Archives For Pretending to Practice Witchcraft Law

Canadian papers are paying a lot of attention to newspaper owner Gustavo Valencia Gomez, who is charged with using all of the old tricks to convince a client that she was under supernatural attack, and that a large influx of money was necessary to remove the danger.

Gustavo Valencia Gomez

Gustavo Valencia Gomez

“The most frightening point, she alleged, was when she was told to bring pictures of her two children to an appointment. When eggs were cracked over them, there was blood in the yolks, she recalled, adding she was told this meant her children were marked for death. [...] Another ritual involved putting lemon oil on her body. The oil turned black another sign of a curse, she said she was told. [...] On another occasion, worms were used to scare her…”

This isn’t unique, it is, in fact, a pretty common con. Usually, when someone is caught running such a con they are charged with fraud, but Gomez’s case is garnering additional attention for an additional charge under Canadian law: Pretending to practice witchcraft.

“Early Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Gomez was arrested and charged with fraud over $5,000, false pretences, possession of the proceeds of crime and pretending to practice witchcraft, a summary (less serious) offence that carries no minimum or maximum penalties under the Criminal Code.”

Pretending to practice witchcraft? Yep. Here’s what the criminal code says about that.

365. Every one who fraudulently

  • (a) pretends to exercise or to use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjuration,
  • (b) undertakes, for a consideration, to tell fortunes, or
  • (c) pretends from his skill in or knowledge of an occult or crafty science to discover where or in what manner anything that is supposed to have been stolen or lost may be found,

is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.

In recent years, some Canadian law enforcement agencies have taken a liking to this law, reviving it when dealing with fraud cases involving fortune telling and related services. However, its recent revival has been controversial, with some Pagans worried that these charges could be abused in the future.

“Brendan Myers, a pagan and philosophy professor at the Cégep Heritage College, worries that the law could be used against law-abiding pagans. “It may put people in my community at risk of not being able to practice their faith,” he said, adding that although the law has not been abused in the past, but he worried it could be in the future. The law only targets people who purport to practice witchcraft, but there are no equivalent laws for charlatans that abuse other faiths, he said.”

When I first reported on this relatively obscure statute, Myers explained why he found the law deeply problematic.

“The key word in the legislation is the word “pretending” (in subsections (a) and (c).) As pointed out to me by my friend in London via private correspondence: the word “pretending” here suggests that the State does not believe that witchcraft could be real: anyone who says they are practicing witchcraft is only pretending. That can potentially include those who say that they are practicing the religion. With this in mind, it’s not difficult to imagine a religiously conservative or puritan judge ruling that anyone who practices the religion of Wicca is “pretending” to practice witchcraft.

Our religious practices are already protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is part of our constitution and thus trumps the Criminal Code. But a lot will depend on the eye of the beholder here. It is not difficult to imagine a future government much more conservative than our present one, declaring that witchcraft and wicca is not a religion, and that anyone who practices it is “pretending”. Remember, it doesn’t matter if you think it’s a religion: it matters if the law thinks so. I do not know if any judicial precedents have established wicca and witchcraft as a religion in the eyes of the law. So I’ve written to a lawyer that I know, and I await his response.”


Of course, not all Pagans are opposed to fraudsters being charged with pretending to be a witch, Ariana L’Heureux told Metro Toronto that she feels the law helps separate genuine Witchcraft from the con-artists.

Police will often lay fraud charges, but L’Heureux said the witch law aids them in their investigation by helping them narrow in on that specific kind of fraud from the beginning. The law separates witches, like herself, who use the power of the nature and universe and offer spiritual advice, from charlatans who “pretend to be something they’re not for monetary gain, exploiting people’s weaknesses.”

Perhaps, but I’m troubled that the open-ended nature of the law’s language could invite abuse. Also, do we really want to open the door into deciding who is and isn’t a “real” Witch? Back in 2010 I made clear my reservations with this law’s revival. 

“It should be stressed that all the accused perpetrators were caught and charged with existing laws against fraud, so why has this little-used witchcraft charge been dug up again? What real purpose does it serve other than to sensationalize, muddy the waters of religious freedom, and create potential problems for ethical practitioners of magic and witchcraft who happen to charge for various services? How long before an otherwise ethical magic-worker gets charged due to a vindictive former client? It doesn’t seem so far-fetched a scenario considering the recent frequency this law is getting invoked.”

Fraud needs to be punished, but in a Canada where the rights of Witches and Pagans aren’t always treated with respect and dignity, do we really want to simply trust that this law will always be used fairly? Laws that create blurry boundaries can be problematic even in the best of times, and I’m uncomfortable with any government body deciding when someone is really a Witch, or if they’re merely pretending.

I have a few quick news notes to share with you this Friday.

More on Pretending to Practice Witchcraft: The South Asian Focus looks at the recent arrest of Canadian citizen Yogendra Pathak on charges of fraud and the once-obscure ordinance against “pretending to practice witchcraft”. They note that the case is being watched by several communities to see how this will ultimately affect them.

