Archives For psychic

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

George W. Bush speaking at a Christian Coalition gathering. (William Philpott/Getty Images)

George W. Bush speaking at a Christian Coalition gathering. (William Philpott/Getty Images)

  • Is the Religious Right finished? Damon Linker argues the case that it is. Quote: “Its decline since 2005 can be traced to numerous causes: The right’s widespread disappointment with the legacy of the Bush years across a range of areas, including fiscal, foreign, and social policy; the shift of the national GOP toward economic libertarianism in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008, the election of Barack Obama, the rise of the Tea Party, and the passage of health care reform; and finally, a dramatic and rapid shift in the culture, especially among the young, away from politicized religion and toward the acceptance of gay marriage.” Meanwhile, Forbes says “not so fast” on the end of the Religious Right stuff.
  • Religion News Service reports on the rise of green burials, and how the move makes different religious believers feel more in tune with their faith. “The Green Burial Council has certified nearly 400 providers in 46 states. Some of them have religious orientations. And even some that are not certified consider themselves already green because their faiths have for millennia taken an ecologically friendly approach to death.” It should be noted that there are several Pagans involved in the green burial movement, including Circle Sanctuary’s Circle Cemetery.
  • A mask an American Indian curandero prescribed to a client was seized at the Arizona border due to it being marked with chicken blood and feathers. Quote: “Officers say the mask was deemed suspicious and seized because of the blood and feathers. They say the mask contained materials of a prohibitive nature that have the potential to transmit avian diseases. The mask was turned over to officials in Customs and Border Protection’s agriculture division. It ultimately was incinerated.” The statue looks pretty familiar, don’t you think?
  • The bad news is you might not be psychic, the good news is that your brain might be smarter than you think. Here’s a link to the study the video references.
  • The Guardian is up to bat reviewing Ronald Hutton’s “Pagan Britain.” Quote: “One of the austere pleasures of Pagan Britain lies in its frequent reminders that every age invents its own past, and that ‘it is impossible to determine with any precision the nature of the religious beliefs and rites of the prehistoric British’.” The reviewer, sadly, takes some petty rhetorical swipes at Pagan religions, something Hutton himself would never do.

  • PRI’s The World spotlights Haitian artist Erol Josué, who works to preserve his Vodou faith. Quote: “Last year, he took a government job as head of Haiti’s National Ethnology Office. He’s on a mission to get Haitians to realize that they need to embrace their vodou heritage — whether they agree or not. […] ‘Vodou has never been a religion of conquest,” he says. “We don’t raise awareness to convert people to vodou, but to educate them about the importance of the national identity, the importance of respecting the sites, of respecting the patrimony.'”
  • There were/are plenty of pious pagans, and Christians can learn a lot from them. Quote: “Paganism tends to have a bad name, and surely there is reason for this. At the same time, there is a tradition, especially among Christians, of honoring and imitating the greatness of pagans. For one thing, many pagans were profoundly religious, even pious people. We seriously misjudge at least some of our ancient forebears if we do not see the extent to which their life centered on the divine.”
  • In the UK, sometimes your neighbors will call emergency services if you’re too noisy about the Witchcraft. Quote: “A second call came from Holsworthy in July 2012 from a woman who was ‘convinced that her neighbours are in a witches coven type set up as she sees them night and day running around outside screaming in tongues.’ A third Holsworthy caller rang police in August 2012 accusing a man in Southampton of using witchcraft.” So be cool on the screaming folks, it scares people.
  • Civil rights activist Eliyahu Federman calls the resurgence of exorcisms in the Catholic Church “alarming.” Quote: “The Catholic Church attributes the rise in demonic cases to people dabbling in paganism, Ouija boards and black magic, but my sneaking suspicion is that mental health issues, along with the rise of fiction horror movie fantasies, are a more likely cause. […] Legitimizing exorcisms makes a mockery of religion and poses a threat to society.”
  • OnFaith, once part of The Washington Post, has left the paper, and is now part of FaithStreet. Quote: “We will continue to publish some daily news and opinion pieces from top writers and other folks whose perspectives need to be heard. But we have lots of other ideas, and we hope to get to do all of them in time. Our first new initiative is to publish Weekly Issues—to have one topic per week and publish a mixture of stories, essays, videos, illustrations and more on that topic.” Another competitor in the religion portal world? Will there be Pagans?
  • An international group of Dharma teachers have issued a statement on climate change. Quote: “When we come together to celebrate our love for the natural world and all of the beings that inhabit it, and when we take a stand to counter the forces of craving, aversion, and delusion, we reclaim our own inner stability and strength and live closer to the truth, closer to the Dharma. Together, we can seek to ensure that our descendants and fellow species inherit a livable planet. Individually and collectively, we will be honoring the great legacy of the Dharma and fulfill our heart’s deepest wish to serve and protect all life.”
  • How do you get the “nones” to vote for you? Quote: “The other side of religious nonaffiliation, and what politicians often neglect, is that for spiritual voters the sacred strongly persists. Reading them narrowly as atheists or secularists misses out on the political rewards that come from constituents feeling seen and understood. This sacred is various, but it coheres for many in its resistance to religious enclosure and its support of certain progressive values. Politicians fire up religious blocs through careful attunement to religious values. Better attunement to spiritual values will help inspire spiritual voters.”

