Are Fortune Tellers Psychic?

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Creative Commons License photo credit: MichaelMKenny

Starting this week, fortune tellers in Warren, Mich., must be fingerprinted and pay an annual fee of $150 — plus $10 for a police background check — to practice their craft. The new rules are among America’s strictest on palmists, fortune readers and other psychics,  part of a growing push to regulate a business that has never been taken, or overseen, very seriously. But officials in Warren, a town of 138,000 near Detroit, say it’s time to weed out tricksters.

“We had no mechanism of enforcement to protect people against unsavory characters,” Warren city-council member Keith Sadowski says. “We want to be sure there is some recourse in case we do get somebody who is not legitimate.”

Regulating an industry that deems itself clairvoyant, has no standard education requirements and yet rakes in cash for revealing spiritual truths may itself be an act of faith. It also might make good economic sense: about 1 in 7 Americans consulted a psychic or fortune teller in 2009, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. That could be 30 million or more people. (See people finding God on YouTube.)

Municipalities are struggling to manage their activities. Annapolis, Md., issues what it calls a “fortune-telling license” only if its police force concludes the applicant is “of good moral character.” Last year, Will County, Illinois, decided to count fortune telling as an official business (along with tattooing and dog watching). Three years ago, Salem, Mass., famous for its 17th century witch trials — and something of a magnet for spiritual artisans — tightened its rules on background checks for psychics while easing its cap on the number of local fortune tellers allowed in town.

Warren’s beefed-up regs came about this spring when Matt Nichols, a Warren police officer, told the city council that the town appeared vulnerable to fortune-telling crime. Once a year since at least 2005, Nichols says, he has had to try to persuade a psychic to return jewelry or cash taken from a client in exchange for performing spells or freeing the client from a curse. But since no regulations barred such acts, criminal charges weren’t an option.

“We are not looking to do anything to oppress people’s beliefs,” argues Nichols, who is also a member of the National Association of Bunco Investigators, a nonprofit group dedicated to combating scams and cons. “We are looking to specifically identify crime and people who prey on the vulnerable.”

That makes sense, given the harm unscrupulous fortune tellers can inflict. Psychic Gina Marie Marks pleaded guilty Wednesday, Sept. 1, in Florida to grand theft and organized fraud.

One of her victims testified that Marks swindled her out of $312,926.29 — and persuaded her to get a tattoo, to boot.

It’s now “a constant reminder of the psychological abuse I endured at the hands of this false prophet,” she told a Broward County judge. (See pictures of spiritual healing around the world.)

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. (In that case, the judge even challenged a common stereotype: “We are not, however, persuaded that all fortune telling is fraudulent,” Clayton Greene Jr. wrote.)

But the transparency that regulation requires seems to be in short supply.

Several psychics contacted by TIME refused to discuss their practices. Others, like members of the Astrology Association of St. Petersburg, Fl., fear discrimination may result. Some psychics, sensing the way the wind is blowing, are developing codes of ethics to ensure honest clairvoyance. Southern California medium Linda Mackenzie, for example, promises to not use her powers for personal gain or revenge. Allie Theiss, a psychic in Wooster, Ohio, posts a confidentiality agreement on her website and assures potential customers that readings are done without regard for a client’s race, gender, creed, color or sexual orientation. (Comment on this story.)

Not all psychics fear tougher government oversight.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Julia Mary Cox, a Michigan psychic plying her craft near Warren, says of the town’s new rules. “There are so many people practicing out there, doing it under false pretenses, giving honest people a bad name.”

But she concedes she wishes Warren’s new rules could more clearly separate true fortune tellers from false seers. “They are not looking at any training,” she notes. “I have a college degree, I have a background in religion and philosophy and English, and I have experience doing this.”

While all that may be true, it’s also irrelevant. Cox concedes there’s nothing like a driver’s test for oracles.

“There aren’t any classes you can take where you say, ‘Here are three boxes. Which box holds the apple?’ ” But given Americans’ hunger to know the unknowable — and their willingness to pay for it — it’s a safe bet that psychics are going to keep peddling predictions, regulated or not.

