Archives For Time Magazine

On Oct. 28, Time magazine published an article called “Why Witches on TV Spell Trouble in real life.”  It was part of the avalanche of articles on Witches and Witchcraft that typically appear in October. As suggested by the title, the article’s intent was to examine the social factors surrounding the popularity of TV witches. After publication, Time and the writer, Jennie Latson, were hit with a wave of backlash from Pagans and Witches.

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The article contains two sentences that became the target of those reactions. The first is a quote from Emerson Baker, a history professor at Salem State University. He writes, “Witches, like terrorists, ‘threaten to wipe out everything you believe in.’ The article’s second offending sentence is “The difference, of course, is that terrorists are real, while witches are not.”

On Oct. 30, Silver Ravenwolf published a brief response:

I am shaking my head.  I am wondering what rock these people are crawling out from under.  How about you actually take the time to interview a real Witch, to live their life for 30 days, and then I dare you to come back and tell me that I’m a terrorist.

Jason Mankey posted a longer response titled “Dear Time magazine, Witches are Real!” on his blog Raise the Horns. His tempered response included:

 I don’t think Ms. Latson’s article was intentionally insulting. She was simply trying to rationalize the explosion of Witch-themed shows on cable television. Fair enough, that’s the kind of article we all expect this time of year, but her execution was exceedingly poor.

Adam Osborne of Salisbury, North Carolina began a change.org petition asking Time magazine to apologize. He wrote,”The article, although seemingly benign, puts Pagans and those who practice witchcraft in a bad light, and could encourage others to “punish” us as they would deem fit.” The petition has received 5,078 supporters to date.

While Pagans sent angry tweets to both the magazine and writer, several online media outlets reported on rising tension. The International Business Times wrote, “Many practicing Wiccans were not amused, and some accused the magazine of comparing witches to terrorists.” The Inquisitor published an opinion piece on the subject and Religion Dispatches posted a reaction from religion professor Joseph Laycock. On Nov. 10, Latson linked to that response in a tweet:

Although the backlash was notable, Pagan reactions were not uniform, and many felt the article wasn’t a problem. Osborne’s petition has yet to receive the requested number of signatures. Why? Because the Latson article focused on fictional witches and the legends surrounding Salem. When she said, “Witches aren’t real,” she was referring to the type of witch found in most Hollywood representations (e.g., Maleficent,2014; Witches,1990; The Chronicles of Narnia, 2005).

The word witch is, and has always been, a very loaded term. Outside of fictional representations, the word has many meanings, each of which evokes a very different culturally-dependent reaction. When someone says “witch” in a small Nigerian village, the meaning is entirely different from a person using the word while relaxing at Treadwell’s Bookshop in London. It means something different within the walls of the Vatican than it does at a Pagan Pride event in California. And, it means something different today than it did 100 or 500 years ago. Contextuality is everything when using the word “witch.”

Considering the reactions, Latson’s article failed to adequately contextualize its subject matter in order to avoid criticism. The sentence “Witches are not real” was not encased in language that demonstrated an understanding or sensitivity to the term’s varied contemporary usage. This resulted in outrage.

Limiting her statement to Hollywood cinematic language, Latson’s statement about witches is mostly true. However, the article makes other claims, beyond those two statements, that prove problematic from a cinematic and historical viewpoint. The article suggests that fictional witches are more popular during times of trouble. This statement is not supported by film research. As with the word “witch” itself, the iconic meaning of the cinematic witch needs better contexualization in order to understand its popularity.

Dorothy Neumenn as Crone Meg Maud. Courtesy of Acidemic.blogspot.com.

1957, The Undead. Dorothy Neumenn as Meg Maud. [Courtesy of Acidemic.blogspot.com.]