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

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!

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

  • Moonhenge in Cambridgeshire was recently dedicated and blessed by local Pagans. Quote: “For Jo-Ann Childs, a druid from ­Huntingdon, the experience was ­particularly spiritual because she said she had dreamed about the henge during a trance three weeks before the artist Derek Massey’s design appeared in The Hunts Post. She said: ‘It was exactly what I saw in my dream – tonight is a dream come true.’ Ms Childs, 72, a retired anaesthetic technician, has been a druid for many years. She explained that by blessing the site, druids hope it will be a sacred place for everybody, no matter what their religion.” Moonhenge is a wooden replica of Stonehenge built in honor of the land owner’s late wife, and featuring 19 outer trees representing a lunar cycle. BBC News notes that there’s a bit of bother over planning permissions, though nothing too dire it seems.
  • The Christian obsession with witchcraft continues unabated, with spiritual warfare peddler Landon “The Rev” Schott‘s new book entitled “Jezebel: The Witch Is Back” that will “equip and empower you to wage spiritual warfare aggressively” against “Jezebel’s diabolical characteristics and behaviors.” Quote: “Her assault will continue until all of God’s people are dead or defeated. Jezebel’s bloodlust for death and destruction will only be stopped when met with spiritual violence.” This is hardly the first book about the “Jezebel spirit,” she’s practically a household name among certain Christians (see here, here, here, and here). So what happens when you explain away everything from depression to simple illness to witchcraft? Do you start looking for scapegoats when your “spiritual violence” isn’t enough anymore to keep things as Christian and stable as you would like? Make no mistake, we’re considered a “symptom” of Jezebel’s reign.
  • For some time now I’ve been covering the Phoenix Goddess Temple saga. Were the practitioners devout tantric healers, or was it merely a front for a prostitution ring? Now, two years after the temple was raided and shut down by police, founder Tracy Elise will be headed to trial in October, and will be representing herself. Quote: “According to court paperwork, Tracy Elise has fired her attorney and has chosen to represent herself in court. Two years ago, police raided Elise’s church, known as the Phoenix Goddess Temple. Investigators claimed it was a house of prostitution, but parishioners said they were just practicing their religion.” For the curious, Elise has a Youtube channel where she outlines some of her beliefs. We will be covering this story as it continues to develop.
  • The trial of psychic matriarch Rose Marks continues, with gripping testimony back and forth over how successful her services were, and whether she was merely conning people for lucrative pay-outs. Quote: “Walker said she became unhappy, though the psychics felt they’d had successes: Walker’s husband had returned to live with her before he died; no child had been born; and Walker’s legal team had negotiated an initial payment from the estate to Walker.” My previous reporting on this story can be found here, and here.
  • Bloomberg, Salon.com, and Discovery all write about the deteriorating water supply in Caracas, Venezuela. While Bloomberg largely focuses on the political and structural failures that are causing the unsafe water, the others seem to focus in on Santeria practitioners dumping dead animals into local reservoirs (which the processing plants are unable to filter toxins from). Quote: “Witch doctors regularly dump animal sacrifices into the reservoir meant to quench the thirst, clean the dishes and wash the clothes of 750,000 Venezuelans, reported Bloomberg. As a result, citizens of one of the most dangerous, crime-ridden cities in the world, Caracas, Venezuela, can’t even take a drink of water from the tap safely. The 60-year old water treatment plant at the reservoir lacks the ability to filter out the toxins from the putrefying carcasses.” None of these articles seem very balanced to me. The problem isn’t the dumping per-se, if it is indeed as pervasive as claimed, the problem is a decaying infrastructure, law enforcement, and a political system in turmoil. The bad water is a symptom of a problem far larger than dead animals.

