Spooky: PA Enforces Archaic 1800s Statute On Local Tarot Card Reader

P. Gardner Goldsmith | October 31, 2023
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Many people grow out of celebrating Halloween. Perhaps they learn about its dark, occultic roots, or perhaps they just become more satisfied by staying inside on a chilly night rather than wearing sight-limiting masks and becoming targets for egg-throwers on the prowl.

But, for some, the spooky spirit of fear continues, and it seems recently to have been manifested in the form of a “trick-or-treat” visit from police in Pennsylvania - a visit that offered no “treat” whatsoever.

Stephanie Whiteside reports for NewsNation that a woman from Hanover, PA, had the good fortune (pun intended) to be featured by a local publication that highlighted her fortune-telling and Tarot card reading business.

Free publicity. Not bad. Or, perhaps it’s got a downside.

Writes Whiteside:

“Beck Lawrence, who goes by they/them, owns the Serpent’s Key Shoppe and Sanctuary in Hanover, Pennsylvania. When the store was written up by a local newsletter dedicated to promoting small, local businesses, Lawrence was surprised when the group forwarded them an email from the town’s police chief, who happened to read the article.”

Just a grammatical-legal question before proceeding on this: If the government were to fine or prosecute Lawrence, would “they/them” receive more than one fine, or would it be a single punishment, for… a single person?

Moving on from the dumb, confusing, “plural pronoun” subtext, we discover:

“’So he informed them that fortunetelling via tarot cards is technically illegal in Pennsylvania due to a law that dates back to 1861,’ Lawrence told NewsNation.”

Yep. Regardless of what one thinks of the occult trappings or the possible waste of cash inherent in getting a Tarot card reading, there’s a statute against it, and, as it so often is with dumb enforcement of dumb statutes, the police didn’t seem to have better things to do than visit this hardened criminal.

“A few days later, he came to the store along with another officer in a visit Lawrence described as intimidating. Lawrence said while the chief told them they wouldn’t be arrested that day, he also said if there were any reports, he would be investigating.”

Perhaps one can hear the obvious quip: why didn’t Lawrence “foresee” this visit?

The trouble is, of course, this isn’t a joking matter, because part of Lawrence’s livelihood comes from the fortune-telling and card work. Can a person trying to operate a business in this kind of threatening atmosphere not worry? Would such a person start pondering whether a move to another state would be safer than staying in a place where the tax-paid men in blue costumes show up to offer vibes of intimidation and possible arrest or fines?

Writes Whiteside:

“Lawrence, a self-described eclectic pagan and Hekatean witch, was unaware the law existed. But Pennsylvania is far from the only state to have prohibitions on fortunetelling.

NewsNation legal correspondent Jesse Weber explained many jurisdictions have similar prohibitions against tarot readings along with other occult practices like palm reading. But that doesn’t mean those laws are consistently enforced.

‘They’re really on the books to prevent people from swindling money out of others,’ he said.”

But that depends on what one terms “swindling.”

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When it comes to prognostication and “card-reading”, will agents of the generic "state" – which forcibly tells people to give it money – tell people engaging in voluntary exchanges (even exchanges of money for speculative spiritualist conversation and card-reading) that they can’t freely associate with each other on their own terms?

There’s something darkly ironic about that power imbalance, especially when one considers the fact that we often hear the line that police are given our cash to “protect and serve,” yet in 1981, the US Supreme Court ruled that police have absolutely zero duty to protect any one of us.

Which makes it quite a curious thing to consider that they might try to stop private fortune-telling because the government fears “fraud.”

Although a scientist such as Michael Crichton investigated claims of “supernatural foresight” in his book “Travels” and came to the conclusion that some who offer the service do show SOME kind of metaphysical “gift” beyond mere parlor trickery, most people know that fortune-telling likely isn’t going to foresee a lot of valuable future events in their lives. And, even if they do not, even if they believe that they can get solid answers and services from dabbling in the occult under the guidance of a fortune-teller, why should tax-funded government agents get in the way?

If a parent wants to take a child to a theme park, and the kiddie sees a costumed super-hero like Spider-Man, should the police bust the theme park and arrest the parents for reinforcing the idea that the Wall-Crawler is real? Should park owners be forced to post signs that tell kids the heroes are just actors in suits?

That’s the kind of thing many fortune-tellers have to do in order to dodge the men in blue. And now, after the initial police harassment, Lawrence fears that things could expand.

“Lawrence said they have disclaimers to that effect in their store, a common practice for tarot readers. While they believe those disclaimers will offer some protection, they are concerned about reports from people who may object to the store’s presence. After a TikTok video from Lawrence about the police visit went viral, the Hanover police posted about the incident on Facebook.”

Not a good move.

“’The statement that was put on Facebook was like, now, if we get complaints, we will be obligated to investigate. So to me, that almost kind of felt like inciting false reports,’ Lawrence said.”

As folks think about Trick-or-Treat, which is voluntary, perhaps they can think about all the involuntary impositions even local or state governments enforce. This story might seem trivial to some, and the statute is archaic, but the spirit of authoritarianism and the assumption that government simply can take people’s money and time and push people around? Those are timeless.

And they haunt many, today.

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