October 22nd, 2012

stabat mater dolorosa

been scammed by so many fake psychics and spellcasters before?

Lots of people write to ask me to "prove I'm genuine" because they've been scammed so many times in their search for a legitimate spellcaster or psychic. Here is one of my responses to such a person.
Note: this post has been revised, edited, and updated and now lives here:

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[dear person], what you need to do is not search but *research.*

There is a lot of good advice out there to help you avoid getting scammed.  There is also a lot of bad advice, given by scammers themselves on their scam websites and ads. Then there's a lot of well-meaning advice that is inaccurate, biased, or just plain ignorant. So it's hard to sort the wheat from the chaff when you don't know the warning signs and don't understand the principles of spiritual work. Alas, asking a professional rootworker for a free reading, even a tiny one, is not going to be a good method to determine who is and isn't a scam. It might be a good method to determine who is actually busy with real clients and who has time on their hands to send cold reading tidbits out to whoever asks because their time is not taken up doing any actual spells or readings, though. If a worker gives *every single person who writes* a sales pitch, without even knowing what that person is after, that worker should make you wary; legitimate spiritual workers will not take every case. But it's safe to say that the willingness to work for free in order to tantalize new clients will never be on a legitimate list of things to look for when looking for a good worker.

I actually do occasionally work for free - for instance, for indigent clients who are accepted into AIRR's pro bono program - but I generally have a queue at least a dozen deep of people who have booked work or consultations who are waiting their turn, as do most professional workers, so it makes absolutely no sense to go out of my way to try to "reel in" an unknown client, especially one who has had the sorts of bad experiences that tend to indicate lack of knowledge about the principles and realities of spiritual work. (This is not a jab at you - a lot of very good people have been ripped off because very bad people preyed on their emotions, hopes, and desperation.) That's why I often decline cases from people whose experience of spellwork has been all about the reconciliation and weight-loss spells, whose emotions rather than a genuine interest in spiritual work brought them to my virtual doorstep. It's not because they are bad people or want unworthy things, but because their expectations are usually coming out of left field, and they need to learn some basic principles of spiritual work, and need to learn to do research, before they pay anyone else (including me) to do spells or readings for them.

So, legitimate, full-time spiritual workers aren't receiving emails like this and feeling any sense of "oh my god, I'd better convince this person I have never met, whose case I might not accept anyway." In addition, most of us probably get twenty emails like this every day; even if I wanted to, and I don't, I couldn't oblige all the people writing them. I'm sure you are a great person, and I am positive you do not deserve the treatment you have received. But I've found that clients who have been repeatedly scammed are 1. generally seeking very unlikely or even impossible results that make them vulnerable to the unethical who will promise anything, and/or 2. generally seeking reconciliation with an ex, which means that they are in the number one category that scam artists are attracted to (or, slightly less often, seeking something like a lottery win or a drastic change to their physical appearance through spellwork, which means that  unethical workers will take their cases and ethical workers take them only with caveats [*} or not at all, which in turn indicates that 3. they don't know much about how spellwork actually works and instead have lots of misconceptions in their heads, fed to them from a variety of dubious sources online and in the media.)

That's why knowing what is going on is so important. You can't just be a passive consumer. You need to understand the difference between voodoo and hoodoo, between wicca and rootwork, between an empath and a card reader and a clairvoyant and a high priestess, to be able to recognize liars and cheats.

And you have to do research, which should start at the very least with reading what a reader or worker has written about their own work and practice.  For instance, I personally don't use the word "psychic," since it means so many different things to so many people that it's nearly useless as a word. Some people think all spiritual workers are psychic or that all psychics are spiritual workers. Some people think psychic = empathic, or that psychic = clairvoyant, or that psychic = medium, or that psychic = returns lovers. None of that is true. There are lots of "readers" out there who will have you believe that psychic = can bring back a lover and that is just rubbish. Not everyone gifted for doing spiritual work is also gifted for doing the type of readings that many clients are looking for. And not everyone gifted for doing readings has even a modicum of ability as someone who can perform spiritual work. Finally, not everyone who *can* do certain types of things is therefore *willing* to do them in every case.

If you'd done research on me, for instance, or even just started at my website page about me, my altar work, or my consultations, you'd know that I do not refer to myself by this useless term "psychic," and you'd also know that I do not advertise full, standalone readings - in fact, I state clearly at my site that I do not do full, standalone readings any more (though I do have reviews from one of several third party sites, which you can get to from my blog, from registered users, meaning I couldn't have written them myself, and those date back about a decade). I am a rootworker, and I do traditional rootwork. I do consultations for clients seeking rootwork that involve divination, but I don't even do what you're asking for, which is tell total strangers, whose cases I might not even accept, "something about themselves."