  • Self-help “Secret”-peddler James Arthur Ray, currently free on parole after serving two years for negligent homicide in three 2009 sweat-lodge ceremony deaths, has decided to drop his conviction appeal. According to the Associated Press, Ray “wants to avoid the possibility of a retrial and resentencing.” Quote: “I wish to ensure the prompt, complete and definitive termination of these criminal proceedings by dismissing this appeal and allowing the conviction and sentence to stand undisturbed.” In other words, the appeal to his not-that-harsh sentence considering 3 people died was generating a lot of criticism, and he feared that being sent back to prison was a real possibility if a new trial went forward. So perhaps this is the end of the James Arthur Ray saga? Let’s hope he sinks into a quiet and isolated retirement.
  • BBC News Scotland has the tragic story of how one abused girl’s testimony was manipulated into what would be known as the South Ronaldsay child abuse scandal in 1991. Quote: “The tiny Orkney island of South Ronaldsay became the centre of a worldwide media storm in 1991 when nine children were removed from four families following allegations of satanic sexual abuse. Two decades on, Esther, who was the child at the centre of the scandal, believes none of it would have happened if she had spoken out at the time.” Esther has published a new book entitled “If Only I Had Told.”
  • Interfaith activist Andrew Luisi says that Indian culture teaches us plurality. Quote: “India has taught me that there are endless paths to reach the same destination. Hindus believe in many deities, but ultimately and regardless of the deity they choose to worship, they believe that they will be lead to the same truth. To this point, Hindus believe that they are worshipping the manifestation of the deity in the specific image that they are performing the puja, or religious ritual, to. It is not as if each Hindu believes that the image is the deity because most understand that divine power is greater than any one physical figure; divinity is present anywhere in the world and at any time.”
  • The Revealer interviews Ronald L. Grimes, ritual theorist, and author of “Deeply into the Bone: Re-Inventing Rites of Passage.” Quote: “His book “Deeply Into the Bone: Re-Inventing Rites of Passage“ (University of California Press, 2000), for example, mixes personal accounts of the ways people have performed rites of “hatching, matching, and dispatching” with theoretical approaches to those rites. Through his detailed explanations, Grimes also makes arguments for why rites of passage matter, not just as an academic discipline, but for our lived lives. These passages are difficult, when fully comprehended, and it takes performance, imagination, and community to work through them. Crucially, they have to be updated, changed, and “re-invented” to continue to have impact.”
  • Paganism is resurgent, and thus, people are throwing away babies. Modern Catholic thought in action folks.
  • Matt Hedstrom at the Christian Century admits that a “come-one, come-all” open prayer policy would unfairly favor Christianity, but can’t bring himself to endorse either “ceremonial deism” or complete elimination of opening invocations. Quote: “As Stephen Prothero recently reminded me, many evangelicals and fundamentalists actually supported—for this very reason—the landmark 1962 Supreme Court ruling in Engel v. Vitale, which banned school-sponsored prayer. Fundamentalist leader Carl McIntire made this point clearly: ‘Prayer itself without the name of Jesus Christ’—whom the prayer in question did not name—’was not non-denominational prayer—it was simply a pagan prayer.’ McIntire continued: ‘No Government agency or power in the United States can be used to establish a religion.’ Prayer without Jesus represented a religious orientation, one McIntire found objectionable.” Again, this is why the Supreme Court’s decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway is so important.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

The old "missing harvest photo" trick, get 'em every time.

The old “missing harvest photo” trick, gets ‘em every time.