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12 comments… add one
  • WhiteCrow RadhaMa Jul 1, 2014, 3:48 am

    NO. Governments need to stay out of traditional systems. They do not understand them, nor do they believe in them. It is enough that they get taxes from the work. Surely. Yes there are tricksters. As there are in all industries. In governments, in police forces, in churches and football clubs and any other group you care to name. Fingerprinting people is assuming guilt and treating them like criminals, second class citizens, or not citizens at all. I am over the way the USA treats its citizens – and my country’s leaders are particularly stupid and following suit in every way possible. Of course they will. It is all about taking away the people’s sovereignty and empowerment to make them enslaved to the government’s system. It is to dumb them down and to remove any connection to spirit and knowledge that they do not belong to the state, but to Spirit. If they begin it here, they will find that most psychics are very well supported by other alternative healing modalities and it will just go underground. Certainly that is what I will do. No one will be fingerprinting me and charging me a fee to do what Spirit has allowed me to learn through my ancestry. It is none of the government’s business. People meet charlatans in all walks of life. If psychics should be fingerprinted, then so should politicians, police, doctors, solicitors, judges, teachers, chaplains and every single person who works with others – because each have a percentage of people within their groups that are dishonest and dangerous in some way or another. Not that this opinion makes any difference. The governments are aiming for total control over people. So, they will ignore objections anyway. It is a simple matter of making sure that the craft can be kept from the officials view.

    • Anne Morgan Jul 1, 2014, 6:21 pm

      Hello WhiteCrowRadhaMa,

      I am fully in agreement with your post and that of Loving Rose some time ago. I am not American and here in Europe there seems to be a less sensational view of fortune telling, curse casting/lifting etc than in the USA.

      I read with dismay that so many Americans take the Bible so literally and thus would “Not suffer a witch to live” as I believe it says somewhere in that long text. This can only lead to a loss of free speech as those of us with alternative beliefs will go underground again as happened in the UK following the activities of the Witchfinder General several centuries ago, and the law forbidding witchcraft was only repealed in 1951.

      On the subject of finger printing, I don’t see the point as it is relatively easy to damage the fingers, a much better way would be to DNA every individual at birth. If you are not guilty then there is nothing to be frightened of and DNA cannot be changed. A national or even international database can be of use for many medical reasons not just to prove/disprove criminal activity.

      I would be pleased to get your reactions to this thought.

      Blessed Be.

  • Loving Rose Apr 25, 2012, 4:35 am

    A legitimate psychic will NEVER EVER ask for exorbitant amounts of money, gifts, etc. Anyone who does is a FRAUD.

    There are entire families & clans who make their living this way. The women (and some men) do “readings”. The other men do things like ‘roofing’ or ‘driveway sealing’ that washes off in the first rain.

    The simplest way to tell if it’s a fraudulent “psychic”? If there is signage in front of the building. I’m sure you know the kind I’m talking about — a hand advertising palm reading, cheap readings, “guarantees” return of a loved one, etc. Legitimate psychics usually advertise in local metaphysical papers, may work out of a new age shop and are more than happy to give references, let you record the reading, etc. They also will not make any guarantees of outcomes and most will give you a detailed explanation of how ‘free will’ enters into things.

    The second step is to educate yourself before you go. Googling “psychic scams” and “gypsy psychic scams” is a good start. That way, when the ‘reader’ starts telling you someone has cursed you, put a spell on you, or you have ‘negative energy’ around you, you will know to get up and walk out.

    Personally, I don’t know how I’d feel if my city decided to start regulating readers. I know that I would want someone on the committee who is familiar with psychics and how we work.I would probably want to have a voice in it as well.

    • Rosemary Breen Apr 25, 2012, 3:12 pm

      Hello

      Welcome to Psychic Revolution!

      I agree with you on all points here.

      In particular, I think your point about having legitimate representation on any registering body is highly appropriate. But that is probably a poisoned chalice and one that few would want to take on.

      I feel a reporting body is needed at least; somewhere where people can report their concerns so that at least some sort of register is started.

      Every avenue of regulation will cause headaches but that is not a reason to not at least start to regulate this industry. I believe this is starting, perhaps in the UK.