In addition, even if I wanted to convince you of my ability to do whatever it is you're looking for, which is likely something I don't do anyway, you haven't given me enough information to do it. When you read about "psychics" who don't need you to tell them anything but they can just tell you what's going on without you saying a word, you are usually reading about a classic scam called a "cold reading." You have a box of unsorted photographs in your house, you see yourself as an independent thinker, you had a scary experience with water in your childhood, you haven't quite lived up to your full potential, someone has broken your heart, you aren't naive but people have taken advantage of you in the past, you're having problems with a friend or relative, you are sometimes insecure with people you don't know very well, you are close to someone whose name starts with a J. All of these statements are statistically likely to apply to a majority of any given United States or UK sub-population, and with some minor alterations, to the Latin American and southern European populations. The kind of person you are looking for, who can tune into you immediately from a two-line email and see a particular recess of your life that will be relevant to you and put it into words in a way you can immediately understand, does not exist. I say this as someone who's given and received thousands of readings over the last 40 years.  You either go in willing to work with someone who is willing to invest their time, skills, and experience into you and your situation, or you go in skeptical and unwilling to work with them.  While you should not fork your cash over to scam artists, you can't knock on doors and introduce yourself by saying "prove you're real." It doesn't even work like that. That's why you need to do research.

A final point is that we are not generally desperate for new clients, which we'd have to be to do free readings upon demand to get them.[**] We do not take all comers - I personally refuse more work than I take. I generally have no more than a dozen clients' work or issues on my desk or altars at any time (not including vigil lights); that's all I can handle at once, since I'm not a corporation, a company with employees, or a front for a marketing scheme, and since I do other things with much of my time besides just readings, or just altar work (people who do only readings and no altar work can do more readings; people who do no readings and only altar work can do more altar work; but I do consultations, altar work, teaching, translating, writing, and research, as well as make and ship products, answer several hundred emails a week, and design and make jewelry). But that usual average of a dozen active cases at any given time keeps me busy, and I'm more likely to decline to work with a client who doesn't understand how spiritual work and readings actually work, rather than undertake what will involve lots of extra time educating them, when what they probably need is to do some research and stop spending money on spellcasters. Many of us refuse work from clients who are psychic-hopping, who are hopping from spellworker to spellworker, who have unrealistic notions of what readings and spellwork are and do, who are seeking reconciliation with an ex, who are pushy or skeptical or demanding, and who do not read about our services and procedures before contacting us for work.

So, here's what I suggest. First, stop searching and start researching. What you find at the top when you search are people who know how to have their sites turn up high in results due to search engine optimization. That's all. They may or may not be legitimate, but they have good tech guys. The sites that handle thousands of clients in a short period of time are owned by a group of people who know how to write their own testimonials and who know how to send out dozens of "readings" and "spell work reports" a day that are all the same vague thing but with the name changed.

Second, have a look at my FAQ here
and pay particular attention to these
Backfiring Work, Karma, the Threefold "Law": More Conjure Myths
Ethics and Accountability: "No Real Spellcaster would...." and other Myths and Legends

and these
Scam Artists: How to Avoid
Scams: On Scam Artists and "Impossible Magic"
Success Rates and Guarantees: Why You Should Be Wary of Those Who Advertise Them

My blog also links to other readers and workers who I personally know to be reputable and ethical. You will find, at their sites or blogs, photographs of work they have done, a glimpse into their background that doesn't sound like it came from a made-for-TV movie, a discussion of what type of work they do and what type they do not do.  Anybody who takes all comers for any type of spellwork should make you very, very skeptical.

Third, pick an area of spellwork or readings to learn about, just something small, and learn about it from a variety of places, not just one so-called authority.  Even this small step will help you begin to learn to sort the wheat from the chaff.  Until you know how to do that, until you know enough about what you're venturing into so that you can be sure your hopes and emotions aren't putting you in a place where you are vulnerable to scam artists, don't buy any more spells, from anyone. Learn the principles of candle magic and spiritual bathing instead, spend your money on a few simple and inexpensive supplies, and learn how to use them for the types of spell you want to do.

I offer you my sincerest best wishes for your pursuit of your goals.

Karma Zain

[*] This is not to say that all reconciliation cases are lost causes, or that only unethical workers take reconciliation cases. That is not what I'm saying. But I have lots of articles about this elsewhere. It's also not to say that lottery luck work is only undertaken by frauds or fools - but it is pretty high on the list of unrealistic work that scammers have no scruples about taking on and ethical workers will often caution you about if your expectations seem unrealistic. And for spells to change your physical appearance, I have lots of articles about those too.