  • Director Robin Hardy plans to move forward with the third installment in a thematic trilogy that includes 1973’s “The Wicker Man” and 2012’s “The Wicker Tree.” Quote: “Wicker Man director Robin Hardy has revealed that he is moving ahead with new feature Wrath Of The Gods, which will complete a trilogy of ‘Wicker’ films. […] ‘I am just at the opening stages of financing it (Wrath Of The Gods) and hope to make it next year,’ said Hardy, who will also produce. The writer-director added: “The first two films are all (about) offers to the Gods. The third film is about the Gods.” Considering how long it took The Wicker Tree to get made, Hardy better hurry, he isn’t getting any younger. Meanwhile, the “final cut” of The Wicker Man is indeed coming to American theaters, though no official word on the blu ray release.
  • A “Satanic” horse sacrifice in the UK turned out to be not that Satanic after all. Quote: “Devon and Cornwall police concluded this week that the pony had died of natural causes. The much-discussed “mutilation” was not, in fact, mutilation at all, but instead the normal result of wild animals eating the pony’s organs and scattering its entrails. ‘Initial media reports linked the death of the pony to satanic cults and ritualistic killing,’ the police said in a statement. ‘The police have sought the advice of experts and have come to the view that the death of this pony was through natural causes. All the injuries can be attributed to those caused by other wild animals. This incident received significant media reporting, some of which was clearly sensationalist.'” Clearly. I’m sure this debunking will get just as much traffic as the headlines that scream “Satan,” right?
  • The trial of Rose Marks began this week, a psychic practitioner accused of fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud, to the tune of millions of dollars. Already amazing claims of money and gold being destroying during 9/11 are being put forward. That said, judges have been critical of the prosecution’s work in this case, calling it “slipshod” and even “shameful.” Quote: “Prosecutors responded by filing additional charges against Marks, accusing her of filing false tax returns and not reporting the income, essentially going after her criminally under two theories — that she defrauded the money or earned it legitimately, but didn’t pay taxes on it either way. The latest version of the 15-count federal indictment charges Marks with mail and wire fraud conspiracy, money-laundering conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, money laundering and the income tax charges. If convicted of all charges, sentencing guidelines could send her to prison for about 18 years, her lawyer said.” I’ve reported on this case before, and we should keep a close on eye on it, to see how the verdict may impact divination services.
  • The Oklahoma Gazette profiles Sekhet Bast Ra Oasis, a local chapter of the OTO (Ordo Templi Orientis). Quote: “While one might think an occult organization in the Bible Belt would have difficulty thriving, local OTO members believe that ‘Oasis’ is more than just a title. ‘In this area of the state, the big majority of people are conservative Christian, and people who aren’t into that, they might see this area as a desert,’ David said. ‘But we’re one little oasis right here, so we’re available for those people who would like to commune with others of their kind, or close to their kind. We’re just one of many ways for people to find their true will, but the ultimate goal is to come in contact with the divine and become better human beings.'” You can see the official website for the Sekhet Bast Ra Oasis, here.
  • More news reports are emerging on the case of Pagan prison chaplain Jamyi J. Witch, who recently had criminal charges against her dropped after it was alleged she staged her own rape and hostage-taking by an inmate. The Oshkosh Northwestern, FOX 11, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel point out that the case fell apart as the inmate changed his story. Quote:  “On July 23, the inmate, John Washington, filed a motion for sentence modification in Milwaukee County based primarily on his cooperation with authorities in the Winnebago County case. In the motion, Washington’s account of the incident were a ‘radical departure’ from previous statements, according to the motion to dismiss that Ceman filed last week.” Witch has stated that she intends to sue the Department of Corrections.
  • NPR spotlights Baba Ifagbemi Faseye, an initiate and practitioner of Ifa and Orisa traditions, and the growing number of African Americans drawn to “ancient African religion.” Quote: “There’s a long table covered with pure white cloth and spread with sliced watermelon, bananas and gin — gifts to the divine. Along with a life of worship, Ifagbemi says part of his job as a full-time priest is to help people adapt this ancient religion to a modern, American reality. ‘We’re not African anymore,’ he says. ‘I need to sort of emphasize to a lot of African-Americans that yes, this is an African tradition, yes, we want to connect with our roots and whatever else. But our roots are here, too.'” I note that the NPR article calls the faith “Yoruba” even though Baba Ifagbemi Faseye quite clearly refers to his spiritual practice as Ifa.
Hell Money, the kind burned at The Ghost Festival. Photo: randomwire (Creative Commons).

Hell Money, the kind burned at The Ghost Festival. Photo: randomwire (Creative Commons).

