Archives For Psychic Services and the Law

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.

Fox News contributor Liz Trotta: "such disregard is deeply rooted in the extraordinary creeping paganism."

Fox News contributor Liz Trotta joins the paganism-as-slur chorus: “such disregard is deeply rooted in the extraordinary creeping paganism.”

  • I guess I should take this as confirmation that I was on the right track with my recent article on the world “paganism” being increasingly used as a slur. Political snark-blog Wonkette notices all the “pagan” talk too, most recently evidenced by Fox News Analyst Liz Trotta. Quote: “The only place where “paganism” seems to be making real gains, of course, is in wingnut rhetoric. In the good old days, it was “secular humanism” that was supposed to be taking over, but in recent years, these guys seem to be warning more and more about “paganism” — by which they seem to mean almost anything they have a faith-based excuse for disliking […] Fundies have always worried about anything they think might be occult or witchcraft — consider the freakouts over Harry Potter — but now the fear of a pagan planet seems to be increasingly seeping into garden-variety wingnut discourse like Trotta’s […]  It’s hard to get a sense of just how widespread this nutty “the pagans are coming” meme is, but it’s definitely out there.” The question for us capital-P Pagans is: how do we respond to this growing trend?
  • So, what happens when Christianity religiously dominates a state in Hindu-dominated India? Well, apparently you get Satanists. Quote: “Christian groups in India’s northeastern state of Nagaland are working to quell the rapid growth of Satanism after reports that thousands of teenagers from churches had taken up devil worship in recent months. The Vatican’s Fides news agency recently reported that more than 3,000 young “worshipers of Satan” have been identified in Nagaland’s capital of Kohima alone.” If you give people two choices, and only two choices, God or Satan, it seems inevitable that those unhappy with the Christian God will turn to his opponent. This is what happens when religious ecosystems are critically disrupted. 
  • Is the secular West heading into “a galloping spiritual pluralism?”Columnist David Brooks seems to endorse that future, one paraphrased from Charles Taylor, author of “A Secular Age.” Quote: “Orthodox believers now live with a different tension: how to combine the masterpieces of humanism with the central mysteries of their own faiths. This pluralism can produce fragmentations and shallow options, and Taylor can eviscerate them, but, over all, this secular age beats the conformity and stultification of the age of fundamentalism, and it allows for magnificent spiritual achievement.” Would modern Paganism be one of those achievements? 
  • The Fast Co.Design blog does a feature on the approval of the Thor’s Hammer for Veteran’s grave stones and markers. Quote: “To most of us, Mjölnir might bring to mind Jack Kirby’s trippy Marvel Comics Asgard, a rainbow-striped city of no fixed point in time. Or it might make us think of an armored Chris Hemsworth bellowing as he smashes his hammer down on Captain America’s raised shield. But it’s also a symbol that represents virtues so profoundly felt that two men lived and laid down their lives for it in service of their country. Great symbols resonate deeply within all of us, but each to our own unique frequency. That’s what makes them more powerful than even Mjölnir.” Yes, I’m quoted in the article. There are some things I personally would have changed, and I’m sure a Heathen representative from an organization like The Troth could have done a better job, but I think the piece overall is positive and sympathetic.
  • The Colorado Independent has an in-depth piece up about the murder of Tom Clements, head of the Colorado Department of Corrections, by former inmate Evan Ebel, and how the policy of long-term solitary confinement without re-integration may have damaged Ebel’s mental stability beyond repair. Quote: “’Forty-seven percent of these guys are walking right out of ad-seg into our communities,’ Clements told me in 2011. ‘Forty-seven percent. That’s the number that keeps me awake at night.’” I mentioned this case back in May due to revelations that Ebel had listed himself as an adherent to the Asatru faith. 
Graphic via The Globe and Mail.

Graphic via The Globe and Mail.

