medical bills and a fundraiser has been started to help them cover the costs. Quote: “One of Nora’s favorite adages, “The gift you give is the gift you get!” is the theme for our efforts here.  This amazing and beloved priestess has stayed with us much longer than anyone thought possible!  Nora has been somewhat stabilized with a strict routine of medicines and wound care, but the cost of such endeavors, as you can imagine, has been quite a burden on the couple, even though they have insurance. The intent of this fundraiser is to alleviate the extreme stress they have been under by providing some financial help for the non-covered costs that have accumulated, and cover additional treatments, like intravenous vitamin and mineral therapies, that Nora says really make a difference in how she feels.” If Nora Cedarwind Young has touched your life, please consider helping out.

In Other Pagan Community News:

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

The Maetreum of Cybele Launches Crowdfunding Initiative: The Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, has been in an ongoing tax battle with the Town of Catskill, New York, a battle centered on whether their building should be afforded a property tax exemption. The most recent round of this fight, before the New York State Supreme Court, did not go well for the Maetreum, though they feel their case for appeal is strong. However, to file that appeal, they need money, money they simply don’t have after years of legal challenges. So, the Maetreum has now launched an IndieGoGo campaign to raise $5000 to continue their fight.

“We are now in the process of filing an appeal and this matter will need to go up to the higher levels of New York’s court system.  Unfortunately, we have been unable to find a pro bono attorney to take the case and many of the legal advocacy organizations that we contacted were unable to help, either, thus forcing us to foot the legal bills ourselves.  These have now exceeded $30,000 over the years (and, mind you, we have never even taken in $30,000 in a year!).  According to our best estimates, the Town of Catskill has spent easily six figures of taxpayer money on our case:  more than they could ever get from either taxes on the property or proceed from a foreclosure sale!  The Town Supervisor even went on the record and told a reporter for the local paper, the Daily Mail, that the town considers us to be an “illegitimate religion”.  They have not done this to any other local religious group or church.”

In an exchange with Rev. Mother Cathryn Platine of the Maetreum, she stressed that time and resources were running out, quote, “our attorney wants the entire fee by the filing date which is Feb 4. We have an excellent chance of winning and have raised half the needed fees ourselves but the winter expenses along with the balance is making it difficult. Viktoria and I are selling off our antiques acquired over a lifetime to raise additional money.” So, if this is a case you care about, if you’d like to see the Maetreum continue its work, or are worried about the precedents established if they cannot continue to fight this case, spread the word and donate to their campaign. The Wild Hunt will be keeping track of the Maetreum’s tax battle as things progress.

ADF Marks the Passing of Former Preceptor Rev. George Lee:  Druid organization Ar nDraiocht Fein (ADF) announced on their official Facebook page yesterday that Rev. George Lee (aka Raven Mann) a liturgist, ritual leader, and former preceptor within the ADF, had passed away at the age of 49.

Rev. George Lee (Raven Mann)

Rev. George Lee (Raven Mann)

“Raven Mann was an effective priest and ritual leader, and also an accomplished liturgist. He served as the ADF Preceptor during the latter half of Rev. Skip Ellison’s term as Archdruid and made many contributions to the deliberations of the ADF Clergy Council. His passing will be a great loss to ADF.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, Rev. Kelly Kingston (Carrion Mann) and their daughter Morrighan at this sad time. We also pray that he may pass quickly to the Otherworlds in the company of his Ancestors.”

For any that wish to make donations to Reverend Raven Mann’s family to help with funeral costs and things, 6th Night Grove, ADF has started a Raven Mann Memorial Fund. We here at The Wild Hunt offer our sincerest condolences, may Raven Mann rest with his gods and return to us again.

A History of New York Paganism: The New York Pagan podcast has posted audio of the first of four Pagan Way 40th Anniversary Lectures that took place in November. Presented by the New York Pagan Alliance, the First Unitarian Congregational Society of Brooklyn, New York, and the New York pagan community, the first lecture features Margot Adler, author of “Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America,” and Michael Lloyd, author of “Bull of Heaven: The Mythic Life of Eddie Buczynski and the Rise of the New York Pagan.”

