SALEM — Here in Witch City, there has been a lot of talk recently about a New York man who paid a local psychic $16,800 to protect him from a curse.
One local witch says the problem is that there’s no such thing as a curse, and if you believe in them, that’s your curse. A local warlock says it doesn’t matter if you believe in curses or not — you can’t say with conviction that another person’s convictions are wrong.
And the Salem Police Department — well, they say none of that matters because the city ordinance clearly states that psychics can only forecast the future and read the past.
Curses are a strict no-no.
But the controversy does not stop there, for a police detective has dared to utter what is a loaded word in the local occult economy: fraud.
For those who make their living selling psychic services to paying customers, the term lives on a slippery slope.
“If they’re a fraud, then we’re all frauds, and all religion is a fraud,” said Christian Day, a local warlock who owns two witch shops in Salem and is known for riding around town on a Segway in his full witch regalia. “They’re not regulating the priest who absolves you of your sins and tells you to put some money in the collection basket, or the old lady who sends all her money to Pat Robertson. They pick on us for one reason: They’re afraid of us. They’ve always been afraid of us.”
‘If they’re a fraud, then we’re all frauds, and all religion is a fraud.’
The controversy centers on Fatima’s, a psychic studio that has been in Salem for two decades, practicing a Romani form of fortune-telling that embraces the existence of curses, unlike most of the local Wiccan community.
And for a long time, there have been unofficial reports that Fatima’s was charging big bucks for curse removal. Internet review sites are loaded with such stories.
The city finally went after the studio this month, after two people made formal fraud complaints to police, including Ryan Reid of West Henrietta, N.Y., who said he went to Fatima’s in August and was convinced by an employee named “Debbie” that he needed a curse shield placed over him. Over the course of several weeks, Reid paid Fatima’s $16,800 for that shield.
In the course of the investigation, police determined that Fatima’s fortune-teller license had expired more than a year earlier and forced the studio to close.
But on Monday night, when Fatima’s owner Harry Mitchell went before the city’s licensing board to ask for reinstatement, the lapse worked in Fatima’s favor. Detective Sergeant James A. Page, who has been leading the investigation, said that without a valid license, the shop was not technically operating under the fortuneteller’s ordinance at the time of the cash-for-curse incidents and therefore could not be charged with violating it.
Instead, he issued two $100 fines for operating without a license. The board granted a probationary license for Fatima’s to resume operation until the end of the year, provided they promise not to meddle in curses again and work with the New York man to come up with some kind of reimbursement.
In an interview after the hearing, Page made clear that he thought Fatima’s was defrauding people much like Internet scammers who prey on the elderly and weak. But while he said the department will continue to investigate Fatima’s, prosecuting them on criminal charges is extremely difficult because “people are embarrassed and they’re not going to come forward.”
Many in the Salem fortune-telling community have long been suspicious of the practices at Fatima’s and applaud the city’s crackdown.
“What I do is read people’s energy. What they do is charge thousands of dollars for sea glass to remove a curse,” said Timothy Reagan, who was reading fortunes at Omen on Essex Street. “They prey on people who are weak, and they make us all look like frauds.”
Shalimar, another of the readers at Omen who describes herself as “a natural-born psychic, intuitive and medium,” said she laughed in the face of a woman who told her she had paid Fatima’s to protect her from a curse. “I said, ‘I don’t mean to laugh, but go get your money back.’ ”
Barbara Szafranski, who spoke harshly about Fatima’s practices at the licensing board hearing, said she once had a woman come into her shop, Angelica of the Angels, hysterically crying because someone at Fatima’s had told her she had “a hole in her aura.” Szafranski said she put the woman in front of a $25,000 camera that can take a picture of your aura with biofeedback, “and her aura was beautiful, blue with violet around it, which is very spiritual.”
But Lorelei Stathopoulos, “Salem’s love clairvoyant” and the owner of Crow Haven Corner, Salem’s oldest witch shop, says that witches run a real danger in criticizing the beliefs of the tellers at Fatima’s.
“How can I put down what they believe in?” she said. “And they’re charging a service for others who believe in it. You’d be surprised at how many people call me every single day and say they have a curse and they want me to remove it.”
She tells them all the same thing: “If you believe in it, you’re cursed.”Billy Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @billy_baker.