[**] Many legitimate folks do readings or consults in forums or on shows or as giveaways for publicity - it's a sensible way to get your name out there and let people know what your reading style is like. Before I was even on Kasamba (which was before it became liveperson), when I first got back to the States and got online, I used to give free mini-readings a few times a week in an old, defunct AOL forum (before it became an MSN forum) to anyone who signed in - or rather, to anyone who made it through my chatroom handler's gate. (It was hectic and each reading had a strict time cap, and I learned quickly that I hate doing readings with the clock ticking - and I still don't do them. The 1200 or so mini-readings I did at three minutes apiece during my time there was enough to last me a lifetime.) That's not the same thing as giving a free reading to everybody who writes you and asks for one, though, which would be impossible anyway. One of my major points in sending this reply is to let clients know how to go about finding what they need - and asking for a free reading is not a good method.  
stabat mater dolorosa

speaking of scams - don't fall for the cold approach in-person

Even though most of my articles and replies these days focus on online scams and frauds, the local, low-tech, old-school scams and frauds are still out there.


Someone approaches you in a public place and tells you that you have a dark spirit or energy or color or cloud or something about you. They employ various cold-reading tactics to home in on something that might strike a chord with you - you have a curse that makes your family stuck in place so you can't get ahead, you aren't getting the respect you deserve at work, you won't find true faithful love, whatever they ascertain as likely depending on your demeanor, your shopping cart contents, your clothing, your jewelry, your car (and remember that if they approach you outside a store, they could have watched what you bought and ascertained a whole lot about your life). They give you a card and tell you to visit their reader who is a man/woman of God and can help you. 

Someone approaches you and tells you that you look worried and/or asks you if everything is ok. Statistically, *something* is likely to be on anybody's mind at any given time, but even if you say no, they proceed with "Oh, good, then it hasn't happened yet. Sometimes I get these feelings/see the future/etc..." and then they go on to scare the bejesus out of you with predictions about what will happen to you and your loved ones if you don't pay to get the curse removed.

What makes these guys so awful is not even that they take your money and never do any real spiritual work, though that's bad enough. What makes them so bad is that they can pick out people who are down and out a mile away, and kick them while they're down by scaring the shit out of them.  Poverty, chronic worry, abuse, and desperation have an aura that attracts people like this - they can pick the easier marks out of a crowd. But statistically speaking, you can take a pretty small sampling of people in a Wal-Mart on any given afternoon and more than one of them is going to be having love or money problems.

Warning signs:

If someone approaches you in a public place (that is not a psychic's convention or the like) and gives you an unsolicited reading, followed by an offer of help from a reader or worker whether it's them or someone they know, be suspicious.

If the first reading involves a dark cloud or a curse that is causing all your problems and that nobody has been able to take off you before, be suspicious.[*]  There is no curse in existence that can ONLY be removed by one person, whom God is going to put in your path in a Wal-Mart parking lot.

If someone follows up the initial "you're cursed" reading with "get these two candles for $200 that I'll have blessed and set for you to remove the curse," be very very suspicious. While $200 is not an unreasonable amount of money for some types of spellwork, an ethical worker will give you options about your work and will never tell you that they are your only option for getting uncrossed. And there are plenty of ways to help yourself through spiritual bathing and prayer that do not cost anything near this much.[**]

If someone follows up any of the above with ever-escalating amounts of money for ever-escalating work, walk away. An ethical worker will give you a quote for your work and will not come back after it's begun and say "it's much worse than I thought and I need another $500." [***]

If someone tells you that they can help you but that you cannot tell anyone about the work they're doing for you, run don't walk. Don't be fooled by some appeal to showing your faith or some garbage about the four pillars of magic.  "To Be Silent"  does not mean keeping your visits to a palmist a secret from your mother or your spouse or your best friend. (See the comments below for some expansion on what I mean by this.)

If someone then threatens you when you start backing away, or implies that if you don't follow their directions you are doomed, or says they are the only one who can help you and that no other worker is strong enough to take off this curse, or implies that even worse stuff will befall you if you don't act now, call the fucking cops. They probably can't do much if you did not actually fall for their shtick and hand over your life savings, but you never know - they may be someone who's already been investigated for confidence crimes, which are categorized as "theft by deception." Hell, call me, too (well, email me). I'll be happy to pop them in my Justice jar. An ethical worker will not threaten you, and many workers will make up some sort of written agreement about what your work involves and how much it will cost ahead of time, so that you are both clear and so that there is a record. Many will also give you some sort of record of the work, like a photograph of your altar setup as described, so that you know your work was done and the photo wasn't just copied/pasted from another worker's website. Certainly, if you are paying a significant sum of money for altar work, no ethical worker should freak out if you raise the idea of a written agreement or contract, if they don't beat you to it and offer one at the outset. A scam artist will, though; they don't want any record of this transaction and don't want you to have any record.