The case is being watched closely by some who fear any fallout could inevitably impact them. Pandit Prithipal, another well-known service provider in the GTA, said roughly 200-300 people are currently practicing astrology to help clients in different ways. Apart from South Asians, communities from the Caribbean, Europe, Africa and elsewhere also offer parallel services. Sgt Shah agreed there are other people who are also offering the same kind of services, but said: “We cannot act unless we have a complaint.”

I covered this story last Friday, and noted then that the accused perpetrators were caught and charged with existing laws against fraud, making this additional charge nothing more than a sensationalist addition that could have far-reaching implications if allowed to stand. When you start to think about the variety of services and practices being offered from different cultures in Canada, the cast net of possible future “witchcraft” charges seems to grow uncomfortable large.

The Satanic Candidate: While I’m in Canada, and as a refreshing change of pace from the Christine O’Donnell tempest, here’s a candidate who admits to far more than “dabbling” with Satanic altars.

“Scott Robb could have a devil of a time winning a seat in October’s civic election. The 31-year-old security officer is the founder of the Darkside Collective, which he believes is the first Canadian-based satanic church. “I have been a practising Satanist since 1996. I briefly joined the Church of Satan in San Francisco in 1997 and quit there in February 2000 and started my own church.” Robb, one of five Ward 4 [Edmonton] council candidates, compared his group’s beliefs to psychological improvement or Buddhism rather than the occult activities of popular culture.”

You can find Robb’s campaign web site, here. Here’s the official candidate list. Robb doesn’t want to make an issue of his Satanic beliefs, and of his campaign states that “I kind of equate it to the first (openly) gay politician and wondering if their sexuality was a key point in their campaign.”

Reviving the Worship of the Moon Goddess: The Teochew people in the Kluang district of Johor in Malaysia have revived the worship of Chang’e (aka Chang-er, Ch’ang-O, or Chang-Ngo) the moon goddess during their mid-autumn festival.

“Since the Teochew people believe that men should not worship the moon, the ceremony was held exclusively for females and children, with the ritual conducted by the women’s wing of the Teochew Clanhouse … Organising chairman Huang Chun Long said they were doing their best to promote the worshipping of the Goddess of Moon and celebrating the mid-autumn festival in a bid to remind the public of the traditional Chinese customs, especially among young people.”

According to a government official, this is the first time such an event was held in Kluang. One wonders what the social and cultural ramification are of reviving the worship of Chang’e?

Salem Would Be OK Electing a Witch: Who cares about politicians dabbling in Witchcraft? Not the “witch city” of Salem. The Salem Gazette is running a poll in the wake of Christine O’Donnell’s “dabble-gate” and the results are heartening for any would-be Pagan politician in the area.

“For some people, the news raised questions about whether O’Donnell is fit for duty as a senator, especially a conservative one. But for other people, there’s a broader issue: the effect of O’Donnell’s comments on witches and Wiccans.”

So it seems that where Pagans are out, active, and an economic force, they can be a viable political candidate as well. While other Pagan communities don’t have to be as flamboyant as Salem, we could all certainly look at all the things they have done right in forging an identity and community there. I would be fascinated to see the results for such a poll in Paganistan or the Bay Area, I have a feeling they would be similar.

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

Top Story: For the third time in recent memory a Canadian citizen has been charged with the obscure ordinance against “pretending to practice witchcraft”. The first concerned Vishwantee Persaud in late 2009 who bilked several people, including a lawyer, out of thousands of dollars, the second, from April of this year, was against Batura Draame of Toronto. Now a third case, involving Brampton resident Yogendra Pathak, has emerged.

“Police say Yogendra Pathak, 44 was “putting it out there that he had the ability to practice magic and by doing that he could solve people’s problems… for money.” … Police say they believe Mr. Pathak was operating for over a year and do not yet know how many people have been conned by his alleged scam. They are urging victims and anyone with information to come forward. Mr. Pathak is charged with fraud under $5,000 and pretending to practice witchcraft.”

Persaud, Draame, and Pathak were all charged under the fraud statutes so why the witchcraft charge? Is it really necessary? Canadian author and philosophy professor Brendan Myers finds the law deeply problematic.

“The key word in the legislation is the word “pretending” (in subsections (a) and (c).) As pointed out to me by my friend in London via private correspondence: the word “pretending” here suggests that the State does not believe that witchcraft could be real: anyone who says they are practicing witchcraft is only pretending. That can potentially include those who say that they are practicing the religion. With this in mind, it’s not difficult to imagine a religiously conservative or puritan judge ruling that anyone who practices the religion of Wicca is “pretending” to practice witchcraft.

Our religious practices are already protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is part of our constitution and thus trumps the Criminal Code. But a lot will depend on the eye of the beholder here. It is not difficult to imagine a future government much more conservative than our present one, declaring that witchcraft and wicca is not a religion, and that anyone who practices it is “pretending”. Remember, it doesn’t matter if you think it’s a religion: it matters if the law thinks so. I do not know if any judicial precedents have established wicca and witchcraft as a religion in the eyes of the law. So I’ve written to a lawyer that I know, and I await his response.”