  • The Pew Forum analyzes Canada’s changing religious landscape, noting the growing of “other” religions and those who claim no religious identity at all. Quote: “The number of Canadians who belong to other religions – including Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Judaism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity – is growing. Collectively, these smaller religious groups account for more than one-in-ten Canadians (11%) as of 2011, up from not quite one-in-twenty (4%) in 1981. In addition, the number of Canadians who do not identify with any religion has been rising rapidly in recent decades, going from 4% in 1971 to nearly a quarter (24%) in 2011.” You can read my article on Canada’s census data, here
  • The Lancashire Constabulary has apologized after The Police Pagan Association acted on several complaints regarding allegations that Paganism might somehow be involved in a rash of “horse slashings” in the area. Quote: “We are aware that comments made to the Lancashire Evening Post recently suggesting that Pagans may be linked to attacks on horses has caused some offence. We would like to take this opportunity to apologise to anyone who has been offended; this was certainly not our intention . The comments made are not a reflection of the views of Lancashire Constabulary as a whole. Lancashire Constabulary encourages an open and inclusive culture and celebrates the diversity of our workforce and communities.”This is not the first time that allegations like this have surfaced, and so far no mysterious cult or occult practitioner has been caught bothering or harming horses. It seems to come down to sensationalism and superstition. 
  • There are lots of reasons to not like the new “The Lone Ranger” film, but Tonto not being a Christian certainly shouldn’t be one of them. Right? Quote: “The new “Lone Ranger” film has been a critical and box office disappointment, but the fact that the Indian character “Tonto” is not a Christian has upset some Christian conservatives.” Also problematic: evil businessmen and daring to mention that our country slaughtered Native Americans. As I said, this is film is problematic for all sorts of reasons, but daring to show non-Christian faiths as heroic or positive shouldn’t be one of them. 
  • A challenge to Selma, California’s fortune telling ordinances was dismissed on ripeness grounds because the plaintiff never bothering trying to go through the process of getting a license. Quote: “In Davis v. City of Selma, (ED CA, July 2, 2013), a California federal district court dismissed on ripeness grounds various challenges to the city of Selma, California’s ordinance which requires “Fortune Tellers” to obtain a license in order to provide services within the city.  Plaintiff, a spiritual counselor, initially sought a business license under the Selma Municipal Code (“S.M.C.”), but never completed the application process because it was too restrictive.  Instead she sued claiming violations of her rights under the 1st and 14th Amendments and RLUIPA.” In legal matters, process is important, and if you don’t follow that process, your case can fall apart overnight. 
  • Suhag A. Shukla of the Hindu American Foundation analyzes the recent high-profile decision regarding yoga being taught at a public school, and whether that violated the separation of church and state. Shukla notes that what was being taught had all Hindu elements removed, and truly was free from religion. Quote: “While I haven’t read Judge Meyer’s ruling yet, media accounts indicate that our position is in consonance with his. Yoga is rooted in Hindu tradition, he reportedly said, but the “yoga” taught in Encinitas was stripped bare of all cultural references and even the Sanskrit names for poses, rendering it non-religious. I would go further to say that such asana based courses should not be called yoga. They are immensely helpful, and schools should embrace them, but yoga means so much more.”HAF has been on a campaign to “Take Yoga Back” and remind people that the practice did spring from Hindu religious culture.

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.

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.

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.

 

In the beginning of 2010 I reported on the case of Patricia Moore-King (aka “Psychic Sophie”), a psychic practitioner/spiritual counselor who challenged Chesterfield County’s onerous zoning regulations designed to discourage tarot readers, psychics, astrologers, and other practitioners of “occult sciences” from opening up a shop. King maintains that she wasn’t a “fortune teller” but engaged in a form of religious counseling, and therefore the regulations didn’t apply to her.

A screenshot of Psychic Sophie's website.

A screenshot of Psychic Sophie's website.

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.”

In July of 2010 U.S. District Judge Robert E. Payne threw the case back to the local level, saying King failed to press for a final resolution before heading to court. Now Religion Clause reports that a Federal District Court has upheld Chesterfield’s regulations, and rejected claims that she was engaged in  religious practices.