  • The Ghost Festival, a Chinese ancestor holiday in which the deceased come to visit the living, was held this month. The Associated Press files a report. Quote: “To appease the hungry spirits, ethnic Chinese step up prayers, aided by giant colorful joss sticks shaped like dragons. They also burn mock currency and miniature paper television sets, mobile phones and furniture as offering to the ancestors for their use in the other world. For 15 days, neighborhoods hold nightly shows of shrill Chinese operas and pop concerts to entertain the dead. The shows are accompanied by lavish feasts of grilled pork, broiled chicken, rice and fruit. People appease the ghosts in the hopes that the spirits will help them with jobs, school exams or even the lottery. On the 15th day of the month – the most auspicious – families offer cooked food to the ghosts.”
  • A coalition of Navajo Medicine People have come out in opposition to horse slaughter by the Navajo Nation. Quote: “We see this mass execution of our relatives, the horses, as the bad seed that was planted in the minds of our children in the earlier days […] Our children must be taught to value life, otherwise they will treat their own lives recklessly and be drawn toward substance abuse, domestic violence, suicide and other behaviors that are not in accordance with Our Way of Life.”  It should be noted that the issue of horse slaughter on tribal lands is a divisive one inside and outside of tribal nations. More on that, here.
  • South Coast Today columnist Jack Spillane shares his experiences with modern Pagans. Quote: “There’s something about the pagans and the direct connection of their ancient structures meant to concentrate the mind on the natural world — the change of the seasons, the rhythms of day and night, the connections of sky to land to sea — that’s awfully appealing. I was reminded again of this a few months ago when I happened to be at the First Unitarian Church when Karen Andersen, a contemporary Pagan (capital ‘P’ for the religion), gave a terrific talk about the struggles for religious acceptance of Pagans, at least for the ones who define themselves as religious.”
  • Right Wing Watch notes that Pat Robertson’s 700 Club has run another ex-gay segment, this one also happens to be an ex-Witch as well. Quote: “As I got deeper into spiritualism, a gift of discerning spirits was activated in me. At the time I was dating Diana, a practicing witch whom I had met at a New Age conference. Diana introduced me to demon worship and a new level of darkness. One evening as she began to seduce me, my spiritual eyes were opened, and I saw the demon in her sneering back at me. It horrified me! I jumped up, quickly got dressed, and ran out of there.” Wiccans, bringing you new levels of darkness, because apparently darkness has levels.
  • The Daily Beast profiles “Down in the Chapel: Religious Life in an American Prison” by Joshua Dubler. Quote: “In one passage, we join Dubler and a Native American prisoner named Claw in a traditional smudging ritual, complete with an eagle wing, turtle shell, and sage and sweetgrass to smoke. In the corner of the prison yard next to the E Block section, the author stands next to Claw, Bobby Hawk, Lucas Sparrowhawk, and a few others as they pray for their families, the weather, and their friend Chipmunk, who’s in the hole.” I can’t tell if Dubler tackles modern Paganism behind bars, but it still might make fascinating reading.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

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.

shutterstock 1114023

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.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

  • NPR does a Samhain-inspired spotlight on New York City’s Lady Rhea, owner of Magickal Realms in the Bronx, and a spiritual mother to many influential Pagans, including Phyllis Curott. Quote: “I am a Wiccan high priestess and Witch queen. My age, I’ve been in the craft since ’73. I have a lot of coven people and people who are attached to me over the last years, so one of them coined me Pagan Mother. Call them up and I’ll say hello, are you listening? This is Pagan Mother, call me.” For more in this series, check out Faith in the Five Boroughs.
  • God is all-powerful and all-knowing, but did you know that by simply hoarding rose quartz or buying a lucky cat statue you can instantly block him? It’s true according to Fr. Jose Francisco Syquia: “When paganism and the occult contaminate the faith, the relationship with God is blocked and we can end up saying to ourselves that God is not interested in us, personally and as a nation [not knowing that] His blessings and protection… would not be able to fully enter into our lives.” So remember, God’s blessing, kinda easy to block (darn free will).
  • The Nigerian state of Akwa Ibom has made it illegal to accuse a child of witchcraft,though activists point out that Christian churches will also have to be reigned in if real changes are to be made in this problem. Quote:  “But some say churches in the impoverished state where unemployment is rampant, must also be reigned in. Some activists cite the churches as the source of the belief that children are sorcerers or witches.” For more on this problem, visit  Stepping Stones Nigeria, an organization that is fighting against the branding of children as witches.
  • Meanwhile, four women were arrested for practicing witchcraft in the United Arab Emirates. According to a news report they were caught in the midst of practicing sorcery, and that “a large number of substances and herbs including detergents and bodily fluids” were confiscated. Quote: “Colonel Salem Sultan Al Darmaki, Director of the Criminal Investigation Department at Ras Al Khaimah police, said that the case details date back to when they received information from an Arab lady reporting that four women were practicing sorcery from their flat.” Lucky for them the UAE doesn’t kill women for sorcery like Saudi Arabia does, but it still presents a chilling portrait of what fundamentalism run amuck looks like.