While not all Pagans think the law should be repealed, there is a grass-roots movement building to work for the law’s repeal. It should be stressed that all the accused perpetrators were caught and charged with existing laws against fraud, so why has this little-used witchcraft charge been dug up again? What real purpose does it serve other than to sensationalize, muddy the waters of religious freedom, and create potential problems for ethical practitioners of magic and witchcraft who happen to charge for various services? How long before an otherwise ethical magic-worker gets charged due to a vindictive former client? It doesn’t seem so far-fetched a scenario considering the recent frequency this law is getting invoked.

Christine O’Donnell’s Lesbian Paganism-Studying Sister: Andrew Sullivan points to a Mother Jones piece regarding the sister of Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell, the Tea Party and Christian Right favorite who recently won an upset primary victory over the Republican party’s preferred candidate. Christine’s sister Jennie is publicly for many of the things O’Donnell is against (like gay marriage), yet is supporting her in her senate campaign. She’s also very different when it comes to religion.

“I have studied and practiced many therapeutic methods, as well as many different spiritual practices, such as; The Eastern Philosophies of Buddhism, Taoism, Sidha yoga with Brahma khumaris and other yoga practices for self realization. Western philosophies of Christianity, Science of mind, Course in miracles, Catholicism, Native American Spiritualities, Judaism, Muslim, Sufi, Ancient Alchemy of the Emerald Tablet, Metaphysics, Wicca, Pagan and many other world spiritualities.”

While it isn’t completely unusual for a family member to back a relative running for office who publicly works against their stated personal positions and interests on various issues, Sullivan wonders if the emergence of this sister might hurt O’Donnell’s standing with the Christians who supported her candidacy.

“Will the Christianist base support a candidate whose sister has studied Wicca and pagan spiritualities and supports marriage equality for gays and lesbians? Apparently, Jennie believes that much that has been written about her sister is untrue.”

It should be interesting to see how the campaign moves forward with this. Will they go big-tent and soften on some of O’Donnell’s past pronouncements on various social issues, sticking to the fiscal populism the Tea Party prefers? That seems to be the direction the political winds are currently blowing, but it remains to be seen if such a move is sustainable if it risks losing Christian voters who want/demand strong stands on social issues.

Witchcraft Worries Australia: A draft report on freedom of religion submitted to the Australian Human Rights Commission apparently ranks Witches as one of the groups that most worries other Australians according to The Age.

“Which groups of Australians most worry other Australians? Muslims, gays and – astonishingly – witches. That apparently anachronistic result appears in a survey of public submissions to a national inquiry into freedom of religion and belief in the 21st century, from which the draft report was submitted last week to the Australian Human Rights Commission … These views do not reflect mainstream opinion; it takes a certain passion and effort to make a detailed submission, so only those most involved or committed will do so. But they provide a fascinating window into contemporary concerns about religion.”

Some academics are concerned the results are dominated by conservative citizens, skewing the results towards the views of “elderly church leaders who happen to be male and anti-Muslim and gays and pagans and witches”. It remains to be seen what recommendations the Human Rights Commission can make from this draft that would please these respondents while ensuring the continued rights and freedoms of Pagan Australians.

A Look At Faeries Who Are Radical: The Texas LGBT publication Dallas Age profiles eclectic gay Pagan group the Radical Faeries. The article looks at their founding and history, but also notes the changes in attitude and inclusiveness they have gone through in recent years.

“But in more than 30 years of existence, the Radical Faeries have evolved — albeit gradually and with difficulty — towards embracing a more sexually diverse membership. Some Radical Faerie groups accept people of all genders and orientations with the idea that anyone who identifies as a faerie is one. However, many older members still require gatherings to be male-only and the issue of inclusion continues to be controversial. “As an oppressed people, gay men [have] had to overcome their own prejudices against women, bi, trans [and] intersex people,” notes Singleton, who at 28, is part of the younger generation of faeries.”

What role will the Radical Faeries play within the Pagan community as it becomes more open and inclusive? Will what was once a gay-male only tradition soon become something far larger and influential?

Fighting Utah Over Peyote Arrests: Religion Clause reports that the Oklevueha Native American Church has filed suit against the state of Utah in Federal Court to stop them from arresting and harassing church members for their use of Peyote.

“The lawsuit seeks to block state and federal law enforcement from arresting or bringing criminal charges against church members who “fear reprisal from both state and federal governments for openly practicing their religion,” court papers state. … The lawsuit was filed in Utah because since 1999, church members here say they have been harassed, arrested and prosecuted for using peyote, court papers say.”

This has been an ongoing issue in Utah, and one that will no doubt bring the issue of religious entheogens to the mainstream media once more. We’ll be paying attention to this case as it develops.

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