In a country which is supposed to be progressive, why do superstitious laws still exist…
In England, the 1951 Fraudulent Mediums Act was scrapped and replaced with The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. This saw a shift away from an outdated law to one which treats people who visit mediums like any other consumer. If you are defrauded by someone claiming to be a plumber, a gas fitter, or a psychic, these regulations are in place to protect you.
In Canada, it would seem that things are still a bit antiquated on this front. This week, it was reported that a Canadian citizen claiming to be psychic was arrested following an investigation due to her deceptive practices. Through this, I learned that Canadian citizens can be charged with pretending to practice witchcraft.
Criminal Code of Canada, Section 365
Pretending to practise witchcraft, etc. 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.
…so why aren’t my atheist friends outraged rather than amused?
People being accused of witchcraft is a human rights issue. As a Humanist, I am disappointed with any of my friends who have shared the story from Canada in amusement. I understand why. Many skeptics look down on psychics and like to laugh when a psychic gets caught out for trickery. However, that so many people on my social media timelines weren’t able to pause for a minute and examine the bigger picture here is alarmingly closed minded of them.
‘Some of children were flogged with sticks and iron and had bruises all over their body. Others had gasoline poured on them and were set ablaze in the quest to expel the spirit of witchcraft.’Dr Leo Igwe, interviewed by Scott Douglas Jacobsen
Witchcraft-Based Persecution is No Laughing Matter
The Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network (WHRIN) keep records of incidents, globally, of abuse towards people suspected of witchcraft. Or by people who believe in witchcraft. This includes violence, persecution, and even murder. As the WHRIN themselves point out, these documented cases are likely a small fraction of what actually occurs.
The 2017 report, which WHRIN took to the UN, states that ‘a total of 398 reports were documented from 49 countries. This was an increase from 282 and 41 respectively in 2013.’
The WHRIN report includes the following breakdown:
- The African Continent had the largest number of reported incidents, including 67 in Nigeria and 29 in Zimbabwe.
- In Asia, 120 cases were recorded which is almost a 100% rise since the previous 2013 report. Thirty-five of these cases were of human sacrifice, most usually of children.
- In Europe: 3 cases were recorded in England, 2 in France. However, WHRIN warns that ‘as with other cases, we know that this presents a limited picture of the true scale of the challenge in each of these countries. For example, WHRIN alone supported 4 cases of children being accused of witchcraft in the UK in 2016 and the Metropolitan police have recorded many more cases.’
- In America there were 11 recorded cases of abuses, which were linked to a wide variety of beliefs, ranging from the power of voodoo to Pagan Witchcraft and “Satanic Panic”.
A self-proclaimed psychic being charged with fake witchcraft isn’t so funny when you look at it in context of modern witchcraft-based persecution, is it?
The solution to superstitious cons is not superstitious justice…
Legislation which talks about witchcraft is outdated. This is why in 2008 the UK updated the Fraudulent Mediums Act 1951 in 2008, which itself was an update to the Witchcraft Act 1735. It was this 1735 act which formed the basis for South Africa’s Witchcraft Suppression Act which is still used today.
Campaigns by the National Secular Society and Humanists UK focus on the contributing factors to damaging superstitious beliefs. This includes faith schools, collective worship, blasphemy laws, evolution being taught in schools, human rights issues, secular legal systems and more.
Somebody claiming to be a fortune teller, a witch, or a psychic who uses deceptive techniques while delivering their services should be brought to task. Just as a tradesman who pretends to be Gas Safe registered should be brought to task. There should be proper legislation in place to charge them for Fraud or Unfair Trading Practices which does not promote superstitious ideology. In the UK, we have the 2008 regulations and that’s good news.
However, many skeptics don’t even know that mediums no longer have to provide an “entertainment only” disclaimer at the start of their shows. Let alone the specifics of the laws that such stage-shows are covered by.
This is an ignorance which has to change for any progress to be made against superstitious persecution. Be angry at fraudulent psychics and fortune tellers, if you must. Yet, if you really care about the people who are harmed by such practices you should do something more with that anger to help shift attitudes away from such superstitious thinking.
It isn’t considered a “win” for rationality when someone is charged under Witchcraft-related legislation, regardless of whether they’re a fraudulent psychic or not.