In Moore-King v. County of Chesterfield Virginia, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 112205 (ED VA, Sept. 30, 2011), a Virginia federal district court rejected  constitutional challenges to Chesterfield County, Virginia’s regulation of the business of fortune telling. Patricia Moore-King, a “spiritual counselor” who operated under the name of “Psychic Sophie” claimed that the county’s zoning, business license tax and fortune teller permit ordinances violate her free exercise of religion, free speech and equal protection rights. The court held that plaintiff’s predictions and counseling services are inherently deceptive commercial speech, and that the regulation of them is reasonably drawn. The court rejected plaintiff’s free exercise and RLUIPA claims, finding that she is not engaged in religious practices. It also rejected her equal protection claims.

I don’t have access to the full decision, but these seem like very bold rulings that swim against the prevailing trend in cases regarding psychic services. In 2010 the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that fortune telling and related services are protected speech, and 2008 a federal judge tossed out a fortune telling ban in Livingston Parish, Louisiana.  No doubt the judge felt he had more judicial leeway since this wasn’t a total ban, but how did he determine that King’s services are “inherently deceptive”? That she isn’t engaged in a religious 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. In my interview with author and renowned tarot expert Mary K. Greer, she spoke about her business (reading cards) should be treated like any other business, and not singled out for punitive regulations.

“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.”

I have to say that I find it hard to not draw a line between these regulation and that fact that this is the same Chesterfield County that invented the so-called “Wiccan-proof” invocation model. In any event, I can’t imagine this ruling remaining unchallenged (especially if some courts see fortune telling as protected speech), though I suppose that will depend on King’s law firm. In the meantime, at least in Chesterfield County, divination isn’t considered a religious practice, and their zoning regulations stand.

Top Story: Though still small religious minorities throughout the world, contemporary Pagan groups have increasingly involved themselves in charitable campaigns, and created charities of their own. In Kansas City, Missouri Gaia Community, a Pagan Unitarian-Universalist congregation, raised a half-ton of food at the 2011 God Auction, which was donated to Harvesters Community Food Nework. It was estimated that the food raised was enough to provide for 795 meals.

Food raised by Gaia Community

“…one of the reasons we schedule this fund raiser in the summer is we know it’s a time when donations to Harvesters tend to be low, while demand for food is high with children out of school.” – David Reynolds, Gaia Community member

You can read more about Gaia Community’s efforts by downloading the press release for the event, or visiting their website. While Gaia Community raised food for an already existing charity, in Australia the Community Church of Inclusive Wicca Inc. (CCIWI) has started their own food pantry, which was just granted full tax deductibility status. The first Wiccan group, though not the first Pagan group, to achieve this. Founder Amethyst Treleven said that she was “very proud” to have her charity receive “the same recognition as other religious based charities which have traditionally been Christian organised.” CCIWI’s food pantry was founded so that Pagans in need could find aid without feeling pressured to “accept the faith of that charitable body,” and won’t have to “compromise their spiritual and religious beliefs.”

Those are just two examples of how Pagans are helping each other, and reaching out to help the communities we live in. Every year Pagans collect tons of food for charity though the annual Pagan Pride days, while several Pagan organizations engage in outreach, fundraising, and volunteer efforts. Back in 2003 Jim Towey, then-Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based & Community Initiatives, questioned the charitable instincts of Pagan groups. Since then Pagans in the United States, and around the world, have worked to show that though small in number, we have a true commitment to charity and helping others.

In Other News:

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

As we reach the close of 2010, it is time to stop for a moment and take stock of the previous year. When you look at (and for) news stories regarding modern Paganism (and related topics) every day of the year, you can sometimes lose focus on the larger picture. So it can be a helpful thing to look at the broad strokes, the bigger themes, the events and developments that will have lasting impact on the modern Pagan movement. What follows are my picks for the top ten stories from this past year involving or affecting modern Pagans.

10. The Crackdown on Minority Religions in Russia: A woefully underreported story in the mainstream media, but one that could have vast ramifications for modern Pagans, is the slow-moving oppression of minority faiths in Russia. As the government, in seemingly increasing collusion with the Russian Orthodox Church, use laws against extremism and “cults” to intimidate and oppress competing faiths, the future of indigenous and neopagan faiths in Russia seems endangered.