By itself, there's not really *one single indicator* that you are dealing with a fraud or scam. It is possible (though not likely) that your first reading with an ethical reader will see crossed conditions or a curse. It is possible that then the worker will suggest you have vigil lights set; if these lights don't cost $200, and the reading didn't shock you with something that had never crossed your mind before, and no warning bells go off, and you are not being guided by desperation or fear, and you can afford it, then this can even be a good idea (though you should feel free to get a second opinion - politely tell you reader you are doing this, and if they freak out and tell you that going to another reader for a second opinion will make your life worse, you have a warning sign).  But there are clusters of things that can be warning signs together (a regular, plain, undecorated Uncrossing candle set on an altar that is not part of a larger sacrifice or ritual should not cost $200), and there is a constellation of things that strongly suggest you are right to be suspicious (they should not give you the impression that they are the only one who can help you and that you are doomed if you don't take their advice).

The thing is, these guys are masters at cold reading and masters at manipulating people. They suck you in, and nobody thinks it could ever happen to them. If you feel rattled by some encounter with a reader or worker, and you don't feel you can just dismiss what they're saying, then get a second opinion (from someone who does not advertise 99% success rates at reuniting lovers in 48 hours).


[*] Some readers who do not come from a conjure background will tell you that curses don't really exist. You'll hear from this psychics of a newer-age variety and from those who want to separate their profession from the scam artists advertising "reunites lovers." But a lot of this is cultural. Curses and hexing/crossing are a fact of life in conjure, and they are a fact of life in the southeastern U.S. (and really all over the country and the world). I sell a healthy supply of stuff that people could use to do such work, and I sell it to people from *all walks of life,* from people who are working for barely more than minimum wage cleaning up after you in your hotel room to high-powered business execs.  Conjure products are used every day by people in every profession you can imagine, from cafeteria workers in your local middle school to politicians all over the world, to those in professions ranging from entertainment to education to drug trafficking to politics to healthcare to music to law enforcement to sex work to the sciences. It is everywhere, and some workers will undertake it on behalf of clients. However, the kind of curse that "holds you down" your whole life and has been in your family for generations is actually pretty rare, is not particularly easy to put in place, is a lot of trouble for someone to go to, and is a lot more likely with clients from some cultures than from others.

[**] My advice? If you are in a tight place financially, do NOT pay this kind of money for spellwork. Food and clothing come first. Never get a cash advance against your next paycheck to have a spell done. Never. Get a $25 consultation and learn how to do your own work with stuff you can get at the grocery store.

[***] If they were worth a shit as readers, they should be able to tell you at the outset if the option you choose might not take care of the whole situation permanently, if you might have to take further spiritual baths for a few months, or if you might want to follow up with another light every month, or if you might want to learn how to do spiritual cleansing of your home so you can keep it clean and protected, or if you really need to get some counseling or focus on drawing a new lover. It's common for more info to emerge as candles and images are moved around during a working, but that info should not be fabricated just to get more money out of you.

stabat mater dolorosa

Questions you've asked on Things You've Read: ceromancy (& a bit more on scams + "one true way"ers)

One more while I'm on about it, which has been lingering in my file of "questions to eventually get around to answering on the blog."

Q: I read that reading vigil candle glass is not true ceromancy and not true divination, that reading wax from candles is not traditional ceromancy, and that spirits have to be invoked for it to be true divination (like tarot and cowrie shells). But you describe reading vigil candles as a type of ceromancy meaning it's divination.

A:  I don't know where you read that, but assuming it's not coming across differently than it was meant in its original context, and assuming that the writer claims to know anything about hoodoo and is not just applying their tradition's particular definition to the entire world, what you have there is some revisionist hoodoo history, and some pretty ethnocentric and ignorant revisionist history at that.  These "one true way"ers are usually quite defensive about the one particular way they were taught because they were only taught one particular way. What I mean is that they did not absorb principles and patterns naturally, but they had a single teacher, usually fairly recently, who "one true way"ed them.  I would tread carefully with this person and take their "teachings" with a grain of salt, as they seem to be of the school of "everyone who does it differently from me is a fake and/or newbie." The sad thing is that people who present their methods this way, with this level of protest and defensiveness, who feel the need to label others with the newbie or fraud brand, are usually giving themselves away as converts, trend-followers, or else victims of cult-of-personality teaching.

