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Laws regarding Tarot

Thread originally posted on the Aeclectic Tarot Forum on 11 Jan 2003, and now archived in the Forum Library.

Trogon  11 Jan 2003 
Hi all... After a bit of an off-line discussion with allibee (via P.M.'s - just have to love Solandia for setting up AT so well... ;) ) we thought it might be an interesting thread to discuss laws that relate to and regulate (or prohibit) the use of Tarot or other forms of divination. I'm not sure if this is the appropriate forum for this thread... but I'm sure our wonderful, thoughtful and self-sacrificing moderators will figure it out if it isn't. ;)

Anyway... the discussion which prompted this was something which allibee mentioned about a law regulating the use of Tarot in the U.K.;
Fraudulent Mediums Act

Every person wishing to work as a medium in England should be aware of the Fraudulent Mediums Act 1951 which repealed the Witchcraft Act of 1735 and s.4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824. Spiritualists petitioned for this Act to be put on the Statute Books after the imprisonment of Helen Duncan. Helen was jailed in 1944 and the Act was made law in 1951. The Act states that express provision is made “for the punishment of persons who fraudulently purport to act as spiritualistic mediums or to exercise powers of telepathy, clairvoyance or other similar powers “ Mediums found guilty of fraud can face a term of imprisonment or be heavily fined.

The main area where mediums can be accused of fraud is the holding of an object, such as a crystal ball, tarot cards, ribbons etc.
Only the Director of Public Prosecutions can bring a case under this Act but a complaint by a recipient who has been upset or been made aware of fraud, can cause the DPP to institute such proceedings.

There is also a law on the books in North Carolina;
§ 14-401.5. Practice of phrenology, palmistry,
fortune-telling or clairvoyance prohibited.
It shall be unlawful for any person to practice the arts of phrenology, palmistry, clairvoyance, fortune telling and other 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.
This section shall not prohibit the amateur practice of phrenology, palmistry, fortune telling or clairvoyance in connection with school or church socials, provided such socials are held in school or church buildings.
Provided that the provisions of this section shall apply only to the Counties of...
The statute goes on to list 61 counties in North Carolina where this law is in effect. has a write up on this reporting a case from 1999 where a local judg declared the law unconstitutional. This of course is not enough to get it removed from the books, though it can help by setting a legal precedent. (See I do find it interesting that you can practice these things as an "amateur" at church socials, or school functions, but apparently not in your own home

Australia also has it's anti-witchcraft and divination laws. These have been researched and can be read about at (for the law in Victoria) and for the other Australian states.

I am curious about any similar laws where you all live. And have any of you been personally impacted by such laws (or know someone who has)? In these supposedly "enlightened" and modern times, I find it rather odd that laws such as these can exist in our supposedly "free" countries. I would expect such laws in coutries which do not enjoy our, apparently theoretical, freedom of religion (thinking Iraq, Pakistan, etc...), but to find them still on the books in the U.S., U.K. and Australia is surprising. 

allibee  11 Jan 2003 
Hi Trogon, thanks for airing this:)

I think it may be not so much a case of how have you been impacted by this, as did you actually know about this, for many people.
It makes you worried not so much from the P.O.V of religious intolerance now, you have to worry about flying in the face of the law.

It seems to get around this, at least on the internet, the law states you have to make the following advisory clearly:

Readings can only be undertaken/purchased if you are over 18 and said readings are for entertainment purposes only.

or words to that effect.
Personally I can't see how anyone would find a reading about say, their impending divorce, or the bankruptcy of their family business an entertainment, but there you go ... the law is the law.

BTW as far as I have been able to ascertain, this is an internet regulation/law.


Umbrae  11 Jan 2003 
If one goes to psychic fairs etc. you will notice that viturally all readers readers are “Reverend So and So” with another title attached.

If you are using Tarot, or Scrying for a church or religious purpose, and not the purpose of fortune telling – you are legal.

So here is what you do…go here:

Become a legally ordained minister (it’s free and non-christian).

Become a “Spiritual Counselor” (Tarot readings is counseling…get it?).

You are no longer a fortune teller.

You can also, now perform legal gay and pagan weddings. 

zorya  11 Jan 2003 
yep, what umbrae said :D

i'm the rev. zorya (insert real name here), spiritual counselor, a legally ordained minister.

i do counsel people spiritually, and do not read for entertainment purposes only. 

tarotbear  11 Jan 2003 
Connecticut had a law similar to the one passed in North Carolina. It was unlawful to practice fortune telling unless it was part of the religious practice preformed by a minister as part of their duties. (How's that for vague?)