      Cheers

      Rosemary

  • Glasgow Self Hypnotherapy Aug 9, 2011, 7:28 pm

    How widespread is criminal activity practiced within psychic services compared with other trades and services? EG: Sales representatives and other advisory services etc.

    Does having a degree in being a spiritual reverend really prove psychic ability? I think not. Psychic ability has not been conclusively proven as a true phenomenon, just a faith.

    How do you regulate a person who’s adept in cold/hot reading techniques compared with someone who insists their genuinely psychic clairvoyant etc? You can’t.

    A NON PROFIT Register of psychic workers would help, but I totally disagree with psychic workers needing to have qualifications. The main thing they should only have to prove, is that they have satisfactory entertained their clients and have an address of a NON PROFIT PSYCHIC Register for clients to contact if they think they’ve been ripped off.

    • Rosemary Breen Aug 9, 2011, 8:55 pm

      Ahh the old chestnut of what constitutes entertainment.

      Could we get our money back if we weren’t happy with a rock concert – ie we weren’t sufficiently entertained? I doubt it don’t you Allan.

      I presume criminality in the paranormal profession is just as wide spread as in the clergy or among media magnates or within any other line of business. Ive recently being reading up on the Stanford Prison Experiment and it would seem, in certain circumstances, even good people are capable of not only doing bad things but evil too.

      Im not even sure that I agree with the use of the word faith where paranormal practitioners are concerned either.

      As a hypnotist Allan, Id be interested to know how do you deal with paranormal occurrences that arise in your sessions? Are they accepted and integrated into your therapy?

      Ciao for now

      Rosemary

      • Glasgow Self Hypnotherapy Aug 10, 2011, 2:19 pm

        Thank you for your feedback Rosemary. Much appreciated!

        I keep my paranormal interests separate from hypnotherapy practice. Occasionally I use healing light and other mystical type metaphors as part of a session.

        Cheers!
        Allan

        • Rosemary Breen Aug 10, 2011, 3:26 pm

          Wow, that must take some will power Allan. I imagine it is quite difficult to partition the two areas when they seem to reside next door to each other.

          Cheers

          Rosemary

          • Glasgow Self Hypnotherapy Aug 12, 2011, 12:57 am

            Not at all Rosemary, hypnosis utilising different therapies is used for more mundane but important purposes such as weight loss, quit smoking etc… Hypnosis it’s self is generally regarded as a set of psychological steps and not paranormal in nature.

            Cheers!
            Allan

  • Gray D Apr 19, 2011, 8:54 pm

    Sounds a little like this town is cashing in on the regulating money-go-round.

    Why not just do a police check on the licence? And if so then apply it to everyone in the town? Or is it that every other business is free from the not so legitimate?

    They could also do as they have in the UK, and enforce the spiritual faith workers to state their work is for entertainment purposes only.

    Going back to witch hunts, nothing much changes, just in another form. If these measures were applied to any other faith there would be outcry.

    • Rosemary Breen Apr 27, 2011, 7:22 am

      Gray, I think your last sentence is so right. There would be an outcry.

      On the issue of police checks, I know here in Australia we have voted against having a national identity card – mainly because of the invasion of privacy aspect. Of course, we still have other cards that can be used for the same purpose. I think I’m more in favor of letting the market decide what is and what isn’t, who is and who isn’t legitimate.

      And, of course, from what Ive heard, the introduction of the ‘entertainment-only’ statement was not universally accepted.

      There is definitely a need for a national registering body here in Australia and done properly, this could only enhance the legitimacy of the paranormal members and the industry as a whole.

      Thanks for leaving a comment Gray.

      Cheers

      Rosemary

      • WhiteCrow RadhaMa Jul 1, 2014, 3:54 am

        You know, I would challenge that anyone is equipped to tell me who to report to. I have been doing my work for over thirty five years in several different countries. I have yet to meet anyone who I would trust to test someone else – most do not know what they are doing. It concerns me that some people think there should be a reporting body. I think it is a simple matter of unquestioning refund if a person is not happy and that takes care of the fairness principle. Well, for the client, not for the psychic. Some people are not adequately informed to recognise what a good psychic is. So, I think that more education is in order, not artificial management by left brained power mongers who want to control all people.

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