INDIA TREES PAINTING

  • Artists in the Indian state of Bihar are painting trees and bushes with images of Hindu deities in hopes it will stop locals from cutting them down. Forest cover for the state is under 7%, which worsens effects of floods and extreme weather.  Quote: “The unusual campaign, using coats of paint and brushes, has been launched in Madhubani, a northern Bihar district known for its religious and cultural awareness, resulting in hundreds of otherwise untended roadside trees covered in elaborate artwork. Artists are depicting the moods of deities, scenes from Hindu classics such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata, or an imaginary scene showing an elderly woman restraining a man coming with an axe to cut trees.” 
  • Amy Wilentz, author of the forthcoming “Farewell, Fred Voodoo,” gives some perspective on zombies in the New York Times. Quote: “There are many reasons the zombie, sprung from the colonial slave economy, is returning now to haunt us. Of course, the zombie is scary in a primordial way, but in a modern way, too. He’s the living dead, but he’s also the inanimate animated, the robot of industrial dystopias. He’s great for fascism: one recent zombie movie (and there have been many) was called “The Fourth Reich.” The zombie is devoid of consciousness and therefore unable to critique the system that has entrapped him. He’s labor without grievance. He works free and never goes on strike. You don’t have to feed him much. He’s a Foxconn worker in China; a maquiladora seamstress in Guatemala; a citizen of North Korea; he’s the man, surely in the throes of psychosis and under the thrall of extreme poverty, who, years ago, during an interview, told me he believed he had once been a zombie himself.” This is a seriously great read – don’t miss it.
  • Salem Witch Richard Ravish, who passed away earlier this year, is remembered by his friends, loved ones, and co-religionists, during the annual walk to Gallows Hill in Salem. Quote: “I am doing a widow’s walk,” Ravish’s wife of 31 years said before the ceremony. “I’ve never done it before. This is the first year that the high priest … my partner, is not here to walk the circle with me. So I want to walk the circle round in a special walk.”
  • Science thinks we all might be a little bit psychic, albeit not in the bending spoons, having visions, sense. Quote: “What the studies measured was physiological activity—e.g., heart rate or skin conductance—in participants who, for instance, might have been shown a series of images, some harmless and others frightening. Using computer programs and statistical techniques, experimenters have found that, even before being shown a troubling image, participants sometimes display physiological changes —a faster heart rate, for example—of the kind that would be expected only after seeing the image, and not just because the subjects know a scary snake picture is coming sooner or later.” 
  • Reasons why I’m glad to be a Pagan: Christian alternatives to Halloween. Plus, here’s some bonus Halloween season “exwitch” stuff, if you’re into that.
  • Samhain at the joint Lackland military base: “Cammen is among a curious multiplication of Wiccans at Lackland. Hundreds of basic military trainees have chosen to study witchcraft at the base. “When we come over here on a Sunday, often times, there are 300 to 400 (trainees),” Tony Gatlin said.”
  •  Texas schools love Jesus, and litigation. Imagine how the handful of non-Christian students feel when Christian prayers are blasted throughout the school on their speaker system. Do you think they feel empowered to share their own faith, or are they instead pushed deeper into the “broom closet”? This is why a strong separation of church and state is necessary.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of them I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Ordinances against fortune telling have a long history, from bans on sorcery and witchcraft in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Europe, embodied today in places like Saudi Arabia, to anti-fraud bans (often based in various ethnic prejudices) in the 19th century, to current laws that claim to be protecting citizens from fraud, but are often pushed by conservative Christian lawmakers. For generations those who practiced fortune-telling as a profession existed on the margins of society, usually depicted as mere swindlers preying on the gullible, until a new ethos started to emerge that classified divination as an art. Part of a spiritual and religious tradition that practitioners felt should be respected, and not subject to laws designed to outlaw those engaging in parlor tricks.

In the United States, many anti-fortune-telling laws have been challenged on the grounds of religious freedom, notably Z. Budapest’s very public 1975 battle against a California ordinance. More recently, Wiccans in places like Caspar, Wyoming, and Livingston Parish, Louisiana, succeeded in getting ordinances struck down on this basis. However, a much broader decision was handed down by the  Maryland Court of Appeals in 2010, which ruled that fortune telling and related services are protected speech.

“Fortunetelling may be pure entertainment, it may give individuals some insight into the future or it may be hokum,” the Maryland Court of Appeals wrote in a 24-page opinion. “People who purchase fortunetelling services may or may not believe in its value. Fortunetellers may sometimes deceive their customers. We need not, however, pass judgment on the validity or the value of the speech that fortunetelling entails.”

This was something of a sea change in legal thinking on the issue, and soon challenges to fortune telling ordinances on the basis of free speech started to pop up in places like East Ridge, Tennessee. Advocacy group the First Amendment Center, lays out the constitutional rationale.

“…it’s important to note that most speech — whether it expresses my own impeccable logic or someone else’s silly belief — is protected from government control. Not just permitted. Or allowed. Or tolerated. But protected with the full force and vigor of an amendment to the United States Constitution.”