Quoting Baker, the article compares current U.S. social climate to that of colonial Salem. It posits that the interest in witches:

…may have its roots in the post-9/11 panic over terrorism and what could be seen as a Salem-like erosion of civil rights in the name of security — or, more recently, in the revelations that the National Security Agency seems to be spying on ordinary citizens as stealthily as neighbors spied on neighbors in colonial Salem

However, fictional witches were not only popular in times of trouble. Witches were prolific in American films at the turn of century because filmmakers, who wanted to showcase a new entertainment product, used popular stories, such as fairy tales and histories, to draw in audiences (e.g, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, 1910; In the Days of Witchcraft, 1913; Joan the Woman, 1917). Similarly, witches were popular in times of economic stability such as the 1950s and 1990s.

Film scholars believe the popularity of witches is less about social instability and more about the negotiation of gender roles. When discussing witch films, theorists focus on female agency and sexuality. As noted by Tanya Krzywinska in A Skin for Dancing in, “Witchcraft [in film] has become a language of resistance to the cultural norms of femininity…” (Krzywinska, p.117) These norms include beauty, family roles, career paths and power held within society.

While this very specific cinematic codification is consistent across time, it doesn’t explain everything. The use of the filmic witch as an icon of radical femininity is wholly dependent on time and genre. In the 1920s, when women were experiencing unprecedented social freedom, witches nearly disappeared from the American screen. In 1934, witches returned as the Depression took hold and traditional family structures were celebrated. At the very same time, the Catholic-based censorship office began its control of the Hollywood production (e.g., The Wizard of Oz, 1939; Spitfire,1934; Maid of Salem, 1937). In this case, witches were an example of what not to be.

By the 1970s and after the social revolution, the horror film began incorporating versions of the witch figure. In these films, the focus is more on aberrant female sexuality than conventional social roles (e.g., Rosemary’s Baby, 1968; Carrie,1976; Witches of Eastwick, 1987; The Craft, 1996). And, in today’s market, the narrative positioning of the Hollywood witch trope has changed again as society plays with the acceptance of non-traditional cultural modalities. This can be seen in thematic and narrative complexities playing out in recent shows such as Salem, American Horror Story: Coven, the Witches of East End and others.

WGN America's Salem Poster

WGN America’s Salem Poster

In addition, most discussions of cinematic witches, like the Time magazine article, fail to take race into account. Most Hollywood cinematic witches are white. The female, brown-skinned witch has a very different role and cinematic meaning within Hollywood language. Analysis of this type of witch reveals threads of racism, colonialism and the unfettered objectification of the “other” (e.g., The Devil’s Daughter, 1939, The Crucible, 1996; Salem, 2014)  This is an entirely different story.

The popularity, or the lack of popularity, of the witch in TV and cinema proves to be as complicated as the use of the term “witch” itself. In both cases, scholarship is not complete without acknowledging those complexities even on a small scale. Muddling this matter further are the many blurred lines between the various meanings – both fictional and real. There are shared details, such as black hats, cauldrons, magical work, healing and aspects of the Occult, that underlie our cultural understanding of the witch. These elements are often what lead to frustration and anger for those that identify as modern-day real Witches. Many people, non-Witches, don’t or can’t see the distinctions between the purely cinematic and fictional, the historical legends, the accusations in Africa, and the real, genuine practice of Witchcraft around the globe.

UPDATE 11/17/14: Prof. Emerson Baker, who was quoted in the original Time article, did issue his own apology on his site for the confusions that were generated by Latson’s story.

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

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We’ll start off Pagan Community Notes with a big thank you to all those people and organizations who supported our 2014 Fall Fund Drive. You helped us meet and exceed our goal, and for that we are very grateful. Over the next month, we will be contacting those people who requested perks. Columnist Eric Scott is already hard at work on those Panda drawings.  Again thank you from all of us at The Wild Hunt.  Now on to the news….

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margot-adlerOn Oct 31, Margot Adler’s closet friends and family gathered in a private memorial service to honor her life. The event was held at the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in New York City. Andras Corban-Arthen was in attendance and has posted several photos on his public Facebook page. In her will, Margot had requested that EarthSpirit’s ritual singing group, Mother Tongue, perform at her service. Corban-Arthen said, “We were all very glad and honored to perform a few pieces in her memory.”