Because of this loophole many practictioners and book store owners became ministers (through the Universal Life Church) so that they would have a certificate of ordination to hang on their walls, and thus keep the law on their side and the wierdos out of their businesses.

This law was finally repealed in 1992, the anniversary of the Salem Witch trials. This fact was NOT lost on any of us.

PS - How does one tell a happy medium from a fraudulent medium? 

allibee  11 Jan 2003 
I'm wondering if that applies just in the US, can anyone enlighten me?

(I actually did the ulc thing about 2 months ago, but it occurred to me that the UK law may make it somewhat worthless)

Also there is another ordination site on the first site I referenced

if anyone is interested


HudsonGray  11 Jan 2003 
I found some Australian information on tarot laws over here: 

Musie  11 Jan 2003 
I like this idea, but this bit quoted from the ULC website as follows:

"If you lack wealth, happiness, sex and love - it's waiting in existence for you if you know how - we do! We will show you, hand-in-hand right to the door of success. How much? Nothing! Why? Because we know when we help you become wealthy you will share it with the Monastery."

Does not sit well with me.

However, we do what we have to do. At least it is free and does protect from those ridiculous anti-divination laws.

I like the title "Spiritual Counselor" though :) 

allibee  11 Jan 2003 
So, has anyone here ever fallen foul of these laws, or know anyone that has?

What's the law in your country? If you know, do you care?


HudsonGray  11 Jan 2003 
I never heard of anyone locally or in the news nationally arrested for anything to do with tarot outside of Ms. Cleo for her billing practices. Or scam artists saying 'pay me more & I'll tell you how to protect yourself'. The real ones don't get hassled. We have spirit fairs around here all the time & they get good crowds if they're advertised. I only saw one attending guy evicted, but he was looking to start a fight with anyone who would talk to him. (It wasn't a reader). 

Cerulean  11 Jan 2003 
In certain states---I believe California might be one---the local region such as a county or city may create an ordinance that prohibits a business license in that city or county if you want be just hang a sign that says fortuneteller. I notice bookstores that sell metaphysical supplies have separate rooms for "advisors" or "teachers' or classes." They don't advertise fortunetelling, they say they have psychic readers or advisors. The check that is paid can be either to the bookseller or advisor, depending on how agreement is structured. The service being provided, I believe, cannot be taxed by state or federal laws.
Counselor or therapist at least as a term for those licensed to be marriage or family counselor or therapist can actually be a very specific term to some people. I think some Northern California people who practise tarot use 'advisor' or 'reader' as a less loaded term. If you wanted to be licensed by a state to be a family or psychological counselor or therapist with certain training or letters behind your name (MFA), there are very strict laws in regards to this term...I think some people are just being very careful in a sue-happy world.
In terms of being able to practise services professionally from one's own home in the U.S., many people who do consulting work here have to comply with very specific local business license laws or taxation codes. Things like there cannot be a sleeping couch or bed in the same room, having a separate entrance from the living quarters...many people would rather go to a commercial building and set up shop separately to avoid hassles.
I hope this does notes does pertain to others, so they check the cities that they practise in.
Mari H. 

Red Emma  11 Jan 2003 
Three things:

1) Boy, was I confused. I thought that the British law regarding divination, etc., was repealed on the anniversary of Ms. Duncan's imprisonment.

2)While I live about 2000 miles from Oklahoma, a cyber friend there wants to offer internet readings and is afraid to. She says the locals are pretty strict about it.

3) I've not heard of such laws in Oregon. If there were, I suspect they'd be used once or twice, then we Pagans would form a strong lobbying group the next time the legislature meets. 

ihcoyc  11 Jan 2003 
I had read in a legal magazine several years ago about a case in California in which the California Supreme Court held a municipal ordinance forbidding fortunetelling unconstitutional. Z. Budapest, the feminist Wiccan leader, was the defendant. The court ruled for fortunetelling as a free speech matter, and therefore did not reach issues regarding the free exercise of religion. 

Moongold  12 Jan 2003 
I haven't heard of anyone in Victoria, Australia being prosecuted for using Tarot or other divinatory practices fraudulently.

It would take a test case, I imagine, to test the archaic laws to see what happened. At fairs, markets and the like people generally have to get permits to sell things, busk or to perform. These are usually local government by-laws and you can get moved along if you don't comply.