Margot Adler, Michael Lloyd, at Anniversary Pagan Way Lecture Series; photo by Brian Brewer

Margot Adler, Michael Lloyd, at Anniversary Pagan Way Lecture Series; photo by Brian Brewer

“New York Pagan History: How We Got to Where We Are Today, the first in the series, featured author Michael Lloyd, whose painstaking efforts to chronicle the historic and cultural forces that influenced the establishment, rise, fall, and rebirth of the New York Pagan community have produced a treasure trove of well-documented insights into the earliest beginnings of the Pagan movement. […] Margot, who provides the foreword to Bull of Heaven, shares in this talk how her earliest encounters with the Craft were deeply influenced by Eddie Buczynski and the emerging New York City Pagan community of the early 1970s.”

For more on this lecture series, see Zan Fraser’s write-up at The Juggler. To download the audio of the lecture, head over to the New York Pagan podcast site. I look forward to hearing the rest of this series, and I encourage my readers to subscribe to this podcast. For some more background on what The Pagan Way is, check out Aidan Kelly’s recent post on the subject.

In Other Community News:

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

The Rider-Waite tarot deck, also known as the Rider-Waite-Smith deck to honor illustrator Pamela Colman Smith, is cited by many as the most popular tarot deck in the English-speaking world. Most of the popular tarot decks around today reference, or pay homage to, its designs and structure. The deck has been a perennial money maker for U.S. Games, who publish the Rider-Waite deck and several variations of it (Universal Waite, Radiant Rider-Waite, etc). Now, starting in 2013, all works by scholar and mystic Arthur Edward Waite are supposed to be entering the public domain, but it’s very likely the Rider-Waite tarot he co-created will remain on hazy copyright grounds for another decade.

Pamela Colman Smith & A.E. Waite

Pamela Colman Smith & A.E. Waite

For the UK, the European Union, Russia, and most of the world, copyright lasts the life of the creator plus 70 years. Which means that Waite’s oeuvre enters the public domain in most of the world starting on January 1st, 2013. Here in the United States, we do things differently, but any works published before 1923 are in the public domain, which in theory includes the Rider-Waite deck, originally published in 1909. Despite the deck technically being in the public domain in the United States, that hasn’t stopped U.S. Games from aggressively policing their rights to the deck here.

“According to correspondence from various parties, US Games is currently still, as of 2003, enforcing its copyright vigorously, charging licensing fees that can range from several hundred dollars a year and up to use the RWS Tarot deck, including similar or related images.

Starting in 2013 the primary question will rest on what rights, if any, deck illustrator Pamela Colman Smith had to the work. Were they work for hire, or is Smith to be considered a co-author, blocking the deck from entering the public domain? In the past U.S. Games itself has acknowledged that their copyright claims rest with Waite, and that it all ends in 2012.

“The Rider-Waite Tarot works (cards and books) have 70 years from date of death of the author. A. E. Waite commissioned the drawings from Pamela Colman-Smith and under the old UK Act the copyright owner is the person who commissions the drawings. Therefore, copyright will expire 70 years from A. E. Waite’s date of death. He died in 1942 so copyright will expire in 2012.” – U.S. Games

However, a 2008 interview that folklorist Stephen Winick conducted with U.S. Games founder Stuart Kaplan makes it very plain that the company has changed course and now believes their rights extend until 70 years after the 1951 death of Smith.

“The copyright protection on the Rider-Waite Tarot runs to 2021, which is seventy years after the date of death of the artist, [Pamela Colman Smith],” he said.  The only way to test this understanding would be in court, but Kaplan doesn’t recommend this approach:  “In the past several years, U.S. Games Systems has had to sue two large companies for copyright infringement,” he said. “In both instances we were successful, and received full reimbursement of substantial legal costs. U.S. Games Systems and its partners actively monitor and seek to protect all of its intellectual property rights.”  If you want to use the artwork from the Rider-Waite Tarot, the simplest approach is to contact U.S. Games Systems and discuss licensing possibilities.

This new position on the Rider-Waite-Smith deck’s copyright was on full display in 2009 when they sent a letter to Mystic Games about their “Popular 1910 Tarot” (In essence the original Rider-Waite deck).

1909 original (left) and 1971 revisions (right) of the Rider-Waite tarot.

1909 original (left) and 1971 revisions (right) of the Rider-Waite tarot.

“You are using the Rider-Waite illustrations without permission from US Games Systems who legally hold the copyright and trademark.  We ask you to cease and desist telling customers that the images are in the public domain.  Mystic Games does not have authorization to use the images on their site.  The images are only to be used with proper authorization so please contact me.  Pamela Colman Smith, the artist, died in 1951 and the deck does not go into public domain until 2021, 70 years after the artist’s death.” 