In response to an appeal by the local state prosecutor, Yoshkar-Ola Municipal Court found Vitaly Tanakov guilty of religious and ethnic hatred in 2006, sentencing him to 120 hours’ forced labour. In 2009, Mari El Supreme Court ruled that his leaflet – “A Priest Speaks” – contained religious and other extremism. It is now banned throughout Russia.

Peoples influenced by the Bible and Koran “have lost harmony between the individual and the people,” argues Tanakov, in what is actually one of only a few references to other faiths in his leaflet. “Morality has gone to seed, there is no pity, charity, mutual aid; everyone and everything are infected by falsehood.” By contrast, he boasts, the Mari traditional faith will be “in demand by the whole world for many millennia.”

These laws were originally written to address “doomsday cults” in Russia, but are increasingly being used on largely benign faiths, like Jehovah’s Witnesses and the the Mari people. These developments should concern anyone who values freedom of religion, and especially those concerned with the growth and preservation of Paganism across the globe. It should also act as a warning to those who would start writing and supporting laws that would oversee the free expression of faith.

09. Psychic Services & The Law: I’ve been reporting on run-ins between local governments and those who provide various psychic/fortune telling services for a long time, but this year the topic seemed to garner wider press attention. Both Time Magazine and the BBC looked at a growing trend of stricter regulations against psychics being enforced by local governments, and in response to this attention I interviewed professional psychics and tarot readers like Christian Day, Mary K. Greer and Rachel Pollack.

“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.”Mary K. Greer

Spurred by a variety of impulses, some religious, some not, towns and cities created subcultural “red light districts”, stood by total bans, and argued over whether psychic services could be classified as “spiritual counseling”, while in Canada, obscure laws against “witchcraft” were used to pursue fraud cases. We also saw a big win as the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that fortunetelling and other psychic services are protected speech, setting a precedent that could affect laws across the country. Expect this issue to continue to make news, and involve members of our community in 2011.

08. The James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Death Controversy: While the tragic events that took three lives happened at the end of 2009, 2010 saw the arrest and ongoing drama unfold in the case of New Age guru James Arthur Ray, who is accused of negligent homicide after a sweat lodge ceremony went horribly wrong.

This event has had repercussion through many different communities, some Native American activists and commentators are concerned their beliefs are going to be put on trial to exonerate Ray, and in one instance have even considered regulating Native practices to prevent such occurrences from repeating. In the New Age hub of Sedona, business is down, and some are blaming the “negative energy” of the sweat lodge deaths, though few think practices will dramatically alter in the long term. Meanwhile, Ray and his lawyers continue to try to suppress damaging evidence as the trial looms ever closer. What the longterm ramifications of this event will be for Ray, Native Americans, the New Age market, and the modern Pagans who cross-pollinate with these affected communities remains to be seen.

07. WM3 and the ghosts of Satanic Panic: While the horrors of the mid-1980s moral panic over “Satanic” cults, a phenomenon that imprisoned dozens and ruined the lives of hundreds more, has most devolved into “did that really happen” gallows humor, 2010 reminded us that there’s a lot of unfinished business from that era. The most high-profile instance is the case of the West Memphis Three (Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jesse Misskelley Jr.), long considered by many to be victims of panic-fueled miscarriage of justice, the three men recently won the right to new evidentiary hearings, providing them their best chance yet of overturning their convictions.

“The court also pointed out Thursday that Circuit Judge David Burnett erred repeatedly in the case, including dismissing requests to consider DNA and other exculpatory evidence without a hearing. Burnett has been the focus of activists’ campaigns because of his pro-prosecution stances. He will not hear the new case because he was recently elected to the state legislature. Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has also fought against a new hearing.”

This case has long drawn the attention of modern Pagans since prosecutors used Echols’ interest in the occult and Wicca to help convince a jury, with no physical evidence and a coerced confession from the mentally challenged Misskelley, that they were to blame for the murder of three boys. As a society, we are still dealing with the fallout of “Satanic Ritual Abuse” panic, and many of those who participated enjoy high-profile careers to this day.We need to not only right the wrongs of yesterday, but remain vigilant that such a panic doesn’t emerge again.

