, Salem, MA

Local News

May 24, 2007

Salem struggles to sort out psychic 'free-for-all'

SALEM - Lawyers have the bar exam. Accountants have the CPA exam.

Should Salem's fortunetellers have to pass a test of their own to prove they're psychic?

City councilors, hoping to crack down on fraudulent fortunetellers, are trying to define exactly how a psychic can become licensed to set up shop in the Witch City. They want candidates to undergo a criminal background check and to either live or run a business in Salem for at least a year.

But many psychics want the city to go a step further - make sure they're actually qualified to predict the future.

"It's become a free-for-all," said Laurie Cabot, the official witch of Salem. "Anyone who says they're psychic can come into the city. We don't even know where they come from. We don't know their qualifications."

For more than three hours this week, city councilors listened to two dozen witches and psychics - many clad in black and wearing pentacles - as they explained the tools of their trade.

"There has to be criteria or you're going to get garbage coming here," Barbara Szafranski, the owner of Angelica of the Angels, predicted. "Everybody here is a legitimate person who's worked for years and years. ... When you do a reading, you hold a person's life right in your hands. We have people come to us who are willing to commit suicide, who won't go to a psychiatrist, so they come to us."

"What are the criteria?" asked a baffled Councilor-at-large Joan Lovely. "Is there schooling?"

"No one under the age of 20 should be doing readings, because they don't have the life experience," said Szafranski, who suggested creating a committee that would screen prospective psychics.

When Cabot became the first person in Salem to be granted a fortunteller's license decades ago, she said she first had to perform a legitimate reading in front of a police officer.

"He sat down with me, I did a psychic reading, he was pleased with the reading, and I got my license," Cabot said.

'There are nuts out there'

Some city councilors seemed to agree that psychics should have to provide more than just a business plan and a crystal ball before setting up shop.

"I'm completely unqualified to be a reader, but by these criteria I could make it by the Licensing Board," Ward 2 Councilor Michael Sosnowski said.

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