It was a case of the lone gypsy v. the bureaucracy, and the gypsy prevailed. The Maryland Court of Appeals recently upheld the right of a self-described gypsy in the Washington DC suburbs to charge customers for fortunetelling. The court struck down the Montgomery County consumer protection ordinance forbidding fortunetelling for payment.
According to the Washington Post, Montgomery County, Maryland decided that fortunetelling for profit was charlatanism back in the 1970s and banned the practice. In overturning the ban, the Maryland Court of Appeals did not offer a wholesale endorsement of the psychic arts; neither was it willing to discount them as inherently lacking legitimacy. There are frauds among journalists and attorneys as well as among fortunetellers, the court noted. The motives of fortune seekers also vary. Where some seek enlightenment, others are content with entertainment.
To deny the gypsy plaintiff the right to practice his ancestral trade of fortunetelling was to trample his constitutional right to freedom of expression, the Maryland Court of Appeals held.
Nick Nefedro had moved from the DC area after Montgomery County lowered the boom on his fortunetelling business plan but intends to move back now and go into business as a fortuneteller, the Post said.
Fortunetelling has ancient roots in Romani culture where it is knows as Dukkerin’. The fortunetellers themselves are called chovihanis.
In the United States where fortunetelling is almost exclusively derived from Romani tradition, the art takes four basic forms. The most common is palm reading or palmistry. In studying the palms of a fortune seeker, the gypsy fortuneteller analyzes birth traits on the left hand and life progress on the right for righthanders and the reverse for lefthanders. Palmistry reads meaning into the lines and mounts on the hands as well as the texture, flexibility and even the nails.
Another common form of gypsy fortunetelling is reading the cards. The essence of card reading is the same whether the gypsy uses tarot cards or a casino deck. Fortunetellers use different card reading methods but all rely on the use of symbolism to provide insight into the relationship between a person’s actions and his life circumstances.
Tea leaf reading is also heavily dependent on symbolism. To conduct a tea leaf reading, the gypsy fortuneteller gives the fortune seeker a white cup of tea to be drunk down to the last spoonful. The fortune seeker swirls the cup before discarding the remaining liquid, presenting the cup to the fortuneteller for reading.
The use of a crystal ball, while romanticized in films and novels, is the least common method of fortunetelling used by Romani gypsies. The use of a crystal ball is time consuming as it requires preparation, and it mandates all of the fortuneteller’s concentration. The actual reading involves the interpretation of images, sometimes literal and sometimes symbolic, that come into the mind of the fortuneteller while gazing into the crystal.
For everyone who claims to have gained insight from gypsy fortunetelling, there’s a companion story of a scam artist bilking an innocent victim of life savings. Websites devoted to uncovering the scams detail the methods fortunetellers use to encourage fortune seekers to part with their money.
Perhaps, it’s significant that the Romani themselves don’t find it necessary to consult fortunetellers. The esteemed status of gypsy fortunetellers in the Romani community is due to their ability to bring in cash for the community, the website Gypsy Advice says.
But whether gypsy fortunetellers indeed offer insights based on innate psychic gifts honed over generations or whether their talent lies in parting fortune seekers from their cash, their trade cannot be eradicated by consumer protection laws under the recent ruling by the Maryland Court of Appeals.
Sources: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/10/AR2010061005366.html; http://www.gypsyadvice.com/gypsy_lore.htm; http://hubpages.com/hub/Palm-Reading-Guide; http://www.ehow.com/how_5140713_read-crystal-ball-accurately.html.