06. The Passing of Isaac Bonewits: 2010 was a heavy year for deaths within the Pagan community, but the passage of seminal Pagan leader Isaac Bonewits in August shook our communities, and brought forward an unique communal outpouring of grief and tribute rarely seen.


Isaac Bonewits, photo by Ava Francesca, from the ADF website.

A true Pagan polymath, Bonewits seemed to drink deeply of modern Paganism in all its myriad forms.He’s been an initiate into Santeria, religious Witchcraft (both orthodox and heterodox), various magic(k)al traditions, and fraternal Druidism. A man of letters, he wrote many celebrated books, andmany more influential essays. Many of the phrases and terminology we now use on a regular basis had their genesis with Isaac Bonewits. His Advanced Bonewits’ Cult Danger Evaluation Frame (ABCDEF)has been used by Federal law enforcement and foreign governments to evaluate religious minorities, and he’s been a visionary in predicting the growing pains our movement would encounter.

Perhaps his greatest gift and legacy to the Pagan movement will be the founding of Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF), a Druid fellowship that from the outset anticipated the ramifications of our growing numbers, and the strove to meet the challenges that would bring. […] His role in founding the ADF alone has earned him a place in history.

Bonewits was a giant among us, and his passing has left us without one of our most intelligent and forward-looking leaders just as many of his visions for the future were coming to fruition. We can only hope that his legacy and example will endure.

Tomorrow I will post the top five Pagan stories for 2010. In the meantime, I invite you to check out the top religion stories from some different perspectives. Here are the Religion Newswriters Association’s picks, Terry Mattingly’s (of Get Religion fame) picks, the top spiritual trends according to Charisma Magazine, the top picks from Christianity Today, and Time Magazine’s top religion story picks.

Psychic and fortunetelling services are a big business. According to the Pew Forum 15% of Americans have consulted a fortuneteller or a psychic and some mainstream news outlets have even claimed that the practice is recession-proof. Recently, Time Magazine and the BBC have both looked at a growing trend of stricter regulations against psychics being enforced by local governments. But where is the line drawn between reasonable safeguards and oppressive control over speech and commerce? The Wild Hunt’s series Psychic Services and the Law speaks to noted figures within the worlds of fortunetelling and psychic services to get their view on this complex and sometimes contentious issue.

For this installment we turn to Salem, Massachusetts, the “Witch City”, where its infamous witch-trials in the late 17th century have spawned a seemingly unlikely modern tourist industry based around modern-day Witches (reportedly around 10% of the population), psychics, and all things Halloween. There, Salem business-owner (Hex and Omen) and promoter Christian Day, who campaigned three years ago to relax regulations on psychic services, runs the annual Festival of the Dead, an event that features the city’s longest-running psychic fair. I was lucky enough to conduct a short interview with (the currently very busy) Day about psychic regulations, Salem’s laws, and the future of the industry.


Christian Day

First off, what are your general opinions concerning the regulation of psychics, should they be singled out as an industry by local governments? Do you think regulations that call for background checks or letters of reference are fair?

I prefer a free-market approach to the psychic industry, where licenses are available to anyone who wishes to ply their trade as a psychic reader. However, I do support the licensing process because this is an industry prone to fraud, I have no problem with the requirements for criminal background checks, especially since I have nearly 30 psychics working for me in October and would prefer not to have those who have a record of fraudulent activity. However, I do not support caps on the number of any sort of business in a town, not even liquor licenses, for that fact, because, in my opinion, the good restaurants, hairdressers, bars, and, yes, psychics, will ultimately rise or fall on the merit of their talents. If the restrictions are too draconian or difficult, then it smacks to me of an unnecessary restriction of trade.

