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North Carolina's Anti-Divination Law


How often do you get to burn a bad law?

That's just what we did at Samhain X, Asheville's 10th Annual Public Witch Ritual, on Oct. 31, 2004. After *Diuvei (at Lady Passion's request) ceremonially read North Carolina General Statute 14-401.5 for the very last time, he set a match to the parchment scroll, and everyone cheered as a law which had caused so many of the Wise so much pain went up in flames. "Wow, what a role reversal!" exclaimed one onlooker upon seeing the Witches burn the law, rather than the other way around. We then commenced to divine, tell fortunes, and practice clairvoyance -- legally. (Photo by Merlyn.)

Here is the history of Western North Carolina Pagans' fight to overturn N.C.'s anti-fortunetelling law, as documented in news coverage, photos of protests, and press releases. Use this chronicle for reference and inspiration if you are fighting a similar law in your own state or country.

N.C. General Statute 14-401.5: "It shall be unlawful for any person to practice the arts of phrenology, palmistry, clairvoyance, fortune-telling, or any crafts of a similar kind ..."

Protestor in front of police car

Witches, pagans, and psychics in N.C. united to overturn this obsolete law as an unconstitutional infringement on our freedom of religion.

Feb. 18, 1998: We first heard about the law from a small article, "Mystifying law", which ridiculed it in the Mountain Xpress. (Much later, we learned from author Paul Schattel that he'd based it on a press release issued by the Church of the Earth in Raleigh after the law was enforced there against the Cosmic Lemniscate bookstore.)
March 25, 1998: Foreseeing that local authorities soon would try to use the anti-psychic law to repress WNC's flourishing alternative spiritual community, Lady Passion condemned the law in a commentary in the Mountain Xpress titled "Antiquated laws should be ancient history": "This singling-out of religious practices that conventional society may disdain as 'non-Christian' or 'unscientific' flagrantly violates the religious freedom guaranteed everyone by the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights."
It wasn't very long before her warning was proven true.



Independence Eve protest -- Waynesville, N.C., Sat. 3 July 1999

June 28, 1999: McCarthy-era law against palmistry and clairvoyance invoked to shut down Psychic Gallery in Waynesville, Western N.C.
June 29, 1999: Buncombe County's sheriff says he is compiling a list of psychics and readers in and around Asheville. Shortly thereafter, the Sheriff's Dept. sends a threatening letter to all the practitioners it finds, including Miss Sandra, a psychic on Haywood Rd. in West Asheville, whose shop has just appeared on a news report on WLOS-TV. She closes down immediately after receiving the letter.
July 3, 1999:

Pagans fight back 
Pictured: Lady Passion, HPS, and Strella of Coven Oldenwilde reading Tarot cards on the Haywood Co. courthouse lawn. Photo by Brendan Conley.

ASHEVILLE GLOBAL REPORT No. 25, July 8 - 14, 1999 -------

By Brendan Conley

As the town of Waynesville celebrated Independence Day weekend, a group of citizens fought for their religious freedom at the Haywood County Courthouse today.

The group of about 25 pagans, witches, and their supporters demonstrated against a North Carolina law that criminalizes palm-reading, fortune-telling, and other crafts. "This law bans the practices that are an inherent part of our religion," said a man who gave the "craft name" of *Diuvei.

The law, N.C. General Statute 14-401.5, was used by the Haywood County Sheriff's office to revoke the business license of Larry Somers, proprieter of the Psychic Gallery in Waynesville.

Defying the law, several of the protesters performed divination rituals on the front lawn of the courthouse. Dixie Deerman performed a Tarot reading to predict the outcome of the pagans' struggle. The Death card was drawn, which she said indicated that the law would be repealed.

Protesters held signs reading, "Old laws, old prejudice" and "Freedom of religion means ALL religion."

Passers-by who stopped to observe were generally supportive of the pagans. "If they challenge this law, they'll win, because it's unconstitutional," said Pat Davis of Waynesville.

N.C. General Statute 14-401.5 reads, "It shall be unlawful for any person to practice the arts of phrenology, palmistry, clairvoyance, fortune-telling, or any crafts of a similar kind in the counties named herein. Any person violating any provision of this section shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor."

Courtesy of the Asheville Global Report, P.O. Box 1504, Asheville, NC 28802, (828)285-9222, [email protected]



Diana's Day Demonstration -- Asheville, N.C., Friday 13 Aug. 1999

This gathering in downtown Asheville's Pack Square draws dozens of protestors -- and dozens of police.