Starhawk has published the words she wrote for the memorial service on her blog. She ended the piece saying, “As [Margot] takes her place among the Mighty Dead of the Craft, she becomes even more fully what she has always been: an ally, a friend, a wise guide, a challenger and a refuge.”

On Oct 30, Rev. Selena Fox, another longtime friend of Margot’s, announced that Circle Sanctuary was “dedicating a memorial stone for Margot and placing it at [it’s] green cemetery, Circle Cemetery, a place that Margot visited and loved.” The stone includes the words, “Drawing Down the Moon, Inspiring Pagan Voice.”

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time-logo-ogOn Oct 28, TIme Magazine online published an article entitled, “Why Witches on TV Spell Trouble in Real Life.”  The article has generated a storm of controversy that has led to a petition on Change.org and numerous other mainstream articles outlining Pagan response. Blogger Jason Mankey wrote, “I don’t think Ms. Latson’s article was intentionally insulting. She was simply trying to rationalize the explosion of Witch-themed shows on cable television. Fair enough, that’s the kind of article we all expect this time of year, but her execution was exceedingly poor.” We will be following up on this story later in the week.

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Cara Schulz

Tomorrow is election day in the U.S. As we have already reported, Wild Hunt staff writer Cara Schulz is running for Burnsville City Council. In recent weeks, she ran into some conflict over her religion. Although Schulz hasn’t hidden her beliefs, a local resident only recently discovered that she was Pagan, and sent a concerned letter to the editor. After it was published, Schulz responded by saying “The letter wasn’t explicitly degrading towards Pagan religions, but it’s clear the motive was to induce fear and sensationalism about my religious beliefs and encourage people to vote for my opponents specifically because they aren’t Pagans.” She called the situation laughable, adding, “Religion is irrelevant to a person’s fitness for public office and is private.” Schulz has called on her opponents to denounce the letter’s intent. However, that has yet to happen.

In Other News:

  • The organizers of Paganicon have announced that Lupa will be the 2015 Guest of Honor. They wrote, “We at Twin Cities Pagan Pride are extremely excited and honored to have Lupa join us.” They added that she’s a “perfect fit” to help explore the conference’s theme: Primal Mysteries. Paganicon 2015 will be held March 13-15 at the Double Tree in Saint Louis Park.
  • As announced by the Polytheist Leadership Conference, the New York Regional Diviners Conference is coming up this month.  As written on the site, “For one day in November, diviners from a plethora of traditions will gather in Fishkill, NY to discuss their art, network, exchange knowledge, and learn new techniques.” The conference is held on Nov 29 at the Quality Inn in Fishkill.
  • Treadwell’s Bookshop owner and Wild Hunt UK Columnist Christina Oakley Harrington was interviewed for a short film called “Witches and Wicked Bodies: A ZCZ Films Halloween Special.” The 9 minute film focuses on the British Museum‘s current exhibition of “Witches and Wicked Bodies.” Toward the end of the program, the host visits Treadwell’s and talks to Christina about modern day Witchcraft and Pagan practice.
  • Cherry Hill Seminary announced the start of a new class called, “Indigenous Traditions of the Sacred.” The class is being taught by Leta Houle, who “is Plains Cree from the Sturgeon Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan.” The program’s goal is to introduce students to the “meaning of what is sacred to Indigenous peoples, including the issue of cultural appropriation.”
  • This October the Northern Illinois University Pagan Alliance decided to try something entirely new. They ran a Pagan Spirit Week from Oct 27-31. President Sara Barlow explains that the purpose was “to raise awareness of and celebrate the presence of Pagan students at Northern Illinois University. We invited others on campus to learn more about aspects of our culture through activities such as meditation, anti-stress charms, divination, runic magic, and our open Samhain ritual.”  Barlow said the response was excellent and that they even picked up a few new members. Now the group hopes to make Spirit Week a yearly tradition.

That is all for now.  Have a great day.

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.

A promotional image from American Horror Story: Coven.