You can walk into a number of New Age and Esoteric shops and get Tarot readings at a minimal cost. You can even go down to Acland Street in St. Kilda on the week end and get a good palm reading for a donation!

Anything is possible though. In the early 1960's the Victorian Government introduced the Psychological Practices Act to stop some of the practices of Scientology. After that Scientology became an official religion here and continued on its way. That legislation simply means that all people calling themselves psychologists have to be registered now. However, you can be a Social Worker doing therapeutic work without having to be registered under similar legislation.

There are moves currently underway to register Complimentary Therapies practitioners as well, but I think the various professions are well abreast of that and don't see it as a bad thing.

I had to smile when reading this thread. There are people here called water diviners and they are generally quite good. Would that come under the existing legislation?

I think that Tarot readers could probably protect themselves by giving out simple disclaimers.


tarotbear  12 Jan 2003 
Except for the national spotlighted case of Z. Budapest (see my earlier post) I don't know of anyone that was/is actually arrested for reading cards, because these laws (some dating back centuries...but not all) are rarely enforced because the law enforcement agencies probably didn't know these acrchaic laws are even in the books. Then again, with stupid laws like "It is illegal to get a fish drunk in Arkansas", you wonder why they would ever worry about someone reading the cards when they are too busy looking for drunken fish! 

allibee  12 Jan 2003 
LOL, Tarotbear. I do have to take my hat off to some of the whackiest laws in the world found only in the US!

I have been trying to do more internet research but apart from the first ones I came up with, whenever I put in search terms such as tarot and the law, you can imagine all the sites that come up with 'law of creation', 'three fold law' etc, etc.
If there are any legal people here, do you have any ideas where I might look to research?

Red Emma, re the Helen Duncan thing ... yes it was repealed, and then they put it back in under a different guise, which is what worries me that I'm looking under the wrong name.



Moongold  12 Jan 2003 
It's a bit late but I wondered what, if any, concerns people have. Are we following this track out of bemusement or academic interest?

Tarot reading is so innocuous and harmless. In Australian society it would be very hard to prove someone was damaged. Maybe if a charlatan went around gaining money under false pretenses from vulnerable people the authorities would get involved. There are cases like this everyday bit they are usually cinvolved with investment, real estate and things like this. The key thing is the deception and theft of large sums of money in these instances

There are far more serious crimes that the law authorities would be required to solve before getting involved in a Tarot case, I'm sure. Esoteric and occult material is freely available in our bookshops and libraries now and we have a really tolerant and open community. Meditation and the use of herbal remedies are a part of Wiccan practice. They are also a part of conventional medicine, so where does one draw the line?

Just as a matter of perspective there are so many other pressing social and economic issues to worry about in most places that Tarot hardly rates.

Blessings to you all. I must go and tidy my Desk before tomorrow.


Moongold  12 Jan 2003 
It was very late at night and I was extremely tired.

Of course the history is interesting and important to understand.

In countries where the occult and witchcraft have long histories this material would be particularly relevant. Although we have had some legislation in Australia, I don't think witchcraft or the occult has been a major issue here.

The association between the occult and Tarot is the key thing. People are so afraid of the occult. This has always puzzled me.

When you look at the scales of reality, in Australia there has been more damage done to people by other things such as sexual abuse in the mainstream Churches than any aspect of the occult. Until the 70's and 80's most Australian states still had legislation prohibiting male homosexuality. Until 1986 people with disabilities had few legal rights when they were denied services. Just a few years ago the Government introduced racial vilification laws for thesake of people who were being abused on the grounds of race. People have always been hurt by things OTHER than the occult or the unknown.

I guess it all depends on the culture and the times, doesn't it? In countries which saw the Salem witch trials and the burning of thousands of women as witches, this history will always be really important. I do find it odd that people who can tolerate the kind of gun laws that the US has can be curcumspect about such harmless thing as the Tarot. It is another riddle. The US is a vast country with diverse issues. Perhaps we get a distorted view out here? Last night there was the news of the US Governor in Illinois who pardoned all on death row because there was so much doubt about the legal system. That kind of act is pretty special.

Spiritualism has had a long and respectable history here but it has never been besieged with applicants. Part of the attraction of spiritualism is its mystery. Part of the attraction of the Tarot is its mystery. I was wondering this morning if I would like to see it so popular that there was a Tarot page in the daily newspaper everyday. The answer is probably not because that sort of exposure ultimately corrupts.

