Unforseeable Future

April Fools! This is the real cover ...

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Bad apples do exist. One spiritualist who asked not to be named said she went around Florida surveying "a few places with hand signs on the street." Sure enough, at three different places she encountered readers who provided a generic past-present-future spiel, then followed up by offering, for $500, to remove the curse they saw on her. Fees would escalate along with the fears the fortunetellers would try to whip up.

Theme park psychics will never stir up fears. Universal Studios and even good old mainstream Disney World offer up short readings to entertain the masses. Chances are good the death card has been removed from the Tarot deck. Nothing like impending doom to ruin a family vacation.

At the Purple Rose Native American and Metaphysical Stuff Store in Cassadaga, readings are $30 for 15 minutes or $50 for 30 minutes — roughly the going rate throughout the state. The Rev. June Benjamin, who spawned a matriarchy of intuitives, has owned the store for 15 years. She gave readings herself until five years ago, when congestive heart failure slowed her down.

"It takes an awful lot of energy to do readings," she explains. In her younger days, "my guides would contact your guides and give me what you needed for today. No palms, no cards, no crystal balls."

Her late daughter owned a similar store in Indiana. Her granddaughter, Tina Green, is also blessed with a gift. But Green runs her own computer repair business and limits her Cassadaga contribution to doing the store's books.

Benjamin is surprised to hear that licensing and laws are an issue.

"I have been in business 15 years and nobody has ever given me a question."

Of course not. Florida is all about tourism. And Cassadaga is one of those quaint places that put Florida on the map. No one in his or her right economic-development mind would drive the spiritualists out of business.

Benjamin is musing about meatier matters today. She has been doing research. She had always thought spiritualists, mediums and psychics were essentially a one-of-a-kind deal. Not so, it turns out.

"A medium will bring in things other than Spirit," she says. "One day I was reading for a lady from Iran. Her nephew was killed in a jeep accident. She had cared for his wife afterward. She asked a question through her interpreter, and I started getting this weird language in my head." She prayed that the messages would come to her through Spirit so that she could make sense of the interpretation. Sure enough, the language switched to English and she was able to convey the nephew's thanks to the woman, who left in tears.

Florida psychics have hurdles to jump beyond government regulation: the attitudes that spawn the legal reproofs.

"In this part of Florida, it's shunned because it's the Bible belt," says a Sarasota psychic who has worked throughout Florida. "A lot of people have been told that it's the devil's work. And yet it's commonplace for people in the Mediterranean or Middle East to sit down and have a cup of tea and read the leaves. I have lived in other places where this is a daily ritual."

Prophecy and dream interpretation are as old as snow on mountains or the sound of bells, to steal a line from Thurber. "People a little more evolved are given things we could share," says the psychic, who asked not to be named because she has much at stake in her business, which books psychics for big-name, publicity-shy theme parks. Psychic ability "gives a bit of the godlike quality, to be more like God and to share it with others. We can tap into that energy and use it for the highest and best for all concerned."

She travels the psychic high road. But she, too, is concerned about vagabonds, con artists and frauds. As Victoria Angela puts it, "We don't have any protection for the public. I think a lot of these ordinances are a desperate attempt to create protection."

Most of the draconian laws are based on the premise that a reading is inherently fraudulent. In California, the Association for Astrological Networking put that lie to rest. The group won a case in the California Supreme Court, which upheld an appellate court's overturning of a city ordinance. The appellate judge wrote: "One need not have a scientific basis for a belief in order to have a constitutional right to utter speech based on that belief."

So what do we need? Vocational schools for psychics? A board of ethics?

Yes, Angela says, even though "most psychics are incredibly sensitive, sincere, gentle people — that's why they're psychics."

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