History is a weird beast, and a hard one to wrangle. When you attempt to throw your intellectual lasso around the thing a strange realization hits you: it’s all a joke. A fractal spiral of cheap set-ups and even cheaper punch-lines. Like this one: long ago in the bad old days, women were arrested on allegations of practicing witchcraft. It was a bad scene and a lot of innocent lives were ended. Cut to the twenty first century. While there are still places in the world where that very same thing happens, the west got bored of its old favorite pastime. No more arresting witches. We’re much too intelligent for that. Now we go and get plastered in Salem, Massachusetts—billing itself as Witch City and would you like to buy a $40 broomstick?—and ignore the creeping dread and darkness that comes from commodifying a savage butchery of justice. That’s our new jam. We’ve changed. Maybe.
See, this past weekend, just in time for Halloween, Canadian police arrested a woman on charges of witchcraft and fortune telling.
Ready for the even cheaper punchline? Dorie Stevenson, 32, of Milton, Ontario was arrested on charges of “pretending to practice witchcraft.” That’s right. Stevenson, who owns the shop Milton Psychic, was arrested for being a fake witch. It’s gone from “you’re a witch so you’re under arrest” to “you’re not a witch, so you’re under arrest.” Canada still, amazingly, has a few witchcraft laws still on the books, and Stevenson was charged under Canadian criminal code 365, which reads:
365 Every one who fraudulently
(a) pretends to exercise or to use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjuration,
(b) undertakes, for a consideration, to tell fortunes, or
(c) pretends from his skill in or knowledge of an occult or crafty science to discover where or in what manner anything that is supposed to have been stolen or lost may be found,
is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.
Now before you start thinking that Canada did a bad, bad thing here and arrested someone just for beliefs that go against mainstream acceptance, we should look at the other charges levied against Dorie Stevenson: extortion and fraud over $5,000. According to Ontario police, the investigation began in May of this year when a victim came forward and detailed how they had been scammed out of $60,000 dollars by the supposed psychic. Detective Sergeant Dave Costantini detailed the scam in a press release:
Victims are manipulated into believing something bad will happen to them unless they remit cash. We even see incidents where victims are required to make purchases and remit these purchases in order to be cleansed. Purchased items include; new cell phones, jewelry, appliances and gift cards. Purchases are made under the assumption these items will be returned, but they never are. When victims cannot be squeezed any longer, the perpetrators rely on the victim’s embarrassment in not contacting police.
OK, so she’s allegedly a crook who took advantage of vulnerable people and got nailed for it. If she’s guilty, then good. That’s not a cool thing to do to people. In fact, it’s truly awful. There are a couple concerning things about this, though. Why did she have to be charged for witchcraft and not just extortion and fraud? Maybe she is a criminal, and there are a ton of fraudulent criminals pretending to be psychics and witches, but there are plenty of fortune tellers and self proclaimed witches and magicians who aren’t. Whether you believe in the stuff or not, it doesn’t matter. If someone devotes their life to studying tarot cards and someone who believes in the validity of tarot cards gives them $10 for a reading, should that tarot reader be arrested? If you believe in magick and give your spooky friend $20 to come over and ward your house from evil spirits, is that fraud or is that just goofy?
It just seems that these laws have huge potential for abuse in the wrong hands. With more people than ever before saying that they practice witchcraft or magick of some sort, and things in the news like an attempt to hex a supreme court justice and a church’s subsequent response with magical warfare of their own, maybe we should be careful with the laws we leave on the books. However, there is a bill in Canada now to repeal the witchcraft laws, which will hopefully be passed soon. After all, the future is unwritten, and things can quickly get weird.
Also, I’m a powerful wizard. Come get me, Canada.