This is a meandering discussion. My apologies. I guess I'm trying to say that the ideal society is one which is inclusive of many differences in its people and belief systems. If the legislators and the law authorities are going to get concerned about the Tarot I think that would be a symptom that something else is very wrong.


Teal  12 Jan 2003 
Umbrae is right in that you can be ordained by ULC, but my advice is to try because you'll get a lot of support and help from them, which isn't forthcoming from ULC. I've been ordained through Seven Planes for a couple of years now, and they're great people, always there to help you in just such cases as we're talking about here. 

magpie9  13 Jan 2003 
This is a really interesting thread for me :)
About 25 years ago at the State Fair in Kentucky (USA) the local police shut down the carnival tarot reader. There were no complaints against her, the police diddn't like it and they had a local ordinance against vagrants and beggers, which they cited. I was there at the time but there was no specific anti-fortune telling ordance invoked.
More recently, 4 or 5 years ago in Jacksonville, North Carolina a public school teacher lost her job for being suspected of being Wiccan. I'm not entirely certain...she may have really been Wiccan and "outed". There was a huge uproar about it for a couple-three weeks, and she did lose her job, and did not get it back. The public outrage was massive--a lot of people very upset that she could ever have gotten a teaching job in the first place. The rest of us Wiccan, fortune telling, mail-order ministers etc burrowed deeper in our broom closits and dreamed of more tolerant climates.
It was an ilegal firing, but they got away with it. I believe the teacher (metaphoricaly) crept off to die. What was most surprising to me about the whole thing was that I thought Jacksonville was more "advanced" then has a huge military base and diverse enough population that it seemed not a likely place for a witchhunt.I was living outside a tiny town 40 miles away at the time, and it was really frightining.
So yes, what with one thing and another, I have seen this kind of stuff happen. Mail order ministry is the only protection we have in a lot of places.
Although why any state, county or town shoud find a tarot reading/consultation more objectionable than some guy with a hairdo, in a powder-blue leisure suit waving a snake around and carrying on about the eventual fate of "sinners" is a mystery to me. No insult intended, but if he's free to practice and preach his religion, why can't I? 

Osher  18 Jan 2003 
The current trend is to regulate and control. After the more permissive eighties, in the 21st Century the Europeans, and by default, the British too, are clamping down.

Part of the reason is that people are jumping to the courts for everything. So, the government plans to soon ban or regulate many natural remedies (check out your local health food shop for details).

Can new age survive? Well, we know that Mrs.Blair uses new ages devices, so it might.

Looking to the future, though, I look with interest to the first court case in which someone sues a tarot reader. Could it happen? Well, I'm not a lawyer, but one could see how it could.

The outcome would be to 'force' readers to belong to society, one that has an entrance exam. This would act as a form of guarantee that the reader is reliable, and therefore, the readee and/or God is wrong!

Crazy? Didn't someone recently sue the Pope as God's representive or something like that? 

Cerulean  19 Jan 2003

--Lee's article about a related case in the U.S.

Oh dear, I do know of one case that was in the U.S., but it was fraudulent advertising from a pay-per-minute 'tarot reading' service that advertised a very specific character/personality. The implication was this character, with a mysterious accent, would personally answer the telephone and tell things about the caller with a giant Rider_Waite_Smith style deck. The individual states that sued this fraudulent business was doing it not for the service offered, but because it was a bait and switch. Callers were routed not to the actress character, but to another group of readers...from what I recall, no one was ever routed to the actress, who seemed to be quite entertaining but not really a reader.

A novelty deck was advertised under the reader's business name "Miss Cleo" and was withdrawn from the market very quickly by resellers when the first lawsuits were made known over the radio.

Please correct me if I am wrong. 

tarotbear  19 Jan 2003 
Nancy Garen - authoress of 'Tarot Made Easy' also brought suit against Miss Cleo since she (Nancy) says that the phony readers were reading texts out of her book and were not readers or psychic at all. 

Moongold  19 Jan 2003 
Are people being sued for deception and fraud or for tarot reading? It seems to be for the former not the latter, at least overtly.

I don't have a problem with the authorities taking action against deception and fraud for financial gain, whether it is for a software package that crashes every five minutes or for the kind of Ms Cleo event.

It does get problematic when the practice of Wicca is banned and other things like Tarot etc are banned by association. It's really problematic when a woman loses her job because of the bigotry and prejudice some people have towards Wicca. I'd feel the same if someone lost a job because she was Islamic or gay as well. I was forced out of a job because I am gay and that was not pleasant, believe me. I've experienced harassment for the same reasons.