Salem’s ordinance on “fortune telling” does include such restrictions as having to live in Salem or own a business in Salem for a year or more (unless you work for someone who fits that criteria) and that a business hosting psychics be 50% or more metaphysical. The former seems fair enough to me to ensure that a business or individual is committed to Salem in the long term, though the second seems to place an undue burden on city employees having to decide what constitutes metaphysical and what doesn’t. As a practicing Witch, I can touch any object and make it magical. That said, Salem’s ordinance as a whole seems the best way to establish that people seeking to do readings in Salem do not have a history of fraud while opening up the playing field to all who want to play. The ordinance prior to 2007 was somewhat similar to the current one but it also featured a very narrow cap on the number of people who could read.

Salem recently made some changes to the way it regulates psychics, a process that you were a part of. Could you briefly talk about what the old rules were like, what the new guidelines are, and what the controversy was concerning the changes?

Prior to 2007, Salem allowed 5 individual readers who could read anywhere in Salem with their licenses and 4 shops to feature five psychics per shop. Since there were 11 individuals reading at the time the pre-2007 ordinance was enacted, 6 of them were grandfathered in and those licenses were too be dissolved as the license-holders gave them up. License holders were subjected to criminal background checks and there was no specification for psychic fairs.

The current ordinance allows for an unlimited number of shops and individual license holders. The individual license holders, however, are no longer allowed to read anywhere, but rather can read only in their house. The ordinance does not allow the individual licensee to override the guidelines for shops. So, if a shop has its maximum five psychic readers, the shop’s owner could not then employ an additional psychic holding an individual license. In addition to that, the individual licensee cannot be hired to override the requirement that a shop be considered 50% or more metaphysical. Thus, CVS Pharmacy can’t feature a psychic in October.

Salem, unlike some areas, see pyschics as a money-making industry and aren’t interested in passing ordinances that would drive them away. How difficult is it to get licensed in Salem? How would compare Salem’s regulations to other places in America?

On the contrary, the previous ordinance was designed for exactly that purpose–to drive psychics away. Contrary to what many people think of Salem, for many years the powers-that-be spent exorbitant amounts of money to rebrand the Witch City as a family-friendly, arts and culture seaport with boutique-style shopping and fine restaurants. I came into this culture as a business owner in 2003 and was not allowed to join the tourism agency that I now sit on the board of directors and marketing committee of. And, while much has changed since and we now have a mayor and a re-tooled tourism agency that gets it, there is still a mindset coursing through the city that rejects the idea of Salem as a destination for psychics, Witches, or the paranormal. I have worked long and hard to transform some of these perceptions but there is still much to be done and few of my fellow Witches in town understand either the idea branding or the need to be involved in its definition so I remain the only Witch-owned business represented on the marketing committee and board of directors of our city’s tourism organization. Many of them support me behind the scenes, but I’m working to get them more involved. For more info on the whole rebranding of Salem effort of 2003, click here.

As someone who’s been running psychic fairs and occult shops that employ psychics, what do you see for the future of this industry? Will more places try to pass restrictive laws, or will they follow the example of Salem and try to benefit from it?

I think that Salem runs in cycles. I imagine someone will suggest that psychics become limited again in the future, but because revenue is being generated and the sky hasn’t fallen in, and even the Chamber of Commerce says we’ve had more restaurants opening than psychic shops, I don’t imagine we’ll be revisiting the psychic licensing issue again soon. I’m quite sure that City Council won’t want to visit it again considering how contentious the issue was for them in 2007. As for other places, while I’m sure some cities and towns would rather not see psychics, I think most of them just hope to prevent fraud like Salem. Many, many people love to go to psychics, but they also want to know that they aren’t visiting criminals. That’s certainly an interest any city or town should want to address so I support background checks and hope that other psychic businesses like mine work hard to screen their psychics so that they are offering the best talent to their clientele.