Now, we have another decision, announced yesterday, that bolsters the divination-as-free-speech line of thinking.

“A federal judge this week ruled that an Alexandria law forbidding fortunetellers from working in the city is a violation of First Amendment free speech rights. U.S. District Judge Dee D. Drell concurred with a recommendation in June by U.S. Magistrate Judge James D. Kirk that said Alexandria’s 2011 ban of Rachel Adams’ shop on Jackson Street Extension was unconstitutional.”

The ThinkProgress blog noted that Alexandria, Louisiana’s law banned “palmistry, card reading, fortune telling and other otherworldly communications,” with the city arguing that  fortune-telling is “a fraud and inherently deceptive.” However, U.S. District Judge Dee D. Drell rejected that, noting that Louisiana has been able to survive and thrive while embracing psychics and fortune-tellers, especially in New Orleans.

As the legal framework for total bans start to crumble, many towns and cities have responded by passing strict regulations on the practice. In 2010 both Time Magazine and the BBC looked at a growing trend of stricter regulations against psychics being enforced by local governments. The creation of these subcultural “red light districts” are often harder to challenge than a total ban, though they often have the same effect. For example, in Chesterfield County, Virginia, zoning regulations for psychics are stricter than they are for strip clubs or pawn shops.

“In Chesterfield, businesses considered to be fortune-telling establishments must pay a $300 tax to get a business license, while nightclubs and adult businesses pay only a $100 tax for a license. Fortune-telling businesses must submit five references from the county to the police chief for approval. They are limited to one zoning designation – the same one reserved for adult businesses, scrap yards and pawn shops. And they must get a conditional-use permit for that zoning.”

Author and renowned tarot expert Mary K. Greer believes her business (reading cards) should be treated like any other business, and not singled out for punitive regulations. Quote: “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.”

With yet another fortune-telling ban struck down on the basis of constitutionally protected free speech, regulations that try to zone such businesses out of existence are on increasingly shaky legal ground. The harsher the regulation, the more it seems like the local government is privileging one form of speech over another. It seems clear that whether you pay for it or not, whether you believe in it or not, “otherworldly communications” are protected speech. This is not just a good thing for free speech, but a good thing for the Pagans and esoteric practitioners who supplement their income by performing divination.

Just a few quick news notes for you on this Tuesday.

Margot Alder on Witchcraft, Cults, and Space Travel: Margot Adler, NPR correspondent and author of the seminal 1979 book “Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America”, talks to the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colorado about her life and work in advance of her presentations at the 64th Annual Conference on World Affairs. Of special interest to my Pagan readers will be the story of how she landed the book deal that eventually lead to “Drawing Down the Moon.”

Margot Adler

Margot Adler

“That happened by a complete fluke, way back in 1974. I had sort of a loser boyfriend. He took me to meet his literary agent in a pub. The woman asked me, ‘What do you do?’ I’ve probably had less than a dozen psychic experiences, but I heard a voice in my head say, ‘You are standing on a nexus point in the universe. What you do now will change your life forever.’ Because of that voice, I said, ‘I’m involved in witchcraft.’ Her eyes got really big. She said, ‘Call me in two weeks.’ She had just left an agency and was looking for clients. She showed me how to write a book proposal. I’d never thought of writing a book. The written word scared me because it’s so eternal.”

She also talks about where she agrees with Newt Gingrich (space travel), the most interesting stories she’s been covering for NPR lately, and “looking at religion from completely outside ourselves.” The Conference on World Affairs is currently underway, and continues through Friday. Her two presentations are “What is a Cult,” and “The Lure of Interstellar Travel,” both being given today.

A Step Forward for Marijuana as a Sacrament: In what could a groundbreaking ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned a lower court ruling against the Oklevueha Native American Church of Hawaii, allowing an action to prevent enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act against them to go forward.

Michael Rex "Raging Bear" Mooney, right, with members of the Oklevueha Native American Church.

Michael Rex "Raging Bear" Mooney, right, with members of the Oklevueha Native American Church.

“Plaintiffs need not allege a threat of future prosecution because the statute has already been enforced against them. When the Government seized Plaintiffs’ marijuana pursuant to the CSA, a definite and concrete dispute regarding the lawfulness of that seizure came into existence.”