Police vie with national news media to film a tarot reading conducted in defiance of state law. Some two dozen officers stand by, ready to crack down on unauthorized spirituality. Protest co-organizer Kindra Rajaniemi is cited by Asheville Police officer for "practice [sic] the art of fortune telling by using tarot cards in Buncombe Co. in violation of GS 14-401.5". The state ACLU has declared the law unconstitutional, and promises to help her appeal for a ruling. "Free the Ancient Arts", "Freedom of religion means ALL religions" and "Old laws, old prejudice" read protestors' signs. The demonstration received publicity and support from all over the U.S. and Canada, and was televised on CNN.

Though other protestors read palms (pictured: Lady Passion) and cards in bold violation of the law, police arbitrarily refused to cite anyone else -- although the day before, Chief Will Annarino had threatened organizers that he would arrest and confiscate the equipment of everyone who dared to do a reading at the protest.   Attendees and passersby avidly line up at the Ancient Arts Freedom Association table to sign the petition against a law most North Carolinians -- including most Christians -- view as foolish and unconstitutional. The AAFA has been formed to overturn N.C.G.S. 14-401.5.

Photos by Margaret Williams, Mountain Xpress

Oct. 14, 1999: Kindra Rajaniemi -- who was cited for tarot-card reading at the Diana's Day Demonstration -- won her court case with the assistance of noted ACLU attorney Frank Goldsmith. Buncombe County District Court Judge Shirley Brown dismissed the charge as unconstitutional, and the county District Attorney was quoted as saying that further prosecutions under this law would be "an exercise in futility". Although this ruling is not binding on other counties in North Carolina, the victory shows that the best way for the state's Witches to fight this unjust law is to defy it, as publicly as possible, whenever and wherever local officials attempt to enforce it. Eventually, state legislators will be compelled to remove it from the books -- if only to keep us uppity Witches from making them look like fools in the national press!
Nov. 25, 1999: A federal judge in Iberia, Louisiana, struck down a local ordinance banning tarot, palm reading and fortune telling as unconstitutional, according to news reports.




Witches to Burn Fortunetelling Law

Witches in Western North Carolina will joyfully consign to the flames the now-repealed state law that banned fortunetelling. Lady Passion, High Priestess of Coven Oldenwilde, will read the half-century-old statute from a parchment scroll and then set it ablaze, at the 10th Annual Public Witch Ritual in Asheville, N.C., on Oct. 31. Afterward, diviners, Tarot-card readers, and clairvoyants will give free readings to the public -- foretelling the future, for the first time in over 50 years, without having to defy the law.

"What we once did with impunity, we now do in freedom," says Lady Passion, who is a psychic. Coven Oldenwilde led a five-year fight to overturn the law as an infringement on religious freedom.

Law-enforcement authorities in numerous towns around the state have frequently used the law, N.C. General Statute 14-401.5 (see text below), to persecute and drive out of business Tarot readers, clairvoyants and diviners. When police began shutting down professional psychics in Waynesville and Asheville in 1999, Coven Oldenwilde and other local Pagans held widely publicized protests against the anti-divination law -- defiantly telling fortunes on the lawn of the Haywood County Courthouse and in Asheville's public square.

The ACLU took up the defense of the psychics and Witches, and judges in both Haywood and Buncombe Counties ruled the law unconstitutional. The ACLU urged legislators to repeal the 1951 law as a violation not only of the U.S. Constitution's protections of speech and religion, but also of the North Carolina constitution's ban on local laws regulating trade or labor. The law applied to only 66 out of North Carolina's 100 counties -- because it was so controversial even when it was passed that a large bloc of state representatives refused to support it unless their counties were exempted from it. (It prohibited not only Tarot cards and crystal balls, but even the Christian practice of bibliomancy -- seeking divine guidance by opening a Bible to a passage at random.)

From 1999 to 2004, nearly 4000 people visited Coven Oldenwilde's web page at protesting the law and listing lawmakers to contact. In the 2003 session, North Carolina's General Assembly responded to the campaign against the fortunetelling law by inserting a clause repealing it into an omnibus bill: S.L. 2004-203 (H 281), Section 21. On August 17, 2004, Gov. Easley signed the bill into law -- scrapping once and for all North Carolina's antiquated and unconstitutional ban on psychism and divination.

More information about the anti-divination law, and the campaign that overturned it.

Return to The Black Ribbon Campaign.

Return to General Information table of contents.

Return to Coven Oldenwilde's home page.

Latest update: 02 April 2005