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I’d like to thank Christian Day 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. I also hope you’ll check out the previous interviews with Mary K. Greer and Rachel Pollack. 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 issue of how local governments regulate psychic and divinatory services has been slowly bubbling up into the mainstream consciousness. These efforts have gone beyond the simple business licences that other industries routinely apply for to include background checks, letters of reference, fingerprinting, and other personal information. Some places, like Chesterfield County, Virginia, limit shops to the “red light” district of town (next to the adult bookstores, pawn shops, and scrap yards), and for some areas obtaining a licence, even if you clear the hurdles, is ultimately down to a judgement of your “good moral character”. When questioned on these ordinances local politicians and officials say it’s to prevent fraud and will point to a con-artist who managed to bilk thousands out of his or her trusting clients. But are those news-making scam-artists the norm? Is there a greater level of fraud within the divination industry than there is in other industries?

Recently, Time Magazine featured an article on a wave of new regulations across the country on businesses that provide divinatory and psychic services. The only psychic practitioner they could get to speak on the record half-favored stronger regulations, while the rest “refused to discuss their practices” on the record. I didn’t think this lack of voice from those who practice divination was adequate considering how many individuals within our interconnected communities are engaged in the practice. So I’ve started a new series called Psychic Services and the Law to get perspectives on regulation from prominent individuals whose voices should be heard as this issue is debated and litigated. In the first installment I talked with tarot expert Mary K. Greer, and this time I’m honored to present a short interview with Rachel Pollack.

Rachel Pollack is considered one of the world’s foremost authorities on the modern interpretation of the Tarot. She has published 12 books on the Tarot, including “78 Degrees of Wisdom”, considered a modern classic and the Bible of Tarot reading. She has been conferred the title of Tarot Grand Master by the Tarot Certification Board, an independent body located in Las Vegas, Nevada. In addition, she’s a celebrated author of fiction and poetry. Rachel also maintains a blog where she discusses issues related to tarot, writing, and inspiration.


Rachel Pollack

Do you feel that the practice of divination should be a government regulated industry complete with background checks, fingerprinting, letters of reference, and other measures?

No, I do not see any need for such regulation. If people are using the guise of divination to defraud or steal from people I would think current laws cover that. It’s not divination that is a problem it’s con artists. If con artists pretend to be doctors in order to trick people out of large sums of money, should we be fingerprinting doctors? Con artists who pretend to be diviners are just the same.

Do you think fraud by psychics is a serious problem, or do you feel it has been overblown by local politicians? Do you have any theories as to why the regulation of those who provide divination or psychic services is still such a popular topic?

Well, I was not aware it was a popular topic. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a news article about it on any of the news web sites I frequent, just on Tarot sites. I really have no way to know how many fake psychic con men there are, compared to people who actually are psychic, or would like to think they are. The actions of con men are very different from psychics, including bad psychics. People who practice fraud are not psychics, they’re crooks.

Many local ordinances dealing with fortune telling have been overturned on the grounds of freedom of religion (in fact, in one case a local reader tried to circumvent the law by arguing she was a “spiritual counselor” rather than a psychic). However, a recent case in Maryland overturned an anti-fortune-telling ordinance on broader Free Speech grounds. Have we been taking the wrong tack in arguing from a religious standpoint? Can the business of tarot reading also be a religious practice?

I agree strongly that free speech is a better grounds than freedom of religion. While many Tarot readers and/or psychics see what they do as religious in some way, I’m sure others don’t.

As a member of several tarot guilds, do you think tarot readers should do more to regulate themselves (as several other industries do)? Is such a move even practical?

I don’t really see how guilds or other groups could regulate readers who don’t want to be regulated. That is, we could have a certification system, but that works only insofar as customers look for it and want readers to have that piece of paper. And what would prevent someone from passing the test, getting the piece of paper to display, and then ignoring all the guidelines they pretended to follow?

As someone who has written several important texts on the tarot, where do you see the practice of tarot reading heading? Do you think it will ever escape the cultural and religious baggage that has haunted it for so many generations?

To be honest, I find it very hard to say where readings might be heading. I do think that we need some sort of breakthrough presentation that would change the societal view of Tarot reading, as bizarre, hokey, and somewhat ridiculous. Tarot needs to come more into public view so that it gets seriously examined. This may happen through some book or movie or through videos…who knows?

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I’d like to thank Rachel Pollack 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.