In talking with some contacts in the field of copyright law, the consensus seemed to be that, quote, “the public domain isn’t 100 percent legally sacrosanct and contracts are messy.” In short, the only way the Rider-Waite-Smith deck is entering the public domain before 2021 it through a long and expensive (and possibly international) lawsuit with U.S. Games. Kaplan intentionally uses fear-mongering in talking about the copyright by invoking successful lawsuits against “large companies.” What isn’t said is that those lawsuits didn’t happen after the works of A.E. Waite passed into the public domain. Still, what company is going to spend their resources in order to wrest U.S. Games’ prized possession away from them? I don’t see it happening.

I’m personally ambivalent on this matter. On one hand, I think Pamela Colman Smith should be credited as a co-creator of the Rider-Waite deck, it is her images that made Waite’s deck immortal, that helped revolutionize tarot itself. However, I also think that the public domain is vitally important to the growth of the arts, and the efforts by corporations and companies to keep works out of it, long after the creators have passed, hinders the natural ecosystem of ideas. If these illustrations were indeed work-for-hire, which they do seem to be from all accounts I could find, then the original tarot deck created by Waite and Smith should be free and available for all to use starting in 2013. Further enriching U.S. Games does not honor Smith in any appreciable way, and their control only stifles the art form.

So, while Waite’s works are passing into the public domain, I would be cautious about assuming the same concerning his most famous (co-)creation. I’ll be watching with great interest in the years ahead to see if any significant challenges to U.S. Game’s control emerge.

I’d like to thank Mary K. Greer and Rachel Pollack for their input and resources in the shaping of this story.

Top Story: Solar Cross, a non-profit religious organization dedicated to pan-magical practice, worship, education, research and outreach, co-founded by T. Thorn Coyle, Jonathan Korman, and Robert Russell, has announced the official launch of their organization’s e-publishing venture.

“Solar Cross is pleased to announce the official launch of our e-publishing venture with the release of the formerly out of print Magick of Qabalah. This is the first in a line of magickal, esoteric, and Pagan books to be issued from the LVX/NOX and Sunna Press imprints. We are committed to bringing forth both original and out of print books as well as shorter works on practice and craft.”

Their first release is “The Magick of Qabalah” by British author Kala Trobe and is currently available via Amazon, with more platforms to be rolled out shortly. Future releases from the LVX/NOX and Sunna Press e-publishing imprints include works by  T. Thorn Coyle, Diana Paxson, and Shen-tat. With the large number of Pagan and occult works that are out of print, this is an exciting and useful first step in using the power of digital publishing to rescue lost classics and important developmental works in the history of our communities. I’m hoping this is the start of a far larger trend.

In Other News:

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

First off, welcome to Patheos everyone! I’m still getting used to the new digs, but so far the hitches seem to be relatively minor. One thing, the comments from Intense Debate are still in the process of being exported to Disqus, our new commenting system. The comments themselves are safe, but it may take a bit before they all appear. So please be patient as we get that worked out. Now then, let’s start off with a few quick notes shall we?

Peg Aloi Talks Medieval Horror: Over at TheoFantastique Pagan media/movie critic Peg Aloi has a podcast chat with  John Morehead about religious themes in the film Black Death.

TheoFantastique Podcast 2.2 for 2011 is now available. In this edition my special guest is Peg Aloi, a religion scholar and film critic and who maintains her own blog at The Witching Hour, who engages me about the film Black Death directed by Christopher Smith. In this interview and dialogue, Peg and I discuss the film cinematically, as well as its religious elements (bringing together our different religious traditions, an idea I first suggested at The Wild Hunt), and how this film may, in the words of Smith, function as a dark parable for our times. TheoFantastique Podcast 2.2 can be listened to by clicking this link, and downloaded here.”

Peg’s work is always worth checking out, whether she’s interviewing exorcists or doing scholarly reviews, so head over to TheoFantastique and listen in.

Rachel Pollack on Tarot: In advance of the upcoming Omega Institute Tarot Conference Mary K. Greer interviews famed Tarot expert Rachel Pollack (of Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom fame) about her career, and how she keep the subject of Tarot fresh after 40 years.