But I'd have trouble supporting a gay, Wiccan or tertiary trained white Anglo-Saxon tarot reader who was exploiting vulnerable and lonely people by charging exorbitant amounts of money for a dodgy tarot reading, anywhere. That is, hypothetically.

Regulating natural medicine is not problematic. It means that practitioners have to be trained and there are some safeguards built in. people still have the freedom to do their own things -grow herbs, use ancient and well tried remedies and so on. I can and do give the occasional person a massage in the privacy of my own home without having to be a physiotherapist.

I know the US and the UK are different cultures, so please forgive me if I'm not understanding something

Perhaps I'm wrong but I have a sense that if Tarot isn't really directly in danger. It's more the practice of deception and fraud that is seen as problematic. Of course you can't stop people taking civil action but Tarot readers can protect themselves against that by good practices. However, if so called esoteric practices were banned covertly or by association I'd have problems. the soap box now.

Moongold : ( 

Cerulean  19 Jan 2003 
...and meetings, associations, website with faqs, etc.? I believe the American Tarot Association has a faq that was very very helpful when people associated tarot cards with lunatic news events in the U.S.
I believe tarot and tarot cards are not in general danger, but you can always have lunatic fringe personalities. The horrid attitudes and mistaken opinion can come friom Mr. or Ms. average person might see the tarot cards only used in the following areas:
---psychic line at 9.99 per minute (Ms. average thinks---infomercial marketing to the gullible)
---TV show where psychic pulls death card and ta-dum-ta--dum--they are cannon fodder. (Mr. average thinks---superstitious lunatic fringe).
---news event or biographical show when to evoke the mysterious or chills, the mad or infamous had a tarot card deck in their possession or consulted a psychic. (Mr. and Ms. average shake their heads---tarot cards! I knew they are a bad, bad thing...)
I know it is sometimes hard, but if there was an organization with posted answers to frequently asked questions, perhaps those that enjoy cards hobbies don't have to spend their time defending their interests. Those who have card hobbies can easily be isolated and misjudged---so it is nice to be able to find a forum for sharing and eventually, an organization where there is a strength in numbers.
Not to be personal, but I do believe when people do choose the road less travelled, they are apt to be misunderstood. 

Moongold  19 Jan 2003 
Originally posted by Mari_Hoshizaki
...and meetings, associations, website with faqs, etc.? I I know it is sometimes hard, but if there was an organization with posted answers to frequently asked questions, perhaps those that enjoy cards hobbies don't have to spend their time defending their interests. Those who have card hobbies can easily be isolated and misjudged---so it is nice to be able to find a forum for sharing and eventually, an organization where there is a strength in numbers.

Not to be personal, but I do believe when people do choose the road less travelled, they are apt to be misunderstood.

That is a really good question.....about the opportunites for PR, I mean. The Tarot Guild here has a website, I think. But it is something that will be dealt with I guess before Melbourne hosts the world Tarot conference in 2005.

It is great to have resources that one can refer to and use for information and support. That is one of the functions Aeclectic fills, I think.

Conferences are excellent opportunities for good PR. JMD would be good to seak with about this as he is involved with the 2005 conference and has been involved with the new Tarot Cafe in Melbourne.

It is things like this which lay the groundwork for supportive networks and good PR. If one takes up an interest in something like tarot, talking about it with others is a joy. And I think that is where the best PR comes from.


Moongold  22 Jan 2003 
I got this preliminary opinion from a community legal service in Victoria.

It refers to people setting themselves up in business as tarot readers/

If you will be trading as an individual, most likely the applicable law is the Fair Trading Act in your State or Territory, but you should contact the Department of Fair Trading to find out what else might be involved in setting up your business. Also check the Commonwealth government business entry point at - this site will direct you to the State web sites were applicable.

The only area where there might be an issue raised by tarot reading is if you were to persuade somebody who did not already believe in tarot reading that it was accurate, and that person relied on it to their detriment. You may be able to insure for the associated risk (under a "personal services" or "fortune telling" insurance policy), although you might have to go through a general purpose insurance broker to find an insurer.

Also be aware of the necessity to register any fictitious business name and to obtain an ABN for GST purposes.

ABN means Australian Business Number and GST means Goods and Services Tax. Both apply to business in in Australia.


The Laws regarding Tarot thread was originally posted on 11 Jan 2003 in the Talking Tarot board, and is now archived in the Forum Library. Read the threads in Talking Tarot, or read more archived threads.

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