Toil & Trouble for Salem Witches?
My sister Trish and her family live in Salem, Massachusetts, so I spend quite a bit of time there.
It is a charming little city, with all kinds of interesting historic (cemetery where the witches are buried) and literary (House of the Seven Gables) sites, a gem of an museum (Peabody-Essex), and some wonderful restaurants (personal favorites: Bella Verona and The Grapevine).
With its rich, witch history, Salem is not without its quirks, and one of those quirks is that it's the home what has to be one of the country's largest Halloween celebrations, which lasts throughout the month of October, during which time the streets are thronged with tourists, half of whom are in costume. Salem is also the home to to a number of practicing witches.
The witches are allied in a group called the Witches' Public Awareness League, and like any other trade association, they lobby to protect their turf.
In this case, that turf includes palm reading and fortunetelling.
This is all coming to a head because the Salem City Council recently passed an ordinance (as reported by Claire Cummings in The Boston Globe) to:
...license palm readers and fortunetellers who have been in Salem for at least a year, pass a criminal background check, and submit a résumé showing at least five years of experience.
If you get past the fact that licensing here doesn't implied that the holder is actually a qualified, competent psychic, this sounds reasonable enough.
But trouble seems to be brewing in The Witch City.
The Witches' Public Awareness League apparently don't think that the new ordinance is "enough to stop interlopers who show up during the busy Halloween season and steal their business." They're looking for a limit to (and a daily licensing fee for) the psychics who blow into town for the high season in October.
Laurie Stathopoulos, a card reader for more than two decades, said that many depend on Halloween profits to get through the year.
"To put 40 psychics in the same street is outrageous," Stathopoulos said before the meeting. "We hold people's lives in the palm of our hand sometimes."
Forget the "outsiders" who come in to exploit the October crowds. There's also appears to be friction between the incumbent, resident psychic haves and have nots. The City had a prior limit of 12 on the number of official psychics. The new ordinance would expand this number and legitimize those who have permanent businesses in Salem, but who have been operating unlicensed.
Joanna Thomas is one of the have nots who is looking to go legit:
Every day, two chairs sit empty in front of her crystal ball , because she had not been legally allowed to offer tarot readings in the shop.
"It wasn't fair that they haven't been giving out licenses all this time, but I am happy they are recognizing businesses [as being] as important as residents," she said.
Then there's one Frank Fagley, who is quoted as saying:
"I know a lot of readers in town, a lot of people who don't deserve their license...They've got to put some kind of restriction on it."
I'd hate to see the Salem City Council have to start vetting whether the psychics - licensed or not - were any good or were just charlatans.
Would they ask the psychics to predict the outcome of the next elections? Read each Council member's palm? Gaze into their crystal balls and foretell how many snow days there were going to be next winter?
Just what does it mean to be a licensed psychic, anyway?
Do I predict a bit more toil and trouble in Salem?