“I have never walled Tarot off into its own corner.  To me, Tarot is the world, so as I learn more about anything I think of how it can apply to Tarot.  For instance, just yesterday I read an intriguing idea about the story in Genesis that God took a rib from Adam and made Eve.  At first glance, this seems very sexist, and has been used  to describe women as inferior.  But the writer I was reading looked at the fact that chimpanzees have 13 ribs and humans have 12.  Thus the creation of woman was the evolutionary change from ape to human.  Women can be said to introduce human consciousness.  How does this affect Tarot?  Well, for one thing we find Adam and Eve in the Rider version of the Lovers, so now we can consider new and interesting points about that card.  But it also opens up the relationship between the male and female cards, such as the Magician and the High Priestess, or the Empress and the Emperor.”

The whole thing is certainly worth a read. I had the privilege of  interviewing both Mary K. Greer and Rachel Pollack last year, talking about psychic services and the law.

The Extremism of Michelle Bachmann: Michelle Goldberg at Newsweek/Daily Beast does a profile of Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann’s “unrivaled extremism.” Paying special attention to her history of opposition to gay marriage.

Lots of politicians talk about a sinister homosexual agenda. Bachmann, who has made opposition to gay rights a cornerstone of her career, seems genuinely to believe in one. Her conviction trumps even her once close relationship with her lesbian stepsister. “What an amazing imagination,” marvels Arnold. “Her ideology is so powerful that she can construct a reality just on a moment’s notice.”

Of course, she isn’t just extreme in her opposition to LGBTQ equality,  I’ve covered at some length her unfortunate views regarding the equal treatment and rights of minority religions as well, culminating in her support for pseudo-historian David Barton. Now that Bachmann seems to be holding pole position as the Christian conservative candidate to beat after her performance at the recent Republican presidential candidate debate in New Hampshire we’ll have to take seriously the possibility that she could be on the ticket in 2012.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mary K. Greer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—–

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

The Associated Press reports that a federal hearing in Richmond, VA is scheduled today in the case of Patricia Moore-King v. County of Chesterfield, Virginia over local anti-fortune telling ordinances. I covered this case back in January, where I detailed the absurdly over-restrictive hurdles of practicing an “occult science” in Chesterfield County.

“The current zoning regulations are designed for just one thing, to discourage tarot readers, psychics, astrologers, and other practitioners of “occult sciences” from opening up a shop in Chesterfield. That licensing for this classification is more onerous than for a strip club or pawn shop, and relegates them to the “red light” district (not to mention the character references), tells you a bit about the priorities of the county.”

Patricia Moore-King (aka Sophie King, aka “Psychic Sophie”) has maintained throughout that she doesn’t identify as a “fortune teller” but as a spiritual counselor, and that the ordinances place an undue burden on her free religious expression.

The County of Chesterfield’s laws classify Ms. King’s activities as “the occupation of occult sciences” and therefore defines her as a “fortune-teller” (she does not identify herself as such), which subjects her to numerous restrictions including a background investigation, a criminal record check, review by the chief of police and other requirements related to her “character” and “demeanor” that are not required of any other religious or commercial enterprise within the County. These restrictions also do not apply to other religious or secular counselors, or even to persons “pretending to act” as fortune-tellers.

The County’s zoning code also restricts Ms. King’s activities to a zoning district that includes adult businesses, pawnbrokers, material reclamation yards, and vehicle impoundment lots, and forbids her from the zoning district where her current office is located and where other counselors are permitted. Ms. King is further subject to an additional occupation tax not required of other counselors. The Complaint states that “the negative treatment of ‘fortune-tellers’ is motivated by official hostility to individuals based on the viewpoint and content of their speech, and their spiritual beliefs.”

What’s important about this case is that it isn’t about fortune telling, mediumship, and other psychic services being completely banned (a practice that is becoming increasingly flimsy with each court case win), but about the restrictions local governments put on the practices when they are allowed. Tarot expert Mary K. Greer notes that in many places “legal” fortune-telling often goes with hand-in-hand with unreasonable licensing demands and humiliating hoops to jump through.

“…in Warren, Michigan, laws restricting fortune telling are becoming stricter, while San Francisco has an outrageously convoluted licensing system for fortune tellers. Such laws have little to do with actually protecting people from fraud (anti-fraud laws do this adequately) and more to do with ameliorating complaints and protecting special interests. Many states and city or county ordinances require licensing for fortune-telling, and they are very inconsistent with the range of fields that require such licenses as summarized here.”

While those “special interests” can be religiously motivated, they can also be about property values and keeping the “wrong” kind of businesses out of certain shopping areas. Whatever the motivation, these laws often place an unconstitutional burden on religious freedom and free expression. We should pay very close attention to this court case and its outcome, because the decision could have far-reaching ramification on fortune-telling ordinances across the country.