The court also ruled that the church does not need to apply to the DEA first for an exemption, though it did rule in the government’s favor by saying the seized marijuana doesn’t have to be returned or compensated for. You can read more about this case, here, and here. So far, there have been only two instances where entheogens used in a religious context have been able to win legal protection (peyote for Native American ceremonial purposes, and  ayahuasca by the União do Vegetal). If the Oklevueha Native American Church (ONAC) is able to take this to the Supreme Court and win a religious exemption, and injunction against future prosecution, it could throw open the door to religious groups using marijuana as a sacrament. The Rastafari are an obvious example, but any group that is able to show a sincere use may also be able win exemptions. In my mind, legal entheogens are an inevitable eventuality of these cases, the question is not “if” but “when.”

How Far Does Free Speech and Religious Freedom Stretch in Cases of Alleged Fraud? Speaking of possibly momentous instances of litigation, last year several members of the Roma Gypsy Marks family were charged by the federal government with operating an “advance fee scheme,” allegedly bilking more than a dozen victims out of over 40 million dollars. One of the clients/victims was famous romance author Jude Deveraux, who paid the family $20 million over 17 years, saying she was threatened by the family, and was near suicide before law enforcement stepped in. Now, the Marks’ defense team is saying their actions were/are protected religious practices, and that fortune-telling is protected speech.

The federal investigation was code-named "Crystal Ball."

The federal investigation was code-named "Crystal Ball."

“Lawyers have argued in court papers that the family members had a constitutionally protected right to practice fortunetelling and spiritual healing because it is a part of their religious belief system and fortunetelling is legally considered to be free speech. […] Attorney Michael Gottlieb, who wrote the 24-page legal document about religious rights, argued that his client, Nancy Marks, 42, of Fort Lauderdale and New York City, did nothing but try to help people, in line with her personal spiritual beliefs. […] “Nancy Marks’ conduct is rooted in her religion and spirituality,” Gottlieb wrote. “Based upon this prosecution, the defendant has lost her livelihood and has been unable to make a living using her historical religious and spiritual gifts.” […] The legal argument spells out some widely-held Romani beliefs but also draws comparisons with legal rulings about the rights of people who are Amish, Wiccans, Krishnas, Mormons, Catholics and Jews.”

Leaving aside the issue of the Marks’ guilt or innocence, the ultimate verdict in this case could have far-sweeping ramifications, especially if judges consider the religion question. Whether or not fortune telling can be a protected religious practice is still very much up in air, judicially speaking. In 2010 the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that fortune telling and related services are protected speech, and in 2008 a federal judge tossed out a fortune telling ban in Livingston Parish, Louisiana. However, in a 2011 case, a Virginia judge ruled that divination wasn’t the same thing as religious counselling. The case here, involving the federal government, could set nationwide precedent for where the line gets drawn between exploitation and religious freedom. So this is one to keep your eyes on. For more on the extended Marks clan, check out the documentary “American Gypsy.”

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

The UK broadcasting regulatory body Ofcom (Office of Communications) has issued a new set of guidelines for ads peddling psychic and occult services. The new rules outright ban the selling of occult services on British television, and place restrictions on tarot and astrology programs.

“Television advertisements must not promote psychic practices or practices related to the occult […] Psychic and occult-related practices include ouija, satanism, casting of spells, palmistry, attempts to contact the dead, divination, clairvoyance, clairaudience, the invocation of spirits or demons and exorcism. […] Advertisements for personalised and live services that rely on belief in astrology, horoscopes, tarot and derivative practices are acceptable only on channels that are licensed for the purpose of the promotion of such services and are appropriately labelled: both the advertisement and the product or service itself must state that the product or service is for entertainment purposes only”.

This clarification and expansion of the guidelines has come during a rise of “participation” or “teleshopping” programs that peddle psychic solutions to life’s problems (“Psychic Sally,” for instance, which was dinged by Ofcom in July) . These programs are not only forced to label themselves as “for entertainment purposes only” but are also prohibited from using customer testimonials or giving bad news.

“Ofcom’s rules further have specific guidelines preventing presenters from predicting “negative experiences or specific events” in readings, such as births, deaths, marriages or new job, or offering “life-changing advice” related to health or finance.”

To be fair, Ofcom also regulates mainstream religious bodies from making supernatural claims in advertising, but its troubling that Satanism is singled out here, as it is a belief system and not simply an “occult practice.” We also enter into murky ground when determining what is “related to the occult” and what isn’t. Is Wicca “occult” or does it fall under the broader religious guidelines? I’m all for regulation that hinders scam-artists, but imprecise or misinformed wording could end up placing burdens on the expression of core belief systems, and not simply stopping bad actors. I’d be interested to hear what my UK readers think of this, and if they think the rules will be challenged.