A promotional image from American Horror Story: Coven.

  • At Time Magazine, Megan Gibson praises the re-ascension of the Witch in pop culture. Quote: “Now, witches are getting another crack at dominance. And I think that’s a good thing — particularly for the young girls and women who are the primary audience for these shows. Unlike the female leads in most vampire stories, women in witchcraft stories are typically depicted as strong, capable characters. They might not always be noble, but they’re certainly not weak or passive characters who sit on the sidelines while the men take charge. Fictional witches are well-rounded characters with rich interior lives, while the females in vampire stories are the supernatural equivalent of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.” Gibson also notes the amoral universe some contemporary fictional witches operate in these days, but thinks that “young girls and women don’t need role models from television, they need options.”
  • Could teaching about nutrition in India help deter accusations of witchcraft? Quote: “The Jharkhand State Women’s Commission is planning to approach the state government to hold nutrition programmes simultaneously with the awareness campaigns against withcraft to combat the superstition effectively. […] Superstitions were attached to illness caused by malnutrition among children and innocent women were often made responsible for this by branding them as witches. This could be curbed through joint campaigns by health mission and literacy programmes.”
  • Canada’s National Post reports on the World Mission Society Church of God, also known as the Church of God. Specifically, it notes that this Christian denomination worship a goddess. Quote: “Most Christian churches believe in one God, commonly described in male terms as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, but the Church of God believes the Bible testifies that two Gods exist: God the Father and God the Mother. […] The church teaches that since the Bible testifies that men and women were both created in God’s own image, God actually has two images: male and female. In other words, there are two Gods – Heavenly Parents – who together created human beings in Their likeness.” There’s nearly 2 million members of this church, FYI.
  • After the controversy in 2012 over Canada eliminating all paid part-time chaplain services (starting with the Wiccans), effectively making government prison chaplaincy a Christian-only affair, the government has quietly tasked a private company with providing chaplaincy services. Quote: “Kairos Pneuma Chaplaincy Inc., a company started by a handful of current and former federal prison chaplains in direct response to the request for proposals issued in May, won the bid. Since October, about 30 full and part-time chaplains of all denominations, including Wicca and including many who worked in the federal prison system perviously, have been serving prisoners across the country, according to company president John Tonks.” Proponents of the new system says it promotes “equity” among prison chaplains.
  • In a shocking twist, a Christian columnist finds that he thinks Christianity is better than Paganism. Quote: “Absolute truth exists. And truth is not determined by the majority, but by the Truth-Giver. Most important, truth matters and consequences exist. We must be willing to discuss this so we can distinguish between good and bad ideas; or risk the consequence of being held back as individuals and/ora nation; or worse. If we don’t want to accept this, pray the pagans are right so that in the end it doesn’t matter.” He also has some feelings about gay marriage, again, shocking, I know.
Photo of a Vodou practitioner by Anthony Karen.

Photo of a Vodou practitioner by Anthony Karen.