First of all, ceromancy means divination with wax.  Ceromancy is the reading of the wax, and by extension, of the process of the wax burning itself (the way I'm using it, that includes behavior and signs of wax, flame, herbs, smoke, and glass during and after the burning).  The word comes from the Greek keros (wax) + manteia (divination), and there is more than one way to do it. In Renaissance Europe it was probably done by dripping wax into water and reading the patterns. Probably others call what I'm calling ceromancy by other names, like pyromancy (divination with fire), or perhaps even scrying ("scry" comes from the now-slightly-archaic "descry" meaning "to discern," and that sense of the word probably comes into English from Latin "describere" [to describe] probably via Old French ["descrier," to publish]). So in fact, since reading the burning and remains of glass-encased vigil candles combines more than one type of substance and element, there probably isn't one single "old word" for it. I just picked ceromancy since without the wax, none of the rest can happen anyway.

Divination is as old as human beings, probably. Divination with fire is probably as old as fire, and different cultures will have their own methods, depending in part on available resources and technology (if your light source is pitch-covered torches, your methods will differ from those of a person -- or culture -- whose light source is paraffin candles). Reading signs from candles as they burn is quite traditional in hoodoo. Reading signs from candle glass is as old as glass-encased candles, which admittedly are not as old as wax or fire, but it's certainly a valid practice in conjure. To say otherwise is blazingly ignorant, or else troll-ish and they're just trying to get a rise out of somebody.

Finally, in the bit about spirits being invoked, there is an interrelated knot of issues and assumptions in there that would take a while to untangle and are beyond the scope of this post. The person who told you that seems to not understand how we work with spirits in hoodoo and is instead importing some concepts from another tradition into their pronouncements about hoodoo practice.  Not all of the spirits involved in hoodoo will be anthropomorphic entities with names. In fact, if they articulate it at all, many workers will talk about the spirits of the roots and the spirit of a certain herb or type of water and such in conjure (there are plenty of very good workers out there who may not be very good at, or have time for or interest in, articulating the theory behind everything in plain English - not everybody is a writer, and not everybody is a teacher; that doesn't mean they therefore aren't a good worker -- so my point is that not everybody articulates this stuff the same way, but you can definitely trace the concept behind the work in your studies).  The mention of cowrie shells is a clue in this direction, that they've been "one true way"ed from a non-hoodoo starting place that they think gives them authority in pronouncements on conjure. Cowrie shells are a big deal in some traditions, particularly some of the African diaspora, and are part of some venerable methods of divination. But that does not mean that all traditions that can be linked to the African diaspora have the same vocabulary, methods, spirits, deities, holy objects, taboos, etc.  *Culture and geography matter.* They matter a lot. Similarly, I'm not knocking tarot cards. I read with cards every single day. But your old time worker was probably more likely to read with a regular deck of playing cards back in the day - and without chanting the Golden Dawn invocation of IAO over them first, too, the irreverent scandal! But one of the main problems here is that it's ridiculous to say there are no spirits involved in setting a glass-encased candle and then reading the signs from that candle - that statement betrays a complete lack of understanding about light setting in hoodoo.

But this is me being somewhat generous and assuming you haven't just stumbled upon some site that is giving what appears to be "how to not get scammed" advice but which is really a vehicle for proclaiming that their website's font, or their timeline for finishing readings, or their particular list of spell names, is legit and everything else is fake. If elsewhere your source talks about gypsies, the pyramids, the estate of a voodoo priestess or shaman, or tells you have they have a grimoire or book of shadows with "real" hoodoo teachings in it, then you can feel fairly confident that you have busted a fake, or at least a moron. Otherwise, assuming that this stuff isn't reading differently out of context, you are just getting lessons from somebody who is applying standards from one culture or tradition to a different culture or tradition. This doesn't make them a fake, necessarily, but it probably does make them a little ignorant and a lot arrogant.  Look, not everybody has a graduate degree in comparative religion. Most people don't - that's why I always tell people they should be highly suspicious of anyone who claims to be a Supreme Initiated Award-Winning Master of a lot of different traditions.  (Having been associated with more than one house or temple in voodoo is not a big deal, nor is having moved from Wicca to ceremonial magic. But being an expert in voodoo AND gypsy magic AND hoodoo AND Lukumi AND ceremonial magic AND wicca etc etc, however, is a warning sign, as is having won some non-existent "annual spellcaster's award.") But if they don't actually have a genuine grasp of a wide variety of world folk magic practices throughout history, and they start making sweeping pronouncements about what is and isn't legit, you should probably just ignore them.