  • Slate.com profiles photographer Anthony Karen, who has spent time documenting Haitian Vodou. Quote: “The Vodou faith teaches us to bless nature and support cosmic harmony for the purposes of mastering divine magnetism. Vodou accepts the existence of the visible and the invisible, in a sense that it is believed that one does not see all that exists, and Vodou is in full compliance with the laws of nature.” Be warned, some of the photos are of animal sacrifice and quite graphic. Meanwhile, Slate.com has also posted a photographic look at a Vodun fetish market in the nation of Togo.
  • So, it seems Charismatic Christians are using the phrase “religious witchcraft” for people who “shame” or “threaten” Christians into bowing “to their ungodly will.” Quote: “So when you discern religious witchcraft—which often manifests as intimidation, manipulation and maligning—don’t try to defend yourself. Let the Lord vindicate you. Don’t stop doing what God told you to do. Keep pressing into your kingdom assignment with confidence that He has your back—because He does.” I can only imagine the havoc this is going to cause Google-ing Charismatics. Good luck with all those Pagan search results!
  • Infamous Nigerian Christian leader Helen Ukpabio is trying to re-start her anti-witchcraft themed ministry. Quote: “Ukpabio has literally re-launched her witch hunting ministry which is blamed for the menace of child witchcraft allegations and human rights abuses in the region. For some time now her ministry has been criticized locally and international because of its role in fueling witchcraft accusation and related abuses in Nigeria and beyond. But she appears unrepentant, and unfazed by the criticisms. Ukpabio claims to be an ex-witch with a divine mandate and power to exorcize the spirit of witchcraft.” As I’ve pointed out before, Ukpabio has received support and money from American churches, and is a public face of the larger problem of Western missions directly or indirectly funding witch-hunting.
  • A Pagan priest in the UK is calling on goddesses to help find a lottery ticket winner, because, well, why not? I guess? Quote: “David Spofforth, priest of Avalon, has called on the help of ancient Goddesses to reveal the holder of an unclaimed EuroMillions lottery ticket. […] The self-styled Priest of Avalon priest conducted a 20-minute ceremony at St Ann’s Well in Hove, which is said to be the starting point of ley lines running across the South Downs.”
  • Satanic Panic, it really was a thing folks. Seriously.
  • 6% of libertarians belong to a non-Christian religion, while 27% claim to be religiously unaffiliated. This places them at odds with the rest of modern-day conservative-leaning groups. Quote: “By contrast, more than one-third (35 percent) of Americans who identify with the Tea Party movement are white evangelical Protestants, while roughly equal numbers identify as Catholic (22 percent) or white mainline Protestant (19 percent), and fewer than 1-in-10 (9 percent) are religiously unaffiliated.”

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.

I’m sure you’ve heard by now that Time Magazine’s 2011 Person of the Year is “The Protester.”

“Everywhere this year, people have complained about the failure of traditional leadership and the fecklessness of institutions. Politicians cannot look beyond the next election, and they refuse to make hard choices. That’s one reason we did not select an individual this year. But leadership has come from the bottom of the pyramid, not the top. For capturing and highlighting a global sense of restless promise, for upending governments and conventional wisdom, for combining the oldest of techniques with the newest of technologies to shine a light on human dignity and, finally, for steering the planet on a more democratic though sometimes more dangerous path for the 21st century, the Protester is TIME’s 2011 Person of the Year.”

For me, this brings up all sorts of reactions. There’s the Pagan community’s own role in Occupy movement, of course, but there’s also a certain sense of creation in Time’s decision. The invocation of an archetype, The Protester, or perhaps the formation of a new power (or powers), the animating spirit of protest itself.  Or maybe this is simply the new face of a god or goddess you already know? Whatever the case, this does seem a victory of sorts for embodied principals and concepts. Let’s see if altars to “The Protester” start popping up, and what it means when The Protester is invoked.

This brings me to an opinion piece over at Religion Dispatches, where Sarah Morice-Brubaker engages in a bit of “nerdy parlor-game fun” and ponders which religious figures would support (or not support) the Occupy movement.

“But what about other religious figures? Surely we can also hypothesize about whether they’d have supported the Occupy movement? In a spirit of nerdy parlor-game fun more than serious analysis, I’ve compiled my own hypotheses, sticking within my own tradition of Christianity since it’s the one I know best and since I don’t like plundering other people’s belief systems for levity. But I’m eager to hear suggestions.”

So I would personally love to hear my readers responses to this question. Which Pagan/pagan thinkers (or powers/gods) do you think would be for the Occupy movement? Which ones do you think would have steered clear, or criticized it? Let’s keep this civil and fun, try to be creative! I’d also love to hear any thoughts on The Protester as an archetype or power, best responses from each of these questions will get featured in a future post here at The Wild Hunt.

In yesterday’s link roundup I mentioned that the LA Times did a feature on Pagans in the Air Force Academy, I thought it was merely OK, but it turns out that the piece had been edited from a far more mocking tone according to Star Foster at Patheos.

Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle at the Air Force Academy

Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle at the Air Force Academy. Photo by: Jerilee Bennett / The Gazette

“Because I’m an idiot, I didn’t take a screenshot of the article, which has now been edited for tone. (I will always take screenshots going forward, just in case.) Her previously snarky piece is now much calmer, yet still complains that the Air Force is spending money to be inclusive of non-Christians. While I’m glad they removed some of the cheap jokes, I don’t think you should edit an article that much after publication without an editor’s note explaining the change.”

Lest you think the alleged earlier version was simply in Star’s imagination, Mark Thompson at Time’s Battleland blog also picked up on the LA Time’s anti-Pagan snark and calls them out on it.

“The Air Force then earnestly tries to deal with – and encourage – religious diversity, and they get stung by stories like this in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times […] It’s tough walking that careful line in don’t-offend-me America. If you hew too closely to one religion, you’re criticized; if you welcome all, you’re zinged for that, as well.”

On a more positive note, if you click that link on the word “welcome” from the Battleland blog, you’ll notice it heads to part one of the two-part PNC-Minnesota story on Pagans in the Air Force and Air Force Academy. That piece, which was reprinted here at The Wild Hunt, and was written by Cara Schulz at PNC-Minnesota, deserves that attention its getting, and I’m glad Time’s Battleland blog linked to it. While I’m not going to jump to some of the conclusions that Star did, I do think that the Pagan Newswire Collective’s piece did act in some small way to jump-start the current rush of coverage on this story, now running at places like The Telegraph in England. So kudos to Cara, and here’s to Pagan media influencing the narrative!

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.

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.

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.

Delaware Tea Party candidate Christine O’Donnell‘s recent Hail Mary pass of a political addirectly confronting accusations of “witchcraft” that surfaced after an old clip where she admitted to “dabbling” in the practice and having lunch on a “Satanic” altar as a teenager, isn’t having quite the intended humanizing effect on several Pagans. A growing Youtube response meme has Pagans reminding O’Donnell, and America, that “I’m you” includes Witches. Here’s a run-down of the videos posted so far.

Star Foster, Pagan Portal manager at Patheos.com, was one of the first, and her video gained the attention of USA Today religion reporter Cathy Lynn Grossman.

Right around the same time COG First Officer-elect Peter Dybing (acting as a private citizen and not as a COG representative) also posted a video response.

From there the phenomenon has seemed to take on a life of its own. There are videos from Angela from the Pagan Mom Blog, Kei Dallmer, and Rebecca Chow so far.

No doubt more videos are being made and posted as we speak.

In addition, this revival of “dabble-gate” has spurred even more coverage and interviews with modern Pagans. Time Magazine has a very good interview up now with Delaware-based Wiccan Priest Michael Smith, a member of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, and a Cherry Hill Seminary Board member.

“There was a lot of eye rolling. It obscures the actual issues involved [in Wicca]. Who knows what she did or dabbled in when she was in high school. I doubt very seriously that she knows what it was. Certainly I do not think that she has any concept about what witchcraft, Wicca or paganism actually is. I doubt very seriously whether she has any concept of what Satanism actually is.”

Meanwhile, some mainstream media has become so over-the-top and theatrical in reporting this story that comedian Jon Stewart has to act as the voice of reason on this whole issue.

“You know, I feel like again, this woman, Christine O’Donnell, she may be qualified. She may not. I’m not all that impressed with what’s in the Senate right now. But the last thing that I would suggest is that her witchcraft or masturbation stance is what we should be even thinking about or focusing on, and I think that’s an enormous mistake that the Democrats will make.”

Again, if O’Donnell is indeed elected, what actual worrisome things about her will we miss because the media is having so much fun dressing folks up, interviewing Wiccans, and vainly trying to contain their smirks? I’m glad that Pagans are taking the initiative to use this media storm in a positive way, and I’m also glad that we are getting some more thoughtful coverage in some mainstream outlets, but I wish the mainstream media, and those who consume it, would demand more from their journalism than this ongoing spectacle.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mary K. Greer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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